"Hi, I’m JC Chasez from the group Nsync." A still picture of JC from a recent photo shoot flashed on the screen.

"I’m 24 years old. I have blue eyes and brown hair." JC’s eyes blinked as they took up the entire screen.

His sneakers flashed on the screen next as he shuffled his feet; "I have big feet. I like to sleep. I don’t like onions." JC made a face and shook his head with a smile.

"And a year and a half ago, I tried to commit suicide." Without warning, a close up shot of his scarred wrists flashed on the screen.

"Every 17 minutes, someone between the ages of 14 and 24 commits suicide, and for every success, there are 25 attempts." JC’s voice seemed to echo in the silence that followed.

"The suicide rate in America, for young people has risen 300% in the last 30 years." Lance said as he stepped into the shot. "Everyone needs someone they can talk to, so if you’ve been thinking about suicide, or if you know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE, that's 1-800-784-2433."

The number flashed against the black screen as JC said, "Because deep inside, we're all the same."

 

Sara’s hands turned to ice as she reminded herself to breathe, "Are you okay miss?" A salesman asked as he walked up cautiously.

She blinked and smiled up at him nervously as she realized she had stopped in the middle of Sears, "Uh, yeah." She blushed and picked up her bag then headed for the store exit, she could get a bread maker any time. As soon as she reached the parking lot she stopped walking and leaned against the cool stucco wall. Her head cleared as the fresh air entered her lungs, "Whoa." She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose. "Whoa…"

Her hands shook as she reached into her pocket for her keys and she laughed at herself, "Don’t be such a baby." She said to her reflection in the rear view mirror. She started her car and drove back to school to attend her afternoon classes.

JC spent the day in the studio with the rest of the guys where they all avoided the topic of the public service announcement. They concentrated on their task at hand and goofed off as usual. What could have been an awkward situation turned out to be a great day for JC and for once he didn’t feel like he was separate from them; he felt like they were all in this together.

Johnny let them leave the studio early, since they got so much work done in the morning. "Hey guys, you wanna bar-b-cue at my place?" JC asked with a smile as he pulled his light jacket on over his t-shirt. They were in the lobby of the studio getting ready to leave for the weekend.

"I’ve got dinner stuff with Ali and her parents." Justin cringed.

"Oooo, you’re meeting the parents tonight huh?" Chris laughed. "Don’t kick the dog or anything."

"Nah, I’ve met them before, we’re just having dinner over there tonight." Justin shook his head and zipped his backpack shut. "Nothing major."

"How about you guys?" JC looked around.

"I’m heading back to my room to sleep, can I take a rain check?" Lance asked.

"Wimp." Chris ran his fingers through his hair, "I’m heading over to the Laugh Factory, wanna come?"

"No, I’m going to bar-b-cue." JC laughed, "How about you Joe?"

"It’s Friday night, where do you think I’m gonna be?" Joey looked at the others like they were foolish to even ask.

"Maybe this weekend then or something." JC nodded and waved over his shoulder as he headed for the door, "See ya Monday."

"Later." Joey waved and pulled his cap on over his hair.

JC drove home alone and decided to have a little solo bar-b-cue anyway, steaks sounded really good and it was a gorgeous evening in LA. He pulled the grill out of his storage shed and set it up beside his back door then spent an hour getting it ready to grill while he let his steaks marinate inside.

It was after six when JC finally stopped to look at his watch, Sara’s last class would be ending any minute so he called over to her house and left her a voice mail inviting her over for dinner if she was hungry.

As soon as he hung up the phone with Sara’s machine, it rang in his hand, "Hello?" JC asked as he poured himself a glass of water.

"Hey Jace, this is Tom, are you busy?"

"No, not really. What’s up?" JC set his drink on the patio table and sat on the hard metal chair. It was December in California, and almost eighty degrees.

"I’ve uh, we’ve got some feedback regarding the PSA." Tom said slowly, "The tabloids are already jumping on it and calling around to almost every recovery facility in California and Florida."

"Have they called Wycroft?" JC sighed; they didn't waste any time. The public service announcement had been on the air for 24 hours and the vultures were already on it.

"Not yet." Tom shook his head, though JC couldn’t see. "But I have been in contact with the director there, as well as the doctor lady that was helping you over there."

"Well they can't say anything, right? I mean, it’d be against the law, right?" JC asked quickly.

"Right, you have the doctor/patient confidentiality agreement thing going for you. They seem like good people, I don’t think there will be a problem there." Tom said softly.

"How about the fans?" JC asked softly.

"Nothings going on there. I've had Natalie and Carmen on the internet all morning and all they've reported back was a lot of sympathy and concern. You've got great fans kid."

"Yeah, we really do." JC nodded and breathed a sigh of relief. "How about the parents? Are they freaking?"

"It’s almost too soon to tell. The feeling I’m getting though is that this is a positive thing. Some kids Natalie has talked to online have said that they actually talked to their parents about it, so that’s good."

"Yeah, that’s good." JC added softly. "Parents need to talk to kids about this stuff."

"Hey, you don’t have to convince me." Tom smiled.

"Do I have to convince anyone? Make a statement or something?"

"Um, we’re still working with that. It’ll of course be up to you, but right now I don’t know if that’ll be necessary."

"Okay." JC nodded as his heart returned to normal. "What about Sara?"

"What about her?"

"Has she been mentioned at all?"

"No… not regarding this." Tom frowned.

"Is there any way to make sure she’s not?"

"I’m not sure I’m getting what you mean."

"Tom, we met at Wycroft, we’re dating now. I just see that information blowing up here for us, and that would not be cool. Sara hasn’t done anything and the last thing I want is for her to be dragged into this."

"I don’t think it will be a problem, if they can’t connect you to Wycroft, they shouldn’t be able to track her back." Tom said. "But I’ll keep my ears open for any talk like that."

"Okay, anything else?"

"The usual rumors, overall it’s been pretty quiet."

"Okay." JC nodded. "Thanks a lot Tom."

"No problem. I’ll keep you updated, okay?"

"You bet." JC nodded. "Talk to you later."

"See ya." Tom hung up and shook his head. He hoped that this was going to be the end of it, that the press would find something else to clamp onto and soon. This could definitely blow up and it was his job to keep it under control.

Sara’s English class ended at six thirty, but she couldn’t remember anything they had covered over the past three hours. Her mind had been on JC all day, and every time she replayed the PSA in her mind her stomach would sink and she’d have to catch her breath. As soon as the class was dismissed, Sara got in her car and drove across town to JC’s home, hoping the entire time that he’d be there. He had been late at the studio almost all week; they were busy wrapping up the recording and only expected to be there another week or so.

Her headlights reflected off the chrome bumper of JC's truck as she pulled into the driveway and she sighed with relief. JC opened the front door before she had made it halfway up the walk, "Hey you, what are you doing here?" He smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. The nights were getting colder in California and his tank top didn’t keep him very warm.

"I had a long day." Sara sighed and kissed him quickly before she ducked past him and into the house.

"Did you work this morning?" JC followed her inside and shut the door behind him.

"Yeah, then I did some shopping before class."

"Sounds like fun." He said softly as he stopped her in the hall. JC wrapped his arms around her waist and brought her closer to him, "Guess what I get to do this weekend?"

"Hmm?"

"Nothing." He smiled. "Wanna come?"

"Oooh, doing nothing all weekend, what fun." She smiled and feigned excitement. "We could go to six flags."

"You and roller coasters, sheesh." He rolled his eyes, but knew they’d end up going anyway.

"Hey, I saw your PSA today." Sara said as she took a step back.

"Yeah? What did you think?"

"I almost had a panic attack in the middle of Sears." She shook her head and laughed softly.

"Really? Why?"

"I don’t know, it was just really weird."

"It was weird?" JC laughed and stepped into the kitchen where he grabbed his glass of water off the island and pulled up a barstool.

"Not the PSA, just seeing you on there was weird. Kinda made everything real. As dumb as that sounds since it doesn’t get more real than this." She waved her hand around indicating him and the room. "But it’s like… everyone knows now, it’s nothing private any more."

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

"Was today the first day it ran?"

"They started yesterday on MTV."

"Wow, what’s the feedback been so far?"

"Tom and his staff are handling most of it." JC swirled the ice in his cup.

"Handling it? Why? What’s come up?"

"Nothing that needs to be worried about." JC smiled and nodded toward the back yard, "Are you hungry?"

"What’s come up?" She asked again.

"Nothing." He repeated. "The fans are just concerned, the parents haven’t staged a protest, no word from anyone in the industry… that’s about it."

"Then what is Tom handling?" She asked with concern.

"Tabloid stuff. It’s too early to know anything. Don’t worry about it, Tom will take care of anything that goes on."

"Are you worried?"

"Nope." JC smiled and shook his head. It wasn’t entirely false; he was a little worried… but not enough to concern Sara. "Come on, I’ve got the bar-b-cue going, a great bottle of wine, let’s go eat." He kissed her quickly then walked out to where the grill was set up on his patio.

They ate their dinner and didn’t mention another word about the public service announcement. Sara had a few glasses of wine with her meal, and didn’t feel well enough to drive herself home.

"You can stay here you know." JC repeated his offer every time she said she had to go home.

"I know." She smiled and picked up her purse. "But Cassandra and I are heading out early in the morning tomorrow."

"Where are you two trouble makers taking off to?"

"Venice beach." She smiled. "She wants to get one of those henna tattoos and I wanted to check out toe rings."

"Sounds like a blast."

"You can come if you want."

"Some people have to work tomorrow." JC laughed, "Maybe some other time."

"Okay." She nodded and pulled the front door open. JC followed her out to the driveway and unlocked her door, then climbed in beside her. They headed down the hill to the main street, then west to Sara’s apartment.

"Hey, what uh… what are you doing for Christmas?" JC asked, dropping his arm over the back of her seat. He’d been putting off asking because she hadn’t mentioned anything, but he wanted to meet her family, and he wanted her to meet his.

"I’m not sure." She said softly.

"Well are you getting together with your family or something?"

"I don’t know." She shook her head and looked out the window. "What are you doing?"

"I’m flying out on the 26th and I’m staying through New Years." He reached forward and turned the radio off sending the car into silence. "Do you want to come?"

"To Florida?"

"Maryland." JC smiled, "I’m going to my grand parents."

"Oh." Sara creased her forehead in thought. She pursed her lips and sighed deeply, JC wanted to take the next step and Sara wanted to hide.

"So…?"

"I have to work."

"You don’t have any more vacation time?"

"I only get two weeks a year, and with the stuff from earlier this year when I was on the road, that kind of messed things up." She shrugged, but didn’t look over at him.

"Can you come out for the weekend or something?"

Sara sighed and brushed her hair off her forehead, "I don’t know JC, I have to wait and see if I’m scheduled."

"Okay." He nodded and let it go for a few minutes. "Does your family do anything for New Years?"

"JC, you don’t want to meet my parents." Sara looked over at him and shook her head.

"Yeah I do." He smiled and moved his hand from the back of her seat to her shoulder and rubbed gently.

"No you don’t." She held her frown and licked her lips. "They’re not like normal parents."

JC laughed lightly, "Sara, no one thinks their parents are normal."

"I know they aren’t JC, I don’t just think so."

"You don’t have to introduce me to them, but if you’re gonna do something with them, just keep in mind that I would like to meet them." He leaned over and brushed his lips across her cheek. "No worries, we have a week or so."

"Yeah." Sara nodded as a knot of nerves bundled in her stomach. This was the situation she had dreaded since their first date, meeting the parents.

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

The album was completed the next week so the guys got some food together and had an impromptu celebration in the studio with chips and drinks from the 7-11 up the street. It was after nine at night, and they were all too exhausted to really party, they’d go out that weekend with the crew for a wrap party.

"Jace?" Tom shouted across the room as he pulled the door open.

"Yeah?"

"Come on." He nodded toward the hall and JC followed with a frown. "I just wanted to give you a heads up, this is tomorrows Star Reporter." Tom handed JC the flimsy magazine with a Robert Redford sex scandal on the cover.

JC took it and looked carefully, knowing that Robert Redford wasn’t the important part of the magazine. The wallet-sized picture of himself in the corner was what he needed to look at. "Shit Tom…" JC scanned the headline, "Nsync Popstar heading down the rock and roll road to drugs, rehab and destruction."

"The article inside is just as nice." Tom said softly as JC flipped through the pages, stopping only when he saw his tired and worn out face splashed across the page.

JC read the article quickly then looked up at Tom; "Their source is reported as saying that that I was in rehab in Colorado for a month last year?" He asked.

"Apparently."

"A drug rehab?"

"According to their sources." Tom nodded.

"For crack cocaine, meth and alcohol." JC nodded, reading the list from the article.

"You’ve been busy."

"They can’t print this." JC shook his head. "Isn’t this illegal? Defamation of character or something like that? These are obvious lies."

"Our legal team is looking into it, but since it specifies that the allegations are not confirmed I don’t know how much they can do."

"This is bullshit Tom, you know that."

"Yeah man, don’t worry. We all know the deal… that’s not an issue."

"Shit, no matter what now people are going to wonder about that." JC sighed and tossed the magazine to the floor as he leaned back against the wall. "What if I just made a statement about being in a recovery home here in LA? Have Dr. Grayson confirm it or something?"

"That would open up the door to Wycroft." Tom shook his head and picked the magazine up off the floor.

"No, nevermind. I don’t want any of this leading to Wycroft. If people make the Sara connection… I don’t want that."

"Nope."

"So what then? What can I do?"

"You’ll be on TRL next week talking about the album, they had agreed not to mention the PSA, but this may be a good opportunity for you to touch on that."

"I don’t want to mix the two. The new album and this." JC shook his head.

"Has Kathryn talked to you about doing the MTV special about teen suicide and depression?" Tom asked.

"Yeah." JC nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets. "She’s working out the details this week. But when we go to TRL we’re going for the album, not for me to wipe my slate, you know what I mean?"

"I know what you mean." Tom nodded. "I’m just saying, this is going out tomorrow morning and it’s going to hit the fan. The rumors are already out in full force, this is only going to amplify that."

"Well waiting a week isn’t going to help any." JC sighed; his party mood was crushed long ago.

"We’ve already been in touch with the major media and denied the allegations of drug use. The statement we’ve released is that yes you were in a recovery center for depression and suicide, and in no way were drugs involved. Every show or magazine that mentions this new line of crap will also be slapping our denial on there, and MTV news will be putting it on their hourly news as soon as this hits the press." Tom nodded.

"So you’ve got MTV covered."

"That’s where most of your fans get their official news, they won’t believe anything until they hear it from MTV." Tom shrugged and sighed. "We expected this Jace."

"I know." JC said softly. "It still fuckin sucks."

"Yep."

"Well uh, keep me posted." JC reached into his pocket for his keys, "I’m gonna head out, let the guys know I’ll see them this weekend." He nodded toward the studio.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I’m cool." JC nodded and headed for the door.

"Johnny’s gonna be giving you a call tomorrow to touch base."

"Great. Merry Christmas." JC rolled his eyes and stepped into the lobby with a quick wave over his shoulder.

He drove home with his radio blasting a random choice of the six CD’s he had loaded into his player. His anger started to get the best of him when his garage door opener wouldn’t work, so he took a deep breath and pressed the button again. The door opened without complaint and he pulled his car in beside his new looking mower and edger.

JC sat behind the steering wheel for a minute to let his heart rate go back to normal before he let himself into the house and punched his code into the alarm keypad. He grabbed a glass of water and carried it to his room where he kicked his shoes off and set the glass on his cluttered nightstand.

His hair stood on end as he ran his hands through it and sighed with his eyes closed. Everything seemed to be coming at him... the tabloids, the album, the holidays… everything. He reached over to turn the bedside lamp on, but when he flipped the switch nothing happened. He shrugged to himself and pulled his shirt over his head then held it in his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees.

The silence of the house surrounded him until he couldn’t tell where the silence ended and his breathing began. His mind raced to a tune of it’s own as he tried to think far enough ahead to dodge the next bullet, he’d been lucky so far… but with going public like he had, he’d put everything at risk.

He tried to convince himself not to worry, that things were going to be fine as soon as the hoopla died down, but deep inside he wondered if it ever would. As soon as the public was done with this part of his life they’d pounce on another, forever wondering if the drug rumors were true.

"JC?!" Sara’s voice broke through his sound barrier and he looked up sharply, just in time to see her run past his room then backtrack and step into the dark silence. "JC?" Sara flipped the switch by the door and the spell was broken.

"Hey." He looked up and took a deep breath.

"What happened? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah I’m fine." JC forced a smile and stood up on his tingling legs. He had been sitting there long enough for them to fall asleep and pins and needles shot up his calves.

"You didn’t hear the bell? I’ve been out there ringing and knocking for like five minutes." She crossed the room in three long steps and grabbed his hand; "Didn’t you hear it?"

"No, I guess not. I’m sorry, I was just sitting here thinking and stuff. I guess I tuned everything else out." He ran his thumb over the back of her hand and took another deep breath.

"You scared the crap out of me." She laughed nervously and dropped her bag to the floor.

"I’m sorry." He laughed with her and picked up her fallen bag then headed down the hall to the kitchen where he got himself an apple out of the fridge. He took a bite then sat at the bar watching Sara, "We finished recording today."

"You did? That’s great." She hopped up on the counter across from him. "So will it be released soon?"

"Yeah, after the new year." JC nodded. "It was supposed to be out in time for Christmas, but seeing as how that’s only a week away, that’s not gonna happen."

"Then what? I mean, the album comes out so what happens next?"

"A tour. They’re already booking dates for the spring."

"Again? You were just on tour this year."

"Yeah, we were originally planning on having a winter leg of this tour, but decided against it. So next year is actually late for us. Three more months of touring, but we’re playing stadiums this time around I think, so we’ll only have one show per city, not like last time."

"Okay." Sara nodded as if she knew what he was talking about. She’d spent a month with them on the road, but hadn’t paid enough attention to know how many shows they played in each city; they all blurred into one continuous show.

"Enough shop talk, what brings you all the way over here tonight?"

"Um, you asked me to come over to drive you to the studio tomorrow because you were going out after with Chris."

"Oh yeah…" JC rolled his eyes, "Chris and I are meeting with the guys from ChildPrint tomorrow, but since we’ve wrapped the album I won’t need a ride. I’ll just go get Chris at his hotel."

"Okay well I…" She looked down at her duffel bag on the floor.

"You can still stay." JC smiled and hopped off his barstool to walk over to where she was sitting. He wrapped his arms around her waist as she sat on the counter and kissed her, "You can stay here whenever you want, and for however long you want. You know that."

"I know."

"Do you want to?" He smiled and brushed his lips over hers again.

"I’m here aren’t I?"

"Yep." He pinched her hip to make her flinch, "In the flesh."

"I still have to go to school in the morning."

"Okay."

"Are you sure you’re okay?" Sara asked as he leaned his forehead against hers. The image of him sitting alone in the dark in his room was one she just couldn’t get out of her mind. He hadn’t even known she was in the house, or that she had been ringing the bell.

"Yep, I’m sure." He smiled to set her mind at ease. The truth was, he was okay… now that she was here. He’d felt crummy all evening since Tom handed him the tabloid and he could feel himself sinking. He wasn’t worried about hurting himself, but he was worried about even thinking that.

They took turns in the shower, then got ready for bed as eleven o’clock rolled around. "What time do you have to get up?" JC asked with his alarm clock in his hands.

"Um, I need to be at scool by eight, so set it for six."

"Ugh, on my first day off?" JC pretended to pout.

"I don’t have to stay you know."

"I know." JC smiled over his bare shoulder, "I was kidding, anytime you have to wake up is fine with me, as long as you're waking up here."

Sara smiled as a blush creeped up into her cheeks. He’d been trying to get her to stay over more often, but she didn’t like the feeling of living there. She loved her own place and made a point to sleep there at least half the time.

JC turned the CD on in the player by the foot of the bed then switched the light off before sliding under the sheets. His arms found Sara in the dark and pulled her close to him, circling his arms around her waist as Van Morrison’s voice softly filled the room.

Sara covered his hands with hers and sighed as his breath warmed her shoulder. The thin sheet conformed to their shape as they settled into their pillows. The warmth from JC’s body radiated into hers as she pressed her back against his chest, a position that was feeling more and more comfortable every night she stayed. It had gotten to the point that on the nights she stayed at her house, she missed the feeling of him in the bed beside her. Even if they didn’t touch, just the feeling of having him there was enough to comfort her, usually.

She couldn’t shake the worried feeling she’d had, and it showed. "What's wrong?" JC whispered, sensing her uneasiness.

"I’m worried about you JC." She whispered a few minutes later.

"Worried? About me? Why?"

"You just… you seem too normal. It seems like you’re trying really hard to convince me that you’re okay."

"I am okay."

"But it’d be all right with me if you weren’t." She said softly.

"I know."

"It feels like with as close as we’ve become over the last week or so, you’ve moved further away."

"I’m right here Sara."

"JC… will you please go see Dr. Grayson?"

"Sara come on." He laughed softly, his breath blowing her hair.

"I’m serious." She turned to look at him over her shoulder. "Please?"

"You want me to go see Dr. Grayson because I’m normal?" He laughed again and gave her a look.

"Yeah."

"That doesn’t make sense."

"I go see her all the time." Sara raised her eyebrow in the darkness.

"Well yeah but…"

"Yeah but what? I’m still messed up? Is that what you’re implying?"

"No, Sara… that’s not what I meant." He sighed. "You’ve been going to see her this whole time. If I show up now she’ll think I’m slipping back."

"But that’s okay JC."

"But I’m not."

"I think you might be."

"I thought the whole goal of healing was to get back to normal? How come when I finally get there you start telling me I’m not okay?"

"JC, I’m not saying you’re not okay. I’m saying I’m worried about you because this all seems really sudden. A couple months ago you were cutting yourself because one of the guys said something that hurt your feelings, and now, with the help of no one, you’re over that?" Sara shook her head and sighed, "You of all people should know that the quick fixes don’t last."

"Just because I don’t go about it the same way you have, doesn’t mean I’m not getting better."

"I know that." She whispered. "Will you please just call Dr. Grayson this week?"

"If you’re really that worried, I’ll call her. But I’m doing fine. No cutting, no nothing."

"Okay." She nodded, but continued to frown as he wrapped his arms tighter around her and yawned. "I’m sorry if I upset you."

"It’s okay." He whispered and kissed her neck quickly.

"Okay." She sighed and frowned as she settled into JC’s arms.

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

As promised, JC called Dr. Grayson the next day just to talk for a little bit. He got her receptionist when he called in the morning, but she was able to put him on her calendar for a phone call that afternoon. JC spent the morning picking up his house and watching "The Ref" on his big screen. When two o’clock rolled around JC sat at the dining room table to make his call.

"Well this is a surprise, how are you JC?" Dr. Grayson said when he identified himself. She slid her shoes off under her desk and set her stack of papers to the side, she wanted to give JC her complete attention.

"I’m doing good." JC nodded and traced the wood grain on his table. "Um, Sara wanted me to call and kinda talk to you I guess. She thinks I’m slipping." He jumped right into the reason he was calling.

"Do you think you are?"

"No."

"Why do you think Sara thinks you are?"

"I don’t know." JC lied.

"I know that you’ve only just now gone public with your attempt, how’d that go for you?"

JC paused; Dr. Grayson was just as good as he remembered. "Um, it went pretty good. Nothing major."

"You just told the whole world that you’re not perfect… that’s something major when the thing that put here in the first place was your fear of not being perfect."

"That wasn’t the only reason I was there." He said softly. All of a sudden he felt like he was back in the security of her office, putting his life in her hands to fix.

"No, not the only one. But it was a reason, so this has got to be rough on you." Dr. Grayson explained. "And that’s okay JC, you’re holding up beautifully I’m sure, as long as you realize that it’s okay to be worried about slipping again."

"I know it’s okay to slip."

"Ah ha, but do you know it’s okay that you slip?"

"Dr. Grayson if I slip, I take five guys down with me."

"Nope, we’ve been over this. You need a refresher course JC." Dr. Grayson smiled. He was doing all right; he just needed a wake up call and a boost. "You slipped earlier this year when you began cutting yourself, and the only person you took down was yourself. You’ve managed to pull yourself back from that, and that’s great. But JC, with every new stress you’ve got to find a new way to deal with it. Committing suicide didn’t work, cutting didn’t work, what’s next?"

"I don’t know." JC shrugged.

"What have you done so far about the publicity?"

"Nothing."

"You must have done something to make Sara worried."

"It was nothing really… she over reacted." JC sighed, but Dr. Grayson remained silent. "She came over last night and I was sitting in my bedroom by myself in the dark."

"Okay…"

"Well the tabloids broke out and everything. I wasn’t doing anything; I was just sitting there thinking. I guess she rang the bell and I didn’t hear it so she let herself in and got really worried so when she came into my room she was just… just really worried."

"What would you feel like if you found her in the same way?"

"I’d feel like she was just really tired." JC said softly.

Dr. Grayson smiled, "JC…"

"Yeah, I’d be worried too."

"See? She’s just watching out for you."

"I know." JC nodded. "But I’m really doing okay. I know she thinks that I’ve recovered too soon or whatever, but… Dr. Grayson I really feel like 100 times better."

"I’m glad to hear that." She nodded, she’d heard this a thousand times before. "I’d like you to answer me honestly, have you cut yourself since the last time that Sara knows about?"

"No." JC said with conviction.

"Have you thought about it?"

JC paused for just a split second that answered his question before he did, "I don’t… I guess. I mean, yeah, I’ve thought about it. But I didn’t act on it so that’s gotta say something."

"That says a lot JC. But the fact that cutting yourself is still an option for you – "

"It’s not an option." He insisted.

"You’ve thought about it, it’s an option." She said slowly. "The fact that it’s still an option is reason enough for her to worry. You may never cut yourself again JC, and I certainly hope for your sake that you don’t. But you can never know. I think that’s what she’s really scared about, she doesn’t know."

"But it’s got to be the same for her and pills."

"It is." Dr. Grayson nodded. "She’s still working with that. And it scares her just as much that she may still take a handful of pills because she’s thought about it."

"I don’t want to cut myself."

"And she doesn’t want to over dose."

JC sighed deeply into the phone, "So what do I do?"

"Well JC, that’s up to you. You don’t have to do anything. I think you’re doing very well, and you seem to think so too."

"What about Sara?"

"She’s doing well also. Incredibly well."

"I’m meeting her parents this week, for Christmas." JC added after a moment.

Dr. Grayson cringed inwardly; she wouldn’t wish them on anyone, "Really? Has she told you about them?"

"Yeah, she gave me fair warning." JC smiled. In fact, she’d done everything she could to make JC change his mind about going. "What do I tell her?" He asked after a short pause.

"Do you feel like you need to tell her something?"

"Well she’s the one who asked me to call you." JC shrugged.

"Tell her what you like, as far as I’m concerned this is between you and me." She drew circles on her scratch paper and checked her watch; she had ten minutes before her next appointment. "Hey, how are things going with your friends?"

"The guys? Thing are going good, real great." He nodded. "Lance uh, Lance did a public service announcement with me and the other guys have been real supportive through everything. They’ve opened up a lot and so have I, I guess."

"That’s good to hear, I know that was a problem before."

"Yeah." JC nodded. "We’ve all changed a lot. Sara too."

"Good, I’m really glad to hear that JC."

"Thanks." He smiled. "I’ll um, I’ll let you go, I know you’re busy."

"Okay, don’t be a stranger kid, keep in touch and let me know how you’re doing." Dr. Grayson smiled.

"I will." JC nodded, promising himself that he actually would put forth the effort. Dr. Grayson had helped him more than anyone else, and she was the only one he hadn’t kept in contact with.

Saturday night was spent in a convention room at the Beverly Hilton celebrating the completion of their new album. Sara joined the rest of the guys along with their entire crew and staff. It was a huge party and they all had a great time, it was a cheerful way to start the holidays. Christmas Eve was Sunday and the other guys hopped a flight immediately after the party to fly east to be with their families, but JC simply drove across town to his own house. He was going to spend Christmas Day with Sara and her family, and then they would be leaving the day after to spend the week with his family.   She had managed to talk her supervisor into giving her one week of vacation in advance for the next year so that she could go with him.

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

JC adjusted the collar of his shirt for the hundredth time as he stood in front of the mirror in his bathroom; "Does this look okay?"

"Stop messing with it, it looks fine." Sara sighed from the other room. She used a barrette and clipped her hair back from her face, then walked into the bathroom beside JC. "Take the tie off, come on." She reached over and loosened the tie to pull it over her head.

"Sara…"

"I promise, you don’t need a tie." She tossed it toward the hamper and put her hands on her hips, "Let’s just stay here." She made her last attempt to change his mind.

"Nope, we’re going." JC kissed her quickly then glanced at the little clock on the counter, "And we’re running late so let’s go." He grabbed her hand and practically dragged her out to the car. They drove over to her parent’s house and parked in the street.

Before JC turned the car off, Sara placed her hand on his knee, "This is your absolute last chance JC."

"Thanks for the offer." He smiled, but opened his door and climbed out anyway. JC came around to her side and helped her out, then they walked hand in hand towards the front walk. "Oh, the presents." JC began to turn back to retrieve the gifts he’d bought for her parents from the car.

 

"We can get them after dinner, we’re already late." Sara shook her head. JC reluctantly turned back toward the house, leaving the gifts where they were.

"They know I’m coming, right?" He asked.

"Well…"

"Sara! Wait." He grabbed her arm and stopped on the brick path, "They don’t know I’m coming?"

"Well what was I supposed to say?"

"How about ‘Mom and dad, I’m bringing my boyfriend to Christmas.’?"

"But they don’t…" She shuffled her feet and looked up the empty street.

"They don’t what?" JC asked softly. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back, "They don’t even know we’re dating?" She didn’t answer; she only shook his head. "But they know we’re friends right, who I am?"

"JC… they’re not like normal parents." Sara tried to explain.

"Whoa, Sara… let me get this straight. You’re taking me to meet your parents on Christmas, and they aren’t going to have any kind of idea who I am?"

"If I told them before they’d have time to prepare." She sighed.

"Time to prepare for what? I mean, this isn’t a whole lot better, springing a stranger on them."

"Maybe we should just go back to your place." Sara shook her head and tugged him back toward the street.

"No… come on, let’s just get this over with." JC frowned and pulled her by her hand to the front door. He rang the doorbell and held her hand tight so she wouldn’t try to make a run for it.

"Hello Sara, only 10 minutes late this time, you’re improving." A gentleman said as he pulled the door open.

"Hi dad." Sara dropped her head as she blushed and stepped into the entry.

JC’s jaw fell open slightly at the mans tone before he recovered and extended his hand, "Hi, I’m JC, it’s a pleasure to meet you." He forced a smile and took a step forward.

"You didn’t tell your mother you were bringing guests." The man said as he brusquely shook JC’s outstretched hand. "I’ll go let Penny know she needs to set another place." He turned quickly and walked down the hall, leaving JC and Sara in the foyer.

"See?" Sara whispered as her voice shook.

"Jesus…" JC said under his breath as he squeezed her hand. He took a deep breath and followed her father down the short hall. All this time he thought she had been over exaggerating when she talked about her parents, but he could see now that she wasn’t. His mind spun thinking about how he should have just left when Sara offered.

"We can leave as soon as dinner’s over." Sara said softly as they stepped into the huge dining room.

JC nodded quickly and glanced around the room. A heavy dining room table dominated the room, and while there was room for twelve, only six places were set. "Mom, dad… Janet and Craig… this is my friend JC. JC, my parents Vivian and Paul, and my aunt and her friend, Janet and Craig." Sara said nervously.

"Hi, it’s nice to meet you all." JC smiled and for the first time in a while he actually felt nervous.

"Hello… JC is it?" Sara’s mom made a sour face, "We weren’t expecting guests, so forgive the delay in getting your place set."

"It’s okay. I’m sorry to just show up like this." JC said as he and Sara took their seats halfway down the table. She kept her hand in his as they sat, and he could feel her start to sweat.

"JC has been busy lately, and I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to join us, or I would have let you know earlier." Sara explained quietly.

"Even a few minutes warning would suffice." Her father said with a frown. Sara sighed and kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to start a fight on Christmas.

"We’ve already said grace, Penny will be serving. You can bless your food when it arrives." Her mother said.

JC listened in disbelief. He couldn’t see how a child could be raised like this, or how Sara could have come from a house like this. As horrible as it sounded, JC could completely understand why she would try to commit suicide. This house was enough to drive anyone nuts, and he’d only been there a few minutes.

Penny served the turkey and ham as well as everything else that went with a traditional Christmas dinner, and then they ate in partial silence. The only conversation JC heard during the meal was money talk between Craig and Paul, none of which interested him.

"Do you invest?" Craig asked.

JC didn’t realize he was talking to him, and continued to eat. Sara kicked his ankle under the table and he looked up quickly, "What?"

"Excuse me?" Craig raised his eyebrow at JC’s lack of manners.

"Excuse me, I didn’t hear what you said." JC blushed quickly.

"I asked if you invested." Craig repeated his question.

"Oh, yeah." JC nodded. "Most of my money is rolled over into IRA’s. I think."

"You think? You don’t know where your money goes?"

"Well, most of it goes to my management team and agents. The part that I actually take home is handled by my accountant."

"How old are you?"

"I’m uh, 24."

"Twenty four and you have an accountant? That’s pretty optimistic of you." Craig laughed.

"When you make more than two million a year, it helps to have an accountant." JC said sharply. "But I guess you’re right, I am pretty optimistic. Our last album sold three and half million in the first weekend, so I think that’s a good start." Sara bumped her knee against his and reached under the table to pinch his thigh. JC took the hint and closed his mouth.

"JC is in a band." She said softly.

"A band?" Her father laughed and JC could tell that he and Sara were only digging him deeper into a hole. "Is that how you’re planning on supporting my daughter?"

Sara choked on a bite of her dinner, then reached for her glass of water. JC patted her on the back and tried not to laugh, suddenly the whole night seemed hilarious to him. "Support me?" She managed to choke. "Dad, we’re not getting married."

"Sara’s doing fine supporting herself, I don’t think she needs my help." JC smiled and offered his napkin to Sara who quickly dabbed her mouth. "But if she needed me to, I’m sure I wouldn’t have a problem supporting her."

Sara glared at him quickly; he was practically laughing as she waded through hell. JC just smiled and shrugged, he’d rather go through the night with a smile than let them bother him enough to ruin the night. "Are you okay?" He asked softly.

"You think this is funny?" She whispered back.

"You’re beautiful when you’re embarrassed." JC reached for her hand under the table and laced his fingers through hers. He smiled reassuringly as he squeezed her hand, then turned back to eating.

When the meal was finished, they went into the sitting room where there were cards set out on the mantle of the fireplace. Sara’s mother handed her the card with her name on it and muttered something that sounded like, "Merry Christmas."

"Thank you." Sara nodded and handed her mother a card in a deep red envelope. JC witnessed the exchange of gifts with a sad look; this was so different than any Christmas he’d ever seen.

"The gifts are still in the car." JC whispered as her mom walked away. Sara just shook her head slowly and looked up at JC with pleading eyes.

"No JC." She said softly. "Let’s go out back, you still have to meet Max."

"Max?"

"Yeah." A smile played across her lips as she led him toward the backdoor. She carefully pushed the huge french doors open and stepped out to the immaculate sitting area. As soon as the doors swung shut a tan cocker spaniel came bounding around the corner at full speed. "Hey Max!" Sara knelt in front of the dog and scratched his ears as he happily licked her face. "Oh I miss you, you little goober." She laughed and wrapped her arms around the dog before letting him go so he could sniff at JC’s feet.

"Hi big guy." JC cautiously leaned down to let the dog sniff his hands. Max immediately licked JC’s palm and danced around his shoes.

"Max likes everyone." Sara laughed as JC ran his hands over Max’s soft coat.

"He’s cute." JC smiled up at Sara.

She seemed truly happy as she walked to the edge of the patio and picked up an old tennis ball, "Hey Max, go get it!" She tossed the ball toward the far corner of the yard and laughed as he ran after it.

"Is he yours?"

"Technically he belongs to them." She looked back at the house. "But I’m pretty much the only one that pays any attention to him." Sara frowned for a second, then laughed again as Max dropped the ball at her feet. JC picked it up and lobbed it off to the right.

"Can you have pets at your apartment?"

"No." She shook her head, "But he needs room to run around and stuff, not an apartment." They tossed the ball for Max for a few minutes before Sara spoke up, "We can go whenever you’re ready, Christmas is done."

JC nodded slowly and watched Max run across the damp grass, "Okay, let me know when you want to go."

"Now works for me, how does that sound?" Sara asked with a smile, though she didn’t feel happy.

"If you want." JC nodded, secretly glad to have an excuse to leave.

"Yeah." Sara bent down to scratch Max’s ears again and to give him a hug goodbye. "See you later pooch." She laughed as he licked her hands and gave a short bark.

"Bye Max." JC reached for Sara’s hand and they ducked back into the house to say a quick thank you and good bye before they left. There were no hugs or kisses; her parents barely took the time to look up from their Backgammon game to say good bye. Sara sighed and dropped JC’s hand, then stomped down the foyer and out the front door.

Overall the whole evening had only taken a few short hours, but JC felt emotionally drained as they climbed into the car. "You didn’t believe me, did you?" Sara asked as she pulled her seatbelt across her lap. The tears she’d been holding back all night threatened to fall as he started the car.

"I had no idea." JC shook his head and pulled out onto the street. He reached over and placed his hand lightly on her knee, "You’re so much different than them, I don’t know how you all are related."

"You think I’m different than them?" Sara asked as a tear ran down her cheek.

"Are you kidding?" JC smiled, "You’re about as far away from them as you can be." He brushed her tear away with the back of his hand, then looked back at the road. "I’ll bet Dr. Grayson has a field day with your parents."

"Yeah, when they go."

"I thought you all were going for family counseling?"

"We were, while I was living at home. I guess they figured once I moved out I was on my own." She shrugged.

"What does Dr. Grayson say about that?" JC asked. Sara remained silent for a minute and JC thought he may have crossed that invisible line, "I don’t – "

"Dr. Grays – " They started at the same time. JC smiled and nodded for Sara to continue, "Dr. Grayson would like them to come back for their own therapy I think, but as far as me… well I guess she thinks that since they’re so unwilling to budge, then maybe I’m better off without them."

"But you need a support structure. You’ve told me that a hundred times."

"I’ve got you." Sara stated the obvious answer.

"Yeah but…" He shrugged instead of saying what was on his mind, that he was just as messed up as she was half the time, and not really a good support.

"And I’ve got Cassandra and my friends at work and everything."

JC nodded, but rather than pointing out that her two closest friends were "students" with her at Wycroft, he said, "True. I think you’re doing great without them."

"Yeah." She whispered and looked out the window as her bottom lip trembled. She tried to force the tears back, but as she squeezed her eyes shut, two more escaped, "I just want to have a real family, JC. I just want to have a normal family where the mom and dad give a damn about their kids even if they’re grown up, and where they can have a normal Christmas dinner and normal conversations." She breathed out and fogged up her window as the tears fell freely, "They don’t even care that I’ve got a job or got my shit together, I mean as long as I’m not living in their house living off of them they don’t care at all."

JC searched for something to say, but everything she was saying seemed true. If they hadn’t been on the freeway he would have pulled over to hold her, instead he drove as fast as he could back to his house and parked in the garage. As the heavy garage door closed behind them, Sara jumped from the car and crossed her arms over her chest. She stood beside the door leading into the house and waited for JC to unlock it.

"Are you okay?" He asked as he placed his hands on her shoulders. His keys dangled from the belt loop on his jeans as he tilted her chin up to look her in the eye, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah." She nodded and reached a hand up to wipe her tear stained face.

"Come here." He wrapped his warm arms around her and held her in the darkness of the garage. He ran his hands over her hair and she rested her cheek against his chest, which was where she was the most comfortable. Over the last six months she had felt more and more at home in his arms, and while she was there she felt like nothing could go wrong. "I love you Sara bear."

JC wasn’t expecting her to respond, she never did, so when he heard her whisper, "I love you too," he knew that no matter how bad the night had been, it was the best night of his life. He leaned back and met her eye as she smiled up at him, looking more nervous and scared than she had all night. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him softly… she didn’t need anyone else but him.

 

 

On to part 6

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn