Over the next couple of weeks Sara enrolled in the local junior college on Dr. Grayson’s advice, and became a little more comfortable around JC’s affection. Lance and Justin came to town and joined Sara and JC for dinner the weekend after Sara’s classes started, and it was a lot less intimidating than she thought it would be.

"Dude Jace, LA’s been good to you." Justin hugged the older man quickly, then sat across from JC in the booth of the restaurant.

"Thanks." JC laughed.

"Really, you look a lot better than you have in a long time."

"Stop checking out my looks." JC laughed again and looked toward the entrance. "Where’s blondie?"

"He was on the phone when we got here, so I think he’s wrapping that up." Justin shrugged and unfolded his napkin in his lap.

"You’d think that phone was his oxygen supply." JC rolled his eyes.

"How was your uh, vacation?" Sara asked Justin, reminding them that she was there.

"Oh, it was good. Lot’s of fun." Justin nodded and took a sip of his water. "Did JC show you the pictures?"

"Yeah, I love those ones you guys took on your hike or whatever. That looked just amazing." Sara smiled.

"It was, really, you wouldn’t believe how pretty that whole country is." Justin scratched at his curls and looked around the restaurant uneasily, "Is it always this packed?"

"I don’t know, I’ve never been here." Sara smiled as JC looked over the menu.

"It’s weird being out with the guys without our line backers."

"Linebackers?" Sara asked.

"The guard team." Justin laughed. "I guess after the last tour, things have kinda died down when it comes to psycho stalker fans."

"You can say that again." JC looked up from the menu and saw Lance weaving through the crowded tables on the way to where they were sitting.

"Hey JC, hi Sara." He said as he sat down. He dropped his phone on the countertop and sighed. "Can someone take that thing and chuck it into the ocean or something? It hasn’t stopped ringing since we landed."

Justin reached over and turned the power off, then handed the tiny phone back to Lance, "There you go, all better."

"So are you guys ready to start recording?" Sara asked softly as Justin and Lance picked up their menus.

"We aren’t going to be recording for another couple weeks." Justin said without looking up.

"Oh, I thought JC said you were going to be in the studio next week." Sara blushed quickly and looked over at JC.

"Oh, well yeah. But we’ve got meetings and stuff to talk about the album before we actually start recording." Lance smiled up at Sara, then glanced at JC. He could already see the difference in both of them, they seemed truly happy together. "What have you guys been up to on our little break?"

"Not much." JC shrugged.

"I started school this week." Sara said as she opened her menu in front of her.

"Cool, UCLA?" Lance asked.

"Uh, no, not yet." Sara looked at the appetizers and furrowed her brow. "I’m going to a community college for a year to get used to going back to school and everything, to take the basics, you know. I’m still working with my doctor to get into UCLA."

"Your doctor?"

"She’s not really my doctor I guess. I mean, she was. Dr. Grayson was our head shrinker at Wycroft, she’s been helping me with the whole school thing." Sara said quickly.

"You still go to a doctor for that?" Justin asked as he set his menu down.

"No, I… " Sara cleared her throat softly, "I volunteer there a couple times a week."

"She talks to some of the kids that are there now. Sara’s going to school to be a counselor like Dr. Grayson." JC explained.

"Ahh, that’s cool." Lance smiled.

"I think you'll be good at that. I mean, look at what you've done for us hopeless morons." Justin laughed and chewed on a piece of ice.

"Hopeless huh?" Lance laughed and shook his head. "I wouldn't go that far."

"I just meant that she's helped us all a lot even though we didn’t think we needed it."

"Aww, Justin's getting all deep on us." JC smiled across the table at Lance.

"Aww, how sweet." Lance patted Justin's head and everyone laughed.

They enjoyed their dinner then said goodbye out at their cars. All evening long they had been left alone, but as they all climbed into their cars, a small group of fans approached them. The three guys happily signed the girls t-shirts and napkins and chatted for a bit before they waved goodbye and took off.

"That was a really nice night." Sara smiled with content as she sat back in JC's passenger seat. "Have you missed them?"

"The guys?" JC laughed as though she'd just said the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard; then he sighed deeply and shook his head, "Yeah, I guess I do."

"Ah ha, you're such a softy." Sara rolled down her window and let the cool fall air in.

"They're my family." He said softly as he reached to turn the radio on.

"Speaking of family, you haven't been back to see yours since you've been here."

"Nope."

"Hrmm." She frowned.

"I'm going back after we start recording. We'll get weekends off, so I'll spend a couple back home."

"Do you miss them?"

"My family? Yeah. More than anything else." He nodded slowly. Sara nodded in agreement and looked out her window. Her family lived so close, but she hardly ever saw them, and doubted they missed her. "It's going to be crazy for a while after we start in the studio on Monday."

"I know."

"No you don't." He caught her eye in the darkness and smiled. "Seriously, I will only be able to see you on the weekends… maybe a call or two during the week."

"I'll survive." She laughed lightly.

"Yeah, I know you will."

"And you will too, sheesh. I don't see you that much right now anyway since I've been working and going to school and stuff."

"Yeah, but this will be different."

"JC my dear, you worry way too much."

"I know." He forced a smile and concentrated on the road.

A look of worry crossed Sara's face, "Are you doing okay?"

"Hmm?" He looked over at her again; "Yeah, yeah I'm doing okay."

"Really?"

"Really." JC nodded, then leaned over and kissed her quickly, trying to keep his eyes on the road, "Honest."

"You'd tell me if you weren't?"

"Would I be able to lie to you? You see through me like I was made of glass." JC winked, and rolled her window up with the controls by his fingertips.

"True." Sara leaned her elbow against the window and sighed.

"Now look who's worrying too much." He laughed.

"Shut up."

"Are you going to stay tonight?"

"At your house?"

"No, in the car."

"I think it'll get cold in the car, I'd rather go home."

"Yes at my house, sheesh." He laughed.

Sara thought for a second, she didn't have anywhere to be in the morning, and she didn't really want to drive home to an empty apartment, but she felt like she was spending more time at JC's than she was at her own place. "Sure." She smiled. She was a sucker for a warm body and soft music.

"Okay." He reached over and placed his hand on her knee as they headed up the hill to his house.

Sara spent the night wrapped in JC's arms to the sound of Van Morrison's "Moondance" CD playing softly. JC could never fall asleep in silence, so there was always some sort of sound on when she slept over. She had gotten used to it, but usually stayed up half the night listening to the musical choice of the night.

Well it's a marvelous night for a moondance

With the stars up above in your eyes

A fantabulous night to make romance

'Neath the cover of October skies

And all the leaves on the trees are falling

To the sound of the breezes that blow

And I'm trying to please to the calling

Of your heart-strings that play soft and low

You know the night's magic

Seems to whisper and hush

And all the soft moonlight

Seems to shine in your blush...

 

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

After the first week of album meetings the guys began recording, and for two months Sara only saw JC on the weekends. He was so busy in the studio and flying to Orlando for meetings and everything, that by the time Saturday rolled around all he wanted to do was sit in his backyard or lay on his couch. Both of which were fine with Sara, she was just happy to see him.

Sara's classes were going well, and she was slowly getting back into the routine of early classes and pages of homework. "How’s the recording going?" She asked softly as JC sank into the corner of the couch one lazy Saturday afternoon.

"Ugh."

"Ugh?"

"Yep. Just ugh."

"No fun?" She asked.

"It’s fun… I guess." He shrugged and dropped his arm over his eyes. "It’s just… ugh. That’s the only way to describe it."

"You’re a lyrical master and a poet, and all you can think of is ugh?"

"Lot’s of ugh." JC laughed lightly. "How’s school?"

"Interesting." Sara smiled. "I forgot what a pain in the butt homework was though. I don’t know how they expect us to read two chapters a week and work, and try to have a life."

"You have to give up the life and stuff." JC smiled.

"Well that sucks."

"Yep."

"Oh well, live for the weekend, right?"

"Right." He reached for her hand and pulled her over to his side of the couch. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her quickly. "Saturdays rule."

"Yeah they do." She laughed. "Oh hey, before I forget. Dr. Grayson invited me to speak at this visitors night thing next week."

"Really? That’s great. Are you going to?"

"Yeah, they’re having dinner and everything. I guess she just wants a former student to get up and talk about how Wycroft isn’t the hell their kids make it out to be."

"I don’t know… at the time I think we would both agree that it wasn’t quite heaven."

"Well of course not. But in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad, right?"

"I guess." He shrugged.

"So I need to come up with something witty to say."

"You shouldn’t have a problem with that."

"Do you uh… want to come?"

JC was silent for a minute then took a deep breath, "I don’t know if that’d be a good idea." He said softly. "I talked to Tom today."

"How does that have anything to do with going to the meeting with me?"

"I’m going to make a public service announcement next week, it’ll start airing in 5 weeks."

"A public service announcement?"

"Yeah, those commercial like things that have role models telling kids not to do drugs and things like that."

"Okay…?"

"I’m going to be filming one for suicide." JC ran his hand down the back of her head and held her closer.

Sara sat up quickly as her stomach tumbled to her knees; "You’re going public?"

"Yeah."

"Whoa… JC… have you really thought about that?" All of a sudden she was worried that he might not be ready for such a big step.

"Of course I have."

"But with your album and everything." She frowned and shook her head.

"That’s part of the reason we’re doing it now."

"This shouldn’t be a decision you make to increase sales or whatever. You should do it when you’re ready."

"I’m ready." JC nodded. "But if I announce this now, before the album comes out, I think that would be better. It’s my decision. Tom’s not even sure if I should."

"Are you… what do you think your fans will do?" Sara asked as she lay her head back on his shoulder.

"That’s the one thing I’m not sure about." He shook his head. "But this is me."

"What do the guys think?" Sara’s stomach sunk as she realized they could easily blame her for any negative repercussions that may come from JC’s announcement.

"Lance is doing the service announcement with me." JC smiled.

"You’re kidding!" Sara sat up again and laughed. "That’s great!"

"They all seem cool with it. I mean, we talked about it yesterday, the possibility of media backlash and things like that. They’re all ready for it."

"JC, that’s awesome."

"It’s pretty cool that they’re so supportive. I mean, we actually talked about it, and they were cool."

"Friends rule, and you’ve got four of the best right there."

"Five." He smiled at her.

Sara blushed and smiled, "Are you going to mention Wycroft?"

"Not by name, no." JC shook his head. "My public relations rep said it may not be a good idea to draw attention to a specific facility, to protect the privacy of other patients."

"That makes sense." Sara nodded.

"So back to you speaking at Wycroft… I think if I showed up at a facility like that, then made my announcement, well that might set off some whistles."

"True." Sara nodded.

"But I want to hear what you’re going to say, so when you get your speech or whatever done, let me know."

"Okay." Sara smiled.

"You nervous?

"A little."

"You'll do fine." JC said softly.

"I hope so." Sara sighed and listened to his heartbeat beneath his shirt.

"I know so." JC whispered.

"You rule."

"That's why you love me?"

"Uh huh." She smiled and blushed as he wrapped his arms tighter around her and they turned their attention toward the TV where "Armageddon" was playing for the third time that week.

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

Sara walked into her dark apartment on Monday after a long day at work and dropped her keys and purse on the small dining room table. She yawned and kicked her shoes toward her couch then pulled the scrunchie out of her hair and hit the ‘play’ button on her answering machine.

"Hello, this is Marshall calling from MCI, if you’re the decision maker in yo – " The monotonous male voice droned on as Sara sighed and hit ‘skip’. She took the kettle off the stovetop and held it under the faucet to fill it with water for her tea.

"Hey, it’s me. I’m calling to see what you’re doing tomorrow." Cassandra’s voice laughed through the small apartment, "Give me a call later, I’ll be home after six. Bye!" Sara smiled and made a mental note to call Cassandra in the morning, seeing as how it was already ten.

"Hey Sara, it’s me." Sara smiled and set the kettle on the stovetop, then leaned on the counter beside the answering machine. JC’s voice always brightened her day, even when the day was almost over. "I know you probably thought I’d forget, but ha. I didn’t. Happy early birthday, Sara bear. Call me when you get this, no matter what time it is, I have something for you." He laughed lightly and she could almost hear him running his hand through his hair. "Talk to you later hun. Love you."

"Who told you it was my birthday…?" Sara said under her breath as she reached for the phone. His was the final message and the tape began to rewind as she dialed.

"It’s a school night you know, you should be in bed." Was how JC answered the phone.

"Well hello to you too." Sara laughed. "And my Tuesday morning classes don’t start for another month, only Monday, Wednesday and Friday."

"You need to get into the habit of going to bed early though." JC smiled.

"Okay dad." She took the phone and sat at the dining room table and played with her key ring. "Then I’ll hang up right now and go to bed."

"No, don’t do that. I mean, you’re already up." JC laughed and looked at his watch. "Perfect timing though, go to your hall closet and look in the pocket of your leather coat."

"Huh?"

"Just do it."

"What for?" She smiled slowly, but stood up anyway.

"Because I want to give you your birthday present, and this is how I’m going to do it."

"Over the phone?"

"Are you going to play along or not?" He laughed.

"I’m playing." She rolled her eyes and laughed as she pulled the hall closet open. A single white balloon floated out and hit the ceiling, "Ah ha, a balloon."

"Don’t lose that." JC said.

"A party in the closet?"

"Come on… check the pocket."

"Okay… okay." Sara reached into the pocket of her leather coat and pulled out a thin matchbook. She flipped it open and read it out loud, "First date, first clue. If you were in Australia, you’d call this the loo." She laughed and flipped the matchbook over. It was dark green with the restaurant name embossed in silver on the front, and it was in fact the restaurant they went to on their first date. "The loo huh?" Sara smiled and grabbed the balloon on her way to the bathroom. "This could take all night."

"Don’t whine." JC smiled.

"I’m not whining, I’m – " She stopped as she opened the bathroom door and saw two balloons bouncing around the ceiling. "More balloons." She laughed.

"I hope you like balloons." JC laughed and stared at the fingerprints on the tabletop in front of him.

"I like them just fine." She smiled and sat on the toilet to take the top off the box sitting on the ledge of the tub. Inside was another note and a pale pink rose, "Roses are pink, this room sure can stink, look under the sink to get your drink." She laughed and sniffed at the flower. "I’m not drinking anything under the sink."

"That’s fine, I’ll drink it." JC smiled and drew an S on his glass top table.

Sara opened the little cabinet under the sink and two balloons floated past her face. "Ah ha…more balloons." She got down on her knees and took out the bottle of wine and two delicate wineglasses. "Ooooh, Gallo Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon. Very nice." The next note was tied to the neck of the bottle with a satin pink ribbon. "Go get in your car, you don’t have to go far. Then pop your trunk, and prepare for some junk."

"What have you done to my car?" Sara laughed and stood up.

"Grab your cell phone, I’ll call you back on that."

"Wait, do I have to drive anywhere?"

"No."

"Do I have to take the balloons and stuff?"

"No." JC smiled. "Turn your phone on."

"It’s on."

"Okay." JC clicked his phone off.

Sara grabbed her cell phone and her car keys and headed out to the parking lot. The phone rang in her hand as she crossed the well lit parking lot to her car, "Hi."

"Are you there yet?"

"Not yet." She stepped over the car stoppers and put her key in the trunk lock. "Okay."

"Be careful when you open it."

"If something jumps out at me, I’m going to have a heart attack." Sara laughed as she turned the key slowly.

"Nothing will jump out." JC smiled.

"Okay." She carefully lifted the trunk and caught the balloons that tried to escape. "Two more balloons, am I sensing a theme here?" JC just smiled as she looked at the other things in her trunk. A new spiral notebook, a pack of pens, a ring of keys, a magnet from Texas, a piece of blue lined paper with numbers written on it, a ‘get out of jail free’ card from a Monopoly game, a dessert cookbook, two linen napkins, a birthday card and a CD.

"Do I need to explain the gifts?"

"I think so." Sara nodded at the odd assortment and leaned on her bumper.

"Okay, the paper with the numbers are my alarm codes and phone numbers."

"I have all of those."

"I changed the codes." JC said with a smile. "And I wanted to make sure you had all of them."

Sara picked up the paper and laughed, "Your mom’s number? Who’s Suzanne?"

"She does my travel stuff."

"Why do I need that?"

"I don’t know. I just gave you all the numbers I had." He laughed. "The keys are the keys to my house and garage. The notebook and pens are for your new journal that you were talking about needing. I looked for one of those pretty little leather things, but this just looked more like you. The magnet is because when I was in Texas last week, I thought about you a lot, and from now on when I see Texas I’m gonna think about you." He smiled timidly into the phone and she bent over the open trunk.

"The cookbook?"

"Ahh, you can choose anything in there and I’ll make it for you."

"You don’t cook."

"I’m going to make an exception for you." He laughed lightly.

"This could be fun." She flipped through the first few pages of the sugary sweets.

"The napkins go with that. The ‘get out of jail free’ card isn’t really a gift. I mean, it kind of is, because you can use it. But right now it’s for me, to get out of the dog house."

"You’re in the dog house?"

"I think I might be after tonight, making you run around like this." He smiled. "So I’m using that in advance. Then, if you ever need it, you can give it back to me."

"This could come in handy."

"I think so too." JC laughed. "What else is there?"

"Umm…" She looked over the stuff in the trunk, "A CD."

"Oh! Oh yeah, the CD is something I made with some of your favorite songs. You know, Sara McLachlan, the one by us, and a couple others. You don’t have many favorite songs, so they’re all on there twice." He laughed.

"That’s okay." Sara smiled; this was her best birthday ever.

"All right, now open the card."

She dutifully opened the envelope and took the card out, "I know it’s not hailing, but what if you got a mailing? Go check the box, and unlock all the locks." Sara laughed and said, "That’s cute."

"I try." He said smugly.

"Do I need to take everything with me?"

"Whatever you can carry." JC nodded.

"Okay." She loaded up the contents of the trunk in her arms, grabbed the balloons and walked over to the bank of mailboxes where another two balloons were tied to the pole. "I should have guessed." She untied the balloons and held them all in one hand. She fumbled with her keys and opened her mailbox. "Oh man…" She set her trunk things on the floor and pulled out the little red box that was sitting on top of her bills with a tiny key taped to the top. "You’re crazy!"

"No, I’m imaginative." JC laughed, he could picture her standing in the brightly lit alcove looking into her mailbox with a huge smile.

"That’s for sure." She took the small key off and opened the red box, only to find a little wooden box with a fleur de lise design burned onto the top. The wood key was sitting to the side so she unlocked that box and found a small paper box with a key drawn on a tab that was sticking out. She pulled the tab and the paper unfolded to reveal a note, "Wow, did you make this?"

"The paper box?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah, my sister used to make them all the time as a kid. Do you know how hard it is to follow folding directions over the phone?"

"I’ll bet." Sara laughed and read the note, "Getting tired yet? Well don’t you fret. On to your bed where you lay your head." Sara laughed and shook her head; "You’re a poet."

"Yeah right." JC blushed at the pathetic rhyming he’d had to come up with.

"Do I need to take everything with me?"

"Yeah, take it in."

"Okay." She cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder and loaded up her things in her arms again. She shut and locked her mailbox then made her way back across the parking lot to her apartment. She pushed the door open and set her things on the couch and said, "If I complete this challenge to I get a handsome reward?"

The phone clicked in Sara’s ear as he hung up, "I think so." She heard him say from the bedroom.

"JC?" She asked with a light laugh.

"Who else would it be?" He shouted from the back room. Sara giggled to herself and trotted down the hall to her room where she threw the door open and bounded in. "It took you long enough."

"Were you here the whole time?"

"No." He shook his head. "I was up the street when you called."

"But I called your home number."

"I had my calls forwarded to my cell phone so this would work. I let myself in when you were out at your car."

"You are crazy." She laughed again then went to the bed to give him a big hug. "This is the best birthday present ever." She kissed him quickly as she sat on his lap.

"I haven’t even given you your gift yet." JC reached his hand up to tuck a curl behind her ear.

"JC you don't have to give me anything, this is all perfect." She couldn't stop smiling as she kissed him again, "No one has ever done something this cool for me, thank you so much."

"Well you're welcome so much." He kissed her and reached behind him for a medium sized box. "Here you go."

"You really didn't have to." Sara blushed and ran her finger over the thick satin bow.

"It's too late, I can't take it back now." He nudged the box closer to her.

Sara sighed and scooted off of his lap, "Well in that case." JC reached over and helped her tear the paper off, then tossed the bow and crumpled wrapping to the floor. The lid was taped down so Sara ran her finger under the tape and popped it open with a warning look at JC, "Did you go a little tape happy?"

"You think I wrapped this myself?"

"Oh! You had some chick at the store wrap it for you? Sheesh, did she pick it out too?" Sara laughed.

"It was a guy, and no." He raised his eyebrow with a smile. "Come on already." He reached across her lap and tossed the lid to the ground beside the paper and bow.

Sara pulled the tissue aside and smiled broadly, "Oh my god, JC that's beautiful!" She pulled out a picture of the two of them in a deep mahogany frame. It was small, only 5x7 but it was perfect. They were standing on the grass with the Golden Gate Bridge behind them. JC took the picture himself so it was almost lopsided and a little fuzzy, but they both had genuine smiles. Her crazy curls were blown across his baseball cap and his cheek was pressed against hers. "That's perfect! I remember that, I can't believe it came out!"

"That's the only one that did. I got two shots of just my eye and one of the tops of our heads. We need to practice that whole 'taking our own picture' thing." He laughed.

"I guess so." Sara laughed and looked in the box. Inside was a thin, dark blue cardigan sweater just like the one she had on in the picture. "What's this?"

"You lost your sweater on the trip and I remember you saying it was your favorite one." He shrugged. "This one is kind of close, only it doesn't have that little design thing around the buttons."

"How do you remember these things?" Sara laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck, "How did you get to be so amazing? I swear."

"It just comes naturally." He smiled smugly.

"Ha ha." She rolled her eyes, "Of course now I feel terrible because I completely missed your birthday and only got you sweater the day after when I saw it on MTV."

"I love that sweater."

"Well yeah, but how does that compare to all of this?"

"Because I love it just as much as you love all of this." He smiled and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"Yeah but still…"

"Sara, stop… this isn't a competition." He placed his finger over her lips. "Just say 'thank you' and leave it at that."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." He nodded and kissed her quickly.

"You know what?"

"What?"

"Twenty four is gong to be a good year I think."

"You think so?"

"Well it's starting off pretty good." She smiled and laced her fingers through his. It couldn't have started any better.

 

 

 On to part 5…

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn