Summary:  Claudia was there at the start, the annoying little sister no one could stand.  But after a year she's matured and everyone has changed.  She's not the gangly teenager they once rolled their eyes at, and love is in the air.  She touches the lives of everyone involved, and changes everyone forever.

Note: I know the timeline of events (their first album/tour/leaving TransCon) are not accurate. Then again, this is fiction.

One more note:: This story is sad. If you don't want to read a tearjerker - then please back out of the story now.

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"I’ll Be There"

by AmyK

Completed July 15, 2000

(… from Lances point of view…)

"Guys, you know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if… if I didn’t really mean it." Justin said softly, after we had all gathered around the small table in his hotel room.

"We know." JC nodded and picked at his fingernails.

"This is just um…" He stopped as tears welled up in his eyes and his bottom lip quivered. "This is just too much right now, and I need to be home." Two tears escaped, and he quickly brushed them away.

"Yeah…" Joey reached over and patted Justin’s back, like a big brother would. "You doing okay?"

"I’m okay." Justin whispered, though it was clear he wasn’t.

"How’s Clyde holding up?" I asked gently, using our nickname for his wife, Claudia.

"She’s a real trouper. You know how she is." Justin smiled and wiped his eyes again. "She um, she still doesn’t want us to cancel the tour or anything, but you guys… I just… I mean this is it this time." He covered his face with his hands as his body shook with sobs.

I grabbed a kleenex off the desk, my hand bumping Chris’s as he too reached. "Don’t worry about it man, we’ll take care of it." Chris said.

"I mean, it could be another couple months, you know, after the tour’s over… but it could be… you know…" He sniffed and covered his eyes again, "It could be real soon. And I can’t not be there anymore."

"You don’t need to explain anything." I said as I reached across the table to pat his hand. "You’ll be home tomorrow, you can be sure of that. We all will." I glanced around the table as the others nodded.

"Nsync cancels the last 8 weeks of their US tour." The headlines read the next day, as we filed through the Cleveland airport on our way to catch our flight home to Orlando. When we got to Orlando, after a silent flight, we hugged each other good bye and promised to call later that night. Then we piled into separate cars and headed to our own homes. Justin had the longest trip of all of us…

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Claudia, or Clyde as we call her, is Justin’s wife. Yes, I know he’s a bit young to be married, but I’m getting there. Over the last couple years, four life changing events occurred in Justin and Claudia’s lives, first Claudia got pregnant, then she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, then the cancer went into remission and finally, Justin married her… in that order. Her cancer was considered gone almost 2 years ago, but-

Wait, actually, to get the whole story we need to go back even further, back to when it all started… about 5 years ago…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Five years ago we were pretty much just starting out as Nsync. We were still with Lou Perlman, and were spending a lot of time at his Orlando home. The first time we met Claudia she was jumping on her trampoline next door to Lou’s house. We’d catch a glimpse of her dark brown hair flying through the air on her decent.

"Hey Claudia, come on over here! I got a new band I want you to meet!" Lou shouted over the thick cream colored wall.

"What?" She asked as she stopped bouncing and walked up to the wall.

"Come on over, I need some help prepping these boys." Lou laughed.

"Okay." She laughed and within a couple seconds had hauled herself over the wall, scraping her knee in the process.

Now… we were pretty young ourselves, Justin being the "kid" at age 16, but she looked even younger than he did. We weren’t sure what to think of her. We stood there in Lou's backyard in our warm up pants and t-shirts, just watching her fling her hair up into a messy bun with a neon orange scrunchie. She was a little on the chubby side with braces, wearing cut off jean shorts and a souvenir T-shirt from Las Vegas.

"Okay guys, this is Claudia.  She lives next door and she’s my official band prepper. You’ll be facing her for questions like a mock interview, and you’ll be performing for her as if she was your audience. After all, she’s right in your target group." Lou laughed and draped his arm over Claudia’s shoulders. "Claud, this is Nsync, my newest creation." He beamed, as Chris rolled his eyes. "Justin, JC, Lance, Joey and Chris." He introduced us in order.

"Hi." We waved lamely, still not sure of this whole creation thing.

"Hi." She smiled and waved, locking her eyes on JC as she ducked away from Lou. "So what do you want me to do this time?"

"Just watch." Lou said as he lead the way back into his house and down to the makeshift dance studio on the bottom floor. We got ourselves situated and Lou started the music for what would be our first single. We methodically went through the moves, very aware that for the first time a pair of foreign eyes were on us.

At the end of the song, Lou and the choreographer walked up to us and asked, "If you can’t handle performing in front of one girl, how are you going to manage 10,000 of them?"

"You guys looked pitiful." Scott, the choreographer shook his head.

We immediately resented having this new intruder get us in trouble. At least that’s how we saw it. She hung around for the rest of the day, laying on a work out mat with her chin in her hands, tapping her foot to the beat against the mirror. She didn’t really make any comments about our dancing, which is good; I don’t know how that would have gone over. But Lou was right, dancing by ourselves in front of a mirror and our choreographer was one thing, having an outsider there really made a difference.

The next week we were preparing for the interview sessions that were coming up soon with the release of our first album. Mark, our PR person, was helping us out and we got real comfortable with him firing questions at us. Then out of no where we walked in to see Claudia sitting in Mark's chair, wearing a purple one piece bathing suit and a pair of jean shorts. Bright yellow flip-flops hung off her feet as she swung them under the chair.

"What… what’s going on?" JC asked as we walked into the room.

"Claudia is going to help us. You’re used to Mark, let’s see how you do with a real stranger." Lou explained.

"But Lou…" Justin started.

"But what? Let’s go."

We walked up to the chairs beside Claudia and sat down. "Hi." Joey smiled at Claudia as we made ourselves comfortable.

"Hi." She giggled. "Are you guys ready?"

"Yeah." Chris mumbled.

"Okay, I just have a couple questions for you guys." She smiled. "Um, do any of you have girlfriends?" She blushed from her toes up and concentrated on her index cards.

I looked at Lou, was he serious? "Um, no, I don’t." I said.

"I date, but I mean... you know... nothing serious." Joey said nervously.

"I’m dating Gwen Stafani." Chris smiled, and we all laughed.

"Justin?" Claudia asked.

"Oh, no I don’t have a girl friend anymore."

"I just recently broke up with my girlfriend." JC said.

"Oh really?" Claudia asked, a hopeful look in her eyes.

"Yeah." JC shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

"Hmm, okay. What do you guys like to do when you’re not performing?" She asked. The questions went on for the next half hour and soon we were getting comfortable with her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We were used to her, but she was always around. Every time we’d go to Lou's she’d be hanging out by the pool, or playing one of the pinball machines. She’d follow us around, making puppy dog eyes at JC the entire time. I could tell it was getting on his nerves. It was only a matter of time before he snapped at her.

I finally got around to asking Lou what her deal was and he explained that she lived next door with her dad and her step-mom who was only 5 years older than Claudia. She was left home alone all the time and Lou felt bad for her. He’d sort of become her Uncle Lou, kind of like he did for us.

That made it a bit clearer, but none of us really liked her being around all the time. She was a kid, she was a teenybopper, and she was annoying.

"So you were really on the Mickey Mouse Club?" She asked JC once while we were doing another mock interview.

"Yeah, for a couple years. Justin and I both were." He smiled.

"That’s so cool." She practically gushed at him. It was painfully obvious that she had it bad for our man JC. He was less than pleased.

"Why can’t she have a crush on Justin, he’s closer to her age." JC grumbled as we piled into the van that would take us back to our own homes.

"No way man, don’t pawn her off on me." Justin shook his head and held up his hands.

"Well she’s getting annoying." JC said.

"Getting?" Chris laughed.

"I swear, when we were practicing today I could feel her staring at me, and every time I’d look over at her she’d just smile and wave. Ugh."

"But hey, that’s what the fans will be doing." Joey imitated Lou.

"Yeah but then they’ll be staring at all of us." He sighed.

"JC and Claudia sitting in a tree… K-I-S-S-I-N-G… first comes love-" Chris started to sing, but JC shut him up by throwing his jacket over the back of the seat and smacking Chris with it.

"Shut up." JC smiled and turned back around in his seat.

"Then comes marriage…" Chris continued softly.

"Dude Chris, he’s going to slap you one of these days." I laughed.

"I’d like to see him try. Come on tough guy, you wanna piece of me?" Chris egged him on playfully. Then, quicker than lightning, JC turned around and slapped Chris upside the head and turned back around before anyone could say anything. "Damn… he’s a quick little bugger." Chris laughed and rubbed his head.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She didn’t go away. When we played our first big concert at Disneyworld in Orlando, she was there. Right up front, making gaga eyes at JC. Somehow, JC managed to block her out and perform as good as we all knew he could, but after the show she came back to see us.

"Oh my God! You guys were amazing! You’re so much better than you were in the basement at Uncle Lou's! I mean wow! My friends aren’t going to believe I’m friends with you guys, oh they’re all just going to die. Just die! My friend Beth is out there, but I couldn’t bring her back. Oh she’s going to freak." Claudia laughed and bounced around us as we tried to cool down and relax.

"Hey Claudia, not now." JC said sternly.

I could see the flicker of pain in her eyes as she stopped bouncing and said, "Oh, okay. Well, I guess I’ll just see you guys tonight at Lou's." She said softly, her smile falling.

"Yeah, we’ll see you there Claud." I smiled.

"Okay, bye." She waved as she tossed her long hair over her shoulder and adjusted the strap of her tank top. When she was safely around the corner, JC sighed.

"Jeez, JC, you didn’t have to be so mean." Justin said as he wiped his face with his towel and began to walk away. Justin and I were the only two who actually treated her nice.

"Ease up, Curly. Just wait till she’s coo-coo for you." JC shook his head and headed for our dressing room. "Do we have to go to the party at Lou's tonight?" He asked me as we walked down the hall.

"Um, yeah, I think it’d be bad if we didn’t go. It’s our party."

"Ugh…" JC groaned as he pushed the dressing room door open. I sighed, then followed him in.

 

At the party Claudia was back to being Claudia. She brought a couple of her friends over to the party and they walked around gawking at us. It was kind of annoying, but like Lou said, this was nothing compared to what we were going to be faced with.

Joey spent the better portion of the night hitting on Claudia’s friend, Irene, until Lou informed him that she was only 14. That put an end to that. I sat back and watched from one of the many couches around Lou’s house. I wasn’t a big party animal back then, I'm still not for that matter.

It wasn’t hard to keep track of Claud, just look for JC and she was sure to be within a 5-foot radius of him. I could definitely see how that’d get annoying. He finally ended up retreating to a private room upstairs to escape the Claudia Monster, as he called her.

She hung around for about an hour, trying to hide the fact that she was looking for JC, but when she couldn’t track him down she left through the back door. I followed her out and caught up with her in time to see her scale the wall into her own back yard and cross the dew covered grass silently. I sighed and went back in to the party.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

She hung around for the next couple months as things really started to pick up for us. We were working on putting together a US tour and were gracing more and more covers of teen magazines, it really was a lot of fun.

In September right before school started, Claudia was watching us dance, as usual. When we were done, she came over to us and said, "Hey, you know what next Tuesday is?"

"Hmm?" Joey asked.

"My birthday. I’m going to be 16." She grinned from ear to ear.

"Really? Well happy birthday." Justin smiled and gave her a hug.

"Well… I was wondering if you guys would like to come. I mean, my dad is going to be home this weekend and he said I could have some friends over, and I thought maybe you guys would like to come over. We’re going to have a bar-b-cue and everything." She continued, looking directly at JC. "I’m going to ask some girls from school if they want to come too. There’s going to be lots of people."

"Oh, um, Claudia, you know we’re really busy." Chris said as nicely as possible.

"And since we’re planning the tour and everything, I don’t know if we’re going to have time." JC explained.

"Well if you have some time on Saturday, come on over. It’s going to be a lot of fun." She laughed, then waved as she headed home.

"Whatever…" JC sighed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By that weekend we had completely forgotten about Claudia’s birthday party. We showed up at Lou's shortly after 2:00, and we were running behind schedule. We were having a promo photo shoot done in Lou’s backyard for our tour book. We changed into matching suits and stepped out into the backyard where we sat on a short retaining wall and posed.

When we were done, Joey and Chris headed back inside to change into "regular" clothes, while JC, Justin and I hung around out back talking about how our families were dealing with our seemingly sudden fame.

"My mom's had to change her phone number twice." Justin complained. "I don’t know how they keep getting the number."

"Friends at the phone company." I laughed.

"Hey Lance, have your parents said anything more about moving out here?" JC asked.

"Not really, I think-" I was interrupted by Claudia poking her head over the fence.

"Hi guys!"

"Oh man…" JC said under her breath.

"Hi Claud." Justin said.

"Hi Claudia." I smiled.

"Hey are you guys coming over?" She smiled and brushed her bangs off her forehead.

"Not today Claudia." JC squished up his nose as he squinted in the sun.

"It’s my birthday party, did you guys forget?"

"Oh man, we sure did. I’m sorry Claud." I said sincerely.

"That’s okay, when you guys are done over there you can still come over." Her face disappeared from view and JC rolled his eyes.

"Man, she’s like a gnat." Justin sighed. "She’s not a pain, she’s just always in the way."

"You guys should be nicer to her. She helped us in the beginning." I argued.

"Lance, you’ve lost it." JC laughed.

We hung out at Lou's a little longer that afternoon, going over more tour plans and having an early dinner. Lou was the one to bring Claudia up again, "She’s leaving in 3 weeks for California to go live with her mom."

"She is?" Chris asked. "For how long?"

"I don’t know. She just told me she was leaving." Lou said. "So she’ll be out of your hair."

"Finally." Joey laughed.

"She’s really a good kid." Lou said slowly.

"Yeah but that’s just it, she’s a kid." Justin added.

"Are you serious? You guys are ‘kids’ you know that right?" Lou smiled. "Well regardless, she’s out of your hair for a while. She leaves in three weeks and you guys go on tour a month after that. You won’t need to worry about Claudia."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The day she was supposed to leave she came over to say goodbye. "I’ll come see you guys when you’re in LA. Lou’s already said he’d give me tickets and passes and stuff." She grinned.

"Cool, then we’ll see you then." I smiled from my position at the end of the couch.

"Cool." She tossed her long hair over her shoulder and shifted her weight from foot to foot. "Um, JC, can I talk to you?" She asked nervously. She hadn’t appeared nervous at all, until then. I had a feeling I knew what was coming.

"Hmm? Sure." He put down his Gameboy and followed Claudia outside.

"I just wanted to tell you, before I left, that I really um... I really like you." She said quickly, keeping her eyes on the flagstone path by the pool.

"Claudia… come on." JC said, trying not to laugh. "You know that would never work. You’re just a kid, I’m way too old for you. And we’ll be gone on tour and everything. Besides, you’re like a sister, like a little sister. And I can’t stand the sister I have."

"But I’m going to see you while you’re on the road and we can call each other and I won’t be this young forever." She said hopefully.

"It’s not gonna work Claud." He shook his head. "You and me… it’s just never gonna happen. Let it go." He turned and went back inside, leaving her standing by the tall wall bordering her house. She sat on the bench beside the wall and watched as her tears left shiny puddles at her feet.

 

"Woo hoo, go JC." Joey laughed as JC came back into the room.

"Shut up Fatone." JC grumbled before he reached into the fridge for a soda.

"What’d she say?" Justin asked, trying to contain his laughter.

He raised his voice a notch and mimicked her, "We can call each other all the time, and I can come out and see you and I really like you JC. Really!" He laughed.

"Jesus." Justin rolled his eyes.

"And what did you say?" Chris asked.

"I told her - look honey, t’ain’t gonna happen, get over it." Justin fell on the couch laughing and JC took a sip of his soda.

"Where is she?" I asked.

"I don’t know. She’s still out there I guess." JC shrugged.

"JC, you should go apologize. She was just being honest with you." I said.

"I know, but what was I gonna say? She’s what? 15? For crying out loud."

"Well you could have said it with some tact." I frowned.

"If you love her so much, why don’t you go profess your undying devotion to her. I’m sure she’s still out there." Joey laughed.

"I don’t love her." I sighed. "But you guys don’t have to be so mean." I got up to get myself another drink.

"Oh I think Lancey-poo has a little wittle crushiekins on Claudia…Danielle… Scharber." Chris teased him, all the guys joining in on the pronunciation of her full name.

"Knock it off." I laughed and threw a pillow at Chris’s head. "I do not."

"Yeah whatever Bass." JC sat back on the couch. I don’t know when he started calling us all by our last names, but that was annoying.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

JC never did go apologize and we left for our tour almost 2 months later. It was so rushed and so draining that we all but forgot about Claudia until we got to LA. "Hey, you think the gnat will be at the show tonight?" Justin asked.

"The gnat?" Joey asked, confused.

"Claudia." Justin answered. "Remember, she moved to LA."

"Oh yeah. I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything from her at all since we left." Joey shrugged.

"Hmm, I guess we’ll see." Justin smiled.

"Maybe that’s why it’s seemed so calm around here… she’s not running around asking us to come see her new chinchilla or whatever."

"Guinea pig." Chris answered as he walked by. "Stanley the guinea pig."

"Why do you know that?" I asked, laughing.

"I don’t know. Funny, the things that stick in your head, huh?" He laughed and kept on walking.

Claudia didn’t show up at the show that night and whether or not the other guys noticed, I did. It still bugged me the way JC left things with her. He should have apologized, but that couldn’t be changed now. I figured we’d probably never see her again, and left it at that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We wrapped up our tour a couple months later and headed back to Orlando for some much needed rest and relaxation. After a month off we were back in the studio to start work on a Christmas album which was released at the beginning of September. Not long after the release I was on my way to Joey’s, trying to keep a low profile in my new black jeep. Out of nowhere I saw a girl waving frantically at me from the car behind me. I sighed and kept driving, I wasn’t in the mood for fans at the moment. I’d just spent the better part of the last year catering to them, all I wanted was a week… just one week, of solitude.

She continued to wave and then added a honk in every couple yards as if I just hadn’t noticed her yet. Rather than bring extra attention to myself by driving through Orlando with a crazy girl leaning out her car window and honking at me, I pulled over. I took a deep breath before taking my sunglasses off and stepping out of my car. "Hey, I don’t know what you’re-"

She cut me off, "Lance! My gosh I haven’t seen you in so long." She ran over and tried to hug me. I took a step back as her chin length hair breezed by my shoulder.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"Lance, it’s me." She laughed. "Claudia."

"Claud?? My Gosh, look at you!" I stood back to get a better look. She’d grown a couple inches, lost a little weight, got rid of the braces and chopped her hair off. "You look… all grown up." I laughed, and pulled her in for a hug.

"I am all grown up. I graduated High school early you know, last year. And I’m 17 now, last week." She laughed back. "I didn’t know you guys were in town, are you still over at Lou’s all the time?" She tucked her hair behind her ear as we continued to stand on the side of the road.

"Yeah, pretty much. We’ve actually got the next couple weeks off before we get back to work." I smiled. "Hey, I’m on my way to Joey's, you wanna come?"

"Are you sure? I know he didn’t like me much. None of you did, I’m sure."

"Nah, you were okay." I blushed, remembering the jokes we’d tell about her.

"No I wasn’t." She laughed. "But I’d love to go, to see you all again. My dad doesn’t live next door to Lou any more, so I won’t be able to just jump over the fence now."

"Where are you living now? I know you went to live with your mom last year."

"Yeah, well that didn’t work out." She shrugged. "That was a real bad situation, but anyway, I’m back here now, I’m going to college and working at Starbucks right by the campus part time."

"That’s cool, do you live on campus?" I asked.

"No, I have my own little place over off Jackson? Right there near the new movie theater."

"Oh, right.. that’s cool, that’s actually not far from Joey's." I smiled and played with my keys. "Wow, I just can’t get over how much you’ve changed."

"It happens you know." She smiled flirtatiously as the breeze blew her hair across her face. She pushed it back behind her ear and nodded back towards her car, "So… did you want me to follow you?"

"Hmm? Oh, to Joey's, right. Yeah, that’s fine." I snapped out of my daze. "Sure."

"Okay." She laughed and headed back to her car. I got in and started my jeep, but I couldn’t get the image of her out of my head. Where had she come from?

We pulled up at Joey’s house a couple minutes later and I lead the way up the walk. When Joey opened the door he was surprised to see a girl standing there beside me. He looked like he had just woke up, and was no where near dressed to impress.

"Whoa, hey Lance." He said as he ran his fingers through his hair. "You didn’t tell me you were bringing Kat." He said, mentioning my girlfriend he had yet to meet. Dammit, that’s right. I had a girl friend.

"This isn’t Kat." I said slowly. Claudia walked past Joey and into the house.

She looked around the entryway and said, "Wow Joey, I never figured you for an architecture lover. Nice hair, by the way."

Joey gave me a confused look and I just laughed, "Who’s she?" he asked.

"Claudia." I whispered.

"Clau-" he stopped, the realization hitting him. "Claudia?!"

"Yeah?" She stopped and turned around.

"Little bratty annoying Claudia with the skinned knees and braces?" Joey laughed. "No way."

"Way." She laughed. "Gosh, have I really changed that much?"

"Yeah, I’ll say." Joey looked her over, his eyes lingering on her chest. I nudged him back to reality and he said, "Damn, I’ll bet JC’s sorry now." This time I kicked him in the shins.

She laughed softly and said, "Man, was that crazy or what? Like I actually thought a 20 year old would go for me." She rolled her eyes. "No, don’t worry. He broke my little teenage heart, but I’m over that now. Way over it."

"Yeah but still." Joey said, looking her over again. This could be trouble.

"Hey what’s all the commotion about out here?" Justin asked as he rounded the corner from the kitchen into the entry. He was wearing his Carolina blue basketball shorts and matching jersey.

"Hey Justin." Claudia turned around to face him.

"Hi…" he studied her face. "Claud?" She nodded and laughed. "Wow, look at you." He looked over from head to toe, and back up.

"Well look at you, you’re taller than me now." She laughed.

"I was always taller than you."

"I don’t think so pal. If so, then not by much."

"Yeah whatever." He smiled as he gave her a hug, he stood a good four inches over her now. "So what are you doing here?" He just couldn’t take his eyes off her.

"I spotted Lance on the highway and flagged him down then he lead me here." She smiled.

"Cool, well we’re just going to chill here today, shoot some hoops and stuff like that. You wanna hang?" Justin asked.

"I have class at three, but I can stay till then, is that okay?" She asked Joey.

"Yeah." He nodded. "But I need to get dressed." He took the stairs two at a time while the three of us went out to the back yard to get caught up.

We all chatted for a bit, then Joey started playing with the basketball at his feet. That was usually enough to get Justin in the B-Ball frame of mind, but not that day. Justin just sat there staring at Claudia, asking all kinds of questions, more than just ‘catching up’ questions.

Joey and I ended up playing a little one on one, while the "kids" played 20 questions on the patio. Finally, at almost 5:00p, Claudia remembered she had class to go to.

"Oh shit, I’ve totally missed my class." She stood up and grabbed for her purse.

"What time is it over?" Justin asked as he stood up from the table.

"Crap… six." She stopped moving and sat down. "I’ll never make it." She sighed.

"Can you make it up?" Joey asked as he walked over and sat the ball on the ground by Justin’s feet.

"Yeah, it’s just a lab. But still, I don’t like missing class." She frowned.

"Well hey, if you’ve already missed it you should just stay here for dinner. I’m going to call Chris and JC and have them come over for a cook out, how does that sound?" Joey asked. At the mention of JC’s name I saw Claudia’s smile twitch, but she nodded anyway. Maybe she wasn’t totally over him yet.

"Yeah, I guess so." She sat back in the chair and sighed. "I can’t believe I missed my class."

We picked up a little and got the grill ready so that when the others showed up we were ready to start. Chris walked in as Joey and I were dousing the grill bricks with lighter fluid to get it started. He walked straight back to the backyard and helped himself to a soda from the cooler by the door. "Hi, I’m Chris, you must be Kat."

"You’d think so, huh?" Claudia smiled. "I’ve been mistaken for her twice today, but I’m sorry... I’m not."

"Heather?" He asked. She shook her head. "Amanda?" She shook her head again. "Julie?"

"No." She shook her head again, and laughed.

"Hey Claud, quit torturing the boy." I shouted from the basketball court where the grill was set up.

"Ahh, hi Claudia, it’s nice to meet you."

"Well, it’s nice to see you again, Chris." She smiled and shook his hand.

"We’ve met?" he asked.

"Quite a few times. I guess since I don’t have Stanley with me, you don’t recognize me." Claudia laughed.

"Stanley?" He gave her a look, then his eyes flew open. "Shut up. You’re that Claudia?"

"Oh come on you guys, I can’t possibly look that different."

"You do, you totally do." Chris laughed. "Wow, I never thought we’d see you again."

"I never thought I’d see you guys either." She laughed and looked toward the door as JC walked in.

"Hey hey y’all, let the par-tay begin!"  He shouted as he came out to the backyard carrying a grocery bag full of snacks.

"Hi JC." Claudia said softly, catching his eye as he walked past her.

"Hi…"  He said, sounding stunned.

"Claudia." Chris leaned over and whispered loudly in JC’s ear.

"I know." JC threw Chris a look. "It’s uh, it’s been a while, how are you?"

"I’m good, you?" She asked, keeping her poise.

"I’m… we’re all good." He looked around at the rest of us.

"I’m glad to hear it." She smiled, and when he didn’t say anything she said, "Come on, the grill is almost ready," and hopped down the steps to where we were standing. JC followed close behind, not saying a word.

While we hung out that night JC looked almost ashamed and hardly said a word all night, which is unusual for him. Justin pretty much played puppy dog to Claudia all evening, what a role reversal. As we were leaving, Justin asked for her number and she gave it to him with a kind smile and a quick kiss on the cheek. Man… was that boy smitten.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It wasn’t long before Claudia became an almost permanent fixture at our group get togethers, she and Justin started dating not long after the fateful cook out in Joey's backyard. She got along pretty well with the other girlfriends and they liked her. It was a good time all around.

We started having management problems a couple months after that. As a group, we decided that we were basically being screwed, and that we needed new representation. Claudia stuck by us through the entire court battle and bad publicity. Kat left me right after we broke off from Lou, which made sense, her striving band was trying to get Lou to sign them. Having me at her side would pretty much squelch any chances of that. Chris’ girlfriend was in the band with Kat, so she left too. I guess that doesn’t say much for our relationships, does it?

But Claudia was there, advising us on our rights and helping us out emotionally. By the time all of that garbage was settled, she and Justin had been dating for just about a year. She was still living in her little homey apartment, but for as much time as she spent at Justin’s she might as well have been living there.

Before jumping into a new management pool, we decided to start work on a new album. One we could work with and put together on our own. On the first scheduled day of recording, Justin showed up almost an hour late.

"Dude, not cool." Chris said as Justin rushed in.

"You guys. Claudia is pregnant." He said quickly as he dropped himself into a chair in the producers booth.

"What?!" JC asked as he ran into the room. "Justin, you’ve got to be kidding. Please tell me you’re kidding."

"I’m not. I wish I was." He held his head in his hands. "Jesus… what am I going to do?"

"Well first off, are you sure?" I asked.

"Why do you think I’m late, Sherlock." Justin snapped. "We’ve just spent the last hour at the doctors waiting for the blood test results."

"Oh man." JC said softly.

"JC man, what am I going to do?" Justin asked, a look of true panic in his eyes. "I can’t do this now. Not after the whole TransCon thing. This is the very last thing I need right now." He sighed and covered his eyes with his arm. "Shit!"

"What does Clyde think of all this?" By then we had started calling her Clyde… I don’t even know how that came to be, I think Chris started it when he was going through that "everyone gets a new nickname" phase. I was Lop for a while. Who knows… but Clyde stuck.

"I’m not 100% sure." Justin sighed. "I dropped her off at my place and came right over."

"Dude Justin, that’s kind of important don’t you think?" Chris asked.

"Well yeah, but so is this." Justin waved his hand at the soundboard.

"Not even close pal. You’d better go talk to her before she starts jumping to conclusions and hating you for something you haven’t even done yet." I explained.

"JC?" Justin asked, looking at JC like a scared kid. Which is exactly what he was.

"Go, we’ll meet up here on Thursday like planned." JC stood up and rustled Justin’s hair. "It’ll be okay. You’ll work this out."

"Shit…" Justin said under his breath as he stood up to leave.

"What? What’s going on?" Joey asked, walking into the studio with a juice box in one hand and a bag of pretzels in the other.

"Um, Clyde’s pregnant." JC said softly.

"DAMN! Whoa, what’s the kid gonna do?" Joey asked as he set his drink down on the soundboard.

"I don’t know." JC picked up the juice box and handed it to Joey, "Not on the equipment."

"So are we gonna do this today or no?" Joey asked.

"No." JC shook his head.

"Do you think we should do something?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" Chris asked.

"I don’t know. I feel like we should do something. Call Claudia or something." I shrugged.

"No, they need to work this out themselves." JC said. "Let’s go home and take a breather. We’ll be back here Thursday."

"Okay." We said almost in unison. We left, with a lot on our minds.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Can you tell us how far along she is?" Justin asked at their first doctors appointment a couple weeks later.

"We’ll be able to tell a lot here in just a second." The doctor said as he spread gel on Claudia's stomach.

Claudia reached for Justin’s hand and squeezed it hard as she took a deep breath. The doctor ran the wand over Claudia’s midsection and watched the screen. It was a couple minutes before he stepped back and said, "I’m sorry. This is an eptopic pregnancy."

"What does that mean?" Justin asked.

"The embryo has implanted itself in the fallopian tube, instead of in the uterus." He explained. "It’s not going to be a viable pregnancy. I’m sorry."

"So I’m going to lose the baby?" Claudia asked, with tears in her voice.

"We’re going to have to do a procedure to remove it." He explained carefully. "We’ll do what we can to save the fallopian tube, but understand that we might have to remove it completely."

"Does that mean I can’t have children?" Claudia’s voice shook and she squeezed Justin’s hand tighter.

"Not at all. It might be a little more difficult to conceive next time because taking away one fallopian tube is like halving your chances." The doctor pointed to a little diagram.

"What if I don’t have this procedure?" She asked.

"It could rupture your fallopian tube and cause a severe hemorrhage."

"It could?" She asked.

"This one will." He pointed to the diagram again. "This pregnancy is here, more than halfway up the tube itself. If it were closer to the uterus, there might be a chance it wouldn’t rupture."

"So I have to have surgery?" She wiped her eyes on her sleeve and looked at Justin, who hadn’t said a word.

"Yes." The doctor said. "As soon as possible."

"Today." Justin finally spoke. "We can’t go home and think about this for a week, it has to be today."

"We’ll get her in as soon as possible." The doctor said. "I’ll get your appointment." He left the room and Claudia fell apart in Justin’s arms.

"Justin why is this happening?" She cried into his chest as she held onto his sleeves.

"I don’t know sweetie." He stroked her hair. "Maybe this is Gods way of saying we aren’t ready yet." He kissed her temple.

"But then why do I have to lose my fallopian tube? Am I never supposed to have kids?" She sat back and wiper her eyes. "I mean, what does this mean?"

"I don’t know sweetie, I don’t know." Justin had never felt so helpless in his life.

"I’m scared Justin, I don’t like hospitals. Will you stay with me?"

"Of course I will… of course I will. I won’t leave you alone, not for one second. Not ever." He kissed her forehead as the doctor came back in the room.

"You can go ahead and take her upstairs and get her checked in. She’d scheduled for surgery today at 4:00." He said.

"Will she have to stay overnight?" Justin asked.

"Yes, but she’ll be able to leave tomorrow morning. She’s going to be just fine."

"Okay." Justin said softly. "Let’s go." He helped Claudia get her stuff together, then took her upstairs to check in.

Justin stayed right there beside her the entire time she was in the hospital, except of course when she was in surgery. He called us when she went in and all of us came down to wait it out with him.

"Where’s her dad?" JC asked.

"Um, he’s out of the country again.  I’m not sure how to reach him." Justin said, resting his chin in his hands.

"She’s gonna be okay Just." Joey said as he messed Justin’s hair.

"I know." He mumbled.

"Is there anyone we can call for you or anything?" I asked.

"No, I called my mom already. I told her Clyde was having surgery on her fallopian tubes, but I didn’t tell her why. She’d freak and I don’t need that now."

"Is there anything we can do at all?" I asked.

"Not really, but thanks." He stared out the window and sighed. We sat in silence until the doctor came in three hours later.

"Justin Timberlake?" He asked.

"Yeah, yes. That’s me." Justin stood up and ran his hands through his hair.

"Would you like to talk in private?" He asked, looking at the four of us standing close by.

"Is Claudia okay?" Justin asked.

"I really think it’s best if we talk in private." The doctor said again.

"Is she okay?" Justin asked a bit louder this time.

"She came out of surgery fine." The doctor said. Justin relaxed noticeably and followed the doctor out of the waiting room; the rest of us sighed with relief and began chatting.

"So what’s wrong?" Justin asked as he shut the door to the doctor’s office.

"While we were removing the fallopian tube, we noticed a small mass on her ovary."

"Okay…?"

"It’s a tumor. We sent it to be biopsied which is why it took so long in surgery. It’s cancer Mr. Timberlake. We’ve removed both of her ovaries and her uterus; they were badly damaged due to the tumor. It was a miracle that she conceived at all. And a miracle that because of the pregnancy, we may have saved her life." The doctor kept talking but Justin didn’t hear a word he said. All Justin could hear was the sound of his heart beating in his ears. Tears welled up in his eyes and his pulse quickened.

"It’s cancer?" Justin interrupted the doctor’s monologue as he squinted and looked up at him in disbelief.

"Yes."

"She’s going to die?" He whispered.

"That depends on how far its spread." The doctor said slowly. "We’re going to admit her to the hospital to run more tests and to of course start treatment."

"Treatment?"

"Chemotherapy."

"Oh God." Justin put his head between his knees. He rocked back and forth and said, "I’m going to be sick."

"Just a minute." The doctor sprung into action, grabbing a tray from the nurse’s station just outside his office. He handed it to Justin who just dropped it on the floor.

"Oh God…" He whispered. "When can I see her?"

"She’ll be in recovery very soon."

"I can see her then?"

"For a few minutes, yes." The doctor nodded.

"Take me there." Justin’s voice caught in his throat as he stood up and followed the doctor. They passed the waiting room where I was standing with the others. I saw Justin walk down the hallway behind the doctor and he did not look good.

"J man, what’s going on?" I asked as they passed. Justin didn’t say a word or look back, he just waved me off and continued walking behind the doctor.

"Something’s not right." I said to the others.

"What? What’s wrong?" Joey asked.

"I don’t know." I shrugged. "Justin just walked by and he looked like hell."

"What the hell?" JC stood up and walked to the hallway, but Justin was out of sight.

 

"Claudia honey, I’m right here." Justin said more than an hour later when Claudia started to wake up.

"Justin?"

"Yeah babe." He sniffed and forced a smile.

"I’m okay, don’t cry now." She said sluggishly. She tried to smile, but only managed half.

"I know you are." He stroked her hair and sighed. "It’s been one hell of a day, huh?"

"You can say that again."

"It’s been one hell of a day, huh?" He smiled and wiped his eyes.

"Shut up." She smiled and turned her head to face him. "I love you honey."

"Oh Claud, I love you too." He leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips. "You smell like a hospital."

"Ha ha, very funny." She said slowly. "When can I go home?"

"Oh, um, I don’t know hun, the doctor needs to talk to you."

"Is everything okay?" She asked, sensing his fear.

"We’ll be okay."

"Justin…"

"The doctor needs to talk to you." He let go of her hand and went to get the doctor.  There was no way he could tell her the news himself.

The two of them came back into the room and Justin resumed his position beside her bed with her hand in his. The doctor explained that the surgery went well and she could expect a great recovery but that they had found something else. Before he even said the word, Justin squeezed Claudia’s hand and tried to keep himself composed.

As soon as the word "cancer" was uttered, Claudia began to shake uncontrollably. "I’m… I have cancer? I’m only 18."

"Ovarian cancer can strike at any age, depending on your risk factors. Has anyone in your family had cancer?"

"I don’t know. I’m not sure." She seemed dazed. "What does this mean?"

"You have what we call stage III ovarian cancer. That means that the cancer has spread to other pelvic organs. Your other ovary, and your uterus." He explained. "We are going to want to start you on chemotherapy right away to kill any cancer that we’ve missed."

"I’m never going to have children." She stated it as a fact, not a question.

"No, I’m sorry. You will not." The doctor said quietly. Only then did Claudia begin to cry. "I’m sorry." The doctor said as he patted Claudia’s arm. "I’ll be here all night if you need to talk."

Claudia nodded against Justin’s chest and the doctor left. She sobbed while Justin held her close, trying not to get hysterical himself. "Justin, I don’t want this to be happening." She choked.

"Baby I don’t either." He rubbed her back and tried to stop her from shaking.

"How can they expect me to handle this? I can’t do it Justin, I can’t."

"Yes you can baby, I’m going to be here for you, no matter what. I’m not going to leave you to do this by yourself. Not ever."

"Make it go away!" She cried.

"Oh Claud, I would take it if I could. I would…"

"This sucks." She wiped her eyes and tried to control herself.

"Like I said, this has been one hell of a day, huh?"

"Justin, I don’t know if I can handle any more." Her face contorted as she began to cry again.

"I’ll help you." He stroked her hair and kissed her ear. "But right now, you need to go to sleep. You’ve been through a lot today, physically."

"Don’t leave." She said, clinging to his shirt.

"I’m going to stay right here till you wake up in the morning." He kissed her forehead as she lay back down. She cried quietly as she drifted back to sleep, never letting go of Justin’s shirt.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Hey guys." Justin said softly as he walked into the waiting room, we had barely moved all day.

"Justin what’s going on? It’s been hours." JC said as he stood up.

"Is everything okay?" I asked as I tore myself away from the window.

"No, it’s not." Justin averted his red and swollen eyes as he dropped himself into the nearest chair. "It’s cancer." He practically whispered.

"Cancer?" Joey gasped as he leaned over and put his hand on Justin’s back.

"Yeah, ovarian cancer." Justin sighed then leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Jesus… how’s Claudia? Does she know?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, she knows. The doctor came in and told her a little while ago. She’s sleeping now. I need to get back in there."

"Hey J, is there anything we can do?" JC asked.

"No, not right now." Justin used his knees to push himself up then stretched his arms over his head. "I need to call my mom and let her know what’s going on." He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "Um, I’m not gonna make it to the studio this week Jace."

"Of course not, don’t worry about it." JC said softly. He tousled Justin’s hair and smiled. "You just go take care of Clyde. We’ll take care of everything else."

"Thanks guys." He tried to smile, but I saw the tears well up in his eyes. "This is just gonna be a really whacked out week, after things settle down I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine." He said as his voice shook. He repeated himself once more as if trying to convince himself.

We each gave him a tight hug and said a little group prayer before he headed back to Claudia's room. We left shortly after, knowing there was nothing we could do that night.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We put our CD on hold while Justin dealt with Claudia and her chemotherapy treatment. After more than 6 months she was back on track and we could head back into the studio. Justin showed up every day, no matter how tired he was after staying up all night with Claudia while she warded off night sweats. He hit every note and  played the part of the happy-go-lucky kid for the media. No one ever knew that his heart broke every day he went home to his beautiful girlfriend, lying cold and weak in the bed they shared.

Fourteen months after she was diagnosed Claudia was told she was in remission.   Her chemotherapy days were over. She and Justin were so ecstatic, they threw a huge "Farewell to Cancer" party and invited everyone they knew. It was like Justin, the real Justin, was back again. They were alive and well… and reborn.

I mingled with everyone at the party, nervous about the release of our album that was due out in the next week. I saw Claudia catching a moment to herself by the back door so I headed over with a drink in my hand.

"Hey kid." I smiled.

"Hi Lance, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a while." She smiled and I realized how long it had been since I’d actually seen her smile.

"I’m doing good, how about you?" I asked. "Oh that’s a dumb question, you must be feeling great." I laughed.

"Yeah, I do. I finally feel like everything’s going to be all right, you know? I mean mentally as well as physically." She paused, "Justin and I have been going to counseling… did he tell you that?"

I shook my head, "No, he didn’t mention it."

"Oh, well, then don’t say anything. He was having a really hard time with this whole thing and I could barely hold myself together half the time. Put us together and you’ve got trouble. But anyways, we’ve been going for a couple months now and its helped so much. I think Justin’s finally got it through his head that this isn’t his fault."

"How could he think it was his fault?" I asked, stunned.

"He thinks that because of the baby…" She paused as a shadow passed over her face, "Because of the baby I had to go through this."

"That’s crazy." I shook my head.

"I know, in fact it’s because of the baby that I’m here today. We caught it in time."

"Exactly."

"But like I was saying. It feels like we can get back to normal now, you know? Like we can go back to just being Justin and Claudia for once."

"Yeah… well that’s great. You have no idea how happy we all are for you." I pulled her in for a tight hug. "It’s great to have you back."

"It’s great to be back." She laughed and the sound tickled my ears.

"Man, it’s so good to hear that laugh again." I held her closer and kissed her cheek. "You need to do that more often."

"I will, I promise." She smiled and caught someone's eye over my shoulder. "Hey, next weekend I wanna have you guys over to celebrate the new album." She said as JC walked up behind me.

"You got it." He high fived her then pulled her into a hug. "We’ve got lots to celebrate this month."

"You betcha. But if you come you’ve got to bring your world famous JC chili dip." When she smiled her eyes danced.

"Anything for you." He laughed and launched into a conversation. I gave her a small wave before I headed outside to mingle with the crowd.

When almost everyone had left and it was just family and close friends, Claudia gathered everyone out on the back porch and sat Justin down on the swing. She stood beside him and held his hand and she began to speak, "Justin, I just wanted to take this moment to thank you in front of everyone we love. Thank you for staying with me in the hospital on all those long nights, and even longer days. Thank you for knowing when to comfort me, and knowing when to leave me alone. Thank you for holding my hair when I was puking my guts out." The small audience chuckled as she continued. "Thank you for having faith in yourself enough to know that you would remain strong when I couldn’t. Thank you for making my life so beautiful and so magical, that even cancer couldn’t knock me down. And Justin thank you for loving me even when I told you I hated you, and never wanted to see your stupid hair again." She smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Afro!" JC shouted from the back of the crowd. Everyone laughed then let Claudia continue.

"And while I’m here I'd like to say thank you to JC, Joey, Chris and Lance... for understanding that Justin loved you guys, but had to be with me. You guys are the best friends we could ever hope for, and I love you all." She smiled and blew kisses in our direction.

"Now Justin…"

"Yes?" He’d remained quiet this whole time.

"If I’ve learned one thing over the last 14 months, six days and…" She checked his watch, "Seven hours… it’s that… well, it’s that chemotherapy sucks and you will barf no matter what they say." She smiled and caught her breath. "And also that we all take every day for granted. God has given us a gift, every morning we wake up, every night we go to sleep. I don’t want to take anything for granted anymore. I know you’ve promised me for a long time but I want to make it official tonight. I want you to take this, and give it to me, and not take tomorrow for granted anymore." She handed him a small silver box.

He flipped it open and looked at the platinum diamond solitaire resting on the black velvet. It was just what he would have chosen, and it was perfect. He smiled and cleared his throat as he took the ring out of the box and got down on one knee in front of everyone. "Claudia Danielle Scharber, will you do me the honor, of becoming my wife?" He practically whispered.

"It’s about time." She said as she held her hand out for him to slip the ring on. He stood up and kissed her before looking back to where the other guys and I stood.

"You knew about this?" He asked with a smile.

"Nope." I shook my head.

"Not me." Chris held up his hands.

"Like she’d tell me?" Joey asked.

"Okay okay, I knew." JC admitted. "And I helped pick the ring out, so if you don’t like it-"

"Tough." Claudia laughed. She kissed Justin once more and said, "I’m sorry if I freaked you out there."

"It’s okay! I couldn’t have planned this better. But if you’d have waited until Christmas, I could have done it my way." He smiled and brushed his lips across her forehead.

"You’re taking for granted that Christmas will come." She said seriously. "I’ve told you I wanted to get married… married to you, before I die. So let’s do it."

"Name the time and place, I’ll be there." He smiled and rested his forehead against hers.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was a month later, just after the new year, that things came together. The time was 5:00pm, the place was Mt. Collins Church on the Hill, and Justin was there. Joey, Chris, JC and I waited nervously at the front of the church while Justin shifted his weight from foot to foot, glancing up the aisle every couple seconds.

"You doing okay kid?" I asked.

"Shhh." Justin hissed back at me.

"She’ll be here in a minute." Chris whispered from behind me.

"Shut up you guys." Justin whispered loudly. Chris and I stood up straight and kept our eyes forward, trying not to laugh, until the organ music started.

I turned slowly to watch Claudia walk down the aisle escorted by her father. She was in a gorgeous snow white dress that looked like a fairytale. It was very plain, and very classy, with a long train and a translucent veil. She’d never looked so beautiful.

I heard Justin suck in his breath quickly as she smiled at him through the veil. He’d managed to keep his hands from shaking until then. He clasped his hands together tightly in front of him, as she made her way towards him.

When she finally got there after what seemed like hours, Justin took her hand and turned to face the priest. He noticed that her hand was shaking just as much as his was, and together they could almost hold tight enough to stop. He smiled sheepishly at her and whispered, "You look all glowy." How he managed a sentence is beyond me, but that sent Clyde into a fit of giggles.

"All glowy?" She whispered back between giggles.

"Beautiful, you look beautiful." He whispered as the priest started the ceremony.

Claudia had a permanent smile on her face the whole time and we could all tell she was trying her hardest not to laugh. She’d just get herself under control when she’d catch one of our eyes and start giggling again. Justin looked over twice to give us a stone cold glare, but that didn’t help any. We were way too immature for that.

"I do." Justin said softly, smiling shakily at Claudia.

"And do you Claudia, take Justin to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, to love and the cherish, in sickness and in health for all the days of your life?" The priest asked.

"I do." She sniffed.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss the bride." He smiled. Justin took a step forward and raised Claudia’s veil, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand then leaned in slowly to kiss her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and completed the kiss.

"Ladies and gentlemen, friends and loved ones, I would like to introduce for the first time, Mr. And Mrs. Justin Timberlake." The priest smiled as Justin and Claudia turned around and stepped into the aisle.

Chris nudged me in the ribs as he walked by and I passed him a kleenex from my pocket. "No, dude look." He pointed up the aisle and saw Justin swoop Claudia up in his arms and carry her down the front steps of the church to their awaiting limo.

"He’s going to get a hernia if he keeps doing that." Chris smiled and headed down the aisle with the bridesmaid he was paired with.

"But it’d be worth it." I smiled and laced my arm though Donna's, the bridesmaid I was paired with and the girl Clyde had been trying to set me up with.

The reception lasted well into the night and the sun was rising as we pulled up in front of my house the next morning.

Claudia and Justin went to Greece for 2 weeks for their honeymoon, and didn’t think about us once, I’m sure.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Happy anniversary to you! Happy anniversary to you! Happy anniversary dear Justin and Clyde! Happy anniversary to you!" JC, Chris Joey and I sang as we stood with the rest of their families around a big cake. A piece of their original wedding cake sat nearby, it was mostly thawed in the sunlight. Justin and Claudia took turns feeding each other a bite of their wedding cake before cutting and serving the anniversary cake.

"One whole year." JC shook his head.

"What?" Justin laughed. "Come on, you knew we’d make it."

"Nah, I knew you would. It’s still just weird." JC hugged Justin and stood back. "You’re just a kid!"

"Yeah but I’m a married kid." Justin laughed.

"Congrats guys, are you guys going anywhere special?" I asked.

"We’re going to Montreal to visit my dad." Claudia laughed and wrapped her arm around Justin’s waist.

"I don’t really have time to go on a second honeymoon or anything. I mean, we’re going to be leaving here in a couple months for out tour. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then."

"True." I nodded.

"But we’re taking off for the weekend."

"That sounds like fun." JC smiled.

"Hey Justin! Does your wife have any friends for me?" Joey shouted across the room.

"Joey, I’ve already hooked you up with all the single girls I know." Claudia laughed.

"What about me?" Chris asked, as he snuck up behind her.

"You want me to hook you up with Joey?" She raised an eyebrow and poked him in the side.

"No, I want you to hook me up with all your single girl friends." He smiled.

"Won’t Priscilla be upset?" Claudia scanned the crowd for Chris’s current girlfriend.

"Maybe." He shrugged and kissed Clyde’s cheek. "I can’t believe you’ve stayed with this foolio for so long."

"I know… it’s been rough putting up with his morning attitude and his hair issues."

"You’re a strong woman." Chris laughed and socked Justin in the arm playfully.

"Come on J, how ‘bout some one on one little man?" Joey asked as he bounced the basketball at Justin’s feet.

"Little man?" Justin laughed, standing tall at 6 feet.

"Bring it on tough guy." Joey passed the ball to Justin who quickly kissed Claudia’s cheek, then followed Joey to the court.

"Those boys… I swear." She shook her head and smiled.

"Hey, so when are you guys leaving for Montreal?" I asked.

"Um next Friday, and we’ll be back Sunday night."

"You should just stay over and fly back Monday, we don’t have meetings or anything till I think next Wednesday." JC said.

"Yeah, but I have my doctors appointment first thing Monday morning." She said, running her finger through the icing on her plate.

"Are you okay?" I asked, I felt the blood drain from my face.

"Yeah… yeah it’s just a check up. I go every six weeks." She smiled quickly and looked up at us.

"You feeling okay and everything?" JC asked as Chris slipped away.

"Uh huh." She nodded and licked her finger. "I’m feeling all right."

"Well call us and let us know how things go." I said as I took the plate from her. "I’ll get that." I picked up a couple of the other dirty plates on the table and carried them to the kitchen. I stood at the sink and rinsed the dishes for a couple minutes, losing myself in thought as I stared out the window at Justin and Joe playing basketball.

"Lance?" Claudia asked softly as she entered the kitchen behind me.

"Yeah?" I snapped out of my trance and put the dish I was holding on the drying rack.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." I nodded and leaned against the counter, facing her.

"You’re sure?"

"I’m sure." I smiled and ran my hand through my hair.

"How are things going with Kendra?" She asked.

"Things are going good." I nodded slowly. "She’s um, in Miami this weekend."

"Visiting family?"

"Yeah, her grandparents." I smiled. "Are you nervous about going to the doctors?"

She paused for a second and said, "No, not really. I go all the time. It’s just a check up, like I said."

"To see if the cancers come back?" I played with the dishtowel in my hands.

"Yeah." She nodded and reached out to touch my shoulder, "That is a possibility Lance, you know that."

"I know." I nodded. "But you’re feeling okay right?"

"Yes, I’m feeling fine." She knelt into my line of sight and caught my eye; "I’m fine." She smiled. "You worry to much."

"I know." I forced a smiled and sighed.

"That’s Justin’s job, you just concentrate on what’s important."

"This is important."

"Yes it is, but it’s nothing to worry about." She grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the counter. "Come on, this is a party."

"Okay, okay." I laughed, and let her pull me back outside.

 

She was right, there was nothing to worry about. Her appointment went just fine and the doctor said she was looking good. She had a little cold, so the doctor prescribed a decongestant and told her to get plenty of rest. That wouldn’t be hard, she loved to sleep.

She slept a lot the next couple days, per the doctor’s orders of course, but she wasn’t getting any better. She decided to self medicate herself with Sudafed and Tylenol for the next couple weeks. Just before her next appointment she started complaining about feeling light headed, and then the night before the appointment, she passed out on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Justin called me in the middle of the night from the hospital, "Hey, we’re at the hospital." He said quietly when I answered the phone.

Me heart jumped into my throat, "What happened?"

"She’s been complaining about being light headed for the past couple days, and then tonight she passed out when she got up to go to the bathroom. She didn’t hurt herself, but I freaked out and brought her in."

"So what’s going on? What are they doing?" I asked as I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

"Lance?" Kendra asked, rolling over to face me as I switched the light on.

"It’s Justin." I said quietly.

"Does he know it’s…" She glanced at the clock, "Three forty two in the morning?"

"He’s at the hospital." I said. I climbed out of bed and walked down the hall to the living room where I dropped myself on the couch. "So what’s going on?"

"Well they’re doing some blood work right now, you know, stuff like that." Justin sighed. "Listen, I don’t have any more change and yours was the only number I could remember off the top of my head, can you call the other guys?" Justin lowered himself into the hard plastic emergency room chair.

"Yeah, yeah I’ll do that." I played with the tassels on the end of the blanket over the back of the couch.

"It doesn’t have to be right now, you know, cuz it’s so late."

"No, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. You guys are at St. Lukes?"

"Yeah." He said with what sounded like relief.

"Okay, I’ll call the guys and we’ll be there in a bit."

"Okay, thanks a lot Lance."

"No problem kid." He didn’t say anything for a minute, "She’s gonna be okay J."

"I know." He said after a pause.

"Okay. We’ll see you in a few."

"Thanks. Bye."

I hung up with Justin and called the others, waking up all but Joey. "You… you’re awake?" I asked when he answered the phone in his usual perky voice.

"Yeah, you are?" He asked.

"Um, yeah." I let my confusion set for a minute, the remembered it was Joey I was talking to, and it didn’t seem so out of the ordinary. "Justin called me, Clyde passed out so he took her to the hospital, they’re running some tests right now."

"Oh man, is she okay?"

"Yeah, she didn’t hurt herself or anything." I explained.

Joey sighed. "Okay, well, where are they at?"

"St. Lukes." I said as I poured myself a glass of orange juice. "I’m going to head over there after I shower, I think JC and Chris will be heading over soon too."

"All right, I’ll clean up here and I’ll meet you guys there."

"Okay."

"The same place we were last time?" He asked. "When she had her surgery?"

"No, Justin was in the emergency room, so I guess we’ll be there."

"Okay." Joey stood up and stretched. "I’ll see you there."

"Bye." I hung up, then went down the hall to the bathroom to take a quick shower.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Any news?" I asked as I walked into the little waiting area by the ER. It was a little after 5 in the morning; I had stopped to get donuts for everyone. JC and Chris were alone in the ER waiting area.

"Nope. The doctor came to get Justin about a half hour ago, but we haven’t heard anything since." JC shrugged. He stretched his feet out in front of himself and yawned.

"Well I guess no news is good news, right?" I asked.

"Yeah…" Chris nodded and played with the cord of the dirt colored mini blinds.

"Yeah what? Ooo donuts." Joey said as way of a greeting. He took a bite then looked at us. "Yeah what?" He asked again.

"Yeah no news is good news." I said.

"Oh… so you haven’t heard anything yet?" He asked as he wiped the powdered sugar off his mouth.

"Not yet." I shook my head.

"What do they think is wrong?"

"I don’t know." I shrugged.

"Could it be cancer do you think?" Joey asked quietly.

"No." Chris shook his head.

"Yes it could." JC said, leaning forward in his chair to rest his elbows on his knees.

"Because she passed out?" Chris asked.

"That could be just the first symptom." JC explained.

"Or it could just be that she stood up too fast." I said. "Let’s hope for the best."

"Yeah, it could be anything." JC nodded… We all hoped.

That time she was lucky. That time is was nothing. The doctor said she was feeling faint because of lack of iron, and put her on supplements, she felt better almost immediately. We spent the next couple months planning our tour, and getting everything set to go. It was going to be a crazy tour, 4 months straight, hitting just about every major city in America, with trips to Alaska and Hawaii thrown in, so no one was missed.

Our first show was on the 4th of July and we opened it in Washington DC. We had all of our families there to help us celebrate, and it was amazing. There could never be a better show, it was awesome. That was our last night of fun, from there on out, it was work work work. We’d call home as often as we could, and we’d send out e-mail just about every night, but that was wearing thin on everyone. Aside from the fact that we’d work on as little as 3 hours of sleep a night, we were mentally and physically driven into the ground. There were times when we’d spend out entire day off, asleep on the bus. But it was worth it, it was all worth it.

About 4 weeks into the tour, we were in Detroit getting ready for the first of two shows there, when Justin got called out of our meet and greet. Things like that just didn’t happen, so we were all curious what the emergency was. As soon as we were done we went to Justin's changing room and Joey knocked. "Hey kiddo, you okay?"

"Come on in guys." Justin shouted from inside. Joey pushed the door open and we filed into the cramped space. His eyes were puffy and red, and there was a small pile of kleenex on the table.

"What happened?" JC asked, we all stood around, to nervous to sit.

"Um, Clyde had her doctors appointment today, the doctor said the cancer is back. It spread." He sniffed and looked anywhere but at us.

"Oh shit…" Chris whispered as he sat in the big recliner chair beside Justin.

"Are you going home?" I asked.

"I can’t Lance. We have two shows here." He sounded more angry than anything.

"Justin, you know you can go home if you need to. We can reschedule a couple shows." JC explained.

"I know…" he sighed and blew his nose. "She said she’s fine though. Jesus she makes me nuts sometimes." He half laughed as he wiped his nose and threw the kleenex in the pile.

"She makes us all nuts." Joey smiled and shoved his hands in his pocket.

"I know." Justin smiled and put his head in his hands. "It’s just, I mean… shit what am I supposed to do? If I go home I won’t be able to do anything for her. And she doesn’t want us to have to change any shows or anything."

"Yeah, but if you need to go home, you can." Chris said.

"I don’t need to, she’s telling me not to. But shit… I mean, this is a big thing. I can’t stand that I have to be here instead. I wish I could just beam myself home right now. You know? Just be there right now."

"How is she going to manage the chemo by herself?" I asked.

"My mom is going to go stay with her for a little while." He said softly.

"How’s she doing though?" Chris asked.

"She’s fine, I’m the one who’s a mess here." Justin grabbed another kleenex and just held it in his hands. "She feels fine and she’s amazingly held together. She was acting all normal, she told me what the doctor said then she was all, ‘but then when I came home Jasper had messed in the house, right in front of the kitchen sink, how gross.’ What planet is she from?"

We all laughed quietly, then Joey said, "Well you know, if she’s doing alright, maybe… maybe you know, everything’s okay."

Justin sighed and stood up, "I know… I know."

"And we have two days drive time next week, so why don’t you fly home, then fly out to meet us, that’ll give you at least one full day at home." JC suggested.

"Yeah, I think I’ll do that." Justin blew his nose again and grabbed all the tissues to throw them in the trash. "Wow, when I fall apart, I fall apart, huh?" He laughed lightly and gave us all hugs. "Thanks guys, you rock."

"You gonna be okay for tonight?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, yeah I’ll be okay." Justin nodded and ran his hands through his hair. "I’ll be all right, let’s just get out there and do it."

"There he is!" Joey smiled and slapped Justin on the back. "Okay then, let’s go."

"Here we go… one more time… everybody’s feeling fine…" JC started.

"Argh… shut it Jace." Chris laughed and led the way out of Justin’s dressing room, we had a show to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Justin walked into the house he and Claudia shared, and was greeted by his mother, wearing a yellow and white striped apron, holding a dishrag. "Jeez mom, is it 1950 where you live?" He laughed and gave her a big hug. "Where’s Clyde?"

"She’s in bed honey." Lynn said softly. "She wanted you to wake her up when you got here."

"How’s she doing?"

His mom paused for a second, "She’s doing alright. She saw the doctor on Monday, and I know she wants to talk to you about that."

"Is everything okay?"

"Honey, go talk to her." His mom said as she turned and went back to the kitchen.

Justin took the stairs two at a time and trotted down the hall to the master bedroom. "Hey sweetie." He said softly as he pushed the door open. He stopped cold in his tracks as he shut the door behind him. Claudia was laying on her back beneath their wedding quilt, with her hair in a high ponytail. He could see the collar of her neon pink nightshirt peeking out from the edge of the blanket, the brightness only making her look more pale. Her lips blended with the rest of her face and she had gray circles under her eyes. "Claudia? Hey sweets, I’m home." He said softly as he sat on the bed beside her. He reached out and stroked her hair as she opened her eyes.

"Hi baby." She smiled and his heart broke as she pushed herself into a sitting position.

"Hi…" he leaned down and kissed her softly as he pulled her in for a loose hug. "How are you feeling?"

"I’m alright." She smiled and started to move the sheets back.

"No stay in bed, you’re fine right there." He smiled and covered her again. "Mom said you went to the doctors on Monday?"

She nodded and settled back on the pillows, "Come on husband." She smiled, "Come to bed with your wife."

"Claudia…" Justin said softly.

"Come on Justin, just hold me." She said softly. He climbed into the bed and lay beside her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her neck softly.

"So what’d he say?" He asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

"I’m not on my chemotherapy anymore." She stated, not answering Justin’s question.

"Claudia, why not? Doctor Carnes said you’d be on it until September at least."

"I don’t want to be on it anymore. It makes me so sick, and by the time I feel better, it’s time for me to go back in." She sighed.

"But Claud, you can’t just stop taking your medicine." Justin argued and sat up a little.

"It’s not medicine." She frowned. "And yes I can."

"You’ve got to be kidding. Claudia, you have to go back on. I can’t believe my mom is going along with this." He was upset and worried at the same time.

"Justin…" She sighed, and thought for a second. "Justin, there’s no reason to continue the chemo. It’s crap. I hate it and it’s not worth it."

"Claudia." Justin sat up straight and looked down at her beside him. "There’s no reason? It’s not worth it? How about the fact that I love you? That I can’t even think about what my life would be like without you?" He stood up and paced by the foot of the bed. "I just… I just can’t believe you’re saying this."

"Justin, that’s not what I meant." Claudia pushed herself into a sitting position. "If the chemo would make me better, if there was even a small chance that it might, I would do it. I would do it all day every day. Do you think that I wouldn’t? I love you Justin, I love you more than you can know. And I can’t imagine for one second leaving you… ever." She was weak, but she was feisty.

"Then how can you just stop? The chemo can make you better. It worked last time!"

"No Justin, not this time." She shook her head and reached her hand out toward him.

He took it and sat beside her, "Claudia…"

"Justin, on Monday Doctor Carnes found out why I’ve been so lightheaded. My blood count was low, really low. So they transfused me with blood, and it didn’t help."

"What?" he asked, shocked. "Claudia why didn’t you c-"

"Let me finish." She interrupted. "They did a CT scan… there’s a tumor by my heart." Justin didn’t say anything… he couldn’t. A lump had suddenly risen in his throat, and his heart rate raced.

"I… How can… What, what are they going to do?" Justin asked as his hands turned to ice.

"Nothing." Claudia shook her head.

"Nothing?" Justin whispered in disbelief.

"They can’t operate on it because it’s too close to my heart. The only thing they can do is treat it with chemo, and that won’t get rid of it."

"Why didn’t you call me?" He whispered, his voice shook with pain.

"Because I wanted to tell you face to face. And there’s nothing you could have done."

"I could have been here." He reached out to touch her face and she smiled.

"You were needed elsewhere." She hadn’t meant it in a sarcastic way, but that was how he took it.

"Claudia, you know I’d cancel the whole damn tour for you."

"You would not." She smiled.

"I would. In a heart beat."

"You’d better not." She touched his soft curls and pulled him down to kiss his lips softly. "You need to finish up this tour, and when you’re through, we can deal with this."

"I can’t leave you now." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Claudia… you can’t ask me to leave now. I won’t."

"You can’t let the guys down, and you can’t let your fans down. You’ve worked so hard for this."

"I’ve worked so hard for this." He glanced around the room.

"Lynn will be here with me, and when you’re finished you can come take over." She said softly.

"No, I’m going to call Johnny tonight and tell him we have to cancel." Justin shook his head.

"No, Justin you can’t." She said quickly. "You need to do finish what you started, and as soon as you’re finished you can come home and we’ll deal with this, together."

"Claudia, how can you do that? How can you tell me to leave?"

"Because it’s what needs to be done." She said after a moment’s pause. "If I needed you here, I’d ask. You know I would."

"I know, but you do need me here Claud."

"I don’t. Not right now. You need to be out there on the stage performing right now. You know Justin, that if anything happened you’d be the first person called."

"I don’t want to miss anything." Justin sniffed and turned to face the door.

"You’ll be missing more, if you don’t go." She raised his hand to her lips and kissed his fingers. "Stay tonight."

"I am baby." He looked back at her. "I am staying."

"Good." She pulled his arm gently and he lay beside her holding her close. "Because I’ve missed you." She whispered.

He blotted his eyes on the quilt and whispered back, "God, I’ve missed you too." They fell asleep soon after and slept all night.

The next day Justin tried to convince her to let him stay with her but she was adamant, he had to go. Even though it tore him up inside, he left Orlando that night and joined us back on the road.

Justin performed in all the shows and chatted at all the meet and greets, but he just wasn’t there. It seemed like just the act of pretending to be happy, wore him out. He’d sleep anytime he wasn’t moving, and even missed a couple scheduled appearances because he was too tired. He wasn’t fooling anyone; he was depressed… deeply depressed. We were all worried about him, but I was the one who went to talk to him.

"Justin?" I asked as I pushed the curtain of his bunk back.

"I’m sleeping." Justin mumbled as he pulled his pillow over his head.

"Justin, come on man, we need to talk." I said pulling the pillow away.

"What?" He turned to face me with a frown.

"J, we’re worried about you." I said as I leaned my elbows on his bed. "We know you’re worried sick about Clyde, we all are. But why don’t you go on home?"

"I can’t. She doesn’t want me there." He sighed and closed his eyes.

"That’s not it.  She wants you there, she just doesn’t want you to think you have to be there instead of here."

"Lance, she tells me every time I call she doesn’t want me to come home. What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"That means she’s scared. She doesn’t want anyone to be disappointed."

"But what about me?" Justin asked. "Shit that sounds terrible right now, but what about me? What about what I want?"

"What do you want?" I asked.

"I want to be home with Claudia." He said loudly. "I want her to not be sick.  I want this whole fucking tour to be over with. I just want to go back to when everything was fine. This is bullshit Lance, this is all bullshit."

"I know man, but this is also how it is." I paused. "If you want to go home, go."

"I can’t. She’d be mad and I don’t want her to be mad at anyone when she is this sick. Especially not me."

"She won’t be mad."

"Yes she will. She gets mad at me on the phone if I even mention going home." He sighed. "I know this is a game she’s playing. And I can’t help but think is she saying that so I will come home. You know, testing me to see if I love her that much. I do Lance, I do love her that much. I love her more than that."

"I know you do."

"Then why can’t I be strong enough to go home?"

"I don’t know."

"Why can’t I just say screw it, and go? I mean, am I that afraid of what I’ll see?"

"Maybe you are…"

"Come on Lance."

"No Justin, maybe you are. Maybe for you, going home, really going home would be too much of a slap in the face. Maybe that would make everything real to you. If you’re here you can imagine that she’s doing fine, and feeling good. You aren’t faced with the daily reminder that she’s dying."

"Go to hell Lance." Justin jumped off the bed and slammed the door as he left the bus. I had gone too far.

Things were tense between Justin and I for the next couple days. It was rough, we’d always been so close, all of us I mean. And now slowly, Justin was closing himself off from the rest of us. He’d do the shows at night, then retreat to his hotel room or his bunk, and no one would see or hear him again until the next night at the show.

Finally about a week later, Justin walked off the stage during the show and sat on the stage steps with his head in his hands. Clark, our tour manager, went over to him while the rest of us stayed on stage talking to the crowd.

"You okay?" Clark shouted.

Justin shook his head and walked back to his dressing room where he threw his shirt across the room and angrily downed a bottle of water.

"Justin man, you’ve got two more songs to do tonight." Clark said as he walked into Justin’s room.

"Clark, I can’t do this anymore. I’m going nuts, you know that right?"

"I know you’re having a shitty time about it lately, but right now you’ve gotta get the job done. Now you’ve got two more songs that need to be performed, then you can come back here and do what you’ve got to do." Clark explained.

"My mom called tonight, 5 minutes before the show started. Claudia’s gotten worse but she’s afraid to tell me." Justin said quietly.

"I’m sorry to hear that kid." Clark shook his head.

"I’m going home." Justin stood up. "Tomorrow."

"Okay." He nodded and handed Justin a clean shirt.

"How am I going to tell the guys?" Justin asked, not moving any closer to the door.

"They’ll understand."

"I don’t think they will." Justin shook his head and grabbed the new shirt. He pulled it over his head and said, "They’ll do it, but they’ll never understand."

"I think you underestimate them." Clark patted Justin on his back and lead him back to the stage.

We finished up the show as soon as Justin set foot on the stage, then immediately went back to the hotel. No encores, no last minute waves from the side, no cartwheels across the stage. Just straight to the hotel. Justin had an announcement to make.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So we’re back to where we started. With Justin explaining to the rest of us, that he had to go home...

"Guys, you know I wouldn’t ask you to do this if… if I didn’t really mean it." Justin said softly, after we had all gathered around the small table in his hotel room.

"We know." JC nodded and picked at his fingernails.

"This is just um…" He stopped as tears welled up in his eyes and his bottom lip quivered. "This is just too much right now, and I need to be home." Two tears escaped, and he quickly brushed them away.

"Yeah…" Joey reached over and patted Justin’s back, like a big brother would. "You doing okay?"

"I’m okay." Justin whispered, though it was clear he wasn’t.

"How’s Clyde holding up?" I asked gently, using our nickname for his wife, Claudia.

"She’s a real trouper. You know how she is." Justin smiled and wiped his eyes again. "She um, she still doesn’t want us to cancel the tour or anything, but you guys… I just… I mean this is it this time." He covered his face with his hands as his body shook with sobs.

I grabbed a kleenex off the desk, my hand bumping Chris’s as he too reached. "Don’t worry about it man, we’ll take care of it." Chris said.

"I mean, it could be another couple months, you know, after the tour’s over… but it could be… you know…" He sniffed and covered his eyes again, "It could be real soon. And I can’t not be there anymore."

"You don’t need to explain anything." I said as I reached across the table to pat his hand. "You’ll be home tomorrow, you can be sure of that. We all will." I glanced around the table as the others nodded.

"Nsync cancels the last 8 weeks of their US tour." The headlines read the next day, as we filed through the Cleveland airport on our way to catch our flight home to Orlando. When we got to Orlando, after a silent flight, we hugged each other good bye and promised to call later that night. Then we piled into separate cars and headed to our own homes. Justin had the longest trip of all of us…

Justin walked in the front door of his house and was immediately surrounded by the scent of vanilla. His mom and one of his aunts helped him carry in his bags, then explained that they were making peanut butter cookies for Claudia, her favorite.

"Does she know I’m coming home?" Justin asked softly.

"No, we didn’t tell her."

"Okay." Justin nodded and made his way up the stairs. He knocked gently on the door to his own room then pushed it open. "Hey Clyde." He smiled as he stepped into the room.

She took her eyes away from the TV and looked at him in the doorway. "Justin? What are you doing here?" She asked in a hoarse voice.

"I’m home."

"I can see that." She smiled, but seemed exhausted at the effort.

"For good." Justin said softly as he sat on the bed beside her and kissed her lips gently. They were chapped, so he reached into the drawer on his nightstand and pulled out the lip balm. He carefully spread it on her lips and kissed her again, "Ooo, cherry." He smiled.

"You can’t be home for good, you still have a lot of touring."

"Nope, it’s done." Justin said.

"Justin…"

"Don’t argue with me now. This is more important to me. You’re more important to me." He said.

"But Jus-"

"No buts." He smiled. "It’s done. It’s over with. Can’t change it now."

"The guys are going to be pissed."

"They aren’t pissed. In fact if you’re up for visitors they’d like to come by later this week."

"Justin, I’m really doing okay." She sighed.

"Yeah, well, I wanted to see for myself." He crawled into bed beside her and held her close. "Besides, I’ve missed you."

"I’ve missed you too." She whispered. They lay together for quite a while before Claudia reached over the side of the bed for her oxygen mask. Justin’s mom had warned him about that before he came home, but it was still startling to see her with a plastic mask pressed to her face so she could breath. He held her closer, wondering how he’d ever be able to let her go.

When the rest of us came to visit later that week, Justin pulled us aside in the living room and let us know what the doctors had told him. The tumor had grown and it was cutting off some of the blood flow to her lungs, which was why she needed oxygen, and why she looked so pale. At this rate, it was only a matter of weeks. With that kind of news, Justin was holding up amazingly well. He actually seemed less depressed now that he was home.

Justin escorted us upstairs to the bedroom, and we all sat around with Clyde for about an hour. "Hey guys." She smiled weakly as we walked in. Justin had washed and brushed her hair that morning, and put a little make up on her, which was a feat in itself.

"Hey Clyde." JC smiled and leaned over to kiss her cheek. We all took our turns then sat on the bed around her or on one of the chairs Justin had moved into the room.

"I’m sorry you guys had to cancel your tour for all this crap." She looked at the bottles of medications and the oxygen machine.

"Don’t worry about that." I smiled and held her hand.

"Our main concern was that Justin got home." JC said.

"And hey, if we got to come home in the process, that’s cool." Joey smiled.

"I volunteered to sing Justin's parts if we stayed on the road." Chris laughed, "But these guys said no way."

"Next album you’ve got to sing more." Claudia smiled at Chris. "You guys should let him sing more."

"His head would balloon to the size of Texas if we let him sing any more than he already does." I smiled and tried not to think that this was probably the last time we’d see Clyde.

"Hey listen to the girl. She knows what she’s talking about." Chris playfully punched my arm.

"While we’re all here, do you have any requests?" JC asked.

"Ooo, would you really do that for lil ole me?" She asked, batting her eyelashes playfully. She laughed softly and nodded, "I’d love for you guys to sing "Sailing" for me. Can you do that one?"

"We can do anything you want." I smiled and went to the other side of the bed to stand by the others.

"Then that’s what I want to hear." She smiled, and Justin helped her into a sitting position with her oxygen mask nearby just in case.

We warmed up our chords, then began, Joey tapping the beat on his thigh…

"Well it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me… and if the wind is right you can sail away, and find tranquility… oh the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see… baby believe me… it’s not far to never never land, no reason to pretend... and if the wind is right you can find the joy, of innocence again…" We finished up the song softly, letting Chris fill out the ending with his distinctive voice, just for Claudia.

"You guys rule." She smiled around the oxygen mask. "You should do an album."

"Ya think?" Chris smiled and sat back at the foot of the bed.

We stayed and visited for a while longer, but with every minute we were there we could tell Claudia was getting more and more tired. I gave her a big hug and kissed her forehead, promising to see her later. Hoping that I would.

We were silent on the way home as Joey dropped us off at our own homes. We wondered when we’d get the call…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was less than a week later when we did. Justin's mom called us to let us know that Claudia was taken to the hospital and put on a ventilator because she couldn’t breathe on her own anymore. But even that wouldn’t help, her heart was working too hard to get the blood pumped through her broken body. Her heart was going to give out, and soon.

By the time I got to the hospital, Claudia was in a coma and Justin didn’t look much better. I spotted Justin in the hallway talking to Chris and Joey as I walked up. He saw me coming and gave me a little half wave. His eyes were red and puffy, and his nose was running. He’d obviously spent most of the day crying.

"Hey kid, you doing okay?" I asked. Stupid question, I know.

He shook his head no, and I pulled him into a hug, "You’re going to be fine J."

"I don’t want to do this." Justin said into my shoulder.

"We know you don’t." Chris said as he put his hand on Justin’s shoulder.

"Every time I try to say it I can’t. It’s like my mouth won’t let me." He whispered.

"It’s okay." I said as JC spotted us. He came over to where we were standing and messed Justin’s hair.

"Do you want us to go with you?" JC asked.

"No…" Justin stood up straight. "I have to do this."

"We can help."

"Not now you can’t." Justin shook his head, then covered his face with his hands. "This is so much harder than I ever thought it could be." We couldn’t say anything at this point, we were all choked up and fighting our own tears. "How am I supposed to just let her go? She’s my wife, I can’t just leave without a fight."

"She’s fought her fight, it’s time for her to go."

"But I’m not ready." Justin sobbed. "I’m not ready to wake up tomorrow and know she’s gone. I’m not ready to go on with my life like she was never here. I’m not ready to face whatever’s out there without her."

"Justin…" Joey started.

"How can I go back to doing anything I ever did, when she’s the reason I did it?"

"Because you’re here. You will be okay Justin." JC said softly as he draped his arm over Justin’s shoulder.

"I don’t think I can ever be okay." Justin shook his head and took a deep breath.

"Are you ready?" I asked.

"I don’t have a choice." Justin turned and opened the door to the hospital room behind him. I caught a glimpse of Clyde lying on the bed facing the window. She looked so fragile, so broken. I knew then and there that Justin was ten times stronger than I was. I could never walk into that room and face what he was going to have to.

Justin walked into the unlit room and pulled the only chair closer to Claudia’s bed. He sat there for a couple minutes, just watching her chest rise and fall, before he reached out and held her hand to his lips. Though she was unaware, he talked…

"Hey baby." He started. "I um… I just wanted you to know that I love you Clyde, I love you more than anything else in the world. I always will." He paused, "Jesus, this is too hard. Claudia I can’t let you go, I can’t just watch you leave me. I thought I’d be ready for this, I thought I’d be able to handle it, but I can’t. I can’t do this alone Claudia. I need you here with me. I’m not as strong as you are." He let his tears fall onto her hand. "I can not even imagine what my life will be without you in it to cheer me on and to stand beside me. I can’t fathom singing a song in front of a thousand fans, without you hearing it first. You were always the first." He laid his head on the bed beside Claudia’s arms and wiped his nose. He sat like that for a couple minutes before he moved to rest his chin on his hands. "God I wish you were here to tell me you were ready to go, if I knew you were ready, I could do this."

In his head he heard her voice loud and clear, "I love you Justin, but it’s time. I won’t leave until I know you’re going to be okay."

"I can’t be okay Claudia. I can’t be okay when my heart is breaking and I can’t see tomorrow." His body shook with sobs. "I don’t want to say goodbye."

"It’s not goodbye… I’ll always be with you…" He voice said.

"I will never ever forget everything you’ve done for me." Justin wiped his eyes and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. "Claudia, you’re the reason I’m here… you are my light and my happiness, you’re everything in the world to me." He paused for a second to stare at her beautiful face. "I love you baby, I will always love you." He smoothed down her hair and kissed her forehead.

An alarm beside her bed gave one short beep, then was silent. Justin watched as the monitor went blank. He held Claudia in his arms and cried into her shoulder, "I’ll hold you in my heart until the day I see you again. Baby I love you."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Her funeral was four days later, and everyone was there. Justin stood in front of the church and spoke to everyone; "All of you are here because Claudia touched your life. I know she touched mine.  She changed my life... and I am who I am today because of her." He paused to wipe his eyes. "But we can’t miss her because she will always be here. Every time we think of her. Every time we hear her voice, she will be right there with us. She told me once, that she didn’t know how she felt about this whole dying thing." There was a light chuckle through the crowd as people wiped their eyes. "There was no way to express in words what she meant, only in music. Then she gave me this tape with the lyrics attached so I wouldn’t miss the meaning, as if I could." He smiled as his voice broke. Justin quickly ran a handkerchief over his eyes and continued, "On the tape was the song ‘I’ll be there’ and I don’t even know who it’s by, but it sums up everything for Claudia. And I feel better knowing she believed it."

 

 

"I’ll Be There"

by: The Escape Club

Over mountains, over trees
Over oceans, over seas
Across the desert

I'll be there
In a whisper on the wind,
On the smile of a new friend
Just think of me and I'll be there

Don't be afraid oh my love,
I'll be watching you from above,
And I'd give all the world tonight to be with you
Because I'm on your side
And I still care,
I may have died but I've gone nowhere
Just think of me and I'll be there

On the edge of a waking dream
Over rivers, over streams
Through wind and rain,
I'll be there
Across the wide and open sky,
thousands of miles I'd fly,
to be with you
I'll be there

Don't be afraid oh my love
I'll be watching you from above
and I'd give all the world tonight to be with you
Because I'm on your side
I still care
I may have died but I've gone nowhere.

Just think of me and I'll be there

In the breath of a wind that sighs
Oh there is no need to cry
Just think of me and I'll be there . . .

The Escape Club 1991

 

 

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Copyright 2000 Amy Lynn

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