They left the Oscars without the award, but happy nonetheless. They were headed to Gloria’s after Oscar party where they planned to mingle with the guests and have a great time heating up the dance floor.

Chris casually held hands with Beth as they retreated back down the red carpet, without stopping for the media. Every few steps his fingers would brush her thigh and he would get a thrill like none he’d ever felt before. The attraction was purely physical, but nothing that could be stopped. Chris couldn’t keep his eyes off her and Joey noticed.

"You look like a dirty old man." Joey whispered loudly as they got closer to the car.

"What?" Chris asked.

"You’re staring at her like she’s a piece of meat."

"Well shit.  You didn’t tell me she was a supermodel." Chris countered.

"Please." Joey rolled his eyes. "She’s my friend from the hometown, not a supermodel. Just put your tongue back in your mouth and behave yourself."

"Oh behave." Chris laughed at his imitation of Austin Powers.

"Jesus." Joey sighed and held the limo door open for Marty.

They drove the rest of the way to the Bel Age Hotel in silence, then posed for the media on the way in. Chris kept his hand on the small of Elizabeth’s back as they walked up the entry to the hotel. Once inside he introduced her to Gloria and her family before they headed for the dance floor to tear it up with the rest of the Nsync boys and their dates.

After more than a few hours of dancing, Elizabeth collapsed into one of the chairs at their table and sighed, "I don’t know how you guys do that every night." She smiled and took a sip of her water.

"We get used to it." Chris shrugged and sat beside her. They hid in the dark corner of the party and talked for the rest of the night until Joey came up and announced that the limo was leaving, with or without them.

"My God what time is it?" Elizabeth asked as she stood to follow Joey out.

"Almost two." Chris yawned and looked at his watch.

"Oh man." She smiled and stifled a yawn. They stopped to say good night to other party goers on the way out, then climbed into the limo to ride back to their hotel.

When they got back to the hotel they all rode up to their floor together and down the hall.   When they got to Joey’s room, Elizabeth stopped and looked around uneasily. Marty was half asleep on Joey’s shoulder as he opened the door and led her in, "Um, Joey?" Beth asked softly as Chris leaned against the wall.

"Yeah?" He whispered from inside the room. Joey laid Marty on the bed and took her shoes off before returning to the doorway, "Yeah?" He asked again.

"You said I could stay with you if I came out…" She said slowly, noticing her backpack on the floor by the bathroom.

"Oh." Joey looked uncomfortable as he looked from Marty, to Elizabeth, then back at Marty, "I… well…"

"You can stay with me." Chris said suddenly from behind her.

"Are you sure?" She asked hopefully. The very last thing she wanted was to be in the same room with Joey and a girl… any girl.

"No you can stay here." Joey said suddenly, almost in a panic.

"Nah, I’ll just stay with Chris tonight." Beth reached into the room and picked up her backpack. "You have an extra bed, right?" She asked Chris, who was still standing in the hall.

"Yeah." He nodded.

"Beth, your mom would kill me if you-"

"I’m not sharing a room with you and Marty." She interrupted him. "I’ll see you in the morning, my flight leaves at noon tomorrow."

"I… okay." Joey said after a pause. "Yeah, just bang on my door in the morning, we’ll get breakfast."

"Okay." Beth smiled and stood on tip toe to kiss Joey’s cheek quickly. She hugged him tightly and whispered, "Thanks for inviting me Joe."

"Thank you for coming." He whispered back, casting Chris a look over Elizabeth’s shoulder. Chris just laughed and shook his head as Beth stepped back into the hallway and followed Chris to the room next door.

"Man I’m tired." She yawned as Chris shut the door behind them. "Would you mind if I took a quick shower?" She asked.

"No… go right ahead." Chris yawned and scratched at his chin.

Elizabeth stripped down in the bathroom and stood for a long time under the hot water, washing all of her make up off and shampooing her hair. She wrapped herself in a towel and quickly threw her hair into a towel as well. She reached into her back pack and pulled out the boxers and tank top she brought to sleep in. Beth changed into her pajamas and brushed her teeth before she wandered out into the other room. The lamp between the beds was the only source of light in the room, and it was on low. Beth allowed her eyes to adjust to the change of light as she ran the towel over her hair to try to get some of the dampness out.

Chris lay sound asleep in sweat bottoms on top of the covers on the bed to the left of the little night stand. Elizabeth stood between the two beds drying her hair with the towel for a minute as she watched Chris sleep. They’d had such a good time at the awards and the after party, and he hadn’t made any kind of move on her, though she could see he was interested.

Beth slowly folded the towel into a perfect square and set it on the empty bed before pulling the covers back on Chris’s bed. He stirred slightly at the movement, then settled back into the deep sleep she found him in. Beth pulled the blankets up to Chris’s shoulders and sat on the bed beside him, wanting to just touch his cheek.

"What the hell, he’s asleep…" She thought to herself. She reached out slowly and laid the tips of her fingers on his jaw line, tracing the stubble to his chin.

Chris’s face contorted into a frown as he opened his eyes, then looked confused, "Sorry." Elizabeth blushed and stood up quickly, knocking the alarm clock off the little table.

"It’s okay." Chris said, still half asleep.

"I’m sorry." She said again as she picked up the clock and moved to turn the light out.

He stopped her hand with his and held it softly, "It’s okay." He smiled slowly and turned the light off himself before gently pulling her down to lay beside him. He held her from behind and sighed into her thick curls before drifting back to sleep.

Beth lay in the bed awake for a little while longer, her heart racing, waiting for Chris to try something, anything. That old "pretend I’m asleep and make my move" game was nothing new to Beth. But Chris didn’t try anything. He barely moved. Elizabeth pulled his arms tighter around her middle and fell asleep with him breathing delicately on her shoulder.

Elizabeth’s internal alarm clock woke her up at ten the next morning. She carefully removed Chris’s arm from around her waist and slid out from under the covers. Chris rolled onto his stomach and pulled the extra pillow to his chest, a reasonable substitute for Beth. She tip toed to the bathroom where she changed into the traveling clothes she arrived in the day before and packed up her dress and stockings in the garment bag.

Beth cleaned herself up and ran her fingers through her hair quickly before scrawling a note of thanks for Chris and leaving it on the nightstand next to his watch. She watched his chest rise and fall at equal intervals, then leaned down and kissed his cheek quickly before leaving to bang on Joey’s door.

Beth set her bags in the hall outside of Joys room and knocked lightly; she didn’t need to wake the entire floor just to say goodbye to Joey. She waited for a minute, but didn’t hear a sound from inside the room. She knocked again, only a little harder. After a couple seconds she heard someone crawl out of bed and stumble toward the door.

Joey slowly opened the door, squinting in the bright lights of the hall way, he ran his fingers through his bed head and smiled. "Hey Bethy." His voice had that sexy bedroom sound to it. He rubbed his eyes and yawned as he propped the door open with a sneaker and stepped into the hall in his boxers and T-shirt. "You leavin?" He asked.

"Yeah, I need to get to the airport." Beth nodded. "You wanted me to get you up before I left." She smiled.

"Yeah, no that’s okay." He smiled and crossed his arms over his chest.

"I had a really good time Joey." She smiled and stuck her hands in her pockets.

"Cool, I’m glad you had fun." He smiled and leaned against the wall. "So see? My blind dates aren’t always disasters."

"No, not always." Beth laughed softly as she stooped to pick up her backpack. She threw it over her shoulder and hugged Joey tightly. He was still warm from the cocoon of covers she’d pulled him from and his stubble scratched her cheek as he kissed her quickly. "I’ll call you later, okay? Go on back to sleep." She smiled and messed his hair.

"Hey watch the locks." He smiled and tried to cover a yawn.

"Yeah whatever." Beth laughed and rolled her eyes.

"I’ll talk to you later Bethy." Joey casually waved as she picked up her garment bag. "Fly safe."

"I’ll do my best." She waved over her shoulder as she headed down the hall for the elevators. Joey watched her until she turned the corner and out of sight, his heart tugged as he remembered she’d spent the night with Chris. Joey didn’t know why he felt almost angry at the thought, as he shut the door and climbed back into his nice warm bed next to his sleeping girl friend.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ Two weeks later ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Joey stood waiting for the elevator, not paying attention to where he was going when the doors opened and he ran head on into Elizabeth. "Beth?" Joey bent to pick up her dropped backpack.

Beth stood there with her jacket draped over her arm and smiled, "Hey Joey." She stepped off the elevator and gave him a hug as the elevator doors shut behind her.

"What… I didn’t know you were coming out here. Did I?" He looked thoroughly confused.

"No… it was kind of last minute." She smiled and adjusted her backpack on her shoulder.

"Well wow, I wish I had known. I’m on my way out to dinner with Lance and his parents. Wait, do you want to come?" He asked, pointing towards the elevators.

"Oh… um… I’ve got plans, but thanks." She smiled. "I’m here to see Chris.  I figured he’d have told you by now."

"Wow, you’re here to… see Chris." Joey’s ears turned pink as he stumbled over his words, "That’s gr- No he didn’t say anything. How did – I mean when did this happen?"

"Um, after the Oscars." She smiled and checked her watch. "You were right Joey, he’s great."

"Yeah." Joey said, still mildly stunned. "Well, um, hey, it’s great to see you again so… so uh soon." He gave her a quick hug before he stepped onto the elevator. Elizabeth watched the doors shut before she walked slowly down the hall to Chris’s room and knocked softly.

"If you don’t stop banging on my door Ju-" Chris threw the door open, wrapped only in a towel, "Elizabeth, I’m going to have to let you in." He finished his sentence with a much nicer tone. "Hi. I thought you were Justin." He smiled.

"I’m not." Beth smiled and stepped into the room.

"I can tell." Chris smiled and shut the door behind her. "I didn’t think you’d be here so soon, I thought your flight came in at 5:30."

"Nope, it came in at 5… I said I’d be here at around 5:30p." She smiled and set her backpack on the floor as he reached to hug her. "But that’s okay."

"Yeah it is. So what’s new?" He asked.

"Not much, just work."

"Okay hold that thought, I’m going to go throw some clothes on real quick." Chris bent over his suitcase and grabbed some clothes before disappearing into the bathroom.

Elizabeth sat at the table and looked through the Maxim magazine that was laying open by the bottle of water. She read a few of the letters to the editor before Chris emerged from the bathroom dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. "Much better." He smiled as he leaned over her shoulder and kissed her cheek quickly. "I’m glad you could come out to see me before you went back to school."

"Me too." Beth said softly as she turned to look over her shoulder and kissed his lips, lingering for a second longer than necessary. "So you have the rest of the day free?" She asked as he pulled up a chair across from her.

"Yep. I don’t have to do anything or be anywhere until after you leave tomorrow."

"Cool." She smiled and closed the magazine in front of her, "Did you have anything planned for tonight?"

"Nope." He shook his head. "I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to Wichita.  I have no idea what there is to do here."

"Well, considering you’re in Kansas City…" She laughed.

"We are?" Chris laughed and reached for his itinerary that was taped to his foot locker. "Well shit, that shows how well we pay attention huh?" He laughed and stood up, "Either way, I’ve never been to Kansas City either. So unless you have or know of something to do… we don’t have any plans."

"Well I think dinner is going to be mandatory." She smiled. "Either here or out, but I’m starving."

"I can do dinner." Chris nodded and ran his hands through his still damp hair. "Let’s go on downstairs, I’m sure they can recommend something."

"You know the lobby’s just about packed with girls, right?" Elizabeth raised her eyebrow at him.

"Yeah?" He frowned. "Great." He smiled and sat in the chair across from her at the table. "Well I’d hate to just hang out in the room all night." He said distractedly as he flipped through the little hotel tour guide book.

"I don’t mind." Beth shook her head and smiled, "That’s all I’d be doing at home."

"Right, which is why we should do something else tonight." Chris closed his eyes and scratched at his chin as someone came by and banged on the door to the hotel room.

"Chris!" A male voice shouted through the door.

"Go away Justin." Chris shouted without opening his eyes.

"Hey Chris check this out! I’ve got free porn in my room." Justin said from the other side of the door, not nearly as loud as before.

Chris sat up suddenly as he instinctively jumped out of his chair and reached for the door.  He seemed to remember Beth was sitting there when he cleared his throat and pulled the door open slowly.

"I’m serious man, it’s not that scrambled stuff like before, you can full on see bu-" Justin stopped midsentence as he noticed Elizabeth laughing quietly at the table. "But the again you really don’t need to see cheap porn, naked man butt movies." Justin said quickly to Chris. "So I’ll just leave you guys alone bye." He smiled and reached to shut the door as he left.

"Wait." Elizabeth managed to say between laughing fits. Justin and Chris looked at her from the partially open door, waiting for her to say more, "Why would you watch that free hotel porn?" She laughed.

"What do you mean?" Justin asked quickly. "We don’t watch it. We make fun of it. You know, cuz there’s no plot. And, and stuff like that." Justin looked to Chris for back up. Chris nodded, but his cheeks turned bright pink.

"Yeah but hotel porn is like, not even porn. You don’t see any full frontal nudity." Elizabeth shook her head and made a disgusted face.

Chris and Justin stood by the door and stared at her in awe, "You… why... why are you watching… how do know so much about hotel porn?" Chris stuttered, wondering just what kind of trouble he’d gotten himself into with Elizabeth.

"I used to work at the Sheraton in Cambridge." She laughed, "We got complaints all the time."

"Complaints about the porn?" Justin’s eyebrows shot up.

"Well yeah, or lack thereof." She smiled and walked to the door.

Justin looked over at Chris and said, "I can’t believe we’re standing in your room talking to a girl about hotel porn."

Elizabeth laughed and shook her head, "I’d volunteer to go watch it with you…" Justin’s jaw fell open, "But I think Chris and I are going to grab some dinner."

"I… okay." Justin said slowly as he turned to leave the room.

"Well wait, do you want to eat with us?" She asked as Chris groaned inwardly. He did not want to spend the evening with Justin.

"Oh, not that’s cool. I’m gonna go uh, make fun of free porn… in my own room." Justin laughed and shut the door as he left.

"I can’t believe you volunteered to go watch porno movies with him." Chris laughed as he pulled Beth toward him by her belt loops.

"I’d watch it, why not?" She asked. "But right now I’m too hungry to watch anything other than dinner." She kissed Chris quickly then stepped back. "Speaking of which…"

"Yeah, let’s get out of here. We can leave around back and have security go with us." Chris explained.

Beth made a face and said, "Can we order up instead? I don’t feel like battling the crowds on what is essentially our first real date." She smiled.

"Okay." Chris smiled and flopped belly first onto the bed as Beth grabbed the menu off the table and lay beside him. They looked over the menu and decided what they wanted to eat. Chris called the order into the kitchen as Elizabeth turned the TV on.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" She asked.

"Sure." Chris leaned on his elbows by the end of the bed and they channel surfed together with Beth manning the remote.

 

"So Beth came out to visit Chris?" Lance asked as he and Joey sat at a quiet table with Lance’s parents.

"Yeah." Joey nodded and took a bite of his steak.

"Hmm." Lance frowned. "I didn’t know they knew each other."

"She came to the Oscars with us." Joey laughed.

"That was her?" Lance’s eyebrows shot up. "The chick with the super curly hair and a body that’s going to send her straight to-" He stopped short, casting a glance at his mother, "You know…" He finished.

"Yeah." Joey sighed.

"Whoa…" Lance shook his head and took a sip of his water. "But she’s a friend of yours, right?" He asked.

"We grew up together, yeah." Joey nodded and wiped his mouth.

"So what happened there?" Lance asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well how come you guys never hooked up?" Lance shrugged and continued eating.

"We did. Kind of. I guess. In high school we dated for a week or two." Joey sighed again, unable to get the mental picture of his two best friends out of his mind.

"That doesn’t really count." Lance laughed.

"I know." Joey nodded.

"So are you okay with this? I mean, that they might start dating?"

"I guess I don’t have much of a choice." Joey looked at Lance over the plate of appetizers between them.

"You don’t have a choice whether or not they do it, but that’s not what I asked. I asked if you were okay with that." Lance cut his meat slowly.

Joey didn’t say anything for a couple minutes, "I just… I mean I want them to be happy, but I never thought… you know… this." Joey waved his empty fork for emphasis.

"Does she know how you feel about her?" Lances mom asked, he’d almost forgotten there were others at the table.

"Huh?" Joey wiped his mouth and looked across the table at her.

"Well does she know how you feel about her? If not, that might help." She shrugged.

"I don’t know what you mean." Joey said, confused.

"Well it’s obvious you’ve got some sort of thing for her." She explained.

"What?!" Joey asked, shocked that Lances mom had picked up on the feelings he hadn’t even let himself recognize. It must be a mom thing.

"Mom." Lance said, covering his eyes in embarrassment.

"What? Lance, honey it’s obvious." She explained.

"Mom… please." He didn’t remove his hands from his face.

"It is?" Joey asked quietly.

"No… no way." Lance looked up and shook his head. "You like her?" He asked.

"Well shit Lance." Joey sighed. "I mean she didn’t always used to look like that, or that grown up. I mean when I look at her I still see the 14 year old with braces who was all mad in love with New Kids on the Block." Joey frowned and picked at his vegetables.

"But seeing her with someone else changed all that." Lances mom stated as a matter of fact.

"Yeah." Joey nodded and sighed. "I guess."

"Of course that fact that it’s one of your best friends doesn’t help. If it was some random guy you wouldn’t be conflicted at all." She smiled.

"But it’s Chris." Lance shook his head and laughed lightly, "Man, I don’t want to be you right now."

"Thanks." Joey said sarcastically.

"I’m just saying… Chris can be pretty smooth."

"Shut up Lance." Joey cringed.

"Sorry." Lance smiled to himself and stabbed a piece of broccoli with his fork.

"So what do I do now Diane?" Joey asked.

"You’ll have to see where this goes with Chris."

"That’s it?"

"You can’t exactly call dibs on her just because you’ve known her longer." Lance said.

"I know." Joey sighed and took a bite of his potato. "Man this is gonna suck." He shook his head as Diane changed the subject, giving Joey the rest of the meal to brood.

 

Early the next morning Elizabeth was rudely awakened by the telephone ringing close to her head. She shook Chris gently, but all she got was a grumble and a frown. "Chris, the phone." She said as she sat up in bed and shook him again.

"Hwghwaht?" He mumbled as he rubbed his eyes and laid his hand on her thigh.

"Phone." She said as she picked it up and handed the receiver to him.

"Yeah what?" He growled as he pulled the phone under the covers with him, draping the cord across Elizabeth’s stomach.

"Chris?" JC asked quickly.

"What the hell do you want Jace? It’s like… whatever, it’s too early."

"I thought you’d like to know that you’re supposed to be at a photo shoot in like, 15 mins. I’m calling cuz no one has seen you yet this morning."

"No!" Chris said as he sat up in bed. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and pulled the phone cord tight as he circled the bed to grab his day planner thing off the little table. "I didn’t have anything till like noon." Chris said as he frantically looked through his book.

"Nope. We’ve got a shoot down in the garden or whatever here in… well now it’s like ten minutes." JC said as Chris stared at the book. How did he miss this??

"Okay." Chris rubbed his eyes and yawned, his adrenaline was running now, "I’ll be down there as soon as I can. We got wardrobe?"

"Yeah, you just gotta show up, we’ve got a 40 minute prep time."

"Okay." Chris nodded and sighed. "Shit."

"So you’ll be down?"

"Yeah, gimme a minute." Chris shook his head and hung the phone up before he looked at Elizabeth sitting up in bed beside him. "I gotta go to a shoot. I must have looked at the wrong dates when you called." Chris said softly.

"Okay." Beth nodded and swung her feet off the side of the bed to stand up.

"You don’t have to go." Chris said as he stood beside her.

"I’m going to use the restroom if that’s okay." She smiled and tousled his hair as she passed him. Beth grabbed her clean clothes and bathroom gear out of her back pack and headed for the bathroom. She checked her watch as she dressed herself, and saw that it was already 9:30am, it was a lot later than she thought it was.

When she came out a few minutes later Chris was sitting on the floor tying his shoes. He was dressed in dark green warm up pants and a plain white T-shirt. He glanced up as she crossed the room and put her stuff back in her backpack.

"I’m sorry about this." Chris said as he used the bed to pull himself up. He ran his fingers through his hair and tried to keep it out of his eyes.

"It’s okay." Beth smiled and tossed her backpack over her shoulder, "I’ve got a book.  It’s not that long before my flight leaves." She glanced at her watch again.

"I just feel like an ass having you fly out to see me and not even staying for 24 hours."

"I would have been here less than 24 hours even if you didn’t have a photo shoot." She smiled.

"No, I know, but at least then we could have hung out." He sighed and frowned. "I’m sorry."

"Don’t sweat it." She kissed him quickly and held the door open as they went out to the hall. "You’d better get going though."

"Yeah." Chris led the way to the elevators and they rode down together.

When they stepped off the elevator, Lance and JC were waiting by the doors, "Morning." JC nodded at Elizabeth then socked Chris in the arm, "Get a move on it, Joey and Justin are already done."

"I’m moving." Chris said quickly. He turned to Beth and pulled her close for a hug as the two others looked on, "I’ll call you tonight, okay?"

"Yeah." She smiled as he kissed her quickly. "Have fun." She pulled her unruly hair back into a pony tail as Chris took off in a sprint across the lobby to the ballroom where the wardrobe was set up.

"Elizabeth, right?" Lance asked, though he knew damn well that’s who she was.

"Yeah." She smiled and shook his hand.

"Nice to meet you." JC said as he too shook her hand. He could definitely see what Chris saw in her. She seemed perfect, and she had yet to say a word to him.

"Do you um, know where Joey is?" Beth asked as she licked her lips.

"Last I saw he was headed out to the buses to get his jacket or something." Lance shrugged, then nudged JC who was staring at Elizabeth without even realizing it.

"Out that way?" She pointed towards the main doors.

"Yeah." Lance nodded and pointed out the doors, "Out there and around to the left. You can’t miss it."

"Thanks." Elizabeth smiled and adjusted her backpack as she headed out into the bright morning sunshine. She walked around the side of the building towards the big buses parked alongside each other.

"Hey you, looking for me?" Joey asked as he stepped out from between two.

"Yeah, actually I was." She smiled and shaded her eyes from the glare of the sun off the silver buses.

"You found me." Joey nodded back towards the hotel, "Walk on back with me, I wasn’t supposed to leave." He smiled and they turned to head back to the main entrance. "Whatcha need?" He asked after a moments pause.

"Oh, um, nothing. I’m just getting ready to go and I didn’t want to leave without saying good bye." She said softly.

"You’re leaving?" Joey asked.

"Yeah, my flight leaves at noon and you guys will be doing this for another couple hours… so…" She shrugged.

"True." Joey kept his eyes straight forward, not trusting himself to look over at her. "So that was kind of a waste of a trip, I mean you only got here what, 15 hours ago?"

"Something like that." She laughed and looked up at him, but he wouldn’t meet her eye. "You okay Joe?"

"Hmm? Yeah." He nodded and looked at his shoes.

"You sure?"

"Uh huh." He said softly.

Elizabeth stopped walking and grabbed his arm gently, "Joey come on, I’ve known you for a long time, what’s up?"

"Nothing." He said as he shook his head.

"Joey…" She said sternly.

"I just…" He sighed, he couldn’t just come out and say it. "I don’t know."

"What? Is it something about me?"

"I… well… yeah kinda."

"Yeah kinda? Joey if I’ve done something to upset you, let me know."

"I’m not upset." He said honestly. He wasn’t upset… he was smitten.

"Then what?" Beth placed her hand on Joey’s arm and forced him to make eye contact.

"Can I ask you a favor?" He asked shyly, a minute later.

"Of course."

"Don’t date Chris."

"What?" Beth asked, not quite believing what she heard.

"Don’t date Chris." Joey repeated as they stood on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

"Joey… you hooked me up with him!" Beth laughed.

"For one date! Not for you to like… date him."

"Oh come on! Joey that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard." She shook her head and stared at him.

"What? Why is that ridiculous?"

"Because you say that we’re your best friends on the whole planet, but then you don’t want us to be friends?"

"No no no, I want you to be friends." He said quickly.

"But we can’t date?"

"Right."

"Joey that doesn’t make sense. What difference does it make? If we’re both happy you should be happy for us." She argued.

"You think you guys are going to live happily ever after?" He asked looking amused.

"Jesus Joe, we’re not planning our wedding, we’re going on a date."

"He’s so not right for you, how can you not see that?" Joey asked after a second.

"No offense Joe, but you’re not exactly an expert in that field."

"About what?" He asked, getting defensive.

"About knowing who’s right for me." She said calmly.

"I know it’s not him." Joey stood his ground. His mind was screaming "It’s me!" He shook his head quickly to chase that thought away before he actually spoke it.

"He’s your friend Joe. I’d hate to hear what you say to him about me."

"I’d tell him the same thing, you’re not right for him either."

"I’d like to think we are adult enough to make that decision for ourselves." Beth put her hands on her hips and stared him down.

"You know what? Do what you want. But when this all goes to hell don’t come crying to me." Joey said as he pulled the thick glass door open. He couldn’t stand to look at her any more… not without shaking her and telling her she was nuts and that he was insanely jealous of Chris.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence Joey. When you decide to grow up, give me a call. Until then, goodbye." Beth said before she turned on her heel and walked quickly to the parking lot.

Two weeks went by and Beth hadn’t heard from Joey, not even an annoying page in the middle of the night that just said, "BOO!". She missed the little jerk, but she wasn’t about to make the first contact. He needed to grow up. "If he can’t handle two of his friends dating, then he shouldn’t have hooked us up in the first place." Beth said to Chris during one of their many phone calls.

"Yeah well, he was doing me a favor by finding me a date. I’m sure he didn’t expect it to get this far." Chris said softly. It was late on both coasts and both Elizabeth and Chris were lying in their separate beds.

"I just don’t know what his problem is." Elizabeth shook her head and frowned. "I’ve never seen him like this before."

"Me neither. Maybe it’s because he’s been dateless the last couple weeks. After he and Marty broke up he hasn’t even gone out with the guys."

"Really? Wow… maybe there is something wrong with him…"

"Yeah, maybe he’s turned into Oscar the grouch." Chris laughed, and they continued on with their conversation.

 

A week later Beth’s phone woke her out of a deep sleep. She had been dreaming of a tropical island with white sand beaches, sitting alone with no annoying men vying for her attention. She rolled over in bed and grabbed her cordless as it rang for the second time. Beth’s eyes focused on the caller ID number and she frowned, it was Joey’s cel phone. She didn’t want to talk to him at all, nevermind at 5 in the morning.

Beth clicked the phone on and said, "You’d better be calling to tell me that you’ve grown up and you want to apologize." She was met by the sound of a car horn and someone shouting in the distance. No one said anything, so after a few seconds she asked, "Joe?"

"Papa Frank died last night Beth. Can you come over?" Joey sniffed into the phone as his voice cracked.

"Oh God… Joey… where are you?"

"Robinson." He managed to say before he began to cry softly. Elizabeth knew Robinson well; she’d grown up around the corner from Joey’s house on Robinson Avenue, the house that his grandparents still lived in today. She could be there in a few hours if she left right away.

"I’m leaving right now Joe." She jumped out of bed and pulled her jeans from the day before on over he bare legs. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He squeaked and sniffed again.

"I’m so sorry Joey, I’m going to be there as soon as I can, okay?"

"Okay." He sounded pitiful.

"You gonna stay on the phone with me?"

"Yeah." Joey whispered as he sat on the curb in front of his old house. He rested his cheek on his knee and closed his eyes.

"Okay, hang on." Beth put the phone down and pulled a cream colored cable knit sweater from her closet and over her head. She didn’t have time for a shower so she threw her out-of-control curls into a low ponytail and reached for her boots as she picked up the phone again. "Okay Joey, I’m dressed, I’ll be there before you know it." She laced her boots up and grabbed her keys from the nightstand. She’d gone from asleep to dressed in less than five minutes, an all time record for her. "You doing okay?"

"Yeah." Joey said softly.

"Do you want me to bring anything?"
"No." He shook his head as tears overflowed onto the corduroy pants he was wearing.

"Okay honey, I’m leaving right now. I’ll keep my cel on so you can call okay?"

"Thanks Beth." Joey whispered.

"I’m on my way." She clicked off her cordless and tossed it on the couch on her way out. When she got to her car she flipped her cel phone on and slowly backed out of her parking space as she too began to cry.

Joey’s "Papa Frank" had been the neighborhood grandpa to dozens of kids, herself included. Elizabeth hadn’t known that he was sick so this came as a painful shock to learn he had died. She composed herself enough to drive the 200 miles into Brooklyn.

A trip that usually took close to four hours took herless than three, she disregarded many speed limits and certainly pissed off many drivers on the way, but she was there. Beth circled the block a couple times before finding a parking place then ran quickly through the alley to Robinson. It was almost nine in the morning and the streets were just waking to a lazy Saturday.

Elizabeth ran past the house that used to belong to Joey’s cousins and down two more houses to where Joey grew up. She stopped in her tracks when she spotted Joey sitting on the steps to his old house. He looked up as she rounded the corner and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. Joey watched as Beth walked quickly to where he sat and dropped down beside him on the step.

Beth lay her hand flat on Joey’s back, then rested her head on his shoulder, "Joey, I’m sorry." She said softly.

Joey raised his arm and let it fall across her shoulder as he pulled her in tight for an awkward hug on the steps. He buried his face in her fine curls and cried softly. Beth ran her hand over Joey’s unruly hair and cried with him, their tears mixing as Joey’s cheek touched hers. "Joey, I’m so sorry." Beth whispered as he leaned back and wiped his eyes, "Is everyone inside?" She looked over their shoulder toward the front door.

"Yeah." He nodded. "Mom and everyone."

"Did you guys call my parents?" Beth asked gently.

"I think my mom did, yeah." Joey nodded and sniffed.

Beth reached over and took his big warm hand in hers, "I… I’m glad you called me Joey."

"I knew you would want to know." He looked down the street as his eyes filled again.

"Of course I would. He was like a grandpa to me too." Beth rubbed his back slowly and stood up to pull him to his feet, "Let’s go on inside though, it’s cold out here."

Joey stood slowly and looked at Beth as they stood on the same step, "Thanks for coming Beth." He said as he hugged her again, "I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk."

"It’s okay. I love you anyways, Joe." She forced a smile and spoke into his shoulder.

Joey’s heart broke in two at the sound of those three small words. He knew that she meant it… but not in the same way he did, "I love you too Bethy."

 

 On to the next part…

 

Copyright 2000 Amy Lynn