After appeasing Carter with a word for word, or nearly word for word, reenactment of her evening, Fiona felt much better about the whole thing.  Throughout their conversation Carter kept saying how much Wes liked her and things like that which made Fiona blush and be happier than she was the minute before.

            When they got home Fiona went to her room to play on the computer while Carter went to the kitchen to put the left overs away and to start a batch of break and bake cookies so they'd be ready when JC got there later that night.


            For the rest of the week Fiona would anxiously dive for the phone every time it rang, then she'd check the caller ID with her heart in her throat.  She never thought she'd be the kind to wait on pins and needles for a guy to call, but she found herself doing just that until Wednesday when Wes finally picked up the phone and dialed her number.

            As soon as she saw his name come up on the lit display she wanted to throw the phone down.  She waited until the third ring before she clicked it on and answered, "Hello?"

            "Hi, Fiona?  This is Wes."

            "Hi."  She smiled and tried to hear around the pounding of her pulse in her ears.

            "Hi."  He laughed nervously.  "How are you?"

            "I'm good, you?"

            "I'm good too."  He took a deep breath and exhaled into the phone.  "Is… are you busy?"

            "Me?  No."  Fiona shook her head and paced behind the sofa with a wide grin plastered on her face.  "What's up?"

            "Well actually, I know this is kind of last minute but I just found out about it and I thought you'd maybe like to go." He paused waiting for a response, then he realized he hadn't asked her anything.  "To uh… well remember my neighbors?  Cliff and Ken?"

            "Mm hmm."

            "Well their niece is in a play at the Children's Theater here in West Hollywood and I was calling to see if you'd like to go."

            "Oh.  Sure, yeah that sounds like fun."

            "It's tomorrow night though.  I mean, tomorrow is the last night and I kind of promised them that I would go before it was over."

            "Okay, no that's fine."

            "Are you sure?"


            "Okay, well great."  He sounded relieved.  "So how about if we grab dinner before?"

            "That would be great."  Fiona hated the way her voice sounded when she was nervous or excited, and right then she was both.

            "Have you been to Dolce Enoteca?"

            "No… not yet."

            "Do you want to go there for dinner?"

            "I… sure."

            "Okay cool, I'll go ahead and make reservations for six thirty tomorrow so we can eat before the play."

            "Okay."  Fiona pulled at her bottom lip and cleared her throat, "What uh… what play is it?"

            "The Secret Garden."  Wes replied softly, writing the dinner plans in his day planner.

            Fiona's smile grew and she let out the breath she'd been holding, "Oh wow, that's one of my favorite stories."

            "Awesome.  Well this children's group is supposed to be really good."

            "I can't wait to see it."

            "Me neither."  He smiled, "I can't wait to see you, either."

            "Me too."  Fiona blushed though no one could see her.

            "So I'll pick you up tomorrow around six?"

            "Sure."  Fiona gave him directions to their house then they talked for a few more minutes until Carter came bounding into the house with JC on his back.  "I'm going to have to go, my room mate just got home and, "  She dodged JC's knee in her back, "and he's being kind of rowdy."

            "So I hear."  Wes laughed.  "I'll see you tomorrow then.  Six o'clock."

            "Perfect."  She smiled and pressed herself against the wall as Carter and JC fell to the floor in a fit of giggles.  Fiona hung up the phone and stepped over them.  "You guys are louder than a herd of elephants, I swear."

            "I told you I could carry you!"  Carter laughed and untangled his legs from JC's.

            "You're one strong mofo."  JC giggled and rolled onto his back in the middle of the floor.  "Hi Fi."

            "Hi Jace."

            "He didn't think I could carry him from the car to the house."  Carter puffed out his chest like a gorilla.  "I've been working out."

            "You're going to pay for it tomorrow though."  Fiona smiled and rolled her eyes.

            "Oh, he's going to pay for it tonight."  JC waggled his eyebrows and laughed again.

            "Ugh, you guys are like rabbits."  Fiona blushed as she laughed and went to her room.  "Just keep the noise down, okay?"

            "I'll try, but you know how he gets sometimes."  Carter rolled his eyes.  "He's a scream-" JC cut him off with a swift kick to his shins as they both started laughing again.

            Fiona rolled her eyes and shut her door, muting their voices from the living room.  What they did was their business, and as much as the mental picture of JC wearing next to nothing was appealing, him wearing next to nothing with Carter in the picture was just too much to comprehend.  She blocked the whole scene from her mind as she picked up her book and flopped down across her bed with her radio on, just in case.




            The next day Fiona walked around with a flock of butterflies dancing around in her stomach.  By noon she'd started a countdown to date time and could hardly keep from running out of the building at five when she got off work.

            She fought traffic the whole way home and silently thanked the powers that be for her foresight to take a shower that morning before work.  When she finally made it home she only had twenty minutes to not only chose an outfit and put it on, but make herself presentable at the same time.

            "Hello?  Lucy!  I'm home!"  Carter called as he walked into the house just before six.  "Fi?"  He shouted, when she didn't reply to his first greeting.

            "I'm in here."  She kicked the bathroom door open then went back to the mirror.

            "Hey what's for –"  He stopped and took in her attire.  "Wow… you're all dressed up.  Where are you going?"  Carter poked his head into the tiny bathroom as Fiona stood at the mirror and plucked at her hair.  It wasn't going the way she wanted, but she didn't want to put any more products in it.

            "I am going to the theater."  She said slowly as she leaned closer and tried to tame a gentle curl.

            "Oh, to the theater huh?  Since when do you go to the theater?"

            "Since I was asked if I wanted to go."

            "Wait… you're really going out?"


            "To where… wait, with who?"

            "To the theater, I already told you that."  She gave up on her hair and stood up straight.

            "Are you going out with Jamie?"

            "No."  Fiona smiled at him in the mirror then turned around.  "Wes asked me to go see The Secret Garden with him at the Children's theater in West Hollywood."

            "Wes?  Wes as in Mr. Thighs?"

            "You're not allowed to call him that, but yes."

            Carter's jaw gaped open as she brushed past him, "You have a date??"

            "Dude, don't act so surprised.  I'm dateable."  She threw him a dirty look.

            "No I –"  He shook his head and followed her to her room.  "I know you're dateable, honey.  You're hot.  I'm just… you're going out on a date!  That's awesome."

            "I could really do without the fanfare."

            "I need to call Jamie."

            "Carter, no.  If you call Jamie he'll run over and you guys will embarrass me when he gets here."

            "He's coming here?"  Carter bounced in the hall.  "Oh right on.  I can give him the Carter Quiz

            "Absolutely not."

            "Oh absolutely yes."

            "You already saw him at the mall."

            "But I didn't get to meet him.  Fi, you'll have to give me a full report when you come home tonight.  If you come home tonight."

            "I'll be home tonight."  She frowned at him and bent to buckle her sandals.

            "Uh oh."  Carter leaned to the side to look at her feet.  "You're breaking out the uncomfortable strappy sandals…"

            "Carter, seriously.  I could really do without the fashion critique and everything.  I just want to go and have dinner and go to the play without worrying about everything."

            "Okay.  I'll zip it." He drew his fingers over his lips and smiled.  "But yay!"

            "Yeah. Yay."  Fiona rolled her eyes and shook her head.

            The doorbell interrupted them and sent a sliver of anxiety up Fiona's spine.  They stood frozen in place for a split second before Carter's face broke into a grin and he made a dive for the front door.  In his bare feet, he was ten times more agile and sure of his footing than Fiona.  She swore under her breath as her ankle turned in the sandals and the front door opened.

            "Hi, you must be Wes."  She heard Carter say with a syrupy sweet voice.

            "Yes, hello."  Wes stood on the front step in khakis and a polo shirt with a pleasant smile and an extended hand.  "And you must be Carter.  It's nice to meet you."

            "Come on in, I'll see if Fiona is ready." He turned to look over his shoulder as Wes stepped inside.  "Fi?"

            "Yeah.  Thanks Carter."  She mumbled as she straightened her skirt.  "Hi."  She blushed quickly as she met Wes' eye.

            "Hi."  He smiled back and cleared his throat.  "Are you uh… ready?"

            "Yeah.  Yes.  Let me just grab my," Carter handed her her purse and smiled, "purse.  Thank you."

            "Have a good time."  Carter smiled as he held the front door open with his foot.

            "Thanks, we will."

            "Will you be home late?"  He asked, enjoying the deep blush creeping into Fiona's cheeks.

            "I don't know."  She narrowed her eyes at him and said, "But aren't you going over to –"

            "Yes."  Carter answered quickly and matched her flushed cheeks.

            "Okay then."

            "Right.  Okay.  I'll see you later then.  Wes, it was nice to meet you."

            "You too."  Wes smiled and looked from Carter to Fiona.  "It's a little chilly out…"

            "Ahh, okay.  Hang on."  She walked as quickly as she could back to her room and pulled a thin black cardigan from her closet.  When she returned to the entry way, neither man had moved but they were both laughing.  She tossed a look between them and stepped outside.  "Tell Jace I said hi."

            "I will."  Carter laughed lightly and waved as she and Wes walked down the walk to where his car was parked at the curb.

            "He seems cool."  Wes continued to smile as he opened the car door for her.

            "I… yeah.  He's uh, he's cool."  She slid in and he walked around to the driver's side.

            "It must be like living with your older brother or something."  Wes continued when he got in the car.

            "Yeah.  An annoying older brother who's all up in my personal business."  Fiona grumbled, but smiled as Wes laughed.

            "True."  He started the car and went to make a U-turn.

            "What did he say?"

            Wes shook his head and smiled, "He said something about how he'd like to be able to threaten me if I hurt you in any way, but he didn't honestly think he could take me."

            "Oh my god."  Fiona rested her head against the window of his car in embarrassment.

            "He said that you said I sounded like a nice guy and you weren't usually wrong about stuff like that and that you'd weeded out some crummy men in his life too, so…"

            "I'm sorry."  She shook her head and mentally plotted ways to kill Carter.

            "It's okay.  It's cool that he meant it.  He seems like a good friend."

            "He is.  I might have to have a talk with him though."

            "He meant well."

            "And I'll mean well when I punch him in the – "  She stopped before she went and embarrassed herself.  "I'll talk to him."

            "So I seem nice, huh?"

            "So far."  Fiona nodded.

            "Hm."  He laughed and gave her a skeptical look.

            "Of course, if you're going to laugh at me and side with Carter I might have to rethink that."  She laughed and shook her head.

            "Okay, okay."  Wes held up his hands defensively, then placed them back on the steering wheel.  "I'll take your side.  Carter deserves to be slapped.  How's that?"

            "Much better."  Fiona smiled slowly and watched the shops fly by on their way to the restaurant.

            They made small talk on the way to the restaurant, then talked about work and childish theatrics from their youths.  With only an hour for dinner, they rushed through the meal and left without dessert to make it to the theater on time.  "I think they have a concession stand or something at the theater.  I'll buy you dessert when we get there."

            "You don't have to buy me candy."

            "You don't like candy?"

            "I'm a candyholic."  Fiona laughed.  "I love candy.  That's one of my downfalls."

            "One of them?"

            "Candy and coffee.  And ice cream.  Oh!  And pizza."  Her mouth watered at the thought of all of those things at once.  "Yum."

            "That's it?"

            "Pretty much."  Her eyes danced as he parked the car then got out to open her door.  Wes carefully slid his hand under her elbow as they walked into the theater and took their seats near the front.  They talked with hushed voices until the lights went down and the play started.


            Sometime in the second half of the play, Fiona felt Wes' hand in hers.  How long it had been there, she couldn't even guess, but the solid heat of it resting against her palm made her smile.  She curled her fingers around his and glanced over with a quick smile.  Wes responded with the same smile then turned his attention back to the children on the stage.

            When the play was over, Wes swung by the little card table with snacks on it and picked up a bag of M&M's for Fiona to snack on on the way home.  "My favorite."  She said when he handed her the bag.

            "Mine too."  He took her free hand as they walked out to the parking lot.  He opened the car door for her again and waited until she put her seat belt on before he shut the door and circled to the driver's side.  They shared the M&M's on the way back to her house and raved about the extremely talented kids in the play.

            When they got to Fiona's house, Wes walked her to the front door and waited as she got her keys out of her small purse.  Her feet ached as she subtly shifted her weight from foot to foot.  "Thank you, Wes.  I had a really nice time."  Fiona smiled as she nervously held her keys in her hand.

            "So did I.  We'll have to do this again sometime."

            "Y-yeah."  She ran her finger along the ragged teeth of her house key and looked up at him anxiously.  The green porch light cast oddly colored shadows across Wes' face as he licked his lips and smiled slowly.

            "Do… what are you doing this weekend?"

            "I uh."  Fiona paused and bit her lip as she thought for a moment, "I'm doing the AIDS walk on Saturday morning but other than that, not much."

            "Okay."  He smiled and looked up at the porch light.  After their conversation over dinner, he decided that there was very little about Fiona or Carter that would surprise him.  "I'll call you then, maybe we can do something."

            "I… okay."

            "Okay."  He laughed softly and extended his hand to touch her elbow.  For a split second Fiona was sure he was going to kiss her and she immediately tensed and planned to avoid it.  Instead, he leaned forward and gave her a one armed hug with his chin over her shoulder.  On his way back he brushed his lips against her cheek.  "Good night."

            "Good night."  She hoped the relief didn't show in her voice as her smile grew.  Wes was a gentleman to the end and she didn't want to lose that magic.

            Wes took a step backward off the little porch and waited until Fiona was safely inside before he headed back out to his car.  She watched from the dining room window until his car was out of sight, and then giggled her way into the kitchen to make herself some tea.  For the first time she wished Carter was there to pump her for details.  She finally had something good to share and he was nowhere to be found.  Of course, if she picked up the phone and called his cell phone, he'd answer in a heartbeat.  But she didn't want to bother him.  Not when he was undoubtedly spending the evening with JC.

            Fiona made her tea and added a dribble of honey.  With her throat tickling the way it had all night, she didn't want to press her luck.  If it was any worse in the morning she'd have to have Carter take a look at it, but for the moment she was going to cozy up on the couch and relive her evening over and over until she fell asleep.




            "So who's this Wes guy?"  JC asked with his arms resting casually around Carter's waist.  He pressed his mouth under Carter's ear and smiled into the warm crevice.

            "He's Fiona's friend."


            "Boyfriend.  I guess." Carter shrugged and nudged JC's mouth a little higher.

            "He sounds nice."

            "He is."  Carter's eyes closed as JC's breath heated his ear lobe.  "Fiona… likes him."

            "Good.  She needs someone like that."

            "Uh huh."

            "What?" JC laughed softly as Carter's knees buckled and he sunk a few inches.

            "Well you're…"

            "Making you weak in the knees?"  JC continued to smile, not moving his mouth from the position where they were causing the weakness.

            "Yes."  Carter smiled and swatted at JC's jean covered thigh.  "Yes JC, you make me all weak in the knees."

            "I thought that was just a figure of speech."

            "It's not."  Carter's hand connected with JC's thigh and gave him a gentle squeeze.

            JC's hands went flat against Carter's stomach as he pressed his hips against Carter's backside, "Really?"  JC's voice tickled Carter's ear as his fingers tickled the waist of his jeans.

            Unable to respond with anything more than a low moan, Carter's knees bent slightly.

            "That's pretty cool."  JC laughed and removed his mouth from Carter's ear.  "Can you do it again?"  He dropped his hands and spun Carter around.

            "You're a tease."

            "Oh come on.  That's like a party trick.  I want to take you places and whisper sweet nothings in your ear so you'll go all weak in the knees."

            "It's not a party trick.  You're mean."

            "No.  Mean would be if I didn't follow through."

            "You're mean."

            JC shook his head.  "I follow through."  He leaned forward slightly to kiss Carter, showing him that he had every intention of following through. Mean was not in his vocabulary.




            When Fiona woke up the next morning, her throat was raw and she knew she couldn't blame it all on the fact that she slept with her bedroom window open.  She tried to check herself in the bathroom mirror but the lighting was terrible and she couldn't see anything.  But then, she didn't need to.  She knew the symptoms well enough and she knew that when Carter finally looked that evening she'd have spots.

            Since she didn't have any of the other symptoms, she dressed herself and went to work where she busied herself with reports and phone calls; anything to keep her away from actual human contact.  Jamie had the day off, so there was no one there to bother her, and she liked that.

            That evening when she returned home from work, she was happy to see Carter's car parked at the curb and lights on in the house.  She had missed having him there the night before, and she honestly couldn't wait to tell him all about her date.

            "So…?  Details!"  Carter practically pounced on Fiona as she walked in the front door.  The bowl of cereal in his hand sloshed dangerously as he draped his arm over her shoulders.  "How'd it go?  What'd you do?  Did you come home?"

            "Carter."  Fiona sighed, but smiled at his gesture.

            "I'm curious.  Did the strappy sandals work?"

            "They hurt my feet."  She frowned slightly.


            "I had a really nice time.  We went to Dolce Enoteca for dinner then to the play.  It was nice."



            "Are you going to see him again?"

            "I don't know."  She ducked out from under his arm and hung her purse on the peg board.  Her throat stung when she swallowed, but she didn't want to run the moment by bringing it up; she'd give it another day.

            "Why don't you know?"

            "Well he asked me what I was doing this weekend and he said he'd call."

            "Well that's a good sign."  He smiled and sat back at the table to finish his dinner.  "Want some Lucky Charms?"

            "Soggy marshmallows?  No thanks."  Fiona pulled the refrigerator door open and looked around for something edible.  There was one piece of pizza left over from Tuesday so she took it out and ate it cold.

            "Did he have fun?"

            Fiona paused and pursed her lips as she chewed.  "I think so, yeah. He said he did."

            "Oooo, this is so cool."

            "Yeah, but…"  She paused and sighed, then took another bite.

            "But what?"

            "But…"   Her eyes stayed on the piece of pizza in her hand.  "It's just…"

            "Did you tell him?"  Carter sighed.  If Fiona was going to pull that out of her hat first thing on every date she went on, she'd end up an old spinster with sixteen cats.


            "So then what?"

            "Well I'm going to have to."  She looked up at him as she flopped into the chair across from him.

            "No you don't.  My God Fiona… you don't need to go telling every person you meet.  If you had cancer would you walk around going, 'Hi, I'm Fiona.  I have cancer'?  I mean, really."

            "That's not the same thing."

            "I know it's not.  But still."

            "But still nothing."

            "You don't have to tell him Fi.  Not if you don't want to."

            Fiona sighed; she was tired of having the same conversation with Carter.  Over the past five years it'd come up more than a few times.  "I know I don't.  Let's drop it."

            "I'm just –"

            "Seriously.  Drop it.  I didn't tell him anything yet, but eventually I will."  She took another bite of her pizza and sighed.  "What'd you do?"

            Carter paused and scooped up a spoonful of marshmallows.  "I went to JC's."

            "Of course."  Fiona smiled and rolled her eyes.

            "Of course."  Carter copied her.  "He'll be in the studio in a couple weeks and he invited me to come and see him work."

            "Are you serious?"


            "Oh that's awesome.  You're so lucky."

            "I know."  He smirked over the edge of his bowl as he dank the milk in the bottom.  "It'll be cool to hear him singing."

            "He doesn't sing for you?"

            "No."  Carter laughed and shook his head.

            "No?  Not even in the car or shower or whatever?"

            "Not really.  In the car sometimes he'll hum along, but no.  He doesn't like, sing."

            "How odd."  Fiona frowned and looked at him.  "You think he would if you asked him to?"

            Carter shrugged and stood to put his bowl in the sink.  "I guess if I asked him to."

            "Ooo.  I would kick baby kittens to hear him sing in my living room."


            "I would.  Hmm… maybe if I bribe him."

            "With what?"

            "I've got naked pictures of you somewhere."

            "You think he hasn't seen me naked?"  Carter snorted and shook his head.

            "But I could give him a picture and he could carry it in his wallet wherever he goes."

            "Yeah.  Because a picture of a naked guy is exactly what he wants in his wallet if he happens to lose it or something."  He rolled his eyes then leaned against the wall to watch Fiona eat.

            "Whatever."  Fiona rolled her eyes right back then licked her lips.  "So are you going over tonight?"

            "Nope."  He stuck out his bottom lip and pretended to pout.  "Actually, I'm going to try to work on my resume tonight."


            "I have some new qualifications."  Carter nodded.  "Fun, fun, fun."

            "Sounds like it."  Fiona laughed and went to the kitchen to toss her napkin in the trash.  "I'm going to go rot my brain watching Celebrity Rock and Roll Jeopardy.  Mark McGrath is on again.  He makes me feel six different varieties of stupid."

            "He's amazing."

            "He is."

            "And hot."

            "Oooh yeah."  Fiona smiled dreamily and stepped around him to get to her bedroom.  With a quick kiss blown over her shoulder she disappeared into her room and fell into the world of VH1.




            The next morning when her alarm went off at four thirty she pulled herself out of bed and got dressed while still half asleep.  Any other time she would have snoozed it for at least an hour, but she knew that if she lay back down she may never get back up.  Her throat felt raw still as she crossed her room.  If it was still that sore when she got home from the walk, she'd say something to Carter.

            She ignored the fact that it hadn't gone away or gotten better in two days, but sooner or later she'd have to face it.  The way it felt that morning, it'd be sooner.

            With her dark blue running shorts and an oversized t-shirt on, she sat on the edge of her bed and tied her shoes.  She pulled her hair out of her face with a neon colored scrunchie then stepped out into the kitchen area.

            Carter was seated at the dining room table when she walked up, and that was not like him.  "Hey."  She cast him a confused look and dropped her eyes to the bowl of cereal in front of him.  "You know, if you keep eating that you'll turn into a little leprechaun.  What are you doing up this early?"  Fiona frowned at Carter sitting at the dining room table with a bowl of cereal in front of him.

            "Can't sleep.  You?"  He flipped the newspaper to the back page and looked over the comics.

            "AIDS walk."  Fiona yawned and pulled the bread drawer open to get herself a bagel.  "It starts at like, seven but we have to be there early."


            "Me and JC."  She explained as she sliced her bagel and spread cream cheese on half of it.

            "You… you're going out with my boyfriend?"  Carter frowned and dropped his spoon into the bowl.

            "Not really.  I mean, yeah, kind of.  He's doing the Los Angeles AIDS walk and I'm going with him."

            "So you're going out with my boyfriend."  Carter said again.

            "He asked if you wanted to go and you said no."  She licked cream cheese from her finger and frowned at him.

            "I know, but –"

            "I asked you if you wanted to go and you said no."

            "I know."

            "You don't do walks and you haven't gone with me ever."

            "Because walking five miles doesn’t sound like fun."

            "Well then there you go."  Fiona adjusted her stretch shorts.  "We're going to go walk five miles or whatever and he's doing a little celebrity awareness thing before and after."

            "He asked you to go?"

            "Yes." Fiona gave him a look.  "Since I go every year anyway I thought it'd be cool to hang out with you guys.  But since you're not going then it'll just be me and JC."

            "To a media event."

            "You catch on quick."  She laughed and took a bite of her half of a bagel.

            "He's taking you to look like the caring and understanding celebrity."

            "He's gay Carter, he does understand."

            "Yeah but to the public he's straight.  Showing up at a predominately gay function with a girl?  Please, you're going as his cover again."


            "So that's false."

            "It never bothered you before."


            "No, what?"

            "He's just… he's using you to make him look good.  'Oh look at me.  I'm famous and I'm being seen with a girl with AIDS, how PC am I?'."  Carter raised his voice and mocked a flamboyantly gay JC.

            "Meow."  Fiona scowled at Carter and shook her head.  "You're in a foul mood today.  Get up on the wrong side of the bed?"

            "Don't you see it?"

            "Carter, no one there knows I have AIDS.  As far as they're concerned I'm there as JC's guest and that's all.  You're reading way too much into this."

            "Am I?"

            "You're acting jealous and that's ridiculous."

            "Is it?"

            "Are you going to just keep responding with questions?"  Fiona raised her eyebrow and took another bite of her bagel.  "Listen, if you want to come with us, by all means… slap on some sweats and let's go."

            "Oh no, I wouldn't want to intrude."

            "Fine."  She wadded up her napkin and threw it in the trash.  It was pointless to argue with Carter when he was like that.  "I'll be back in a few hours.  Cheer up or something."

            "Have fun." He said sarcastically.

            "I will."  Fiona smiled sincerely and disappeared back into her room to wait for JC to get there to pick her up.

            When he knocked on the door fifteen minutes later, Fiona waited for a second to hear if Carter would answer it.  When he didn't, she grabbed her sweatshirt and stomped out of her room.  "Grow up."  She mumbled under her breath to Carter who was still sitting at the kitchen table.

            Fiona opened the front door and slid out into the cold early morning air.  "Hi."  She smiled up at JC.  She was still surprised every time she saw him, as though he couldn’t really be JC Chasez, he couldn't really be Carter's boyfriend.

            "Hi. Is Carter up?"  JC craned his neck to try to look in the dining room window.

            "Yeah.  He's moody."  Fiona shook her head and walked down the short driveway to JC's car.


            "Yeah."  Fiona laughed softly as he unlocked the doors.

            "Hey, Justin sent me another CD.  It's in there if you wanna listen to it."

            "Oo, yeah!"  She slid into her seat and let JC shut the door for her.  She fumbled around with the stack of CD's on the passenger seat and pulled the one with the most recent date on the cover out.  "Cha-ching?"

            "Money songs and artists."


            JC climbed into the driver's seat and laughed, "There's one by Fifty Cent, there's that song from the 90's or whatever, "I wanna be rich".  Eddie Money.  It's an interesting collection."

            "Sounds like it."

            "He's got a lot of time on his hands.  You can take it if you want.  In fact, there's about six of them in the backseat if you want them."  JC smiled and turned the car on, pushing hot air through the vents to defog his windows.  "So.  Carter tells me you've got a new boyfriend?" JC asked as they pulled away from the curb.

            "Carter has a big mouth."  Fiona looked out the foggy window, but smiled.

            "Was he not supposed to say anything?"

            Fiona shrugged gently and turned to face him.  "It was never discussed really."

            "Ahh."  JC nodded in acknowledgement.  "Sorry."

            "It's not your fault."


            "So yes.  I guess I kind of have a new boyfriend.  Kind of."

            "Kind of?"

            "We've gone out like, once."  She smiled and tried not to look as dreamy as she felt.  "We went to see a play at the Children's Theater in West Hollywood."

            "That sounds like fun."

            "And we had dessert."  Fiona shrugged.

            "Is he nice?"

            "Yeah."  Fiona found herself smiling at the memory of Wes' hand in hers.  "He's really nice."

            "That's good then."  JC turned quickly to smile at her before focusing back on the fog covered road ahead of him.  "I hope this marine layer burns off before the walk starts."

            "It always does."  She stared wistfully out the window.

            JC nodded and they drove for a little while, letting the music from the CD player fill with silence between them.  "Is Carter mad?"


            "I mean, he didn't come to the door or anything."

            "He's uh…"

            JC sighed and rolled his eyes, "I told him he could come with us today."

            "I know."

            "He said he didn't want to."

            "I know."  Fiona smiled.  JC was finally getting a taste of the Carter she'd known for years.

            "Is that what he's upset about?"

            "Kind of.  I guess."  Fiona nodded.  "I think he's actually mad at me for going."

            "You said you go every year."

            "I do."  Fiona nodded quickly.  "But this year I'm going with you. He doesn't like the idea of me dating his boyfriend or whatever."

            "You…"  JC sighed and shook his head with a slow smile.  "That boy… he makes me nuts sometimes.  You know that?"

            "I know."  Fiona laughed softly.  "Trust me, I know."

            "He said he was okay with you being my… whatever… for events like this."

            "I know."

            "And it's not even like that's what I asked you to come for.  I was going to come by myself or with Carter."

            "I know."  She laughed again.  "He's just… well."


            "He gets really sensitive about this kind of thing sometimes.  It's Carter… I can't explain him."  She shrugged, then put her hand on JC's shoulder when he saw that he was legitimately concerned.  "Don't worry about it.  He'll stop with the moody bitch thing by the time we get home."

            "I'm going to have to talk to him about it, aren't I?"

            "Only if you want to."

            "To smooth his feathers?"

            Fiona nodded and licked her lips, "Wanna stop for coffee?"

            "You need coffee?"

            She nodded and rubbed her hands together in her lap.  "Yeah."

            "Starbucks okay with you?"

            "Whatever's closest."  She nodded and looked out the window, knowing that they wouldn't be able to go more than a mile without seeing the familiar green and white sign of the coffee shop she adored.

            When the sign came into view JC pulled into the parking lot and looked into the crowded shop.  "Wow.  There are a lot of people in there considering its not even seven yet."

            Fiona followed his gaze and nodded, then understood what he meant.  "I'll go in.  What do you want?"

            "I uh…"

            "It's okay.  I'll go.  No problem."  She smiled and reached for the door handle.  "What would you like?"

            "Um, a venti caramel macchiato."




            "No whipped cream."

            "I don't think it comes with whipped cream."

            "Well if it does I don't want any."  JC smiled.

            "Okay."  She stepped out and shut the door behind her. The line inside stretched the length of the counter and it was another ten minutes before she was walking back to the car with two hot drinks in her hands.

            "Yum.  Perfect."  JC sniffed at the large drink and closed his eyes with a smile.

            "I hope so; they didn't have my flavored latte so I got the same thing."

            "Oh you'll love it."  He set it in the holder and started his car.  "Oh wait."  He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and pulled a twenty out.  "Here."

            Fiona laughed and shook her head, "I've got it, really."


            "I can afford two coffees, JC."

            "I know you can but I asked you to come with me, so here."  He continued to fumble in his wallet.

            "Don't be crazy.  I've got it.  Put that away."  She pushed his hand away and fastened her seatbelt with one hand.  "Let's go.  Parking down there can be a mess."

            "We have a special parking area thing."  JC shook his head and slid his wallet into the center console.  He took a sip of his steaming hot coffee and winced.  "Hot."

            "Be careful."

            "It's good though."  He smiled as Fiona blew down the little hole into her coffee and smiled as the sweet scent hit her nose.

            They made small talk, avoiding the topic of Carter, the rest of the way to the run site.  When they got there JC followed the marked path to the VIP parking lot and pulled in to the first available spot.  As they climbed from the car they were met with curious looks from the media crowd gathering beside two tents on the far end of the lot.

            "Man, there are a lot of people here."

            "Media, yeah." JC nodded and put his coffee on the roof of his car to pull his sweatshirt over his head.  "You don't have to come with me if you don't want."

            "I don't mind."  Fiona shook her head and strained her eyes to see if she recognized anyone else in the mass of people.  "Is it okay?"

            "It's fine with me." JC laughed and retrieved his coffee.  "Let's go though.  The sooner we get it over with, the sooner we can get this race started."  He led the way into the tent and turned on the "JC" that everyone was expecting.  His eyes danced as he became more alert and awake, his smile held firm to the corners of his mouth and he had plenty of pleasant greetings for everyone he encountered.

            "Hello JC!"  One overly excited and obviously sugar-highed reporter raised her arm as they walked by.

            "Hey, hi." JC smiled and stopped, making eye contact with the camera first and the reporter second.

            "My name is Laurel Clinton with KTLA news here in Los Angeles, how are you this morning?"

            "I'm doing great, how are you?"

            "I'm well, thank you."  She smiled and carefully touched her hair behind her ear.  "We're glad to have you out here so early on a Saturday morning and I see you've brought a friend with you."

            "Yes, this is Fiona."

            "Ahh, the new lady in your life?"  Laurel tried to look sly as she held the microphone out between Fiona and JC, waiting for either of them to answer.  Fiona forced herself to keep a straight face as JC blushed quickly.

            "She's my friend."  JC said, avoiding the original question.

            "So you brought her out here this early in the morning for support huh?"

            "She bought me my coffee."  JC held up his Starbucks cup and smiled.

            "Now that's a good friend."

            "The best."  JC grinned down at Fiona and pulled her closer as she wrapped her arms around herself to fend off the cool morning air.

            "We've seen you at several AIDS awareness events this year; this is obviously a matter that's close to your heart.  Have you worked with AIDS patients before?"

            JC shook his head and put his hand on Fiona's waist. "No I haven't really worked with patients, I mean… not medically or anything.  But yeah I know, I mean, I have some friends with AIDS and I… I want to help man.  This is a great way to raise awareness and they really need all the help they can get for research and... and education and everything."

            "Are your other Nsync friends here today?" She asked.

            "I don't think so."  JC looked over his shoulder, though he knew they weren't.  "They're all working on their projects and everything and I'm – I live here so…"  He shrugged.  "So I'm probably the only one here in LA."

            "I understand there are other musicians here who are performing this afternoon, is there a chance we might see you up there?"  Laurel smiled up at the stage at the far end of the concourse.

            JC laughed and shook his head, "Not today, no."

            "But you are working on a solo album, aren't you?"

            "I… I've been thinking about it.  But there's nothing too concrete."

            "You'll let us know though?"

            "Of course."

            "And I see that you've donated a drawing for the auction, would you consider yourself an artist as well as a musician?"

            JC laughed again and shook his head as his fingers tickled Fiona's side.  "Not even close man.  They gave me this canvas and told me to create something that represented AIDS awareness to me.  And that's what came out.  It's not very good…"

            "But it'll fetch a nice bit of money for the organization."

            "Yeah."  JC shrugged.  "I hope so.  If not I may have to buy it myself."

            "Well thank you for taking a minute to talk to us today JC."

            "Thank you." JC smiled and nodded.

            "It was nice to meet you too, Fiona."

            "Thank you, you too."  She smiled and shook the reporter's outstretched hand.  They made their way through the whole crowd of media personalities and photographers to where everyone was gathered.  JC introduced Fiona to some of the celebrities in the private area before they all headed, as a group, toward the starting line of the race.  There was a short ceremony to kick the walk off, but when the doves were released, everyone began walking at the same time.

            JC and Fiona kept the same pace for the entire walk, then hit all of the booths on their way back to the private VIP area.  Fiona grabbed one of everything that people were handing out, for Carter.  He always liked the little fans and visors, but this time there were a dozen booths with condoms of every variety.  She snickered as she dropped them in the bag, winking at JC as she said, "They're for Carter."

            "Ah ha." JC blushed and dropped a few in his bag as well.  "Just in case."

            "Uh huh."  Fiona laughed and they continued down the row.

            They didn't end up leaving the area until almost eleven in the morning and didn't pull up at Fiona's house until noon due to the traffic getting out of the West Hollywood area.  "Thanks for taking me; I had a really good time."  Fiona gushed as JC's car idled on the curb.

            "Me too."  He smiled.  "So you're coming to the auction with me next weekend, right?"


            "Do you think Carter would want to go?"

            "Eh."  She shrugged and tried not to frown too deeply.

            "I'll ask him anyway, just in case."

            "Good idea."

            "But… I think right now it'd be best if I just went home."


            "If he's not cranky, have him give me a call."

            "I will."

            "And if he is cranky… well I'll just call later tonight or something."

            "Sounds good."  Fiona smiled and opened the door to step out.  As she set her foot on the sidewalk she changed her mind and leaned back in to place a kiss on JC's cheek.  "Thank you for today, really.  It means a lot that you were out there."

            "Anytime."  He smiled sweetly and she wasn't certain but it looked like his eyes were shinier than usual.  "I'll see you later."

            "See ya."  She slid out of the car and waved one last time before trotting up to the front door.  JC waited until she stepped inside to pull away from the curb and head home.

            Fiona dropped her purse by the dining room table and began to kick her shoes off as well.  "Hey."  Carter said from the couch, without looking up.

            "Hey."  Fiona replied as she bent to untie her shoe that just wouldn't budge otherwise.

            "I saw you guys on TV today." Carter grumbled as he flipped through the channels.

            "Yeah?"  Fiona fell onto the couch beside him.

            "You bought him coffee so now you're his best friend?"

            "Why are you being like this?"

            "I'm not."

            Fiona sighed and kicked at his thigh.  "I think I'm sick."

            "In the head maybe."  Carter rolled his eyes then set the clicker down and looked at her, "Why do you think you're sick?"

            "My eyes hurt and my throat hurts."

            "Let me see."  Carter opened his mouth wide.

            Fiona followed his example and tilted her head back.  "Ahhh."

            "You've got white."

            "Dammit."  Fiona closed her mouth and swallowed quickly.  "I'll have to call Dr. Simon."

            "Call Monday if it's any worse.  Do you have that mouth wash stuff?"

            "I just have the Biotene stuff which won't help."  She kept the fact that it'd been hurting for two days to herself.

            "Use it anyway."  Carter pressed his hand against Fiona's forehead.  "You're a little warm."

            "I don't have a fever."

            "You might."  Carter grunted as he stood up and went to the bathroom.  He came back a minute later with the thermometer which he stuck in Fiona's ear and clicked.  "A hundred point three."

            Fiona sighed and sunk back into the couch.  "I don't want a fever."

            "Well you've got one."

            "One hundred isn't bad."

            "Nope.  It's not.  It could just be because you were up early and out in the cold all morning."  Carter sighed and set the thermometer aside.  "Get some sleep tonight and if you're still running a fever in the morning I'll take you in."

            "You don't have to take me.  Dr. Simon will just call in the scrip on Monday and I can go and pick it up."

            "How's your chest?"


            "Take a deep breath."  Carter frowned and waited until she took three deep breaths with no rumbling or rattling.  "Okay."


            "Fine.  Your chest sounds fine."

            "I am fine."

            "Except for your throat."

            Fiona grumbled some choice words under her breath and put her feet on Carter's thigh.  "What are you watching?"

            "Animal Planet."

            "Hmm." She pursed her lips and tried not to swallow as they watched an informative show about porcupines.

            During the next commercial break Carter squeezed her foot and kept his eyes on the blue line covering her toes.  "So are you dating my boyfriend now?"

            "No."  She sighed and restrained herself from kicking him in the chin.  "But we're going out again next weekend."


            "They're doing the auction thing.  He and some other celebrities donated drawings so the auction is next Saturday."

            "And you're going with him?"   Carter asked.

            "Well yeah.  He asked and it sounds like fun."  Fiona smiled as Carter sighed heavily and rolled his eyes.  "What?"


            "He's what?"

            "Using you for publicity."


            "So?!  You seriously don't see it?"

            "Carter… he's not using me for anything.  I practically begged to go."

            "Still…"  He scowled and pushed her feet off his lap before crossing his arms over his chest.  "I don't like it."

            "Grow up Carter."  She shook her head and stood up with a heavy sigh.  "I can't believe you're upset over this."

            "Hrmph."  He grumbled while keeping his eyes on the TV.

            "Comments by Carter, age six."  Fiona rolled her eyes and went to her room.  If he was going to be a grouch, he was going to be a lonely grouch.




            Carter didn't take JC's calls for the next two days.  He did take Fiona to the doctors though, where she was properly diagnosed with thrush and given her course of medication that she hated.  He took Monday off to stay at home with her in case her fever got worse, which it did.  Neither Carter nor the doctors believed that the fever was just from the thrush, but they didn't know what else could be causing it.  She was put on antibiotics and told to come back in two days if it didn't improve.  With her weakened immune system, they couldn't take any chances.

            The thrush medication on top of the antibiotics and HIV cocktail only made her feel worse.  Carter made her soft foods that were easier for her to swallow and kept her supplied with warm, honey sweetened tea.  By the time the sun set Monday evening, Fiona had been in bed all day and Carter was starting to get on her nerves.  His cell phone rang almost every hour and each time it did, Carter would frown at it and decline the call.

            Just after eight at night there was a knock on their front door.  Without saying a word they both knew that it was JC.  After a dozen unanswered calls, it was only natural for him to come by to check on them, though he knew that Carter was just upset about Saturday still.

            The knocking on the front door persisted and Carter heard the planter by the window slide to the side.  It had to be JC looking for the spare key that was no longer there.  "Carter, go let him in."  Fiona grumbled as she rolled onto her side.


            "Yes.  Go."  She pulled the blanket up to her shoulder.  "Stop being a prick and let him in."

            "He's pissing me off."

            "You're pissing me off."

            "He's using you for publicity."

            "My problem."  Fiona glared over her shoulder as JC knocked again.  "Fine."  She threw the covers back and swung her legs over the side of her bed.  "I'll let him in."

            "Lay down!"  Carter put his hand on her shoulder.

            "Then let him in, you cocky fuck.  I swear.  If he's using anyone, it's me, not you.  Open the door."


            "Then I will."  Fiona forced his hand away and stomped toward the front door as lights danced in front of her eyes.  She used the wall for support as Carter followed a step behind, talking loudly and trying to get her back into bed.  His words were muddled through the pounding in her ears, but she got the gist of what he was saying.

            Fiona pulled the door open, then leaned on it for balance.  "Come on in."

            "No."  Carter crossed his arms over his chest and blocked the doorway.

            "Ignore him." Fiona reached for JC's arm and pulled him into the entryway.  "If you can't be nice then go to your room." She said to Carter as she tugged JC to the couch and dropped herself into the corner.  Her teeth began to chatter and JC pulled the old afghan from the blanket basket and draped it over her.

            "I'm sorry."  He said softly as he pulled her feet onto his lap.  "Are you mad?"

            "Yes."  Carter grumbled from the hall.

            "No."  Fiona shook her head then stuck her bright red tongue out at Carter.  "Go to your room Mr. Grouch."  She looked at JC then closed her eyes.  "He's upset, but I'm not.  And I'm the only one who would have a reason to be."

            "I -" Carter started.

            Fiona waved her arm in his direction to silence him.  "JC I'm not mad at you at all.  You didn't use any false pretenses and you're using your status to help. So thank you."

            "He's -"

            "Shut up Carter."  She growled as she opened her eyes and stared him down.

            "I feel bad though.  I don't want you to think I took you out to those places just to be seen with you.  You're my friend."

            "I know.  Which is why I'm not mad.  I don't care what the public thinks.  Or Carter."

            "I'm still sorry."

            "Don't worry about it." She bent her knees over his lap and curled into the cushions.  "Carter just sometimes thinks he's my bodyguard.  Or my soul guard or character guard… or whatever."  She whispered.

            "I know." JC whispered back.  "You're lucky to have him though."

            "So are you."  She whispered with a smile.  JC nodded slightly and raised her hand to his lips.  "He won't be mad for long.  Right Carter?"  She asked Carter, though she kept her eyes locked on JC's.

            "He said he was sorry."  Carter mumbled but kept his arms crossed.

            JC and Fiona laughed softly as they gave each other knowing looks with slow smiles.  "He's a sucker for blue eyes you know…"  She exaggerated a wide blink of her own crystal blue eyes at JC's deeper blues.

            "I know."  JC winked, and then looked up at Carter.  "Forgiven?"

            Carter sighed and kept his arms crossed, dragging it out as long as he could.  "Yes."  He rolled his eyes and dropped one hand to Fiona's head.  "Are you okay?"

            "I'm fine."

            "You should go back to bed."

            "Are you kidding?  It took all my strength just to get here.  I'll sleep out here tonight."

            "Are you sick?"  JC asked, suddenly concerned.

            "I have a fever."  Fiona explained quietly.

            "She has thrush and the medication she takes sometimes makes her sick."

            "Do you need anything?"  JC asked.

            "No.  Dad over there pretty much takes care of everything."

            "He's cool like that."  JC smiled as Fiona raised her shoulder in a silent shrug.

            "Go make up or whatever."  She playfully kicked JC off the couch and burrowed deeper into the cushions.  "I'm gonna watch Trading Spaces."

            "You need to rinse again before you go to bed."  Carter shook his finger at her.

            "I know."

            "Don't skip it."

            "I won't."  She sighed and gave him the finger over her head.

            "Grow up."  Carter smiled as JC stood up and crossed the living room to where he stood.

            "I will if you will."  Fiona grumbled with a smile as Carter shut the door to his room so that he could make up with JC in private.




            Several hours later, after Fiona had rinsed her mouth for the last time before bed, and after they'd shared a large pizza in bed, JC lay above the covers with his arms wrapped around Carter's waist.  "So, hey… how come you… I mean, why do you hang around Fiona?  For so long.  I mean, why do you keep her around?"  JC asked as he leisurely chased his fingers up Carter's arm.

            Carter frowned and swatted at JC's hand, instantly offended.  "Stop."


            "Fiona's my friend."

            "I know.  I'm just saying –"

            "I hang around her because we're friends.  Why do you hang around Justin?"  Carter's mood took a nosedive and he was sure he didn't ant the conversation to continue.

            "Because we're friends.  But… maybe it came out wrong."

            "I think it did.  Because the JC I know wouldn't ask me why I keep my friends around."

            JC sighed and closed his eyes as Carter remained tense by his side.  "I adore Fiona, you know that.  I'm just curious as to what that 'friends and more' stuff is.  I mean, I have some great friends, so I understand that.  I do.  But still, it'd have to take something awesome to…"

            "To put up with her?"

            "I don't mean it like that."  JC frowned and shook his head.  "I'm not asking in a negative way.  I just don't know how to put it.  You're a great friend to her Carter, and –"

            "She's a great friend to me."

            "Yeah, I know that.  I'm saying this is a good thing.  You guys are such great friends, I was just wondering how that is."  JC sighed.  "This isn't coming out right."

            "Well what are you trying to ask?  Why are we friends?  Why is anyone friends?  We like each other."

            "I know that."  JC pursed his lips.  "Okay, I guess what I mean is what brought it to this kind of relationship?  What makes her different from your other friends?  I've seen so many other 'friends' that would have faded away or just taken off if one of them got really sick.  Or whatever."

            "Then they weren't really friends to start with."

            "Maybe they just couldn't handle it."

            "Hrmph."  Carter made a disapproving sound in his throat.

            "I'm just saying… you guys have a special relationship."


            "So… why?  I'm just curious… I'm not… I don't know, judging or whatever."

            "Because she's my family.  She's all I have."  Carter explained softly.  "Is that what you mean?"

            JC shrugged, "She helped you in high school when you were coming out, and I get that."

            "It was so much more than that."  Carter sighed and turned to the side to face JC.  "Okay, close your eyes and imagine if you came out and your parents decided that you were a mental case and tried to send you to a shrink to brainwash you into thinking you were straight.  And half your friends, even some of the guys, thought your parents were right or that you were some deviant or something.  What if Lance and Chris and Justin all turned their backs on you?  You never would have thought they would, but they did.  And what if people you didn't even know hated you for it.  Now what if Joey was the only person who was there for you, to hold your hand and see you through.  And his parents accepted you into their home and helped you become happy with who you were.  What if his parents treated you like a son when your own parents wouldn't even acknowledge that they had a son.  And then… suddenly, what if both of Joey's parents died?  He'd be a mess, right?"

            "Yeah."  JC said softly, choking up at even the thought.

            "So you'd do anything you could to help him, wouldn't you?"

            "Of course."

            "You'd move in and help Joey cope because you felt you owed it to him.  And because you loved him like a brother.  Because no matter what, he was there for you and there's nothing you could do to repay him for that… but you have to try.  Because Joey's saved your life and Joey's parents saved your life so if there was anything you could do to help him in any way, you would."


            "So you help Joey work through the funerals and help get his life back together when BAM, out of nowhere Joey gets diagnosed with cancer.  Brain cancer.  Something that is fatal.  No questions asked, it's going to get him in the end."

            "I get where you're going."

            "No.  Not yet you don't."  Carter shook his head and wiped at his eyes.  "Now imagine that Joey is walking on a tightrope between sanity and chaos and the only option he can see is to end it all.  And somehow you have to be the one to pull him back because you can't live without him there.  Because you need him and you have no idea who will be your buffer to the world if Joey is gone."  Carter paused and licked his lips, knowing that JC was understanding it all.  "So you get Joey back on track and then you get to be the one who saves him.  And then suddenly he realizes that you're all he has in the world… and he's all you have.  The two of you guys are the only people left who understand each other, completely.  Other people come and go and leave their scars and open wounds and memories… but in the end you know it'll be just the two of you.  And you know it's selfish to think this way, but part of you wants to go first… so that you won't ever have to live without Joey.  But then it kills you to think of what might happen to Joey if you did go first.  Joey's strong, stronger than he thinks… but not really.  Not deep inside.  Not without you.  And you're not that strong without him.  You are each others armor."

            "Carter… I –"

            "That's why we're friends.  More than friends.  We owe each other our lives.  We are each others armor.  Without the other one, we're all but helpless."  Carter's voice was low and he nodded slowly.  "It's completely selfish of both of us, but it's all we know really."

            "I don't think you guys would be helpless without the other."

            Carter sighed, no one else could understand.  "I know I would be."  He whispered.  JC pulled Carter close and kissed his forehead in a parental gesture.  Hearing it put into a perspective he could understand made everything crystal clear.  And while it shined some light on their relationship, it also scared JC to death with the thought of either of them losing the other… knowing that they were fighting a losing battle and in the end they may both lose.






Copyright 2003, Amy Lynn