By Thursday Jenny had caught on to Melanie's worry and cried softly the whole way to the hospital.  "I want mommy."  She whined from the back seat.

            "I know you do sweetie."  Chris said softly as he turned the radio off.  "But she can't go to the hospital with us because of the baby."  That wasn't true and Chris didn't like lying to Jenny, but Melanie agreed that she would just be a puddle of tears if she went and she didn't want to scare Jenny any more than she already had.  They said a tearful goodbye at home, then Jenny and Chris hopped in the car to head over to the hospital.

            "I know."  She sniffed and rested her head against the armrest in the middle seat.  "I don't want them to take my tonnis out."

            "Your tonsils."  Chris corrected her gently.  "It's not that bad Jenny girl... you'll be asleep the whole time and you won't feel anything."

            "But I just want a shot and then I want to go home."

            "You'll get a shot; I'm pretty sure about that.  But they want you to spend the night too."

            "But I want to go home."  She started to cry and Chris fought the urge to pull over and comfort her.

            "You'll be fine Jenny.  I'm going to be there with you the whole time so you don't have to be scared of anything.  I'll be there when you get the shot and when you wake up when it's all done I'll be there too."

            "You will?"

            "Yep."  Chris smiled at her in the rear view mirror.  "And remember what Molly said?  You get to have a slurpee when you wake up to make your throat feel better."

            "Yeah."

            "So see?  That'll be okay."

            "I just want to go home daddy."

            "I know you do sweetie.  We'll be home tomorrow and you can sleep in your own bed."

            "Okay."  She yawned and kept her head down for the rest of the drive to the hospital.

 

            When they arrived, Chris carried her in in her pajamas and checked her in at the front desk where they were expecting her.  A nurse showed them to the pediatrics floor and got Jenny settled into her bed in a room with two other beds.

            "It's not that crowded tonight, so she should have the room all to herself tonight."  The nurse smiled.

            "And my daddy?"

            "Oh of course, your daddy too."  The nurse patted Jenny's hand reassuringly.  "I'll bring in an extra blanket and some pillows for him so he can sleep here too, okay?"

            "Thanks."  Chris nodded.  He held Jenny's hand while they started her I.V. though she didn't even flinch.

            "Is that the shot that will make me better?"  She asked.

            "Yep."  Chris smiled.  "They have to put all of that medicine up there in you and then you'll be better."  He pointed to the hanging bag of clear fluid.

            "That's the magic stuff up there.  Then the doctor will give you some more medicine in a little bit that will make you sleepy."  The nurse smiled and placed a pink smiley face sticker on Jenny's hand just above the I.V. needle.  "You did a good job."

            "What do you say Jenny?"

            "Thank you."  She mumbled softly.

            "You're welcome sweetie.  Would you like a coloring book?"  Jenny just nodded and kept her eyes on the blanket in front of her.  "Okay, I'll bring one in for you."  The nurse smiled and shimmied out the door only to return a second later with a small collection of coloring books and crayons.

            "Wow, look at all of these books."  Chris tried to sound enthusiastic.

            "Will you draw?"  Jenny asked as she looked up at Chris with tears in her eyes.

            "You bet."  Chris nodded and thanked the nurse as she left them alone in the room.  "Which one should we color first?"

            "This one."  Jenny held up the Muppet Babies coloring book and opened it to a page in the middle.  She kept her left hand at her side and colored with her right hand with Chris' help.

            They filled in the lines with a rainbow of colors and filled three whole pages before the doctor came in with a wide and easy going smile.  "Hi there Jenny.  I'm Dr. Dan, do you remember me?"  Jenny nodded mutely and stared up at the young doctor.  "How are you feeling?"  He asked with a low and calm voice that immediately reminded Chris of Lance.

            Jenny sat back on the bed and sighed.  "Am I done with the medicine almost?"

            "Nope."  He smiled and looked up at the fluid.  "Not quite.  It'll take all night to get all of that in you."

            "I don't want to stay daddy."  Jenny turned her worried eyes to her father.

            "I know."  Chris leaned over and kissed her forehead then brushed her hair out of her eyes.              "You're gonna be okay kiddo.  I had my tonsils out when I was your age too.  It's not that bad."

            "Can I have a slurpee?"  Jenny asked with tear stained eyes.

            "You bet.  As soon as you wake up and the doctor says it's okay."  Chris nodded and glanced up at the doctor who just nodded.  "You might have to eat some real food first though, we'll have to see."

            "I want a cherry one."

            "A cherry slurpee, of course."  Chris nodded and rubbed her hand as the doctors began to inject her sedative into the I.V.

            "I'm giving you some medicine that might make you a little sleepy, okay Jenny?"  The doctor asked.

            "Promise I'll be asleep?"

            "I promise you'll be asleep the whole time Jenny.  The doctor will tell you to count to ten, and then you'll go to sleep and when you wake up I'll be sitting right there beside you."

            "Will it be dark?"

            "If it is, I'll leave a nightlight on."  Chris smiled and leaned down to kiss her.  "Okay sweetie, it's time for you to go."

            "You're going to feel kinda tired here in a minute so we're going to move you to the operating room, okay?"

            "Can my daddy come?"

            "Nope, daddies have to wait here.  Only kids get to come in the operating rooms with me.  Grown ups are no fun."  Dr. Dan whispered with a wink to Chris.

            "My daddy's fun."

            "I'm sure he is.  He'll be right here waiting when you get back though."  He smiled and they began to move her bed toward the hall.

            "I love you baby."  Chris bent over to kiss Jenny's forehead.

            "I love you too daddy.  Don't forget the slurpee."

            "I won't."  He smiled and waved as they made their way down the hall.  "How long will this take?"  He asked one of the orderlies.

            "Not long, maybe an hour until she's back here in her room.  The procedure only takes about twenty minutes or so."

            "Okay, thanks."  Chris nodded, then went back into Jenny's room to wait.  He used the phone to call Melanie at home to let her know that Jenny had just gone into surgery.

            "Oh Chris, was she scared?"  Melanie's voice wavered.

            "No, her big worry was that I'd forget the slurpee."  Chris smiled.

            "You'd better have one there when she wakes up then."  She laughed through the tears in her eyes.

            "I'll go get her one in the morning."  Chris nodded and leaned back in the chair by the window.  "How's Lauren?"

            "She's sitting in Jenny's room playing with her My Little Ponies."

            "Uh oh, don't let Jenny find out."  Chris cringed.

            "She just misses her big sister."

            "I know."

            "Are you going to stay there until she gets out?"

            "Yeah."  Chris nodded.  "I might run down to the cafeteria and get something to eat though.  The doctor said they timed the surgery this way so that afterwards she'd wake up a little then go back to sleep because it's so late."  He glanced at his watch and saw that it was just after eight and they were right on schedule.

            "That's good, that way she'll have more time to heal."

            "Yeah, the less she talks and swallows right after, the better I guess."  He shrugged.  "We'll be home tomorrow afternoon though."

            "I'll bring Lauren by in the morning."  Melanie said quickly.  "Do you want me to stop and get the slurpee on my way?"

            "Yeah, that'd be good."  Chris nodded.  "That way it won't melt and stuff."

            "Okay."  Melanie let out a deep sigh.  "How are you doing over there?"

            "I'm okay."  Chris smiled.  "How about you?"

            "We're fine over here.  Getting ready to go to bed here pretty soon actually."

            "Alright babe, well I'll let you go.  I'll call you when she's out of surgery, it shouldn't be more than an hour or so."

            "Okay, I love you hun."

            "I love you too."  Chris said softly as he hung up the phone and sat back in his chair.  He left the room to hit the cafeteria only to find that it was closed for the night.  Chris took the spare change that he had and bought himself a sandwich and a bag of chips from the vending machines in the corner.

            The deep windowsill in Jenny's room doubled as a table as Chris ate his makeshift dinner in her room.  When he was done he dug around in the little over night bag Melanie had packed, and pulled out the book he'd been reading.  Chris flipped to the marked page and started at the top.  Reading was a passion he'd forgotten about when his life became too hectic to even carry a book, so he'd spent the last couple weeks reading anything he could get his hands on.

 

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

 

            "Here's your big girl."  The orderlies smiled as they worked the bed through the doors about an hour later.  "She did great Mr. Kirkpatrick."  The younger one said.

            "Good, I wasn't sure how freaked out she'd get going into the operating room alone."  Chris smiled as he watched his sleeping daughter on the huge bed.

            "She's a champ.  She counted all the way to fifteen before she dozed off… she counts pretty fast."  They laughed as a nurse followed them into the room.

            "Yeah, she's a little overachiever."  Chris laughed lightly as they fit the bed against the wall where it belonged.  "Did she wake up yet?"

            "Nope, not yet."  The nurse shook her head.  "She could wake up any minute now though, but I wouldn't be surprised if she went right back to sleep or even slept through until morning.  It's getting late." She checked the clock on the wall.

            "Yeah."  Chris followed her gaze and nodded.  "Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate it."

            "No problem."  The orderlies waved as they ducked out of the room.

            "If she wakes up and needs anything, just let one of the nurses out there know, okay?  You can press the call button right there at the head of the bed."

            "Okay, thanks."

            "No problem."  She smiled and straightened Jenny's blanket.  "Do you have a blanket and pillow and everything?  For yourself I mean?"

            "Yeah, I'm set."  Chris smiled and indicated the folded up brown blanket and small pillow on the chair behind him.

            "Great, have a good night then."

            "You too."  Chris mumbled as she headed for the door.  When the nurse was gone he called Melanie to let her know that Jenny was out of surgery and asleep.  She'd be by in the morning with Lauren to check up on Jenny, but she wanted to talk to her before she hung up.

            "Babe, she's asleep."

            "Just hold the phone up so she can hear me."  Melanie insisted.  Chris sighed and smiled as he held the phone by Jenny's ear.  "Good night Jenny girl, I love you very very much and I'll see you in the morning."  Melanie made kissing noises into the phone and Chris couldn't help but laugh.

            "Okay okay, that's enough."  He laughed.  "I'll see you in the morning Mel.  Give Lauren a big hug from me and Jenny."

            "I will, I love you."

            "I love you too."  Chris said softly before he hung up.  "Well Jenny, it's just you and me kid.  Are you going to wake up at all so I'll know you're alright?"  He asked softly as he scooted his chair closer to the bed.

            Chris draped the blanket over his legs then set the pillow on the edge of the bed.  He lay his head down and turned to look up at Jenny as she slept soundly in a semi-drug induced slumber.  Within minutes the day caught up with him and his eyes began to drift closed.

            Chris felt himself ease into the haze of sleep as muffled voices flooded his mind.

 

 

 

"Daddy…?"

 

"… nominees for album of the year are…"

 

 

 

            "Dude, wake up."  Chris felt a sharp jab to his ribs as he jerked his head up.  "How can you be napping at a time like this?"  Joey bounced in the seat next to him.

            "W-what?"  Chris looked around at his surroundings, "Wait, what happened?"

            "They're announcing the nominees for album of the year.  That's us remember?  Jesus Chris, you need more sleep."

            "Where are we?"  Chris looked around in a panic, seeing faces of people he knew in a time before.  "Where's Jenny?"

            "Jenny?"  Joey laughed and shook his head.  "Watch your mouth man, or Lance will have your head."

            "Lance?"

            "Jenny's boyfriend?"  Joey shook his head.  "Ooo ooh!  Shut up."  He turned his attention to the front of the auditorium where the nominees were being announced.  They were mentioned along with a handful of tough competition as video clips played on the 50-foot screens.

            "Fuck…"  Chris said under his breath as he saw the Grammy icon splashed across the screen.  He was at the Grammy's, being nominated for album of the year.  "What's the date?"  He looked at Joey with panic in his eyes.

            "March something."  Joey shrugged, keeping his eye on the stage.

            Chris' heart pounded in his ears, how could it be March?  It should only be December.  He shouldn't be there.  His brain worked double time as he tried to comprehend everything that was going on around him.  Chris placed his hands on the armrests and half stood up in is seat, “Park it."  Joey grabbed the sleeve of his jacket.  "We haven't won yet Rocky."  Joey laughed and forced Chris back into his seat.

            "No, I've gotta go."  Chris shook his head and tried to stand again.

            "No you don't."  Joey gave him a look that dared him to move again.  "What's your damage?"

            "Jenny's in the hospital."

            "Jenny is sitting down there on Lance's lap practically."  Joey pointed to the aisle.  "For real, you've gotta get off this Jenny thing.  Lance'll smack you like a smart mouthed hooker."

            "My daughter, Jenny is my daughter.  She's - "

            "I know you're feeling old, but Jenny is 21 so unless you had her when you were like 9… you're delusional."  Joey rolled his eyes.

            "No she's five; I have to go to the hospital."  Chris made another move to leave.

            "Chris, you're losing yo - "  Joey stopped and looked toward the stage as the music faded.

            "This years Grammy for album of the year goes to…"  Garth Brooks fumbled with the envelope, “They make these things so hard to open."  He laughed.  "Okay, the Grammy goes to…. Nsync, Celebrity!"

            "No way."  Joey whispered beside Chris.

            "What?"  Chris' heart stopped in his chest.

            "Whoa!"  JC jumped up from his seat on the aisle and hugged his girlfriend as he stepped into the aisle to wait for the other four.

            Chris remained in his seat as the others got up and side stepped down the row to the applause and cheers of people around them.  "Come on."  Joey laughed and nodded from halfway up the row.

            "No, I - "  Chris stood up but couldn't move his feet.  "Wait, wait I don't want this."  Chris shook his head.

            "It's a Grammy, yes you do."  Joey laughed and went back up the row to grab Chris' jacket.  "Don't be an idiot, let's go."

            "No, I don't want this."  Chris yanked his sleeve from Joey's grasp.  "I want my wife and kids and job back man, this is crap."

            "You've lost your mind.  Come and accept the award and we'll deal with this later."  Joey tried to hold his smile, as the audience became aware of the fact that Nsync wasn't on stage yet.

            "What's the hold up man?"  Justin asked as he walked up behind Joey.

            "He doesn't want to go."  Joey laughed over his shoulder.  "The biggest award ever in our lives and he doesn't want to go."

            "Have your midlife crisis later Chris, we're going up there."  Justin reached past Joey and pulled Chris to his feet.  He didn't let go until they were all in the aisle where he wedged Chris between Lance and JC in the caravan up to the stage.

            "No, wait, Lance I don't want this."  Chris turned around and took two steps backward as he faced Lance.

            "What?"  Lance smiled and shook his head.  "Turn around before you fall."

            "I mean it Lance, I don't want this.  I want my life back."

            "What are you talking about?"  Lance asked as he turned to look at Joey, “What's he talking about?"

            "I don't know, did he mention Jenny?"  Joey asked.

            "Jenny?"  Lance turned back to Chris, “What about Jenny?"

            "She's - I have to go, she's in the hospital.  Please just let me go."  Chris tried to walk against the flow down the aisle to the back door.

            "Knock this shit off." Justin said as he held his smile for the cameras.  He wrapped his arm over Chris' shoulder in an apparent brotherly hug and escorted him to the stage.  With Joey's help they got him up the short steps to the podium and let JC have the microphone to accept the prestigious award.

            Spotlights flashed and blinded Chris as he stood by the glass-topped podium in the middle of a minor panic attack.  "Hey Joey, just let me go man, tell them I'm sick."  Chris said softly as he leaned over.

            "I'm not hearing you Chris.  Just smile and shut up for a minute."  Joey snarled through his smiling lips.

            Chris tuned out JC's little speech and didn't even notice as they each took turns thanking everyone for all their support.  When it came Chris' turn he immediately wanted to thank Melanie and the kids, but he knew that he couldn't… so instead he said nothing, and rushed off stage in front of the others.

 

            "Care to explain?"  JC asked after they posed for the required media shots with their Grammy.

            "No."  Chris stubbornly turned around to find the nearest exit.

            "What's his problem?"  Justin asked as he walked up with Britney on his arm.

            "He's wiggin."  Joey shook his head.

            "Seriously."  JC shook his head.  "I had to practically hug him to keep him on the fuckin carpet for pictures.  If I didn't think he was just being a prick I'd be worried."

            "He seems confused or delusional."  Lance frowned.

            "Did he dip into your stash?"  Justin asked JC playfully.

            "Watch it."  JC reached over and backhanded Justin across his chest.  "You keep talkin' like that and people will think you're serious."

            "Yeah, yeah."  Justin rolled his eyes.  "Are you guys gonna take care of him?"  Justin asked as he glanced over Britney's shoulder to a group of performers by the media room.  His feet bounced uncontrollably as he spotted Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

            "Yeah, we'll slap him around a little."  Joey nodded.  "Tell Flea I said hey."

            "I will."  Justin turned around quickly and maneuvered his way through the crowd.

            "Where'd he go?"  Lance looked around for Chris.  "And hey, what'd he say about Jenny?"  He asked Joey.

            "He said he had to get back to Jenny or something."

            "Get back at her?  What the hell for?"  Lance scowled.

            "Get back to her.  He was squawking about Jenny being his kid or something, I don't know."  Joey shrugged.

            "Just outta nowhere he started being weird?"  Lance lowered his voice.

            "Being 'weird' isn't exactly a stretch for Chris."  JC pointed out.

            "No, but still.  He was normal when we got here, right?  He was all excited about being nominated and shit.  Then when they started to read the nominees it was like someone hit him with a stupid stick."  Joey shrugged.  "You think he's on something?"

            "No."  JC shook his head.  "Chris wouldn't do that."

            "You never know."

            "Yeah Joe… I can just see him hitting the crack pipe in the middle of the Grammy awards, real inconspicuous."  JC rolled his eyes.

            "How else can you explain it?"  Joey asked.

            JC stood on his tiptoes to scan the room again; “I can't explain it."  JC sighed.  "He's not here though, dammit where'd he go?"

            "I'll go find him."  Lance shoved is hands in his pockets and rolled his shoulders.  He made his way to the only exit that led out to the parking area and approached the guard, “Hey, did a guy just go out here?"

            "A guy?"  The guard smiled and shook his head.  "About a dozen drivers."

            "I'm actually looking for Chris Kirkpatrick.  He's got brown hair and he's wearing this blue suit thing with a black shirt."  Lance shrugged.

            "Yeah he went out with them."

            "With the drivers?"

            "Yeah."

            "Shit."  Lance mumbled under his breath.  "Okay."  He reached for the handle but was stopped with the guard's heavy hand.  "What?"

            "You can't go out there."  The guard responded in a gruff voice.

            "I can't go out there?"

            "Are you leaving?"

            "I'd like to, yeah."

            "If you go out this door you can't get back inside."  The guard shook his head.

            "I'm just gonna go grab him and bring him back inside."  Lance tried to argue.

            "Nope."  The guard shook his head and stood his ground.  "This is an exit only.  This goes out to the buses and vans and that's it."

            Lance pondered that for a minute, he couldn't just leave Jenny in her seat for the rest of the night.  "Fine."  He sighed and walked back to JC, “He ducked out the side door there."

            "Dammit to hell, go get him.  We can't go back out there one man short."

            "I can't.  If you go out that door you can't come back in.  It goes out to the buses and vans and stuff.  He's probably just on the bus."

            "We've got parties we've gotta go to."  JC frowned.

            Lance shrugged, “I don't think he cares."

            "He's getting a talkin' to tomorrow.  I swear man, he’s pissing me off."  JC exhaled sharply and walked away briskly.

 

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

 

            Chris stood in the bunk area of the empty bus and pounded his fists on the wood paneling.  "What is this?!  God dammit what is this?"  He shouted toward the roof.  "You can't keep fucking with my life like this!  You can't take me out of my life and toss me into something else and leave me there for two months then slap me back here!  That's not fair!  You can't just do that!"  He shouted in rage as he threw his body against the bunks.  "The grass is always greener right?!  You can't do this to people!  You can't show them the other side then take it away!"  Spit flew from Chris' lips as he continued to curse the ceiling of the bus, slamming his fisted hands into anything solid he could find.

            "Chris?"  A voice asked from the opposite side of the bus door.

            "Go away."  Chris screamed without turning around.

            "Dude Chris open up."

            "I swear to God, just leave me alone."  Chris shouted as he kicked at the drawers below the bunks.

            "I can help you Chris."

            "You can't help me."  Chris lowered his voice a tad.

            "Yes I can.  I brought you back here; I can send you back there.  Let me in." 

            "What?!"  Chris flew through the air in one quick leap and pulled the bus door open to face whoever it was outside.

            "Hi Chris, I'm Patrick."

            "What are you talking about?"  Chris seethed as Patrick hopped onto the bus and looked back toward the bunks where slivers of the paneling were missing.

            "The grass is always greener.  That's me."  Patrick shrugged and tugged at his lip.  Chris was stunned into silence as he fought to catch his breath.  "You wanted to know what your life would have been like if Nsync never happened.  Well, I showed you."

            "But - You can't - I just - That was - "  Chris couldn't form complete thoughts as he stared at this man in front of him.

            "You obviously don't think that was fair."

            "You left me there for almost two months."  Chris' eyes narrowed to tiny slits as his anger began to resurface.  "I never knew if I'd be coming back here."

            "It was just a look Chris.  But if I just showed you, like a movie or whatever, that wouldn't make a difference to you.  You had to go and live it, to get the feeling for what your life would have been.  To know the emotions and people that dominate your life in that scenario."

            "But what if that grass was fine on that side?  What if I didn't want to come back here?"

            "This is your life Chris; this is what you chose all those years ago.  This is the life that you are living.  The other life?  With the wife and kids… that's not real."

            "Yes it is."

            "No it's not."

            "Yes it is, yes it is."  Chris insisted as he pressed his hands over his eyes.  "Melanie is real, Lauren is real, my Jenny is real… the baby is real.  It's all real and I want to go back.  I want to go back right now."

            Patrick stared at Chris for a moment, though he seemed lost in thought.  "You need to think about this Chris.  This can not be undone.  You've spent thirty years in this life as you know it… and a few weeks in the other."

            "That's what I want."  Chris set his jaw with determination.

            "When you first got there you just wanted to come back to this."  Patrick shook his head.

            "I didn't know."  Chris frowned. 

            "You need to think about this, really think about it.  Take tonight and in the morning you can make your decision.  This is the rest of your life, and you need to think about all of the possibilities."  Patrick said slowly.

            "I don't want all of this bullshit; I just want to go back."

            "I'll come back in the morning."  Patrick acted like he hadn't even heard Chris.  "Think about it Chris.  Really think about it."  He turned and left as suddenly as he appeared.  The door slammed shut behind him and Chris fell to the floor in disbelief.

 

            "Chris!  Christopher!  Christopholous!"  Justin shouted as he banged on the door more than an hour later.  "H'lo?  You in there?"

            "What do you want?"  Chris asked as he pulled himself off the floor.  He stepped over a piece of a drawer that he had kicked off and stood in the kitchen as Justin pulled the door open.

            "Let’s go."  Justin said as he hopped up onto the bus.  "Fuckin A, what happened here?"

            "Go where?"  Chris ignored his question.

            "To the hotel."  Justin looked around with a frown.  "What's… is that the paneling?"

            "We're not taking the bus?"

            "We're leaving the buses here and taking the vans back to the hotel because it's local and they're letting us store the buses here till we're done with the Grammy stuff.  We covered that this morning."  Justin said as he looked back at Chris.  "So come on."

            "We're leaving now?"

            "Yes Forrest Gump, we're leaving right now.  What the hell happened in here?"

            "Nothing." Chris picked his coat up off the back of the chair and brushed past Justin as he hopped off the bus.  "Where are the vans?"

            "How many times have we done this?"

            "Fuck off Justin."

            "Meow."  Justin frowned as his cell phone rang in his pocket.  He took it out and immediately smiled, “Hey babe… ten whole minutes without me?"

            Chris rolled his eyes and shoved his hands in his pockets as he crossed the wide bus lot to the side exit where two vans were waiting.  Security was three deep as he exited the gate and slid into the first van he came to with a face he recognized in it.

            "Hey Chris!"

            "Hey Todd."  Chris mumbled a meek greeting to one of his favorite guards.

            "Where's the kid?"

            "Coming."

            Justin jumped into the van behind him with his phone still pressed to his ear, deep in conversation.  "I know, but I thought we could go."  He argued with someone on the other end.  "I heard you, but listen - "  He sighed and put his seat belt on.  "Listen man, if we go to the track that'll be like, all day not just a couple hours."

            Chris scowled in the back seat and leaned against the window when the door was shut.  He did his best to tune out Justin's side of the conversation as he breathed foggy circles onto the window.  His mind ran every which way as he tried to prove to himself that this was a dream, that he'd wake up in a minute back in the hospital room with Jenny.  "Just like I did when I first got there."  Chris thought to himself.  He pinched his eyes closed and pressed his forehead harder against the glass, wishing Justin would stop talking for just two minutes so he could try to think straight.

 

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

 

            "We need to talk to him."  Joey whispered as he and JC rode in the back of the van.

            "No, he needs to sleep it off."  JC sighed and leaned against the window.  "We'll talk it out tomorrow when Johnny gets here."

            "I'm serious, he's not right."  Joey shook his head.  "I think we should grab him tonight."

            "Go ahead."  JC yawned and closed his eyes.

            "You're not gonna help?"

            "Joe.  If you wanna play head shrinker for the nutcase then go ahead.  I'm gonna wait until tomorrow when Johnny can come and play referee so I don't kill him."

            Joey sighed and leaned forward on the seat in front of him and tapped Lance's shoulder, “Hey.  We need to talk to Chris."

            "No shit."

            "So why don't we get together in your room and find out what's going on?"

            "Fine."  Lance leaned his head back and yawned.  "Cruise on over like at ten or eleven or something, we'll find out what's up."

            "It's eleven thirty."

            "Tomorrow morning."

            Joey sighed and rolled his eyes, “Shit, what is it with you guys?  No one wants to find out why Chris flipped out on us tonight.  You guys suck."  He frowned and narrowed his eyes as he slammed back in his seat, rousing JC from his half sleep.

            "Chris will be here tomorrow, chill out Joe."  Lance leaned forward and pulled his walkman out of his backpack then slid the headphones onto his ears.

            "Fuckin' whatever."  Joey crossed his arms over his chest and sulked as he stared out the window on their way back to the hotel.  If they wouldn't help him, then Joey would go by himself.  There was something wrong with Chris and it was more than just a minor freak out that they'd had on occasion, this was something much more serious.

 

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

 

            When they got back to the hotel Chris looked at his security guard and asked, “What room?"

            "Hmm?"  The guard fell into step beside him as they walked across the lobby.

            "What room am I in?"  Chris repeated as he fingered the card key in his back pocket.

            "I don't know the number kid; it's the second one up from the end of the hall.  Right by Joe's room."  He shrugged.

            "On the right or the left?"  Chris sighed as they climbed onto the elevator.

            "Um…"  The guard closed his eyes and thought.  "On the right I think."

            "Thanks, you're a big help."  Chris grumbled and leaned against the mirrored wall of the elevator.  He caught a glimpse of his reflection and stared at himself.  His eyes were the same, his hair was a little longer, his goatee was neatly trimmed… but his jacket and bright colored shirt were too much for the 'Chris' he'd just spent nearly two months as.  His pants fit a little too snug and his shoes pinched across the top, even if they did look hot.

            Chris ran his thumb over the inside of his left ring finger and deepened his frown as his finger met flesh instead of metal.  He caught a whiff of his own cologne as they stepped off the elevator and started down the hall.

            After so many weeks away he'd almost forgotten how the security guards saw him to his door and how the whole thing worked, so when the security stopped at his door and smiled, Chris nearly ran into him.  "This is it." 

            "Thanks."  Chris slid his key in the card reader and waited for the tiny beep to let him know he'd done it right.

            "Hey Chris."  Joey called after him as he started down the hall, “Hold that door Kev."  He said to the guard.

            Chris pulled the door open then wordlessly crossed the room and sat on the couch in the corner.  The TV had been left on but muted and the light from the screen was the only light in the room as he pulled his knees to his chest.  Joey sighed from the doorway and shut the door tightly behind him after excusing the guard.

            Joey uncomfortably scratched his elbow and cleared his throat, “Hey… are you okay?"  He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked about ready to bolt.  This kind of behavior was so unlike Chris, he wasn't sure what to say because he wasn't sure who he was really talking to.

            Chris pulled his knees up tighter against his chest and nodded as he stared out the window, “Yeah."  He mumbled.

            "Because we… I don't think you are."  Joey creased his brow and sat in the recliner across from Chris.  "You freaked out tonight and at first it was just weird, but then it scared the shit outta me."

            "I know."

            "So… so what's that about?"

            "Nothing.  Just stuff, it's no biggie, I'll be fine tomorrow."  Chris' lips moved against his knees as he hugged his legs closer.

            "Are you on something?"

            Chris stared at Joey for a second, “You think I'm on drugs?"  He asked with disbelief.

            "Well shit Chris.  I don't know."  Joey sighed and raked his fingers through his hair.  "You're perfectly fine then out of nowhere you turn into this guy who doesn't know where he is or why and you're talking about all this whacked out stuff."  He shrugged and looked at the floor.  "I'm just worried about you man, seriously.  If something's going on with you we can help, you know?  All of us, that's what we're here for.  We're brothers Chris, and if one of us is down in the dumps or just feeling off it's up to the rest of us to find out what's up… so… well that's what I'm doing."

            "I'm fine."

            Joey nodded solemnly, he expected Chris to say that.  He thought for a minute then bit his lip and sighed.  "Remember when Justin had those problems with his mom a couple months ago and he pulled that turtle shit?  Where he'd like…go back into his shell any time any of us were around?"  Chris nodded, but didn't take his eyes off of his reflection in the window.  "Right, and what'd you say when he said it was nothing?"  Joey asked.  Chris didn't respond with anything more than a partial shrug.  "You told him even if it was nothing, that you were there to listen to him complain about nothing so that we could all do nothing to help him."

            "So?"

            "So I'm here to listen if you wanna talk about nothing."  Joey held his hands out in a silent offering.

            "It's nothing that anyone would understand."

            "Try me."

            "Joey, you of all people wouldn't get this."

            "Bite my ass Chris."  Joey tossed a look over at the older man.  "You're not special you know.  You don't feel things that everyone else doesn't, you don't understand everything either."

            "I'm not saying that."  Chris sighed.

            "Then what are you saying?"

            Chris was silent for a minute, then he took a deep breath and said, “I saw what my life would have been like if I never got involved with Nsync.  I saw my family and everything like that.  And now I - “He paused to exhale and think about how to word the next part, “Now I want to go back."

            "You can't go back Chris, what's done is done.  You're here living out your dream man.  This is where it's at.  It may not be perfect all the time... but this is our life now."

            "It doesn't have to be."

            "Chris… you can't just leave the group.  It doesn't work that way."  Worry tickled at Joey's spine as he realized that right then Chris could definitely be serious about ditching the group.

            "I don't mean leave it."

            "That's what it sounds like."

            "I mean go back and never make the decision to start the group.  So Nsync never even existed."

            "You can't do that."  Joey frowned.

            Chris sighed; he knew no one would understand.  "Let’s pretend for a second that I can make it so that when I wake up tomorrow morning it would be like Nsync never happened.  Like I'd gone on working at Sea World and gotten married and had kids and all of that."

            "You worked at Sea World?"

            Chris nodded, “Before Disney."

            "Really?"

            "Focus Joey."  Chris sighed.  "So let's say I can do that…"

            "Well that'd be fine and dandy for you but what about us?"

            "All I've done for the past six years is think about you guys."

            Joey raised his eyebrow and gave Chris a minute to hear what he'd just said, “That's what being part of a group is about.  We all think about the others."

            "If I never got you, JC and Justin and everyone all together you'd have gone on with your lives.  I'm just saying I want to do that.  To go back to where I'd be if Nsync never happened."

            "Okay you wanna pretend?  Let's pretend you could do that.  Let’s pretend that you can go back to your middle American life… the wife and kids, two car garage… whatever."  Chris nodded and waited for Joey to continue.  "That's your life.  But without Nsync where would I be?"

            "I don't know."  Chris shrugged without caring.

            "I'd be back in New York getting into twenty different kinds of trouble and still living with my parents.  Justin would be one of those guys that goes around telling everyone how he coulda been something great, if he didn’t lose on Star Search.  Lance would be some cow breeder or something, never even putting his voice to use… not after all those lessons and shopping around and rejections he got when he was a kid.  JC?  Well JC would be the washed up guy who used to be on the Mickey Mouse show, making commercials for toothpaste or something.  Probably, like most other child stars, recovering from some heavy drug shit."

            "Joey… come on, you don't know that."

            "Yeah well you don't know that either.  I'm just saying that you making the decision to never start Nsync takes it away from all of us, not just you.  We'd all be doing something else."

            "So maybe that would be better."   Chris coughed into his knees and sighed.

            "Better than this?"  Joey waved his arm around with a typical Joey smile, “What could be better than this?  We make enough money so that our families are living comfortably, we're making music, and we're free to do just about anything we want.  We get to see the whole world and do all this awesome stuff like work with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.  Man, we get to touch so many people doing what we do, it's crazy."

            "I know."

            "So what's the funk about?  Why are you even thinking about what life would be like otherwise?"

            "Because I saw it Joe."

            "You saw it?"

            "Yeah."

            "Okay, you saw it.  And that's what you want?"

            "Yeah."

            "You want to give up everything you've worked for here, the past like, seven years or whatever… for something else?"

            Chris tapped his finger against his lips as he took a few deep breaths.  "Yeah."

            Joey had no idea where any of this came from or how powerful his next words would be, but he knew he had to say them for whatever reason.  "You know, just because you chose Nsync seven years ago doesn't mean you can't have the wife and kids and picket fence.  You can still have that if that's what you want.  In fact, you can have it all Chris.  The family, the fame, the money, the kids.  But if you went back and never chose Nsync?  You'd have those other things, but you could never have what we have here.  So it doesn’t make sense that you'd want to choose half, when you could have it all… for nothing."

            "I can't have it all here."

            "Why not?  Gimme one good reason why you can't find yourself a little wife and pop out a couple kids?"

            "Because we're on the road 350 days a year."

            "It's not that bad."  Joey shook his head.  "Besides, you know as well as I do that this isn't forever.  If you find a girl now and keep her around for another couple years, we'll be done touring and you can settle down."

            "But I want to do that now."

            Joey sighed and stood up.  "Well, like I said.  Think about the consequences.  Think about Justin… I mean, he's just a kid.  Think about JC and Lance and… and me."  Joey argued his case as though there really were a chance that Chris could go back and change it.  In his mind he secretly hoped that Chris would be back to normal when he woke up.

            "Yeah."  Chris whispered as he rested his chin on his knees.  "Thanks Joe."

            "You're welcome."  Joey blew the air out of his lungs and stood there staring at Chris for a minute before he headed for the door in the dark.  As he turned the handle he turned around to see Chris' silhouette against the light coming in through the window behind him.  "You know, I don't think I've ever thanked you for doing this, you know?  For starting Nsync and getting the whole ball rolling.  You've kinda made me think about that tonight.  I don't know where I'd be if we hadn't done this… but I'm glad we don't have to find out… 'cause I like my life.  This is pretty alright."  Chris didn't move a muscle, and from where Joey stood he wasn't able to see the tears that glistened in the corners of his eyes.  "Bye."  Joey whispered into the dark room before he stepped out into the hall and went back to his own room.

 

            After Joey left, Chris sat in silence for a little while longer, then he got up and pulled his computer out.  He knew that the web was his only hope.  If Justin could find parts for a 1929 Ford Model T online, Chris could find a few people.  He sat at the little desk and hooked his laptop up to the dataport and logged on.  It'd been a while since he did anything but play games or answer email on it, but it wasn't long before he found the types of sites he was looking for.

            Chris spent half the night online looking for any trace of Melanie or Eddie even.  He input his credit card information to get any information he could, but he found nothing new.  The only information he found was for Melanie's parents address in Kentucky, which had to be out of date because he knew for a fact that they moved to Florida.  He searched for the partnership he worked for, and for anyone at all that he might have known in his other life, but nothing showed up.

            For an hour he thought of hopping a flight and renting a car to drive to where his house was… but deep inside he knew it would be pointless.  Even if the house itself was there, it didn't belong to him; and Melanie wouldn't be in it.  He called the hospital that he'd left Jenny in to see if she was a patient there, but of course she wasn't.  There was nothing left for him to do… the only way for him to get back to them was to choose that when Patrick showed up again.  To choose that life and leave behind everything from this one.  Joey, Justin, Lance, JC… all of it.  He would have to voluntarily give up everything that he'd ever known.

            "I can't do this."  Chris switched his computer off and rubbed at his tired eyes.  It was after three in the morning and he was mentally and physically exhausted.   Chris collapsed onto his bed fully clothed and was asleep before his computer finished its 'shutting down' process.

 

 

 

 

 

The end...

 

 

Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn