"Lifeline"

(sequel to "A Friend in Need")

by AmyK

Sara tapped her feet nervously as she stood in line at the meet and greet. It had been a little more than a year since JC was discharged from Wycroft, and Sara had kept in phone contact with him since then. At first it had been almost daily contact, until she was discharged a month after JC left. Then it tapered off to every week or two when she moved back in with her parents. By the time he started the tour with Nsync they had all but stopped calling.

Sara had decided to surprise JC at his San Diego concert to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her release. He had invited her to the LA show, but she wouldn’t be able to make it that night. With her new job at Ikea, it was hard to get weekends off. But she called his management and spoke to Tom Thompson, and arranged to drive down for the show down in San Diego.

As she got closer to the front of the line she could see that Lance was first, and Chris was beside him, then Justin, JC and finally Joey on the end. Sara held the flimsy black and white photo in her hand as she wrapped a curl around her finger. Her hair had gotten longer since Wycroft, but other than that she hadn’t changed, physically, at all.

"Hi, how are you?" Lance asked with his charming all white smile.

"I’m uh, good. How are you?" She asked nervously.

Lance smiled as her voice shook, it was so cute when they were nervous. He reached for her picture and scrawled his name under his face. "Are you from San Diego?" He asked.

"Oh, no." Sara shook her head and forced a wobbly smile, "I’m from LA."

"So you drove down just for the show huh?" Lance slid the photo over to Chris who quickly signed it and smiled up at Sara.

"Yeah." Sara’s hand began to shake as she moved down the table.

"Cool." Lance grinned at the next girl in line and took her picture.

"So what’s up?" Chris asked as he leaned back in his chair, he had a small pile of stuffed animals on the table in front of him.

"Nothing." Sara nervously looked toward the head of the table. This would be much easier if JC was the first in line.

"You waiting for Justin?" Chris laughed.

"Hmm? No." She shook her head and Chris laughed again. "He’s too young for me." She smiled and tried to calm her nerves.

"How old are you?"

"23." Sara coughed lightly and crossed her arms over her chest. The line moved again and she found herself faced with Justin.

"Hi." He smiled, focusing all of his attention on her. "How are you?" He asked as he signed his name to the picture in front of him.

"I’m uh, good. You?" Sara managed.

"I’m doing alright, are you pumped for the show?"

"Yeah." Sara nodded and nervously smoothed her hair down again.

"You look a little nervous." Justin laughed lightly. "Don’t be nervous."

"I just… it’s been a while." She said softly, but managed a smile.

"Since you’ve seen us?" Justin scratched his arm quickly and played with the cap of his pen.

Sara met Justin’s eye and whispered, "I’m from Wycroft." The look on Justin’s face was classic, confusion replaced with astonishment in just a matter of seconds.

"I… whoa… uh… wow… um…" Justin blushed deeply, millions of thoughts running through his mind. If she was from Wycroft then she knew about JC and if she knew about JC that could be very, very bad.

"You must be pretty impressive to make this knucklehead speechless." JC laughed and reached for the picture.

"JC…" Justin mumbled tugging at the older mans sleeve.

"Yeah?" JC laughed and looked at Justin who quickly looked back at Sara.

"Hi JC, long time no see." Sara said as the nervousness disappeared.

"Hi, ho-" He stopped mid thought as his mind registered her image, "Sara!" He stood up quickly, knocking his metal folding chair over. "Oh my God, what are you doing here??" He leaned over the table and pulled her in for a tight hug as the other girls in line stopped to watch the spectacle.

"I came to see you." She laughed as he nearly choked her.

"Wow, I figured you’d come to the LA show if anything. I’m – can you stick around? After I mean?" He asked as one of the security guards righted his chair behind him. He sat quickly and looked up at Sara.

"After this?" Sara looked around as the girls behind her frowned in her general direction.

"After… after the show. Are you staying here? In San Diego I mean?" JC stuttered.

"I wasn’t planning on it." Sara shook her head and laughed, JC looked as nervous as she had felt.

"Stay." He said softly. "Come hang out after the show so we can catch up. I haven’t talked to you in months."

"Are you sure?" She asked quietly.

"Yeah!" JC beamed. "Yeah I’m sure. Lonnie!" He called over his shoulder. The large security guard came over and JC said, "Hey Lonnie this is my friend Sara, can we get her a pass for tonight?"

"Sure thing, boss." Lonnie smiled and shook Sara’s hand, "It’s nice to meet you Sara."

"Nice to meet you too." She smiled, still a little uneasy about touching other people.

"Come on over here and I’ll hook you up." Lonnie continued to smile as Sara stepped around the edge of the table.

"Hey don’t forget your picture." Joey held it out to her as she walked by.

"Thanks." She smiled at Joey and followed the security guard.

"Man I love California." Joey said softly as he leaned over to JC.

 

 

Sara watched the concert from her seat in the tenth row, just to the right of center stage. She was definitely impressed by the five young men on stage. She had of course heard of them before, and seen them on MTV and everything, but having seen one of them pretty much at their lowest put them all in a whole new light.

Though this wasn’t the type of music she usually listened to, she enjoyed the show and was as pumped up as anyone else there when the show ended. She hung around and waited as the floor cleared after the final encore, then walked up to the security guard at the side entrance. "Hi, my name is uh, Sara." She pulled out the laminated badge and handed it to the guy, "I’m supposed to-"

"They’re excepting you in the dressing room." He said suddenly.

"I… wh- okay." She frowned and stepped around the barrier. "Where am I going?"

"Go straight down there and turn right at the end, you can’t miss it." He pointed down a long concrete walkway.

She followed his directions, and somehow missed it. "Excuse me." She stopped the first person she saw. "I’m looking for the dressing room I think."

"I’m sorry honey, you guys have to stay in the green room, you’re not supposed to be out wandering around back here." The gruff security guard said as he approached her.

"No, wait, my name is Sara. The guy up front said that I was expected in the –"

"Come on with me." He said as he pulled the sleeves of his bright yellow windbreaker up to his elbows.

"Hang on a second." Lonnie said as he stepped around the corner. "Sara isn’t it?" He asked with a kind smile.

"Yes." She smiled, relieved to see a face she knew, sort of.

"I’m sorry, I should have come out to get you." He shrugged and looked at the other security guard, "She’s alright, I’ve got it from here."

"Thanks." Sara smiled and followed Lonnie back down the hall she had just come from. He took her around another corner to the dressing room, and knocked on the door.

"Here ya go." He smiled as Lance opened the door and held it open.

"Hey Lon, what’s up?" Lance asked.

"This is JC’s friend, Sara. Is he in there?"

"Yeah." Lance looked over his bare shoulder towards the huge clothes racks. "Jace? Your friends here." Hs shouted. "Come on in." Lance smiled and hitched up the waist of his sweat pants.

"Thanks." Sara smiled at Lonnie who gave her a quick smile, then headed back down the hall. "Hi, I’m Sara."

"I’m Lance." He smiled and shut the door behind her. "Let me go get Jace and throw some clothes on." Lance ran his hand down his bare chest and disappeared behind the clothing racks.

Sara stood alone in the little room for a few minutes before JC came out in his blue and yellow nylon warm up pants and a plain white long sleeved t-shirt. He walked over to Sara with a huge smile on his face and hugged her quickly, "Man it’s great to see you again. You look great." He said as his wet hair dripped water on her ear.

"Thanks, so do you. Wow… you guys really…really uh, put on one hell of a show." Sara said into his shoulder.

"Thanks, it’s actually a lot of fun." He smiled as he took a step back.

"It looks like it." She laughed.

"Wow… I can’t believe it’s been more than a year since I saw you. You haven’t changed at all!" He laughed and looked her over casually.

"Oh yes I have." She grinned.

"No… well, I mean… I just meant you still look the same." He stumbled over his words. "So what are you doing here? I thought you’d come to the LA show?"

"I couldn’t get the weekend off, so this is the only one I could make it to."

"Well that’s great, thanks for driving down." JC couldn’t stop himself from smiling.

"Old friend?" Lance asked as he walked into the room pulling an In & Out burger shirt over his head.

"Lance, this is um, Sara. You’ve met." JC said as he waved Sara over to the little couch. They all sat down and JC continued, "She um, we met when I was at Wycroft. Remember we all went to lunch? Right after you and Justin crashed?"

"Oh yeah, that’s right." Lance nodded. "Did you work there?"

"Uh, no." Sara blushed slightly.

"Oh." Lance said, confused for a second. "Ahhh." He said softly.

"That was a great show tonight." Sara smiled, trying to set Lance’s mind at ease, like she did with all of the people who found out she "did time" in a "nut house".

"Thanks." Lance smiled and ran his hands through his hair.

"So can you hang out tonight?" JC asked.

"Wha – here?" Sara asked.

"Well back at the hotel." JC explained. "We don’t leave here till I think 10 tomorrow."

"Sure, yeah we can do that."

"Cool." JC smiled, "We have to ride over in our vans, do you want to meet me there?"

"Um, sure. Where are you staying?"

"At the Casa La Jolla Suites." JC said as he looked at the daily itinerary on the table. "4610 La Jolla Shores drive. Do you know where that is?"

"I can find it." She nodded. They made plans to meet at the elevators in an hour, then JC walked her to the back exit. He gave her another big hug before she slipped out the side door and made her way around the building back to her car.

An hour late Sara was waiting patiently by the elevators, being stared at by the hotel security. "You can’t wait around in here unless you’re a guest of the hotel." He finally said as he approached.

"I’m waiting for a friend." Sara explained.

"Sure you are honey." The guard reached forward to grab her elbow.

She instinctively flinched away and cast him a dirty look, "If you’ll just give me five minute, he will be here."

"You can’t be in here unless you’re a guest of the hotel."

"How do you know that I’m not?"

"Let me see your room key."

"My friend has it, which is why I am waiting here by the elevators." Sara explained calmly. She removed her hands from her pockets and tried to smooth down the curls that had escaped the scrunchie.

"You’ve got five minutes." The guard said after a moment pause.

She didn’t even need the five minutes, because as soon as he turned around the girls out front went crazy. Before Sara could register what was going on, the five young men, accompanied by their own security, rushed into the hotel lobby. The guard she recognized as Lonnie herded the guys off to the side and passed out their room keys then pointed toward the elevators with a quick shake of his head.

"Justin!" Lonnie called after the group. The curly haired kid turned around to face Lonnie, while taking a few steps backwards. "I mean it." Lonnie pointed at Justin and shook his head. Justin laughed and waved, then turned around and trotted to catch up with the others.

"Hey…" JC smiled and went to stand beside Sara. "Can you come up for a little?" He asked softly.

"Yeah." She nodded and looked at her watch.

"Do you have to leave at a certain time?"

"Um, no." Sara shook her head. "I was actually planning on driving back tonight."

"You can stay over if you want."

"I… are you sure?"

"Yeah." JC smiled and stepped onto the elevator as the doors opened. The other guys piled in also, followed by two members of their security team.

"Upside, inside out! Livin la vida loca!" Justin sang from the back of the elevator. Chris joined in and they did a little Ricky Martin hip move, cracking themselves up.

"So Rover, we seriously can’t go out tonight?" Joey whined and repeatedly hit the button for the 9th floor.

"You seriously can’t go out tonight." Said the huge guard standing behind JC.

"Can we just go to the lobby?" Joey asked hopefully, knowing that if they got that far, they could make it out.

"How often is it that you guys get 10 hours straight to sleep? Use it." The elevator dinged as it stopped on their floor, and they filed off.

"JC if you need the rest, you can just call me when you get to LA or something." Sara said softly. She followed cautiously behind JC down the hall.

"Hey wait! How come JC gets to bring entertainment up with him?" Joey asked.

"Because she was there. I didn’t see anyone lined up waiting for you fools." Rover said. Lance laughed and unlocked the first door on the right.

"G’night guys, it was nice to see you again Sara." He waved over his shoulder, then covered his mouth as he yawned.

"This sucks." Chris said as he unlocked his room.

"Come on down to my place." Justin said, nodding across the hall. "We can par-tay in there." He laughed.

"You guys… I swear, you complain about never getting to sleep, and here you are with ten hours available and you wanna party. You get no more sympathy from me." Rover laughed and shook his head as he leaned against the wall beside Justin’s room.

"You say that like we get sympathy now." JC smiled and slid his key in the lock. Sara shyly slipped into the room, and JC followed behind her. "They’re nuts, you’ve really got to forgive them for it. They’re running on empty."

"It’s okay." Sara laughed uneasily and walked across the room to the window on the opposite side. She pulled the drape back and looked out to the street where there was still a small group of girls.

"So… tell me about your new job." JC scratched his stomach through his thin shirt and flopped down on his stomach across the bed.

"It’s nothing big. I’m a clerk at Ikea." Sara explained as she breathed onto the glass and drew a "S" in the fog.

"That’s better than nothing." JC smiled.

"I know." Sara nodded and dropped her purse to the floor. She smiled and turned to face JC, "It’s better than the nut house, huh?"

"You can say that again." JC nodded. "How are things at home? I know last time we talked you were living with your parents."

"Yeah." Sara laughed, "Would you believe we’re going to Dr. Grayson for family counseling?"

"Are you serious?" JC smiled. "That’s good though, she really is a big help."

"I know…" Sara smiled and nodded. "She helped me too. She um… she let me know that you helped with that."

"I… I helped? How?"

"By telling her that I needed to know that she believed in me. That she thought I could really get better."

"I thought you said there was nothing wrong with you?" He smiled, tossing her old line back at her.

"There was a lot wrong with me." She smiled sadly. "But I… I really think that I’ve worked through a lot of that crap, you know? So I just wanted to say thank you."

"Aww, you don’t-"

"Because I need to JC." She looked up at him. "I never really told you thank you for everything you’ve done for me."

"I really haven’t do-"

"JC let me finish." Sara laughed nervously. "I um… after you left I started keeping a journal. I saw that you were keeping one while you were there and I guess I thought that if it worked for you then maybe it could work for me." She smiled and pulled the clasp back on her purse. "I brought it here… for you."

"Sara… you don’t have to give that to me."

"I don’t want it any more." She shook her head. "It’s past, and I don’t want to revisit that time again." She handed the plain wire bound notepad to JC and blushed, "Not that you want to necessarily… but… JC you changed my life completely. Just being my friend, and forcing me to think about things. I know that I resisted you at first, a lot." She laughed at the memories, "But I only did that because I didn’t think I was worthy of your friendship, no matter how screwed up you were."

"This is personal stuff." He held the notebook gently in his hands.

"Yes, it is." She nodded slowly. "But there’s no one else on earth that would understand it. And… a lot of it has to do with you." She looked down at her lap.

"With me?"

"Yes." She said softly. "It’s uh, stuff I want you to know, I just uh, don’t know how to say it."

"So you want me to read it?" JC ran his finger over the coiled binding.

"Yes." Sara nodded.

"Now?" He reached for the cover.

"No." She said quickly, then smiled up at him, "No you can wait till I leave."

"You know Sara… you helped me too." JC said a minute later. She looked at him kind of shocked, and he laughed, "I’m really amazed that we never really talked about this before."

"I helped you?" She laughed. "How? By treating you like shit and calling you names? Yeah JC, I can see how that helps."

"No… you really did." He smiled along with her. "You got me thinking about how I could help you. That’s what helped me. Thinking of someone else. Does that make any sense?"

"You always make sense JC."

"Yeah right." He rolled his eyes and put his hands behind his head. "So… how is your therapy going with your parents?"

"It’s going okay. Dr. Grayson is still half nuts, but we’re making progress I think. They actually realize that I’m their daughter."

"That’s good." JC nodded.

"But I’m um… I’m moving out actually."

"You are? That’s great. Where are you moving to?"

"Not far really. I mean I’m staying near LA."

"By yourself?" JC asked with a look of concern.

"Yeah." Sara nodded. "Actually, do you remember Cassandra?"

"Yeah, the quiet girl with the short blonde hair right?"

"Yeah, Jessi’s friend." Sara played with the cuff of her sweater. "She helped me find an apartment in her building."

"You guys are going to live in the same building?" JC couldn’t help but laugh.

"Yeah. We’re going to call it Wycroft Yard." Sara laughed and played with her hands in her lap.

"So have you heard from anyone else?" JC asked.

"Um… well Dr. Grayson does." Sara said softly. "Jem is still there, she’s not sure he’ll ever get to leave. They might have to move him to a long term care place."

"The one who doesn’t talk?"

"Yeah." Sara took a deep breath and said, "Keith killed himself."

"You’re kidding." JC’s face fell, "My God, when?"

"A week after he left. He was supposed to come back for the group session, you know, to celebrate, but his mom found him in the garage that morning."

"Wow… when?"

"March." She frowned.

"Wow…" JC shook his head. "How long have you been out now? It’s been a while huh?"

"One year."

"That’s awesome." He smiled and reached across the table for her hands.

"Today." She blushed shyly.

"One year today?" His eyebrows shot up and he squeezed her hands.

"Yeah." She nodded and looked down at their hands.

"Sara that’s great, we should do something to celebrate." He stood up and pulled her into a hug, "Congratulations, doesn’t this feel great?!"

She instinctively wanted to back away, but JC’s arms held her close and she found herself leaning toward him. "Yeah." She sighed and smiled.

"Well come on, let’s go out and celebrate, get a drink or something."

"No, JC we don’t need to do anything." She shook her head as he pulled her hand toward the door.

"Sara you deserve this." He smiled. "And I never get to go out. Humor me." He tugged her hand again and she reluctantly gave in.

"You realize of course that it’s like, 3 in the morning right?"

"Yeah I know." JC shut the door quietly behind them and led her down the hall to the elevators. He said something to the security guard, then stepped onto the elevator, dragging Sara behind him.

"Are you allowed to just leave?" She asked nervously.

"No." He smiled flirtatiously. "Kinda like Wycroft huh? We can’t just leave when we want."

"Well did you tell them you were going?"

"I told Ben that we were going to grab a bite downstairs."

"So he knows you’re leaving then." She looked relieved.

"Well… kinda. We’re not just going downstairs though." He smiled at her expression and practically pulled her off the elevator on the lobby floor.

"JC wait." She stopped walking and used herself as an anchor as JC tried to walk away. "We can’t just leave."

"Sara…" JC stopped and moved closer to her. He tilted her chin up to meet his eye and said softly, "We can go wherever we want."

She looked at him, still not sure about leaving. "But JC, if you’re not supposed – "

"Come on." He gave her a little half smile and led her toward the exit. She followed reluctantly and couldn’t wash the look of concern off of her face.

She’d been "out" for a year and still always felt like she couldn’t break any rules. She wasn’t exactly afraid of being sent back, but then that was a thought that was always in her head. JC and Sara walked down to the sidewalk and he looked both ways up and down the street. The only lights that were on down either side was a gas station a block to the left, and a Dunkin Donuts down to the right towards the beach.

"Donuts?" JC asked softly.

"Um, sure." Sara nodded. They walked down the street hand in hand in silence to the donut shop. JC paid for a half dozen donuts and a couple containers of milk then carried the bag with them down the street toward the beach.

They crossed the little grass park and hopped over the short retaining wall to the sand. JC sat in the sand with his back against the little wall and smiled as Sara sat beside him. He opened the donut bag and handed her the boston cream and chocolate milk she chose.

JC opened his milk container and raised it towards her, "Here’s to one good year, and many more. Congratulations Sara, the first year is the hardest and I’m so proud of you." He smiled and touched containers with her.

Sara laughed and said, "Thank you JC." She shook her head and brushed her hair off her forehead. "You have a year too though, so congratulations to you, I’m proud of you."

"Thanks." JC blushed. He wasn’t lying. The first year was the hardest, and he was really proud to have made it through without mishap. But a month ago his anniversary had passed unnoticed by anyone other than him. They were in Oklahoma City and he had celebrated by himself in his room with a croissant sandwich and a root beer float from room service. He’d thought about Sara that whole night, but it was too late to call her, she’d have been asleep already. That was one reason he wanted to do something for Sara, to acknowledge her achievement.

They sat and nibbled on donuts for a while, just staring out at the crashing waves. Sara appeared lost in thought as JC casually looked over at her. The wind was picking up and it blew a blonde curl across her cheek, but she didn’t seem to notice.

JC sat with his hand held firmly in hers and just stared at her profile. He tried not to be obvious about it, but it wasn’t easy. After a couple minutes, Sara asked, "Is there something hanging out of my nose?"

"No." JC smiled, as Sara kept her eyes forward. "I just… I’m really glad you’re doing so well, Sara."

Sara turned slowly and faced JC, she gave him a slow half smile and said, "Me too." She squeezed his hand, then tucked her feet up under her so that she was sitting indian style. "So how has this past year been for you? I mean, really?"

"It’s been good." JC nodded and sighed softly. "I mean, it was hard and stuff, but… but it’s been good."

"Do the other guys help?"

"Nah… they pretty much don’t like to talk about it. Which, I mean yeah I understand that." He shrugged and looked down at his shoes.

"But JC, talking about it is what helps you heal. Are you seeing a shrink or anything?"

"Nope." He shook his head. "We were all seeing this guy, Mark, at the beginning, but when the tour started things just got kinda outta hand."

"JC…" Sara frowned.

"I know." He smiled sheepishly. "I know… "

"Like Dr. Grayson says, getting out is only the start of your healing."

"I know." He caught her eye and smiled.

"In other words, you’ve got to finish this off JC." Sara shook her head. "You think you’re fine, and I know you are JC, but… you have to be able to talk about it with someone other than me."

JC nodded softly and stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. Sara pulled his left hand up onto her lap and slowly turned the cuff of his sleeve back. JC instinctively tried to pull his hand back, afraid someone would see his scars, but Sara looked up and caught his eyes, "Come on JC…" She said softly. He relaxed and let her move the sleeve up to expose his wrist. The two small scars were barely visible in the darkness, but Sara knew what to look for.

She held his wrist in her lap and just stared at the jagged white lines on his skin. JC’s pulse was visible just above the fist cut as Sara took her free hand and traced the scars with her fingertip. "Has anyone seen these?"

"No." JC whispered as he shook his head.

"No one?" She asked.

"No." JC said softly as tears crept up in his eyes. He hadn’t shown anyone, and no one had asked to see them. Everyone treated JC’s stay at Wycroft as if it had never happened. For a while they walked on eggshells around him, but before he knew it they were all back to normal. No one gave a second thought as to how close JC had come to succeeding. And how far he had to go to get better. He hadn’t wanted to make a big deal about it, but he hadn’t wanted it to be forgotten either.

Sara slowly lifted JC’s wrist to her lips and kissed his scars softly, "You can’t hide them forever you know." JC nodded and squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "Wrist bands won’t always be in fashion." She smiled and laced her fingers through his. This time she would be the one to help him… she would be his friend.

 

Chapter 2…

 

Copyright � 2000 Amy Lynn