JC followed Sara into the house and toward the back where she sat on the pillow covered couch. He sat beside her and nervously tapped his feet, expecting the worst. "Sara I know you’re mad, and you have every right to be." He took a deep breath and met her eye as he prepared to continue.

"Yes, but I over reacted I think." She stopped his intended monologue. "I’m not mad at you." She added a second later. "It just… now I feel like everything I say, every little thing I do, every teeny tiny thought I have is on public display."

"It’s not. Sara, this isn’t that bad."

"This is that bad. This is my life. When you made the decision to join this group and to take it as far as you did, you made the decision to give up some of your privacy. Not that I think they have the right to stalk you and publish your skeletons, but it shouldn’t come as a shock if they do." She paused and took a deep breath. "But I never made that decision, it was made for me."

"You made the decision to date me." JC said softly. Sara answered with silence and he could already hear her saying that that had been a bad decision.

"Yes." Sara said after a minute, "I made that decision." She nodded and pulled her knees up to her chest. "But JC…"

"There’s always a ‘but’." JC had heard this speech before, the one where girlfriends can’t handle the stress of all the sudden media. He’d been on the receiving end a couple times, and he’d heard the other guys’ experiences also.

"I think this deserves a ‘but’." She gave him a small smile, then looked down at the velvet pillows of the couch. "I did make that decision, but… it was an uninformed one. I never thought about what the media would say or do about me. I had barely seen what it had done to you guys, I mean… the time that I was on the road with you they were tame, helpful even." She sighed deeply, "And of course I had no previous celebrity dating experience. There should be a class you can take, you know? As a prerequisite. Before you can date a celebrity you have to take this three week course, or something." She laughed lightly, but still wouldn’t meet his eye.

JC tried to remember to breathe as he focused on her voice. He was sure she was breaking up with him, and she had every reason to be upset. He hadn’t had a chance to plea his case but he was sure it would only sound selfish and desperate. "So if you had known… would things have been different?" He rested his elbow on the arm of the couch.

"Yes." Sara said softly. "I would have been a little more prepared for something like this. I would have known that our private time isn’t always ours."

JC looked over at her with a half frown; "You would still go out with me?"

"Huh?"

"If you had that class before, you still would have dated me?" He sounded almost shocked.

"Well… yeah." She gave him a confused look.

"So you’re not breaking up with me?" He asked with a slow smile. He knew he sounded like a shy 13 year old, but he didn’t care.

"JC… no I’m not breaking up with you. I’m just… I don’t know. Venting my frustration, as Dr. Grayson says." She tugged at the fraying cuff of her jeans. "I was mad at you JC, really really mad. And when I got home and saw reporters in front of my house I was even more pissed. I thought it was all your fault, that you could have somehow stopped it. That maybe you had even partly caused it. I associated what happened with you and only you. But that’s not how it is. I’m sorry JC… I’m so so sorry that I said all those hateful things to you."

JC nodded, he was still surprised that she wasn’t breaking up with him.

"I talked to Dr. Grayson this morning." Sara said softly. JC nodded again, he knew she would. "You really should send her flowers or something, she saved your butt this time. I was ready to do some choice things to you and your house." She laughed lightly and shook her head, "But she laid down the law Jace. Being involved with you includes a lot more than being involved with some regular guy off the street. I’m making the decision now to go with that. To take everything that comes with you being you."

"Is this an educated decision?"

"As educated as I can be, I guess." She smiled and rested her hand on his knee. "So far dating you has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, second only to getting out of Wycroft. Funny how they’re kind of tied together, huh?"

"Sara, I just want to be sure… to know that you know that I would never want you to be in the spotlight like that. I’ve done all I could to keep the attention off of you since the beginning."

"I know you have JC." She nodded. "I really just kind of went nuts there, I was completely unprepared to see anything like that and my defenses just went sky high. I’m sorry I took it out on you."

"My legal team is looking into this, to see if there’s anything we can do." JC explained.

"There’s not much we can do, since it’s all "alleged" and "unconfirmed"." Sara shook her head to JC’s surprise. "Yes, I read the article. They’re pretty good at talking a lot of shit and not really saying much, aren’t they?"

"Yeah, they are." JC kept staring at Sara with a silly smile on his face.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

"Yeah."

"Okay." She said hesitantly. "I’ve gotta tell you, as soon as I left I did a mental inventory to see if there were any razors or anything in the room."

"You thought I’d cut myself?"

Sara shrugged and took a deep breath, "I thought it was possible."

"You thought I was going to cut myself?" He asked again.

"Yes." Sara knew this was coming. She had talked with Dr. Grayson about being honest with her feelings when it came to JC, so it was now or never. "And I still left." Sara let that sink in for a minute, "I was that mad at you… I wanted you to feel as bad as I did. God that sounds selfish… and it was. I can’t believe I just left like that when you…"

"When I…?"

"When we were both in such delicate positions."

"You sound like Dr. Grayson." The corner of JC’s mouth turned up in a slight smile.

"I’m serious. I’m sorry I left like that."

"It’s okay."

"No it’s not." She shook her head vehemently. "That’s one thing I really need to work on. Being honest with myself and honest with you."

"That goes both ways." He took her hand in his. "I’m sorry this happened Sara… I really am. If there was any way for me to change it I would, in a heartbeat. I hope you know that."

"I know that." She nodded.

"So we’re okay?"

"We’re okay. We’ve got some stuff to work out, but we’re okay."

"And of course I have to leave tomorrow night." JC frowned.

"Not for long." Sara tried to smile. "A couple weeks right? Then you'll be back for a day or two, then I'll be there the night of your first show."

"I know, it just feels like I'm leaving in the middle of something."

"I'm not going anywhere." She said softly.

"I know." JC stood up and sighed deeply. He walked to the tall glass doors looking out over the lighted back yard and rested his fingers on the handle and shook it gently.

Sara sat for a minute then got up and walked to where JC was standing, "Hey…" She whispered as she stood directly in front of him. Sara tilted her head to the side and gave him a questioning look. "What?"

"I don’t ever want to let you go Sara." JC brushed her hair off her forehead then trailed his fingers down her cheek to her neck. He kissed her slowly as she wrapped her arms around his waist and his hand warmed the back of her neck.

"Then stay." She whispered.

"I can't." JC's chest tightened. He would call off the entire tour if he thought he could… but it was impossible. Sara stiffened in his arms as the hair on the back of her neck stood up on end.

"You… you can't?"

"Sara, I would if I could, you know that. But I can't. This tour is about all of the guys and… and I want to do it."

Sara released the breath she had been holding with a soft laugh, "I mean tonight. Stay tonight."

"Ahhh." JC matched her embarrassed laugh; "I can do that." He kissed her again and ran his fingers up through her hair. "But here?" He looked around slowly. She nodded and rested her cheek against his chest.

"If you don't mind sleeping in my overly girly and frilly old room."

"I don't mind." JC tilted her chin up and kissed her again.

Sara led JC up the stairs to her old room and turned the light on. JC stopped at the door and looked around the room, almost in shock. "This is your room?"

"Yep." Sara laughed at his expression. He slowly looked around the room and took it all in. The pale purple walls, the four poster bed with the white eyelet lace covering, the silk flowers on the night stand and a classic white dressed with a vanity mirror positioned on the far wall. The two bay window seats were overflowing with little pillows and stuffed animals.

"Shit, I feel like I need to take off my shoes or something." He said as he looked down at the stark white carpet with the lavender and sunshine yellow throw rug.

"This is the room my mother always wanted. Not me." Sara explained with a sour tone. "When you turn off the light you won't even care where you are."

"Okay." He said hesitantly, still standing completely still by the door.

"Fine, take off your shoes if you'll be more comfortable." Sara laughed and tossed her two decorative pillows to the floor then pulled back the thick blanket.

JC slipped his shoes off and kicked them closer to the wall then stood there in his socks. "This is just so not your room."

"JC, come on. If you're just going to stand there and gawk you can sleep on the couch." Sara reached up and pulled the scrunchie from her hair and dropped it on the glass-topped nightstand, then unbuttoned her shorts and dropped them to the floor. She picked them up and folded them, then set them on the little dresser and removed her shirt. A slight movement from the door caught her eye in the mirror and she looked up as JC stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. "So… you've decided to join me?"

"This is better than the couch." He mumbled as he removed his shirt and tossed it toward his shoes. He crossed the room to stand behind her as she reached back to unsnap her bra, "Here, let me help."

"Help huh?" She smiled at him in the mirror and he blushed. His hands were warm as his fingers found the clasp and gently slid the straps down her arms. It soundlessly fell to the floor, coiling around her ankle like a white satin snake.

"I'm going to miss you so much." He said just above a whisper.

Her breath caught in her throat as she nodded, she would miss him too. He slowly brought his lips to her bare shoulder and kissed her freckled skin as his arms found their way around her waist.

"I just want to stare at you all night… so I don't forget every little thing about you. Your hair…" He gently brushed her hair off her shoulder, "Your smile…" He traced her lips with his finger then turned her around to face him. "The way you smell so sweet without even trying." JC nuzzled her neck and inhaled deeply. "The way I feel when I'm right here." He kissed her from her neck up to her lips and held her close.

"You won't forget." Sara whispered, which was all that she could manage with his lips so close to hers.

JC looked her in the eye and reached behind him to switch the light off. He kissed her again letting it linger in the darkness until she gently moved to the side and sat on the bed. "I'm sorry Sara… for everything." He said as he lay her down on the pillow.

"So am I." Sara nodded, then ran her hand up his bicep, across his shoulder and to his neck. "You said you didn't want to let me go. So don't."

"I won't." He said before kissing her again in the dark room. Sara was right, with the lights off he didn't care where he was.

 

 

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

In the morning JC and Sara slept in as late as they could, then drove several blocks to the main street to get bagels and coffee for their late breakfast. Sara gave him the unofficial tour of her parents house as they nibbled on their bagels, then they ended up in the back yard with their feet soaking in the pool.

Max brought JC his slimy tennis ball that JC happily threw over and over again for the energetic cocker spaniel. "So how's school?"

"Good." Sara nodded and splashed her feet in the water. "It's harder then I expected, but it's fun." She laughed, "I've done a 180, listen to me 'school is fun!' I mean really." Her voice rose to a squeaky level as she imitated herself.

"School can be fun." JC laughed at her and squinted. "Come on tour with us" was what was at the tip of his tongue, instead he said, "How's uh… how's work?"

"Ugh, work is work. I don't love it but…" She shrugged. "What can I do right? It's putting me through school and that's the important part. I don't have to enjoy it."

"You should like your job though."

"I'll take what I can get." Sara ran her fingers through her curls and kicked water up onto JC's thigh. "Not everyone can love their job you know."

"I know, trust me I know." JC laughed as he picked up the ball to throw it again. "I can't wait for you to see the show, it's going to be awesome. It's huge, seriously."

"It's stadiums, right?"

"Yeah, all stadiums. It's insane. We start the choreography this week… man, we've got our work cut out for us." He sighed and straightened his legs out in front of him, letting the water drip back into the pool.

"How do you think you'll do?" Sara asked quietly.

"Eh, I think we'll do good. I mean once we get it down it's just a matter of doing it over and over and over again." JC smiled and leaned back on his arms. "You meant me didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"I'll be fine." He said after only a slight pause. "I really think I will. The last couple weeks… hell months have been more stress than I've ever been under and I've been good."

"But you've said it yourself, that touring is a whole new level of stress."

"Yeah." He nodded in agreement. "But I've got you, and Dr. Grayson." JC leaned his head back and opened his eyes to see the house upside down behind him. "And the guys have gotten a lot better about talking about stuff. I swear we're all so girly. We talk about feelings and things now."

"That's a good thing." Sara laughed.

"Yeah I know. It keeps us all in check." JC’s pager went off in his pocket as he leaned to reach for the slobbery tennis ball. He checked the number and frowned, it was Lance’s home in Mississippi. "Hey, can I use the phone?"

"Yeah, it’s in the kitchen."

"I need to call Mississippi though." He explained.

"That’s okay. No one will notice." Sara shook her head and took the ball from JC’s hand. "Is it Lance?"

"Yeah."

"Is everything okay?"

"I’ll know in a minute." JC pushed himself up and trotted back into the house where ha grabbed the phone off the wall and dialed Lance’s number. JC leaned against the counted as his bare feet dripped water onto the cool slate floor.

It only rang once before Lance picked up, "Hey Jace."

"Hey, what’s up?" JC asked.

"I heard about the tabloid stuff, I was just calling to see how Sara’s doing."

"She’s okay." JC nodded.

"Is she around?"

"She’s outside." JC nodded. "We’re at her parents house right now."

"Ahh, are they pissed?"

"They’re out of the country."

"I see." Lance said softly. "Is she pissed?"

"Yeah, you could say that."

"Ouch." Lance cringed.

"The bad thing is that we were in Hawaii when it came out, so after a week of being hounded by fans and the press she had to see that."

"Shit man, that sucks." Lance sighed and shook his head. "But things are okay?"

"Yeah, things will be cool after this goes away."

"Are you going to be ready Monday?"

"Yeah." JC nodded. He didn’t want to leave but there was nothing else he could do. "Like I have a choice."

"We could talk to Johnny and see about getting another week."

"Yeah right. This was some kind of freaky miracle that we got these two weeks off, there’s no way we can weasel a third out of it. Besides, we’ve got too much work to do."

"Is Sara coming out?"

"For rehearsals?" JC laughed. "I don’t know where your head is kid, but since when do girlfriends hang out at rehearsals?"

"Well I mean, if she’s upset and everything."

"We’re cool." JC nodded. "She’ll be out for our opening show and I’ll be back here when I can."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure." JC nodded and looked out the backdoor at Sara. "I'll catch ya Monday, okay?

"You bet, take it easy Jace."

"Yeah you too." JC said softly before he hung up the phone.

"Is everything okay?" Sara asked as she headed into the house.

"Yep, Lance was just calling to check up on me." JC smiled and rolled his eyes. "He says 'Hi' by the way."

"Tell him I said 'Hi' next time you talk to him." She laughed and tossed the ball for Max one last time. "I've got some laundry that needs to get done for tomorrow, wanna spend your last free afternoon over at my place folding towels and t-shirts?" Sara asked as she shut the heavy back door.

"Hey now that sounds like fun." JC rolled his eyes and grabbed his wallet and keys off the counter.

"You have something better in mind?"

"Yeah, anything but that."

"Oh come on. It's quality time with me." Sara tried to coerce him with her eyes but only managed to laugh.

"Quality time folding your laundry?"

"Well it has to get done." She sighed and tilted her head to the side, a move she had found worked wonders on poor helpless JC. "Please?"

"Yeah fine, I'll come do your laundry. But you're going to owe me."

"I'll do your laundry when you get back off tour."

"That's like… a week long adventure there. After tour clothes can get pretty funky."

"I'm brave." She took her keys out of her pocket and grabbed her purse. "So yes?"

"Yeah sure." He nodded.

"Okay then I'll meet you at my apartment. I have to get gas on the way, so just let yourself in." She took her key off her ring and handed it to him.

"Okay." JC leaned in quick to kiss her as she walked by, then followed her out to the front of the house where their cars were parked. JC followed Sara out to the main street then turned toward Sara's house while she turned right to get gas.

Sara pushed her screen door open fifteen minutes later and smiled as she leaned on the doorframe. JC was standing in the middle of her living room with her clothes sorted into three piles.

"You have clothes categories?"

"Lights, darks and whites." He pointed out each group as he named them off.

"I just throw them all together."

"You wash your darks with your whites?"

"Yeah." She shrugged.

"How do you not have a hundred pink socks from washing a red shirt with them?"

"I don't know. I just wash them all of cold." Sara laughed and set her purse down. "I don't have that many clothes, I mean look at those, there's hardly enough for two loads there."

"But you have to wash them separate."

"No way, they're all going in there. Look at this, I have like 9 white things. I'm not dropping a buck fifty to wash nine things. They can go in with the lights or whatever."

"That's fine, just don't mix them with your darks." JC warned.

"I won't, sheesh."

"You know you could do your laundry for free over at my house."

"Yeah but then I'd have to load it up in my car, drive over, wash them one load at a time, fold them then bring them home. It's a lot less of a hassle and worth every penny to walk 20 feet and do it here."

JC shrugged, "Let's get started." He grabbed an armful of dark clothes and nodded toward the door, "Lead the way."

Sara laughed and led him down the walkway to the laundry room on the corner of her complex. He dropped the clothes into a washing machine and she placed the quarters in the slot then poured the detergent in. "There. See? Easy." She brushed her hands off and smiled. "Now we get go get the other stuff and wash it at the same time so we're not waiting around here all day."

JC reluctantly followed her back to her apartment and grabbed the rest of the clothes, then trekked back to the laundry room. They put the second load into the wash then went back to her apartment and sat on Sara's couch with a pile of towels between them. "Do these need to be washed?" JC asked.

"No, I did those earlier. I just need to fold them." Sara reached for a towel and folded it as JC sat back. "You don't fold?"

"Not towels no."

"All you have to do is fold them into squares."

"I always do it wrong." JC laughed and dropped his arm over his eyes as he shimmied down to rest his head on the arm of her couch.

"Fine, then entertain me."

"This one time? At band camp?" JC laughed from behind his arm.

"You went to band camp?" Sara asked with an inquisitive look.

"No I… it's from a movie. You've never seen "American Pie"?" He lifted his arm and looked at her.

"Nope." She shook her head.

"You definitely lead a sheltered life. We'll have to watch it sometime. Get Justin and Chris and the boys and have a movie night or something when the tours over."

"Is it good?"

JC shrugged and laughed, "It didn't win an Oscar or anything, but it's funny."

"Cool." Sara sighed in content and placed the folded towel on the floor.

"Hey Sara, can I ask you a favor?" JC asked a minute later.

"Of course." She smiled and reached for the corners of the towel. She folded it in half, then in half again, and set it to the side.

"I’m going to be in Florida for another month or so before the concert kicks off."

"Uh huh." She reached for another towel.

"Well… I know how much you love this place…" He glanced around her tiny apartment with the still unpacked boxes hiding under the coffee table. "But would you consider moving into my house?"

"You want me to move in with you?" She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Kind of, I mean, I’m not going to be here and you’re about the only one I trust with my house, and I’m going to be gone for a total of like, five months. It just might be easier if you lived there. You know? You’d be saving money on rent and stuff too."

"So this is purely for the sake of necessitity? For practicality?"

JC started to say yes, then stopped and smiled, "Well no not entirely."

"JC, I like this place."

"So do I. This is a great apartment. But… " He let the sentence linger in the air.

"If you want me to come housesit while you’re gone I’d be happy to do that for you." Sara placed her hand on the stack of freshly washed towels. "Of course I would."

JC nodded, "Okay, then yeah… that's what I'm asking."

"Yes I will house sit for you while you are gone." Sara nodded.

"Okay." He smiled with satisfaction, and reached over to grab a towel with a sigh. They spent the afternoon doing Sara's laundry, then whipped up some sound and sandwiches in her kitchen to eat a late dinner on her living room floor. They watched a movie on cable as they cuddled on the floor, neither of them wanting the clock to move.

But move it did, and before they knew it, it was time for JC to go. "We've gotta go if you want to make your flight." Sara glanced at the clock on the wall for the tenth time in ten minutes.

"Yeah." JC nodded.

"Is your stuff in your car?"

"All I brought was my backpack." JC nodded. "How are we gonna work this? The cars I mean."

"Ahh, I don't know. You don't want to leave yours at the airport for five weeks."

"No." He shook his head. "Why don't you drive me to the airport in my car, then take that back to my house."

"What about my car?"

"It'll be here at your place."

"Yeah but how will I get it back?"

"Just drive my car." JC shrugged. "It's bigger and you'll be able to fit Max in there better when you take him to the park."

"You think I'm taking him to the park? You've got a park in your backyard."

"He needs to get out of there just like you do. Yeah I think you should take him to the park." JC laughed.

"Take him to the park, right… got it." Sara reached for her keys. "Let's go get this over with."

JC picked up his backpack and dropped it over his shoulder, "Yep."

Sara drove JC's car across town to the airport and pulled up in front of the United Terminal. "Wait, let me park, I'll walk you up to the gate." Sara started to pull back out to park.

"No, this is fine. I've only got like fifteen minutes anyway." JC looked at his watch. "I'll call you when I get there."

"Call me a long time after you get there. When you land in Florida it'll be like 4 in the morning or something insane like that."

"I'll call you on our break then." JC laughed then looked down at his hands as he picked at his nail. "I'm gonna miss you."

"I'm going to miss you too." He leaned over and gave her a lingering kiss goodbye. "Thanks for watching my place and everything."

"You're welcome."

"Love you."

"I love you too." Sara whispered as she smiled slightly.

JC reached down between his feet and grabbed his backpack then pushed the door open, "Bye babe."

"Bye." Sara waved and watched as he ran into the dimly lit airport. She waited another couple minutes before the sighed and put the car into gear to drive back to JC's house.

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

JC flew to Florida alone and met two of his security guards at the airport. They rode over to the arena and arrived at the same time Chris did. "Hey man, how was your vacation?" Chris asked with a broad smile.

"It was alright. Yours?" JC covered his mouth as he yawned.

"It was the best man, I didn't do a damn thing."

"Sounds like fun."

"How's Sara?" Chris asked as they walked across the parking lot to the arena that they were practicing in. All of the guys had of course seen, or at least heard about the whole tabloid fiasco.

"She's good." JC nodded and kept his eyes on his feet.

"So what's she doing while we're on the road?"

JC shrugged, "Work and school."

Chris stopped and socked JC playfully in the arm, "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing." JC forced a smile and shook his head, only causing Chris to worry more.

"No, not 'nothing'. Are things okay with you two?"

"Yeah."

"How about with just you?" Chris asked. He and the others had gotten much better with asking each other how they were, and answering truthfully.

"I'm fine." JC said with more certainty.

"Then what?"

"Sara is house sitting for me while I'm gone."

"Okay…?" They started to walk again as Chris tucked his hands into his pockets.

"I guess I'm just confused."

"About what?"

"We've been dating for a year now… a little longer than a year. I feel like there's a next step to take and I just can't." JC sighed. "I want to live with her, you know? I want her to move in with me so we can see each other all the time. It's like I can't get enough of her and I want her right where I can reach her all the time." JC paused and Chris didn't say a word. "Of course that sounds like I want to own her or something, to have her there when I want to see her." He groaned and rubbed his eyes, "But… do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, you love her." Chris replied.

"Yeah of course I do."

"No, you really do."

"I know."

"JC you don't know. Man, you've probably been telling her you love her since the start. Yeah you meant it and stuff but now you know what you mean."

"You've lost me."

"You want to take that big leap into the major next step."

"Marriage? No no no, nothing like that."

"That's usually what 'living together' leads to."

"Well yeah but I can't even get to there."

"Because living together would mean you'd have to be there too and you won't be because we're here for the next month or so then on the road." Chris nodded.

"Exactly." JC sighed and held the arena door open for Chris, then followed him down past the empty seats toward the stage. "So…?"

"So what?" Chris gave JC a look as he hoisted himself onto the stage.

"So what do I do now?"

"Wait till we get done here and then ask her to move in with you."

"What if she won't wait?"

"Dude, Jace… she's waited a year she'll wait a couple more months." Chris laughed as Justin and Joey walked across the back of the stage.

"It's about damn time you guys showed up." Justin shouted as Joey playfully kicked him in the butt.

"Come on JC get your skinny but up here so we can get started. Let's go." Joey shouted as he grabbed Justin's hat off his head and took off across the stage.

JC laughed and shook his head; he was back in his element and ready to get to work.

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

After attending classes all morning and working all afternoon, the last thing Sara wanted to do was go home and pack, but she knew she needed to. She fought traffic to her apartment and dropped her purse and book bag by the front door as she walked in.

"You have one new message." The electronic voice said when she hit her answering machine on her way to her bedroom.

"Hey Sara bear, I just wanted to let you know I made it here in one piece. I know you're probably at school or something so uh… yeah so I'm here. I've got my cell phone on but we're uh, you know we're practicing and stuff so I might not hear it. But you can call and leave a message whenever you want. Or call Justin's place, I'm staying there again. Shit, I don't know his number off the top of my head but it's in my kitchen on that little… you know that thing. Anyway hun, I've gotta go back to work. I'll call you later. Love ya. Bye uh… bye." Sara smiled at the sound of JC's voice and ran back to the kitchen to hit "replay". She listened to the message again then went into her bedroom to find her duffel bag to start throwing her things together.

Fifteen minutes later Sara frowned at her messy room and sighed, she was almost completely packed and yet she knew she was forgetting something. She rustled through her bag to double check, saying each item out loud as she came to it, "Pajamas, hairbrush, toothbrush, floss, scrunchies, socks, underwear, jeans, work shirt, t-shirts, robe, book…" She closed her eyes and pictured JC's house hoping that would remind her. "Dammit." She mumbled under her breath as she zipped her bag shut. Whatever it was she was forgetting she could do without. It was getting late and she wanted to get to his house before dark, the drive up the hill always gave her the creeps.

The garage door opened loudly as Sara pulled the car up and dropped the clicker on the seat beside her. She pulled her little car into the empty garage, then watched the door close behind her before getting out of the car. She punched the alarm code into the keypad by the door then propped it open with a can of pain he had on a low shelf.

Sara flung her backpack over her shoulder and picked up her three bags of food and other necessities, then walked into the house and set everything in the kitchen. She shut the garage door and locked it then went to put her perishables away.

After a half hour of getting settled she changed into her pajamas, set the alarm clock on JC's side of the bed and clicked the TV on to watch "Felicity". Sara fell asleep before the show was over, wrapped like a cocoon in JC's blankets

The alarm went off early the next morning and pulled her out of a deep sleep. She fumbled around on the nightstand to turn it off but could not locate the source of the obnoxious sound. She sat up with a deep frown and grumbled as she realized the alarm was on the other side of the bed. She rolled over and stretched, and turned the alarm off, but by then she was awake.

Sara sighed and groggily walked toward the bathroom where she turned on the hot water and went about waking herself up. She stepped out of the shower a half hour later and went through her morning routine.

"Crap. My necklace." She placed her hand on her bare neck and frowned. "Where'd I leave it?" Sara whispered to herself as she wracked her brain. The last place she remembered having it was at her parent's house over the weekend, she had taken it off when she took her shower and rested it on the windowsill. "Shit." Sara sighed, now she'd have to go all the way to her parent's house to pick it up.

She finished getting ready then grabbed some coffee and headed out to her morning classes, hoping she'd be able to stay awake.

It wasn't until four days later that she was able to talk herself into going to her parents to get her necklace. It was so far out of the way and after work and school she just didn't feel like fighting traffic all the way to Pacific Palisades.

She pulled up at her parent's house and was shocked to see their car in the driveway with her father and Max on the front porch. "What a surprise, good afternoon Sara." Her mother said from the doorway as she scowled at her husband wrestling with the dog over his leash.

"What's going on?" Sara asked.

"Your father is taking Max to the shelter."

"To the what?" Sara squinted her eyes and turned quickly to look at her father try to persuade Max to get in the back seat of his Mercedes.

"We're never home so we're going to take him to the pound to find a new home." Her mother sighed and rolled her eyes as she placed her hands on her hips.

"What?! You can't just take him to the pound!" Sara shouted as she ran down the two shallow steps and reached for the leash. "I'll take him home."

"You can't take care of a dog in that apartment of yours." Her father frowned and reached for the leash.

"I'll take him to JC's then. You can't just dump him off there, they'll kill him." Sara held tight to the leash as Max wagged his tail at her side.

"You think your little boyfriend wants a dog?" He laughed out loud and shut his car door.

"Yes." Sara did her best to hold back her tears as she realized that this was the first time she'd ever stood up to her father. "You have no heart. How could you even think about taking Max to the pound? Jesus." She turned on her heel and practically dragged Max across the front lawn to her car. She flung the door open and without any urging, Max jumped into the front seat and turned around so that he was facing forward. "Come on boy, you're going home with me." He barked as she shut the door and walked around to the drivers side. Sara's dad didn't move or say a word as she backed out of the driveway and into the street. Her necklace forgotten.

"I can't believe they were going to give you away fella." Sara reached over and pet Max's velvety ears. The dog grinned as only dogs can and licked her palm. "You'll like JC's house, he's got a big yard and lots of room to run." She smiled then added, "I just hope he doesn't freak."

Once at JC's house Max took off running around the backyard making himself at home in the shade of the gardeners shed. Sara laughed and pulled a large ceramic bowl out of JC's cupboard and filled it with water for Max. She set it at the edge of the porch and sat on the grass to play with Max for a little while; JC was due home within the hour.

Sara sat stroking Max's head for a while then jumped up when she heard the garage door open at the front of the house. "Stay." She commanded Max before she trotted through the house to meet JC at the front door.

"Don't be mad." Sara said before JC had the chance to step into the house.

"Don’t be mad at what?" He asked cautiously.

"Max is here."

JC thought for a second, then asked, "Max who?"

"My dog."

"Your dog?" JC laughed and pulled her in for a hug. "I thought you meant like Max a person or something. Why would I be mad that you brought Max over?" He kissed her then they walked toward the living room. "He didn't chew up my stuff or crap in my room did he?"

"No… no nothing like that." Sara looked out the back door to where Max was laying by the picnic table. "It's only for a couple weeks until I can find him another home."

"Wait… what?"

"My dad was going to take him to the pound so I took him and I can't keep him at my apartment and you have this huge backyard and everything." Sara explained as fast as she could.

"Wait, how come he was going to take Max to the pound?"

"Because they're never here and don't do anything for him anyway. I guess that was his way of being nice. You know 'since we can't take care of him someone else can'." She imitated her dads voice almost perfectly. "But at the pound they'll put him to sleep if they don't find a home in ten days." Sara looked up at JC with watery eyes. "I couldn't just let him go."

"No, no it's fine." JC smiled. "How long has he been here?"

"Only a couple hours."

"Okay." JC nodded and walked across the room to the back door. He pushed it opened and stepped out as Max ran over and jumped up on JC's thighs. "Hey buddy, what's up?" JC scratched behind Max's ears and laughed.

"I'm really sorry to just dump him here but…"

"It's okay." JC repeated. "But you know I'm not around that much either."

"I know." Sara sighed and looked at the dog. "But he's used to being left alone, and you'd pay more attention to him than my parents would. Besides, if you don't want to keep him I'll find him another home. I just didn't want him to go to the pound."

"He doesn't need another home, he can stay here." JC smiled up at her as he scratched down Max's back. "But you'll need to hang out here while I'm on tour to take care of him and everything."

"I know. I will, I promise." Sara squealed with delight.

"You sound like a five year old whose dad just said she could keep the puppy."

"That's what I feel like." She laughed and threw her arms around JC's neck then kissed his cheek. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"And Max thanks you too."

"Well Max is welcome too." JC smiled and Sara could resist wrapping her arms around his neck.

"I'm glad you're home."

"Me too." JC covered his mouth as he tried not to yawn. "But only until tomorrow night."

"You're taking the red eye again?" Sara frowned.

"Yep, that's the only way I can swing these weekends home."

"JC… you can't come home every weekend. You'll completely wear yourself out doing that; you need to rest on your days off, not worry about catching flights and jet lag."

"I want to see you."

"I want to see you too… but Jace, this is important. The tour I mean. I'll be out in a little more than a month to see you kick off your tour."

"I know."

"Then that's it. You go focus on that and I'll see you then."

"I get another two days off before then though."

"Then spend them with your family or something." JC didn't respond and Sara thought quickly, "It's not that I don't want you to come home, I do. But you've got things to do and I don't want to stand in the way of you being at your best when you hit the stage."

"I love you Sara." JC said for the millionth time. He meant it every time, but each time a little more. Sara continued to put him and his career first while at the same time keeping his head on straight and not giving up her position on his list of priorities. He was going to have to make this all up to her… just as soon as the tour was over.

 

 

On to part 10…

 

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn