I slept in until almost 11 in the morning the next day, a well deserved 9 hours of sleep I think. I threw my big blue robe on and headed for the kitchen where I made myself a big bowl of captain crunch cereal. I stood at the counter and ate as I flipped through the newest People magazine.

I was halfway through the crossword puzzle at the end when the phone rang. I sat my bowl in the sink as I lazily reached for the phone. As I picked the handset off the holder my heart skipped a beat, it could be Chris!

"Hello?" I asked, trying to make myself sound awake.

"Hey there trouble, so you did come home last night." Dave laughed.

I smiled and gave a small sigh of relief, "Yeah, I made it home last night. Hang on, let me get my cordless, I’m in the kitchen."

"Okay." He held on as I ran into the bedroom to get the other phone. I hung up the phone in the kitchen and dropped myself onto my couch.

"So what’s up? I haven’t seen you in a while." I smiled and tucked my feet up under me.

"Not much, lots of work and a little play. You know how it goes." He laughed.

"Yeah."

"So what about you?" He asked. "You been playing much?"

"A little." I blushed, though he couldn’t see me. "I’ve actually been working a lot. We’re trying to get that vaccination clinic up more than once a month."

"Uh huh." He smiled. "What’s up with Mr. Boy band? I’m sorry… Chris."

"Nothing’s ‘up’ with him. We’ve hung out a couple times, that’s all." I blushed again and played with my ponytail.

"Are you having fun?"

"Yes, of course. He’s a lot of fun. They all are, the whole group." I said.

"Well then that’s all that matters. I just want to hear you’re having fun."

"I am." I laughed. I reached across my end table for my little bottles of nail polish. One was bright purple, and one was dark purple with glitter. "With or without glitter?" I asked Dave.

"For what?"

"Just answer."

"With glitter." He said. "What are you doing?"

"I’m going to paint my toenails while you talk to me." I explained as I shook the bottle and put my feet on the coffee table.

"Shouldn’t you get a boyfriend to do that?"

"I don’t have a boyfriend. Unless you want to come over and do it for me." I smirked.

"I don’t think Melanie would be too thrilled with that." He said, speaking of his fiancée.

"I don’t think she would either. Speaking of Melanie, where is that little snot?"

"She’s sitting on the other end of the futon here. You wanna talk to her?" He asked.

"No, that’s okay, just tell her I said Hiya darlin."

"Mel, Gracie says hiya darlin." He said away from the speaker.

"Hiya snookums." Melanie laughed.

"Okay okay, enough." Dave laughed. We talked and I painted for the next fifteen minutes, before Dave said, "So hey, I seem to remember you promising me lunch at Canters."

"Gross." I heard Melanie say in the background.

"I just had a bowl of cereal, but I’ll meet you there for dessert."

"Good enough." He smiled.

"Cool, let me take a shower, and I’ll meet you there at 12:30p, okay?"

"You got it, see ya then."

I took a shower and rushed over to Canters to be on time. Dave was waiting out front, as usual. He half expected me to be late. We got a table in the back and ordered desserts and drinks. We sat there and talked for more than an hour. He asked all kinds of questions about the guys, and I answered them all as well as I could. I knew he was just looking out for me, and though it bordered on being annoying, I truly enjoyed it. I grew up without a father, and was always looking for some sort of father figure, and when I met Dave, I knew he was the one. He talked to me as a friend, and gave advice as a father. It was a nice combination. He’d been there for me through a lot of tough times; I couldn’t make it without him.

When we were leaving Dave gave me a big hug and said, "You know if you need anything you can call. Mel and I are always here for you."

"I know. Thanks." I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and headed for my car.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I spent the afternoon picking up my apartment, and making a big dent in my dishes. Around five thirty my phone rang. I turned the water off and peeled the big yellow gloves off my hands as I reached for the cordless. "Hello?"

"Hi, Grace? This is Chris."

"Hi." I smiled and leaned my elbows on the counter.

"What’re you up to?" He asked.

"Not much, just doing the dishes and cleaning up. How was your morning?"

"Good." He nodded. "And I took a nap this afternoon so I’m raring to go."

"Raring to go where?" I asked.

"Anywhere. Wanna come?"

"I’d love to." I laughed.

"Do you have to work tomorrow?"

"No, I’m off until Monday, but then I work Monday through Friday straight next week. Ugh."

"Five whole days in a row huh?" He said with mock sympathy. "Man, they just work you into the ground."

"They’re twelve hour days deary."

"Are you serious?" He sounded shocked.

"Yep. So yeah, 5 days in a row is kind of working me into the ground." I laughed.

"Man, that’s rough. I know how it feels, but that’s still rough."

"Yeah but I love it." I smiled.

"Me too." He matched my smile, and asked, "So, how about going out tonight?"

"Sure." I stood up and stretched my back. "Where to?"

"Actually, the guys wanted to go find a club or somewhere we could go dancing. We haven’t been out dancing for fun, in a while."

"Ahhh." I said, mildly disappointed. The guys were cool, but I’d like to get Chris alone for a real date, just to see where this was going. "Yeah, that sounds like fun."

"Cool, have you eaten yet?"

"No, not yet." I glanced at the clock.

"Okay, well why don’t you shoot on over, we can grab a bite here at the hotel, and then leave from here?"

"That sounds good, do you know where we’re going?"

"Not off the top of my head. JC and Joey know all the good dance clubs around here."

"Okay." I nodded. "I’ll clean up here and head on over."

"All right, just come on up to my room, we’ll all meet here."

"See you then." I sighed and hung up.

I cleaned myself up a bit and changed into my "going out dancing" clothes, which consisted of comfortable but cute shoes, black jeans and a tiny white tank top with spaghetti straps and "Super Star" written in rhinestones across the front. I grabbed Lances jacket from the night before, and headed out.

When I got to the hotel I parked around back and went up to the 4th floor. The huge beef eater guy was waiting when I stepped off the elevator. "Hi." I smiled and dug the laminated badge out of my pocket.

"You’re back for more huh?" He asked.

"Yeah, I just can’t get enough." I laughed and walked down the hall.

"GRACIE!" Someone shouted my name behind me. I turned around to see Justin trying to put his sneaker on, and walk at the same time. "Hey hi, I didn’t know you were coming over, this is great, we’re just getting ready to go out." He stopped and tied his shoe before continuing toward me.

"Um, yeah, Chris invited me earlier." I gave him a look, and laughed.

"Awesome, so you’re coming?"

"Yeah." I waited for him to catch up.

"Cool." He smiled and walked beside me down to Chris’ room. As I reached up to knock, Justin pushed the door open. "Hey pops, look who I found in the hallway." Justin flopped himself down on the bed.

Chris stepped out from the bathroom area, running his good hand through his damp hair, "Hi." His face lit up as he smiled. He looked ready to go in his hooded black long sleeved shirt, and jeans.

"Hi, need a hand?" I asked.

"Would you? That’d be great." I followed him back to the bathroom and put a dab of gel in the palm of my hand. "You have no idea what a retard I’ve looked like the last couple days. I swear, all my hair kinda went froink! Off to the left, it was horrible." I worked the gel into his hair, and made it stand up, evenly.

"How’s that?"

"Good, great… much better than froinking off to the left." He caught my eye in the mirror and smiled.

"Yeah, froinking is bad." I laughed as we walked out to the main room. By then all the other guys had shown up and were sitting around on the floor and at the table.

"Hey baby." Joey smiled from his position on the floor, where he was flipping through a case of CDs.

"Hi sweetie." I laughed.

"Hi." JC said, not looking up from whatever it was he was reading.

"Lance, you ready?" Chris asked.

"Yep." Lance stood up and reached for his jacket.

"Oh hey Lance, I have your other jacket, here." I picked it up off my purse and handed it to him.

"Ahh, thanks." He smiled.

"Thank you." I said.

"Okay, let’s go eat." Justin said as he stood up from where he was sitting on the floor beside JC.

It took a couple minutes, but soon we were all on our way to the hotel restaurant just off the lobby. We made small talk during the meal, and Joey filled us in on where we’d be going dancing. "I don’t remember the name of the place, but it’s go-"

"O’Malleys Alley." JC said between bites.

Joey glanced at JC and said, "Right. O'Malleys Alley. Anyways, it’s got two dance levels and the freshest DJ, man, you guys are gonna love it."

Joey narrated the rest of the meal with descriptions of his exploits at the dance club. Chris had plenty of crass comments to make, but Joey took them all in stride, I’m sure he heard them all the time.

After the meal, we headed for the back entrance, with a small army of security guards. "Are they coming with us?" I asked.

JC looked at me for a second, then said, "Yes."

"They have to, it’s a drag, I know, but that’s how it goes." Lance shrugged.

"You won’t even notice them." Chris smiled and reached for my hand. He seemed almost shy as he laced his fingers through mine, and caught my eye. He leaned in to me as we exited the building and made our way to the van, "You look nice tonight."

"Thanks." I smiled and climbed in beside Justin. Chris climbed in and shut the door, and we were off.

At the club we got the VIP treatment. We were ushered to the side entrance and set free. Joey was right, the DJ was fabulous, as we walked towards the dance floor I heard three songs meld into one hot dance beat.

"Good choice Joe." Justin yelled, to be heard above the music. Before I knew it, the guys took off in different directions and I was left facing Chris, watching his lips move.

"Do what?" I shouted as I leaned toward his ear.

"Do you wa-" The rest was lost as the DJ shouted something unintelligible.

"Over here." I shouted, and pulled him over to what looked like a quieter corner. "What?" I asked again.

"It’s loud out there." Chris shook his head. "Dude, that’s worse than a show."

"Yeah." I shook my head looked toward the floor. "What did you ask?"

"I said, do you want to dance?" He smiled. "Kinda dumb question huh?"

I laughed and said, "Yeah, but let’s go downstairs."

"Yeah." He nodded and grabbed my hand. We headed for the stairs in the corner and made our way down. It was then that I noticed one of the security guys was following about 3 feet behind us. What a weird sensation.

As soon as we hit the floor on the ground level, I spotted JC and Justin in the middle of the crowd. I scanned the room and found Joey standing in a corner with a drink in one hand and his arm around a cute red head. Man, he doesn’t waste any time. I couldn’t locate Lance, but Chris didn’t seem worried as we stepped onto the dance floor.

We danced up a sweat for a couple of hours before I needed a break. I motioned to Chris that I was leaving the floor, and he followed. We found an empty table back near the bathrooms, romantic, I know. "I don’t know how those guys can stay out there. I’m dying here." I laughed.

"This is nothing. We do at least an hour of warm up before a 2 hour show, every night." Chris said as he ran his hand through his wet hair.

"But still…" I smiled and watched the others tear up the floor. "That’s just so much energy."

He nodded and waved a waitress over. He ordered two waters then leaned on the table towards me, "You wanna get out of here?"

"What?" I leaned closer, so that his lips were almost touching my ear.

"Do you want to get out of here?"

"Are you tired?" I asked.

He shook his head, "No, I just… I’d rather be somewhere else."

"What?" I asked as the music got louder. The waitress came back with our bottles of water, so Chris grabbed them and nodded for me to follow him.

We made it out the front door a couple minutes later, and he leaned against the stucco wall. "I said, I’d rather be somewhere else." He smiled and handed me a water.

"Thanks." I took a long drink and asked, "Where do you want to be?"

"Anywhere. I’ve done enough dancing today. And I think we still owe each other a walk." He untucked his shirt and fanned himself.

"Are you allowed, I mean, can we just leave?" I looked back at the door, waiting for the security guy to follow us out.

"We can go back to the hotel, we can walk around there." He said.

"At the hotel?" I laughed.

"Or we can go back inside." He smiled and cocked his head to the side. He looked like a kid when he did that, and I had to laugh.

"No, let’s go back." I finished my water and we headed toward the van. "Don’t you have to let someone know?"

"Nope." He jumped in the back and said, "Hey Timmy, can you take us back? We’re going to call it a night I think."

"Sure thing pops." Timmy, the driver said, as he started the engine. "I’ve got CK, going home." He said into a radio looking thing.

"There ya go, security knows." He smiled.

"Scary… like secret service."

"Yeah, something like that. But at least this way no one has to spend an hour looking for me when I’m back safe at the hotel, ya know?"

"Yeah… hey, that’s the second person I’ve heard call you pops. Is that a nickname?"

"Ha, that’s what they call me because I’m so old." He smiled and sat back in the seat.

"You’re not so old." I said, "You’re only 3 years older than me."

"Yeah, but I’m almost 10 years older than Justin." He made a face. "I’m the old guy in the group. So…" he sighed. "So I’m pops, and Justin is ‘the kid’."

"That’s cute… pops." I laughed.

"Naw… now don’t you start." He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the seat.

"Are you tired?"

"Nope." He said, keeping his eyes closed.

"How does your arm feel?" I asked as I touched his slightly swollen fingers.

"It’s all right."

"If the swelling bothers you, I can see about getting an anti-inflammatory for you."

"Are you ever not a nurse?" He opened his eyes and smiled.

"Are you ever not Nsync?" I retorted.

"Yes." He said softly.

"Oh really? When?" I smiled and gave him a daring look.

"Occasionally." He closed his eyes again. "Maybe someday you’ll see me when I’m in a ‘not Nsync’ mode."

"All right, well maybe someday you’ll see me in my ‘not a nurse’ mode."

"Fair enough." He smiled and yawned.

"See? You are tired."

"I’m not tired." He almost whispered. "I’m awake."

"I can see." I smiled and leaned against the seat.

We drove back to the hotel, and the van pulled around to the back door. Chris opened his eyes and ran his hand through his hair before he opened the door and hopped out. He offered me his good hand to help me out of the back. "I’m just going to walk her to her car, I’ll be in in a minute." He said to the driver as he took my hand and gave it a little squeeze. "Where are you parked?" He leaned in close to ask.

"Um, I’m over behind the parking structure." I tucked my hair behind my ear and smiled at the feel of his hand in mine. I don’t know when it was exactly, but sometime over the last day or two, I’d come to love his touch. He ran his thumb lightly over the back of my hand and I blushed, it was as though he read my mind.

"Did you have a good time tonight?" He asked as we walked slowly toward the two level parking structures.

"Yes, I did, thank you."

"I wish we could have just taken off by ourselves, but…" He let the sentence trail off.

"But…?"

"Well, I guess I wasn’t sure if you’d like that. I mean, you got along really well with the guys at the photo thing the other night. I though maybe you wanted to hang out with all of them."

"Chris, I had a fun time with them, and I don’t mind going out with them, like I said, I had a good time tonight. But I was actually looking forward to getting you alone for a minute or two." I smiled.

"Really?"

"Really." I said as we walked into the parking structure. "Actually I’m around back." I tugged his arm toward the exit.

"I know." He smiled. "We’re taking the scenic route."

"Ahh." I laughed quietly and fell into step beside him. "So, the dreaded question, what are you thinking right now?"

"Right now? I’m thinking that it sucks that I have to leave on Wednesday." He sighed and looked at his shoes.

"Where do you have to go?" I asked a couple seconds later.

"Um, New York." He said. "We have some more promo work to do before we head back to Florida to prepare for our tour."

"Hmm, sounds like fun."

He shrugged, "I guess. It’s just that we’ve been doing this for so long, all I want is a month off to do nothing, you know?"

"I know what you mean." I smiled. "I have something like, 6 weeks vacation saved up because I never think it’s a good time to go. I should just take it all at once."

"I’ll take it for you." He laughed.

"I’d let you if I could." I smiled as we walked around the corner to the second level of the structure.

We walked in silence for a couple minutes, until we got to the top of the structure. We walked over to the ledge and Chris leaned on his elbows. I stood beside him and looked out at the fog rolling into the city from the shore.

"Hey, doesn’t your album come out soon?" I asked.

"Yeah, next Friday. Six more days." He turned around and leaned against the short wall.

"I’ll have to remember to go get it."

"You’d better." He laughed.

"Will you sign it for me?"

"Of course." He laughed. "Just come to one of our meet and greets, we’ll all sign it."

"Oh come on, aren’t there any strings you can pull? You’re in with the band aren’t you?" I laughed.

"Yeah, I know the guys, but they’re super busy you know." He shook his head.

"Well maybe if they have a spare minute they can do it?"

"Maybe." He smiled. A car drove by beneath us with a rap tune blaring out from the speakers. Chris bounced his head and pretended to scratch a couple records in the air in front of him. He laughed and turned to me. "Well hey, maybe you can take your vacation time after we leave. I mean, with me out of town, the emergency room is going to be dead."

"That’s true." I laughed. "You’ve been keeping us pretty busy over there."

"So see? You’ll get some time off, thanks to me. Sheesh, what would you do without me?"

"I’d get more sleep." I yawned.

"Dude, between you and JC I don’t know who’s the biggest sleep addict."

"What? Come on, it’s late. You got a little nap in the van on the way over, so stop."

"I didn’t get a nap!" He laughed and stood up straight to stretch his arms over his head.

"You did so. You were full on sleeping. And you snore."

"I do not snore."

"You breathe deep. You’re a deep breather when you sleep."

"But that’s not snoring."

"It’s just as bad." I laughed.

"I’ve never had anyone tell me that before."

"So you’ve had a lot of ‘people’ sleep with you?" I raised my eyebrow and smiled.

"That’s not what I meant." He blushed slightly in the darkness. "I sleep on the bus 3 feet from 4 other guys, and they’ve never said anything. And believe me, they would let me know."

"Hmm, whatever." I turned and leaned on the wall.

"Yeah, whatever." He laughed and rolled his eyes. "Are you really tired?" He asked a minute later.

"Yeah." I nodded. "But I don’t want to go home yet."

"Okay." He nodded and took my hand. He nodded toward the walkway and we headed down the parking structure, between the cars. "So what are you thinking right now?" He put his arm around my waist and pulled me closer.

"That your hand is warm." I smiled as he ran his hand up from my hip to my bare side, as we kept walking.

"Are you cold?"

"A little." I nodded.

"Here." He stood behind me and hugged me from behind, using his arms to cover my bare midriff. He made sure his cast wasn’t against my skin and started walking with his chin on my shoulder. "How’s that?"

I laughed and said, "I’m warmer, but it’s hard to walk like this." I tried not to trip over his feet, directly behind mine.

"I don’t want you to be cold." He said softly, dangerously close to my ear.

"Aww, what a sweet guy." I laughed, concentrating on our feet.

"Just call me your suga daddy." He laughed quietly and brushed his stubbly cheek against mine. I inhaled deeply as the scent of his cologne sent a shiver through my body. We somehow managed to make it to my car walking like that. The fog was getting thicker, and I wasn’t looking forward to driving towards the shore in it.

We stopped at the driver’s side of my car and I turned around in his arms, so that I was now facing him. "I had a great time tonight." I said softly.

"Me too." He smiled nervously and averted his eyes; "I really don’t want to leave on Wednesday. God this sucks. I just met you and I want to have some more time." He caught my eye and smiled.

"Well, I wish you didn’t have to leave either." I smiled and leaned my forward so that our heads were touching. "But it’s not like I’ll never talk to you again. You can call me anytime."

"I know, but that’s not the same." He sighed. "Man, if the guys could see me now." He leaned back and laughed.

"What?"

"I’m so serious. I swear, the guys would shit twinkies if they saw me being all sentimental like this." He laughed nervously.

"Ah ha, so this is the ‘not Nsync’ Chris huh?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I guess it is." He said softly.

"All right, I hate to have to end this ‘moment’ but I really do need to go."

"I know… I’m just stalling." He smiled slowly.

"Are you busy tomorrow?" I asked. It was Sunday, and I didn’t know if they kept that day free or not.

"Um, not really. We have a team meeting in the morning, but after that I think we’re actually free." He said.

"Would you like to do something?"

"Something, huh?"

"Yeah, something." I laughed. "I was thinking about going to a paintball range, have you ever done that?"

"Nope." He shook his head.

"Oh, but with your broken wrist, you won’t be able to shoot. Nevermind." I sighed.

"I can do just fine with my left hand." He said. "I’ve been playing basketball one handed, I’m sure I can fire a gun."

"All righty then. Call me when you get done with your meeting, and we can go."

"Okay." He nodded. "Just me?"

"Just you." I stood on tiptoe and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. He looked almost shocked as I took a step back. "Bye." I smiled and turned to unlock my car door.

"Wait, hold on." He said as he turned me back around. "I don’t think so." He said softly as he looked into my eyes. He brought his left hand up and ran his finger down my jaw line; "I can’t let you leave yet." He whispered.

"Chris, I-" I started, looking at my feet.

"I know, you have to go." He raised my chin and traced my bottom lip with his finger. "But I need to… " He leaned down and kissed me softly, moving his hand to the back of my neck. I felt my knees actually go weak as my lips parted to deepen the kiss. The kiss seemed endless, until he gently pulled back, "Do that." He smiled, his lips only an inch from mine.

"Bye." I whispered, trying to regain my balance.

"Bye." He kept smiling as he took a step back. I opened my door and slid into the driver’s seat.

"I think I’m falling for you Chris…" I said softly as he stood with his hand holding my door open.

"Don’t hurt yourself." He smiled playfully. "Drive careful Grace, I’ll see you tomorrow."

I nodded and started the car as he shut my door. I watched him in the rear view mirror as I pulled away. I pulled the car over to the curb a couple blocks from the hotel, and said to myself, out loud by the way, "Good God Grace, what have you gotten yourself into?" I sighed and rested my head on the back of my seat. "This is the last thing you need right now and you know it…" I did know it. But how can I help feeling like this, when he kisses me like that?

 

I woke up the next morning to the sound of rain falling on the cars beneath my window. I pulled the blankets up to my chin and rolled over to fluff my pillows. I was just getting myself re-situated when my phone rang. Whoever it was that was calling me at 8:00am on a Sunday was asking for trouble. I debated letting it ring for the first three rings, then quickly snatched it up before the machine clicked on, "Hello?"

"Hi, Grace?" A male voice asked.

"Yeah?"

"Grace honey, its daddy." He said happily.

"Hi." I swung my feet over the side of the bed and rested my head in my free hand. I hadn’t heard from him since January when he called to wish me a belated Merry Christmas. He had been in Greece for the holidays and hadn’t been near a phone.

"Hi honey. I just wanted to call and wish you a happy birthday before you headed out for the day." He continued, "I’m in Spain so I can’t talk long."

I rubbed the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath before I said, "My birthday’s in May dad. Today is mom’s birthday."

"Oh you’re kidding? Did I get it wrong again?" He laughed.

"Yeah dad." I sighed. Last year he called me on my sisters’ birthday. "But you’re getting closer."

He laughed again, "I guess I am. Well, I don’t suppose she’d want a birthday greetings call from me."

"No, I don’t suppose she would." I frowned and shook my head. I could not believe this man.

"Okay sweetie, well I hope you have a good day. I’ll call you when I get back state side."

"Sure thing." I sighed as he disconnected the call. What a great start for my day. I stood up and headed for the shower, maybe that would wake me up a little, and help clear my head.

As I stood under the spray of water, I thought about the night before and what I told Chris. Was I really falling for him? Falling? Ha. Fell is more like it. Past tense, already happened. I needed some dad advice. Dave dad, not my idiot-twice-a-year-calling-sperm-donor dad.

I got out and wrapped myself in a big robe and sat on the edge of the bed. I dialed Daves number, knowing he’d be awake. It was after 9:00a and he was a morning runner. "Hello?" Dave answered.

"Hey you." I smiled, comforted already by his voice.

"Hey kiddo, how’s it going? What are you doing up so early?"

"I need some advice. Or well… I need to borrow your ear for a couple minutes."

"You’ve got it. Hang on a second, let me get some coffee." I heard him get a mug out of the cabinet and pour himself a cup. "I’m all yours, what’s up?"

I summarized the night before, with Chris, and followed it up with, "And then this morning my dad called to wish me happy birthday."

"You’re birthday’s in May." Dave frowned.

"Thank you, I know that." I sighed. "Argh, this all sucks."

"First things first, the Chris issue."

"I don’t know if I’d call it an issue." I argued.

"Let me talk." He smiled. "The Chris issue. I’ve only seen the boy like, once, so I can’t really comment on him, but as far as you go, do you think you’ve really got it bad for him?"

"I know I do Dave." I fell back on my bed. "That’s the problem. Am I ready for this? I mean, the whole Aaron thing is still fresh for me." I was referring to my most recent boyfriend fiasco.

"Grace, that was more than a year ago."

"I know." I sighed.

"I think you’re past that."

"I know."

"I think you’re ready for something new. He seems like a nice guy."

"He is." I nodded.

"And he’s not pressuring you into anything, right?"

"Not even a little bit."

"Then I don’t see a problem."

"Dave, the problem is that he’s leaving on Wednesday, he’s a celebrity, and he lives in Florida when he’s not touring the world."

"Do you want me to talk you out of this?" Dave asked after a second’s pause.

"Yes. No. I don’t know."

"Here’s what I think. I think you should follow your heart. As cheesy as that sounds, you need to do what you feel is right."

"But what if I get hurt again?"

"Grace honey, no one can guarantee that you’re not going to get hurt again. That’s a chance you’ll have to decide if you’re ready to take." He let that sink in for a minute. "I say go for it." He smiled. "Be happy for once."

"I am happy."

"Yeah, but you’ve been happier since you met this guy."

"I know." I smiled to myself.

"Okay then. See? You don’t need my advice, you just need to pay attention to yourself."

"You’re right… as usual."

"And as far as your dad goes, forget him. He’s not important enough for you to waste your time worrying about him. He hasn’t seen you since you were 12, he doesn’t even know you."

"I know." I frowned. "I shouldn’t let him get to me."

"No, you shouldn’t." He said slowly. "But I know he does, because he’s your father… and you can’t help it."

"Ugh, it be so much easier if he’d just not call at all, you know?"

"I know, but you can’t change that. Forget about it Gracie, be happy, and go see your man." He laughed.

"Thanks Dave. You rock." I smiled.

"Are you better now?"

"Yeah, I’m better."

"Good, now let me get back to my cartoons. I’ll talk to you later."

"Okay, bye, and thanks again."

"Anytime kiddo." He said as he hung up. Amazing. Twenty minutes on the phone and I felt 100% better.

 

I checked the weather again before I went to get dressed. It was still rainy out, so I put on a pair of comfortable jeans and a big gray sweatshirt. I grabbed my cordless and a Sue Grafton book and made myself comfortable in my La-Z-boy by my window. I clicked my radio on and set it at an almost inaudible volume, and dove into my book.

I was close to finished with the detective novel when my phone rang by my foot and startled me. My heart racing, I picked up the phone, "Hello?"

"Grace?" Chris asked.

"Yeah." I laughed. "Sorry, the phone scared me half to death."

"Were you sleeping?" He asked with a smile.

"No, actually I was reading. How was your meeting?

"Fun and exciting. Let me tell you.. .woo! I don’t know if I can handle that much of a good time." He laughed. "No, it was boring. But it’s over now and I’m ready to go play, are you still up for it?"

"Of course." I smiled. "Are you at the hotel?"

"Yep, or well, I will be in about three minutes. We just got off the freeway." He explained.

"Okay, then I’ll come by and pick you up."

"Well I don’t want to give you a hernia or anything."

"A… a hernia?"

"Yeah, if you pick me up… nevermind." He laughed.

"Okay…" I laughed and said, "So I’ll come by and get you in about 20 minutes, okay?"

"All right, what should I wear?" He asked.

"It doesn’t matter, they give you jumpsuits to wear." I said.

"Ahh, okay." He nodded as they pulled into the parking lot. "Well we’re at the hotel now. I’ll see you in a few."

"All righty. Bye." I hung up and went to my room to put on something more presentable. I ended up in the same jeans I had on, with a plain white T-shirt. I ran a brush through my hair and tossed it up in a scrunchie before I headed out.

I met Chris at his room and we left from there, without any of the other guys seeing us. Chris let the security guys know he was heading out, and since he was going solo, he was allowed to leave with me. I was glad that we didn’t have to be chaperoned around by the security.

I drove us out to the Valley where the paintball arena was set up. As we drove up Chris leaned out the window and said, "Are you serious? There’s a range inside there?" He pointed to what looked like a bomb shelter, above ground.

"Yep." I laughed and parked the car near the entrance.

"Insane." He shook his head and followed me into the arena. "Have you done this before?"

"Yeah, a couple times." I nodded as we approached the front desk. "Two please." I told the lady behind the desk.

I pulled out my credit card to pay and Chris said, "No, hey, I’ve got it." As he reached into his back pocket.

"No, that’s okay." I smiled. "I’ve got it covered."

"Grace…"

"Chris…" I laughed and handed him the coveralls the lady handed me. "Here."

"They’re yellow." He said with a look of disgust.

"They’re going to be covered in paint anyways, so what do you care?" I laughed and grabbed my coveralls and goggles off the counter.

"Where are our guns?" He asked.

"We get them after we change." I explained. "Come on…" he followed me down the hall to a row of lockers. I put my purse in a locker and sat on the bench to pull the coveralls over my clothes.

"So we just put this on over?"

"Yep." I nodded and zipped the jumper up the front. "Here." I handed him a pair of the eye protection goggles that everyone had to wear. They were big ugly things, and he sighed as he sat them beside his jumper. "Get a move on it." I laughed.

He stepped into the jumper and tried to pull it up with one hand. It was easier said than done. I smiled and reached over to help him, "Sheesh, do I have to do everything for you?" I laughed.

"Hey come on now." He laughed and zipped it up. "We seriously have to wear these?" He held up the goggles.

"Don’t go there." I raised my eyebrow at him; "I’ve seen pictures of you wearing something very similar… in public."

"Oh man." He frowned then laughed as he pulled them on. I followed suit, and lead the way out to the arena. We stood in the little Plexiglas room thing where the guy showed us how to load the guns and gave us a basic run down of the rules. No hitting, punching, tripping or in any other way disabling the other team. When you’re out of pellets, you must surrender. If the other team captures you, you’re on that team; you’ll be reissued green pellets and an orange vest to wear. The object was to capture everyone on the other team. It was an all day game, with people coming and going all day.

We loaded our guns and grabbed a backpack with more pellets, as we headed out into the big room. "So we’re aiming for the orange guys, right?" He asked.

"Yep." I nodded and made a beeline for a stack of hay. Chris followed me and knelt beside me.

"This is insane." He laughed.

"Just wait." I laughed and stood up. As soon as my head came above the haystack, green paint pellets erupted around us.

"Whoa! Shit!" Chris yelled as he hit the ground.

"Come on!" I shouted and ran towards a plywood tree in the corner. I hid behind it and shot towards the other side of the arena. "Chris! Come on!" I waved him over. He looked both ways quickly before running to where I was. Just as he got to the "tree" a green pellet nailed him.

"Damn!" He craned his neck around to see where he was hit. Just below his right butt cheek was a splash of green. "Does that mean I have to go to the other side?"

"No, only if they capture you." I laughed and leaned out around the side of the tree, firing purple pellets at the other team.

"All righty, this is war." He got a devilish look in his eye and grinned. "Wish me luck." He pause for a second, before taking off at full speed, screaming like a banshee, firing off paint pellets at no one in particular. The arena exploded with the sound of bursting pellets and shouts from the other team. In all the confusion, I took off in the opposite direction, managing to hit a couple of "enemies" on the way.

I spotted Chris laying on his stomach army style behind a bundle of hay. He smiled and gave me a little half wave with a paint soaked arm. I laughed and shook my head; this was going to be a long war…

I ran over to where Chris was and lay flat on the ground beside him. "Chris, you’re covered in green paint." I laughed.

"I know." He laughed and wiped his hand on his leg. "Hey, I saw some orange coats over there by the barn looking thing?"

"There?" I pointed.

"Yeah." He nodded. "They’re like, inside kind of."

"You think we can make it?" I asked, it was a long way across the arena.

"I think so." He nodded. "Let’s go." He jumped up to a squatting position, careful to keep lower than the haystack. I followed his example and moved closer. "Ready?" He looked over his shoulder at me, his eyes looked huge behind the goggles.

I laughed at the sight and said, "Yeah."

"Cover me, I’m going in!" He shouted as he sprinted across the dirt floor. I gave him a couple seconds lead, and then I followed behind him, firing at the guys in orange who came out of hiding to fire at us. Chris ran up to the barn and kneeled beside the door. "Jesus! I got one right in the face." He looked at me and I busted up laughing. He had green paint all over the right side of his face and all in his hair.

"Oh man…" I laughed and wiped his goggles.

"Shit, this washes out right?"

"Yeah." I kept laughing.

"It’s not funny." He smiled.

"I know." I couldn’t stop laughing. He stuck his finger in his ear and pulled it out.

"Dude, it’s in my ear!" He leaned over and wiped it on my shoulder. "Gross."

"Ugh! Chris!" I shoved him away and continued to laugh. I leaned around the corner of the barn to see if the enemies we were coming over here for, were still where we saw them.

"Ha!" One of them yelled as I caught a paint pellet on the side of my head.

"Ahhh!" I screamed as they two guys in orange took off towards their side of the arena.

"Are you ok-" Chris started to ask. "Ahahahah!" He laughed and pointed at me. "Ooooh man… they got you good." I wiped the paint off my goggles and smirked at him. "Oh come here, fix your hair." He said as he rubbed the paint into my ponytail.

"Hey! Knock it off." I smacked his hand away and laughed. "Come on man, we’re on the same team here."

"Yeah yeah yeah, but me getting paint all up in my ear is funny?"

I laughed again at the thought and just shook my head, "All right, enough fun and games. Let’s go get em."

"Hang on, let’s reload." I helped him reload, then reloaded myself. We spent the next hour trying to work our way closer to the other side of the arena. We were actually making good progress when I turned around to make sure Chris was behind me.

"Oh shit!" I said more or less to myself, as I watched Chris being escorted away by the enemy. He caught my eye and just shrugged.

The next time I saw him, he was running towards me wearing an orange vest and shooting off green pellets. I didn’t think twice as I took aim, and covered him with purple paint splotches.

"Hey!" He shouted as he dove and hit the ground about 15 feet from me.

"Hey nothing pal." I let a couple more pellets hit him up and down his side before I took off in the opposite direction.

It was bound to happen. I let my guard down for two second to assess my ammo situation, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I jumped and turned to face a purple and green paint covered Chris. He smiled and waved with his casted arm. "Would you mind coming with me?"

"Aww shit." I frowned and followed him to the other side of the arena.

"Pick up the pace, oh captive of mine." He laughed and tugged me along faster.

"Well I’m out of pellets anyway." I pouted.

"You are?" He asked as he turned to face me.

"Well, almost." I laughed and opened fire at close range. He screamed and tackled me, right in front of the big Plexiglas room, breaking one of the cardinal paintball rules.

A man stepped out from the room and blew his whistle, "Unsportsmanlike conduct." He said as he reached for Chris’ gun.

"HA!" I laughed.

"Ha nothin, you’re out of ammo." He smirked, as we were lead into the room. We surrendered our guns and ammo, and went back to the locker area.

"Man, I could have kicked your butt." I talked big, once the game was over.

"Dude, Grace, that was the coolest. Justin would just loose his mind in there. We’ve got to come here next time we’re in town." He laughed and took his goggles off, exposing the white skin around his eyes, the only clean part of his face.

"You look like a raccoon." I laughed and unzipped my coveralls.

"So do you." He smiled and peeled his jumpsuit off. "Is there somewhere we can rinse off?"

"Yeah, in the bathroom." I said. "Over there." I pointed as I made my way towards the ladies room. I examined myself in the mirror and sighed, I’d have green tinted skin for days. I dunked my head in the sink and did the best I could to rinse it all out. When I was done I walked out to the changing area and dunked our coveralls in the dirty clothes hamper by the door. I grabbed my purse and waited for Chris to come out of the mens room.

He came out a couple minutes later mostly clean and totally wet. "Dude, trying to soak your head using only your left hand, sucks." He complained.

"Waa waa waa." I laughed. "Ready?"

"Yeah." He smiled and took my hand as we exited the building. "Thanks a lot, this was the most fun I’ve had this whole trip west."

"I’m glad you had a good time." I smiled up at him as we approached my car.

He gave me a quick kiss and said, "Too bad I have to go back to work now huh?"

"You do?" I frowned.

"Yeah, I have to be back at the hotel by 6 for some media stuff." He sighed. "Like a press conference thing for our new album."

"Sounds like a blast."

"Yeah, well… it’s one of those things you’ve gotta do." He smiled and looked at himself in the vanity mirror as I started the car and backed out. "I’ve got to get myself cleaned up though, check this out." He leaned over and showed me the back of his neck, "I’ve got green and purple paint in every little nook and cranny."

I giggled and drove us back to the city. I kept an eye on the time as we headed back to his hotel, we got there before 5, he’d have plenty of time to clean up. I pulled around by the back entrance and shut the car off, "Well, here you go."

"Yep." He nodded slowly, but made no move to open the door.

"So, um, what do you have going this week?"

"Um, well, tomorrow we’re doing Leno in the afternoon, and we also have to meet with some of the special effects guys about our show, but that might be Tuesday." He sighed. "And then we leave Wednesday."

"Okay." I tried to smile. "Well, just uh, give me a call before you leave."

"I will." He said softly as he reached over and brushed my hair back out of my face. "I’ll talk to you real soon." He leaned over the gearshift, and kissed me slowly while he left his hand on the side on my face. I brought my hand to his neck and prolonged the kiss a few precious seconds, before he sat back in his seat and reached for the door.

"I’m going to miss you." I practically whispered. Out of nowhere I felt tears well up in my eyes… this was so unlike me.

"I’m going to miss you too. But don’t worry, you’ll be hearing from me sooner than you think." He smiled and leaned in for another quick kiss before he shut the door, and waved over his shoulder as he walked in through the back door.

"Hey there gorgeous." Chris smiled.

"Hi, are you leaving?" I asked.

"This afternoon, I think our plane leaves at 3:30p." He said. "I’m sorry I couldn’t see you again before I left."

"Me too Gracie, I’m sorry I couldn’t see you!" Someone shouted on Chris’ end of the phone.

"Who was that?" I laughed.

"That was Joey. Joey knock it off."

"Can’t we say goodbye too?" Joey asked. I heard a scuffle with the phone before Joey came on the line, "Hi Grace!"

"Hi Joey." I laughed and sat in the nearest chair.

"Bye Grace."

"Bye Joey."

"Here’s Chris back."

"Thanks."

"Jesus." Chris mumbled when he got back on the line. "I swear you’d think he was 9 years old."

"It’s okay." I smiled and tucked my hair behind my ear.

"Is that Grace?" I heard someone else ask.

"No, it’s my mom." Chris answered them.

"Hi Chris’ mom!" The same voice shouted into the phone.

"Justin! Cut it out." Chris grabbed the phone back. "Sorry." He said to me. "I should have made this call from my room."

"It’s okay." I laughed again as Shirley walked by and gave me that look. "Shoot, I’ve got to get back to work."

"Okay, well I just wanted to say goodbye again before we left. I’ll call you later in the week, okay?"

"Yeah, that’s fine." I said. "I’ll be here all week."

"Okay." He said softly. "I’ll uh, I’ll talk to you then."

"Okay, bye. And have a safe flight."

"Thanks, you too." He said automatically. "I mean… ugh, not you too. Nevermind. I’ll talk to you later." He laughed and hung up the phone. I laughed to myself and hung up; I had lots of work to do.

 

Two hours later I was ready for a break. As soon as I hung up the phone with Chris, the ER turned into a mad house. There was a school bus accident in Santa Monica and we were getting most of the injured. We had finally got most of them stabilized and I was heading to the lounge.

"And just where do you think you’re going?" Shirley asked as I passed the nurses station.

"To get some juice and maybe something to eat." I re-did my ponytail and stifled a yawn.

"I’ve got a toddler with abdominal pain in 4, I need you to take that first." She said.

"Can’t Denise or John do it? I’ve just managed like 9 cases and I’m beat." I complained.

I knew Shirley didn’t take too kindly to complainers, so when she said, "Nope. He’s yours." I wasn’t totally surprised. I grumbled something nasty under my breath as I headed to room 4 to check the kid out.

I was half way through the exam when Denise poked her head into the room, "You have a Dr. Fatone on the phone?" She smiled.

"Okay." I sighed. "What line?"

"Three." She waved as she shut the door.

"I’ll be right back, keep that heating pad on his stomach until I get back." I said to the little boy’s parents.

I walked down the hall to the lounge and picked up the phone, "This is Grace Camp."

"Grace, hey, this is Joey." He said in a soft voice. Well, soft for Joey.

"Hi, how’s it going?" I glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost 3:30p. "Shouldn’t you guys be the plane?"

"Our flight has been delayed until further notice, due to weather in Chicago. Don’t ask me how that affects our flight to New York, I don’t know." He laughed.

"So what’s going on?"

"Nothing." Joey said. "We’re just hanging out. We have to stay in the VIP lounge area, and there’s not much to do until our flight is called."

"Where’s Chris?"

"I don’t know. Last I saw he was on his cell phone over by the bathrooms, but I haven’t seen him in about ten minutes."

"Well hey, thanks for calling and all, but I have to get back to work." I explained.

"Oh, sure, okay." He said. "So we’ll talk to you later, right?"

"Sure, you can call me anytime." I said.

"Cool." He nodded.

"Have a safe trip, I hope you guys get to leave soon."

"Me too." He laughed. "Talk to you later."

"You got it." I smiled and hung up, then headed back to room 4.

I finished up the exam on the little boy and waited with the family until the doctor arrived to take over. I wished them well, then headed for the lounge. I opened my locker and pulled my purse out, before I checked myself in the little mirror I had hanging on the door. It’d have to do. I slammed the locker shut and headed out. As I passed the nurses station, I called out to Denise, "I’ve got to leave, let Shirley know."

"Wait! Where are you going?" She asked.

"To the airport." I shouted over my shoulder as I took off out the door. I ran out to my car and headed as fast as I could to the airport, hoping I’d make it there before their flight was called.

I made it through the traffic and into the parking lot in record time. I parked in the first spot available and ran into the terminal. I had no idea what airline they were on, or what their flight number was. I was basically lost. I headed for the first ticket counter I saw and pulled the laminated badge out of my purse, "Is *Nsync flying to New York with you guys right now?" I asked.

"No, I’m sorry, they’re not." The girl said.

"Great." I ran to the next counter. I got similar answers, after explaining who *Nsync was to the last two. Finally at the American Airlines counter, the guy said that they were indeed flying with them.

"Fabulous! Where are they now?" I asked.

"They should be getting ready to board." The man said.

"WHERE?" I shouted.

"The VIP lounge at gate 9." He said.

"Thanks!" I took off at top speed down the wide hallway in my light pink nurse’s uniform and squeaky shoes. When I got to gate 9 I had to ask the lady there where the VIP Lounge was, she made my jump through hoops and show her my badge and ID before she pointed me to a door less than 10 feet away. I growled and rolled my eyes at her as I ran to the door and flung it open. I stood there trying to catch my breath for a second, I didn’t see anyone.

"Oh man." I whined and leaned against the door. I was too late.

I heard them call for final boarding over the PA as I closed my eyes and wiped my forehead. "Grace?" I heard someone ask.

My eyes flew open and I saw JC standing by the walkway leading to the pane. "You guys haven’t left yet?" I asked as I ran over to him.

"No, they just called our flight." He said.

"Where’s Chris?"

"He was right in front of me." JC said, looking down the walkway. I ran past the ticket taking lady, much to her surprise.

"Hey! You need a ticket!" She shouted after me. I kept going until I saw Chris stepping onto the plane.

"Chris! Wait!" I shouted. He stopped and turned around. His eyes flew open wide as he saw me.

"Grace? What are you doing here?" He laughed and dropped his carry on bag as he walked over to me.

"Excuse me miss, you need to have a ticket." The lady said as she approached me.

I ignored her as I threw my arms around Chris and said, "I just wanted to see you again before you left."

"Well, okay." He laughed into my hair "Shouldn’t you be at work?"

"Yes." I laughed and stepped back. "I told them I had to go."

"Oh man, that’s going to go over well."

"Miss, you need to come back to the lounge, you can’t be down here without a ticket."

"Just a second." Chris said to her.

"Anyways…" I smiled like a goof and said, "I… I just wanted to see you again."

"I’m glad you came." He hugged me again and gave me a sweet but quick kiss. "I’ll call you when I get to New York." He whispered.

"Miss, if you’re going to be joining them, you need to have a ticket." The lady was getting impatient.

"Come with us!" Joey shouted from inside the plane.

"What?" I asked, leaning into the plane to see where his voice came from.

"Can you?" Chris asked as the lady grabbed my arm.

"To New York?" I asked.

"Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to leave." She pulled me away from the door.

"No! She’s coming with us." Chris said as he removed the lady’s hand. "Can you?"

"Well… I… I guess." I mumbled as Chris pulled me onto the plane.

"Bill us." Chris called over his shoulder as the door closed in the lady’s face.

"Oh my god." I said as I collapsed into the seat beside Joey. Chris took his seat directly behind me and laughed.

"Hi." Joey smiled.

"Hi." I smiled back and secured my seat belt as the plane taxied away from the gate. "Joey… what… what are you wearing?" I got a good look at his outfit.

"My elmo shirt." He said, sticking out his chest to show the fuzzy creature on the front of his red and white ¾ length shirt.

"And… what is that? Leather? Red leather pants?"

"Yeah!" he smiled, obvisouly very proud of his choice of attire.

"Ahh, I see." I smiled sweetly and turned to face Chris. "Chris…?"

"That’s… that’s Joey. I can’t even begin to explain." He shook his head in shame and laughed.

"Grace?" Lance asked from his seat beside Chris.

"Hi." I smiled and waved between the seats.

"Whoa, I didn’t know you were coming." He said with a look of shock on his face.

"Neither did I." I smiled and turned back around in my seat. JC and Justin were directly infront of me, so I leaned forward to say hi.

Justin took his headphones off long enough to say hi and ask what I was doing here. "I’m not entirely sure." I laughed.

"Cool." He smiled and turned back around. JC waved over the top of the seat and adjusted a pillow beneath his head.

The plane took off a couple minutes later, and we were on our way to New York City!

 

 

 On to the next part …

 

 

Copyright © 2000 Amy Lynn