For three weeks Paige stared at the scratch piece of paper in her wallet.  Each day that passed she was sure he'd forget who she was, so what was the point of her calling?  But with each day she felt more and more like she should call him, just to touch base.  He was the first person she'd really talked to since Travis died who she felt comfortable with.  The counselors at the Donor Foundation and the people she'd met there helped, but Lance felt more like a 'friend' after only a couple hours, than any of them had in a year.

            Paige held a quarter in her hand and rolled it between her fingers as she watched Hope try to get up on all fours in the middle of her blanket on the floor.  "Heads I call, tails I throw it away."  She whispered to herself.  Letting fate decide was the best way to go about it, that way she didn't have to make the decision.

            Without giving herself the chance to change her mind, she tossed the coin in the air and caught it expertly in her right hand.  She slapped it down on the table then slowly raised her hand.  Heads.  Paige sighed and reached for the cordless phone on the counter in the kitchen, then sat on the couch to watch Hope's crawling progress.  She dialed the number from the scratch paper and waited as it rang in her ear.

            "Hello?"  Lance asked with an exasperated sigh.  He'd just spent the morning on his cell phone and was looking forward to five minutes of peace before they got to their next stop of the day.

            "H-hi, may I please speak to Lance?"  Paige asked softly.

            "Who's calling?"  The annoyance was clear in his voice.

            "This is uh, my name is Paige.  I uh - we met at a conference in Arizona a couple weeks ago and he asked me to call."  She blurted out as fast as she could.

            "Paige?"  Lance's face broke out into a wide smile as he sat back on the couch.  "I'm sorry, this is me.  What's up?"  The bus rambled on at sixty miles an hour as they headed for their next location.

            "Lance?"

            "Yeah."  He tugged at his bottom lip, yet another nervous habit he'd picked up along the way.  "Sorry, it's just been nuts around here today."

            "Oh, uh it's okay.  I was just calling to uh… well I don't know why I was calling."  She blushed and wished she could go back in time and make 'heads' be the 'don't call' option.

            "I'm glad you did."  Lance leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as his palms began to sweat uncharacteristically.  "How are you?"

            "I'm good."  She licked her lips and tapped her feet nervously.

            "How is your daughter?"

            "She's uh, she's good too.  She's starting to crawl and kind of pull herself up on things, so I've really got to keep an eye on her."

            "Yeah I bet."  Lance laughed softly as Joey sidestepped in front of him to get to the video games in the back.  "She's what?  Seven months old?"

            "Eight now."  Hope nodded.

            "Who's seven months old?  You got a kid we don't know about?"  Joey asked louder than necessary.

            "Shh."  Lance waved his hand at Joey to shut him up as he stood up and headed for the front of the bus.  "Sorry, that's Joey."

            "It's okay."

            "So what are you up to?"  He asked.

            "Not much."  She shook her head, thinking how lame she must sound.  "I just… I found your number today so I thought I'd call and say hi and see how you were and everything."

            "Ahh cool, well I'm doing good.  We're on our way to a lunch benefit thing right now so I've actually got a couple free minutes."

            "Hmm." 

            "So um, are you feeling better?  I know that when we were in Arizona you were kind of… you know."

            "Oh, no, yeah I'm feeling better.  It was just weird to be around all those people who had received organs, you know?  It's hard to explain, I mean I work with them all the time… it was just… well you don't care."  She laughed nervously.

            "I care."

            "I mean -”  She cut herself off.  "I'm just rambling, like I said, I'm not sure why I called."

            Lance smiled and tried not to laugh.  He was used to girls being nervous around him, but for a completely different reason.  "So what do you do that you work around donor recipients all the time?"

            "Well, that's not work really.  I volunteer for the Donor Foundation here in Flagstaff, so I'm there a lot.  I distribute fliers and things like that in my spare time.  But for a uh, for a job I work at the cable company.  I dispatch the technicians to different locations all day."

            "That's right, you told me about volunteering last time."  He blushed quickly then recovered, “So do you like your job?  The cable company I mean."

            Paige nodded.  "It's not terribly exciting, but it pays the rent."

            "And daycare too I'm sure."

            "Actually, my father-in-law watches Hope while I'm at work.  He's great with her."

            "Oh that's cool.  Its nice having your family nearby, huh?"  Lance made himself comfortable on the couch.

            "Yeah.  He's really all the family I have out here though.  My parents are in Utah still."  Paige said softly.  "Does your family live close?"

            "Not really.  While I'm out on the road no one is close, but when I'm home I've got my band mates and stuff nearby.  But as for family, most of them still live in Mississippi.  My parents and sister moved out to Florida when I was starting all of this, but I bought them a house back home a couple years ago, so yeah… that's where they live."

            "Are you close to them?"

            "Yeah, yeah totally."  Lance nodded.  "In fact, I'm closer to them now than I have ever been.  I can go visit them pretty much whenever I want, and I can bring them out to see me too, so it's nice."

            "The financial freedom must be nice."  Paige sighed wistfully.

            "Yeah, it's nice.  But I'd give it all up for some privacy and a life."  He laughed and shook his head.  "I mean, yeah I can buy lots of cars, but I can't go anywhere.  I can buy houses, but I'm basically locked inside the whole time.  I can take trips, but I can't go outside."  Lance ticked off the instances on his finger.  "Man, listen to me whine, poor me huh?"

            "It's okay."  Paige smiled.  "So, what have you been up to?"

            "Well… actually, I was in the hospital a couple weeks ago.  I broke a wire in my chest so they uh, the doctor had to go in and remove it."

            "Whoa."  Paige's jaw dropped slightly, “Are you okay?"

            "Yeah, yeah I'm fine.  The surgery wasn't that bad, I was in and out of that in like an hour or something.  But they kept me there for a day to keep an eye on everything.  It was more annoying than anything but I'm fine now."

            "How did uh, how did you break it?"  She didn't know why she felt randomly tongue tied around Lance.

            "Aww, I was just being stupid.  I picked a fight with Chris and we kind of got to horsing around… it got a little rough."

            "Boys will be boys, huh?"

            "Yeah, something like that."  Lance laughed as he blushed.  "It was my own fault."

            "Well I'm glad you're okay.  It'd be a shame to seriously hurt over something like that."  She blushed and sat back on her couch to keep an eye on Hope.

            "Yeah it would."

            "So what is the benefit thing you're going to?"  Paige asked with a sincere smile.

            Lance's mind drew an immediate blank, “Um…"  He tossed a spare pillow at JC's head to get his attention.  JC removed his headphones and turned around to glare at Lance, “What's the thing we're going to?"  Lance whispered loudly.

            "A benefit lunch."  JC grumbled.

            "For what?"

            "What?" 

            "What's it benefiting?"  Lance rolled his eyes.

            "That clean ocean thing for Nick."

            "Carter?"  Lance made a face.

            "Yeah."

            "For real?"

            JC sighed and put his headphones back on to block out the sound of Lance's voice.  Lance shook his head and turned back to the phone, “It's for a clean ocean foundation thing.  I don't know the name off the top of my head, but it's to… you know, keep the ocean's clean."

            "Oh, that's cool.  That's important."  Paige clenched her eyes closed and willed herself to stop talking.

            "Yeah."  Lance nodded and tried to think of something else they could talk about.  "So, uh…"  He wracked his brain, “Are you getting ready for Christmas?"

            "Well I -”

            "Or Hanukah?"  Lance added quickly.  He couldn't remember discussing religion before and he didn't want to just assume.

            "What?"

            "I don't know what you celebrate."  He said softly as his blush returned.

            "Christmas."  Paige laughed, glad that she wasn't the only nervous one.

            "Oh, okay."

            "Yes, we're starting to get ready.  It's only two weeks away, so we're… well I'm trying to get everything out of storage."  She nodded and picked at the strings of the cushion she was sitting on.

            "Do you have lots of decorations?"

            "Not really, I have some lights and stuff.  But I don't know if I'm going to be able to put them up.  I've never done it before and Jim… he uh, he can't really climb up on the ladder too well.  I think we'll just put up the inside decorations and everything."  Paige nodded.  "It'll be fun this year with Hope."  Painful memories of the year before without Travis threatened to overtake her happy thoughts, but she pushed them away quickly.

            "Yeah, she'll have a blast with all the toys and lights I'm sure."  Lance smiled and dropped his voice a notch.  "I get to go home in about a week then we're off for almost six weeks.  I love going home for Christmas; my parents always save the tree until I get there so I can help decorate it."

            "Wow, is your tour thing over?"

            Lance smiled at the phrase 'tour thing' and continued, “Kind of, this leg of it is.  We're going to stop for the holidays, then we'll be at the compound… that our manager’s house kind of, getting some stuff ready for our new album that we'll be recording during the next leg of the tour."  He sighed and tried not to tense up thinking about all the work that still had to be done.  "Then we'll be doing a lot more promo work for the second part of the tour, some TV spots and stuff.  Then finally we're back on stage on February first."

            "Wow, do you ever get time for yourself?"

            "Not really."  Lance shook his head and smiled.  He knew it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, but it was hard to project that in his voice when he never did get time to himself.  The bus pulled around a tight corner then slowed to a stop.  "Well hey Paige, it was really great to talk to you again.  We're at the place now though, so I've gotta go."

            "It was nice talking to you too."  She smiled and bit her lip.

            "I hope you can call again, this was nice."

            "Yeah, I'd like that.  Or you can call me, I mean… when you have time.  I know you're really busy and everything."  Her words fell into each other as she spoke as fast as she could.

            Lance laughed softly at her nervousness, if only she knew how nervous he was she might calm down a bit.  "That'd be great.  I uh, I really have to go right now though so can you call back and leave your number on my voicemail?"

            "Sure, I can do that."  She nodded.  "Have fun at your lunch."

            "Thanks."  Lance smiled broadly as Justin and Chris jumped off the bus and waited for him on the curb.  "I'll talk to you later, Paige."

            "B-bye."  She mumbled as he clicked his phone off.  Paige sighed and rolled her eyes as she hung up her phone as well, “Ugh!  Hope honey, you're mother has lost her mind."  She laughed at herself as she shook her head, then hit re-dial on the phone.  When Lance's recording came on she couldn't stop herself from smiling, “Hi Lance this is uh, Paige."  She cleared her throat.  "I… we just spoke a few minutes ago and… and anyway, I wanted to call and leave my number."  She rattled off her number, then said goodbye and set the phone back on the charger.

            Hope babbled in baby talk from the floor as she rocked back and forth on all fours.  Any day now she was going to master the art of crawling and walking, and Paige could not wait.  The teenager inside immediately began to count down to when Lance might call her back.  A sudden spark of anticipation coursed through her body and Paige smiled, it was good to be feeling again.

 

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

 

            It was almost two weeks before Lance was able to call Paige back, and he hoped she wouldn't think he'd forgotten about her.  He had no reason to worry though, when she answered the phone she sounded excited just to hear it was him.

            "Hi!"  Paige smiled, silently thrilled to hear another grown up's voice after spending the whole day alone with Hope.

            "Hi, I'm sorry it took so long to call, it's been crazy here wrapping up this leg of the tour and everything.  I've barely had time to catch my breath."  Lance signed and leaned back against his couch.  The floor in front of him was covered in wrapping paper, bags and tape.

            "Wow, when did you have time to shop?"  She asked as she stirred her hot chocolate on the TV tray beside her.  Hot chocolate with peppermint schnaaps warmed her up from the inside out as the temperature outside dropped.

            "I did it all last week.  I don't recommend that."  He yawned and checked his watch as the eleven o'clock news played silently on his big screen TV.  It was almost midnight and he wasn't even close to being finished wrapping the gifts.

            "Have you lost your mind?" 

            "Well it's not like I had a lot of free time before."  Lance smiled and pulled a stray piece of tape off of his jeans.

            "At least you didn't wait until Christmas Eve." 

            "True."  Lance laughed.  "But I may have to run back out tomorrow."

            "You're crazy."  She shook her head and smiled.

            "I know, but I don't know what I did with the picture frames I bought so I might need to go get some more."  Lance leaned his head back and smiled.  "I suppose you had all of your shopping done before Thanksgiving?"

            "Not quite."  Paige looked at the tiny pile of gifts on the floor by her feet, just waiting to be wrapped.  "I got most of them at the after Thanksgiving Day sales.  Then again, I don't have that many to buy."

            "Well hey, if you want anyone else to buy for I've got a list of people I can send to you."

            "No that's okay."  Paige laughed and slid to the floor from her couch.  "How's your chest?"  She asked out of nowhere.

            "My chest?"  Lance frowned and wracked his brain.  "Oh!  Oh my chest, yeah it's fine.  You mean the whole wire thing, right?"

            "Yeah."

            "Yeah that's fine.  They just made a little cut so that's already healed and everything.  It doesn't hurt or anything."  Lance rambled.  "I'm doing good."

            "Good."  Paige nodded and reached under the couch to pull the rolls of wrapping paper out to start her project.  "So uh… what are you uh… doing?  You're on a break right?"

            "Yeah."  Lance smiled.  "We're on a break until February first.  But we'll be working so it's not really a break.  We're just not touring."

            "Yeah, that's what you said.  That's cool."

            "Uh huh."  Lance pulled a book out of one of the many bags and cradled the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he cut a length of paper to fit it.

            "So are you at your parent’s house?"

            "No."  Lance shook his head and sighed.  "I was supposed to go there this week but some work stuff came up and I wasn't able to leave so I'm flying out tomorrow."

            "You're going to pack all the gifts?"

            "Yeah, well we have these big footlocker things for when we're touring so I'm just going to put them all in one of those and check it as luggage."

            "Will everything fit?" Paige laughed softly.

            "Yeah, most of what I got is small."  Lance folded the paper over and tore a piece of tape to hold it secure.  "It's gonna have to fit."  He laughed and shook his head.

            "I hope so."  Paige smiled.

            "Of course that means I have to stay up all night wrapping everything tonight."

            "You're wrapping?"

            "Yep."  Lance sighed and looked at the mess around him.  "I hate wrapping."  He added softly.  "You?"

            "I love wrapping."  She reached for the first gift box of clothes she bought for Hope and set it on the flat paper in front of her.  "That's what I'm doing right now too.  I always wait for the last minute."

            "It's not exactly the last minute."

            "It's the 22nd, that's last minute."

            "No, last minute would be if you were still wrapping in the car on the way over on Christmas."  Lance laughed.

            "Don't laugh, I've done that."  Paige smiled and took a sip of her hot chocolate.  They talked a while more as they wrapped their gifts in unison.  She told him the things she bought for Hope for Christmas and discussed her plans to go to her father-in-law's for Christmas Eve night.

            Lance tried not to yawn in her ear while they chatted, but it became harder and harder to stop himself.  When the last present was wrapped he leaned back on his arms and cracked his back as he rolled his shoulders.  Spending more than two hours on the phone had made his neck stiff and his shoulder numb.

            "I'd better let you go."  Lance said softly as she yawned for the second time in a minute.  "It's after two in the morning here and I'm sure it's getting late for you too."

            "Yeah."  She looked at the clock on her VCR for the first time and yawned.  "Did you finish your wrapping?"

            "Yep, the last one is done and ready to be put in the thing."  Lance carefully taped the nametag to the front and smoothed the edges down.  "Are you done?"

            "Yeah."  Paige nodded.  She had technically finished an hour before, but hadn't wanted to end the call just yet.

            "Cool, perfect timing then."  Lance smiled and yawned softly.  "Thanks for staying up with me to wrap presents."  He added softly.

            "Thank you for calling."

            "Merry Christmas Paige."

            She paused as tears filled her eyes, “Merry Christmas."  She whispered, to hide the shaking of her voice.  Lance said goodbye and she whispered a mumbled salutation back before she hung up the phone and covered her eyes to cry alone.  Christmas without Travis was going to be hard and with this being Hope’s first Christmas, Paige was that much more emotional.

            Hearing Lance’s deep and masculine voice wishing her a Merry Christmas triggered something in her that she didn’t know was missing.  The well wishes of someone that cared, not just a stranger or friendly saleswoman.  She quickly wiped her eyes and pushed herself off the floor to take her used mug to the kitchen.  Paige blew her nose on a napkin before returning to the living room to clean up the wrapping mess, then she went down the dark hall to her room to cry herself to sleep… again.

 

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

 

            The group spent much of their break actually working. They had TV and event appearances to help promote the second leg of their tour and to announce that they were going to be starting work on a new album in the coming year.  Inevitably the conversation turned to Lance and his operation, and they all asked how he was doing now that a year had passed.

            "I'm doing good."  Lance nodded.  "I mean, I'm healthy and everything."  He looked at the others and smiled, “How am I doing otherwise?"

            "Well, we cut him some slack 'cause he's a gimp."  Justin laughed and winked at Lance.  "He still can't dance, but that's nothing new.

            "I've never been able to dance."  Lance shook his head and looked back at the interviewer of the moment.  "I think we're all doing okay.  It was kinda weird there for a while but I… we're all getting used to it."

            "After a year you're just now getting used to it?"  The guy laughed and looked down the line at the others who nodded in agreement.

            "Yeah."  Chris leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.  "For the first couple months it was just shock and waiting for him to get better, then when he - when we all went out on the road he was like… better, but we didn't really get to see that so for us it was like he was still sick or something.  We had to get used to everything again.  It was weird."

            "We just had to beat each other up, then we were fine."  Joey laughed and the others followed, though they knew at the time it wasn't a laughing matter.

            "Really?  You guys beat each other up?  This whole 'friends' thing is just a façade?"

            "Yeah, we all hate each other."  Justin said as he thwapped Chris in the head and reached to put him in a headlock.

            "No, we're friends; we just have issues… like any other friendship."  JC shrugged and licked his lips as he looked down the row at Lance.  "Everything is cool."

            "Well that's good to hear."  The interviewer laughed and looked down at Justin and Chris who were still wrestling in their chairs.  "Do we have to worry about them?"  He smiled.

            Lance looked over his shoulder at them and shook his head, “No, they'll be kissing and making up in a minute."

            "Gross!"  Chris pushed Justin off of him.  "No kissing!  Lance!  Don't give him any ideas."  Chris stood up and moved his chair a few feet away, and with that the interview went on to their new album and what their fans could expect to hear.

 

            During their 'break' the guys spent hours at the compound working out tracks for their upcoming album that they'd begin recording on the road as they did the second leg of their seemingly never-ending tour.  Toward the end of January they were given an unprecedented three days off, a long weekend to end out their break.  They were on liberty from Friday morning until Sunday night and were due back at the compound bright and early on Monday morning.  They would have to wrap up whatever needed to be done to take the stage that Friday in Miami, kicking off the second leg of the tour.

            As soon as Lance got word that they would have several free days, he immediately thought of Paige.  They'd spoken several times on the phone when Lance got free moments between meetings, appearances, sleeping and running choreography.  With the time they spent on the phone Lance felt that they were really starting to become friends, but something was missing.

            He decided that they could find that missing 'something' if he could just see her again, face to face.  "I can't just say 'hey come out to Florida for two days so I can see you and see if you're really as great as the person I have in my mind'."  Lance mumbled to himself as he ran his thumb over the buttons on his phone.  He was standing outside of the compound at the top of the little pier that was built out over the water for the jet skis.

            "Lance!"  Chris shouted from the house, breaking his concentration.  "Chinese or Mex?"

            "Mex."  Lance shouted back.  If they were ordering in food, it was going to be a long night so he was in no hurry to get back inside.  He sighed, then pressed the button to dial Paige's home in Arizona, he'd make up his mind as to what he wanted to say when… and if… she answered.

            Six rings later Lance was almost ready to hang up when she suddenly picked up the phone,  "Don't hang up!  Hello?  Jim?"  From what Lance could hear on his end it sounded like she'd dropped something in her hurry to get to the phone.  "Dammit."  She grumbled before he had the chance to say anything.

            "Paige?"

            "Yeah, dammit, hang on a second."  Paige dropped the phone on the counter and reached for a towel.  She was ready to drop to her knees to mop up the spilled water when she realized that it wasn't Jim on the phone.  She stood up quickly and dropped the towel over the puddle,  "Hello?"

            "Hi."  Lance laughed out loud, his anxiety disappearing with the sound of her breath.

            "Lance?"

            "Yeah."  He leaned on the wooden railing as he dug the toe of his shoe into the soft dirt.

            "I'm sorry, I thought you were Jim.  I just made a huge mess, can you hang on for a minute?"  She asked apologetically.

            "Sure."

            "Or I can call you right back…"

            "No, that's okay.  I'll wait."  He smiled and tried to mentally picture her looking as frantic as she sounded.

            "Okay."  She dropped the phone again and went to work on the floor.  After two minutes of silence she picked the phone up and exhaled deeply,  "I'm sorry about that."

            "It's okay."  Lance laughed softly and took a few steps toward the house.  "What happened?"

            "I was getting ready to make ice so I filled three trays and was almost to the freezer when the phone rang and I've been waiting for Jim to call so I tried to balance the ice trays in one hand while I answered the phone and I… well lets just say I'd make a terrible waitress."

            "Oh man, so you've got ice everywhere?"

            "Water."  She shook her head.  "It's a mess.  And of course it's on my tile so its slippery and I just know I'm going to break my neck."  She sighed and sat at the dining room table.

            "Do you want me to let you go?" 

            "No… no I'm fine.  It's mostly mopped up now."  Paige smiled.  "So what's up?"

            "I uh… not much.  We're at the compound and I got a few minutes so I thought I'd call to see what you were up to."

            "I'm turning my kitchen into a wading pool."

            Lance laughed easily and mentally scolded himself for what he was about to do.  Lying was never a safe way to start a friendship.  He thought quickly then said, "Hey, I'm going to be out in Arizona next weekend…"  Lance tried to sound casual as his heart raced.  "I was wondering if uh, if you'd like to go grab coffee again.  Or something."

            "Oh."  Paige blushed and tried to process what he'd just said, “You're going to be in Arizona?"  She finally asked.

            "Yeah."

            "What for?"  She shook her head, there wasn't anything exciting enough around there to warrant a trip to Arizona.

            "We're uh, I'm doing a thing at the Grand Canyon."  He made it up as he went along.  "It's just this… this thing, you know?"

            "Oh.  Well uh, you know the Grand Canyon is like two hours from here."  Her palms began to sweat.  "But maybe you… if you wanted to meet in the middle or something I could probably do that."

            "I was actually thinking of driving down to Flagstaff."  Lance said quickly before he could chicken out.  Asking girls out had never been a problem before, but he felt pitifully out of practice at the moment.

            "You want to drive all the way down here?  Lance, you really don't have to."  Paige shook her head and opened a jar of applesauce to spoon some into Hope's little plastic bowl.

            "No, I know.  But I have the time while I'm there and I'd like to see you again.  I mean, we've talked on the phone a couple times and that's nice, but I've found out in the past that uh…"  He was going to dive bomb if he mentioned that long distance relationships didn't survive just over the phone.  They didn't have a relationship, and over the phone was appropriate for the friendship they had.  "It's hard to get to know someone when you can't see their expressions."  Lance dropped his hand over his eyes as he heard his own words echo down the phone line.  If there was a way to reach through space and snatch them from the airwaves, he would.

            Paige was quiet for a minute as she considered what he was asking.  It was nothing.  It was just coffee.  He wasn't moving in, he wasn't staying the night, he probably wouldn't even go to her house.  "I… sure, that'd be fine.  We can get coffee or something."  Paige said before she could change her mind.

            "Really?"  Lance sounded surprised as his eyebrows shot up.

            "Sure."  She laughed nervously, then took a deep breath.  "Why don't you uh… call me when you get to Arizona and we can arrange a time and place and everything like that."  Paige closed her eyes as her heart rate picked up.

            "Okay, yeah that'd be great."  Lance almost laughed with relief.  "Well I'd uh, I'd better get going.  We've still got work to do ant I think they're ordering dinner."

            "Okay."  Paige nodded though he couldn't see her.  "I'll talk to you later then."

            "Yeah, I'll see you soon."  Lance smiled as he hung up and dropped his phone on the couch beside him.  He would have sat there basking in the glory of having finally gotten the guts to make plans to see Paige again, but the noise from the house lured him back inside to finish up their nightly run through of the choreography.

 

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

 

            After putting in his appearances for the week, Lance packed up his backpack and headed for Arizona.  He would only be there overnight so he arranged his hotel and rental car himself.  Lonnie was there to accompany him to the hotel but after that he'd be on his own.

            Lance rode on the plane in first class beside Lonnie and listened to his walkman the whole flight.  He had gotten over his nervousness about flying, but going to see Paige caused the butterflies in his stomach to take off again.  Lance closed his eyes and rested his head against the window and thought about what he'd say when he got there.  They'd spent so many hours on the phone that he felt like he knew her, but at the same time he didn't know her as well as he would like to.

 

            When they got to Arizona Lance checked in at the hotel and left Lonnie there to hang out while he drove over to Paige's house alone.  "Page me when you get there."

            "I will."  Lance nodded.  He knew Lonnie was only doing his job, but it made him feel like a child to have to report in when he got to where he was going.  "I've got my phone on too."

            "Right on, leave it on, okay?"

            "I will."  Lance nodded again before unlocking his room and letting himself in.  He sat on the bed and took his cell phone from his pocket.  Paige’s number was stored in there, so he found it then dialed her direct from the hotel phone.

            "Hello?"  She answered, slightly out of breath.

            "Hi, Paige?"

            "Yes?"

            "It's Lance."

            "Oh hi!"  She laughed quickly, “I'm sorry, I was just out in the garage putting away the last of the Christmas decorations."  She explained.

            "It's like, the end of January."  Lance frowned, but laughed.

            "I know."  Paige smiled.  "So how have you been?"

            "Good, we've been really busy and everything.  It'll almost be relaxing to get back on tour."  He chuckled softly.  "How about you?"

            "I'm good.  I go on vacation in a couple weeks so I'm going to start making plans to go somewhere.  I was thinking about driving out to Disneyland or something during the week you know?  So it wouldn't be so crowded."

            "That sounds like fun, I'm sure Hope would like that."

            "Yeah."  Paige dropped herself onto one of her dining room chairs.  "So are you in Arizona now?  Have you done your thing?"

            "Yeah, but um, I'm in Flagstaff."

            "Wha - you… you are?"  Paige blushed and looked down at her dust covered jeans and stained sweatshirt.  Her cleaning clothes were always the dirtiest.  "When uh… when did you get here?"

            "I just checked in a couple minutes ago."

            "Wow… um, okay.  I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow."  She said lamely as she kicked off her shoes and pulled her scrunchie from her hair to get ready for her shower.  If he was in town now he would want to do something tonight and that didn't leave her much time to get cleaned up.

            "We got done sooner than I expected."  He hated lying to her, but explaining that he came out to Arizona just to see her was out of the question.

            "How long are you going to be here?"

            Lance hadn't thought about that, he wasn't expected back in Orlando until Monday morning and that was two whole days away.  "I don't know.  I'm kind of on my own here."

            "Hmm, okay."  Paige bit her lip and looked around the house.  It was picked up for the moment; she'd spent the better part of the morning working on it.  If she waited any longer Hope would be up and all of her cleaning would come undone.  "Would you like to do something now then?  That way you'll have some free time before you have to go."

            "Sure, I mean… I don't want to cut into your day or whatever, so if you've got plans or something we can do something later."

            "No, I don't have any plans.  I was just cleaning but I… I'm done."

            "Okay."  Lance smiled.  He never imagined he'd be nervous to see anyone, but butterflies were fluttering in his stomach.  "Well why don't I come and get you and we can go from there.  You know the area better than I do."  He laughed softly.

            "You - you want to come here?"  Paige creased her brow and thought for a second.

            "Well…"  Lance began.

            “No, yeah, that’s okay.”  Paige said quickly.  In her mind she was already calling Jim to see if he would watch Hope for a few hours so her and Lance could go grab something to drink at the local hole-in-the-wall coffee shop nearby.  “There’s this place called the Living Room, it’s uh… it’s not far from here.  Why don’t you come over and we can head over there and get some coffee and dessert.  They have the best chocolate kona cheesecake ever.”

            Lance was taken aback by her seemingly sudden interest.  “Yeah, okay.  That sounds good.”  He nodded and pulled the narrow drawer open on the nightstand to find the customary pad of paper and cheap pen.  “How do I get there?”

            “Where are you coming from?”

            “The Hilton on…”  He checked the hotel stationery,  “West Forest Meadows Street.”

            Paige raised her eyebrow, that was a nice hotel.  Then she caught herself, of course he’d be staying in a nice hotel; he was a huge popstar for crying out loud!  She gave him directions to her house from the hotel, which turned out to only be a few miles away.  “But uh, give me like an hour so I can clean up.”

            “I thought you were done cleaning?”  Lance smiled.

            “I meant me.  I look like a five foot dust bunny.”  She selfconciously ran her hands over her hair.  “I need to at least hop in the shower and change my clothes.”

            “Okay.”  Lance checked his watch; he could wait another hour.  “It’s a quarter to three right now, so why don’t I plan on getting there at like, four?  Is that okay?”

            “Sounds good.”  Paige looked down at her dirty pants again and cringed, she could definitely use a good twenty minutes under the hot water.  “I’ll uh, see you then.”

            “Yeah… I’ll see you then.”  Lance smiled and hung up, then fell backward on his bed as the alarm on his wrist beeped.  “Shit.”  He snapped back to reality and sat up to get into his backpack.  Lance reached into the bag blindly, pulled out the right pill case and poured three pills into his hand.  He sighed as he stood up and searched for the mini-fridge that had to be in the room somewhere.  When he found it he took a bottle of water out and swallowed the pills in his hand.

            The medicine routine was so deeply ingrained into Lance’s brain that he knew that if somehow he were rendered unconscious, he’d wake up on schedule and open his mouth instinctively.  With the medication taken, he lay across the bed and channel surfed for an hour.  It’d been so long since he was able to just flip through the channels, he’d forgotten about all the great cartoons that were on in the middle of the day.  He watched a half hour of Darkwing Duck before he stood up and went to the bathroom to get ready.

            Lance washed his hands then ran his dripping fingers through his hair to attempt to style it without looking like he was trying.  “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.”  He sang softly to his reflection as he put toothpaste on his brush and brushed his teeth.  When he was done he spit into the sink and wiped his mouth, then splashed cool water on his face before he slid his sunglasses into place.  The keys from the rental car were on the little table by the door so he grabbed them on his way out.

            He followed the directions she gave him and only managed to get lost once.  Rather than stop to get directions and risk getting recognized, he drove around in a circle until he found the street he was supposed to be on.  When he finally pulled up at her house he double checked the address twice then sat in the car for a minute, just looking at the outside.  It was a cute little  home with a gravel walkway and two short steps leading to the rounded top dark wood door.  The single car garage was on the left, and to the right of the door was a large window covered on the inside with vertical blinds.

            He smiled as he noticed the Christmas lights that had found their way up to the edge of the roof all the way around the front of the house.  Lance grabbed his cell phone off the seat beside him and called Lonnie to let him know he'd made it, then he stepped out of the car and crossed the grass to the front door.  He knocked softly, then took a step back and waited for Paige to open the door.  It was colder than Lance expected and his thin sweater didn't keep the cold air from giving him the chills.

            After what seemed like an eternity, she finally pulled the door open as she brushed her hair out of her eyes with a shy smile.  "Hi."  She sounded almost out of breath.

            “Hi.”  He smiled; she looked different than he remembered.  It was nothing that he could point to and say “your hair is different” but he knew it was something.   Lance stood on the step for a minute, shifting his weight from foot to foot.  The little voice inside his head kept repeating, “Be cool, be cool, be cool.”

            “I – I’m sorry, come on in.”  Paige blushed quickly as she held the door open for him as he stepped into her entryway and looked around.  Pictures were hung on the wall behind her in no real order.  Large frames, small frames, collages... it was all there.  “You’ve uh, you’ve got a big family.”  He nodded at the wall.

            “Not really.”  Paige shut the door and turned to look.  “Most of those are me when I was a kid, and Hope.”  She pointed to the newer looking prints at the end of the row.  A beautiful little girl smiled back with a toothless grin and a bright green hat hovering just above her big brown eyes.

            “She’s adorable.”  Lance said softly, trying not to stare at the pictures of the only other person on the wall beside Hope.  It had to be Travis... the tall, dark and handsome young man in the football uniform and the little boy sitting on a tricycle with Batman pajamas on.

            “And that’s my uh… my husband Travis.”  Paige reached up and gently touched the glass of one of his pictures.  She cleared her throat then continued quickly, “Then of course my parents and my little brother and my in-law’s up there.”  She smiled up at the pictures on top.

            “This is cool.  My grandma has a wall of pictures like this and I could spend hours just staring at it.”  Lance tore his eyes away from Paige’s senior picture and met her eye.  “I need to get some pictures for my house so when I have grandkids they’ll have something to look at.”  He laughed and shook his head.  “This is what you call being cool?”  He asked himself.

            “Yeah.”  She agreed softly.  “Listen, I uh… I was going to get my father-in-law to watch Hope so we could go grab coffee or uh, or whatever, but he’s not home.”

            “That’s okay.”  Lance shook his head.  “We can take her – “

            “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind just staying here.”  She interrupted him.

            “Oh.”  Lance tucked his hands into his pockets, “Yeah, no that’s fine.”

            “It’s just… you were saying you have to have security and I just… that doesn’t sound like something that’d be good for her, you know?”

            “The security?”

            “Needing it.”  She shook her head.  “I’m just being an overprotective mom I’m sure, but…”

            “No it’s okay.”  Lance smiled.  “I know what you mean.  My mom gets kind of edgy around it too.  I didn’t bring security with me though, so maybe it’s better that we stay in… just in case.”

            “Okay.”  She seemed relieved as they walked all the way into the living room.  “Do you want the grand tour?”

            “Sure.”  Lance nodded and looked around the little room.

            “Living room.”  She waved her arms around.  “Dining room slash kitchen over there, and down the hall we have two messy bedrooms and a bathroom.”

            “One bathroom?”

            “Yeah.”  Paige nodded.  “Hope’s not exactly a shower hog.”

            “True.”

            “The house was built in the 1940’s and I guess back then that was enough.”  She shrugged.  “I don’t know how a family of four could live here though, I’d go nuts.  But it’s perfect for us.”

            "So you just moved here?"  Lance asked as he looked around the tiny, but cozy house.

            "Yeah."  Paige nodded and wished she'd taken the time to vacuum.  "Well, like a year ago."  She noticed the boxes behind the couch.  "We had more stuff in the other house and I uh… I don't really have the room here."

            "You need to have a garage sale."  Lance laughed softly as he followed her to the narrow kitchen.

            "No."  She shook her head and frowned before she turned to the refrigerator.  "No, I can't do that."  Paige took a deep breath and pulled two sodas out.  "That's crazy isn't it?  I moved here to get away from all of the memories and everything.  I moved as far as I could from the place Travis and I lived… and now that I'm here I can't get rid of the little things."  She sighed and got glasses out of the cupboard.  "Sometimes I think I should have just stayed there."

            Lance wasn't sure what to say so he just nodded and paid closer attention to the dull linoleum tiles on the floor.  He coughed softly as he put his hands in his pockets and looked around at the high chair in the corner and the cereal hiding in the corner of the tray.

            Paige filled the cups with ice and soda then handed one to Lance, “You're right though, I should have a garage sale or something.  Not all of that is his stuff."  She added softly.

            "I'm sorry."  Lance bit his lip and took the drink.  "I don't always think before I talk."

            "It's okay."  Paige smiled up at him and set her drink on the kitchen table beside the chicken and cow salt and pepper shakers.  "It's just junk."

            "That's not what I meant."

            "I know."  Paige tried to laugh lightly.  "But it's true.  I've been here a year, it shouldn't be this cluttered."

            "My place is just as bad and I've lived there for a couple years."  He thought of the boxes piled in his guestroom filled with stuff he didn't know where to put.  "We're both pack rats, enough said.  Let's change the subject before I dig myself into a deeper hole."  He smiled sweetly and took a sip of the soda, “Is Hope here?"

            "Yeah, she's asleep."  Paige reached for a bottle on the far end of the table.  "She should actually -”  She stopped mid-sentence as her elbow hit the cup and spilled the contents across the table.  "Damn."  Paige blushed as she righted the cup.  The dark soda spread across the white and blue tablecloth as she tried to sop it up with a hand towel.  "Shit."  She shook her head and pulled the tablecloth off the table with the napkins and salt and pepper shaker, then wadded it up, “I need to go rinse this or it'll stain.  I'll be right back."

            "No problem."  Lance smiled.  "Do you need some help?"

            "No."  She sighed and shook her head.  "I've got it."

            "Okay."  Lance said softly as Paige took off down the short hall to the garage door at the end.  He stood up and carried the other cup to the kitchen where it wouldn't make a mess, then leaned against the counter to look around the petite house.  It was tidy but lived in and he smiled as he took in the pile of baby toys beside a parenting magazine on the mismatched end table in the living room.

            A baby's soft cry came from one of the rooms in the house and Lance looked around nervously.  "Paige?"  He asked as he headed down the hall in search of the laundry room.  "Paige?"  The baby talk and crying continued from behind a half-closed door as he walked by.

            Lance stopped in front of the door and peeked in carefully.  He was met with the unhappy face of a little girl standing in her crib.  "You must be Hope."  Lance whispered as she looked up and noticed him in the doorway.  She stopped crying almost immediately and held out her arms to him with a smile on her tear stained face.  Lance looked anxiously from Hope to the empty hall, then back, wishing that Paige would come back in and take care of the situation.

            "Hi."  He whispered as he pushed the door open quietly and took a few steps into the room.  "Hi Hope."  She babbled in baby talk then pinched up her face in a sad grimace.  "Oh no, don't cry.  It's okay…don't cry."  His palms began to sweat; he wasn't good with babies and didn't really know the first thing about them.  "Oh man… okay."  He walked over to her crib and placed his hands on the railing in front of her.  "Hi there.  Wow, look at all those toys in your crib, what are you crying for?"  He whispered with a smile as he bent his knees to get down to her level.

            Paige stood in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest as a small smile twitched at the corner of her mouth.  Lance knelt with his hands on the side of Hope's crib and his chin resting on the edge as she leaned over to go nose to nose with him.  As soon as their noses touched she giggled and leaned back to clap her hands.  Lance gasped audibly and made a surprised face, "You got me!  You bopped my nose!"  He laughed quietly in the shadowy darkness of her room.

            Hope grabbed the railing beside his hands and leaned in again as her eyes got wider and wider.  Lance imitated her surprised expression as she touched her nose to his; “You got me again!"  He whispered as he stood up straight.  "You're a cutie."  He reached into her crib and carefully ran his fingers through her satiny curls.  "You must have got these adorable curls from your daddy because your mommy's hair is super straight."  He laughed and continued to touch her soft hair as her tiny hands reached up and clasped onto his wrist.  She used that for leverage then began to climb the side of the crib to get out.  "Uh oh, I don't think you're supposed to be up.  I'm gonna get in trouble if you're supposed to be sleeping."  Lance whispered nervously as he tried to carefully set her back in the crib.

            She started to fuss then when she saw she wasn't going to get her way so he immediately picked her up and held her against his chest, “Okay, okay you can get up.  But if your mommy gets mad, it was all your idea."  He smiled and instinctively kissed her head, inhaling the sweet smell of baby lotion mixed with applesauce.

            "Busted."  Paige laughed from the doorway as Lance turned toward the door.

            Lance jumped as her voice startled him, then laughed.  "Uh oh Hope, we're in trouble."  He said to the little girl in his arms.  "She was making noise so I came in to see if she was okay."  Lance explained quickly.

            "That's okay, its about time for her to get up anyway."  Paige smiled and reached for Hope who clung to Lance's chest.

            "I've got her."  He said, noticing that she wasn't letting go.  "I uh… I think her diaper is wet though.  I mean, I'm no expert but it feels kinda… squishy or something down here."  He wiggled his hand by her bottom.

            "Well hey, whoever notices it gets to change it."  Paige laughed lightly and turned to walk down the hall.

            "That's not very fair.  I've never done it, I'm gonna need some back up or something."  Lance chuckled and followed her out to the small living room where he sat with Hope on his knee.

            "There's nothing to it."  Paige bent over the diaper bag in the corner and emerged with a fresh diaper and a container of wipes.  "Come here big girl, let's get you out of that soggy diaper."  She lifted Hope off of Lance's lap and laid her flat on the floor, much to Hope's dismay.  Her tiny face turned red as she began to cry and grab for Lance's feet just out of her reach.  "Oh stop it silly, I'm just going to change you.  Give me a second."  Paige shook her head and changed the offending diaper in record time.  As soon as she was done she reached for Hope's hands and pulled her to a sitting position, “There you go goofball, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

            Hope immediately rolled onto all fours and crawled to Lance's legs, which she then used to pull herself up.  "You don't like getting your diaper changed, do you?  I guess that's a good thing, your mom doesn't need to worry about you turning into a nudist or anything."  He laughed softly as he lifted the warm bundle onto his lap again.

            "She usually doesn't mind, but it looks like she'd rather hang out with you."

            "I have that affect on women."  Lance tried to look smug but ended up laughing instead.

            "Oh yeah?"  Paige blushed quickly as she stood up and carried the dirty diaper into the garage to throw it away in the big trash can out there.  He was right though; she was definitely affected by him the same way Hope was.  When he was within sight she just wanted to be close to him.

 

 

 

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Copyright İ 2002, Amy Lynn