"As long as you’re here." The words danced through Sara’s mind as she slowly woke up the next morning. She rolled over and was surprised that she actually had room to roll over onto, more than the couch had offered.

Sara gently opened her eyes and frowned; she was in a pale green hotel room that she had no memory of. She gasped and sat up quickly, "JC?" she asked as she flung her feet over the side. "He’s gone to talk to the guy about sending me home." She thought frantically. "JC!?" She asked again as she stood up quickly.

"Yeah?" He poked his head out of the bathroom. His hair was dripping water onto the floor and he had his toothbrush in his mouth. "Sorry, was I being loud in here?"

"No." She gave a deep sigh of relief. "No, I uh… I just didn’t know where I was for a second there."

"Yeah, you were pretty zonked when we came up this morning." He smiled and shut the door halfway, then continued to brush his teeth.

"When… when did we get here?"

"About four in the morning." JC spit in the sink and rinsed his mouth. "You walked up here on your own, but I think you were technically still sleeping. You kept saying you could find the room by yourself." He laughed lightly and reached for the small towel to run it over his hair.

"Great. Did I say anything incriminating?"

"I don’t know. Do you really have an iguana named Fred that you like to bathe with?" JC looked serious for a second, then busted up laughing.

"I didn’t say that." She smiled and shook her head.

"No, I know." JC wiped his face off and stepped out into the room in his towel. "So I um… I’m gonna go talk to Mike."

"Mike?" Sara’s pulse quickened, she knew who Mike was.

"Yeah, to um, let him know you’re taking off today." JC concentrated on lacing his shoes as he sat at the foot of his bed.

"Maybe…" She paused for a second and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to think of a way to word what she had to say. "Maybe I shouldn’t go." She said softly.

"I’ll be okay." JC forced the words from his lips. He didn’t want her to leave, but she needed to get back to her job. He didn’t want her to lose that, not when she’d worked so hard to get back on her feet.

"But last night, I mean – "

"Nah, I was okay last night." JC said softly. He looked up and gave her a quick smile; "You need to get home to your job and stuff."

Sara nodded slowly and cleared her throat as tears rose in her eyes. She didn’t want to cry, and certainly not in front of JC, but out of nowhere she felt a type of sad she had never felt before. She wasn’t hurt, or angry or let down… she felt sad because she was going to miss someone. JC.

"So I’ll go talk to Mike and get you a flight down to Phoenix to get your car."

"I’m worried JC." Sara said softly as the bedspread in front of her became blurred with tears.

"About what?" He tried to laugh easily but instead it came out as a small cough.

"I’m scared that if I leave you’ll… I don’t know. Slip again." She shrugged and sniffed back her tears.

"I’m not going to cut myself again." JC said, doing his best to sound convincing.

"No, I know." She spoke almost too quickly.

"I’m not."

"I know JC." She said a little slower, "But I’m just worried that…this is all so stressful, and I mean, I’ve been here for a couple days and I can see that this is nuts for you. I don’t want anything to happen to you. And then last night you said you were okay as long as I was here. That just made me think that you thought that if I left you may not be okay."

"Sara… I just – " JC moved over and sat beside her on her bed. "I don’t want to make you stay if you want to go back."

"And I don’t want to leave if you want me to stay." Sara explained.

They sat in silence for a minute; both wanting the same thing, neither saying a word. "Let’s make a deal." JC lay his hand on Sara’s bare knee. "Let’s just say what we want, and forget anything else."

"You mean be honest?" She smiled slowly.

"Yeah." JC laughed softly and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "I don’t want you to go yet." He whispered. "I… I think I’ll be okay, but I’m not sure yet."

Sara nodded beside him and wiped at her eyes quickly, "I want to stay and make sure you’re really okay." She whispered.

"Okay good. So we agree." JC smiled and squeezed her knee quickly. "From now on let’s just say it."

"Okay." She brushed her hand across her eyes again and breathed a shaky sigh of relief. "But it’s not because I don’t think you’re okay." She added quickly.

"I know." JC smiled and resisted the temptation to wipe the tear off her cheek. "So you’ll stay?"

"Yeah." Sara nodded.

"But what about your job?"

"I have some vacation time." Sara waved the question off. "I’ll call them this morning."

"All right." JC nodded.

"We should also call Dr. Grayson and let her know that I won’t be back. Right away I mean."

"Okay." JC nodded again and reached for the phone, "Go ahead and make your calls, I’m going to finish getting ready."

"Where are you going?"

"Tom called Mark Matthews back in and he’s going to meet with me this afternoon." JC shrugged. "So Mike and Tom want to talk with me this morning before we have to go to our shoot."

"Okay." Sara fidgeted with her scrunchie in her hand and looked up at JC, "So what about me?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you’re going off to your meeting right now or whatever, then a shoot, then… whatever else you guys have to do today. Where do you want me?"

"You can come with us." JC shrugged.

"To your meeting?"

"Well no." JC shook his head and dug in his suitcase for his warm up pants and a t-shirt. He took his small pile of clothes back into the bathroom and left the door ajar as he got dressed, "My thing this morning won’t take long. You can hang out here and shower or get breakfast down the hall or whatever, then if you want you can come with us to the shoot, that might be fun. Free donuts and there are more people there for you to talk to. It’s up at the lodge by the ski slopes so if you want to walk around there you can. There’s no snow, or else I’d say you could go skiing." He laughed lightly and pulled his shirt over his head.

"Okay." Sara yawned and ran her fingers through her tangled hair again. "I could definitely use a shower." She mumbled to herself as she picked up the phone and dialed Dr. Grayson’s number. Sara filled the doctor in on their progress and let her know that she would be staying with JC for a little while longer.

Dr. Grayson expressed her concern at Sara staying, but then sounded relieved when Sara mentioned that Mark Matthews was coming out to see JC that afternoon. JC stepped out of the bathroom a minute later dressed casually and ready to go, "I shouldn't be that long. I'll track you down when we're ready to leave." JC grabbed his pager off the nightstand and clipped it onto the elastic waist of his pants as he tried not to yawn again.

"Okay." Sara said softly.

"Just don't leave the floor." JC smiled and shook his finger playfully at her.

"I won't." She shook her head and stood up to head for the bathroom.

"I'll see you in a few." He paused at the door, as if he was making up his mind about something. She smiled at him for a second then laughed at his confused expression, "Uh, okay. Bye." He said quickly, then turned around and shut the door behind him.

Sara laughed to herself and started the shower, she knew once she got herself cleaned up; she'd be ready to face the others.

A half hour later Sara peeked her head out of the hotel room and into the hall. She didn't see anyone around, and she wasn't entirely sure where she was supposed to go. JC had said something about there being breakfast down the hall, but he'd failed to mention where.

She took a deep breath and double-checked her pockets for her laminated pass and the room key. They were both in her back pocket, so she shut the door quietly and stood in the hall hoping that someone she knew would show up.

A minute later a door opened on the far end of the hall and startled Sara as she leaned against the wall. She turned slowly and made a face, it was Joey… her favorite person in the world. "Hey Joey." She forced a smile and gritted her teeth; "Do you know where the breakfast room is? JC told me I co-"

"314, end of the hall." He cut her off, and didn't even glance her way as he continued down the hall and knocked on a door by the elevators.

"Ooookay." Sara raised her eyebrows and sighed, "Thanks." She added, more or less to herself. She twirled the thin silver ring around on her finger as she walked toward the room, the smell of bacon letting her know she was headed in the right direction.

"Hey Sara." Chris waved his fork in her direction as she walked in. He balanced his plate on his knees as he sat on the floor against the wall. "Grab some grub, I'll save you a seat on the floor." He laughed and took a bite of his danish. "Just don't get the eggs." Chris crinkled his nose and frowned as he chewed.

"I'll be sure to avoid them." Sara laughed and chose a blueberry bagel and cream cheese, then fell onto the floor beside Chris. "You know, there's a table in your room you could sit at."

"I know. But then I wouldn’t be able to mingle with the morning people." Chris paused between bites to look around at the almost empty room.

Sara followed his gaze and smiled, "They're a rowdy bunch." She said softly.

"Uh huh." Chris took another bite of his breakfast then wiped his mouth, "I shoulda just ate in my room."

"Ahh, but then you'd miss breakfast with me." Sara took a bite of her bagel and smiled.

"True." Chris nodded. "So how are things going?"

"They're going okay." She nodded and examined her bagel.

"Lance uh… Lance said he's talked to you a bit, and that we should be nice to you."

"So you're only being friendly because Lance told you to?" Sara asked cautiously.

"I don't do anything just because I'm told to." Chris laughed lightly, "No… I just think that if you're here to help JC, then that's cool with me."

"I wish Justin and Joey would see it that way. Those two are stubborn like mules. I've even talked to them and still…" she shrugged, "Nothing."

"Yeah, I'll agree with you there. But give em some time. Sure, I wasn't thrilled at the beginning, that whole scene in the room that one time. But I know where you're coming from and stuff. Justin's still a kid, he's got a lot to learn."

"Yeah." Sara sighed and dropped her bagel onto her plate by her feet, "Well thanks for not hating me."

"No problem." Chris laughed softly. "And if it makes ya feel any better, I don't think Lance hates you."

"No, I don't think he does either." Sara pushed herself off the floor and wiped her hands on her pants as she knelt to pick up her plate. "I'll see you later, Chris. And thanks for the warning about the eggs, they looked pretty nasty."

"You're welcome, and they are." He said with a small mouthful. "Later." He waved his fork at her again as she headed for the door with her bagel in her hand. She walked back to JC's room and sat at the table flipping through the room service menu until JC got back an hour later.

"How'd it go?"

"Good." JC yawned and reached for his backpack. "Are you ready to go?"

"Now?"

"Yeah, we've gotta leave for the shoot. I do anyways; you don't have to if you don't want to. But I'm running late."

"Oh." Sara stood up quickly and brushed the crumbs off her lap. "Yeah, I'll go. It's okay?"

"Sure." JC nodded for the door as she stood there. "But seriously, we're late."

Sara grabbed her bag and followed him out the door and down the hall to where the security team was waiting with the others. They all rode down the elevator and pushed their way through a crowd of girls to the tour bus.

The bus took them less than 20 miles up the road to the base of a mountain, where they were again escorted into the lodge and dropped off beyond the reach of the fans that were gathered outside.

"Wow…" Sara whispered as she took in the rustic lodge, photography gear and the crowd of fans standing around outside.

"JC, Justin and you." The photographer shouted as the pack walked through the lodge. "Hit wardrobe, the other two come on over here."

"Is he talking to me?" Joey looked over his shoulder at Chris.

"I think so."

"Beautiful, so I'm 'you' today huh?" Joey rolled his eyes as they continued over to where the photographer was standing.

"Hi, I'm JC, this is Lance, Justin, Joey and Chris." JC introduced the guys around to the photographer, silently letting the older man know that they all had names. "And this…" He reached behind him for Sara's hand. "Is Sara."

"'Hi." She said softly as the photographer looked her over.

"Great, wonderful. Head out, you guys are already late." He ran his fingers through his graying hair and turned abruptly.

"This is gonna be fun." Justin mumbled under his breath as he sighed and followed Joey over to the wardrobe area.

"Are they all that nice?" Sara asked softly, watching JC shuffle his feet.

"Not all of them." He smiled slowly. "You might wanna keep out of his line of fire today. You know, just kinda off to the side. Any other time you could be over watching, but he seems like a prick."

"Sure, no problem." She shook her head and looked around for a quiet corner.

"I've gotta go do this stuff now, but I'll catch you after the shoot."

"Wait, when's your meeting with the doctor guy?"

"Um, three." JC glanced at his watch, then over at the photographer who was talking with Lance and Chris.

"And when should this be over?"

"Two. We'll grab lunch then." He cleared his throat and took his hands out of his pockets, "I've gotta go." He nodded toward the racks of clothes.

"Okay." She smiled and waved slightly as he trotted over to the others. She slid over to the far wall and sunk into a warm and cozy overstuffed chair. The fireplace was directly across from her and it heated up the entire lodge. She tucked her feet up under her and watched from a distance as the photographer shouted orders and the guys followed. None of them spoke back or looked her way, but she could tell they were less than pleased to be talked to like children.

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

Sara stood up after sitting in one position for an hour, and stretched her back. "Hey, uh, Lonnie right?" She asked the security guard who had slowly been moving close r and closer to the fireplace.

"Yeah." He said with his deep scratchy voice.

"Do you uh… can I go out to the bus, or is that…?"

"You wanna go out to the bus?" He gave her a half smile and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Am I allowed?"

"Well I don’t know." Lonnie gave her a look of concentration; "Do you have a pass?"

"Yeah, yeah, I have it right here." She quickly pulled it out from her pocket and blushed.

"Nah, I'm just foolin with you." He laughed softly and patted her back; "You're cool. You wanna go out to the bus you just let me know, I'll take you out and make sure you make it there in one piece."

Sara laughed nervously and tucked the badge back in her pocket, "Yeah, I'd like that. They've got another hour or so and I could use a nap."

"You got it." He placed his hand on the center of her back and walked with her toward the door.

JC watched from his position on the bearskin rug as Sara left the lodge with Lonnie. He kept a watchful eye on her as they crossed the small parking lot and boarded the bus.

"If you wanna hang out with your girlfriend, say the word. I can get BBMak in here in 15 minutes." The photographer frowned and adjusted his camera settings. JC sighed and tried not to roll his eyes as he turned his attention back to his task at hand. "Okay, Justin, up front. You, stand by the edge there and look over your shoulder. No, your other shoulder. Hello? Your right shoulder."

Joey grudgingly looked over his right shoulder as he stood at the edge of the rug.

"And you, can you get down on one knee facing the door?"

Chris stared at the photographer for a second before dropping to one knee and turning to face Joey, "Don't speak, I know just what you're saying…" He sang softly.

Lance was standing close enough to hear and laughed softly, "Knock it off Chris."

"Well…?" Chris nodded up at JC and Justin standing back to back right in front f the camera. "All they're gonna see of me is my ass in the corner of the picture."

"Your ass and my elbow." Lance mumbled with a soft laugh.

"Exactly." Chris laughed and shook his head.

"What?" Joey turned around.

"Don't speak." Chris said softly as he turned to face the door as instructed.

"I didn't even say anything." Joey frowned at Lance.

"Nevermind." Lance shook his head and looked over his left shoulder as he had been instructed.

More than an hour later JC nervously looked at his watch and cringed, "I've gotta go man, I'm late." He said to the photographer as he kicked his dress shoes off.

"We've got one more set." He argued.

"I'm late for my doctors appointment already. You've got enough there, you should be able to find something." JC grumbled and headed for the racks. He quickly changed back into his warm up outfit and ducked out the back with his security team in tow. It was time for him to meet with Mark Matthews.

The others stood around for a minute waiting to see what would happen next, and when the photographer didn't say anything, they too went to change. "Dude. I'm so hungry, I could eat my shirt." Justin complained softly.

"Me too." Lance's stomach growled as he pulled his t-shirt over his head. "DO they have a food place here?"

"There's a restaurant up front." Chris nodded as his mouth began to water, "Shit what time is it?"

"Almost three." Lance tapped his watch. "Way past lunch time."

"My money's on the bus." Justin frowned.

"Mine too."

"Okay, let's run out there real quick, then come back and eat." Justin tucked his shirt in and grabbed his sweatshirt off the top of the rack.

"Lunch wasn't included in the deal?" Joey laughed.

"Who do you think you are? Mr. Superstar?" Justin laughed and led the pack out to the bus. They stopped with their guards and signed a few autographs on the way out as girls snapped pictures left and right. Justin made it to the bus first and hopped up the three steps into the little living room.

Sara looked up as the door opened and blushed quickly as Justin appeared. She quickly became engrossed in her magazine as Justin banged around in the bunks looking for his wallet. "Shit… where are my jeans?" He mumbled to himself. She heard several more bumps and zips before he emerged from behind the curtain with his wallet in his hand.

Justin stopped at the top of the little steps and drummed his fingers on the wood paneling. "Do you uh, want to come with us?" Justin asked softly as Sara flipped a page in the magazine.

She looked up at him and gave him a cautious smile, "Come with you?"

"We’re um, we’re going up to the lodge restaurant to get something to eat." Justin nervously shifted his feet and concentrated on the string hanging from the hem of his t-shirt.

"Justin! Let’s go." Joey shouted from outside.

"Thank you, but I don’t think…" Sara let the sentence trail off as Joey began to chant "let’s go, let’s go".

"Nah, come with us." Justin smiled uneasily and ran his fingers through his crazy hair.

"I… okay." Sara gave in as her stomach rumbled. She dropped her magazine on the couch beside her folded up blanket and grabbed JC’s sweatshirt off the counter, then followed Justin down the steps.

"Sara’s coming with us." Justin said as she stepped off the bus behind him. Joey stopped chanting and turned quickly, walking wordlessly toward the lodge.

"What’s JC up to?" Lance asked as he, Sara and Justin followed Joey.

"He um… Tom brought Mark Matthews back out to talk with JC, so they’re um, they’re meeting this afternoon." Sara explained softly.

"The doctor guy?" Lance asked.

"Yeah." Sara nodded and forced a smile. "I guess Tom just wanted to cover his butt and call in a professional."

"That’s understandable." Justin nodded and tried to smile reassuringly. "How do you think he’s doing?"

"JC? I think he’s going good." She nodded and followed Lance through the door.

"He's not… you know, upset or anything?" Lance asked softly.

Sara thought for a minute, then shook her head, "I don’t think so. He hasn't said anything."

"Have you asked?" Justin fell into step beside her.

"Have you?" She retorted. He kept quiet as they walked through the lodge to the restaurant, "I'm sorry." She said softly, "No, I haven't asked. But he usually tells me if he's upset. He's seemed pretty happy actually, for the most part."

"Last night…?"

"Yeah, that was rough, but that was good for him. He… he thought opening up to you would be the hardest, but he did it. I was really proud of him." Sara smiled and sat beside Chris.

"Yeah…" Justin said softly.

"And I'm proud of you for asking him." She added as an afterthought.

"Thanks." Justin smiled shyly.

"Three down… one to go." Sara thought to herself with a smile. She cast a worried glance at Joey, and desperately hoped that he'd grow to understand.

The lunch passed uneventfully with Joey remaining silent and the others talking candidly about the miserable photo shoot. JC showed up as they were wrapping up and heading for the venue, so they all rode over together on the bus.

Sara made herself comfortable on the bus and turned on one of the DVD's Chris had bought, yet another fun and exciting night on the bus for her.

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

"Hey Jace, how’s it going?" Joey asked during a water break in their soundcheck.

"It’s good." JC said, slightly out of breath. He sat heavily on the edge of the stage and leaned back on his arms.

"Really?" Joey asked a second later as he sat beside JC.

JC smiled and realized what Joey was asking, "Yeah." He nodded slowly. "I’m doing a lot better."

"Cool." Joey said softly with a nod. He looked out over the empty seats and sighed, "You’d tell me if something was up, right? I mean, if I asked?"

"Yeah." JC nodded with a smile.

"Cool." Joey cleared his throat and ran his fingers through his hair. "And Sara… she’s helping?"

"Yep."

"’Cool."

"You know Joe… you don’t have to like her." JC said after a minute. "That’s okay with me. I know that you’re still, you know, there for me and stuff."

"Yeah. I am. Anytime man."

"I know." JC nodded as Joey looked over and met his eye. "It’s cool."

"So you don’t… you know." Joey nodded at JC’s bare arms.

"Nope." JC shook his head. "Well, I haven’t. Not in a while. Not since Sara got here."

"What if… what will happen when she leaves?" Joey asked cautiously.

"I don’t know." JC answered honestly. "I think I’ll be okay, I mean… she’s not physically stopping me or anything. But Joey you just… you never know. I don’t want to cut myself anymore, but…" He shrugged and let his voice trail off at the end.

"Well hey, just tell me if you ever feel like doing it again, I’ll uh, I’ll help you out." Joey said softly. JC nodded in response as he continued, "Even if I’m the one that put you there. Or whatever."

"Thanks Joe."

"You’re welcome man." He held out his closed fist to JC, who hit it with his own and smiled. Joey pulled him in for a quick hug, then jumped to his feet, "Let’s go get some grub before the little piggies eat it all." He smiled as JC jumped up beside him, and they walked off stage together.

 

 On to the next part…

 

Copyright 2001 Amy Lynn