Lance stayed close to the wall as he carried his bottle of water back toward the front of the conference room. He lowered his head slightly to avoid the press that was making itself more obvious as the conference starting time drew nearer. The note cards in his pocket poked at his behind as nervousness found its way into the pit of his stomach again, "This is nothing. This is a few hundred people. Last night you were in front of ten thousand people. This is nothing." He mentally challenged himself as he slowed his pace and took another deep breath.
His eyes scanned the crowd and stopped on a young lady standing against the wall just in front of him. She looked to be close to his age and he thought for a second that she was the reason he came. To meet other people, younger people, like himself who were going through what he was going through. Almost everyone else there were closer to his parents age which was fine, but didn't help Lance who was only looking for someone to relate to.
"Hi Paige?" Lance tilted his head to the side and read her nametag with a smile.
"Hi." She smiled and shook his hand as she pulled at her shirt that suddenly felt too small; those last ten pounds after having the baby just never seemed to budge. "Lance is it?"
"Yeah." He nodded and instinctively put his fingers on the nametag then blushed quickly. "Or speaker number two whichever you prefer." Lance tapped the water against his thigh as a nervous habit and smiled shyly. "Have you been to many of these?"
"No, not really. This is my second one. Kind of, I left early last time so I well I didnt get to stay for the whole thing." Paige shifted her weight from foot to foot.
"This is my first." Lance looked around nervously.
"And they roped you into speaking huh?" She smiled up at him and tucked her hair behind her ear as her uneasiness lessened.
"Yeah well I guess since Im in the public eye anyway they thought I wouldnt mind. And I dont really I guess, Im just not so great talking in front of a crowd you know? I can sing and dance and all that but talking is the hard part." He laughed and bit his lower lip, very conscious of the fact he was doing it. Biting his lip was a newfound habit that he hadnt been able to break.
"Oh!" Paiges eyes flew open in surprise. "Youre in that group! Oh man, I knew you were going to be here, I dont know why I didnt put two and two together." She could feel her cheeks turn pink as she apologized. "Im sorry, youre probably tired of the overly excited reactions, huh? All those teenage girls screaming after you?"
"I dont mind it." He laughed and shook his head.
"Well, Im sorry I didnt recognize you. My daughters not quite old enough to have a favorite band yet, and Ive pretty much been out of the loop for the last couple years." She looked down at her shoes and noticed that under his designer suit Lance was wearing a pair of well loved sneakers.
"Its okay." He nodded and looked toward the tiny stage that was set up on the far end of the room. "I dont mean to get personal on you all of a sudden, but uh how do you ask this without sticking your foot in your mouth?" Lance shuffled his feet and bit his lip again.
"What did I get?" She asked to ease his nervousness.
"Why is that so hard to ask?"
"Because it sounds horrible." Paige forced a smile.
"Im sorry "
"No its okay. Actually, Im not a recipient." A shadow fell across her face as the corner of her smile wobbled. "I uh my husband "
"Oh oh Im sorry." Lance blushed furiously as he reached out to touch her shoulder, "Im sorry, I didnt mean to upset you." A tear ran down her cheek as Lance looked around frantically. Hed come there to talk about the happiness and fullness of his life since he received his new heart and didnt even stop to think there would be donor families there. He was only hoping to meet others like him.
"No, I its okay." Paige insisted as she ducked away from his touch.
"Im really sorry, I shouldnt have even asked. That was rude." Lance stumbled on his words as the crowd began to take their seats around them. "Im really sorry Paige."
"Its okay." She hastily wiped at her eyes and forced a smile. "This is a day for recipients, I dont even know why Im here." She laughed shakily through her tears.
"Youre here because without you we wouldnt be." Lance said softly. "We owe a lot to you and families like you." Lance rested his hand on her shoulder and fought the urge to hug this woman hed never met. "Im glad youre here." He smiled.
"Thanks." She sniffed and dug in her purse for a kleenex.
"Here." Lance pulled a fresh pack out of his pocket and offered her one. "Gotta keep these handy, ya know?"
"Yeah, thanks." She half laughed again. "I guess I just wanted to hear some recipients stories you know? Maybe I can pretend theyre my husbands so Ill know " She wiped at her nose. "So that Ill know I did the right thing."
"You did the right thing." Lance smiled as a warm feeling washed over him and tingled in his chest.
"Will everyone please take their seats?" The announcer said into the microphone, her voice echoing through the hall.
"Wed better go." Paige blew her nose lightly and tried to smile up at Lance. "Thanks for the uh the kleenex."
"Youre welcome." Lance smiled and rubbed her shoulder. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Ill be fine." She nodded, though she didnt feel that sure.
"Are you staying for the lunch?" He asked as he looked toward the stage, his empty chair beside the other speakers stuck out like a sore thumb.
"I think so."
"Okay Ill see you then." He couldnt resist any longer; he pulled her in for the briefest of hugs, then trotted to the front of the conference room to take his seat as the Donor Foundations president gave a little speech.
Lance reached into his back pocket for the small index cards with his notes scribbled on them and read them over as the first speaker began her story about her transplant success story. Lance silently mouthed the words hed practiced over and over as he tried not to gesture with his hands so much. By the time the first speaker was done, Lances nerves were on end and he just wanted to get it over with.
"Our next speaker today is Lance Bass from the multi-platinum pop group, Nsync." The hostess introduced him. "We dont use last names here, but Lance has lead a public life and has come here today as a sort of celebrity spokesperson if you will. Lance ?"
"Thank you." He blushed as he stood beside her at the podium. They shook hands quickly then he looked out at the sea of unfamiliar faces. Facing a crowd was nothing new, but facing the crowd solo was terrifying. "Uh hi. Im Lance, like she said. I uh " He took a deep breath and let his eyes adjust after the flashes subsided. "I had a whole speech planned out but Im not sure if I can do it now, so Ill uh Ill just tell you my story." He glanced back at the hostess with a questioning look. "If I get too long winded just tell me to shut up."
She laughed and shook her head, waving him on to continue. Lance cleared his throat and squinted out at the crowd. "About two and a half years ago I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. I was told that it could be serious, but with the medication I was on and my active lifestyle, I should be okay. I did great for about ten months then I got a kind of flutter in my heart during tour rehearsals. Now uh keep in mind that a regular show consists of a two hour sound check with a little dancing, then a ninety minute to two hour show with running, dancing, jumping basically a two hour aerobic work out." He cleared his throat again and thought about pulling his cards out, "Um, so after the tour started I felt kind of fluttery in my chest but I didnt say anything. Im my own worst enemy there. After a week or so I finally said something and I was flown back to my cardiologist who upped my medications and put me on iron supplements. My third day back on the road after getting my new meds, I collapsed on stage in the middle of a show. The doctors told me later that a heart attack that size should have killed me, even if I was healthy. Given my condition, it should have killed me twice." He tried to smile, "The specialist I saw at the time was the first person to mention a heart transplant. I thought he was nuts, my heart condition wasnt that bad. I was in awesome shape, I could run a marathon, I could lift weights, I could stay up all night partying I was normal."
A ripple of laughter washed over the audience as Lance glanced around the crowd trying to locate someones face he could concentrate on. If he could just imagine himself talking to one person, he could get through the rest of the speech. "Then I was shown a picture of a healthy heart, and a picture of my heart and I knew I was in trouble. I was put on the waiting list and told to take it easy so we altered the concert a little bit to accommodate me, but kept up with the tour. Which is probably the best thing I could have done. Getting back to normal was the important part for me." He bit his lip for a second, then frowned and removed it from between his teeth, "Then I broke my toe. Or well I thought I did. I didnt want to go to the hospital; Id had it with hospitals at that point. But I was talked into it so there I was, in a random hospital in a random city having someone tape my toes together when a doctor rushed in and asked if I was James Lance Bass." He blushed quickly and smiled, "I told her I was and she literally jumped in the air. Fate and destiny stepped in that day God was looking out for me; we flipped to a parallel universe however you want to put it. A man in the same hospital was in a tragic accident and he wasnt expected to live. His family wanted to donate his organs, and guess who came up as a match?" Lance paused. "I couldnt believe it myself. Of all the cities weve played, of all the times Ive hurt myself, of all the hospitals I could have gone to it was that city, that toe that hospital, that changed my life forever. They ran the mans stats through the National Recipients List database and came up with a list of matches and their location, one of the nurses recognized my name from when she checked me in. They couldnt find a closer recipient and in a case like this, location means everything."
There was a commotion at the back of the conference room, as the door slammed shut behind someone. Lance coughed lightly into his hand and frowned, "I uh the surgery went well. I was out of the ICU in a matter of days and out of the hospital after only a couple weeks. The doctors who saw me during that time were amazed at how well I did, but given my age and health otherwise, they said they expected me to make a full recovery. I've had a couple scares since the surgery, and I still take my six dozen pills a day to fight rejection and infection but overall I feel better than I ever have. I feel like there's nothing I can't do and I can't wait to do it." He smiled nervously as he blushed and took a quick step back. He could finally relax and listen to the other speakers now that he'd gotten his job out of the way.
"I looked for you at the luncheon to apologize again, but I didnt see you." Lance said softly as he walked up to where Paige stood by the valet booth. The conference and lunch had just ended and the crowd of attendee's was flooding the front entrance of the hotel.
"No I I didnt feel right being there. I'm still too emotional I guess." She shook her head, though her red rimmed eyes gave her away.
"If theres if theres anything I can do, let me know." Lance said softly. He dug around in his pockets for the ballpoint pen hed taken from the lobby. "Here." He scribbled his room number on the back of one of his hotels pamphlets and handed it to her. "I know I need to brush up on my public speaking but Im a good listener."
"Thanks Lance but no." She shook her head and made no attempt to take the paper.
"Humor me." He folded it in half and stuck it in the outside pocket of her purse. "Maybe its too soon for you to be hearing the stories of recipients I cant even imagine how that must be for you."
"Its been a year." Paige said softly. "I should be fine."
"Its okay that youre not though." Again, Lance felt the overwhelming urge to hug her worries away.
"Its not okay." Paige shook her head. "I have to hold everything together so my our daughter doesnt see me lose it."
Lances brow creased into a worried frown, "Hey shes not here now. You might as well lose it." Paige glanced around the front drive of the hotel, "Okay well maybe not here." Lance smiled, "Im staying at that hotel " He nodded at the paper in her purse, "If youd like to come lose it over there thats fine with me. No one will know you and Im just the kind of person youll want to be mad at." Lance dropped his voice a notch, "As a donor recipient Ive always wondered how the donors families really felt about us. You could shed some light on that too."
"I dont think that would be a good idea." She shook her head as her car was brought around. "Id say things I didnt mean."
Lance shrugged, "You couldnt say anything I havent already thought myself " He squinted into the afternoon sun, "Its up to you though, Ill understand if you dont want to or whatever. But if you change your mind call me."
"Thanks." She nodded and opened the drivers side door. She waved once before she slid into the seat and slammed the heavy door behind her. Lance watched the tiny blue car pull out of the driveway and onto the main street as he sighed.
He wasnt expecting her to call, so when the phone rang that night he assumed it was his mother, "Things went fine mom." He sighed as he fit the phone between his shoulder and his ear.
"Im sorry, I must have the wrong number." Paige said quickly.
"Wait! Im sorry, I thought you were my mom. This is uh this is Lance." He sat up on the bed and ran his hand through his hair.
"Hi, this is Paige. We met today at the uh, thing at the conference?" She seemed more nervous than before.
"Of course." He smiled and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "Whats up?"
"Nothing." She shook her head. "I dont know why I called really." She added softly. Lance waited patiently; not sure what he should say either. "Im sorry I bothered you."
"No, its no bother." He insisted. "Listen, I know youre upset and Id say that I understand but I I really dont."
"No, you dont."
"But if you need someone to talk to or whatever, you can. And dont worry about hurting my feelings or offending me because really theres nothing you could say that I havent already asked myself a dozen times."
"Yelling at you wouldnt accomplish anything."
"No, but you might feel better." Lance smiled. "Come on, how often to you get people volunteering to let you yell at them?"
"Never." She sighed. "Which is why Im wondering why youre so anxious for me to do it."
Lance thought about it for a second, why did he want her to vent to him? "I guess I dont know. Im a good listener and in a way I guess I think that I that I almost deserve it."
"Yeah, maybe." He nodded. The silence that followed seemed almost comfortable to him, in a strange way. "Have you ever really talked to a recipient?"
"No." She said softly. "I don't know what I'd say."
"I've never talked to a donor family member either." He added softly. "Would you like to go get some coffee or something?" Lance asked after a moments thought. "I'm just sitting around here doing nothing."
"I uh " She hadn't even thought of going on a date since Travis died. "Don't over react Paige, it's just coffee." She thought to herself. "Yeah I'm not doing much, but I just I don't know."
"Are you staying in town?"
"I'm here at the Astin, there's a coffee shop attached to it kind of if you'd like to come by to talk or whatever."
"I don't know, I don't think there's anything to say really."
"I think you might be able to think of something." He smiled. "So far you're the only donor family member that's actually talked to me and I'm interested to hear your side of it."
"It's late." Paige came up with yet another excuse.
"Oh okay." Lance glanced at his watch and saw that it was barely seven. He blushed slightly as he realized she was gently trying to brush him off. But she called him
"Actually wait." She said suddenly. "I'd like to have some coffee." She cringed as she said it, realizing how stupid that must sound. "Coffee would be nice." She just couldn't stop herself from talking.
"Great." Lance smiled and tried not to laugh. "Do you know where the Astin is?"
"Yes." Paige nodded.
"Okay, well do you want to meet at the coffee shop thing in a half hour?"
She paused for a moment and Lance was afraid she'd hung up on him, "Sure. I'll see you in a half hour." She said softly before she hung up and released the breath she'd been holding since she picked up the phone.
Thirty minutes later Lance was sitting alone in a booth by the window of the café. He saw her walk up the little brick walkway and push the heavy glass doors open. "Hey." He said softly to get her attention.
She turned suddenly and saw him sitting with a menu open in front of him, "Hi." She licked her lips and slid into the booth across from him. She set her sweater over her purse in the corner of the booth then sighed and rested her elbows on the table top. "I'm sorry I'm late, my father-in-law called."
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, Hope, that's my uh, my daughter she was having trouble going to sleep so I had to walk him through it." Paige rolled her shoulders as she frowned slightly. "She's never spent the night away from me, so I think she's got a few objections."
"Sounds like it." Lance smiled and nodded as he watched her tuck her hair behind her ear and pick up her menu with a look of interest.
"Do you mind if I get something to eat? I didn't have time to grab anything on the way over."
"No, that's fine." Lance shook his head, "I think I'll get something too." He smiled down at the menu in front of him. They sat in silence for a few minutes while they flipped the pages, but for some reason Lance couldn't keep his eyes off of her hair. It was as if he were seeing dark blonde, straight, medium length hair for the first time. One stubborn section refused to stay behind her ear, so after a few times of tucking it back she just let it fall across her cheek as she read.
Lance took a moment before he realized he was staring. He shook his head quickly and placed his menu at the edge of the table at exactly the same time she did. They looked at each other for a moment and smiled as Paige nervously tapped her fingernails on the edge of the table, "So how old is your daughter?" Lance asked softly.
"She's seven months." She smiled at the thought of Hope's cherubic face.
"That's a fun age."
"Yeah." Paige laughed lightly, "Do you have kids?"
"Me?" Lance looked shocked for a second. "No, I uh I don't have any kids. I like 'em and everything, I just don't have any." He blushed, "I don't even have a steady girlfriend, nevermind a wife."
"You know that's not required to have kids anymore."
"For me it is." He raised his eyebrow at her and smiled. "I'm kind of old fashioned that way. I want to date someone, then marry them, then have kids in that order."
"But that's just me. I know it doesnt always happen that way, but if I had a choice that's how I'd want it." He cleared his throat quickly, "In a perfect world."
"Yeah, I know what you mean." She agreed. "I was brought up the same way I guess. I married my high school sweetheart then had a baby."
"That's cool." Lance cringed as he considered the circumstances. She'd married her high school sweetheart and had a daughter, but now that high school sweetheart was dead.
"Yeah I guess." She shrugged as she averted her eyes. "I didn't find out I was pregnant until after Travis died though, so it's kind of well its not exactly traditional."
"I'm sorry." Lance said softly after a moment's pause. He could not even imagine what she must have been feeling right then, but luckily the waiter came by to take their orders.
They ordered their food and drinks then sat back in the booth, trying to forget what they'd been talking about. Paige looked around uneasily and tapped her feet as she shivered slightly, "So where are you from? I know you must travel around a lot with your work and everything, but ?" She changed the subject.
"Well, I was born and raised in Mississippi, but now I live in Florida." Lance nodded. "Actually I live out of a suitcase on a bus mostly, but Florida is where I call home."
"I've never been there, do you like it?"
"Florida? Yeah, I love it." Lance nodded, "How about you?"
"I uh, I just moved to Flagstaff about a year ago, that's about two hours away."
"Have you ever been to one of these before?" Lance asked softly. "The conferences I mean."
"Oh, yeah. Well kind of. I tried to go to one in LA a while ago, but I well let's just say this time went better than last time." She shook her head slowly. "I tried to write it off as pregnancy hormones, but really it was just too soon. I don't know what I was thinking."
"Well I'm glad you decided to give it another try."
"Me too." She smiled and spun a packet of sugar on the table in front of her. "Third times a charm though, huh? Maybe next time I'll make it through the speakers."
"Aww see? You're already planning the third one." Lance cleared his throat and smiled.
"I do some volunteer work at the Donor Foundation, so I get the chance to go to just about any of them. Of course, location is an issue, this one worked out well though because I live so close."
"I think the next one is in Baltimore, and that's a little far to travel."
"Yeah it is." Lance laughed lightly and sighed. "Especially with a baby."
"You can say that again." Paige smiled and rolled her eyes. "She's so small but she needs like twice as much stuff as I do."
"I can imagine." Lance nodded. Their food arrived a minute later to distract them yet again. Lance pulled his messenger bag onto his lap and removed his daily pill sorter; "This is the only way I can keep track." He blushed as he shook his head with embarrassment.
"You take those every day?"
"Twice a day." Lance nodded then popped open the right section and shook the pills into his hand. "Whether I want to or not." He tried to joke as he lined them up and reached for his glass of water.
"Wow." She said under her breath as she silently counted the pills. There were almost a dozen of them varying from tiny green ones to huge white ones. "What happens if you forget?"
"It depends on which ones." He shrugged and put the first two pills in his mouth. He swallowed a mouthful of water and reached for the next two.
"What if you just forgot all of them?"
Lance swallowed again, then wiped his mouth, "If I forgot just once? I don't think anything terrible would happen. But I'm not going to try it." He smiled and put the three tiny pills in his mouth at the same time.
"Of course not." She watched carefully as he finished the rest of his pills, then the glass of water. "It's a lot of work for you, isn't it?"
"The pills?" He shrugged. "It's not that bad, I mean the alternative is kind of bleak."
"Dying." Lance met her eye over his plate of food. "If I didn't want to take the medication I wouldn't have gotten the heart. And if I stopped taking them now, I'd almost definitely die if not of infection then something else." He set his glass on the end of the table to be refilled then opened his napkin on his lap. "But it's worth it. I'm willing to do anything and everything to keep myself healthy. I can't just slouch this off, you know? I was dealt a crummy hand when I was born, but now it's my turn to make it good." He shrugged, "Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah, it does." Paige nodded and slumped in her seat as she picked at her food. She knew the donors didn't just get a free ride when they got a new organ, but she never really stopped to think of the discipline they had to go through just to keep themselves healthy. Seeing Lance's pill regime and how faithfully he talked about doing it helped her understand that just getting the new heart didn't make his life easier, if anything he had to pay more attention to his health than anyone else. He had to be that much more observant to changes in his body and the time of day he takes the pills. She had a hard enough time remembering to take a prescription twice a day for a week, she couldn't even imagine having her life depend on taking dozens of pills daily for the rest of her life.
They made small talk as they ate their dinner, then they ordered coffee and got comfortable in the booth. "So how old are you? If you don't mind me asking. I mean you just, well you look young so I was well I was just wondering."
"That's okay." Paige laughed lightly, "I'm 23. You?"
"I'm uh, I'm 22." Lance nodded as he tugged on his bottom lip.
Paige smiled politely then reached for a packet of sugar. She poured it into her coffee then meticulously folded the empty packet into halves. "What do you think you'd be doing right now if you hadn't gotten your heart?" Paige spoke so softly Lance had to strain to hear her.
He thought about that for a second and shrugged, "Honestly? I'm not sure if I'd even be alive. I hope so of course. If I was then I'd probably be " He thought again, "I honestly don't know. If I was feeling like I felt when they did the surgery then we probably would have toured last year instead of sitting out for me to recover, in which case we might be working on a new album right now."
"Are you touring right now?"
"Yeah." He coughed into his hand and clanked the spoon against the side of his mug. "They're in Salt Lake City right now, so I'm going to fly to Florida tomorrow for a check up, then on to Chicago for a show the next night."
"Wow, that's pretty busy."
"Yeah." Lance nodded and forced himself not to yawn. It was too early and he was having a nice time actually talking to someone. "But it's fun. This is like, normal life for me so it feels great to be back at it after being out of it for so long, you know?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I had a nice normal life too and I'm trying to get back to it too. I've been out of it for too long I think."
"I bet." Lance dropped his eyes to the grains of sugar that had spilled on the table and thought of how to change the subject. "Do you regret your decision?" He asked as he examined the cuticle of his little finger.
"Yes." She said without thinking. "No." Lance glanced up with his eyes and looked at her. "I just wish he was here."
Lance nodded uncomfortably and went back to picking at his nail, "But he was going to die whether or not you donated his organs, right?" He didn't realize how cold that sounded until the words escaped.
"Yes." She took a shaky breath, "But why? Its like he died so that other people could live. Thats what sucks, thats what Im not okay with." She'd wrestled with that thought since the day of the accident, and could not believe she was dredging it up again to a stranger. "I know that sounds irrational trust me I know."
"No one is saying that his life wasnt as important. His life was more important. God called him home and left his organs for people who desperately needed them." Lance sighed and fought with his own demons inside. How many times had he thought to himself that he was so selfish for taking someone away from someone else, just so he could live? As crazy as that sounded, that was a common thought in his mind.
"I know." She wiped at her eyes as her hand shook slightly. "And I know that if a liver or whatever would have saved him, or if something happened to Hope and she needed something I would pray for someone to donate their loved ones organs." She laughed nervously. "Im a hypocrite huh? Id take it but I wont give it?"
"I dont think so. You did give it and youve possibly saved several peoples lives." Lance smiled and scooted over so that he was sitting in the corner of his side of the booth. "Theres just a lot of emotional baggage that comes with it. Its all still fresh for you and for me." Lance nodded.
"Would you do it?"
"Donate your organs?"
"I I dont think Ill be able to because Im a recipient." Lance shook his head. "I never thought about that."
"But before? Would you have? If you were healthy? Or what about your parents? Or your wife or your brothers or sisters? Would you donate or offer theirs?"
Lance thought about it for a minute, "I I guess it would depend on what they wanted."
"What if they never told you and you had to make that decision?" Paige pulled her knees to her chest in the small booth.
"I dont know." Lance said softly. He shook is head and tried to conjure up the feelings of having to make that kind of decision. "Before all of this I dont know if I could have made that decision but now? Now Id donate." He nodded. "I know my family well enough to know that no matter what theyd want to help out others. But Im a bad person to ask. I know what its like to be on that waiting list to watch the months tick off just " He took a breath and bit his lip, "Just hoping for a heart to be available. If my making that decision for a family member could shorten someone else's wait Id do it in a heartbeat. No pun intended."
"Really." He nodded. "And if when I die they can use any of my other organs for anything, or for anyone... they can have them."
Paige nodded in silence and sighed; Of course he would but there's no way he could know what making that decision felt like.
They finished their coffee then stood up to leave as Lance took the bill and left it on the table with enough cash to cover it. "Here, how much was mine?" Paige reached for her wallet as they hit the door.
"Don't worry about it." Lance shook his head and held the door open.
"How much was it?"
"Nothing, don't worry about it."
"Lance, please." Paige took a ten out of her wallet and held it out to him.
"Seriously, don't worry about it. I asked you to come out here then I got you all upset, I should be paying you for coming." He laughed nervously. "It's my pleasure, really."
"You don't have to pay for my food."
"I'd like to."
"Lance." She sighed and tried to argue with this man she hardly knew. If she let him pay, that was one step closer to a 'date' than she wanted to be.
"If you're set on spending that money you can go back inside and leave it as a huge tip but I'm not taking it." He shoved his hands in his pockets as they stood by the door and argued.
"You already left a big tip, this is for my dinner."
"Save it." Lance shook his head and stared her down. "It's not like a couple bucks is going to break me. Let me spend it." He whispered as his breath turned into white puffs. He looked past her shoulder to the hotel entrance and sighed, "Did you park here or in the parking structure?"
"Over here." She reluctantly put the money back in her wallet as she pointed toward the right, away from the hotel.
"Okay." Lance nodded and followed her gaze. "Well hey, thanks for coming out here tonight and everything."
"Thanks for inviting me." Paige nodded. "I'm glad I came, it helped I think." She smiled and fidgeted with her keys in her hand. "You really made me think."
"Me too." Lance nodded. "I mean " He laughed nervously, "I just mean that you made me think too." He blushed in the darkness and hoped she couldn't tell.
"I'm sorry if I was defensive or whatever "
"Don't be." Lance shook his head and met her eye; "You have a right to be. You just don't have anyone to take it out on and that has to be frustrating."
"Yeah." She said softly as she sighed and averted her eyes. "I'd better go, it's late."
"Well here, let me walk you to your car."
"I'm okay." She insisted as she turned to go.
"I know you are but it's dark and I'd feel better if I knew you made it safe." Lance fell into step beside her and they walked in silence to where she was parked on the far side of the lot. "See? Now I'll be able to sleep knowing you made it to your car safely."
"Thank you." She smiled and unlocked the driver's door. He gallantly opened it for her and waited while she tossed her purse and sweater onto the passenger seat.
"I'll uh I'll see you later." Lance cleared his throat. "Not if you don't get her number you moron." He thought to himself.
"I'll see you later." She smiled and slid into the driver's seat.
Lance held the door open for a second as she put her key in the ignition and turned the car on, "Can I can I uh, call you sometime?" Lance asked almost shyly.
"I'm sorry, what?" Paige leaned out of the car to hear him better.
"I'd like to talk to you again, can I call you?"
"Oh." Paige stopped suddenly, taken aback. This was turning into what could possibly be defined as a first date.
"Or if you want I can leave you with my number, I just I had a really nice time tonight and I'd like to talk to you again if that's okay."
"No yeah that's okay I just, well I " She fumbled around for her purse for a pen and a scratch piece of paper. She scribbled on it then looked up at Lance, "What's your number?"
"Um, 321-555-4352. That's my cell phone so uh, if I'm not there go ahead and leave a message. I have it on just about all the time, but sometimes I'm working or uh " He realized she wouldn't care, "Or you know." He shrugged and cleared his throat as his bit his lip again, "Anyway. There you go."
"Thanks." She smiled at his uncomfortableness and swung the door open a little wider. "I'll talk to you later."
"Okay." Lance smiled hopefully and gently shut her door as she fastened her seatbelt. He took a step back as she backed out of the parking space and headed for the exit. His breath hung in the air as he made his way back to the hotel, not caring how cold it was outside. He'd just spent the evening with a girl for the first time since the operation, and he felt great.
Copyright © 2001, Amy Lynn