Chris walked into their meeting the next morning and dropped himself on the floor beside JC, "Sorry I’m late." He said to Johnny.

"It’s okay." Johnny looked at his watch, "You’re only 10 minutes late, which in Chris time means you’re actually five minutes early. Good for you." He smiled and unfolded the piece of paper in his hand. He cleared his throat and looked at the guys, "Well… in case you don’t already know, Meg has turned in her resignation letter to me, and it is effective as of next Tuesday."

"She what?!" JC perked up out of his morning funk.

"Good going, Lance." Joey shoved Lance’s knee and sighed.

"Her reason’s for leaving ar-" Johnny started.

"Yeah we know why she’s leaving." Justin crossed his arms over his chest.

Johnny glanced over at Justin and finished his sentence, "Are almost exclusively you guys, as a whole. The tension around here has been thicker than usual. I understand that being on the road is rough, come on I’ve been with you guys on tour before. We all know that. And I’m sure there’s personal stuff going on for each of you as well. But this is ridiculous." He waved the paper in front of him.

"It’s Lance’s-" Justin started.

"Shut it, Justin. It’s not all my fault, you kno-"

"Yeah it is, you treat her like shit, I’d leave too if I wasn’t… uh … me." Justin slumped back against the wall and pouted.

"I’m talking to you guys first because if this is something that can be fixed…" He looked at Lance, "Then I want it fixed. It’s hard enough to manage my own time, if I have to take over yours, I’m going to be one very unhappy boss-man. Got it?"

"You can always hire another one." Lance grumbled.

"Yeah, and bring him or her in, in the middle of the tour? Training a time keeper on tour ain’t gonna happen." Johnny shook his head. "But, I can’t make her stay." He shrugged and stuck Meg’s letter back in his briefcase.

"What if we just get rid of Lance?" Chris asked sarcastically from the corner.

"Shut up Chris." Lance frowned and shook his head. "If she can’t handle being around me, then that’s her problem."

"No Lance, it’s not." Johnny shook his head. "I wasn’t going to say anything, but everyone’s noticed it. You and her, whatever relationship you have, or had, has got very little to do with this. The way you’ve been acting has everything to do with it. Towards her, towards these guys… I meant it when I said the tension this time around is up to my eyeballs."

"And you’re a tall guy." Joey said with a smile.

"Exactly." Johnny nodded at Joey and continued, "If there’s personal stuff going on, let me know, we can work something out."

"But if you’re just being a bitch because Meg dumped your stupid ass, then snap out of it." JC added as he tied his shoes.

"That’s enough guys." Johnny sighed and stood up. "On Tuesday she will be on the first flight out. You guys need to think about that. It’s not all on Lance either, so give the kid a break." Johnny left the room to let them duke it out before he continued with the meeting.

"So what’s the plan?" Chris asked after Johnny shut the door. He was met with silence as everyone looked at each other. "How about this, how about if we all ignore each other and deal with this on Tuesday when she’s gone?"

"Would it kill you to be nice to her?" JC asked Lance, ignoring Chris’s smart-ass remark.

"I’m not being mean!" Lance rolled his eyes.

"You know, maybe you just don’t see it, but you are. It goes a lot deeper than not showing her affection, or not taking the relationship public man." JC shook his head. "Can you do us all a favor and just… like… be nice to her. Make a point to do something like smile at her, or help her out. Just something small."

"She doesn’t even want to talk to me." Lance pouted.

"I’m not talking about sitting down and having a conversation with her, I’m talking about thanking her when she does something, or offering to get her something if you’re going to the caf. Just little things that you used to do for everyone." JC offered as the others nodded.

"That won’t change her mind. She’s more stubborn than me." Lance laughed lightly and shook his head.

"It’s better than nothing." Joey sighed and pushed himself up off the floor. "I’ll tell you what, if Johnny thinks the tension is high now, just wait and see what it will look like if she leaves."

"Listen guys, I don’t want her to leave any more than you do, from a purely selfish point of view. She’s the best when it comes to time. But I can’t make her stay anymore than you can." Lance argued.

"You can’t make her stay, but if you start treating her right, then maybe she’ll change her mind and want to stay." Justin ran his hand through his hair and tilted his chair back on two legs.

"Fine… whatever." Lance said as he placed his hands flat on the table.

"How are things at home though? Your dad’s okay?" JC asked.

"Yeah, yeah dad’s fine." Lance nodded and sighed. "You know how it gets at the end of the tour, every little thing back home just… you know."

"Yeah we know." Chris nodded in agreement. "Maybe you should talk to Meg about getting some time to go home then for a day or two."

Lance scoffed, "He doesn’t listen does he? She doesn’t want to talk to me."

"She can be professional, if you go to ask her about something work related, she’ll be cool." JC pointed out. "Besides, if you explain why you need the time, maybe she’ll understand a little more why you’re being a prick."

"Fine. Whatever." Lance rolled his eyes again.

"Not ‘fine, whatever’, that’s what you need to do." JC said.

"I will, okay? I will." Lance nodded. Johnny came back a few minutes later and they continued with their team meeting. As they left the room Lance tucked his hands in his pockets and sighed as he looked down the hall toward Meg’s room. "Might as well get it over with now." He mumbled to himself.

Lance walked down to her room and knocked softly, "Just a second." He heard her say from behind the door. He shifted his feet uneasily as butterflies took flight in his stomach. "Whatcha ne-" She said as she pulled the door open. "Hi." She stopped smiling and leaned against the doorjam.

"Hi, hey, um… I uh, I was wondering if I could get a couple days free to go home?"

"I don’t have any free time available for you guys." Meg said as she looked him in the eye.

"Do you think you could check the calendar? Maybe move something?"

"Nope, there’s nothing that’s moveable." She said shortly. She hadn’t even glanced at her book, but then again she wasn’t about to move mountains for Lance.

"Meg, I…" He coughed lightly and looked at his feet, "I just want to see my dad." He said softly as tears gathered in the corner of his eyes. All of the stress from the last few weeks seemed to come rushing up as he sniffed and played with the change in his pocket.

Meg stared at him in the hallway for a minute, trying to stay angry with him, forcing herself to remember the mean and hateful thing’s he’d said to her. "I’ll see what I can do." She said as she stood herself up straight. "I’ll give you a call this afternoon."

"I’m just down the hall you know."

"You have two photo shoots and a FreeLance meeting again at four at the venue." Meg said, reciting his schedule from the top of her head. "I’ll give you a call." She made the motion to shut the door, without a goodbye.

"Th- thanks Meg." Lance said quickly.

Meg stopped the door inches before it closed, and caught his eye, "You’re welcome." She shut the door and left him in the hall where he stood for a minute, before sighing and walking back to his room to get ready.

Meg spent the morning on the phone calling in promises and favors and rescheduling everyone’s time to get Lance almost three full days off. He’d have to leave by noon the third day to make it to the venue on time, but he’d at least get a couple days home.

She picked up her cel phone for the hundredth time that day and dialed Lance’s number from memory, "Hey it’s Lance, I’m not available right now but if you leave me a message I’ll call you later. Thanks." *beep*

"Hi Lance this is uh, Meg. You’re going to owe me big time for this. You leave Friday morning after your interview with that Japanese magazine, but before your call in interview, which you’ll have to do from your cel on the way to the airport. You’re on United flight 1015 that leaves at 9:20am to Jackson with a connecting flight home for you. Um… you fly back to meet us Sunday afternoon on United flight 2221 to Indianapolis for the show that night. Have a uh… a safe trip."

She hung up and sighed turned back to her footlocker, where her clothes were for once folded neatly and ready for travel. She decided if she was going to go home she might as well have wrinkle free clothes when she got there.

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

Justin sauntered up to Meg after the meet and greet and fell onto the chair beside her, "You’re not really leaving next week, are you?"

"Yeah." Meg said softly as she played with the cap on her water bottle.

"Meginator…you can’t go." He pouted and gave her the lip.

"Yeah I can. I have to." She patted his knee and forced a smile.

"We’re prepared to kick Lance out of the group you know. I mean if you’ll stay."

Meg laughed and shook her head, "It’s not all Lance." She continued with her lie, "I just feel like I’m causing more tension around here than I need to, and that’s not a good working environment for anyone."

"Liar liar pants on fire. You’re leaving because Lance is being a butt." Justin sank lower in the plastic chair and smiled slyly at her.

"Wanna hear something weird?"

"Of course." He nodded.

"Lance came to see me this afternoon, and he was actually nice."

"So you’ll stay?" Justin asked hopefully.

"Justin…" Meg sighed and shook her head. "Go put on a show or something." She laughed and used his knee to push herself up.

"I’m going to refuse to go on stage unless you promise you’ll stay." Justin smiled defiantly and crossed his arms.

"Go right ahead. But Johnny has Dean, Kenny and Bobby B on his side, and I think between the four of them you’ll end up on stage. Without your ass after Johnny gets through with you."

"My ass is my best feature." Justin argued.

Meg laughed out loud and shook her head and said, "You wish, fro boy" as she walked away.

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

By Sunday, Meg still hadn’t made her flight arrangements, or called her mom to let her know she was coming home. "So when’s your flight, kiddo?" Kat asked as they relaxed on the bus on their way to Indianapolis. Meg just shrugged and kept her eyes on the TV at the back of the bus. "You don’t remember? Or you don’t have one?" Kat asked.

"I don’t know."

"Did you make the reservation yet?"

"No." Meg shook her head and fast-forwarded the movie past the boring part.

"Ahhh…" Kat smiled and turned the page of her women’s magazine.

"Don’t ‘ahhhh’ me Kat. I’ve gotten enough grief from the guys."

"Enough to make you unsure if you want to leave?"

"Obviously." Meg sighed and tossed the remote to the other end of the couch.

"Wanna know what I think?"

"No."

"I think you want to leave to make a point. But I think you won’t leave because this is the best job you’ve ever had with the nicest people… and the best room mate ever in your life." Kat smiled. "And I also think that you giving Lance a few days at home in his element will shape him up, so you don’t want to leave in case that was all he needed to get out of his funk."

Meg was silent for a minute, then closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. "You scare me, Kat."

"I know." She smiled and turned the page again, "Hey look, Madonna got married."

"You really think so?" Meg asked.

"Well it says so right here…" Kat held up the magazine.

"No, I mean about Lance. Do you really think that going home for a few days will shape him up?"

"It can’t hurt." Kat shrugged.

"Shit…" Meg sighed.

"Yep. Shit. When does he come back?"

"He’ll beat us to the venue."

"So you’ll be able to talk to him?"

"I don’t want to talk to him." Meg frowned.

"Sure you do."

"No I don’t."

"Meg my dear, you so want to talk to him." Kat laughed at her hip slang talk and shook her head, "Kids… I swear, they wouldn’t know a good thing if it came up and got jiggy with them."

"You think Lance is a good thing? You need help."

"When he’s not being a pain in the butt, he’s a great thing." Kat smiled.

"I know…" Meg sighed and sulked on the couch for the rest of the morning.

The herd of buses arrived at the venue shortly before three in the afternoon, so the guys had some time to kill before their stage prep and their meet and greet at five. Justin sniffed out a practice court by the dressing rooms and talked the others into a quick game.

Meg grabbed her date book and made herself comfortable in their dressing room, which was always the quietest place in the arena before a show. As long as the boys weren’t in it. "Hi Emma, this is Meg… I need to find out for sure what time the photographer will be ready for the guys on Saturday, I have down here ten till noon, so if you could give me a call back and let me know that’d be great." Meg sighed and hung up, then called Travis at MTV, "Hey hey trouble."

"Meggy! How’s it going?" Travis laughed.

"It’s all right, I’m calling to RSVP for the kids for the SoCal Summer thing."

"Which thing would that be? Guest hosts on TRL? Judges on Say What Karoke? Performers? Guest VJ’s?" he listed off a few more of the positions available and smiled.

"Okay… do you have a pen?"

"I’ve got my keyboard, lay it on me."

"Okay, my boys are on vacation for the end of July, but I had two weeks blocked out at the beginning of July for this stuff, so here’s what you get. Joey will do the karoke judge thing for the 5th, 6th and 7th, Chris will go it for the 8th and the 9th. JC and Lance will split up the next week with JC taking the first three days and Justin the last two. All of them will guest host TRL on the 14th. Justin wants to do the guest VJ thing, and since you didn’t specify dates for that you can choose whatever works for you, the 12th, 13th or 16th. JC also said something about wanting to do a total make-over spot, which wasn’t on your sheet, but if you have a slot there he can do that on the 16th also."

"Whoa. We should just call it 'Nsync’s SoCal Summer'." Travis laughed.

"Well hun, you asked for it."

"I know. Venice Beach is going to be over run by teenies."

"Yeah it will, I hope they’re prepared." Meg laughed.

"I hope so too. Where are they staying?"

"At the Royal California Shores on Beach Front. It looked like it was far enough away from freak central, but close enough that they’d still have fun."

"Yeah, that’s where miss thang and her entourage are staying."

"Which miss thang?" Meg laughed.

"Christina. I swear, that girl works my very last nerve. But Fred and the Limp crew are staying there too, so it ain’t all bad."

"Awesome!"

"Are you going to be there? You’re just his type you know."

"Who’s type?’

"Fred." Travis said matter-of-factly. "He digs the cute little athletic girls."

"Damn, I probably won’t be there."

"I thought you were glued to the guys?"

"Well… I uh… actually, I turned in my resignation last week, Tuesday’s my last day."

"Yeah right." Travis laughed. "Hang on, you’re serious?" he asked, when she didn’t laugh back.

"Yeah." She said softly.

"Can I still call you to arrange the dates though? Because if I have to start calling Johnny, I’ll have to quit, then Ryan would have to support me on his waiters wages which means we’ll have to go live in the park and then I wouldn’t be able to keep all my radical shoes."

"I’m sorry Trav…" Meg smiled.

"Don’t quit. Tough it out for a few more months. At least till the summer’s over. For me?"

"Don’t make me feel guilty for leaving, I feel bad enough as it is."

"You don’t really wanna go Meg. You love your job."

"Love the job, hate the people."

"Oh you do not." Travis shook his head. "Aren’t you and Lancey-poo talking?"

"Nope." She said. She hadn’t told Travis about Lance’s outburst after seeing them together.

"Well slap him around a bit, just don’t leave."

"I’m supposed to leave on Tuesday, and I haven’t bought my ticket yet if that says anything. I’m still thinking about it though."

"Well call me Wednesday and let me know." Travis laughed. "Speaking of the blonde, I heard a rumor about him and Danielle Fischell getting back together, did she really come out to see him last week?"

Meg blushed and almost choked, "Yeah right."

"That’s what the gossip mill is saying…"

"Travis, you think someone could come around here and I wouldn’t know it?"

"True." Travis shrugged. "Besides, I told them he was all hot and bothered for a little redhead whose name I couldn’t mention."

"Travis… knock it off." Meg laughed as a red flame phone began to ring on the table behind her.

"I’ve gotta go back to work, Marcia is giving me dirty looks over here." Travis explained.

"Okay, so you’ve got my boys on the books for those days?"

"Yep, good as gold." Travis smiled. "I’ll have to call you back about JC’s fashion deal thing though."

"Okay, thanks." Meg smiled and sighed, "Talk to you later." She hung up her phone as the ringing behind her continued. "Go to voicemail already." She grumbled at the phone. It rang three more times and whoever the caller was, wasn’t going to give up. Meg reached back and flipped the phone on, "Hello?"

"Hi, who’s this?" A female voice asked.

"This is Meg, I’m not sure whose phone I answered though… who are you looking for?"

"Um... Joey… do I have the right number?"

"Probably." Meg laughed. "He’s playing ball, let me o get him for you though, can I tell him who’s calling?"

"Um… this is Lily."

"Okay… hang on." Meg pulled herself off the couch and grabbed her phone with her free hand, then went out to find Joey.

Meg heard the boy’s shouts echoing through the empty gymnasium long before she pushed the heavy doors open. She held Joey’s phone in one hand and hers in the other as she walked across the polished wood floor.

"Joey!" She shouted, to be heard over their voices.

"Time." Joey called as he tossed the basketball to Justin and wiped his brow on his sleeve. "Waaasssup Megs?"

"Phone." She held out his phone to him and said, "It’s Lily?"

"Cool." He smiled and held the phone to his ear, "Hey babe, what’s up?" He took the phone and sat on the bleachers off to the side by the water bottles.

"Is he gonna be a while?" Justin asked with the ball under his arm.

"It’s Lily?" Meg said, confused.

"Ahhh, the flavor of the month." Chris laughed and tapped the ball out from under Justin’s arm.

"We don’t have all day ya know!" JC shouted in Joey’s general direction.

"Are you short?" Meg asked.

"Yeah… of course I don’t know if tweedle dumb over there counts as a player." Justin nodded at Joey.

"I can play till he gets back if you want." Meg shrugged.

"You play ball?" JC asked.

"Yeah." Meg laughed. "I was on the team in high school."

"For reals?" Justin looked surprised.

"I promise." Meg said as she pulled her short hair back into a low ponytail. "So… you want me to sub?"

"Sure." Justin nodded. "It’s uh, you, me and Chris against Lance, Jace and the tubby bitch over there." He pointed out Kenny their security guard.

"Bring it on tough guy." Kenny cast a warning glance at Justin and laughed. "I’ll squish you like a bug." He pulled Justin into a headlock and tugged at is hair.

"Unnecessary roughness." Justin squeaked, grabbing Kenny around the waist. The guard released him and gave him a playful shove towards center court.

"All righty, let’s get back in the game." JC clapped his hands and bounced toward the far side of the court.

"What’s the score?" Meg asked.

" 9 – 8 us." Justin ran his hand through his hair and smiled.

"Okay." Meg nodded and wiped her hands on the front of her warm up pants. Chris passed the ball to Justin and the game was back on.

Joey sat on the bleachers watching the game unfold as he talked to his girlfriend. JC and Lance played a good game of defense as Chris and Justin took the ball down the court, with Meg’s help. Justin was pleasantly surprised with Meg’s skill and passed her the ball as JC reached for the block.

Meg caught the ball like a pro and began down the court with Lance in hot pursuit. She paused for just a second, setting up for the shot. She bent her knees slightly and balanced the ball in her hands just as Lance body slammed her from behind. She fell forward onto her knees, taking Lance with her as she hit the ground, "Damn Lance!" Justin frowned and reached a hand down to help Meg up out of the heap.

"She stopped." Lance said in defense.

"It’s weird how people do that huh?" Chris shook his head.

"I just mean… I was expecting her to keep going." Lance blushed and picked himself off the floor, "Sorry Meg." He extended his hand in a good sportsmanlike manner.

"It’s okay." Meg said brusquely as she brushed off her pants.

"Is this a good time to sub back in?" Joey asked.

"Yeah." Meg nodded and limped toward the sidelines. She knelt to pick up her phone then headed for the door as the guys stood on the court arguing whether or not to continue. They had an interview session in less than an hour.

"Meg! Hey Meg!" Lance trotted after her. He stopped her as she stepped out of the gym and into the parking lot. "Hey… Meg I’m sorry, are you okay?"

"I’m fine." She grumbled with a frown.

"Come on, you’re limping. You should go see Chelsea about that, she can wrap it or something. Is it your ankle?"

"I’m fine Lance." Meg continued to limp away, her knee feeling as if it were on fire.

"No you’re not, look at you." He said, meaning her limp.

"Lance." She turned around quickly, her dark hair falling from her ponytail. "I am fine. Leave it alone."

Lance stood there in silence with his hands on his hips as he watched her walk across the parking lot towards her bus. He ran his hand through his sweat soaked hair and fanned his Clippers jersey as he watched her walk.

Meg reached for the door on her bus and pulled it open slowly, "Meg…" Lance said as he walked up behind her and touched her arm.

She stopped moving, but did not turn around. "Come on Lance, I’m fine."

"Okay." Lance nodded and let his hand fall from her shoulder to her elbow, "Then why won’t you even look at me?"

"Because I don’t like you right now." She said. She knew she sounded like a child, but those were the simplest words she could think of to describe her feelings.

"Meg… I’m just… I’m sorry for the way everything turned out." He said softly, leaving his hand on her elbow.

She turned around slowly and looked up at him, "That’s not going to cut it." She sighed and willed herself not to cry. Her knee was throbbing, but there was a deeper pain causing the tears. "I know you’re sorry, but Lance, it’s too late. I had built you up like some fantasy, some incredible dream guy. I mean, I know you’re human… but it’s hard to realize that when you seem so much bigger than life. Then wow, you liked me back! And things were going good for a little while… which was perfect Lance. I was in heaven and you just made it better. But the crap that comes with dating a… a… I don’t know, an angel? A star? A "perfect" man, is just too much. Seeing you deny me every chance you got, killed me. I know why you had to do it, and I know you wish you didn’t have to, but it hurt nonetheless. You crushed that image of you for me."

"I’m human Meg. I made a big mistake. But your ‘built up fantasy’ was nothing I could ever live up to." He shook his head. "I can’t do anything but apologize, and I am sorry."

"I know." Meg nodded and turned to climb onto the bus.

"But wait." Lance squeezed her elbow he was still holding. She stepped down and looked at him, practically falling into his eyes. "Can I… I was an asshole Meg. I acted that way because I didn’t want to share you with anyone. Not the guys, not the crew, not the world. No one. If anyone knew I was seeing someone, they would find you and that would be it. I didn’t want that to happen. I’m a very private person, and you are so special to me that I just don’t want anyone else to… to… I don’t know. To take that away."

"No one could take me away Lance."

"Scare you away then." He shrugged. "I’d change everything if I could go back. If I had it all to do over again, things would have turned out so much differently."

"I don’t know Lance." Meg dropped her head and sighed.

"It would have." Lance said softly as he lifted her chin. "I would do everything right, and put you up on that pedestal for everyone." He smiled and ran his finger down her neck slowly. He leaned in slowly, unsure of what her response to his kiss would be. When she didn’t move away, he slowly touched his lips to hers and placed his hand on her back.

Meg’s heart beat furiously in her chest as Lance gently ran his tongue across her bottom lip, then pulled her closer to deepen the kiss. Her knees actually went weak and she was glad for the bus door behind her to help support her body.

Before she knew what as happening, Lance took a step back and quickly licked his lips, tasting a mixture of Meg and sweat. "I’d like a chance to do it right, Meg." He said softly.

"You need to change a lot of things Lance."

"I know." He nodded and shuffled his feet. "I’m willing to do that. To scream your name from the rooftops and kiss you on national TV, how does that sound?" He smiled shyly.

"A bit excessive." Meg blushed and cleared her throat nervously.

"Can you get me some free time? So we can go out… really go out?"

"I uh… I think I can swing a couple hours." She nodded and glanced over her shoulder onto the bus.

"Okay." Lance nodded and looked back as the others came out of the gym and looked their way.

"You okay Meg?" Justin shouted.

"Yeah." Meg shouted back and waved.

Lance smiled and looked back at the guys, then pulled Meg to him and kissed her again in front of them all. The guys stood in stunned silence for a second then began cheering him on like a bunch of teenagers.

"Awww… look at the Beav… he got his head out of his ass…" Chris said sweetly as he rested is head on Joey's shoulder.

"Aww gee June, he sure is growing up, isn't he?" Joey laughed.

"You guys need help." JC smiled and shook his head as he walked toward the buses, while the others made kissy noises and shouted rude comments at Lance and Meg.

"So you're staying, right?!" Justin shouted.

"Yeah, I suppose so." Meg shouted back with a smile. She couldn't just up and leave without a plane ticket, now could she?

 

On to the end…

 

Copyright � 2000 Amy Lynn