"I wish you would have let me pick you up from the airport." Sara said as she gave JC a kiss hello. He was in LA for two days to do some guest spots on TV before they finished up the last couple weeks of their tour.

"You wouldn’t have wanted to be there, the airport was a mad house. All the guys flew in with me so it was chaos."

"They’re all in town?" Sara asked.

"Yeah, we taped a thing for E! and then Leno. They uh… they’re coming over tonight too…" He looked up at her sheepishly. "Do you mind?"

"No… that’s fine. I haven’t seen them in a while." She forced a smile and saw her night alone with JC disappearing into a mirage.

"We’re just gonna order pizza or something."

"Jace, you spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with these guys, why do you want to hang out on your days off?" She laughed.

"They don’t have to come over."

"I don’t care that they come over, I’d like to see them too… I’m just saying. You see them all the time, I would think you would want a break."

"I do." He nodded and reached for her hand. "And tomorrow I will get that break."

"Cool, when’s your flight out?"

"We fly out at like, two fifteen to New York to spend another full day doing some TV appearances before we begin the wind down of the tour."

"Three more weeks?"

"Twenty three more days." JC laughed and kissed her slowly.

"Then what?"

"Then I’m home free." He smiled.

"Yeah but for how long?"

"I uh… I don’t know. We’re kind of just leaving it open for right now." JC stepped back.

"Is everything okay?" She asked as she sensed his worry.

"No… yeah everything’s okay. That’s not what I meant. It’s just that for the first time in… forever practically, we don’t have a tour or an album in the works. This will be really our own time. You know? No studio time, no flying around to events, no soundstages." He shrugged. "It’s just weird. Justin’s already thinking about the next album, of course. But Lance and Joey are gonna dip into their acting skills, Lance has a couple acts with FreeLance that are booming. Chris is bringing FuMan to stores everywhere… we’re all just really busy."

"What about you?"

JC shrugged again and brushed her bangs out of her eyes, "I’ve got a few things planned but mainly I want to focus on relaxing and doing a little writing."

"When does the work on your new album start?"

"Whenever we all get together and decide we’ve had enough of a break."

"What if you don’t?" She asked softly.

"We will." JC smiled. "If it were up to Justin and Chris we’d be in the studio the week after the tour ended. They’re working together on a couple tracks; I’ll be mixing it in with them. We’re all hyped to do another album… we just… I don’t know. Want to explore other avenues."

"Scary though, huh?"

"A little." JC nodded. "But it’s cool."

"Good." Sara smiled. "It’ll be nice to have you around." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him again as the front door buzzed.

"That would be Joey."

"Did he follow you home?"

"Practically." JC nodded and took her hand as they walked down the entryway to the front door. JC looked at the little monitor and laughed as the image of Joey with his back to the camera, using his arms to make it look like he was making out with someone, came into view.

"Hey Joe, what’s her name?" Sara asked into the intercom.

Joey stopped suddenly and turned around with a huge grin, "Morgan… she’s the captain of the cheerleading team. Let me in you dolts."

"Name calling isn’t the way to get the door open." Sara laughed.

"Hey just because I don’t use your little pet names for each other or whatever doesn’t mean I’m not using an affectionate term."

"Since when is calling someone a dolt, affectionate?" Sara challenged the monitor.

"Let me in man, or I’m taking me and my captain Morgan and I’m going to a sleazy motel."

"Go right ahead." Sara laughed and realized that she really missed joking with the guys.

Joey turned to walk away a JC reached over Sara’s shoulder and buzzed the gate open for him. "Yeah, thought so." Joey laughed and pulled the gate open while sticking his tongue out at the camera. Within seconds he was bounding in the front door with a grocery bag at his side.

"You went to the store?"

"Yeah, well I had Kenny go in and get it." Joey shrugged.

"Speaking of security…" Sara looked around. "Where are they?"

"Back at the hotel." Joey nodded.

"You have a hotel?"

"Of course." Joey gave her a look. "You don’t actually think I’d voluntarily stay here do you?" He laughed.

"They don’t stay with you guys?" Sara asked.

"No." JC shook his head. "We’re just hanging out."

"Yeah we stopped needing babysitters a couple years ago." Joey opened the bags and brought out a bottle of rum, a six pack of coke and a six pack or Dr. Pepper. "Most of us anyway."

"So where are the others?"

"Checking in at the hotel." Joey opened the refrigerator to put the sodas in and frowned. He put the six pack on the floor and reached in with both hands to move stuff around, "Shit Jace, when did you get food?" Joey moved the loaf of bread and bagels to the bottom shelf and slid his sodas in.

"Hmm?" JC peeked into the open refrigerator. "Oh, did you go shopping?" He asked Sara.

"Yeah." Sara nodded. "I’ve been here for a couple months now, I had to have something to eat."

"Anything good?" JC asked.

"Chick food." Joey crinkled his nose and held up a carton of cottage cheese. "You eat this stuff? It looks like sour milk."

"Tastes like it too." JC made a face.

"It’s good, knock it off." Sara reached for the container and put it away. "I’m not asking you to eat it so leave me alone." She laughed and shut the refrigerator.

"Hey Joe, how much cash do you have on you?" JC asked. He held his wallet out in front of him and sighed.

"I don’t know. Like five bucks maybe. I bought the drinks so…" He shrugged.

"I don’t have any cash at all."

"I have twenty I think." Sara said.

"What for?" Joey asked.

"Pizza." JC tucked his wallet away.

"Justin’s always got cash, just wait till he gets here and hit him up." Joey laughed and made himself comfortable on the couch in the living room, "How do you like LA man? You think it’d be worth moving out here for?"

"Well considering I did, yeah I think so." JC laughed and draped his arm around Sara’s waist.

"Yeah but for me. Do you like it?"

"Yeah." JC nodded. "Not like I’ve spent a lot of time here, but yeah I like it." He squeezed Sara’s side gently.

"Cool, I’ve been thinking about relocating you know? Hittin’ the West Coast for a little bit." Joey looked over his shoulder toward the backyard; "You’ve lived here forever right?" He asked Sara.

"Southern California, yeah. Not in LA the whole time."

"You like it?"

"I love it." Sara smiled.

"Would you ever move to Florida?" Joey asked.

"Not voluntarily." She laughed and stepped away from JC to open the back door.

"Hey now." JC sounded appropriately offended as he laughed and followed her.

"Not that I have anything against Floridians or anything, but California is perfect for me. Not too hot, not too cold, npot too humid, no giant bugs or tsunamis or hurricanes or whatever."

"Just earth quakes." JC joked.

"Earthquakes I can handle."

"Yeah that’s another thing. How often do you guys get those?" Joey jumped up and followed them out to the yard. "Dude, when did you get a dog?" He asked as Max lumbered around the corner with a bright green ball in his mouth.

"This is Max, he’s Sara’s dog." JC kneeled and took the ball from Max to throw it across the yard.

"And he lives here?" Joey raised his eyebrow at Sara.

"He actually belonged to my parents but they were going to send him to the pound so I took him. But I can’t have a dog in my uh, apartment… so JC said I could keep him here."

"How quaint." Joey laughed. "So earthquakes… how many do you get?" He sat on the steps and pet Max who came over to investigate the new scent in the neighborhood.

"A day?" Sara asked.

"You get an earthquake a day?"

"California gets a whole bunch every day." Sara nodded.

"What?!" Joey and JC asked in unison.

"Tiny ones… nothing you’d ever feel."

"How big do they have to be for you to feel them?" Joey asked.

"I don’t know… probably four point something. I think the last one we had that I felt was 5.2. That’s not too big."

"Jesus…"

"Well the ones we have every day are like, 2… they’re nothing."

"California is just going to break off and slip into the ocean." JC shook his head and laughed. "That’s freaky man, if I woulda known that I wouldn’t have moved."

"You wouldn’t have?" Sara raised her eyebrow at him.

"Well yeah I would have, but I would have been more leery about it." He laughed.

"Baby." Sara laughed and shook her head. "You guys are wimps."

"Yeah… well…" Joey shrugged as the doorbell rang again. "I’ll get it." He jumped up and ran down the hall to the front door. He pressed the button on the intercom and shouted, "What?!"

"Daaaang Joe. You just blew out my eardrum. Where’s Jace?"

"He’s playing ball with Max."

"Where’s Sara?" Justin asked.

"Out back with them."

"Who’s Max?" Lance asked.

"Are you guys just gonna hang out by the gate and talk on this thing all night or are you gonna come in?" Joey asked as he implemented the ‘annoyed Joey’ tone everyone knew so well.

"Yeah buzz us in." Justin laughed.

"Okay." Joey pressed the other button on the intercom system but nothing happened, "Did that work?"

"Did what work?" Lance asked.

"Did it buzz?"

"It didn’t do anything." Justin shook his head.

"Okay…" Joey pressed both of the buttons at the same time but still got no results. "Dammit, hang on." Joey said into the little speaker. He ran back down the hall to the back door, "Hey! How the hell do you work your thing?"

"My thing?" JC smirked.

"Your door."

"What do you mean?" JC tossed the ball then followed Joey back inside.

"I mean how do you work the damn thing? Justin and Lance are standing around outside like sitting ducks man, I can’t get them in."

"You press the button that says 'door' Joey." JC sighed and pressed the button to the left of the speaker. A loud buzz sounded outside and Justin pulled the gate open. Lance and Chris followed him in and they all met at the door.

"Cool, you made it." Joey slapped Chris on the back.

"Looks like I got here just in time, are you having door issues?" Chris asked JC.

"No, Joey is." JC laughed and they all filed down the hall to the kitchen.

"So what's the plan, Stan?" Chris asked to no one in particular.

"No need to be coy, Roy." Justin laughed as he answered with the accompanying lyrics.

"Just hop on the bus, Gus." Lance added as he hopped up on the counter.

"You all need therapy." JC shook his head and waved Sara in from outside. "Sara! These freaks need mental help… what can you do for them?"

"I dunno." She shrugged. "They may be too far gone." She went around and gave hugs to everyone who had just arrived, then they all walked out to the back yard. "So what's new?"

"Not much." Justin yawned and sat in one of the padded patio chairs.

"I can't be here long, I've gotta go south for some FreeLance stuff." Lance explained as he tugged at the hair by his ear. "I need a hair cut." He said more or less to himself.

"Can't you just phone in and tell people what to do?" Joey asked.

"Sure Joe." Lance sighed. "I could do that. And maybe for the next album you can just put yourself on speaker phone and do it that way."

"Works for me." Joey shrugged and thwapped Lance's hand away from his head. "You keep pulling your hair like that and you'll go bald."

"Quit pulling your sisters hair." JC grumbled and they all dissolved into a fit of laughter. "Okay come on guys, I'm starving. Let's decide what we want."

"What are our options?" Joey sat across from Justin and put his feet up on the retaining wall.

"Pizza, pizza and uh… pizza." JC counted off on his fingers.

"I'd say pizza sounds good." Lance laughed.

"Aww man, come on. We always have pizza. Can't we have pizza this time?" Chris whined as he rolled his eyes. "None of that Hawaiian crap though. Fruit does not belong on a pizza."

"Pepperoni?" JC asked as he clicked his phone on.

"And mushrooms." Lance nodded.

"Black olives." Justin laced his fingers behind his head.

"Sausage." Joey yawned.

"Oh! Don't forget the bell peppers or whatever that was last time." Chris shook his finger at JC.

"Sara?" He looked over at her as he started to dial.

"Um, just plain cheese." She blushed quickly.

"Plain cheese?" Chris asked as though she'd just asked for lima beans and peanut butter. "On pizza? Oh come on you've gotta add some flavor to it."

"I don't like all that stuff." She laughed uneasily and sat on the wall by Joey's foot.

"I'll eat plain cheese too." Lance said. "Get one of those."

"Okay so how many pizzas all together?" JC turned his phone off before it could ring. "Two?"

"Yeah… for me." Justin laughed.

"Get like… one, two… get three." Joey looked around the table.

"Three?"

"Yeah. Me and you will down one by ourselves. Sara and Lance can eat the crappy one, and those two can have theirs." Joey pointed to Chris and Justin.

"Well if we're gonna get three then I want jalapenos on mine." Justin said.

"Not if we're sharing it." Chris shook his head.

"I'll get it on half."

"Okay."

"So on ours we want half jalapenos, pepperoni and black olives and half pepperoni and bell peppers." Justin nodded.

"Shit, come on inside and write it down, I can't remember all of that." JC took the phone and went back inside to get a notepad and a pen.

They spent the next fifteen minutes completing their order then JC called it in to the local Pizza Hut. It would be there in thirty minutes or less so they had some time to kill. Joey made a round of drinks and they sat around the living room catching up with Sara while they waited for their food to arrive.

When the bell rang twenty five minutes later JC looked at Justin, "You got cash?"

"What do I look like? An ATM?"

"I don't have enough cash on me. I think we've got like, twenty seven bucks." JC held out his hand.

"So now I've got to pay?" Justin tried to look annoyed.

"You're the only one who actually carries cash." JC smiled and wiggled his fingers, "Come on, hit me with twenty and we'll call it even."

"Even? What math are you using?"

"I'm using the 'JC's pizza buying' kind of math." He smiled as Justin laid a twenty in his palm. "I'm taking it with me when I go then."

"If there's any left you can take all you want." JC nodded and handed Sara the cash, "Would you mind?"

"Sure." She took the money and paid the guy at the door, then carried it outside where they could all sit together.

They ate on JC’s patio set sharing drinks and stories from the tour. Sara laughed so hard her face hurt and she knew her stomach muscles would be sore the next day. As it got later Sara picked up her glass and went inside to get a refill, Chris and JC followed her inside while Lance said his goodbyes.

"Have a safe flight." Sara smiled as he passed through the kitchen.

"I will." Lance paused to give her a hug, "See you later."

"Bye." Sara patted his back, "Is your ride here?"

"Yeah, Lonnie’s got a car out front." He nodded as he grabbed his light jacket from the back of the couch. "Jace! Chris! I’ll see you guys tomorrow night."

"Bye!" Chris shouted from the bathroom. "I’d come out and hug you but I don’t think you’d like that right now."

"That’s cool." Lance banged on the door as he walked by the bathroom.

"See ya tomorrow." JC walked Lance to the door and waved as he walked down the driveway.

He went back inside and to the kitchen to get himself another drink as the night started to wind down. "I like what you’ve done with the place." Chris said as he sat heavily in the big chair by the stereo.

"Hmm?" JC looked up from pouring his Coke into the rum filled glass.

"The bathroom." Chris smacked the arms of the chair and added, "This is like the most comfortable chair ever in my life. Can I sleep in it?"

"No." JC shook his head and swirled his cup to help the ice stir his drink. "What’s wrong with the bathroom?"

"You actually have towels in there. Soap too. But I never figured you for a sea shell shaped soap kinda guy." Chris laughed and looked toward the backyard where Justin was laughing hysterically at Joey’s imitation of someone dancing like a white guy.

"What?"

"Towels. You know those things you pretend to dry your hands on after you pretend to wash your hands after you pretend you didn’t piss on them." Chris looked at Sara sitting on the couch across from him, "I coulda sworn he spoke english when we let him go home. Did you break JC?"

"I got towels." Sara blushed quickly and concentrated on the ice in her orange juice.

"You got towels?" JC sat opposite her on the couch as Joey ran into the family room and jumped over the back of the couch. "Hey! Chill out Joe. You’re gonna break your neck."

"We jump over each other, fly over audiences, launch pyro from our fingertips, climb off the side of moving trains and you think I’m gonna break my neck in your house?" Joey laughed and sat on the floor in front of Chris.

"Where’s Justin?" Sara asked.

"He’s peeing in the pool."

"I don’t have a pool."

"Then your neighbors are gonna be pissed." Joey snickered.

"You’d better hope he’s not." JC shook his head.

"He’s cleaning up if you must know. He’s the best friend you’ve got." Joey burped softly and laughed again.

"What a good kid." Chris let his foot slip off the end of the chair and kicked Joey in the head ‘accidentally’. "Sorry."

"Any part of you that touches me, you aren’t getting back." Joey growled over his shoulder before he laughed and moved away from Chris’ feet.

JC shook his head and smiled, "So you bought towels?"

"Yeah." Sara nodded. "There were none in there and it got annoying." She explained.

"And the soaps?" JC asked and laughed as she blushed.

"They matched the rug." She shrugged.

"She’s domesticating you." Chris laughed and sunk deeper in his chair.

"She’s taming the wild beast." Joey laughed.

"When have you ever considered JC a ‘wild beast’?" Chris asked.

"True." Joey nodded.

JC growled as he swung his feet up onto the couch beside Sara, "I could be a wild beast."

"I’m not even gonna go there." Chris shook his head. Justin walked in with his hands full of plates and napkins with a pizza box balanced precariously on top of it all.

"Where do you want these?"

"Oh here, let me get those." Sara jumped up and took the boxes and trash out of his hands. "Just put those in the sink, I’ll do them later." She nodded at the plates and glasses Justin was holding. She took the trash out to the garage then came back in to visit a little longer with the guys.

"Actually I think I’m gonna head to the hotel." Chris stood up and yawned.

"Are you serious? It’s only like, ten." JC tossed a balled up napkin at Chris’ head.

"Yeah but remember? He’s an old fart." Justin started to laugh but it turned into a yawn.

"Yeah see? Come on, we can all ride back together so Danny doesn’t have to drive his happy ass out here three times." Chris thwaped Joey on the back of the head, "Come on Josie."

"Josie and the Pussycats." JC laughed as the three guys stretched and tried not to yawn.

"Keep talkin Chasez…" Joey warned with a smile.

"You guys are really leaving?"

"Heck yeah." Justin rubbed his hands over his head. "We get to sleep in tomorrow, I want a head start."

"Fine, just dog us." JC pretended to be hurt.

"Ya know, I don’t here Sara complaining." Joey looked at Chris with a raised eyebrow.

"She doesn’t really like us." Chris shook his head.

"Or she wants us to leave so she can get some action." Joey pointed out.

"Nah, JC gets no play." Justin joined in the joke and swallowed the last bit of coke in his glass. "You’re on the two o’clock flight with us tomorrow, right?" He asked JC.

"Yeah." JC nodded. "We’re all flying out together."

"Cool, see you there then."

"Bye guys." JC and Sara walked them to the front door. They waited until their ride arrived and took them away, then went back inside to finish cleaning up.

JC screwed the caps back on the bottles of alcohol that were out on the counter while Sara headed for the sink. She turned the water on ‘hot’ and held her fingers under the flow to monitor the temperature.

JC leaned around Sara to put the bottles away as he yawned into his shoulder. "I’ll finish up here, you look exhausted." Sara stifled a yawn herself as JC placed his lips on her forehead. His breath smelled of rum and sugary syrup, and she knew he’d sleep well that night.

"Thank you."

"You’re welcome." She kissed his sweet tasting lips and reached for the utensils in the sink. "I’ll be in in a minute."

"M’kay." JC mumbled as he walked down the hall to his room. Sara heard him open the door, then slide the closet door open. She wondered if he’d notice her clothes in there and if he’d say anything.

He question was answered when a minute later he appeared in the hall with his hands on his hips. "Hey. Your clothes are taking up half of my closet."

"No, they’re taking half of our closet." Sara said as she shut the dishwasher.

"Oh really?" JC smiled.

"I’m taking you up on your offer."

"Yeah?"

"If it still stands." Sara nodded with a smile. "If not I can always pack it up."

"You really want to live here?" JC asked as he sauntered down the hall wearing only his boxers.

"Well I kind of have to now. I gave notice at my place last week." Sara’s cheeks flashed pink as JC’s arms went around her waist.

"Is there anything else I need to know?"

"My furniture is arriving next week and I'm going to have to do something with it." She looked up at him and hoped he'd just be happy to be home and wouldn't worry about her stuff.

JC laughed and tilted his head back; "All your stuff is coming here? Sara bear, where are you going to put it?"

"I don't know." She smiled, glad that he was laughing.

"Okay." He shook his head but continued to smile.

"Actually, Cassandra is taking my bed set stuff, so the only big thing I have is my futon. And my big chair thing that you like."

"Your papasan chair?" JC raised his eyebrow.

"Yeah."

"Cool, put that in the bedroom." He nodded. "The other stuff… well… stick it wherever, we can figure that stuff out later."

"Okay." Sara smiled up at him. "You're okay with this?"

"With you moving in?"

"Me moving in with all my stuff."

"Of course I'm okay with it." JC said softly. He rested his forehead against hers and kissed the tip of her nose. "I want you here with me, that's why I asked you to move in in the first place. You were the one with reservations."

"I know… I just… I just wanted to be sure."

"It's fine. It's perfect. I'm glad you changed your mind." He kissed her softly and let the realization sink in. They lived together now… the step had been taken and according to Chris, there was only one place that lead. JC was surprisingly calm as he thought; "I'm okay with that."

"Good." Sara smiled. "You need a girls touch around here."

"Well you've been touching it all over. Scented soaps and rugs?"

"It's homey." Sara defended herself with a smile.

JC looked down at her smile and knew he never wanted her to leave, "It's perfect. Come on… we can do these in the morning." He took her hand and pulled her down the hall toward the bedroom.

Sara went into the huge closet to change out of her jeans while JC went into the bathroom to wash his face before they went to bed. His bare feet weren’t met with the expected cool tile floor, instead his toes were buried in a thick golden rug. JC smiled and curled his toes as he leaned on the counter for support. It was far too late and he’d had far too much to drink to be upright much longer.

JC’s hand stopped in midair as he reached for his toothbrush; there were two toothbrushes sticking out of a silver tooth brush holder, and the toothpaste was in another little cup beside them.

He set his hand flat on the counter top and just stared at the toothbrushes. The green and white Reach brush was his, it was comfortable and broken in; he could probably use a new one but he just never had the time and that was low on his list of priorities. The bright purple one beside his had glitter in the handle and turquoise bristles that made him smile just to see them. It looked brand new and hardly used. For a split second he wanted to use the purple one, just to feel the difference, but instead he reached for his old one and ran it under the water.

The cold water stung his tongue as he rinsed his mouth and spit into the sink. JC reached for the deep plum colored towel that he didn’t recognize, and wiped his mouth. He looked back at the toothbrushes sitting side by side and realized that any other time that image would have scared the crap out of him, but right then he felt comforted by it.

JC yawned as he stepped into the room, "Hey Sa – " He started, but she was already curled up and asleep on what had become her side of the bed. What he had planned to say slipped from his mind as he turned the light off and pulled the covers back on his side. Anything he could have said wouldn’t have come close to conveying what he was feeling, so he simply slid in beside her and took her warm body in his arms. Any questions he may have had about the next step vanished in that moment as she sighed and snuggled into his chest in her sleep. JC tucked a stray curl behind her ear and kissed her slack lips and smiled… no questions at all.

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

JC and the guys left the next day to wrap up their tour and Sara went back to school. While she spent the next three weeks studying the War of 1812 weapons and uniforms, JC did his homework on rings and carats. "Hey… can I get your opinion?" JC used his shoulder to balance himself against the wall of the bus. He leaned into Justin's bunk and set the glossy catalogue on his pillow.

JC had sat down with all of the guys after their three days in LA and told them of his plan to propose. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but when they all smiled and patted him on the back before knocking each other over into a huge dogpile, he knew things would be okay.

"Yeah, what?" Justin shut his magazine and rolled onto his side, noticing the catalogue. "Whoa, JC… I didn't know you felt that way about me." He snickered.

"Ha ha." JC rolled his eyes. "So really, if you were a girl, which would you want?"

Justin quickly scanned the pages and shook his head, "None of those."

"Come on Justin…" JC sighed.

"You can't get it from a catalogue." Justin frowned.

"I'm not! I'm choosing which style I want so I can go to the store and get it."

"That's the same thing." Justin shut the catalogue and handed it back to JC. "Besides, all of those are gold."

"So? I like gold."

"We're platinum baby." Justin waggled his eyebrow and pulled his drape shut. "Go to a jewelers and find one that means something to you. Don't get one of those."

"Thanks for nothing." JC tapped his catalogue against his thigh then went back out to the front of the bus. Justin was right though; he wanted everything to be special; the ring, the proposal… everything.

JC managed to get a few hours free to grab a bodyguard and visit a jeweler while they were in Dallas. They went unnoticed into the store and JC headed for the wedding sets. He looked at the selection of platinum sets they had but nothing jumped out at him.

"Would you like to see something?"

"Nah, no it's okay. Thanks." JC mumbled. This wasn't going to work. He wasn't going to find the ring in a mall… just like he didn't find the girl in a mall. He had to look where he was least likely to find it.

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

JC called Sara as often as he could, sometimes going days without actually reaching her. They played voicemail tag for a while then when they finally connected JC was rushed. "Hey babe listen, I’ve got like two minutes before I’ve gotta go to the meet and greet."

"Okay." Sara covered her mouth as she yawned.

"How are things back home?"

"Fine, I took my history final today. That sucked."

"I’m sure you did great."

"Thanks." She smiled. "How about you? What did you do today?"

"Me and Lonnie went to – " He stopped himself a fraction of a second before he let it slip, "We went to the mall."

"Really?" Sara laughed. "How’d you swing that?"

"I dunno. He uh, he had to go get something for his girlfriend so I went with him."

"Did you get swamped?"

"No, actually no one really recognized me until we were leaving. Then again it was like ten in the morning on a Wednesday." JC quickened his pace as they neared the large arena room where the small crowd of girls was waiting. JC was last in as usual.

He paused before he pushed the door open and said, "I’ve gotta go babe. I’ll call you tomorrow."

"Okay." Sara nodded reluctantly. "And I’ll see you in a couple weeks."

"Twelve days." He laughed. "I love you Sara bear."

"I love you too Jace. Have fun and dance hard."

"I always do." He smiled.

"Bye."

"Bye." He laughed and clicked his phone off as he pushed open the door to the delight of the girls gathered in the room. The meet and greet couldn’t start without him, so they were now on their way.

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

A week later JC was still stressing over finding a ring, when Chris dropped himself on the couch beside him. They were en route to Indianapolis and they had another four hours on the bus. "Still worrying about the ring?" Chris asked.

"Yeah." JC sighed. "I've been all over the net, checked out all kinds of malls and catalogues. Nothing looks right."

"Yeah…" Chris nodded as if he understood.

"I mean they're all either too gaudy or too big or too flashy. I want something simple you know? Elegant but small. I don't want some 20 carat rock she has to lug around."

"I know what you mean." Chris nodded again. "Have you tried antique shops?"

"Come on… I'm serious."

"So am I."

"Antique shops?"

"Yeah… chicks dig that stuff."

"Used rings?" JC scoffed.

"They have a story." Chris raised his voice a notch and batted his eyelashes. "I swear dude, it can't hurt. It's better than going blind looking at the same damn rings all over the computer."

"True." JC sighed. "I’ll give it a shot. I'll try just about anything now."

"Cool." Chris patted his knee and stood up. "Glad I could help, now quit moping around like a lost dog." JC simply sighed and flipped open his laptop again, he needed to find some antique shops in the cities they were headed to.

He rubbed his eyes and yawned, ring shopping was definitely more work than he anticipated.

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

Four days and nine shops later they were in Cleveland with less than four hours to spare. JC grabbed Lonnie and they found their way to the three antique shops that JC found online that said anything about jewelry. The first one had a teenage girl working behind the counter so JC pretended to look uninterested as Lonnie shopped for a ring for his non-existent girlfriend. The girl behind the counter could barely complete sentences between her bouts of giggles and finally asked JC for his autograph. Her uncle came out from the back of the store to snap a picture of them together, then JC and Lonnie left empty handed.

The second store had only pins and cuff links in their tiny jewelry selection so they left and headed to the third store on their list. As the car pulled up outside JC climbed out of the back seat and stretched his back. "Lonnie, can you just go in there and buy the first ring you see? Please?" JC sighed deeply and shook his head. This wasn’t as fun or as easy as he thought it should be.

"You wanna call it quits for today?"

"Do I really need a ring? Can't I just ask her and have her go get her own?"

Lonnie laughed and shook his head, "You go ahead and try it, but I don't wanna see that scene." He patted JC on the back; "Don’t worry kid, you'll find it when you're not even looking."

"Fine, then I'm not looking any more." JC pushed his sunglasses up on his nose and crossed his arms over his chest. The frayed cuffs of his blue jeans dragged on the ground as he walked over to the display window.

"Great, then I want to go in here." Lonnie pulled the antique door open, ringing a bell to signal their entrance.

"Awesome, what are you looking for?" JC walked in behind Lonnie with a sigh.

"A lamp for my mom." Lonnie laughed and followed JC as he headed straight for the glass cabinet in the back.

"Can I help you find something?" The old man behind the counter asked.

"No, just looking for a lamp." JC mumbled as he removed his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He casually looked in the case and yawned, "Do you have anything platinum there? Or is this all silver?"

"No sir, those four on the end are platinum." The gentleman reached for a key on his key ring and opened the case, "Would you like to see them?"

"Sure, why not?" JC tried to act ambivalent; he'd just look at this guys rings then get on out of there.

"Here you go." The man set the four rings out, each in their own tiny box.

"Thanks." JC looked them over quickly and sighed. "Wait." He grabbed Lonnie's arm so quickly Lonnie jumped.

"What?" He asked a little too loudly.

"Check it out." JC pointed to the third ring back.

"It's pretty."

"It's gorgeous." JC nodded. "Can I take it out of the box?"

"Of course."

"Wow." JC took the ring out and slid it onto his pinky. "This is nice."

"That's a beauty. It's circa 1940. Now that's a full carat there, total weight." He continued to describe the ring in full detail but JC didn't hear a word he said. He was holding the ring he was going to give to Sara.

"I'll take it." JC interrupted the jeweler as he spoke about the different color qualities of diamonds.

"Hey Jace, why don't you think about it?" Lonnie said from his side.

"No way. I knew when I saw it I would just know. This is it Lonnie." JC nodded and smiled at the jeweler. He removed the ring from his finger and placed it back in its box. "I'd like this ring please."

"You're sure?" Lonnie asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure. A hundred and ten percent sure." JC nodded, everything was falling into place and it all felt right.

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

"Check it out." JC dropped the ring box on the table between Chris and Lance.

Chris just stared at the box while Lance reached out and spun it around on the table in front of them, "So this is it?"

"Will you just look at it and tell me what you'd say if you were a girl and I gave that to you." JC mumbled. He didn't doubt his choice he simply wanted some reinforcement.

"Well you know Jace… you're not really my type." Lance shook his head and held the box still in his hands.

"Be serious here, for three minutes please." JC reached over and flipped the top of the box, "What would you say?"

Chris and Lance looked down at the same time and answered in unison, "Wow."

"You picked that out?" Lance looked up with a surprised expression.

"Yes I picked it out." JC sighed.

"Wow… you did one hell of a job." Lance said softly.

"Can I take it out?" Chris asked with his hand already on the box.

"So help me God Chris if you lose it I will have you killed." JC watched like a hawk as Chris took it out and held it up to the window to catch the light.

"Man that's pretty, is it antique?" Chris looked at JC out of the corner of his eye.

"Yeah."

"Ah ha, see? I told you. Chicks dig that kinda thing." He laughed and slid the ring onto his pinky. "Too flashy for me."

"You think it's too flashy?" JC asked quickly as his brow furrowed.

"Not for a girl, it's perfect for a girl. Just not for me." Chris laughed and held his hand out to admire the ring.

"Take it off man, quit playing around." JC reached for Chris' hand to take the ring off but he couldn't make it budge. "Dammit Chris, it's stuck. Take it off now."

"Hang on." Chris used his free hand to try to get the ring off but JC was right. "Shit I'm sorry man…"

"Wait, let me get some butter or something." Lance laughed and jumped out from behind the table.

"Butter? No no no, not on a platinum diamond ring you're not. Wrong." JC shook his head and grabbed Chris' hand again.

"Hey ouch!" Chris snatched his hand back and held his little finger protectively.

"Hey Justin?!" Lance shouted toward the front of the bus. "You still got that lotion?"

"What lotion?"

"The stuff that Lena sent you? Just… lotion. Any kind of lotion."

"Joey's the perv, ask him." Justin kept his attention on the notebook in front of him. Lance sighed and went to the back of the bus where Joey was sleeping,

"Joe? Do you have any lotion? Chris' has a ring stuck on his finger."

"Huh?" Joey rolled over and pulled his drape back.

"Chris got Sara's engagement ring stuck on his finger and JC is about three seconds away from cutting his finger off."

"Put it in his mouth." Joey grumbled then turned away.

"Wait, what?"

"The finger. Chris' finger? Stick it in his mouth and have him use his teeth."

"Put it in his own mouth?" Lance asked.

"I don't care. You want his finger in your mouth?"

"No."

"Then yeah his mouth."

"That'll work?" Lance asked with a hint of doubt.

"Lance?"

"Yeah?"

"Go away." Joey fluffed his pillow again and shut his navy blue curtain.

Lance shrugged and walked back out to the table where JC was wrestling with Chris to get a hold of his finger, "I swear Chris, I’ll cut if off if I have to." JC practically crawled over the table to grab at Chris.

"You’d cut the ring?" Chris held his arm over his head and leaned away from JC.

"No, I’d cut your finger." JC made a grab for Chris’ shirt collar.

"Time out, back to your corners." Lance pulled JC back and set him on the seat. "Chris put your finger in your mouth and use your teeth to get it off."

"Huh?"

"What didn't you understand?" JC crossed his arms over his chest.

"That'll work?" Chris asked as he gave Lance the same look that Lance had just given Joey.

"Would you rather have JC snap your finger off?"

"True." Chris stopped talking long enough to stick his pinky all the way in his mouth and bite down on the opposite side of the ring. He wiggled it slowly and tried not to think about how ridiculous he looked, and within a few seconds it came off his mouth. "Awesome!" He reached up and took the ring out from between his teeth.

"Gross." JC took the ring from Chris and jumped up to rinse it in the sink; "You don't get to touch anything ever again." He mumbled as he ran it under the water. JC dried the ring on his shirt and placed it back in the box.

"Relax, you got it back." Chris laughed as Lance sat across from him again.

"I'm serious. Nothing, ever again." JC dropped the box into his pocket and headed for the bunks.

"I think you pissed him off." Lace laughed.

"He'll grow out of it." Chris laughed with him and produced a deck of cards from the little storage area under the bench. "Twenty-one?"

"Sure." Lance shrugged and smiled. Chris always insisted on playing, but he never ever won.

"I'm gonna smoke ya this time." Chris laughed demonically as he shuffled the cards in front of him. "There's no way you're winning this time. You're going down."

"Okay." Lance laughed and nodded before rolling his eyes. "We'll see…"

JC pulled himself onto his bunk and lay on his stomach to look at the ring even closer. He'd had it in his possession for less than an hour and he already could not take his eyes off of it. It was the perfect mix of everything he was looking for. It was delicate without being too girly, it had more than one diamond without being flashy, it was petite instead of huge, and it would look stunning on Sara's hand. He could already imagine her wearing it when he held her hand. He could feel the cool stone against his thumb when he rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, and the way it would slide across his bare back when she held him close.

He could picture his future just by holding the ring in his hand… now all he had to do was give it to her, and make that just as perfect.

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

Sara was in contact with Justin toward the end of the tour and he helped arranged for her to come out and surprise JC at the last show. JC had been asking her for a few weeks to come out to catch it, but she kept telling him that she had to work and couldn't get out of it. He believed her, but he was still frazzled. They hadn’t seen each other in three weeks and with the ending so near he found it hard to wait any longer.

Sara knocked on the dressing room door tentatively, "Yeah?" She heard one of the guys shout from inside.

"Can I come in?" She asked through the closed door.

"You have to open the door or shout louder." The same voice replied with a hint of annoyance.

"Is that Lena? Tell her my knight jacket has two missing buttons and a tear in the lining." Chris shouted, she could recognize his voice anywhere.

"Come in already! Sheesh." The first voice shouted, getting louder as the owner got closer to the door. Joey threw the door open and stopped, "Oh hey! Wow, what are you doing here?"

"Hi Joey." Sara laughed and nervously tucked a curl behind her ear. She had her hair in a ponytail but random curls always managed to break loose. "Is JC in here?" She asked softly.

"Yeah, he’s changing." Joey jerked his thumb toward the back, "He doesn’t know you’re coming?"

Sara shook her head as Chris came out from the back, "Hey my jacket needs some buttons." He held his coat out in front of him and continued, "Why do they even put buttons on performance clothes I mean all they do it break off. We need velcro, lots and lots of ve – " he stopped as he looked up and saw Sara standing by the door. "Hey!!" he tossed the jacket at Lance and pulled Sara in for a tight hug.

"Congratulations!" He shook her gently.

"For what?" She laughed and gave him a look.

"For passing your history final." Justin said quickly as he stepped between Chris and Sara. Joey inconspicuously punched Chris in the side. "Yeah uh, JC told us you were kinda worried about that… but that you… you know, that you did good on it."

"Oh… yeah thanks." Sara smiled and tilted her head slightly to the side, "You guys are keeping up with my school work?"

"A little, you know how JC likes to talk." Justin laughed and cleared his throat.

"Oooooh." Chris nodded as he finally got what was going on. "Oooooh yeah JC talks. Talk talk talk." He mimicked with his hand.

"Okay." Sara looked at them all weird, "You guys definitely need some time off."

"Yeah we do." Joey laughed and rolled his eyes. "Just a couple more hours."

"Hey! Is that Lena?" JC walked out from the back area in his dress shirt and jacket, but with only boxer briefs on his lower half. "The lining in m– "

"Hey Jace." Sara smiled at him over Lance’s shoulder.

"Sara!" JC’s jaw dropped slightly as he handed Justin his jacket and took two broad steps toward Sara.

Lance moved out of the way as JC took Sara in his arms and held her tight, "Surprise." Sara laughed as he took a deep breath against her.

"I thought you couldn’t come." He smiled into her hair as his heart raced.

"I wanted to surprise you." She laughed again. "Justin helped me get in here."

"Remind me to thank him later." JC whispered as he laughed lightly. "God I just can’t let you go."

"You’re going to have to hun, I can’t breathe."

"Sorry." He released her and took a step back, but left his hands on her shoulders. "I don't think I've ever been so happy to see you." He laughed lightly and hugged her again, giving her another warm kiss.

"Should we leave you two alone?" Joey snickered as he stood by the door.

"No you're okay." Sara smiled and took a deep breath as she backed away from JC, "I just thought that since I was here when it began, I should be here when it ends."

"It's the same show." Chris shook his head.

"I know." Sara laughed. "But still…"

"We're glad you could make it." Justin stepped between her and JC to give her a hug.

"Dude Just, you know she was coming and you didn't say anything?" JC playfully smacked the side of his head.

"And miss the chance to see that look on your face? Never." Justin laughed and imitated JC's startled look. "Classic. Where are those damn 'Making the Tour' cameras now huh?"

"Are you flying back tomorrow?" JC asked, turning his attention back to Sara.

"Yeah, with you." She nodded.

"Wow…" JC laughed again, "I just can't believe you're here, I wasn't prepared for this."

"I wanted to surprise you."

"You did… you definitely did." He kissed her again. "Lance? How much time do we have?"

"Like… twenty till we hit the stage. About ten before we start getting shouted at." Lance checked the clock on the wall.

"Damn." JC frowned and looked down at his bare legs. "I need to get dressed and stuff, can you hang out for a minute?"

"Yeah, actually I'm going to run down to the cafeteria thing and see about getting a drink. I'll be back in a minute though, okay?"

"Sure." JC nodded and reached to take his jacket back from Justin.

"Hey Justin, can you see about finding this guy some pants or something?" Sara laughed as she pulled the door open.

"I'll do my best." He laughed.

"Thanks for making this work." She added softly.

"Anytime Sara." Justin waved as she shut the door behind her and headed down the long hall to where the food was set up.

 

"Hey man, are you doing it tonight?" Joey asked in a hushed tone as he followed JC back to the clothes area.

"No." JC shook his head and blushed. His stomach tumbled at the thought as he pulled his pants on.

"No? You're not gonna take her out on stage and do it there?"

"Are you serious?" JC laughed nervously and buttoned his pants. "Those fans out there went ape shit when Chris even mentioned having a girlfriend. If I go out there and propose they'll tear the place down." He shook his head and sighed. "No… I'm going to do it in private. Later."

"Later tonight?" Joey prodded.

"Just… just later." JC tucked his shirt in then pulled it out to try again.

"Uh oh… are you getting cold feet?"

"No, no nothing like that." JC looked up and forced a smile. "No I'm fine with it I just… I want the timing to be right, you know? And here in front of everyone isn't the right place. Sara's not comfortable here so… no, I'm going to do it later."

"I think you should do it in a big way. With an audience." Joey laughed.

"Hell no." JC shook his head then added softly, "What if she says no?"

"Dude, she's not gonna say no." Joey laughed and patted JC on the back. "How could she say no to you? Mr. Smooth-Talker? Mr. Action. Mr. Make-The-Girls-Go-Crazy."

"It's possible." JC sighed and thought of the ring locked securely in the tour safe with all of the crucial documents.

"She won't say no." Joey sighed and rolled his eyes, "You'll let us know when you do it though, right?"

"Of course." JC laughed as his nervousness left. He pulled his jacket on over his shirt and shook out his arms. "You bet, we'll call you guys right after our parents."

"Sweet."

"Do not say a word." JC shook his finger at Joey.

"I'm not."

"I've never been more serious in my life Joe. One word, one tiny little hint and your 'legend' will be history." He cast a quick glance toward Joey's crotch, to make sure the hint got through.

"Dude, don't check me out." Joey covered himself and laughed.

"I mean it Joey. I want to do it right."

"I won’t say a word." He made a motion like he was zipping his lips and throwing the key over his shoulder. "Get prettied up though, we’ve got like 10 minutes." Joey bounced out the door while JC reached for his black trench coat.

Sara pulled the door open just as JC was about to leave, "I’ve gotta run hun, I'm sorry… they've just really got us running ragged for the last show." He kissed her quickly and said, "Are you going to sit out front or back here?"

"Back here." She smiled.

"Okay." JC sighed and she walked beside him down the hall, their footsteps echoing off the wide concrete. "The last show man… it’s weird huh?" He turned and gave her a small smile out of the corner of his mouth. "We’re done."

"Bittersweet isn’t it?"

"Yeah… it really is." JC bounced up and down for a second, "But I’m hyped, this is going to be awesome. The last show always rocks."

"I can’t wait to see it." Sara laughed as he tugged on the sleeves of his jacket. "Joey wasn’t kidding though, you’ve got like ten minutes."

"I know, I know. I’ll see you after." He kissed her again, letting it linger to carry him through their final performance of the tour.

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

The show went into two encores with them singing old stuff they hadn’t even touched in years, along with their funky mix of Bee Gees and the Jackson Five. The night ended on a high note and their security had to practically drag them off the stage.

Instead of their usual last show blast they gathered everyone around the backstage area and had the guys stand on chairs to say thank you to everyone involved. There was lots of shouting and laughter, hugs and tears as they said goodbye to the crew and other tour staff.

Sara stayed off to the side watching as the guys made their rounds and after more than an hour JC came over to retrieve her, "Are you ready to go?" he asked.

"Sure." She nodded, "Are you done here?"

"Yeah." He smiled and tried not to yawn.

"Where are the others?"

"Chris took off for home already and Joey is crashing at Steve’s tonight." JC hugged her tight, "Man I just can’t believe it’s over."

"I know." Sara smiled and swept her lips over his.

"When do we leave?"

"Tomorrow at one."

"And we get home?"

"Around five. We stop in Phoenix on the way."

"I wish we could just beam ourselves home. I don’t want the hassle of the hotel tonight, or checking out or crowds tomorrow or the flight… I just want to be home. Right now."

"Me too." Sara laughed. "But there’s no red eye flights west." She checked his watch, "And it’s after one already."

"Okay okay…" JC sighed and laced his fingers through hers. "Well let's go back to the hotel and go to bed. The sooner we get to sleep the sooner tomorrow will come and the sooner we can be home."

"Sounds good to me." Sara kissed him again then they weaved their way through the crew crowd and flagged down a member of their security team to round up a car. All JC wanted to do was get home so he could propose to Sara the best way he could think. Privately and wrapped in each other's arms, content. He knew Sara would probably be shocked and surprised so he wanted to make sure everything was low key and personal. No crowded restaurants, no audiences and certainly no family. Just him and Sara… that's how he wanted it.

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

When they arrived in LA the next day JC drove them home from the airport in his car, and laughed the whole way home, "It’s like I forgot how to drive or something."

"It’s been a while."

"Seriously, I haven’t been behind the wheel in like… three months." He laughed and gunned it down the freeway.

"It’s like riding a bike." Sara laughed and grabbed the armrest between the seats. "Only scarier."

"Sorry." JC smiled as he took his foot off the accelerator. "I just want to get home." "I know you do… so do I." Sara nodded and pressed herself back in the seat, "But I’d rather make it there in one piece."

"Okay okay." JC laughed and looked at her out of the corner of his eye, to keep his attention on the road in front of him. He felt a wave of anxiety wash over him and he became overly aware of the tiny box in his pocket. JC wanted everything to be perfect, but at the same time he just wanted to do it. He waned to take his time and wait for the right time and place, which he was sure would be at their house. He smiled at the thought, "Our house."

They arrived home and dropped their luggage in their room before heading to the backyard to play with a very excited Max. JC spent a few minutes tossing the ball with him while Sara checked the messages on the machine to see if there was anything that needed to be taken care of.

"Your mom called, they all made it home okay." Sara said as she stood in the doorway leading to the back yard.

JC looked up as he knelt to pick up the slobbery ball, "Cool."

"Where’d they go?"

"Um, they went up to Buffalo to visit my aunt." He smiled.

"Sounds like fun."

"Tons." He laughed.

"She also wants you to call and let her know how it went."

"Okay." JC’s ears turned pink and he threw the ball again.

Sara stood back and just watched JC play with Max, he looked truly happy even though his eyes looked tired. He smiled over his shoulder at her and waved her down, "Come on over here, you’ve been too far away for too long… and this is a great view."

Sara hopped down the three shallow steps to where JC stood at the edge of his lawn and leaned back against him to watch the sun set from his backyard… their backyard. JC wrapped his arms around Sara’s waist and rested his chin on her shoulder in content. Max played at their feet, but when he noticed they weren’t in a ball playing mood, he sulked over to the storage shed and lay his head by his food bowl.

"Are you glad to be home?" Sara asked softly. As she turned her head her hair tickled JC’s neck and he smiled; he missed that.

"More than you know." He said softly. JC tightened his arms around her waist and listened to her sigh with content. "The tour was fun and everything… you saw that much. But man, I am definitely looking forward to spending a few days not doing anything at all."

"Only a few days?" Sara frowned. "What do you have planned after a few days?"

"A little more ‘nothing’, then I might take a shower or something." He laughed and kissed her neck.

"Gross, you’d better take a shower before then." Sara laughed and placed her hands over his arms that were resting against her stomach.

"If you insist."

"I do." She sighed and watched the sun dip lower. "What do the other guys have planned, do you know?"

"Beats me. Chris is doing FuManSkeeto stuff and Lance has a meeting with some movie guys but that’s not for like, two weeks."

"Cool."

"Yeah. I told Chris he could rack out here when he comes to LA to do his promo stuff next month."

"That’s cool. He cracks me up; I don’t know how you can live with him in tight quarters for months on end. I’d die laughing."

"After three months of it, it stops being funny."

"Not true, I saw you on that MTV thing laughing at him goofing on Justin’s hair."

"Yeah well…" JC laughed again remembering Chris’ imitation of Justin’s hair being shaved.

"He doesn’t drive you nuts."

"He drives me completely bonkers." JC laughed. "Half the time I want to smack him upside the head and yell at him to grow up."

"But you’re laughing too hard?" Sara smiled.

"Yeah." JC laughed again. They stood in silence for a minute just being happy in each other’s presence. JC’s heart began to pound in his chest and for the first time in a long while he felt nervous. The kind of nervous where he actually thought he’d be sick. He closed his eyes to maintain his balance and said, "I love you."

"I love you too." Sara turned her head to look back at him and brushed her lips over his.

He paused for a second; his rehearsed proposal flitted out of his mind before he had time to retrieve it. "Sara…" He cleared his throat again and reached into his pocket for the tiny box that had been pressing on his leg all night. "I had this all planned down to the last detail… where I’d promise you all the happiness in heaven and all the romance in a Meg Ryan movie… I’d promise you my future and every part of me… but it all comes down to this. Will you marry me?" JC was shocked that the words escaped his lips without shaking or falling over themselves. He held the tiny velvet box in his hand and presented it to Sara as he rested his chin on her shoulder.

After only a split second he felt her body shake and he wanted nothing more than to see her face. "I… I uh… wha –" Sara sputtered. "JC I … whoa." She took a step forward out of his arms and pressed her hands against her eyes without turning to face him.

JC stood there for a second with his arm outstretched, the ring box centered in his hand. He smiled, thinking she was just so happily surprised and stunned that she couldn’t speak.

 

 

And then she walked away.

 

 

Onto the end… 

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn