"Heart of Mine"

by AmyK

The stage lights danced in front of Lance's eyes faster than usual, and the floor seemed to be moving upward as wind blew his hair across his eyes. He felt the microphone in his hand slip as his knees hit the stage with a resounding thud.

Panic squeezed his chest as he frantically looked around for someone to notice that he was no longer following the choreography of the song, which was when he realized the others had dropped to their knees as well… just as they had rehearsed. On the next beat all but Lance jumped to their feet and ran toward the catwalk off the center of the stage; Lance remained locked stationary in his position as the flashes of light and swirls of color clouded his vision.

"I can't die on stage." Was the first thing that came to mind. "But I can't move my legs." Was the next. Lance mentally pleaded with Chris to turn around to see that he wasn't a step behind him as usual, for JC to notice the missing bass voice, for Justin to suddenly 'know' something was wrong, as he'd been known to do.

But nothing happened, and nothing moved as Lance's lips turned cold and he could no longer support his body. He toppled over in slow motion and slammed his head against the coolness of the stage, as his hands lay useless at his sides. It seemed like an eternity for the others to sprint back up the catwalk and Lance was amazed that Joey made it to him before the tour medics.

"Lance! Lance!" Joey shouted as he waved at the crowd behind him to be quiet, as if the simple hand movement could silence their screams. He tore off his own in-ear monitor and tossed it aside, then reached for Lance's. The cords whipped out of the back of Lance's shirt as Joey fought with them to get the in-ear monitor off and away from his friend.

"Call 911!" Chris shouted off stage, repeating himself twice as he ran toward the security on the steps. "Call 911, Lance went down!" He yelled at the first person he saw, then he turned to run back out on stage to kneel beside his friend.

Two tour medics were now at Lance's side, afraid to move him without knowing what he had injured and how he came to be on the floor. They immediately strapped an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose as they waited for a backboard to transport him off the stage.

"Get him off the stage. Now!" JC shouted as he pointed toward the backstage area.

"Not until we get a backboard." The medic shook his head as a third man ran over with the bright red metal board. "Where are you hurt?" The medic shouted to be heard over the crowd.

Lance tried to talk but the only sound he could make was a tight gasping noise as he reached for his chest, trying desperately to claw his own shirt off. "Hurt." He managed as the fear registered in his eyes.

"Move him now." JC commanded, taking control of the situation like only he could. The three medics gently slid Lance onto the board as he looked around for a pair of eyes he recognized.

"Joe?" Lance cringed, his voice muffled by the continuous screaming of the fans and the thick plastic mask covering his mouth.

"Hey man, we're right here, we're coming with you." Chris leaned down and shouted in Lance's ear as the medics stood up and walked quickly off the stage where an ambulance was waiting at the loading bay.

"The show's not over man." One of the event coordinators said as JC ran off the stage a few feet behind the others.

"The hell it's not." JC seemed shocked at the man's response.

"You're contracted for two hours." He insisted.

"So sue us." JC gave him a look that said exactly where he could shove his contract and ran down the hall after Lance.

"Where are they taking him?" Justin asked as he watched Lance being loaded into the ambulance.

"The hospital." Johnny said as he stood nearby.

"What the hell happened?" Joey demanded.

"We've gotta go with him." Chris shook his head.

"Some asshole back there is shouting 'bout us finishing our show." JC shook his head.

"Show's over." Johnny shook his head. "Come on back guys, we need to talk."

"No, we need to go with Lance." Chris insisted and took a step toward the ambulance as it sped away from the open doors.

"Chris, now." Johnny said with a voice of authority. "Lonnie and Steve are going with Lance, his mom is on the next flight and we'll go over as soon as I tell you what's going on. Now get in here."

Johnny walked into the makeshift office and stood with his hands on the card table he was using for a desk. His cell phone and planner sat in the middle of the desk surrounded by a small stack of black and white photos of the group and a binder with their contractual information in it.

Joey, Chris, JC and Justin followed Johnny immediately and stood around the tiny table anxiously waiting to hear Johnny's news. The older man waited until everyone was inside, then he stepped to the door and loudly pulled it shut behind him.

"Lance has a heart condition called dilated cardio… uh cardiomyopathy." Johnny looked down at the notebook in front of him to refresh his memory. "He was diagnosed about a year ago and has been taking medication to treat it. What happened tonight wasn’t supposed to happen, things were supposed to get better with the medication." Johnny stopped and looked at the four remaining guys, "When Lance went home the other day, there was nothing wrong with his grandma. He had to go see his cardiologist."

"Did you know something was wrong?" Chris asked loudly. "Did he?"

"He knew something wasn’t right." Johnny said slowly. "That’s why he went to his doctor. They changed his medication."

"Is that why he collapsed?" Justin asked.

"I don’t know." Johnny repeated.

"What happened?"

"I don’t know for sure." Johnny shook his head. "The doctor said that a 'heart block' could happen, so that might be it. We’ll really have to wait and see."

"Fuck, is it serious?" JC asked as he ran his shaky hands through his sweat soaked hair.

"Yes." Johnny nodded.

"Why didn’t he say anything?" Chris demanded.

"We’ve been out there doing aerobics for five hours a day for the past three months, he should have said something." Justin shook his head.

"He thought he was getting better, he’s felt fine… great even in the last couple weeks until last Friday."

"Then what the fuck is this?"

"I don’t know." Johnny said softly.

"What are they gonna do?" Joey asked as he leaned against the door.

"I don’t know." He repeated the phrase of the evening.

"Well what the hell do you know?" JC stormed out of the room and slammed the door, narrowly missing Joey’s elbow.

Johnny cleared his throat and looked at the remaining three, "I’m going to go make an announcement to the fans, then we’re heading over to the hospital together."

"Okay." Chris nodded numbly.

"One way or another guys… Lance is gonna be okay. You know that."

"Yeah." Justin whispered, but he couldn’t get the image of Lance crumpled on the stage floor out of his mind. "Hey… what about his back or whatever… did he break anything?"

"No." Johnny shook his head. "The medics said it didn’t look like he’d broken any bones and the knock to the head wasn’t that bad."

"Can we just go now? Please?" Chris asked softly.

"Yeah." Johnny stood up and zipped his planner closed. "Round up JC and meet me at the North exit. We'll have vans back there for us in a minute." He brushed past the guys and turned left down the hall to go to the stage to make his announcement and get the security team ready to go.

"Dammit." Justin said under his breath as his hands began to shake. "Chris? Chris what if he dies man?"

"Shut up Justin." Chris bowed his head and shoved his hands in his pockets as he stomped toward the North exit.

"But really… what… what will we do?" Justin asked again as he trotted after Chris.

"Shut up Justin." Chris said as he dropped his voice a notch.

"It's something we've gotta think about though. He fucking collapsed on stage, his heart is whacked, he - "

"Justin! Shut. Up." Chris whirled around as the words echoed down the hall. "Stop fucking talking. Don't even open your mouth until - just don't." Chris turned on his heel and clenched his hands into fists as he headed for the exit.

"Dammit Justin." Joey sighed.

"What?! Oh come on Joe, this is for real." Justin pushed his hands into the pockets of his performance jacket to keep them from shaking.

"I know it is. Chris knows it is. But you saying it over and over isn't helping. Shut your yap and let's go." Joey passed Justin and tried not to stomp his feet. They were all riding on the edge and the last thing anyone needed was one of them flipping out. Justin had a knack for pushing them over that edge and right then they were all too close to even go there.

The remaining four guys rode over to the hospital in two separate vans with their entire security team and Johnny. Chris sat by the window and stared at the lights whipping by as they drove down the freeway while he chewed his thumbnail. His heart was racing in his chest and he could tell that he was barely hanging on. He'd had two panic attacks in his life and he felt the third one coming on as his breath quickened and cold sweat broke out on his forehead.

"You okay?" Joey asked softly as he leaned over to Chris.

"No." Chris' teeth began to chatter with anxiety, "Open the window."

Joey reached over Chris' lap and pried the window at his side open, "Are you gonna be sick?"

"No." Chris shook his head as the fresh air rushed in and covered his face, "I can't breathe."

"Chris can't breathe." Joey leaned into the front street. "Hurry it up!" Joey placed his hand on Chris' back and patted him like he was choking, "What's going on?"

"I… don't… know." Chris said between gulps of breath.

"You're having a panic attack." Joey said as he recognized Chris' reaction from the last time he had one. "You're gonna be okay man, just wait till we get to the hospital."

"Don't… need… it."

"I know you don't but when we get there you'll see Lance and it'll all be good, you've just gotta calm down. Take a deep breath."

"I… can't."

"Yeah you can, come on." Joey reassured Chris as they bumped down the freeway on the tail of the other van. "Breathe with me… in…." Joey demonstrated by taking a deep breath in through his nose. "Come on Chris, with me."

"Joe."

"You're just having a panic attack, you got freaked out, you're cool." Joey shook his head. "Take a deep breath now. I'm not messing around here."

Chris looked away from the open window long enough to catch Joey's eye. Once Joey had his attention he wasn't letting go, "You need to pull it together Chris. If the other guys see you lose it that'll be that. Now take a deep breath."

Chris stared at Joey as they inhaled in unison. Chris held the breath for a second then let it out through his mouth. They repeated the action several more times until they pulled into the emergency bay at the hospital. The security team in the van with them jumped out and told them to follow close behind.

"You okay now?" Joey asked as he jumped out and looked back at Chris.

"Yeah." Chris nodded and wiped his brow with his forearm. "Thanks."

"No problem." Joey nodded and slammed the door behind Chris. They walked into the hospital beside their security team and were immediately ushered to a small waiting room near the back of the emergency room.

"Who's having trouble breathing?" A man in aqua colored scrubs asked as he carried an oxygen tank at his side.

"No one." JC looked around the little room.

"Chris." One of the guards from his van said at the same time.

"I'm fine." Chris shook his head and held up his hand.

"You can't breathe?" JC asked quickly and looked prepared to pounce.

"He had a panic attack, he's fine." Joey stood up and stepped between JC and Chris. "He's okay." He turned to the man with the oxygen tank.

"Would you like me to have you checked out?" The man asked Chris.

"No, I'm okay." Chris shook his head again and sat down. "How's Lance?" The man looked from Chris to Johnny, "Answer me asshole, I'm the one asking you."

"Chris." Johnny said sharply before turning to the man, "We're all a little tense right now. Chris won't be needing any attention but if you could please have one of the emergency doctors or an attending or something come in and let us know how Lance is doing, we'd appreciate it."

"I'll see what I can do." He nodded, then ducked out of the room with the oxygen tank in tow. The room seemed to sigh deeply in unison as the door drifted shut behind them, leaving them in complete silence for the first time that night.

Joey reached for a magazine on the little table and tucked one of his legs up under him so he could pick at the sequined cuff of his performance jeans while he mindlessly flipped through the pages. Justin stood with his back against the wall and his chin dropped to his chest. He drummed his fingers on his elbows as he crossed his arms and tapped his foot against the table beside him.

"Is Justin okay?" Johnny asked softly.

"Yeah." JC nodded.

"Yeah?" Johnny looked on doubtfully, "I don't think I like this separation, right now you guys need to be together."

"He needs a few minutes man, just let him go. Lance's heart just freaked out on him and as far as anyone knows he could be dead, you're lucky we're just standing here when all we really want to do is climb the walls and demand answers." JC bit his lip and dropped himself in a chair across from Joey.

The door opened slowly and a doctor in a white jacket leaned into the room, "Mr. Wright?" He scanned the room, taking in the four young men in performance gear and a handful of security guards.

"Yes." Johnny turned around suddenly with his planner under his arm.

"Can you please come with me?"

"Yeah."

"Wait." Chris jumped up, "Wait, what's going on?"

"I'm going to go find out." Johnny said as he tried to keep Chris calm.

"No, we need to go. We need to know too." Chris insisted.

"I'll come back as soon as I know anything and let you all know." Johnny nodded.

"Is he here?" Chris asked the doctor. "Is Lance here? Is he okay?"

"He asked for Mr. Wright." The doctor nodded and set everyone's mind at ease. If Lance was asking for someone, he must be at least somewhat okay.

"I'll be right back." Johnny said as he stepped out the door, leaving the others in the room to fend for themselves.

The boys stared at each other in a cold silence, one of them was missing and nothing felt right. Justin shuddered in the corner as a wave of nausea washed over him. The yellow and green funky tie-dye print of his shirt made his complexion look even paler than usual. "I hate this." He grumbled. No one responded, they all hated it too. "Why can't they just tell us what's wrong? We can handle it. They should just tell us what's going on. This is making me nuts."

"Johnny will fill us in as soon as he knows." JC said softly.

"Shit." Chris lowered himself into the chair again and rested his elbows on his knees as he took several deep breaths to try to calm himself.

It was almost twenty minutes later when the door opened slowly and they all looked up in perfect harmony, as if they had spent the time practicing. "Everyone awake?" Johnny asked as he skimmed the room.

"Where is he?" JC jumped up as Johnny stepped back into the private waiting room they'd been relegated to.

"He had a heart attack and right now they are doing a cardiac catheterization. Basically there was a partial blockage to his heart that they need to get rid of so the blood can flow freely. They're not sure if they'll have to do an angioplasty, I guess they'll have to see what the tests say."

"He's having heart surgery?" Chris asked as the blood rushed from his face.

"No." Johnny said quickly. "No, these are relatively simple procedures that are done all the time. The doctor said Lance is conscious and they'll only mildly sedate him for the procedure. He's going to be just fine."

"Just fine? He had a heart attack." Chris threw his hands in the air.

"Yes, he did. The doctors are taking excellent care of him and you'll be able to see him in the morning."

"When can he leave?" Justin asked from his chair by the door.

"He'll have to be observed over night." Johnny checked his watch, "But seeing as how it's already eleven I'm guessing they'll let him go tomorrow afternoon."

"Then what?"

"Then he'll go home to Mississippi to be with his parents for a couple days, maybe a week." Johnny nodded. "We'll be back on schedule in two weeks at the most."

"Can we see him?"

"In the morning, yes." Johnny nodded. "They're doing the procedure right now then they'll let him sleep."

"Okay." JC sighed with relief. "Two weeks?"

"If that." Johnny tucked his hands in the pockets of his slacks looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

"So what now?" Chris asked with a heavy sigh.

"We're going to go back to the hotel and we'll come back in the morning." Johnny tucked his planner under his arm.

"We're just going to leave him here?" Justin asked.

"His mom will be here shortly, and there's nothing that we can do right now. He's with the doctors right now and after that he'll probably be knocked out until the morning."

"Okay." JC nodded. "Then we're not leaving in the morning? On the bus I mean?"

"No." Johnny shook his head. "I'm going to call and change our appearances around to accommodate the change. We're going to have to reschedule the shows for the next couple days and put the others on alert just in case Lance isn't ready to come back."

"So where do we go?" Joey asked.

"Back to the hotel. In the morning I'll have a game plan as far as he rest of the week goes." Johnny stifled a yawn, it had been a long and emotional night. "Let's go." He herded the four boy's back out to the vans where they rode in silence across town to the hotel. It was after midnight when they finally made it to their rooms and collapsed onto their beds, though none of them were able to sleep.

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

A nurse came to see Lance shortly after five in the morning to help him sit up for the first time since the procedure, "You might feel a little lightheaded, that's normal."

"Okay." Lance yawned and let her adjust his bed to prop him up. "Whoooa, yeah." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, head rush." Lance whispered as he waited for the room to stop spinning. "How come I had to lay so flat? All they said was to lay still with this weight thing on my crotch but they didn't say why. Or… maybe they did and I just didn't hear them."

She laughed lightly, "You've got a tiny incision there in your groin into your artery there, so you've gotta keep pressure on it just like any other open wound." She smiled and adjusted his blanket around his hips as she removed the sandbag weight. "And you have to lay flat pretty much for the same reason, the less movement you have the better."

"I slept through most of it."

"You're an ideal patient." She tilted her head and looked at him, "Cough for me please."

"Huh?"

"I need you to cough for me. We don’t want you to get pneumonia from the fluid in your lungs." She smiled and tugged on his blanket. He obliged her by clearing his throat, then coughing normally into his hand. "Thank you, that sounds good." She continued to fuss with his sheets for a minute then stopped and looked up at him. "I suppose you'd like to go back to bed?"

"Yeah, if I can."

"Certainly." She nodded. "I'll put you down for a late breakfast, so no one will come in and wake you up at six thirty."

"Thanks." Lance nodded.

"Sleep tight, and try not to move around."

"Okay." Lance let his eyes drift closed as the nurse checked his heart monitor then left the room.

When Lance woke up several hours later his mom was at his bedside reading a flimsy paperback book by the light coming in through the window, "Well good morning." She smiled and set the book aside.

"Hey." Lance smiled and turned to face her.

"How do you feel honey?"

"I actually feel pretty good." Lance nodded. "A little sore ya know, but nothing major."

"I'm glad to hear it." She forced a smile. "You scared us last night kiddo, you really did." She scooted her chair closer to the bed and leaned to give him a kiss. "Johnny said you'd be coming home for a little while so Stacey's going to meet us there rather than come on out here."

"Mom… she doesn’t need to come out. All I'm going to be doing is sitting around wishing I was back out here with the guys."

"She wants to feel like she's helping, so don't complain." She smiled. "I haven't had a chance to talk to your doctor yet this morning, have they said anything?"

"No, I wasn't exactly paying attention last night and he hasn't come by today yet." Lance shook his head. "What'd they tell Johnny?"

"The same thing they told me last night, you had a heart attack so they did a cardiac catheter and angioplasty." She shrugged. "Will your doctor be able to tell us what caused this?"

"It could be anything." Lance shrugged. "Man, I'm starving."

"Oh, here." Diane leaned over and opened a bakery bag at her side. "I bought a muffin, but I didn't eat it. It's not exactly warm right now, but do you want it?"

"Can I have it?"

"I don't see why not."

"I'm starving, hand it over." Lance smiled and took the room temperature muffin. He was almost finished with it when a volunteer came in with his breakfast tray, "Ahh, thanks." Lance blushed and tried to hide his half-eaten breakfast.

"You're welcome." She smiled then ducked out of the room.

"You should probably eat a little bit of that so the doctors know you ate something." Diane pointed at the covered plate.

"Yeah." Lance nodded, but finished the chocolate chip muffin first. "Where are the guys?"

"Um, I think they're in the waiting room."

"Shit, have they been here all night? They better not have been."

"Lance…"

"That's the last thing they need, to hang out in a crappy waiting room all night long? I hope they had enough sense to go back to the hotel to sleep."

"They did go back to the hotel last night, but Johnny brought them back early this morning." His mom explained. "They're just worried about you."

"Do they know that I'm okay?"

"Yeah, I talked to them this morning." She nodded. "They know what happened."

"So they know it's not serious?"

"Lance honey, this is serious."

"I just mean that they know I'm alive right? That I'll get to go home today and that we'll be back out on the road in no time?"

"We're going to take it one day at a time." She said softly.

"Can the guys come in? I mean, if they're here?"

"Sure, I'll go get them." Diane stood up and headed for the door. She left Lance alone to nibble on his hospital breakfast, before sending Justin and Joey down to his room.

"Hey guys." Lance smiled.

"Dude, you look like shit." Joey smiled as he sat on the foot of the bed.

"Thanks, you too." Lance laughed lightly and looked up at Justin, "Where's Chris and JC?"

"They went back to the hotel about an hour ago to get some sleep." Joey explained. "They volunteered to do the appearances this afternoon so they need to not look like crap."

"They're making appearances?"

"Yeah, uh… you know MTV and stuff like that. Everyone at the show last night saw you collapse then the show was cancelled so you can imagine the rumors flying around out there right now. They're gonna hit the quick circuit to squash them before they get out of hand."

"Shit." Lance said under his breath as he shook his head. "I'm sorry about that guys."

"It's not like you planned it that way." Justin shook his head. "But I gotta tell you, I'm glad you're okay. You freaked us out last night."

"I freaked myself out."

"So you're okay though?" Joey asked.

"Yeah, pretty much. They put a wire thing up in my groin though and wiggled it up to my heart to - " Lance started to explain.

"Ugh, shut up." Justin and Joey cringed as they covered their ears. "I don't need to know about that." Joey made a face, then smiled.

"You guys are wimps."

"Yeah we are." Justin agreed as the door opened again.

The doctor walked in, looking official in his white lab coat and black slacks, "Hi Lance, I'm Dr. Carmichael, I took care of you last night." The doctor walked up to the bed with a file in his hand, "Are you feeling a little better?"

"Yeah, hi." Lance smiled from his bed as he pushed his breakfast tray out of the way.

"We'll see you later Lance." Justin waved as he and Joey ducked out the door.

"Tell Chris and JC thanks and stuff." Lance waved.

"We will." Joey nodded and let the door swing shut behind him.

The doctor checked his watch and said, "Are you done with that?"

"Yeah, I didn't eat much, my mom brought me a muffin thing. Is that okay?" Lance reached for the bed remote.

"That's perfectly fine, you can pretty much eat whatever you want, I know hospital food isn't that great." The doctor nodded. "I saw your mom out there in the waiting room this morning with some of your guards or friends, I'm not sure who they were."

"Yeah that's probably my manager and security." Lance nodded, "So I can go home today, right?"

Dr. Carmichael paused, "There's something I'd like to talk to you about first."

"Okay…?"

"Your heart is not in very good shape, but you knew that." Lance nodded. "I did the angioplasty last night and put in a stent, kind of a mesh tube, to hold the artery open like this." He demonstrated with his hands then shook his head, "It's a decent fix for now, but unless something is done you will continue to have these attacks, and they will most likely get worse."

"Okay." Lance nodded and for the first time actually felt scared.

"I'd like to talk to you about heart transplants." Dr. Carmichael said with a tone of certainty. He waited for a second to let that sink in, then continued, "I've gone over your cardiac records and I've spoken to your cardiologist in Florida, a Dr. Matson? She expects to see you when you get in this week."

"Yeah, I'll have my mom call her this afternoon to let her know when our flight comes in." Lance seemed distracted for a moment then he shook his head and ran his hand through his hair, "Wait, a heart transplant? That's what you're talking about? I was on stage yesterday, how can I need a heart transplant now?" He asked softly as the shock of what the doctor said hit him. The monitor to his side beeped regularly, letting him know his own heart was still working for the time being.

"With this condition, dilated cardiomyopathy, patients lead normal and healthy lives for the most part. Once it’s diagnosed the anticoagulant medication usually works to keep the blood clots down, which is really the big worry with this condition. But in your case… in your case Lance your heart managed to store up a clot that stuck to the inner lining of your heart, giving you one doozer of a heart attack when it broke free." His doctor shook his head. "The heart attack you had was bad, I’ve seen people die from that. You’re young and strong so you pulled through it fairly well. What I’m really worried about now is the future. You survived this one, but next time you may not be so lucky."

"But a transplant? Isn’t that a bit drastic?" The beeping beside him quickened and he felt his nervousness grow.

Dr. Carmichael seemed oblivious to the beeping as he held Lance's eye contact, "It’s going to be necessary. The sooner we can get you on the list, the better."

"Well I’ve gotta finish the tour."

"I’d like to put you in the queue for the National Recipient Listing."

"In the queue?"

"I'll put your name on the waiting list, and when you've made your decision and met the requirements, your doctor can call to activate you."

"W-waiting list? How long is that?"

"For heart transplants the wait is usually at least 12 months."

"So in the meantime I just keep taking the Coumadin and hope that it works?"

"For now? Yes." The doctor nodded. "I'm upping your dosage from 4mg a day to 6mg."

"I was just upped to four last week." Lance shook his head.

"Dr. Matson and I agree that you should be at six. The clotting in your heart should not have happened and we need to make absolutely certain it does not happen again. Of course the same precautions are in place. That means no fish, no green leafy vegetables, absolutely no aspirin, no alcohol."

Lance nodded, he’d been keeping away from those things for months, "What about the shows?"

Dr. Carmichael's brow creased for a second as he glanced over at the heart monitor, "As long as you feel okay, then keep doing them. The work out on the heart may help break up any forming clots. But…"

"But?"

"The added stress on your already maxed out heart muscles might make it worse."

"Shit… how do I know?"

"If you feel anything… anything at all that's off, stop immediately. Immediately." The doctor held up a flimsy piece of paper, "Have you seen this?"

"What is it?" Lance asked with an almost annoyed tone.

"It’s a picture of your heart before we went in and did the angioplasty." The doctor handed the paper to Lance. He could vaguely make out the outline of the heart muscles in the gray and black image.

"Okay?"

"This is a healthy heart." The doctor pulled out another piece of paper and placed it beside Lance’s picture on his little tray.

Lance looked closely at the pictures and reminded himself to breathe, "Shit…"

"A transplant is going to be necessary. It’s your call; of course, I can’t force you to do it. But what I can tell you is this… your heart is sick, it is not healthy and it is going to give out on you. Maybe not today, maybe not next week… but a lot sooner than you’d expect in a young man like yourself."

"I… I need time to think." Lance said softly as he traced the picture of his heart.

"Of course you do."

Lance was quiet for a second, "You’re not wrong?" He looked up at the doctor with tears in his eyes.

"No, I’m not." Dr. Carmichael shook his head. "But as always, I’d recommend a second opinion. I want you to be 100% comfortable with this decision. You should consult with Dr. Matson in Florida and talk to her yourself."

"Yeah."

"I'd like to have a social worker come and see you today so we can get this ball rolling. We've done most of the required tests as standard cardiac care, but we'll need to do a tissue typing and a chemistry panel. Those won't take long."

Lance sat there in shock still, "A social worker?"

"Yes, that's routine before anyone is activated on the transplant waiting list. They work with you and your cardiologist to talk about what you will be doing before, during and after the transplant. That is… if you decide to do this."

"No… no I want to do this." Lance said softly. "I have to."

"I'd like you to visit with the social worker and maybe your family."

"My mom's here." Lance looked at the picture of his heart again and closed his eyes. "When will the social worker be here?"

"I can have one here before noon." The doctor nodded. "If you meet with your doctor or simply decide that’s not going to be an option for you, please call the foundation and let them know to take you off the list." He handed Lance a small business card and frowned. "You’re in excellent health other than your heart though, you’ve definitely got a good chance."

"Thanks." Lance nodded, not exactly sure how he should respond. "So can Dr. Matson activate me as soon as I talk to her?"

"Yes, as soon as you've met with a social worker and your regular cardiologist." Dr. Carmichael nodded.

"Okay." Lance ran his tongue over his dry lips and cleared his throat as the full impact of what the doctor said hit him. "Can my mom come in?"

"Of course, I'll go send her in right now." Dr. Carmichael nodded. "Are you doing okay?" Lance nodded mutely and turned to stare out the window to hide the tears of fear in his eyes. "Have a nurse come and get me if you have any questions." Lance nodded again and took a shaky breath. "I'll go get your mom then, and a social worker will be by in a little bit."

"Okay." Lance whispered as the doctor left the room. Once alone Lance squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to cry in front of his mother. He was going to be fine, he had to be.

"Lance?" His mom asked as she walked into the room.

"Hey." Lance sighed and opened his watery eyes to look out the window. "I have to have surgery mom."

"I thought they did the angioplasty last night?"

"A transplant mom." Lance cringed as he crossed his arms over his chest, being careful of the IV in his arm.

Diane stood in shocked silence for a minute as she watched tears overflow from Lance's eyes and spill down his cheeks. "Baby…"

"I feel fine, how come I have to do this?" He turned to face her as he pulled the sheet up to wipe at his eyes. "I'm 21, this is nuts. I sing and dance all night long every night."

"Honey your heart is sick. You need a healthy heart so you can keep on singing and dancing. You're so active sweetie, your sick heart can't keep up."

"But a transplant? They're going to take my heart out. Take. It. Out." He enunciated each word carefully.

"And they're going to give you a new one." She fought back tears of her own. "We'll go home as soon as you can leave here and we'll go see Dr. Matson. We'll see what she has to say about this and go from there."

"They put me on the list already." Lance sighed and licked his lips as he rolled onto his side and looked out the window again. "It could be years."

"We've got to pray Lance, pray that you won't have to wait that long."

"A counselor is coming out to talk to us." Lance felt calmer when he was giving out facts. "She'll be here in a little bit to talk about the whole thing."

"Do you want me to go get the boys? I think Justin and Joey are still out there."

"No." Lance shook his head. He couldn't imagine seeing them right now, he'd assured them he was going to be fine but now he wasn't so sure and he didn't want them to worry any more than necessary.

"Do you want me to get Johnny? Or anyone?"

"No mom." Lance shook his head and took a deep breath. "I don't want anyone here right now except you." He reached up and wiped his eyes as his mother sat on the bed behind him. She set her hand on Lance's hip and patted him gently as he kept his eyes on the window in silence.

"You're going to be okay, angel." Diane whispered as she leaned down to kiss his shoulder. She closed her eyes and pictured him as a child, then in her mind she scooped him up and held him close, protecting him like only a mother could. He was a grown man now… but she still needed to make him feel safe in her arms. She rubbed his shoulder for a moment and whispered, "You're going to be okay."

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

The counselor arrived a short while later and spent an hour with Lance and his mom discussing the entire process of a heart transplant, from the waiting and preparing to the surgery and aftercare. It was all almost too much for Lance to take in. He nodded occasionally and asked a few questions, but he knew he'd have a hundred more as soon as the counselor left the room. "Will the surgery be in Florida?"

"Well Lance, with your schedule I guess that really depends." Joan, the counselor, said softly. "It's all really just a matter of timing and being in the right place at the right time. If a heart becomes available in Spokane, Washington and you're a match in Seattle, then the surgery will take place there."

"Well what if I'm in New York and there's a match in Spokane?" Lance asked.

"That pretty much comes down to a judgement call. We try to go for the recipient match that is closest to the location of the donor simply because the less time the heart has to spend in transport, the better things will go. However, if there are two matches and each are the same distance away then the doctors will discuss each case to see which is needed more and which patient is ready for the surgery."

"So… so I should stay in Florida?"

"You should do whatever you would normally do. Being in one state all of the time does not necessarily better your chances."

"Yeah but what if I'm on tour in Utah and there's a heart in Florida, then I'll be kicking myself in the butt."

"What if your friends are on tour in Utah and you're in Florida when a heart becomes available in Utah?" Joan questioned with a smile.

"Dammit I wish this was easy." Lance muttered as he rested his head in his hands.

"Nothing is going to be easy from here on out. But you've got to keep your goal in mind. The end result." Joan placed her hand on Lance's shoulder and smiled up at his mother.

"I know." Lance nodded and raised his head.

"Speaking of your friends…" Joan started as she inconspicuously checked her watch, "I know that your parents and your sister will be a great support structure, but if you go back out on the road you're going to need the support there as well."

"I'm going back out on the road." Lance looked up quickly.

"You're going to need support there." Joan said.

"I have support. The guys are my brothers, they'd lay in traffic for me. We'd all do that for each other." Lance sat back in his bed. "And Johnny… he's like my dad on the road."

"Are they here?"

"Johnny is." Diane nodded. "The boys went back to the hotel to get ready to leave."

"Lance, would it be alright if we brought Johnny in for this meeting as well? If he's going to be your father figure on the road he should be informed about what to expect." Joan said as she stood up to stretch her legs.

"Yeah… yeah go ahead and bring him back." Lance nodded and covered his mouth as he yawned. He was a lot more tired than he expected and his arms felt like they weighed a ton each.

Diane went to get Johnny from the waiting room, then they all talked for another hour in Lance's hospital room. Joan filled Johnny in on what was going on and what Lance would need over the next couple months, including regular doctors appointments and a single point of contact who could be reached at any hour in the event that a donor heart was located.

Johnny agreed to everything and made several notes in his planner so that he wouldn't forget. He asked some questions of his own regarding other precautions that could be taken to ensure Lance's safety on the tour. When Joan left a short while later Lance, Johnny and Diane all felt a little better about what to expect.

"I don't want to tell the guys." Lance said softly as the door closed behind Joan.

"You're going to need their support honey." Diane reached out and carefully patted Lance's arm.

"They'll freak out if I tell them I have to have a transplant. It's bad enough they've got to put up with this, they don't need to know."

"When the time comes you've gotta have their support." Johnny said softly.

"When the time comes then I'll tell them. They're worried enough just with this, I don't need them walking on eggshells around me all the time. You know they would Johnny. I just want things to be normal."

"Lance I think they should know what to expect."

"No." Lance shook his head forcefully, "They were in here this morning and I assured them I was going to be alright. Let them go with that… come on. I don't need them worrying about me all the time."

"They're going to find out sooner or later." Diane pointed out.

"I'll tell them when I have to. They can be mad at me for not telling them, I don't care about that. Right now though I just want to get back to normal. Johnny, I want to get back out on the road and just… just do it." Lance sighed and ran his hand through his hair with his good hand.

"That's your call Lance."

"I don't want them to know."

"Okay." He nodded.

"No one." Lance looked at his mom. "Don't tell Bev or Lynn or anyone like that. I don't want it to get back to the guys."

"Honey they all care about you like you were their own son."

"I know mom." Lance nodded. "You can tell them I still need their prayers or whatever and that my heart is still sick… just… just don't mention how serious it is, or that I need a transplant."

"You'll be discharged here in about an hour, then you're on your way home right?"

"Yeah." Lance nodded and looked at his mom. "For a couple days."

"For as long as you need." Johnny raised his eyebrow. "I'm serious, I don't want to hear you talking about coming back in two days."

"I really feel okay though Johnny, just tired."

"Well you go home and rest till you don't feel tired."

"That'll never happen." Lance laughed. "You've run us ragged for years now, we could sleep for weeks and still feel tired." He smiled and tried to keep the mood light in the shadow of the bleak news.

"Well then rest till you feel well enough to start back up… just don't rush yourself." Johnny patted Lance's back. "Make sure he takes it easy." He smiled up at Diane.

"He will." Diane gave Lance a motherly stern look then laughed. "Are you ready? You've got your things together?"

"I don't have anything." Lance looked around. "I think they cut my clothes off when they brought me in so I don't know where they ended up."

"I've got them, but they're pretty much trash. I'm having Glenda and Frankie get you some new stuff for the shows. They sent over some jeans and stuff for you to go home in."

"Okay." Lance nodded. "My necklace?" His hand went to his throat.

"I've got that babe." Diane patted her pocket.

"Then yeah, I'm ready to go. Can I change?"

"Sure, I'll get out of your hair. Give me a call when you get settled at home and keep me up to date with when you think you'll be ready to come back."

"I will."

Johnny frowned and stopped by the door, "You know Lance… we don't have to do this. I don't want it to sound like you have to come back. I know this is a huge deal for you and a lot to think about, I'm sure you're worried about the medical side of it and of course what's best for you. If at any time you want to call anything off just say the word."

"No, Johnny I want to go back out there."

"I know you do now. But if you start feeling bad or if you want to take a break or whatever that's not a problem. I'll cancel the tour, postpone dates, whatever you need."

"Dude Johnny, I don't want that. I want to get back to normal."

"I know that's what you want now, but if later - "

"If I need to later I'll let you know." Lance nodded.

"Alright kid. Take care of yourself."

"I will."

"Eat lots of your moms home cookin."

"I will." Lance laughed.

"And bring some back with you for us poor folks that are stuck eating craft services food." Johnny smiled and opened the door.

"I will." Lance smiled and reached for his mom's hand. "Tell the guys I'll call them tonight. I know they're busy right now."

"Yeah, I've got them jumping through hoops to clear up the rumors and field questions from fans."

"I'm gonna owe them dinner or something, aren't I?"

"Yep." Johnny laughed and opened the door. "Talk to you soon." He waved then shut the door behind him.

Lance and his mother sighed in unison, "I just want to go home." Lance said softly as he let his head drop back on the pillow.

"We're flying back tonight." Diane nodded, "Johnny helped set it all up so it's all taken care of."

"Okay." Lance yawned.

"This has been a busy day for you babe, why don't you take a little nap and I'll come back later?"

"You don't have to leave." Lance said quickly, in all honesty he didn't want to be left alone.

"Do you want me to stay?" Diane asked softly. Lance responded with a slight nod and a quiet sigh as he let his eyes close slowly. She pulled her chair around and held his hand as he took a little catnap before the doctor came back two hours later to discharge him.

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

Lance and his mother flew home and got settled in his old room while his sister and brother-in-law made dinner and picked up the house a little. The pampering and catering were fine for the first day when Lance really did feel too tired to move, but after that he made up his mind to fend for himself.

Much to his parent's dismay, he made his own bed and helped around the house, insisting that he didn't need help up and down the stairs. He was up and jogging by the third day and felt selfish for enjoying the time off of work.

Lance met with his cardiologist and she agreed that the heart transplant was going to be necessary. Dr. Matson activated Lance in the National Recipient Listing database and ran her own course of tests to see for herself just what was going on. "You're on 6mg of Coumadin, right?"

"Yeah." Lance nodded.

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine." He nodded again and looked down at his hands. "I just want to get back on the road and back to normal, you know?"

"I know what you mean." Dr. Matson smiled and patted his shoulder. "You'll be back to your real life soon enough, just take care of yourself, okay?"

"I will."

"I'm going to want to see you every four to six weeks just for a check up, okay?"

"Every four to six weeks?" He made a face.

"Until the transplant comes through, yes. That way you can check it with your tour people or whatever. It'll just be an outpatient thing, two hours here tops."

"So one whole day including travel time?"

"Yeah, about that. You tell me when you're going to be here and I'll accommodate you. This isn't anything that you want to take lightly so it's important to keep up to date here."

"I know, believe me I know."

"There will be a transplant counselor here as well to answer any questions you might have and to generally just make sure things are on the up and up."

"Okay." Lance sighed, sure that his head would explode if he was given any more information to absorb.

"Alright kiddo…" Dr. Matson stood up and extended her hand. "You look real good, so keep up whatever it is you're doing."

"Thanks."

"I'll see you in a couple weeks." She smiled as he ducked out into the hall where his mother was waiting.

"I'll call when I know what day and everything." Dr. Matson nodded and reached for the phone on her desk.

Lance filled his mom in on what he'd learned as they headed home, then he began to pack his bags… he was going home.

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

Lance beat everyone's guess and decided to only sit out for five days. They met up in Cleveland for their show on Saturday night and Lance did his best to act normal while everyone else changed their pace. He answered everyone's questions and threatened to get a shirt that had, "I feel fine thanks." printed across the chest.

Johnny seemed a little more relaxed and laid back before the show and even cut their sound check back a half hour giving the boys a little more free time in the afternoon. Lance took that opportunity to catch a few minutes of silence on the stage while the others headed for the makeshift basketball court or game room. He sat on the edge of the riser by the drum kit, then leaned back and closed his eyes, imagining the stadium full to capacity. Lance took several deep breaths and smiled, he was back in his comfort zone.

"Hey." JC said as he zoomed by Lance on a scooter.

Lance opened his eyes and raised his head, just who he wanted to talk to. "Hey, we're not altering the dance moves." Lance sat forward and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Yeah we are." JC shrugged.

"No. Come on JC, I just want to get back to normal." Lance shook his head and watched as JC zipped across the stage on Chris' razor scooter.

"Too bad." JC dragged his foot to stop and squinted up at Lance. "Wade's already spent like four days working on it, so we're doing it."

"How is that fair? The crowd has to miss out on the dancing because I've got problems?"

"Lance…" JC sighed and kicked off to zip across to the other side of the stage. "They don't come to see us dance. They wouldn't notice or care if we just stood on our heads the whole time." He made a U-turn on the far end and came back toward Lance. "Besides, we've only just started the tour practically, no one will notice if we kick it down a notch for the rest of the tour. They know you've had some health issues so it's not like they're gonna be shocked or anything. Besides, it's still a good show, you know Wade wouldn't jack it up completely."

"Can't I just tone it down myself and let you guys keep going?"

"No, because that - " JC jumped the scooter over a section of cable. " - would look stupid."

"Does Chris know you're goofing around on his scooter?" Lance asked a minute later.

"Do I care?" JC laughed and turned the scooter around.

"You know how protective he gets of his stuff." Lance smiled.

"So he needs to lighten up." JC zig zagged around the mic stands.

"I don't want to change the dance moves."

"I know you don't."

"I don't get a say in this?" Lance was trying to be the stubborn person he rarely was.

"Sure, you can have a say but the majority rules. Right now we're four to one so… well so you can 'not want to do it' all you want, we're changing it." JC dragged his foot to stop the scooter in front of Lance. "Relax, no one will notice and we'll all feel better."

"JC…" Lance started to complain.

"Lance, you had a heart attack on stage. A heart attack that by anyone's standards should have killed you. Dude, we don't want to lose you, not like that. Just let us alter the dance a little so we can feel like we're helping okay? Don't be a bitch just because things are changing and we don't want to cart you out of here in a body bag."

"Don't be morbid." Lance frowned.

JC lifted the scooter and turned it around to go back to the far end of the stage, "We could always just cancel the tour." JC smiled as he rode away from Lance, knowing the younger man couldn't see.

"Yeah right."

"That's the only other alternative." JC shrugged and zig zagged his way to the end of the stage where he turned around. "No one's complaining, we can all use the break. Why are you being difficult?"

Lance sighed, "I'm not."

"Yeah you are, you're being like a girl."

"Hey." Lance looked up sharply.

"Girly girly girly." JC shook his head. "Lance you're being a girl. Stop complaining and go with it."

"JC…" Lance made a last ditch effort to plead his case.

"That shit doesn't work with me." JC smiled and stopped in front of Lance again. "Are we done here?"

Lance sighed and looked over JC's head to the empty seats of the venue, "Yeah."

"No more complaining?"

"No more."

"You're gonna do the altered dances and be happy with it?"

Lance frowned and looked at JC, "Yeah."

"Good." JC laughed and kicked off to zoom off the stage on Chris' scooter. JC always had the last word when it came to arguing with Lance.

Lance smiled and watched as JC's image grew smaller the further away he got. Things were going to be fine and getting back to normal was a definite possibility.

 

Next...

 

Copyright 2001, Amy Lynn