Sara jerked awake with a gasp. She tossed her blanket to the floor and sat up quickly trying to catch her breath as she ran her shaky fingers through her hair and let her eyes adjust to the dark. She reached up slowly and switched the tiny light above her head on and swung her feet to the floor to stand up, but she realized her legs were asleep and standing was not going to be an option.

"Sara?" A voice whispered from the bunk area.

"Yeah?" She whispered back. She hoped she hadn’t called out in her sleep and woken everyone up.

"Are you okay?" He whispered.

"Uh, yeah." She coughed lightly and reached for her fallen blanket. There was a sudden thud as bare feet hit the bus floor in the back. The curtains were pulled to the side as Lance stepped out into the little sitting area. "Was I talking in my sleep?" Sara smiled nervously.

"No, I uh, I just heard you moving around and stuff." He said as he leaned on the little kitchen counter thing. The bus lurched to the side and he balanced himself with his hand on the edge of the sink. "Are you sure you’re okay?" He asked softly. Sara averted her eyes and nodded, even though her hands were still a little shaky.

"Yeah I’m uh, I’m okay."

Lance watched her adjust the blanket and take a few deep breaths, he wasn’t convinced, "Hey I talked to Justin tonight." He said softly.

"Yeah?" Sara looked over her shoulder at him and tried to smile, all the while hoping he’d just go back to bed.

"Yeah." Lance nodded and watched the back of her head. "I don’t know if I changed his mind or anything, but I think he’ll be a little nicer."

"It’s okay." Sara shrugged and forced a tight laugh.

"You sure you’re okay?" Lance asked.

"Yeah." Sara said after a minute’s pause. "I just had a bad dream, I’m okay."

"Do you want me to hang out with you for a minute?" Lance stifled a yawn and ran his fingers through his flat hair.

"No, you don’t have to." Sara shook her head and hoped she’d be able to go back to sleep without having another nightmare.

"I don’t mind." Lance made his way toward the front of the bus and dropped himself into one of the chairs opposite Sara on the couch. "My mom always said if you tell someone your scary dream, it won’t come back."

Sara stared at him for a minute, debating whether or not she felt she could trust him even with this little bit of information. "It’s stupid I guess. I had a dream that I killed someone, and it just… it freaked me out. And then waking up in a weird place… you know." She laughed nervously and pulled the blanket up to her chin.

"Was it Joey?" Lance asked with a sly smile.

"No." Sara laughed and shook her head. "No, it wasn’t Joey. It wasn’t anyone I knew, it was the infamous faceless person."

"Ahh." Lance nodded. "That faceless person gets in the way a lot, huh?"

"Yep." Sara sighed and reached up to click the light off. "Thanks Lance." She whispered.

"You’re welcome." She heard him stand up and head toward the back of the bus. He stopped with his hand on the curtain and looked down at his feet, "Thanks for coming out to help JC."

"Anytime." Sara said softly. Lance stood where he was for a second, then sighed and pulled himself up onto his bunk. The bus rocked quietly again, and the two new friends fell back asleep almost instantly.

 

Sara was the first one awake in the morning, so she cleaned up her little sleeping area and tried to tame her hair as well as she could in her reflection in the window. She straightened out her clothes and pulled a magazine out of the pile then began to read all about Prince William and some guy who survived a train wreck.

Chris was the first one up, but he didn’t even notice Sara sitting there as he pulled a box of crackers out of the cupboard and sat at the little table with a Dr. Pepper. As he opened the box, the back area became alive with the sounds of young men waking up. Three consecutive thumps as they hopped out of bed and a fourth a minute later. Grunts and yawns, mumbled words and drawers opening and closing.

"Chris, where’s the dog?" A scratchy voice asked from the back.

"What dog?" Chris asked as he took a cracker out of the box.

"Busta."

"He’s at home with Dani and Korea." Chris smiled. "He didn’t come on tour with us this time, what planet are you on?"

"He wasn’t here last night?" The voice asked again.

"Justin’s hittin the crack again." A second voice said from the back.

"Seriously? He’s not here?" Justin asked.

"I just told you he wasn’t." Chris laughed and shook his head.

"Damn, weird." Justin said as he came out to the little kitchen area. "Whatcha got there?" He fell into the seat across from Chris.

"Ritz crackers." Chris crunched a cracker and turned the box around to read the back.

"For breakfast?"

"Yep." Chris said distractedly.

"Is Sara up?" JC asked from the back.

"Huh?" Justin asked.

"Sara." JC repeated.

"What’s he talking about?" Justin asked Chris with a confused look.

"Sara." Chris nodded toward the couch. Sara looked up at the sound of her name and gave them a little half smile.

"Oh yeah." Justin grumbled as he reached for the box of crackers.

"I’m up." She said loudly, to be heard by JC in the back.

"Why do they tell you what you can put on crackers?" Chris asked as he held one in front of him. "I mean, I buy the crackers because I like crackers, not because I want an edible plate."

"What?" Justin asked. Sara laughed to herself, Justin apparently wasn’t awake until after he ate something.

JC, Lance and Joey followed each other out of the little area in different stages of "dressed", then stood in the tiny kitchen area pulling bagels and cereal out of the cabinets. It was general morning chaos for a few minutes before they settled into their usual positions and ate breakfast while chatting about the day.

Sara sat quietly off to the side being the casual and almost unnoticed observer.

"What time do we get there?" Joey asked as he spooned sugar onto his cereal.

"Two thirty." JC mumbled.

"Two thirty?" Lance asked, "I thought we were almost there."

"What are you talking about?" Chris asked.

"I asked when we were gonna get there. Where we’re going." Joey explained.

"To the venue?" JC asked.

"No, to the radio thing or hotel or whatever." Joey rolled his eyes, "I know we get to the venue at two thirty. That’s the same every day."

"We check in around eleven." Lance said softly. He took a bite of his apple and chewed slowly, "What time is it?"

"Eight thirty." Justin mumbled.

"In LA maybe." Chris laughed, "It’s nine thirty here."

"Where’s here?" JC asked.

"Pleasant Grove." Sara said softly as she watched the city sign fly by.

"Where’s that?" Justin asked without looking up from his bowl.

"About twenty five miles from South Jordan, forty miles from Salt Lake City. Is that where we’re headed?" Sara turned to face the others in the kitchen area.

JC smiled and shook his head as he stirred his cereal, "You scare me."

"It’s JC with boobs." Chris laughed and twisted the end of the cracker thing before he tucked it back into the box. The others laughed lightly, then concentrated on their breakfast.

"Yeah, we’re going to SLC, we have two shows there." Lance stood up to throw his trash away. "Have you ever been there?"

"Yeah, a couple times. I used to go skiing with my parents every year, so we came up here a couple times." Sara nodded and ran her fingers through her hair. "Can I uh, does someone know where my bag ended up?" She stood up and balanced herself with the back of the little couch as she walked toward the kitchen.

"An orange and black back pack?" JC stood up and threw his paper bowl in the trash then tucked his shirt into his unbuttoned jeans.

"Yeah." Sara nodded and looked at the others nervously.

"It’s in the back there. Past the bunks, where it kinda looks like a closet. It’s on the right, on top of my footlocker." JC pointed toward the back and sat at the table as Sara squeezed by. She found her bag just where he’s said it would be, then took a few minutes to brush her hair and put her deodorant on. She changed her shirt and ducked into the tiny bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face.

When she emerged a couple minutes later the guys had sprawled themselves out on the couches and floor while Joey and Chris were in a heated battle. They each held a controller and vigorously tried to out race the other one on the video screen.

"Finish up guys, we’re gonna be there in like ten minutes." JC tapped his watch face and smiled up at Sara. "Mandatory game of Turbo Slick each morning."

"Ahh." Sara nodded and stood near the back with crossed arms. She watched quietly as the five men played around and got themselves ready for the day. They seemed so normal, playing video games, kidding around, poking each other, laughing and carrying on like any other group of twenty something guys.

But when she looked closer, she could tell they were anything but normal. They were on a cramped bus, with bags under their tired eyes, they wore name brand clothes that they tried to dress down, they sat low in their chairs or on the floor because they were getting close to the hotel and didn’t want to be seen. They tried so hard to be "average", that it was obvious they never could be.

With that tiny glimpse into their lives, Sara understood much more of what JC was going through, and why he was actually reading her journal. It was his link to normalcy. Just having that tie with the "real world" was helping JC, she didn’t have to actually do much.

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

Sara took this realization with her as they spent the rest of the day running around, and the evening at the arena. Sara stood by the side of the stage again for the show, and felt exhausted just watching them dance and run around out there. They went back to the hotel and collapsed onto their own beds, and didn’t move a muscle until they were awakened the next morning to get their day started. Sara joined them as they went to a radio station to do a short interview and take some calls from fans.

"You know what?" Sara asked as she dropped her bag by the closet door that afternoon. They were back at the hotel for an hour’s break before they had to go back to the arena for the show that night.

JC flopped face first onto the bed and sighed, "What?"

"Are you tired?" Sara asked.

"No. I just like to be flat." JC laughed and turned his head to face her. "Do I know what?"

"You guys need a day off."

"Duh. Squared."

Sara laughed, "You watch too much TV."

"I don’t watch any TV."

"Well then you used to. You quote TV shows all the time." Sara smiled.

"Oh yeah? What’s that from then?"

"My so-called life. Rayanne." Sara raised her eyebrow at him and laughed.

"Damn, you’re good." JC laughed.

"I guess that goes to show I watch too much TV too, huh?"

"Yeah." JC laughed and scooted to the end of the bed to pull the heavy drapes open. "So why do you think we need a day off? I mean, aside from the fact that we’re all basically nuts."

"You guys need to be normal." Sara said. She was met with silence and realized that may have come out wrong. "I just mean… you guys try so hard to be normal but you can’t. Not while you’re cramped up on a bus or dodging fans or whatever."

"That’s the life we’ve chosen though."

"Yeah well I can see where all your stress comes from. I mean, sheesh… JC you think you’ve got all of that on your shoulders? I can see why you’re having a hard time."

"We get days off every now and then."

"When was the last time you went to a park?" Sara asked quickly.

JC thought for a minute and said, "Probably when we all went for lunch that one time." He paused as she shook her head, "But parks aren’t high on our ‘how to spend a day off’ list."

"Okay, when was the last time you actually went somewhere, just to go? The movies, the mall, a football game?"

"Sara, we can’t just go to places like that. We have to take our security team with us and that just draws more attention, which turns our so-called ‘day off’ into a media event."

"Oh bull shit JC, you could do it."

"We’ve tried." JC shook his head.

"Well that’s what you need." Sara crossed her arms over her chest. "A smack of reality."

"You think I need a smack?" JC smiled slyly.

"I think it’d do you a world of good." She laughed lightly.

"Well then come on, smack me with reality." JC pointed his cheek at her, and she seriously thought of smacking him. "Smack me with a baseball game, I’d love to get out of here. Just clear it with out PR person, management and security team first."

"You think I’m kidding."

"No, I think you’re serious. I just think the chances of that happening are slim to none."

Sara sighed and shoved her hands in her pockets, "How do you feel today?" She changed the subject quickly.

"Fine."

"In more than one word?"

"I feel good." JC nodded. "Better than before." He cleared his throat and kicked his shoes off. "Just knowing you were nearby made a difference these last couple nights."

"Really?" Sara smiled and blushed. She turned away before he could notice the change in her cheeks.

"Yeah, and I don’t know. It kind of felt like I could keep an eye on you too. Does that make sense? It was like, you were there to watch out for me, but at the same time I could watch out for you."

"Awww shucks dad." Sara laughed then covered her mouth, "Shit. My parents."

"You haven’t called them?"

"No." Sara shook her head and sprung across the room to grab the phone, "Can I call out?"

"Yeah, yeah go ahead. I thought you would have called them when you called Dr. Grayson."

Sara laughed and shook her head as she dialed, "Nope, I guess I’ve got my priorities all messed up, huh?" She waited as her parents phone rang back home in Los Angeles, then left a short message on their answering machine. "So what’s up for the rest of the day?" Sara sat on the bed by JC’s feet.

"We get to relax for about another hour, then to the venue for everything there. Same as yesterday."

"Okay." She nodded. "So you’re feeling pretty okay?"

"Yeah." JC nodded and rolled onto his side to look at her.

"Okay." She concentrated on the pattern of the bedspread and pulled at a stray string.

"What?"

"Well… if you’re doing good, then I… maybe I should go on back home you know? Then you can call if you need anything." She said softly.

"Y-you want to go home?" JC frowned.

"Well if you’re doing better…" Sara waved her hand, but kept her eyes on the bedspread. If he didn’t need her around, then she’d be better off going home to her job.

"Well I - " JC stopped and thought for a minute. He didn’t want her to leave. He was doing well because she was there… but if she wanted to leave, he didn’t want to keep her here. "If you want to leave, you can go anytime you want. We can get you back to Phoenix to get your car or whatever."

"It’s not that I want to leave." Sara shook her head, "But I’ve got, you know I’ve got my job and stuff. And uh, if you’re doing better then maybe I should go back."

"Okay." JC nodded and blushed.

"Okay?" Sara asked. It was the answer she wanted, and the answer she didn’t want. She wanted to get back to her new job, to keep some stability in her life; but she liked the feeling that she was needed as well.

"Yeah. I can talk to our guys about getting you home tomorrow." JC rested his chin on his hands and frowned.

They sat in silence for the next hour until JC had to be escorted to the arena for the sound check and everything else that came with the show. Sara tried to stay quiet and out of the way at the arena, and basically stayed put wherever they sat her. She didn’t want to be in the way, but she didn’t know where else to go. She sat in the make shift cafeteria and watched as dozens of crew workers came in and out throughout the afternoon.

They guys showed up for a quick dinner before they had to take off to finish getting ready for the show. "I talked to Mike, he said to talk to him in the morning about getting you back to Phoenix. It’s going to be hectic tonight, so I’ll call down in the morning, okay?" JC asked as he took the last bite of his onion ring.

"Yeah." Sara nodded as he took off out the door, only a few steps behind the others.

Sara stood up and sighed, wishing for a book or a magazine, anything to help kill her boredom. She figured that the guys might have something in their dressing room, or they may know where she could find something to read, so she stepped out into the hall and nervously looked around. Seeing no one around, she followed the directions on the sign taped to the wall, "Stage and Exit to the right. Dressing rooms and Meet and Greet to the left" There were times listed under the directions, so she checked her watch and sighed. They were doing their meet and greet at the moment, and couldn’t be interrupted.

Sara moped around backstage for a few minutes, with a bag of chips in one hand and a diet coke in the other. If she kept on eating this way she’d put on 10 pounds before the end of the week. She cringed internally as the guys powered down cheeseburgers and ice cream, but then watched in awe as they burned off those calories and more every night on stage.

"Hey Sara." Chris said as he walked down the hall toward her. He wiped his damp hands on the front of his jeans and smiled.

"Hey." She said cautiously as she turned around. She turned the top of her chip bag over and tucked it under her arm.

Chris smiled and straightened his shirt, "I just got a couple new DVD’s if you wanna check them out while we’re doing the show, I’m sure it’s boring as hell back here."

"Am I… it’s okay if I go out to the bus?" She asked.

"Yeah, that’s cool." Chris said. "You mean you’ve spent the last couple nights back here?"

"Yeah." Sara nodded and smiled quickly.

"Nah, go on out to the bus, at least you can put on your jammies or whatever and kick back." Chris shook his head, "I’d join you… but, you know."

"That’s okay." She laughed and took a sip of her soda.

"Anyway, I just got ‘The Matrix’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’ if you want to watch something tonight. They’re on my bunk in the shopping bag."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, no problem." He nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Hey and also, I’m uh… I’m sorry if we were kind of rude to you. Before I mean."

"Thank you." She nodded and met his eye.

"So he’s doing okay, right?" Chris asked softly.

"You can ask him you know." Sara smiled, "I think he’d like it if you would."

"Yeah." Chris nodded. "I guess I could."

Sara smiled back and opened her bag of chips, "I think I’ll take you up on your offer, I haven’t seen ‘The Sixth Sense’ so maybe I’ll go watch that."

"Cool, I’ll see you later then."

"Okay. Can you let JC know I’m out on the bus? He gets worried if he can’t find me sometimes you know? Like I’m a kid or something."

"I’ll let him know." Chris laughed and waved as she turned to walk down the hall toward the exit.

"Thanks." She waved over her shoulder, then took a drink of her soda on her way out. She was used to the drill by now; no one left the arena from the backstage area without at least one of the security team knowing about it. She flashed her badge at the guy by the door, and waved at the security guard standing just outside. She made her way to the tour bus followed by a wave of screams coming from the mass of teen age fans standing around outside the venue. The concert didn’t start for at least an hour, and they were already lined up around the building.

Sara hung out on the quiet bus and took an hour to try to figure out how to work the DVD player. She could get it to play, but the picture wasn’t showing up on the TV. She debated just listening to the movie, but then got frustrated and all but tore the machine apart trying to figure out how to get it to work. Exasperated, she smooshed all the buttons on the front of the remote controller, thinking one of them may be the magic button. With a flash the screen came to life with Bruce Willis’s face smiling into the camera. "Ah ha… sucker." Sara laughed to herself and fell back onto the couch. She watched the movie curled up in the corner with her blanket and a bag of microwave popcorn.

When the guys returned after the show that night, the bus was started and ready to go. They barely had the door shut when the bus lurched forward and they were on their way. "Can I sleep for three days now?" Joey asked as he walked straight back to the bunks and pulled himself onto his bed.

"Me first." Justin followed him as his eyes drooped closed.

"Three whole days?" Lance asked. "I’m in." He yawned and said goodnight to Sara, then disappeared behind the curtain.

"For reals? We get three days?" Chris yawned and pulled his sweatshirt over his head.

"Dream on." JC shook his head. "We get to do this again tomorrow."

"Ugh! Shut up JC." Lance shouted from the back. The two others back there with him laughed and shouted their sentiments up to JC, "Let us believe what we want! Don’t rain on our parade."

JC laughed and shook his head, he looked truly happy as he turned to Sara, "Did you have a good night?"

"Yeah." She nodded as a feeling of sadness washed over her. She’d be going home the next day, which was a good thing, that meant JC was doing better. But she felt like she was just breaking ground with the other guys, they still had a ways to go. "Don’t bite off more than you can chew." Dr. Grayson’s words echoed in her mind as she sighed again. "Hey JC?" Sara asked, intending to see if she could stay a while longer with them.

"Yeah?" He continued to smile as he pulled his t-shirt off and tossed it toward the couch.

Sara blushed and looked down quickly, "Uhh… nothing. Nevermind. Good night."

"You’re sure?"

"Yeah." Sara looked up and kept her eyes on his, "I’m sure."

"All right." He yawned and scratched his stomach, "I’ll see you in the morning then. We’ll actually be getting there before dawn, so we’ll have a real breakfast inside. With real food. Yum." He laughed lightly and turned to go to his bed. The bus turned quickly and reached out his hand to balance himself as he chuckled again.

"Cool." Sara nodded and pulled her blanket out from the little storage area. She kicked her shoes off as she sat on the couch and unfolded the blanket. Chris shut the lights off then headed to bed after saying good night to Sara.

She lay awake for a while, staring at the ceiling and thinking about going home. She hoped that JC would be okay when she left, but she wasn’t sure. If he was, then that would be great for him, that would mean that he was well on the way to coping with this himself and with the other guys. But at the same time, that would mean that Sara wouldn’t get to be a part of his healing, not really anyway. She’d still be his phone support if and when he needed it, but it would be different. She selfishly wanted him to not be okay, so that she could stay… and be needed.

"That’s real nice." She whispered to herself with a frown. "Some friend you are." She pulled the blanket up to her chin and brought her knees up to her chest. Was it so wrong to want to feel needed? Then again, this wasn’t about what she wanted, she reminded herself. Sara gave up her internal argument and resigned to figure it out in the morning, before JC called to have her sent home.

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

JC tossed and turned for a while, unable to find a comfortable position or fall asleep. He took Sara’s journal out and flipped it open to the marked page and turned the tiny light on with his free hand. Diving into Sara’s daily life usually mellowed him out a bit and helped him fall asleep, but he just couldn’t get comfortable enough to sit still and read.

Sighing, he dropped his bare legs over the side of his bunk and hopped down with the small notebook in his hand. He let his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, then made his way out to the front of the bus where Sara was asleep. He turned one of the small lights on and sat on the far end of the couch. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees as he opened the little book and flipped forward a few pages to find where he’d left off.

Sara remained curled up in a little ball on the far end, tucked snugly under the dark blue blanket as JC glanced over every now and then between journal entries.

 

Dear JC, Monday 9:12pm

Okay. This is weird. Remember Cassandra? The chick from Wycroft? She called me yesterday out of nowhere. I guess we kinda started talking during my last week or so at Wycroft, turns out she loves The Who as much as I do. Whoda thunk it huh? Anyways, I guess we’re going to the movies this weekend, to celebrate her 2 months out and my 5 months out. I guess while I’m there I can celebrate your 6 months out, right? Five months, can you believe it? That sounds like a long time, but it’s really not. I’ve been out now longer than I was in, but it just doesn’t feel like it.

I tried to call your cel phone to wish you happy anniversary a couple days ago, on the actual day and stuff, but it said it’s been disconnected so I hope you’re okay. I hope you call soon. Jesus I hope you haven’t ditched me! I mean I know I’m loopy in the head, but cut me some slack here! Hahahah - Sara

 

JC smiled and turned the page over as he yawned softly. He could hear Sara’s voice as he read the entries and little by little he felt more and more tired. He always felt sort of invasive about reading her journal, but at the same time he felt like he was with her on her journey to where she was then. Since he couldn’t physically be there with her as it happened, this was his way of knowing what was going on with her. He could relate to many of her entries, because he was feeling much of the same things now. Even little things, like being unsure if he was ready to be out. Wondering if he would ever be back to normal… and what exactly normal was.

 

Dear JC, Friday 11:45pm

Okay, the weirdness this week must be at an all time high. I swear, this is one of those weeks when you sit back and go, "Dude, what fucking planet am I on??" I was at Wycroft doing the counseling thing, and one of the girls (I can’t use names, you know how that goes.) She said that music always makes her feel better and so Dr. Grayson asked if she had any that she’d like to share with the group. She of course did (this girl loves to share. It’s almost annoying.) So anyways, she runs to her room and gets this tape and Dr. Grayson plays it for the group and just about everyone was crying when it played. I’ll be truthful, I was getting a little misty eyed too, but I think I’m just PMSing. Anyways, you’ll never guess who sings the song. That’s right. You and your compadres. It’s from the Pokemon soundtrack and I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s awesome.

So that’s kind of become the anthem over here, you know, kind of how there’s always a light at the end of the darkness, someday it’ll be better type thing. So what do you know? You guys are even hitting the psycho wards top ten lists. Hahaha.

Wow. I looked back and I haven’t written in here in a couple weeks. Sorry about that. Cassandra and I are actually becoming (you might wanna sit down here. I’ll put you on the floor so you don’t fall out of my hands and hurt yourself. Mr. JC book man) friends. I know, I know. How weird is that? I have a friend. Friends. Weird, I can’t quite understand it myself. But it’s kind of fun. We go to the movies and to the mall, trivial stuff like that. She has her own apartment, so I go over there a lot. Anything to get out of my parents house. They’re nuts. Really. I now believe that this is hereditary and they passed it on to me. But I’m not even gonna go there. - Sara

 

JC smiled and yawned, one more page and then he’d go on back to bed. He turned the page and rubbed his eyes slowly as he read the first line. JC felt his blood run cold as his heart skipped a beat… he re-read the single line slowly.

Dear JC, Thursday 6:15am

Keith killed himself last night. Fuck.

 

The entry sent chills up his spine and he felt like he was spinning in some alternate reality. He glanced up quickly at Sara asleep on the other end of the couch and reached to touch her. He lay his hand on her ankle and squeezed lightly, he just wanted to feel her there, to know she was real and okay.

"You okay?" She whispered as she cracked her eyes open.

"Yeah." He whispered with a slight nod.

"No... what’s wrong?" She pushed herself into a sitting position and frowned at him. He held her journal in his lap and ran his finger up and down the spiral binding. "What? What did you just read?" She reached to take the book from him, but he moved it out of her reach.

"What went wrong? I mean… am I turning out like Keith? What’s stopping me from doing what he did?" He asked softly.

"JC…" Sara covered his hand with her own on the smooth top of her notebook. "No, you’re stronger than that. Look at you, you’ve been doing great, you’ve been out for a year. For more than a year."

"Yeah but look at me." He held his arm out and sighed.

"That’s not the same thing." She shook her head slowly. "You know what’s stopping you from doing what he did? You are JC. You’re stopping yourself. That’s not what you want to do, not at all. If that was what you wanted to do you would have done it a long time ago. Cutting yourself isn’t attempting suicide; it’s other stuff. Getting rid of the pain, or proving your human… or any other of a dozen things. You’re stronger than that." Sara said again.

"What if I’m not?" He whispered.

"You are." She leaned down and got in his line of sight, so that their eyes met. "You are." She smiled to reassure him. "And when you can’t be, you have me and Lance and… all of them."

"Sara…how do you do this? I mean, how did you get better?"

"I’m still getting better JC, I’m not done." She shook her head. "I have Dr. Grayson to help, and Cassandra now… and you of course."

"But I haven’t been around for you lately, I mean before San Diego I hadn’t talked to you in a couple months." He looked down and shook his head sadly.

"But JC, I knew that if I ever really needed you, you’d be there."

"Would you ever ask though? I mean, you took that handful of pills again and I never even knew. What if I could have helped like you’re helping me now?"

"I had Dr. Grayson. You don’t have anyone like that who knows just how you're feeling and just what you’re going through, that’s why you want me here. If I didn’t have Dr. Grayson there with me then, you would have been who I called."

"Really?" He asked a minute later.

"Really." Sara nodded and gently patted his hand. They sat in silence for a minute before they heard someone yawn and climb out of their bunk, apparently losing their balance as they hit the floor.

JC looked toward the bunks as Justin appeared from behind the curtain with his hair standing on end. He hiked up his boxes and covered his mouth as he yawned and scratched at his bare stomach. He had the refrigerator open before he noticed JC and Sara sitting on the couch, "Hey." He nodded in their direction and took an apple out of the drawer as if nothing was out of the ordinary. As he went close the door he stopped and frowned, then looked back over at JC and Sara, "Is everything okay?" Justin stopped the apple halfway to his mouth.

"Yeah." Sara nodded and looked from Justin to JC. JC nodded slowly and took a deep breath.

"Actually…" JC looked up at Justin and frowned. He cleared his throat and continued in a soft voice, "Tonight I started to feel like I was slipping."

"What happened?" Justin asked as he crossed the narrow bus in two steps.

"Nothing happened, I just..." JC shook his head slowly and held eye contact with Justin as the younger man knelt beside the couch.

"Come on man… what’s up?"

"Keith killed himself." JC said softly.

"What?" Justin asked as the blood left his face. He wasn’t awake enough to register everything that was said. "Tonight? Who’s Keith?"

"No, a couple months ago. Keith was a guy that was with us in Wycroft." Sara explained softly.

"And you just told him now?" Justin asked, casting Sara and accusing glance.

"No, I told him when I saw him in San Diego." Sara kept her cool under his burning gaze. "But he just read it in my journal, and with everything else that’s happened - "

JC cut Sara off mid-sentence, "It got me thinking."

"About what?" Justin asked quickly, wanting to pin something, anything… on Sara.

"About how I’m not much different than Keith." JC shook his head. "I’m not 100% okay, J."

"No one’s 100% okay Jace, and you’re totally different than this guy. You’re still here man."

"No, I know." JC nodded. "I’m stronger than that... than him. And I have you guys, and Sara."

"Of course you do." Justin nodded and looked at Sara quickly. "You’ve always got us."

"I know." JC smiled slowly.

"So you’re cool now?" Justin smiled and stood up, thinking that if that’s all JC needed every now and then, he could do that. Sara could pack up her little backpack and head on home.

JC coughed gently and nodded, "Yeah, I’m cool."

"Cool." Justin yawned and headed back toward the bunks. He drew the curtain closed and climbed onto his bunk, listening as Sara began to talk.

"See? When you can’t be the strong one, you’ve got all this support around you." She smiled.

"I know." JC nodded.

"I’m proud of you, do you see what you just did?"

"What?"

"You talked to Justin. You said he’d be the hardest one and you did it. You sat right here and told him you weren’t okay." Sara squeezed JC’s hand and smiled.

"Whoa." JC’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I did." He laughed nervously. "Wow… that’s cool. I didn’t even realize it."

"This’ll be a breeze for you." Sara smiled and covered her mouth as she yawned.

"As long as you’re here." JC added softly. "I’ll let you go back to bed now… I think I’ve read enough for one night."

"Okay." Sara smiled and sunk down into the covers on the couch. JC reached up and switched the tiny light off, then waited for a minute as his eyes adjusted. He stood for a minute without moving, then slowly leaned down and kissed the top of her head, "G’night Sara. Thanks."

"You’re welcome." She sighed and smiled, "Good night."

Justin listened from his bed and blushed slightly. He’d been blaming her for everything, and in just a couple sentences he saw that she was actually helping him. Justin knew she didn’t particularly care for him, but she put that aside and focused on JC when he needed her. She was turning out to be a better friend to JC than the rest of him. JC was right; she was what he needed.

 

On to part 7…

Copyright � 2001 Amy Lynn