Summary:  Carrie gives Joey the ultimate challenge:   To be the perfect boyfriend.  Can he do it?  Will he change his ways?   Will he like it?   Or will he revert to his comfort zone of flirtatious behavior?

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"Player Days"

By:  AmyK 

 

"He’s your what?" Joey asked as Carrie sunk into the enormous beanbag shaped like a lion’s head. The beanbag was in front of the zebra striped couch in his "play room". A pinball machine and an old jukebox stood glowing on the other wall.

"He’s. My. Boyfriend...kinda" She said slowly, enunciating each word clearly. She adjusted her bra strap and wiggled her toes on the fuzzy shag carpet. "Why did you get shag carpet in here?"

"Carrie… he’s your boyfriend, kinda?" He stood there in his alien head printed boxers, with his hands on his hips and his hair flying every which way.

"Why do you look so shocked? It’s not like we’re exclusive. In fact I remember you saying just the opposite. That we were going to see other people because with you being gone all the time that would just be easier." Carrie curled her feet up under herself and asked again, "Why did you get shag carpet in here?"

"Because it goes." He said quickly, taking a couple steps into the room.

"It doesn’t go, it’s green." She glanced around the room.

"It does go because it’s a jungle theme and-" he sighed and stopped. "Come on Carrie… you don’t really mean you’re seeing this guy, do you?" He said softly as he sat on the floor in front of her and ran his hand up her thigh.

"We go out." She smiled and shrugged as he peppered her thigh with baby kisses all the way up to her hipbone. He circled his tongue at the edge of her panties and smiled up at her.

"Yeah but you don’t… you know." He trailed his tongue up Carries bare tummy to the bottom of her bra, supporting himself on his hands placed close to her head. The beans in the beanbag shifted under his weight as he brought his mouth up to hers. He nibbled on her bottom lip for a second before she reached up and pulled him closer for the kiss she had been anticipating.

"Not all the time." Carrie said as she ran her fingers through his hair. It was getting longer and the brown roots were more noticeable against the bright red.

"Whoa, not all the time?" He stopped and held his face a few inches above hers.

"Right." She nodded and brushed her bangs off her forehead. He didn’t say anything for a minute; he just stared at her with a sort of shocked and amused face. "Oh come on Joey. You can’t sit here and tell me you don’t see other girls while you’re out on the road. I was one of those girls, remember?"

"Yeah but Carrie-"

She cut him off mid sentence, "But Carrie what? That’s different? Please." She rolled her eyes and scooted out from under him. She leaned back against the couch and played with the shag carpeting. "It doesn’t bother me that I’m just someone you come home and have sex with. I’ve told you that." She kept her eyes on the carpet, not completely meaning what she said.

"Carrie you know it’s not like that." He scooted over and sat beside her, lacing his fingers through hers.

"It is like that." Carrie said forcefully. "And that’s fine. But you wanted us to see other people, so I am."

"Well yeah but…" He trailed off.

"You hook up with girls Joe." She kept her eyes from his, and studied the zebra print on the couch.

"Like, less than once a week."

"So? I hook up with Matt less than once a week."

"Yeah, but I don’t ‘go out’ with these girls."

"You don’t go clubbing with a dozen different girls?" She laughed.

"How does that compare?"

"Joey." She sighed. "I like you a lot, I do, but we don’t have a relationship outside of sex."

"Carrie…"

"No but that’s okay." She shook her head.

"That makes you sound like a slut."

"That makes both of us sound like sluts." She smiled. "But Joey, that’s fine. We get what we need from each other."

"And then some…" He pouted.

"Hey now… I haven’t asked you for anything." She poked him in the side.

"That just gives me the creeps that you're out with this other guy all the time."

"Well it gives me the creeps that you’re out with all these girls all the time."

"Yeah but it’s not like I go out with them alone or anything."

"Joey… that doesn’t change anything." She explained.

"I don’t know…" He paused and played with the carpet. "I guess I just, I don’t know. I just liked the thought of you waiting here for me."

Carrie couldn’t help herself, she laughed out loud, "Joey honey." She smoothed his hair down. "I don’t wait here for you, just like you don’t wait around for me."

"I know." He sighed.

"I don’t know how you could think that I, or any girl for that matter, would sit around waiting for you while you’re out gallivanting with dozens of other girls." The moment she said it, she wanted to take it back. The flash of pain in his eyes proved she had touched a nerve.

"But Carrie, I thought it would be different with you. You’re more than just a one night stand."

"I’m just an extended one nighter. If you want things to be different, then you have to make some serious changes."

"Like how?"

She looked him in the eye and said, "Like stop hooking up with girls on the road."

"And do what?"

"Stay faithful to the girl back home."

"While you’re out whooping it up with Matt?"

"If you want a relationship, a real relationship… with me… I’ll stop seeing Matt."

"You would?" He brushed her bangs off her forehead with his finger and let a smile creep slowly across his lips.

"If you will quit playing the field." He didn’t respond for a second. "See?" She laughed. "You can’t do it."

"I can do it." He said defensively. He leaned over and bit her neck playfully. "I can be faithful." He moved his way up to her ear lobe as she wrapped her arms around his neck and laughed.

"This I’ve got to see. Mr. Single-and-ready-to-mingle." She imitated his famous line.

"I’ll show you." He growled with a laugh and pulled her hips so she was flat on her back… on that ugly green shag carpeting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Three weeks later Joey was in the middle of a North American tour, getting ready to head out for a night on the town with Justin and JC. He was standing in the bathroom of his small hotel room running mousse through his hair, trying to make it look like it did when the hair and make up girls did it. It was not working.

"What the hell, after two songs it’ll all be in my face anyways." He shrugged and put his deodorant on as JC knocked on the door. "Just a sec!" Joey shouted as he dropped the deodorant on the counter and grabbed his funky red jacket off the bed. He threw the door open and joined JC in the hall. "Where’s the kid?"

"He’s meeting us there, he’s got um, company." JC smiled.

"Go Justin!" Joey laughed as they headed for the elevator.

"No really, company, it’s his mom and his aunt I think."

Joey laughed even harder as they stepped onto the elevator and rode down to the basement. They wove their way through the maze of halls to the door to freedom. JC pushed it open and Joey followed him across the dark parking lot to where a taxi waited with a big guy standing beside it.

"Hey guys. Where’s Justin?" The man asked as he pulled the door open.

"Hey George, he’s gonna meet us there, his mom is visiting." JC said as he scooted into the backseat.

"Have you cased the joint yet?" Joey asked as George got in beside them and shut the door.

"Yogi did a drive by, it looks good. It’s 21 and up, so you shouldn’t have too many problems, if any. As far as we know, no one even knows you’re in town yet, we weren’t expected till tomorrow." George said.

"Sweet." Joey nodded and bounced his head to a beat only he could hear.

They got to the club and entered through the busy front door. Joey immediately headed for the bar to get a drink while JC went to the edge of the dance floor to get a feel for the crowd and music before he jumped in.

"Jack on the rocks." Joey said as he leaned against the bar. A moment later his drink was set in front of him. Joey slammed it then placed $10 on the bar. "Thanks man." He took the empty glass and turned away from the bar. He brought the glass to his lips and took a piece of ice in his mouth to suck on as he surveyed the crowd.

That’s when he spotted her, the cute little blonde dancing alone near the edge of the dance floor right in front of the DJ. Her short hair swayed from side to side as she moved her body seductively. She was it tonight. He smiled and chewed the piece of ice in his mouth before he set his glass down on the nearest table and danced his way over to her. He was a good 5 feet away when JC suddenly appeared at her side. He leaned in and said something in her ear that made her laugh, and followed him to the center of the floor.

"Dammit JC." Joey smiled and shook his head, now he needed a replacement. He stood back and kept his eyes open.

"Who’s that fine blonde with Jace?" Justin asked, startling Joey who hadn’t seen him walk up.

"My date." Joey smirked.

"He’s dancin with your girl?" Justin asked, watching JC and the blonde dance.

"Well, he got to her first. But she coulda been mine." Joey laughed and patted Justin on the back. "How’d you get in here anyway kid? Didn’t they card you?"

"I had Yogi with me, so they pretty much let it slide. I’m not gonna drink anyway." He shrugged. "Sounds good tonight, huh?" Justin danced in place for a second. "Man I’m hyped."

"Yeah that’s rare." Joey smiled. "C’mon, we gotta get out there."

"Hey wait up man. Some girl called my room tonight. Sayin she was your friend or something like that?"

"Yeah." Joey laughed and rolled his eyes.

"I’m  tellin ya she called me looking for you, so if you gave some girl your number here, you gave her the wrong room number, and whoever she is she's looking for you."

"You know I don’t give out numbers. Who was it?" Joe asked, trying to be heard over the music.

"I don’t know. It sounded like Kelly? But I keep thinking Stephen King. I don’t know man. Do you care though?"

"I don’t." Joey shook his head and headed out to the dance floor, Justin and the girl forgotten.

It was after three in the morning when the three party boys returned to the hotel… alone.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning Carrie called the hotel again, looking for Joey. "Speak." The dead sounding voice answered the phone.

"Joe?" She asked.

"Huh?"

"Is this Joey?"

"No. Who is this?"

"This is Carrie. Who’s this?" She asked.

"It don’t matter, I’m not Joey. You got the wrong room and it’s fuckin six in the morning. What exactly do you want?"

"I’d like to speak to Joey. So when you see him, please tell him I called."

"Yeah." The voice said before he hung up.

They had to be at practice by 8:30a and amazingly they all made it on time. They weren’t all awake, but they were there. JC was asleep standing up, propped against the wall by the breakfast table, one of his many talents. Justin was curled up in a ball on one of the couches and Joey was going through the motions of eating cereal, dripping milk up his chest in the process.

"You got a hole in your spoon?" Lance smiled as Joey dropped a cheerio on his shirt.

"Hmm? Yeah, no I didn’t get much sleep last night so I’m not asleep." Joey mumbled. "Awake, I’m not awake. See?" He smiled and took another bite successfully.

"Joe." The creature on the couch growled.

"It speaks!" Chris cheered.

"Joey." Justin repeated.

"What?"

"That chick called again."

"What chick?"

"The one who’s your girlfriend or whatever. Man, she’s got balls to call at 6am."

"I don’t know who you’re talking about."

"Dammit Joe." Justin sat up and ran his hands through his hair, adding to the afro effect. "Last night I told you she called."

"Yeah but I don’t even know who it is."

"Well she called me again this morning."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

"Just make her stop." Hr grumbled, then curled up in a ball again.

"I don’t even know who she is." Joey said, mostly to himself.

They finished up breakfast,  woke the sleepers then practiced for a couple of hours. They had a full schedule that day, a radio interview, a team meeting, a new venue to prepare and a meet and greet before the sound check and show.

Halfway through the meet and greet, Justin leaned forward on the table, reached in front of Lance and tapped Joey’s arm. "Carrie." Justin said.

"What?" Joey asked as he signed his name on the CD cover in front of him. He smiled at the fan and shook her hand.

"The girl who keeps calling me."

"Carrie?" Joey’s eyes flew open. "Oh! Carrie, yeah I know her."

"Well she wants you to call." Justin smiled for a picture and took the baby blue teddy bear the fan offered.

"Okay, I will."

"And give her your number man, if she calls me at 6 in the morning again, I’m gonna choke her." Justin smiled sweetly at the next fan in line and said, "How’s it going? Are you having fun?"

When they got back to the bus, Joey shut himself in the back room and dug around in his suitcase to find his address book. He ended up with half his clothes piled on his bunk and the tattered green book in his hands. He lay across the scattered clothes and picked up his cell phone beside his pillow. He charged the long distance call to his calling card and waited patiently as it rang.

Carrie heard the phone start to ring as she turned the key in the lock of her front door. She shoved the door open and dropped her purse on the floor as she dove for the phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen. "Hello?" She asked, half out of breath.

"Hi, Care?" Joey asked.

"That’s me." She smiled. "Joey?"

"Yeah, how are you? I heard you called." He smiled and pulled a string on the hem of one of his t-shirts.

"Yeah, who was that? Do you know?" Carrie asked.

"Um, that was Justin." Joey laughed. "He’s not a morning person."

"I could tell." She smiled. "But when I called the hotel and asked for Clark Kent, which by the way, no one would ever know that was you." She smiled and pulled the phone cord around so she could sit on the counter. She kicked her sandals to the floor and said, "But they kept sending me to that room, so maybe something’s backwards there."

"How did you know where we were staying?"

"Because you talk a lot Joey." She smiled and twisted the phone cord around her finger. "You told me you guys always stay at Marriott, and that you all use fake names. I tried your cell but the number you gave me goes to a 7-11 downtown." She opened the cupboard by her head and pulled out a box of crackers. "So I figured either you were trying to ditch me, or I had goofed. One things for sure, no one named Joey works at the 7-11."

He laughed and said, "No, I think I know what happened there. I gave you the wrong area code. My cell is in 321." He said.

"Ahh, yeah that might help." She popped a cracker in her mouth.

"We’ll be back in town in a couple weeks, you wanna come over?" He asked quietly.

"Sure." She nodded. "Just, you know, let me know."

"Okay, I can get the date for sure and call you with that later."

"Okay." She said quietly. "So… I was right."

"Right? About what?"

"You can’t do it." She looked down at her bright blue painted toenails.

"I can’t do what?" He asked, genuinely lost.

"Have a real relationship."

"I can have a real relationship." He said defensively.

"Yeah?" She smirked. "Prove it. Take me on a date when you get back here."

"A date will prove I can have a relationship?"

"It’s a start." She took one more cracker out, then put the box away and hopped off the counter. She kicked her shoes out of the way and stretched the cord to the dining room table and sat. "So you’re accepting this mission? To be faithful to me, the lonely girl back home?"

"I am accepting the mission. So that means I can’t hook up right?"

"Or go out."

"I don’t go out with girls anyway."

"I mean like go out clubbing."

"Hold up wait, I like to dance."

"That’s fine. Just… just know that you officially have a girlfriend now."

"Whoa… that sounds so weird."

"Get used to it." Carrie laughed. "So how long should I torture you? Your tour ends in two more months, right?"

"Yeah, September 29th is our final show." He said.

"Okay, so October 31st, Halloween. Let’s see if you can be a boyfriend until then."

"And then?"

"We’ll have to see how it goes." She laughed.

"You’re going to be surprised." He said softly as he swung his feet over the side of the bunk and sat hunched over.

"I think you will too." She grinned and played with the tie on the cushion of the chair.

"So, no more Matt?" He asked a second later.

"Nope." She shook her head. Matt had been history for a while now.

"Okay." He ran his hand through his hair and stood up beside the bed. "But hey, I’ve got to get going, we’ve got a thousand more things to do today before the show."

"Okay." She nodded. "Well, um, I guess I’ll talk to you later."

"Yeah." He smiled. "Just don’t call the hotel, Justin will have kittens if you call his room again at 6 in the morning."

"Deal." She laughed and they hung up. "Whoa." She thought to herself. " I am officially the girlfriend of the famously single and ready to mingle, Joey Fatone."

"Was that the chick?" Justin asked as Joey walked out to the front of the bus where the others were relaxing.

"Hmm? Yeah."

"I figured it out." Justin said as he concentrated on the video game he was playing.

"What?"

"Stephen King."

"What are you talking about?"

Justin sighed and glanced at Joey, "Last night. I said the name sounded like Kelly, but I kept thinking Stephen King. Carrie, Kelly… sounds the same. And the Stephen King wrote that book Carrie."

"Yeah…" Joey said slowly as he gave Justin a look and sat on the couch across from JC, who was wearing his walkman and tuning everyone out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They traveled and played all of the next week and ended up in Phoenix Arizona. It was close to 100 degrees and the guys were cranky and hot. As soon as they checked in they got security clearance and headed for the pool, knowing they’d only have a short amount of time before the fans caught wind, and they’d be hustled back inside.

"Bonsai!" Joey yelled as he ran from the big glass door and cannon balled into the deep end. The three other people in the pool area glanced over at the new arrivals, then went back to their sunbathing.

"How’s the water?" JC asked as he walked up with the other three.

"It’s great come on in." Joey brushed his dripping hair out of his face.

"No way man, people pee in public pools." Lance laughed and took his book over to a shade covered table.

"Does he think I really pee in the pool?" Joey asked the remaining three. "Because I was only kidding." He laughed.

"No he just has to protect his albino skin." Chris laughed and jumped in beside Joey as two girls giggled and came in through the open gate. They headed for a couple lounge chairs in the corner and sat their stuff down. Joey watched them the whole time.

JC and Justin joined them in the pool and they played around for a little bit before Joey noticed JC resting his arms on the edge of the pool chatting with the girls. Joey swam over slowly and came up beside JC, "Hey C, what’s up?" He brushed his hair back with his hands and smiled at the girls, "Hi, I’m Joey."

"Hi." They giggled.

"I’m Katie." The blonde in the tiny red bikini said.

"And I’m Corey." Said the brunette with the black mesh one piece.

"Well Katie and Corey, are you going to come in the pool and cool off, or not?" Joey gave them his best flirtatious smile and they melted.

They all played in the pool for almost an hour, until fans started lining up outside the gate, shouting and trying to take pictures. The guys waved over their shoulders before they headed in, followed by a dripping Katie and Corey.

"So what are you guys doing tonight?" Katie asked.

"We’re going to try to find someplace to go dancing. Do you know of anywhere near here?" Justin asked.

"Yeah, I know a couple places." Corey nodded.

"Cool, well why don’t you go home and get cleaned up and meet us back here around 9?" Joey offered.

"Okay." They beamed.

"All right, we’ll meet you in the lobby then." Joey smiled and pulled them each in for a hug before they left.

"Joe, you amaze me sometimes." Justin laughed as they all squeezed into an elevator to go back to their rooms.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Joey stood in his bathroom a couple hours later, getting ready to go out. He was in the process of zipping his pants when he heard his cell phone ring out in the other room. He zipped them up and pulled his white wife beater over his head as he made his way around the luggage obstacle course to the bed. He sat on the corner and picked up his cell phone. "H’lo?" He cradled it between his ear and shoulder as he reached for a pair of socks.

"Hey there gorgeous." Carrie smiled and tossed her keys on the dining room table. She had just gotten home from working her second job and she needed to hear Joey’s voice.

"Heeey, how’s it going?" He asked as he pulled one sock on.

"Good, I had one hell of a day at work. How about you?"

"It was a good day. It’s hotter than hell, but that’s okay. We got to spend some time in the pool and everything."

"Right on, where are you?" She asked as she opened the fridge and pulled out a mountain dew.

"Arizona. Phoenix I think." He dropped the phone as he reached for his shoes in a nearby suitcase. "Sorry, I dropped you."

"Ouch." She laughed and hopped up on the counter. "So did you find out when you’ll be back around this way?"

"Yeah, next Thursday. We get in that afternoon and we leave again on Saturday morning." He explained, trying to get his other sock on.

"Do you need a ride from the airport or anything?"

"Hmm? Oh, no. You don’t have to do that." He said distractedly.

"I know I don’t have to." She said softly. "I’d like to."

"You would?" He asked, he dropped his shoe to the floor. He wasn’t expecting that.

"Yeah." She smiled.

"Wow, I’ve never had anyone meet me at the airport before." He smiled and reached for the dropped shoe.

"Ah, well see? That’s one of the perks of having a girlfriend." She laughed softly and drew triangles all over her little scratch pad.

"One of them, huh? What are the others?"

"I guess you’ll have to wait and see." She smiled, and thought of how she could show him the "perks". "So when does your flight come in?"

"Um, hang on, let me check."

"Okay." She waited patiently while Joey put the phone down and rummaged through his bags, looking for the printed itinerary. He found it, and told her the time and flight number for his arrival the next week. "Cool, I’ll be there." She smiled and wrote it on her scratch paper with circles drawn around it so she would be sure not to miss it.

"If you can’t make it, just let me know."

"I can make it." She smiled.

There was a knock on Joey’s door, so he took the phone with him to answer, "Hang on, there’s someone at my door." He said to Carrie. He pulled the door open and saw Chris and Justin standing there all dressed and ready to go.

"Come on Joe, the girls are waiting in the lobby." Justin said as a way of a greeting.

"Oh…" Joey said slowly. He had promised Carrie he wouldn't go out with the girls, and he had her on the phone hearing it all. "That’s okay guys, you go ahead and go." He said, eyeing the phone in his hands with a "just do it" look.

"You sure?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, I’m just gonna stay in tonight." He said slowly.

"All right then buddy, you don’t know what you’re missing." Justin shrugged and headed toward the elevator.

"Hi Joey’s girlfriend!" Chris shouted in the general direction of the phone in Joey’s hand before he followed Justin.

"Who was that?" Carrie laughed when Joey came back on the line.

"Um, Justin and Chris." He said.

"They sound like fun." She smiled.

"Yeah, they’re pretty cool." He nodded and sat down to take his shoes off.

"They’re going out tonight?" She asked cautiously.

"Yeah… I guess." Joey said. "with the girls I found" he thought to himself. He was having second thoughts about this whole girlfriend thing. Why couldn’t he have both? As ridiculous as that sounded. He wanted Carrie, god knows he did. But he wanted the thrill of the chase too. He sighed softly into the phone.

"What was that for?" She asked with a smile.

"Nothing." He said a second later. "It’s just been one of those weeks."

"Oh yeah?" She asked as he lined his shoes up side by side at the foot of his bed.

"Yeah…" He fell back on the bed and draped his arm over his eyes. "We’ve just been, you know, busy."

"Well you’ll be home soon, you can relax then." Carrie smiled and pulled her hair back with a headband.

"I know." He said in a soft scratchy voice. "So… what are you doing tonight?"

"Nothing much. I had one hell of a day at work. This guy came in and was yelling at me because someone at work didn’t let his kid return this pair of Nikes that were clearly worn." Carrie sighed and continued, "Then this horrible lady wanted to file a complaint because we don’t carry Donna Karan in size 26, and I was all, ‘honey, DK doesn’t make clothes in that size, we can’t help that’ but she was all bitter."

"Hmmm." He said.

"Anyways, I’m sure you don’t need to hear about all of that." Carrie reached up and pulled the curtains closed before she clicked the lights off and walked through her dark apartment to her room in the back. "I just wanted to say hi before I went to bed."

"You’re going to bed?" He asked, as he stifled a yawn. "when did I get so tired?" He asked himself.

"Yeah, well, it’s after midnight here." Carrie unzipped her skirt and slid it down her legs, as she began to unbutton her blouse.

"Did you go out after work?" Joey asked as used his toes to take his socks off. Talent.

"No, I don’t have the time or energy to go out. I have to get up at 6 tomorrow and do it all over again." She explained.

"You work from 6 till 11?" Joey asked with a frown.

"Not quite. I work from 7:30 till 3:30 at Saks, then from 6 to 11 at Brewers Pub."

"How do you not die?"

"It’s hard, but I need the money if I’m ever going to go back to school."

"Yeah, but if you keep going like that you won’t make it."

"Well it’s not that bad really. I only work at Saks 5 days a week and at Brewers for 3. I can handle it."

"If it’s just money, you know I can help you." Joey cleared his throat, trying not to think about the other guys out at the club.

"No, I know." Carried said, the topic always made her uncomfortable.

"Because I can send you some money…"

"I know you could." She smiled. "But I’m doing all right. Don’t worry about me."

"Isn’t that what boy friends are supposed to do?" He cracked a small smile.

"I guess so." She laughed. "You catch on quick."

"Yeah I do."

Carrie tossed her bra on the small pile of discarded clothes and reached for her tank top and boxers that she always slept in. "So what are you doing tonight?"

"Nothing." Joey stood up and stretched his arms over his head. "We have tonight off, so I guess I’m just going to, you know, go to bed and stuff."

"And stuff?" She smiled. "What kind of stuff?"

"Stuff like talk to you on the phone, and check my e-mail and stuff." He smiled and walked across the room to the little table where his laptop was set up.

"Sounds like fun." Carrie yawned and pulled the covers back on her bed. She turned the bedside light off and sat on the edge of the bed to let her eyes adjust to the sudden darkness.

"Yeah, well…" He shrugged and turned the computer on.

"Well…" Carrie said a minute later, "I can barely keep my eyes open, so I’m going to go to bed now."

"Okay." Joey said softly as he maneuvered the mouse to log onto the internet.

"I’ll talk to you later?" She asked.

"Yeah, I’ll give you a call before we come home." He nodded to himself.

"Okay." She said slowly. "Well, um, have a good night."

"Thanks, you too." He said as he turned the phone off. He clicked the star icon to check for new e-mail. He had none.

Carrie hung up the phone and leaned across her bed to set her alarm for the next morning, before laying awake for another hour, fretting about Joey.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thursday afternoon Carrie was standing at the United Airlines Gate 11 at the Orlando International Airport. She fidgeted with her light cotton sundress and tucked her hair behind her ear. She had never gone to the airport to pick up a boyfriend before... and Joey wasn’t just any boyfriend.

Carrie checked her watch for the second time in five minutes then forced herself to take a deep breath. She let it out slowly, and decided to check out the little gift store to kill some time. She had more than fifteen minutes before Joey’s flight was supposed to land and she was only getting more nervous as the minutes passed.

She picked up a magazine and began to flip through it, not really seeing the pages. She did this for a couple of minutes before a story caught her eye, "It happened to me: Melissa K. age 23 has spent the last 13 years in a mental hospital… put there by her parents." Carrie leaned against the bookrack and began the story. She was so engrossed in the article that twenty minutes later, she didn’t hear Joey come up behind her. She felt a presence, but didn’t know who it was. Whoever it was, was standing a little too close for comfort so she stepped forward without taking her eyes off the page of the magazine.

Joey smiled and put his duffel bag on the floor beside Carries feet, then took another step forward. He felt Carrie lean away from him with an annoyed sigh. "You know, if you move any closer you’ll have to stand in the rack." Joey whispered dangerously close to her ear.

Carrie jumped, startled, and dropped the magazine. As she bent to pick it up she heard Joey laugh lightly behind her, "Oh my God! I missed your flight!" She laughed and threw her arms around him.

"It’s okay." He smiled and held her close. He had forgotten what it was like to be greeted by someone who was truly happy to see him. "We were on our way out and I saw you standing in here." He still hadn’t let go.

"How was your flight?" She asked, finally taking a step back.

"It was all right." He shrugged, and couldn’t stop smiling. He leaned down and kissed her softly with his hand on her lower back. "I’m glad to be home."

"Me too." She smiled and kissed him quickly as she reached to grab his duffel bag. "Let’s go, you must be tired."

"You have no idea." He laughed and followed her out of the store. He reached for her hand as they boarded the escalator going down to the lower level, and before they walked outside he pulled a baseball cap out of his bag. He covered up his very noticeable bright red hair and covered his eyes with dark black sunglasses. Carrie led the way to her car halfway across the parking lot, and opened the trunk. She rearranged the junk she had in there, then tossed the duffel bag in and slammed it shut. Joey just stood there watching her, "What was I thinking? She’s the one…" Joey thought to himself.

"What?" She asked, giving him a look. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Nothing." He smiled and reached out to her. He pulled her into a hug again and sighed by her ear. "I’ve missed you." He said softly.

"I’ve missed you too." Carrie smiled. She opened the drivers side door and leaned across the center console to unlock the passenger side door. Joey hopped in beside her as she started the car and backed out of the parking space.

Joey leaned his head against the window and dozed off on the long drive back to his house. Carrie pulled up to the gate, entered the code and waited as the gate swung open. She pulled her little Toyota up the gravel path to the garage and parked before she turned the car off and sighed. Joey was sound asleep and snoring lightly. She smiled and just stared at him for a minute. His mouth was open a fraction of an inch and there was a small blue fuzz stuck in the stubble on his chin. She reached over and lightly plucked it off as he opened his eyes.

"We’re at your place." She said softly.

"Okay." He rubbed his eyes and opened the car door. They got his bag out of the trunk and she followed him up the driveway to the front door. He dropped his bag just inside the door and disarmed the alarm system.

"Well, I’ll let you get back to your nap." Carrie smiled as she held the front door open.

"No, Carrie you don’t have to leave." He turned around and pulled her into his arms. "Stay." He whispered before he kissed her, and made her knees go weak.

"Nope." She said a moment later when she regained her footing. "You’ve got some planning to do for our date tomorrow."

"Our…?" He thought about that for a second.

"Yes, our date. Our first date." She laughed, "I know you didn’t forget about that." She smiled, daring him to admit it.

"No, no I didn’t forget, but I just thought you’d, you know, like to stay in tonight."

"Tonight I have every intention of staying in." She laughed lightly and took a step back. "But you need to get some sleep, and visit with your family, and make some plans."

"I can visit them tomorrow." He said, pulling her near again.

"Joey…" She frowned at him playfully, "You can’t visit them tomorrow because you’re taking me out tomorrow. Stop arguing."

"Okay, I’ll get some sleep, but will you come lay with me?" He wasn’t giving up that easily.

"I don’t think so." She laughed. Carrie took a step out the front door and pulled her keys out of her pocket.

"So that’s it huh?" He followed her out to the porch. "You’re just going to drop me off?" He smiled and squinted into the setting sun.

She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him again then said, "Basically."

"Playing hard to get doesn’t work with me."

She raised her eyebrow at him and said, "I wouldn’t call myself hard to get."

"You know what I mean." He smiled, and tried to kiss her again.

She stopped him with her finger and said, "Joey, you want to have a real relationship, then there’s got to be more than this."

"There is more than that, I want you to come lay beside me. I won’t try anything, I promise." He aimed for her neck as she took a step away. "Don’t you trust me?"

"Joey dear, it’s not you I don’t trust." She reached up and smoothed the hair by his ear down. "I want this to work as much as you do, but it can’t all be about sex. I’ve known you for how long now? 4 or 5 months? But I don’t really know the first thing about you. I’ve never met your friends, you’ve never met mine. I’ve never seen what you do, I don’t know if you have any bothers or sisters."

"You want to know all that stuff?" He asked.

"Of course I do." She laughed.

"Okay." He nodded. "So you’re not coming back in?"

She shook her head and smiled, "Nope. Go take a nap, you look like you could use a good 10 or 12 hours of sleep. I’ll come over in the morning and bring you breakfast, how does that sound?"

"That actually sounds really good." He smiled and tried to cover a yawn.

"Ha, see?" She smiled and pulled him in for a hug. "If you’re awake later, give me a call."

"Okay." He nodded and kissed her again before she got in her car and headed home. Carrie took a deep breath as she backed down his driveway. It took every ounce of her self-control for her not to join Joey in bed. She wanted a relationship with Joey, she really did, but she wanted him as well.

Joey watched Carrie's car drive away as the gate to his driveway shut. He sighed, then shut the front door and headed down the hall to his bedroom. He threw his shirt on the floor near the steadily growing pile of dirty clothes and flopped face down on the cool quilt. He folded one of the two pillows on the bed in half, and tucked it under his head and yawned. He was tired, and 10-12 hours would just barely be enough for him. That didn’t change the fact that he wanted Carrie there. To hold if nothing else. But there would have been something else if she had stayed. And if that was all he wanted he could pick up the phone and within a half hour get just that, with no strings attached. But he wanted Carrie, and that was that. He could do this whole "boyfriend" thing, he knew he could, and he would prove it to her.

Early the next morning Carrie stood on Joey’s porch with a small bag of groceries to make breakfast. She set the bag down long enough to ring the doorbell and waited patiently. She was about to ring again, when she heard someone shuffling around inside. She heard a thud and a swear before Joey pulled the door open to the sound of the alarm beeping urgently near his shoulder.

"Damn." He grumbled as he reached over and punched the code in quickly. Too quickly. He tried a second time and got it right. He sighed and ran his hands over his hair as he turned to Carrie and smiled. "Morning."

"Good morning to you too." She smiled and stepped into the entryway. "Did I wake you?"

"Yeah, but that’s okay." He yawned and shut the door behind her. He followed slowly behind her as she walked down the tiled hall to the kitchen. She set her bag on the counter and turned around to face Joey. He was leaning against the doorway of the kitchen scratching his jaw.

"What time is it?" He asked as he stifled a yawn.

"It’s almost nine." Carrie smiled and walked over to him. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him close. "You’re pretty cute when you’re tired." She leaned up and kissed him softly.

"I got nasty morning breath." He smiled and kissed her forehead.

"Why don’t you go hop in the shower, and when you’re done breakfast will be ready." She said as she took a step back. "I’m making pancakes, how does that sound?"

"A lot better than cold bagels and cereal." He smiled and stretched his arms over his head before he hitched up his boxers and shuffled down the hall. "Hey Carrie?" He asked from the foot of the stairs.

"Yeah?" She opened the box of pancake mix.

"Wanna come?" He smiled.

Carrie laughed quietly, "Maybe later."

"You sure? It could be fun."

"I’m sure. You want breakfast don’t you?"

"Well if I had a choice…" He laughed.

"You don’t." Carrie laughed and continued, "Go shower, I’m dying to hear what you’ve got planned for our date."

"Okay, okay, but you don’t know what you’re missing."

He walked up a few steps before Carrie said, "Oh yes I do."

Carrie stood alone in the kitchen and whipped up the batter as the griddle warmed up. She poured the batter into neat circles and made a large stack of pancakes. Carrie let them cook while she cut up the fresh fruit she had brought with her. She could hear the water still running upstairs, so she piled the pancakes onto a plate and placed it in the oven to keep warm. Carrie wiped her hands on a clean white kitchen towel and made her way up the stairs.

As she walked into the very familiar master bedroom, she could hear Joey singing in the shower, "Snapping her fingers and a shuffling her feet, singing do wa diddy diddy dum diddy do." Carrie smiled slowly and pushed the bathroom door open. She leaned back against the counter and watched him do a little dance, through the almost transparent glass bricks. The bathroom was her favorite room in his house. It had sand colored flagstone floors and brushed brass fixtures. The towels hanging decoratively on the rack were a dark forest green and the candles surrounding the deep bathtub were in varying shades of green and cream, in many different sizes. When the lights were off and the candles lit, the room glowed. There was a small glass bottle of bubble bath on the corner of the tub that was half empty… she’d helped him use the missing portion.

"Are you almost done in there?" Carrie asked as she crossed her arms.

"Almost." He said loud enough to be heard over the running water. She watched his arms go up and rinse the shampoo out of his hair. "You’re sure you don’t want to join me?" He smiled and let the water run over his face.

"Your breakfast is going to get cold." She said as she reached for the towel sitting on the counter closest to the shower. She unfolded it then refolded it, out of habit.

"You didn’t answer my question." He ran the bar of soap over his chest and waited for her response.

"No, I’m not sure I don’t want to join you." She smiled. Let him figure that out.

"Is that a yes or a no?" He asked a second later.

"That’s a no." She smiled. "But not because I don’t want to."

"You’re such a girl sometimes. Say what you mean." He placed the soap back on the little shelf and turned his back to the water.

"I want to join you, but I’m not going to because I’ve just made you a nice breakfast and it’s time to eat." She stood by the shower door as he turned the water off. He shook his head to get rid of any excess water, then opened the shower door where Carrie stood with a towel for him.

Joey wrapped the large beige towel around his waist and looped his finger through the belt loop on her safari shorts. He pulled her close to him and gave her a big wet hug, "You know we can always heat up the breakfast later." He said softly as he kissed her neck. Carrie could smell the Irish Spring soap on his skin and thought he had a great idea.

"No… come on Joey." She smiled, but didn’t move as he kissed his way up to her mouth. He turned her around so that she was half sitting on the counter and kissed her again. A drop of water fell from his hair to her chest as she pushed him away. "Joey… come on. Let’s go eat."

"I’m not hungry."

"Yes you are." She slid away from the counter and took a deep breath. This was going to be just as hard for her as it was for him. "Besides, I want to know what you’ve got planned for today."

"Can I eat in my towel?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"You can eat in anything you’d like." She smiled.

"I’m not even going to touch that one." He laughed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Lead the way." He motioned with his arm. She turned and left the bathroom and headed for the stairs. "What if all I had planned for the rest of the day was a romp in the sack then kung-fu movies?"

"That’s not exactly a great first date." Carrie smiled over her shoulder as she descended the stairs into the kitchen.

"Sure it is." He laughed and leaned against the tile countertop. He picked up a grape and ate it slowly.

"No… it’s not. And you’d better have something better than that in mind." Carrie reached into the oven with the thick mitts and placed the plate of pancakes on the table.

"That looks good." Joey tightened the towel around his waist and sat at the little table by the window.

"Thanks." Carrie smiled and sat across from him. She took a piece of melon and ate it while she pulled her hair back in a ponytail.

"I haven’t had a real breakfast in forever." Joey helped himself to a couple pancakes and drizzled syrup over the top. He took a bite and smiled, "Wow… this is really good."

"You’re easy to please. A little bisquick and some syrup." Carrie laughed and placed two pancakes on her plate. "So, Mr. Boyfriend, what are we doing today?"

"We are going boating." He said slowly as he cut his pancakes into bite sized pieces.

"We are?" Carrie smiled, surprised. He really had made plans.

"Yep." He concentrated on cutting. "Did you bring a jacket?" He looked up at her in a tank top and shorts.

"No, it’s 90 degrees out there." She laughed.

"It’ll be cooler on the water. I’m sure I have something you can wear." He smiled.

"Okay." She nodded and took a bite. "So how are we going boating? I know you don’t have a boat."

"No, I don’t. But one of JC’s friends does, and we’ve been out on it before. So he’s going to let me take it out today."

"Cool, what kind of boat is it?"

"It’s a little 21 foot Maxum. It’s a speedboat type, if that’s what you mean. We usually go water skiing on it, or tubing." He explained with a full mouth.

"I’m not going water skiing." She stopped her fork halfway to her mouth.

"No, not today. We’re just going to take it out." He speared a piece of cantaloupe and ate it.

"Sounds like fun."

"Yep." He nodded and chewed slowly. "And then…"

"Oooo, there’s more?"

"Hey, this is a date right?" He smiled.

"Right."

"Yes there’s more. Then, we’re going to go to Busalacis because you can dock the boat right there where the outside dining area is." He smiled, enjoying the surprised look on Carries face. "You didn’t think I could do it, did you?"

"I don’t know what I thought, but I never expected this." She smiled.

"What did you expect?"

"A romp in the sack then kung-fu movies." She laughed.

"Oh come on, you know me better than that." He smiled and blushed.

"Actually… I don’t."

"We’ll have to work on that." Joey said softly, with a smile.

"Yes we will." Carrie smiled, and they continued with their breakfast. When they were through, Carrie took the dishes to the sink and began to wipe them off.

"Here, let me help." Joey came and stood beside her. "You know, there’s a dishwasher right there." He pointed to the stainless steel dishwasher beside the sink, then tightened the towel around his waist.

"I know, but you need to rinse the dishes off before you stick them in there you know." She explained as she reached for the sponge.

"No you don’t." He frowned. "I never do."

"You should."

"Yeah well…" He shrugged and reached for the mixing bowl she had used. He opened the dishwasher and stuck the bowl in the middle of the top rack, still coated with pancake batter.

"Joey, no." Carrie shook her head and reached for the bowl.

"Come on, live on the edge. Don’t rinse the dishes first." He laughed and grabbed her wrist before she could touch the bowl.

"You can leave it in there unrinsed, I don’t care, but you can't just shove it in the middle of the top rack." She wrestled with him for a minute trying to get to reach the bowl. His towel became loose in the mini-struggle so he used the other hand to hold it together.

"Yes I can." He said as he held her at bay with his body. He let go of her wrist then shut and latched the dishwasher door before starting the cycle.

"Joey, that bowl is the only thing in there." Carrie argued.

"So?" He adjusted the towel.

"So that’s wasteful." She frowned.

"So?"

"Joey… at least let me put the other dishes in there." She sighed and switched the dishwasher off before she opened the door.

"Fine." He laughed and reached for the other dishes.

"And you can’t just shove them in here." She laughed and took the bowl off the top shelf. Carrie arranged the dishes in the dishwasher correctly then added soap and started it. "There… sheesh, I could have had them washed by now."

"But this way your hands don’t get all gross." Joey smiled and reached for her hands.

"My hands don’t get all gross." She frowned and kissed him quickly. "So how are things going out on the road?"

"Well, we’re real busy as usual. But things are going okay." He shrugged and hopped up to sit on the counter. She stood between his legs and rested her hands on his hips.

She looked up at him, with his slightly damp flaming red hair, and smiled, "Are they getting on your nerves?"

"They?"

"The other guys in the group." Carrie shrugged.

"Oh, no, they’re cool. They don’t get on my nerves much. I think I’m the one who gets on their nerves." He laughed.

"You?! Never." She laughed.

"Hey now…" Joey pretended to pout. "I’m not that bad."

"No, you’re not." She smiled and kissed him again. "What are they doing this weekend while you guys have some time off?"

"I don’t know." Joey said slowly. "Why?"

"I’m just asking." Carrie shrugged. "When do we leave for the beach?"

"Whenever you want." He smiled and hopped off the counter. "Are you ready now?"

She looked him over, from his bare feet to his wet hair and asked, "Are you?"

"No, I guess not." He laughed and headed for the stairs. When he was half way up he turned around, "Last chance for a quickie before we go." He smiled.

Carrie laughed, "Tempting as that is, I’ll have to pass. I don’t sleep with guys on the first date." She smiled sweetly.

"I wasn’t planning on sleeping." He grinned evilly.

"Go get dressed." She waved him off as she laughed.

Joey came down a couple minutes later wearing dark blue board shorts and a white FuManSkeeto t-shirt. He tossed a soft gray hooded sweatshirt to Carrie and said, "There you go, cuz it’s gonna be cold."

"Okay." She nodded and draped it over her arm.

"Okay." He smiled. "Ready?"

"I am now." Carrie laughed and took his outstretched hand. The loaded up into Joey’s car and he drove them out to the beach. They parked at the small dock and got out to stretch. "This is the perfect day to be out here." Carrie smiled as she stretched her arms above her head.

"Yeah it is." Joey smiled and wrapped his arm around her waist. "There’s the boat, check it out." He pointed to an off white boat with a broad green stripe down the side.

"Whoa, that’s cool." She trotted down the loose planked ramp to where the boat stood almost motionless. "Can I board?"

"Sure, he said he’d leave the key in the cutty." Joey said as he took Carries arm to steady her as she climbed onto the boat. He hopped in after her and opened the small door to the expose a small "room" in the hull of the boat. There were two short cushioned benches and a big ice chest down there. Joey ducked his head and stepped inside. He opened the ice chest and smiled, "Well we’ve got enough food here to last a couple days."

"Right on." Carrie dropped herself into the driver’s seat and crossed her legs. "This is cool, do you know how to drive it?" She asked.

"Yeah." He laughed from below. "You think John would let me take it out if I didn’t?"

"True." She laughed and leaned back in the chair, letting the morning sun hit her face.

He came out a second later holding the boat key triumphantly. Carrie stood up and moved from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat so that Joey could start the boat. He turned it on and turned the fans on to get rid of the fumes in the engine.

"Is that a CD player?" Carrie laughed and pointed to the dash.

"Yep." Joey nodded and switched it on. Jimmy Buffet blared from the speakers, "Wasting away again in margaritaville…"

"Nice." Carrie smiled and turned in her seat to face forward. After a few minutes of warming up the engine, Joey untied the boat from the dock and they pushed off. He kept it slow in the "no wake" zone as they pretty much coasted out to the open water.

"It’s going to be a little rough getting out to the ocean, but once we’re out there it should be pretty nice." Joey said over the hum of the engine.

"Okay." Carrie nodded and brushed her hair out of her eyes. When they left the "no wake" Joey opened it up and took off at almost 40 miles per hour. Carrie laughed and held on to the edge of her seat. They made it out to the open water within a matter of minutes. There were very few other boats out on the water but most of them were sailboats miles out.

Joey slowed it down and cruised out toward the horizon. "Do you want to drive?" He asked Carrie.

"Hmm? Oh, no that’s fine." She smiled and shaded her eyes. Joey looked like a natural sitting behind the wheel; he adjusted the volume of the CD player and sang along.

They went out until they could just barely see the shoreline, then Joey cut the engine and let the boat sway in place. "So how do you like this?" He asked.

"It’s pretty cool." Carrie smiled. "I don’t think I’ve ever been out this far. I mean, I’ve been on jet skis and stuff, but never this far."

"Yeah, I like to come out here, it’s so quiet and everything." He said softly as Carrie dropped her feet in his lap and leaned back against the side of the boat. "It’s so calm out here."

"Calm is good sometimes huh?" She smiled.

"Yeah, sometimes." He laughed and placed his hand on her calf.

"So, what is it like out on the road, really?"

"What do you mean? I mean, it’s just like how it looks."

"Well from the fan point of view it looks like it’s non-stop fun, singing and having meet and greets and things like that."

"Yeah, and a million interviews where you answer the same questions over and over, fans screaming so loud your ears ring for days, cramped buses, cranky friends, mostly nasty food, lots of people kissing your ass and not doing anything to hide it, hours and hours on planes, working on no more than 4 hours of sleep at a time and having to look happy in the middle of all of that." He sighed. "But yeah, it’s kinda fun."

"How do you guys manage to have lives outside that?"

"We don’t. It’s that easy." Joey shrugged.

"Well you get to go out sometimes. I mean, you weren’t sleeping or working when we met."

"No, I know. We usually get a couple nights a month where we can actually do what we want." He explained.

"That’s better than nothing."

"I know, I know. And I wouldn’t give it up for anything." He smiled and licked his lips quickly. "But still…"

"But still?"

"It’s hard to have anything that even resembles a real life."

"Because you don’t have a home on the road and you can’t see your family?"

"Or friends. I mean, there are times I’ll go a week and not talk to my mom only because I haven’t had three minutes to sit down and dial." He shrugged. "But I’m not complaining. Like I said, I wouldn’t do anything different."

"What about girlfriends?" Carrie asked quietly.

Joey gave a short laugh, "That’s the hardest part I think."

"Which is why you don’t do it?" She smirked.

"No." He laughed and continued. "Chris has had a girlfriend since we started pretty much, and JC too. But see, with them the girlfriends got to see everything happen as it happened, so they have a better understanding for how it goes. But for the rest of us, I mean... they just won’t get it." He shrugged. "I haven’t done it ‘cause I’m not boyfriend material."

"I think you might be."

"I’m gonna try." He laughed.

"What about the other guys?"

"Well Justin dated a girl for a while, but she was in the business so she understood what he was going through, but at the same time she had a really busy schedule too, so they literally never got to see or talk to each other. And Lance… well, he was dating a girl from home, but that didn’t work out, probably because of all the time gone."

"Hmm." Carrie frowned.

"Are you re-thinking this?" He smiled and pulled her sandals off her feet and tossed them on the floor between the seats behind him.

"No." She smiled, "Are you?"

"No." He shook his head and looked out at the water.

"Are you being honest?"

"Yes." He looked her straight in the eye. "I did a little, at the beginning." He said. "But not now."

"What changed your mind?"

"When I saw you at the airport yesterday." He smiled shyly.

"Really?" She asked quietly.

"Well… before that really. I mean, I knew I wanted to do this… but yesterday I actually thought it would work."

"Cool." She smiled and removed her feet from his lap to stand up. She climbed into the little cutty and opened the ice chest. "Do you want anything to drink?" She asked over her shoulder.

"Sure, is there any water?"

"Yeah." She grabbed two bottles and came back out. She handed one to Joey who had moved to the back of the boat and was stretched out on the bench seat. He took the bottle of water as she sat on his lap and leaned back against him. He wrapped his legs around her and kissed her neck softly.

"How has it been back here? I mean, with your boyfriend gone for weeks at a time?" Joey smiled and reached for her empty hand to hold.

"It’s been… different." She thought for a minute. "But I think it’s worth it."

"Me too." He kissed her jaw line gently as she settled into his lap more. "So what have you been up to?"

"Just work. Work work work." Carrie sighed. "This working 2 jobs thing is crap. I feel like all I’m doing is working. But, you know, that’s how it goes."

"I’ve told you if you need anyth-"

"No, I know. And I don’t." She forced a smile and squeezed his hand. "I’m just venting. It’s not that bad."

"Okay, well as long as you know you don’t have to."

"I do have to. For me. It builds character." She laughed. "You know, to work hard to get what you want. To earn it yourself."

"You sound like my grandfather." Joey smiled.

"He’s a smart man then." She sighed. "But anyways… other than work I haven’t done much. I did however buy a teen magazine and read up on you guys."

"Oh God, that’s just great." Joey rolled his eyes and laughed. "So do you know my favorite color and my birthday and my favorite food?"

"No, I don’t. I’m sure I read it but I didn’t retain any of it." She laughed. "I just bought it for the pictures."

"You did not." He laughed out loud.

"Yes I did. I don’t have any pictures of you, so I bought the magazine and cut one out so I would have one." She laughed.

"Oh that’s sad." He laughed again.

"Well, what did you want me to do?"

"I’ll get you a real picture, my goodness."

They continued chatting on the back of the boat for a couple hours before Joey’s legs fell asleep and Carrie was hungry. "There’s lunch stuff in the ice chest, right?" She asked as she walked towards the cutty.

"Yeah." Joey yawned and stood up, stretching his arms over his head.

"Do you want anything?"

"Sure." He sat in the driver’s seat and played with the CD player, putting in one of his own.

Carrie sat below deck and opened the ice chest. She pulled out the bread and lunchmeat and put together a couple sandwiches. She grabbed the bag of chips and came back out. They sat in the front seats and ate quietly. Joey threw his crust into the water and watched as seagulls swooped down to eat it.

"If you could be invisible for one day what would you do?" Carrie asked, out of nowhere.

"Ummm, I don’t know. I’d probably hang around the guys to see what they said about me when I’m not around." He laughed. "Or sneak onto an airplane going to Athens that way when I became visible again, I’d already be there."

"Athens Greece?" Carrie asked.

"Yeah, I’ve never been there but it looks like a cool place to visit."

"Hmm, I would have thought you’d have been more of a Jamaica guy, or Cabo san Lucas or something." She smiled.

"Those places would be nice too." He laughed. "What about you, what would you do?"

"I’d like to follow my favorite celebrity around for the day. Or the president or something." She laughed.

"You can follow me around for the day, even if you’re not invisible."

"Ahh, you think you’re my favorite celebrity huh?" She raised her eyebrow at him and smiled.

"I’m not?" He acted shocked.

"You’re in my top 5." She laughed.

"Ouch." He reached over and pulled her onto his lap. "Top 5 huh?"

"Uh huh." She teased him, and reached up to brush a stray lock of hair out of his eye.

"I’ll show you top 5." He bit her gently on her collarbone then worked his way up to her ear lobe, with tiny bites.

"That’s not going to work you know." She laughed; knowing full well it would work.

"That’s what you think." He ran his hand up her side and cupped her breast as he kissed her solidly on the mouth.

"Okay, number 2." She smiled and kissed him again.

"Wow, all the way to number 2 with that huh?" He asked as he tucked her hair behind her ear and kissed her neck.

"Well you started at number 3." She laughed.

"Who’s still ahead of me?" He smiled.

"Harry Dean Stanton."

"The MacGuyver guy?" Joey frowned.

"No, he’s the guy who played the dad in "Pretty in Pink" and he was in "The Green Mile" too, he played the janitor guy." Carrie explained.

Joey gave her a disgusted look and laughed, "He’s number one?!"

"He’s cool!" Carrie said in his defense.

"Yeah but he’s like 60." Joey laughed and leaned back.

"So? I didn’t say I wanted to marry him, I just said he was my favorite celebrity." Carrie laughed and stood up. "Relax, you’re the best in bed."

"You bet I – wait, how would you know?"

"Well so far you’re the only one of the top five that I’ve slept with."

"Oh really, and in your top ten?"

"You’re the only one."

"And your top 100?" Joey smiled and stood up beside her.

"You’re the only one." She laughed as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

"Yeah I thought so." He kissed her lips quickly.

"But hey… if James Dean ever asks… I’m gonna have to do it." She shook her finger at him.

"Okay, that’s a deal. If James Dean ever propositions you for sex, you go right ahead." He laughed. "But I don’t want to know about it."

"Okay." She laughed and held him close, "Thank you for bringing me out here today Joey, this is the best first date I’ve ever been on."

"I’m glad you’re having fun." He sighed and inhaled the flowery scent of her hair. "I wish I didn’t have to leave tomorrow."

"I wish you didn’t either." Carrie said softly as the boat swayed from side to side. "But I have to work tomorrow too."

"You do?"

"Yep, at Brewers. But not till noon." She explained. "What time do you have to leave?"

"The van is picking me up at 8:00."

"In the morning?"

"Yeah." He nodded.

"Okay." She nodded and took a step back. She sat on the bench in the back and smiled up at Joey, "Were you able to visit with your family this trip?"

"Nope, I crashed as soon as you left last night, and you woke me up this morning."

"Damn, that was like, what, 14 hours of sleep?" She asked.

"Yep, and it was just what the doctor ordered."

"I don’t think I’ve ever slept that long."

"Yeah, well it’s been a busy week. I’ve been running on empty since Monday." He came and sat beside her with the bottle of water. "Do you want to stay tonight?" He asked a minute later.

"Maybe." She smiled.

"Don’t tease me, it’s been too long." He moaned.

"Oh please." Carrie laughed. "It’s only been wow, 5 weeks. Damn, you’re right."

"Don’t remind me." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back.

"Well how about here?"

"Here?" His eyes opened and focused on her.

"Sure." She nodded, looking around at the flat empty water.

"You’re serious?" He sat up.

"Well it’s not like someone’s gonna walk by." She shrugged.

"Well yeah but…"

"I mean, that’s fine, we don’t have to. I just thought it’d be fun."

"No it’s not that." He pulled her to her feet and kissed her. "I’m game."

"I figured you might be." She laughed and pulled her shirt over her head, "Come on slow poke." She laughed and reached for the tie on the front of his shorts. He threw his shirt on the driver’s seat and pulled Carrie towards him by the hips.

He walked her backwards toward the back of the boat and lay her down on the bench seat. He reached behind her and unclasped her bra, setting it carefully on the other seat; he didn’t want to lose anything. (what a nice guy) Carrie ran her fingers up his spine and giggled as he shivered and kissed her softly.

They somehow managed to keep balance on the narrow bench for the short amount of time it took. By the time they were finished, the cushions from the bench were on the floor in a heap and they were lying on the hard  bench.

"Ow." Carrie pushed herself into a sitting position.

"What?" Joey asked as he reached for his shorts.

"I think I’ve got a bruise on my butt from being on the edge thing." She stood up and turned to examine her cheeks.

"It looks fine from here." He smiled and patted her lightly on the bum.

"Yeah thanks." She laughed and pulled her shorts back on.

"I think I’ve got a splinter in my knee though." He tied the string at his waist and bent his knee to look.

"It’s a plastic bench." Carrie laughed.

"Well I scrapped the shit out of it." He aimed his knee at Carrie. She pulled her tank top on and looked at his knee.

"Yeah, you scraped it good." She kissed the scratch and said, "All better."

"Thank you." He laughed and went back to the drivers seat.

"So now do I have to stay over tonight?" Carrie pretended to pout.

"You don’t have to, no." Joey smiled as she sat in the seat beside him. "But if you’d like to, that’d be okay with me." He started the engine and let the fans run.

"Okay." She nodded.

"Okay?" He smiled.

"Maybe. We’ll have to see how I feel after dinner. I mean if you have to be up at the ass crack of dawn, I might just go to my house where I can sleep in."

"Sheesh, what kind of girlfriend are you? I’m leaving in the morning for something like 3 weeks."

"You’re right…" She smiled and reached for his hand. He held her hand tight as he maneuvered the boat forward and they took off, heading away from the horizon and back to the stability of the shore.

Carrie and Joey cruised up and down the coast for a little while longer, killing time before their 5:30 reservations at Busalacis. When they finally docked, Carrie put the sweatshirt on over her tank top and followed Joey up the ramp to the restaurant.

"Hi, two for Joe Fatone." Joey said quietly to the hostess.

She blushed quickly and examined the reservation book. "Oh, yes, there you are. A table for two outside." She glanced up quickly and smiled. "Right this way." She picked up two menus and led the way down the three wooden steps to the deck overlooking the docks. "Have a pleasant meal." She smiled broadly as Carrie and Joe took their seats.

The hostess lingered for a moment after they sat and just stared at Joey, dying to ask for an autograph, but knowing how unprofessional it would look. Joey smiled up at her and said, "Hi."

"I’m sorry, Hi." She blushed even deeper and said, "I… excuse me." She shoved her hands in her pockets and turned quickly to leave.

"How sweet." Carrie said sarcastically.

"What?"

"She was so excited to see you." Carrie smiled.

"Did you catch her name?"

"Melody." Carrie smiled and opened the menu in front of her. Joey took one of the napkins and scribbled a note on it real quick. A bus boy walked by a minute later and Joey handed him the note with instructions to give it to Melody. The kid took the napkin and put it in his pocket.

"You’re such a good celebrity." Carrie laughed.

"Hey now… that’s my job, and it’s because of giddy fans like that that I’m even here." He said, almost seriously.

"I know, I know. I was there remember?" Carrie smiled and reached across the table to hold Joey’s hand. "I was the one who hunted you guys down at the club and snuck in because I didn’t have the cover charge."

"I thought your friend Missy hunted us down?" He smiled.

"Yeah… well… details." Carrie laughed and took a sip of her water.

They enjoyed their dinner outside and sat around for another hour or so after just talking. By the time they left it was after dark, and quite a bit cooler. Carrie hugged herself tightly in the soft sweatshirt as Joey steered the boat back to the original dock. They tied the boat down and walked hand in hand up the ramp back to the car.

"That was a lot of fun today." Joey said, almost sounding surprised.

"Yeah, I had a nice time." Carrie smiled and slid in the passenger seat of the car. Joey got in and drove back to his house, where Carries car was waiting. He pulled into the garage and turned the engine off. He flicked the tiny dome light on and saw Carrie sound asleep with her head resting on the window. He watched her for a second and felt his stomach do a flip flop. He had such a fun day, and honestly wanted to stay another couple days with her. Just the thought of getting on a plane and leaving the next morning made his smile drop. He had never felt like this about any of the girls he had seen. They had been tricks, little one nighters, maybe twice. But not more than twice. And certainly not "allowed" an entire day of attention. Carrie was different… and he hoped he wouldn’t screw it up.

He reached out to touch her cheek just as she opened her eyes. He diverted is hand quickly to the dome light and switched it off, "Ready?" He asked.

"Yeah, sorry I fell asleep, it must have been all that fresh air." She laughed and climbed out of the car.

"You can crash here you know."

"Yeah, I know." She smiled and raised her eyebrow at him.

"I mean crash, really." He lowered his eyes and unlocked the front door. "You can even take one of the other rooms if you’d like."

"Thanks, I think I will stay. And not in another room either." She smiled and walked past him as he held the door open for her.

"Okay." He smiled like a schoolboy and shut the door behind them. He followed her up the stairs to the master bedroom, where she flipped the light on and took her sweatshirt off as she crossed the room.

Joey watched her toss her shorts into the heap where her tank top and sweatshirt now lay. She turned the shower on and stepped inside, tossing her scrunchie over the top as the door shut.

He yawned and went about stripping down to his boxers. He flipped the TV on and loaded the VCR with his new favorite movie "The Ref". Chris had brought it on the road with them this trip, and Joey had gone crazy for it. He sat through the previews while listening to Carrie in the shower. When she was through she got out and wrapped herself in the towel he had used earlier that morning. She covered her body with that one, and her head with another before she came back out to the bedroom area.

"Do you have something I could sleep in?" She asked as she sat on the edge of the bed.

"Um… like a shirt or something?"

"Yeah, that’d be good." She smiled.

"Sure." He leaned over to the dresser beside his bed and pulled out an oversized Goofy t-shirt. She pulled it over her head and removed the towel. She went back to the bathroom to hang the towel back up and brush her hair. She retrieved the scrunchie from its place on the floor and threw her hair into a quick, sloppy bun.

"I don’t know about you, but I’m beat." She yawned and curled up beside him on the bed as the movie started.

"Yeah… me too." He said softly. She rested her head in his lap and sighed. He slowly reached down and laid his hand on her back and rubbed slowly. He continued to rub her back until she fell asleep across his thighs. Any other time Joey would have taken full advantage, but this time he just felt content. He slowly slid down the bed, so not to wake her, and readjusted her head so that she was more or less sleeping on his chest. He wrapped his arm protectively around her, and fell asleep.

  The next morning Joey’s alarm went off at 7:00, he had an hour to be ready to go. He carefully scooted off the bed, resting Carries head on the pillow he’d been using, and quietly jumped into the shower. When he stepped out a couple minutes later, the bed was empty. For a second that old relieved feeling crept in, the one where he hoped the girl would be gone when he got out of the shower, to avoid the funky morning after scene. He quickly squashed that, and felt relieved when he heard some movement down stairs. He quickly threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, comfortable traveling attire, and trotted down to the kitchen with his shoes in his hand.

"What time are they getting here?" Carrie asked as she took two pieces of toast out of the toaster.

"Um, eight." Joey cleared his throat and sat to put his shoes on. "You didn’t have to make breakfast."

"I didn’t." She smiled and took a bite of toast. "The fruit is left over from yesterday, and I’d hardly call a piece of toast breakfast."

"It’ll have to do." He stood up and took a bite of her piece. "Yum, you make a mean toast." He smiled and kissed her quickly.

"Yeah yeah, whatever." She rolled her eyes and laughed. She’d changed back into the clothes she had been wearing the day before, and felt in desperate need of a clean shirt.

"So you’re working today?" He asked as he sat back down to tie his other shoe.

"Yep." She sighed and sat across from him, helping herself to the fruit on the table between them.

"Cool." Joey yawned and scratched at his stubbly jaw. "I’m gonna shave this off first thing tomorrow."

"I like it." Carrie smiled.

"I don’t, it makes me look too old."

"It makes you look your age." Carrie laughed and ran her fingers through her still damp hair.

"So you’re saying I’m old?" He smirked over a peach slice.

"Not hardly." She smiled and stood up. "I mean, you’re older than me… but that’s not saying much."

A thought stuck Joey like a mac truck. "How… How old are you?" He picked at the stem of a strawberry.

Carrie laughed and tucked her hair behind her ear, "More than legal. I’m 23." She smiled and watched as he plainly showed relief on his face. "Honestly… we met in a 21 and up club Joey, you should have known."

"Yeah but those places aren’t that stingy about checking ID. Oh well. Thank God you’re legal." He stood up and kissed her quickly before heading back upstairs to grab his bag. When he came back down Carrie was sliding her sandals on in the entryway with her keys in one hand and the left over fruit in a bag in the other. "Are you leaving?"

"Yeah, aren’t you?"

"Well the guys won’t be here for a few more minutes." Joey stood close to her and held her arm for balance as she tried to slip her sandal on with one hand. Just then there was a car beep from a car horn just outside the front door.

"Or right now… whichever comes first." Carrie smiled and stood up straight. "Ready?"

"Yeah." He nodded and picked up his bag. The nervousness grew in his stomach as she reached for the front door and turned the handle. Joey closed his eyes as she pushed the door open and stepped out onto the porch, what on earth were the guys going to think seeing a girl come out of his house. He knew exactly what they were going to think… so how was he going to say goodbye to Carrie with them staring on? He wouldn’t have a one nighter leave with him in the morning, and he certainly wouldn’t give her the goodbye he so wanted to give Carrie.

He licked his lips quickly as he set the alarm and walked outside. Joey trotted over to the van and threw his bags in the open back door. "Hey Joey man, who’s that?" Justin asked as he watched Carrie open her car door.

"That’s… um… that’s Carrie."

"The girl who called me at sunrise??" Justin eyebrows shut up and he turned to face Joey.

"Yeah." Joey cleared his throat and glanced over at Carrie, standing patiently by her open car door.

"So… what is this? I mean, that was like 3 weeks ago." Justin gave him a look.

"I know." Joey nodded and took a deep breath before walking over to where Carrie stood. "Well, I’ve got to get going."

"Okay." She nodded and looked over his shoulder at the two other young men sitting in the van. "Friends of yours?" She asked as she waved.

He quickly glanced over his shoulder to see JC and Justin waving at them through the windshield. "Yeah... that’s JC and Justin."

"Cool." She smiled and fidgeted with her keys.

"So I’ll um, I’ll give you a call later?" Joey smiled and raised her chin with his finger.

"Yeah." She smiled slowly.

"All right. And I’ll be back out this way again real soon."

"Okay, just, you know, call me."

"I will." He pulled her in for a tight hug, no longer caring that the others were watching. He leaned down and gave her a sweet kiss on her soft lips. "I will."

"Miss me." She smiled, and slid into the driver’s seat. She waved as she flipped the air conditioning on, and pulled out of the driveway.

"I already do." Joey smiled, and walked back to the van, just dying to hear the remarks he was sure were waiting.

"Well...?"   JC asked as Joey jumped in the van and slammed the door.

"Well what?" Joey smiled and fastened his seat belt as the drive took off towards Chris’s house.

"Oh come on." Justin smiled and leaned back in the chair.

"Oh come on wh- Justin… what did you do to your head man?"

"Corn rows." Justin laughed and took the bandana off.

"I can see that." Joey gave him a look and laughed. "But…" He slowly reached out and touched Justin’s head. "I can’t… I just don’t know why."

"Yeah okay elmo." Justin rolled his eyes. "Don’t change the subject. Who was that?"

"I told you that was Carrie." Joey yawned and leaned over the back of the seat to get some gum out of his bag.

"Carrie who?"

"Carrie McBride." Joey folded the gum in half and stuck it in his mouth before offering a piece to the others.

They refused, and JC asked, "Yeah, but come on Joe. If Justin talked to her like a month ago… and she’s at your house now. Is she like a girlfriend or something?"

"Not or something." Joey didn’t think he’d be able to say it out loud.

"She’s your girlfriend?" Justin asked, with a "yeah right" tone to it.

"Yeah." He nodded and tried not to laugh at the looks he got from his friends.

"Seriously?" JC asked.

"Sure." Joey shrugged.

"How long have you known this girl?" JC asked.

"Like, 6 months. I met her when we were in Miami at that club. Remember that place where Lance actually drank, and he got sick off the margaritas?"

"Uh huh." Justin nodded… who could forget?

"Well that’s when I met her."

"And you’ve been seeing her since then?" Justin asked.

"Yeah… well kind of. Not really, but sort of I guess." Joey shrugged.

"In Joey speak that means yes." Justin explained to JC.

"No that means that I’ve seen her a couple times since then, if you know what I mean. But we’ve only, I mean, it’s only been official since we started the tour."

"Damn Joey…" JC laughed and shook his head. "You of all people."

"Yeah… well." Joey shrugged again as they pulled up in front of Chris’s house. They loaded up his bag and he slid in beside Joey in the far back.

"Hey Chris, Joey has something to tell you." Justin laughed and re-tied his bandana.

"What’d you do to your – nevermind." Chris said quickly.

"That’s right "nevermind" braid boy." Justin glared playfully over his shoulder.

"What’re gonna tell me?" Chris asked Joey.

"It’s nothing, really."

"All right." Chris reached over the back of the seat into Joey’s bag to grab gum.

"He has a girlfriend." Justin said from the middle bench.

"Who does?" Chris asked.

"Joey." JC and Justin said in unison.

"Yeah." Chris snickered and stuck the foil wrapper trash in Joey’s bag.

"He does!" Justin said loudly.

"I do."

"Like a girlfriend you date?" Chris asked.

"Yeah." Joey nodded.

"Shut up, are you serious?" He asked.

"Uh huh, why do you guys sound so shocked?" Joey asked with a smile.

"Oh please, Mr. Single-and-ready-to-Mingle? The player man, pimp daddy is going straight?" Chris laughed.

"I’m giving it a shot."

"Did she dare you or something?" Chris asked as he stared out the window. "Because we all know you can’t pass up a dare."

Joey laughed and ran his hands through his hair; "She challenged me, yeah."

"Ahh, see that explains it." Justin laughed and turned back around in his seat.

"But that doesn’t mean anything. I really like her." Joey said in his defense.

"You really like them all." JC laughed from the front seat.

"No I don’t." Joey shook his head.

"Yeah, we’ll see." JC smirked and the others laughed.

They drove in silence to Lance’s house and picked up the final member of the group before heading to the airport to meet up with the crew in Louisiana. Lance was surprised to hear the news of Joey’s girlfriend, but he wished Joey luck then promptly fell asleep against his wadded up windbreaker.

Carrie worked steadily for the next week or so then took two days off to recuperate. She spent those two days surfing the net looking for anything regarding Nsync. She found tons of cool information and a lot of pictures. On a couple of the chat rooms, there were people claiming to be Nsync, not that Carrie would know, but when someone logged on as ClarKent5 claiming to be Joey, she laughed and said "Hey Joey, it’s Carrie, aren’t you a little busy to be online?"

The person messaged back, "Hi Carrie, actually we have a break right now, just kicking back in the hotel."

"Yeah? Well then why don’t you call me?" She typed, and laughed.

"I can’t, I’m using the phone line for the modem, this way I can talk to a lot of people at once."

"All right, I can call your cell then. I haven’t talked to you in almost a week." He didn’t respond, so she picked up her phone and dialed Joey’s cell phone number.

He picked up on the second ring, "Hello?"

"Hey, are you online right now?" She smiled.

"Um, no, I’m on the way to a meet and greet at the venue, why?" He asked.

"First of all, hi." She smiled. "And because I’m online and I’m talking to a guy who’s saying he’s you."

"Oh, well he’s not." Joey seemed distracted.

"Are all the guys with you?"

"Um, yeah." Joey moved the phone away from his mouth and coughed.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m not feeling too hot, I think it’s just a little cold."

"Oh, well I hope you feel better. You’ll be home in a week right?"

"Yeah, 9 days actually."

"You’re counting down huh?"

"Yeah, I need a break. Even if it’s just one day."

"I thought it was three days?"

"I thought so too, but nope. We get in Friday morning and leave Saturday afternoon." He sneezed, "Sorry."

"It’s okay. Well, call me later if you feel up to it. We’ll just kick back and relax next week, okay?"

"Yeah. Have a good night."

"You too." Carrie said softly.

"I miss you." Joey whispered, not needing everyone in the van to hear.

"I miss you too." Carrie whispered back, with a smile.

"I’ll talk to you soon."

"Okay… Bye." She smiled and hung up. She thought about confronting the imposters in the chat room, but she suddenly didn’t have the energy. She logged off and turned her computer off, thinking about Joey as she got dressed for bed. This was harder than she thought it was going to be, with him halfway across the country all the time. She could definitely see how the other girlfriends couldn’t hack it, and why relationships for them would be hard.

But Carrie wanted this to work, she really liked Joey, and she could tell he was changing and actually liking her too. He viewed her as more than just a notch in his bedpost, which was her main goal with his "mission". Of course, her main goal had changed a little since the start, now she wanted Joey.

Three days later, Carrie stormed into her apartment and threw her keys across the table where they flew off the end and onto the floor. She pulled the scrunchie out of her hair and tossed it in the general direction of the couch. She had had the crappiest day at work, and was not in a very good mood.

She took her white collared dress shirt off as she walked the length of the apartment to her bedroom. She stripped completely and took a long hot shower, to wash away the muck of the day. She stood under the stream of water until it ran cold, then she got out and wrapped herself in her extra large purple robe. She sighed and curled herself up on the couch. Carrie flipped through the channels, pouting alone, until she came to MTV where she saw a snippet of a Nsync performance in a commercial for McDonalds. Reaching for the phone, she knocked her address book to the floor. Carrie sighed and picked it up, flipping to the piece of scratch paper she had stuck in there with all of Joey’s numbers written on it. She dialed his cell phone number but wasn’t surprised when there was no answer. She looked at her notes and tried the hotel number he’d given her.

"Hello?" A male voice answered, which Carrie knew by now wasn’t Joey.

"Hi, I know I have the wrong room. This is Carrie, do you know which room Joey is in?" She checked her watch, it was after midnight for her, which would make it only 10 in Salt Lake City, where Joey was.

"Hi Carrie, he’s in, uh… 5490 I think." Lance said softly, she had obviously woken him up.

"Thanks, I’ll call him there, I’m sorry to wake you… um…?"

"Lance." He said as he rubbed his hands over his head, making his hair stand on end.

"I’m sorry to wake you, Lance." She whispered.

"It’s all right. But Joey’s not in his room anyways. Want me to let him know you called?"

"Oh, sure, if you wouldn’t mind." She sighed and stood up. She needed a diet coke in a major way.

"No problem." He yawned and rolled over in bed to face the nightstand with the pad of paper and a pen on it. He switched on the light and asked, "What’s the latest he can call?"

"Oh, um he can call whenever. Do you know about when he’ll be in?"

"I don’t know, they headed out about an hour ago, so probably not for a while. I won’t even be able to get the message to him till tomorrow." He yawned. "I’m sorry, I’m not totally awake here." He smiled and scratched his head.

"I know, I’m sorry to call so late." She opened the fridge and took out soda. "Oh well, don’t worry about it, I’ll just try him again tomorrow."

"Did you try his cell?"

"Yeah, no answer." She sat at her dining room table and filed through the stack of bills. She sighed and said, "Oh well…"

"You okay?"

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. I’m all right. Work sucks, but you know how that goes."

"Yeah I do." He laughed quietly and switched the light back off. "Where do you work?"

"Where? Well, I work at Saks, and I got fired from my other job this afternoon. I was just calling to pout." She smiled as tears welled up in her eyes.

"Understood." Lance smiled and said, "Well if you want to pout to me you go right ahead."

"No…" She laughed and wiped her eyes. "I’m just being a big baby about it, you don’t need to listen to me whine."

"I don’t mind… I can’t promise I’ll remember any of this in the morning, then again that might be a good thing." He smiled then fluffed the pillow under his head and pulled the blanket up to his chin. "Pout away."

She sighed, wiped her nose, and started, "Well, okay, but you asked for it. My boss is – my old boss anyways, is a total asshole. This guy was making all these rude comments, you know, ‘hey baby how much for a piece of that?’ Things like that, and he wouldn’t leave me alone. So I switched with this guy Brian so that I wouldn’t have to go by his table any more and Don, the boss guy, he got all mad saying I cant just switch because I ‘disagree’ with a customer. As if I was arguing with the guy or something." Carrie paused for a second and blew her nose. "Sorry. Anyways, I didn’t switch back because even from across the room the guy was making these comments toward me. So finally Don came out and was all, ‘Carrie get back to your table NOW’ so instead of telling him where he could stick it I went back to the idiots table and finished his orders and stuff."

"Uh huh." Lance nodded as his eyelids drooped.

"So the guy leaves eventually, and not only does he not leave a tip, but he shorts me on the bill! So I took it to Don and he said that if I had been a little nicer this wouldn’t have happened, and he was going to take the difference out of my tip share."

"What? That’s crazy." Lance said softly.

"Tell me about it. So I left his office in a huff, but I only had like another hour or two to go. Then the last customer on my shift came in and barfed on the table. He was totally drunk and probably homeless. Well Don came over and said ‘that’s your table Carrie’."

"Gross, he didn’t want you to clean it did he?"

"Yes! So I told him that not only was that disgusting, but it wasn’t even my table. It was in the closed section but the guy seated himself. And Don tells me that if I’m not going to follow orders, then I could take my, and I quote ‘whiney ass’ out of the restaurant. So I did, and now I don’t have a job." Carrie finished.

"But you work at Saks."

"Well yeah, but that’s not going to cut it." She said as a fresh flood of tears rose in her eyes.

"Oh… I see." Lance said slowly. "Well I’m sure Joey can help you out if you need it."

"No, I know he can. I just… I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that."

"You’d rather have your bills stack up and be miserable?" Lance asked with a smile.

"No." She smiled and sniffed.

"Or I can help you out if you’d rather not ask Joey."

"You don’t have to do that." Carrie stood and threw the soda can away. She reached up and threw her hair into a ponytail with the previously discarded scrunchie

"I know I don’t have to, but if I can help at all, just let me know."

"Thanks Lance." She smiled and blew her nose one last time. "Well I’m going to let you go to bed now."

"Okay." He laughed quietly.

"And um, you don’t have to tell Joey I called, I’ll just talk to him tomorrow." She said.

"Okay. Well good night Carrie, I hope you feel better soon."

"Thanks... And Lance?" She asked quietly.

"Hmm?" His eyes were shut and he was drifting off already.

"Thanks for listening to me."

"Anytime." He smiled to himself, feeling a strange twang in his heart.

"Goodnight." She smiled and hung up the phone. She was going to have to meet Lance in person one of these days.

 

Carrie reached Joey the next day, and gave him the shorter version of the scene at Brewers. He was sympathetic, but distracted. He wasn’t feeling much better, and couldn’t seem to shake his cold.

"So what did you do last night?" Joey asked as he pulled the drape on his bunk closed. They were on their way to… wherever it was they were headed, and they had at least 3 more hours ahead of them.

"Nothing. I pouted a lot and drank diet cokes." Carrie smiled and opened her checkbook. She wrote out her first bill for the night and looked at the short stack of those that waited. "You?"

"Not much, just hung around you know, with the guys around the hotel." His mind flashed to the assortment of girls they’d danced with, knowing he couldn’t tell Carrie.

"Hmm?" Carrie asked, he hung around the hotel?

"We just hung out."

"At the hotel?" She tore the statement part of the bill off and shoved it in the envelope.

"Yeah." Joey yawned and dropped his arm over his head.

"Oh, Lance said you went out with the other guys."

"Lance?" Joey pushed himself up into a sitting position, or as close to it as he could get in the bunk

"Yeah, I called to talk to you last night and that’s who I got." Carrie explained.

"Why didn’t you call my cell?"

"I did, there was no answer."

"Oh." Joey hadn’t noticed the "missed call" message when he returned last night… this morning. "Well yeah, we were at the hotel for a little bit, then we went out dancing. JC, me and Justin."

"Sounds like fun." Carrie said softly as she wrote out a check for her phone bill.

"Yeah, it was alright." Joey said a second later. "So, are you ready for Friday?"

"Yeah." Carrie smiled and sat back in her chair. "I can hardly wait."

"Me neither." Joey smiled and rolled onto his stomach. "I wish it was longer than just the day though."

"Me too. I have to work Saturday morning too… so…" Carrie sighed.

"You can’t get out of it?"

"No, we’re having the big back to school sale thing, so I have to be there early."

"You can’t take vacation or something?"

"I wish I could."

"Well that sucks." Joey’s mood turned foul.

"Well it’s not like I can help it." Carrie became defensive.

"Can you call in sick or something?"

"Joey, you’re leaving that afternoon anyways."

"I know, but at least then we’d have a couple more hours."

"I can’t." She shook her head and pressed her temples. "I can’t call in sick, and I can’t take any vacation."

Joey sighed, then said, "Fine."

"What do you want me to do? Get fired from the only job I have left?"

"I’m not saying I want you to get fired, I’m saying that I’m only going to be in town for one day and I’d like to spend as much time as I can with you."

"I realize that Joe, and I want to spend all the time with you too…"

"Isn’t there a way you could work the night shift or something? Or explain to your boss?"

"That my boyfriend is in Nsync and I want to stay home and sleep with him?" She asked sarcastically, with a smile.

"Well…"

"Joey… I can’t do that."

"I know." He sighed.

"But I’ll be off at like, 11, you’ll still be here right?"

"We leave at noon."

"Okay." Carrie nodded and made a mental note. They talked for a little longer about unimportant stuff, and then Joey had to go eat dinner. Carrie hung up and sighed, "Maybe seeing him on Friday will help…" She thought.

Both Carrie and Joey worked hard until that Friday when she picked him up at the airport. She met him at the gate with about 2 dozen other giddy fans. Carrie looked around nervously, she’d never been put in a situation like this with fans. Fans who had no idea she was "a girlfriend".

Carrie stood off to the side near the Espresso cart thing, and waited patiently. When the plane landed the guys were the first off. Their bodyguards held the fans at bay for the two minutes they paused to sign autographs and smile for pictures, then they were ushered through the security checkpoint and towards the baggage claim area. Carrie followed a few feet behind the crowd of girls, who were hot on the heels of the boys.

When they got to baggage claim the girls were kept out by airport security. All of the girls, including Carrie.

She stood near the escalators that would take them to the parking lot, and waited. It was almost 15 minutes later when the sea of fans parted and Nsync stepped through. Carrie smiled nervously and stepped forward, as a guard stuck his arm out, preventing her from touching Joey.

"Joey!" She shouted, as a last ditch effort.

He turned slowly as he wiped his nose on the back of his hand. He didn’t see her at first, then their eyes met. Carries face lit up with a smile as she waved and followed them out into the late morning sun. "She’s with us." Joey said loudly to be heard over the fans that had regrouped outside.

One of the guards looked over at Carrie and signaled for her to follow. He grabbed her arm and moved her into the center of the guard ring, as they walked out to the parking lot. "This is like herding sheep." She commented to the nearest guard.

He laughed and nodded, "Yeah it is."

"Joey, can we take my car?" Carrie asked as she held on to Joey’s shirt so that she wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

"What?" He looked over his shoulder at her. "Yeah, your car. We can take it." He nodded.

"How?" She looked back at the fans.

"We’ll get in the van and Mike will take us to your car." Joey explained as he concentrated on following the guys ahead of him.

"I… okay." What else could she say? She never expected this, and she wasn’t sure she liked it.

They all made it to the vans safely and piled in. Joey and Carrie were in the van with 2 members of the security team, Chris and JC. "Hey Mike, can you take us to Carrie's car?" Joey asked as the doors shut, and the screaming outside became less loud.

"Sure thing kid, where’s she at?"

"Um, 14B right over there." Carrie pointed to the back of the lot.

"You got it." Mike started the van and slowly pulled away from the curb.

"Hi, I’m JC." The guy directly behind Carrie said as he extended his hand over the back of the seat.

"Hi, I’m Carrie." She shook his hand.

"You look familiar." The other guy in the back said.

"I met you at a club, in Miami." Carrie smiled and shook his hand as well.

"Hmm, okay." Chris frowned. Meeting a girl in a club was nothing he’d remember.

"Remember? The time when Lance barfed up something like $40 worth of margaritas?" Joey laughed.

"Oh yeah!" Chris laughed. "That’s right, you said that."

"That’s Chris by the way." Joey said to Carrie as the van turned down aisle 14.

"Which one hun?" Mike asked from the front.

"Um, right up there on the left. The blue Toyota." Carrie pointed her car out. Mike rolled to a stop right behind it and Joey opened the door.

"It was nice meeting you." Carrie smiled at the two remaining Nsyncers in the back of the van.

"You too." They said in unison.

"Jinx." Chris said as he pulled a Gameboy out of his backpack. "Now you can’t talk till I say your name 3 times."

"Shut up." JC rolled his eyes.

"Hey!" Chris shouted as Joey slammed the door shut with his bag in his hand. He waved at the others through the window and walked to the passenger side of Carries car. She unlocked it and they slid in.

"Let’s get going though." Joey said as he looked back toward the airport. The fans were making their way out to the parking lot.

"Just a second." Carrie smiled and leaned over the emergency brake for a kiss. "There, now we can go."

"Man I’ve missed you." Joey smiled and licked his lips as she pulled out of the parking space.

She drove them back to Joey’s house and parked behind his car in the driveway. "Do you have plans for tonight?" Joey asked as he tossed his duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped onto is porch.

"Yeah." Carrie smiled as he turned the key in the door.

"Yeah?" Joey pushed the door open and disarmed the house.

"Yeah, to curl up in bed with you and watch a movie."

"A movie huh?"

"Yeah, or something." She shut the door behind them as Joey made his way down the hall towards the kitchen. He dropped his bag in the hall and turned the light on.

"Sounds good to me." He yawned and pulled the refrigerator door open. "Sheesh, this cold is just kicking my butt."

"Then sleep will do you some good." Carrie came up behind him and hugged him tightly, her cheek resting firmly on his shoulder blade. She moved her hands up under his sweatshirt and rested her hands on his bare stomach. "How was your show last night?" She asked quietly.

"Tiring." He tipped the bottled water and took a long drink.

"Was there anything you wanted to do today?"

"You’re doing it." He said softly with a smile. He shut the door and turned around to face Carrie. "I’m sorry I was such a shit this week." He leaned and touched his forehead to hers.

"This has been harder than I thought."

"I know." Joey nodded. "It’s not so fun huh?"

"It’s just more work." Carrie smiled and kissed him quickly. "But I think it’ll be okay."

"Yeah." He smiled and kissed her again, not nearly as quickly. He turned his head and yawned again. "I could just lay in bed all day."

"Sounds good to me." Carrie smiled.

"You don’t have to work?"

"Not today, nope." She shook her head and reached for his hand. "Come on, we can turn on the TV and just veg out all day." She pulled him toward the stairs.

"That’s a waste of a day." Joey complained.

"Oh really?" Carrie cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Just lay around and watch a movie?"

"With me. Your girlfriend. Anything that includes spending all day with your girlfriend is not a waste." Carrie smirked over her shoulder as they started up the stairs.

"I know." Joey sighed and Carrie stopped in front of him.

"If you don’t want to, just say so." She said sharply.

"No, it’s fine." Joey took a few steps toward her as she entered his "game room".

"What then?" Carrie turned to face him.

"I just haven’t seen you in like, 3 weeks. Movies wasn’t what I had in mind."

"Joey… that’s what this whole thing is about. Having a relationship that’s more than just sex."

"I know that Carrie." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "I know that, but it’s been three weeks. No matter how sweet the girl is, she’s gonna get it more than once a month."

"Joey." Carrie said a second later, "That’s really nice." She flopped on the overstuffed zebra striped couch and sighed.

"Oh come on." Joey sat beside her on the couch. "You know where I’m coming from. I’m not the commitment type."

"I’m not asking for you to sign over your life."

"I know, but if I’m only going to see you once a month I’d kinda like to, you know…"

Carrie sighed again, "I’m not saying that we’re not going to sleep together Joey, I’m saying that can’t always be the way it is. It’s been 3 weeks for me to you know."

"Yeah but…"

"Yeah but nothing." Carrie laid her hand on his thigh. "Would it make you feel any better knowing I have every intention of sleeping with you tonight?" She smiled slowly and touched his hair.

He smiled and pulled her legs across his as he pulled her into a tight hug, "That’s not all I’m about you know." He whispered softly near her hear.

"I know." She nodded.

"I can be the good boyfriend, as soon as I get back off tour." He kissed her ear slowly and let his hand travel up her thigh to her hip.

"I’m going to hold you to that."

"Good." He smiled and playfully bit her neck. "Now what movie were you thinking of?"

"The Usual Suspects." Carrie said softly as Joey continued to kiss her neck.

"Good choice." He said between nibbles.

"Yeah." Carrie closed her eyes and lost herself in Joey’s kisses.

They did end up watching "The Usual Suspects" that afternoon, as well as "Star Wars – episode 1" and "Mystery Men". They ordered pizza and ate it warm for lunch and cold for dinner, not moving far from the couch the entire day. At 10 that night, Carrie decided it was time to move to the bedroom, she had to get up early and she wanted to make sure she’d be close enough to the alarm to hear it.

"Come on babe." Carrie pushed herself into a sitting position on the couch and softly kissed Joey’s sleepy lips.

He stirred slowly, then kissed her deeply as he ran his fingers through her hair. "What?" He asked a moment later.

"Let’s move to the bedroom." She whispered as she stood up beside the couch. She reached for the remote and turned the flashing TV off. Carrie adjusted her t-shirt and reached for Joey’s hand, to pull him upright.

"No, let’s stay here." He pulled her down onto his lap and kissed her again. He reached up and under her shirt to unclasp her bra, that had somehow managed to remain on during the course of the day.

"Joey come on. I’ve gotta get up early." She stood again and pulled him to his feet. They walked down the dark hall to the bedroom where Joey stripped and crawled beneath the soft blue sheets.

Carrie took off her clothes and left them on the floor beside the bed before she climbed in beside Joey. He reached over and pulled him to her, still mostly asleep.

"I love you." He mumbled into her hair as he supported himself over her. He leaned forward and slowly licked her bottom lip before kissing her.

Whoa. Where did that come from? She couldn’t respond, so she just kissed him again and held him close, trying to block those three words from her mind.

 

 "Joey! Did you turn the alarm off?" Carrie asked as she stood beside the bed the next morning, She held a shoe in one hand and her pants in the other. "Joey!" She thwapped him on the arm with the shoe.

"What? Yeah, it was going off at like 5 in the fucking morning." He grumbled as he pulled the blanket up to his chin.

"Yeah! You wanna know why? Because I was supposed to be at work at 6:30."

"Well Jesus Carrie, it’s like... Saturday."

"I know it’s Saturday." She growled as she yanked her legs through her pant legs. "Where’s my bra?"

"What?" Joey rolled over to face her.

"My bra Joey, where’d it end up?" She asked as she bent over to pull her socks on.

"I don’t know." He lifted the blankets and looked around.

"Fuck." Carrie trotted into the bathroom with one shoe on and one shoe still in her hand. She tore the tank top she was wearing off and tossed it on the hamper as she pulled her shirt off of the floor. She put it on over her bare chest and ran back out to the room. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her other shoe on before grabbing the scrunchie off the bedpost and bolting towards the door.

"Hey… I found it." Joey said as he leaned halfway off the bed with a black lacey bra in his hand.

Carrie sighed and pulled the bedroom door open, "I’ll be back at 11, you’ll be up, right?"

"Yeah I’ll be up." He pulled the blanket over his head as she shut the door behind her.

She flew down the stairs and out the front door to her car, it was already a quarter to 7 and she was going to be late... real late.

Carrie got chewed out at work and her day seemed to go downhill from there. By the time 11 rolled around she was more than ready to go home, her weekend was shot. All she wanted was to lay in her bathtub with peach scented bubbles and a good trashy romance novel, was that too much to ask?

She was halfway to her house when she remembered Joey was waiting at his house. She grumbled to herself as she turned the car around and headed toward the other side of town. She pulled up to the gate and reached out to enter the gate code, but she noticed that Joey’s car wasn’t in the driveway. It looked like he had left already. She sighed and entered the gate code anyways.

The gate swung open and she drove up the gravel driveway and parked in front of the garage. She left her purse in the car and walked up to the front door, it was then that she remembered that she didn’t have a key. She sighed and sat on the porch steps with her chin in her hands and her elbows on her knees.

She sat there for a couple minutes before a van pulled up and opened the front gate with a code. Carrie watched with a confused look as it drove up the driveway and stopped in front of the house. The driver gave the horn a short beep and a curly haired kid opened the side door. "Where’s Joey?" He asked as he jumped out.

"I… I’m not sure, he’s not with you?" She asked.

"We came by to get him, so no." The kid laughed and ran his hands through his curls. "So you must be…" He thought about it for a second. "Stephanie?"

"Um, Carrie." She said softly.

"Yeah! Carrie!" He laughed. "See, you called and woke me up and you said Carrie and my mind said Stephen King… so right now I was thinking it had something to do with Stephen King and all that I could think was Stephanie… Stephen… you know?"

"Okay." Carrie laughed and extended her hand. "It’s nice to meet you."

"You too, finally. I’m Justin."

"Four down one to go." Carrie smiled and looked around the empty courtyard.

"Who’d you miss?"

"Lance. I’ve talked to him on the phone on accident, kinda like you. But I haven’t met him yet."

"Well he’s in the van, but he’s sleeping. You can go look at him if you want though." Justin laughed and tucked his hands in his pockets as Joey came around the side of the house. "It’s about damn time." Justin smiled and walked over to Joey.

"Sorry, I had to wash the car and bring it into the garage, it was covered in bird shit and that can’t be good for the paint." Joey explained as he walked up and threw his bag in the back of the van. "Lookit that kid, he can sleep through anything." Joey pointed at Lance. "You just barely made it." Joey said as he turned to Carrie.

"I know… I was halfway to my house when I remembered. It was a hard day at work."

"Oh man, you forgot about me?" Joey pretended to pout.

"Never." She pulled him in for a quick hug and brushed her lips over his. "Have a safe trip, I’ll see you when this thing is over."

"I’ll give you a call later this week."

"Okay." Carrie nodded. "Well call me when you get to the hotel or whatever so I know you made it in one piece."

"We have a show tonight, we won’t get to a hotel till tomorrow." Joey frowned.

"You have your cell phone."

"If we don’t make it in one piece it’ll be on the news." Justin said from inside the van.

"True." Carrie shrugged. "But please do it anyways, so I’ll feel better."

"Okay, okay, I will." Joey kissed her again and whispered, "I’m sorry about this morning."

"It’s okay." She said after a seconds pause. "But you owe me."

"Okay." He laughed and climbed into the van. He and Justin waved as they slammed the door shut, Lance had yet to move.

Carrie stood and watched the van pull down the driveway before she sat back on the porch. She needed that bubble bath.

 

Carrie went home that afternoon and soaked in the bathtub until she looked like a prune. After that, her weekend went pretty well. Joey called that night from his cell phone backstage, he was pumped and ready for the show, but he still sounded kind of sick. She wished him good luck and promised to talk to him later.

It was almost a week later when she finally reached him live, they’d been playing phone tag for a couple days. She called Joey’s cell phone and he answered on the second ring, "This is Joe."

"Hey you, how’s it going?" Carrie asked.

"Good, pretty busy. You?" He asked slowly, he couldn’t quite place the voice. He held the phone out of the way so the hair stylist could work.

"The same, I’ve been out job hunting, that’s such a pain you know." Carrie sat on the floor in front of her couch and went through the stack of mail she’d just retrieved from the mailbox. Most of it was junk, and a couple magazines.

"Yeah, I know." Joey said, realizing who it was. "Any luck?"

"A couple good leads." She shrugged and opened a Platinum Visa application thing. "Nothing solid."

"Well like I said, if you need anything you can let me know."

"I know. And thank you." Carrie saw the $40.00 annual fee and tossed the application in the junk pile.

"So what are you doing tonight?"

"I’m going to sit here and read my magazines that I just got in the mail, and then I’m going to go out to dinner with Missy and Jennifer. We might go to a movie or something after, but I’m not sure." She sighed and opened a plain white envelope with her name written across it in green.

"Where are you going for dinner?" Joey closed his eyes as the hair girl took a small pair of scissors and trimmed his bangs (do guys call them bangs??).

"I’m not sure. I think Jenn said something about-" She stopped mid-sentence and looked at the paper in her hands. "Hang on." She said quickly. She looked inside the envelope, but it was empty, all that was sent was a money order made out to her for $1,000. There was no signature on it, it just said "I hope this helps"

"Hello?" Joey asked a second later.

"What is this?" Carrie asked.

"What?"

"Joey, I told you I was fine."

"What?" He asked, genuinely confused.

"I told you I didn’t need your help."

"What do you mean?" He waved the hair stylist away, his hair was as done as it was going to get.

"I mean I got the check." She didn’t know why she was getting so upset, maybe it was pride. She wanted to make it on her own, and she certainly didn’t need her rich and famous boyfriend to have to save the day.

"What check?"

"The money order. For a thousand dollars." She frowned and examined the handwriting on it.

"I don’t know what you're talking about." Joey got up from the chair and walked over to where his 20 pairs of shoes were laid out. He reached for his favorite pair and sat on a bench. "What money order."

"Joey, knock it off." Carrie sighed and put the money order back in the envelope.

"Knock what off? I have no idea what you're talking about." He said defensively as he tied the first shoe.

"Joey…" Carrie stood up and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

"Carrie, I don’t know what money order you're talking about. Someone gave you a thousand dollars?"

"Yeah, someone." She rolled her eyes.

"Well, that’s cool and everything, but it wasn’t me." Those shoes weren’t going to work with the royal blue pants he was wearing. He removed them and reached for his sneakers.

"Then who did?" She asked.

"Beats me." Joey mumbled and slid his feet into the Vans. "I wish they’d send some my way though, I haven’t seen real cash in months."

"I’m not going to take this money you know." Carrie put her hand on her hip and spoke into her refrigerator.

"Carrie, now come on. If you need the money, take it. Someone obviously knew you could use it."

"Someone… you mean you." She frowned and shut the refrigerator door. She walked across the kitchen with a glass of water and sat at the table, the rest of her mail long since forgotten.

"Dude, I didn’t send you any money." Joey said. Irrationally, that didn’t make her any less mad. If anyone should have sent her money it was him. "And besides, even if I did why are you so upset? I mean, if you need it, use it."

"I don’t need it."

"Then save it."

"Joey…"

"Carrie…" He copied her.

"I’m sending this back to you." She said a second later.

Joey sighed and said, "Send it to me, that’s fine. Like I said I could use the cash." They sat in silence for a couple minutes before Joey asked, "So where are you going for dinner?"

"I don’t know." Carrie said quickly.

"But Jenn said something about…" Joey prompted her.

"Jenn said something about Mexican food, so we might hit Robertos or something."

"That sounds like fun." He got up and left the prep room, and headed through the maze of metal backstage to the mini gym that was there for the guys to use. It was empty when he walked in, so he sat on the weight bench and leaned against the wall. That was probably the quietest place in the whole arena.

"I suppose." Carrie shrugged. Her mind was whirring in thought. She didn’t need the money, but of course it wouldn’t hurt. She could definitely use a couple hundred to make a dent in her credit bills. "So what about you, what are you doing tonight?"

"Um, we have a show here in about 3 hours." He glanced at his watch, it was 3:30 California time. "And after that I’m not sure. Justin said something about going out dancing. I mean, we’re in LA, we can’t not go out." He laughed.

"How long will you be in LA?"

"Um, we have shows tonight and tomorrow, so I think we leave the day after that. We’re headed to Seattle next, I think."

"And then New York to wrap it up?"

"No, we don’t get to New York for another couple weeks." Joey played with the silvery cuffs on his jacket. One of the shimmery blue patches on his sleeve was coming loose.

"But you’re going to be there for like a week right?"

"Yeah, I think so. We’ve got all kinds of TV stuff to do, and the HBO special and stuff like that."

"Cool." Carrie sighed and played with the ice in her cup. "Will you be able to come home before then?"

"I doubt it. We’re supposed to get a day next week, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen." Joey yawned and rolled his shoulders.

"Okay."

"You wanna come out and see us?"

"If I came out it’d be to see you. But I can’t even do that right now."

"No time off?"

"Among other things." Carrie sighed and thought of the afternoons she’d be spending job hunting instead of visiting with her boyfriend.

"Well… that’s okay." Joey said softly. "As soon as the tours over you’ve got me for a full week."

"Why? Then where do you have to go?"

"Japan, for 2 weeks." He said. "I think. Either one or two weeks."

"You’re kidding." She felt tears spring up in her eyes. How did people do this all the time? Joey had been gone for almost 3 months, he’d come back for a week, then take off again for a couple more weeks. That was insane.

"I wish I was."

"But after that?"

"After that I’m all yours, and I can be the good boyfriend you didn’t think I could be." He smiled.

"Okay." She said quietly. "Well, I’d better get going, Missy and Jennifer will be here soon and I still need to get ready."

"Oh, okay." Joey nodded.

"Have a good show tonight, and give me a call later."

"I will." Joey smiled. "Have fun tonight."

"I’ll try." She smiled, and hung up the phone. She showered and changed real quick, and was ready to go when her friends showed up a half hour later.

Joey and the guys put on an awesome show that night, and were on an adrenaline high immediately following the performance. Justin and Chris had arranged with some of their "LA friends" (aka chicks) to meet up with them after the show to go out. Joey did not have a problem with that.

All of the guys went to the club after the show, and stayed until almost 2 in the morning when the club closed. "I’m gonna call it a night." JC said as they stood around behind the club next to the two taxis that were waiting for them.

"Aww come on Jace, we’re going to Canters." Joey said with just a hint of whining. He casually draped his arm over the tall blonde, Sonya, and said, "Come with us, we’re going to eat breakfast till the sun comes up."

"Nah, I’m cool." JC waved and stepped into the first taxi. "Anyone else coming?"

"No way man, I’m not done yet." Justin laughed and slid into the second taxi, followed by Tracy and Alison.

Joey whispered something softly into Sonya’s ear that made her giggle. He smiled and said, "Make room for Joey!" then climbed into the taxi beside the others.

"Hey where am I going to sit?" Sonya pouted with her hands on her hips.

"There’s room." Justin shouted from inside.

"Come on." Joey patted his lap. Sonya's giggled again and sat on Joey’s lap.

"I’ll ride up front then." Chris said. He opened the front door to the cab and sat beside the driver. "I’m Chris." He shook the driver’s hand and said, "And they’re crazy." Everyone in the back laughed and Joey shut the door and rolled down the window.

"Hey Joe?" Lance asked, holding the door to the first taxi open.

"Hey Lance!" Joey shouted.

"What about Carrie?" Lance asked quietly.

"Dude, there is no more room in this car." Joey brushed Sonya's hair off his face and waved out the window as the taxi pulled away from the curb.

"Carrie?" JC asked when Lance got in the taxi beside him.

"His girlfriend."

"Oh, they’re still going out?"

"I guess, I mean, he hasn’t said anything." Lance shrugged.

"Remember we’re talking about Joey here. The perpetually single and always ready to mingle pimp daddy." JC laughed and took his jacket off. "They’ve probably been history for a while."

"Hmmm." Lance frowned.

"Yeah, hmmm." JC smiled and closed his eyes as he rested his head against the window, using his jacket as a pillow.

 

Over the next couple weeks, Carrie and Joey seemed to miss each other’s calls more often than not. "Hi, it’s me again… I was just calling to say hi, I haven’t talked to you in like a week." Carrie sighed. "Anyways, I hope you’re feeling better, and I hope you’re having a good time. I’ll, um, talk to you later. I miss you." She hung up and tossed her phone across the couch. Carrie sat on the couch watching "Undressed" on MTV and pouted. Her friends were all back at school, and she had no one to go out with. She could always call Matt… but no. She wouldn’t do that. She’d rather sit at home and have a pity party by herself.

"Argh, I’m going nuts." She crawled to the other end of the couch and picked up the phone, hoping to reach anyone at the hotel.

She tried "Clark Kents" room but there was no answer. She racked her brain trying to remember other names Joey said they used, the only other one she could think of was Sam Malone, so she called back and requested that name. To her surprise the phone rang almost immediately.

The man who answered cleared his throat and said, "Hello?"

"Hi, this is Carrie." Carrie smiled, glad to have reached someone.

"Hey, how’s it going?" He asked.

"Ahh, well you know, it’s going. Who did I reach this time?"

"Lance again." He smiled and laid the book he was reading on the table beside him.

"Don’t you ever go out with the guys?" Carrie laughed and sat back on her couch, muting the TV.

"Yeah I do, but tonight was my moms birthday so I called her and she put me on speaker phone and stuff so I could pretend I was there." He smiled, and she could tell he missed his home.

"Aww, that’s sweet."

"Yeah, well, I’m a good kid." He laughed.

"Sure you are." Carrie laughed.

"But yeah you were right, they’ve all gone out again." Lance sighed and adjusted the pillow behind his head.

"Sheesh, for being so busy you guys sure do go out a lot." Carrie channel surfed with no sound.

"Well they thrive on no sleep. I need at least 6 or 7 hours or I’m grumpy. And I haven’t gotten that much lately so I’m making up for it."

"I thought JC was the sleeper."

"Ahh, well he likes to sleep, and he can sleep anywhere, but he likes to go out just as much." Lance laughed. "Actually, he usually calls it quits early. He might even be in his room."

"But the others?"

"Chris Justin and Joey will come in when the sun comes up and work all day on nothing."

"That’s kinda scary."

"You’re telling me?" Lance smiled and stood up from the bed. He ran his hands over his head and adjusted his boxers. "But I’ll let Joe know you called when I see him tomorrow, how’s that?"

"That’s fine." Carrie nodded.

"Or I can shove a note under his door, but I can’t guarantee he’ll see it when he stumbles in."

"No, that’s all right." Carrie sighed.

"Are things, um, going okay for you guys?"

"Me and Joey?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah, things are going all right. Other than the fact that I never see him and hardly talk to him."

"It’s rough, I know." Lance said softly. "How about your job hunting?"

"Ahh, well its crap. I hate trying to find a job, especially one where the hours are flexible enough for me to work two, you know?"

"Yeah." Lance nodded and sat at the little table in his room. "Well I hope things get better, for everything."

"Me too." Carrie smiled. "I’ll let you go though, I just needed to hear someone’s voice."

"All right." Lance chuckled. "It was nice talking to you again Carrie."

"Thanks, you too Lance." She hung up and sighed. She had to think of something to occupy her time. She turned her attention back to the teenage angst on MTV and let herself get involved with this Jason, Mark and Kendra love triangle. She was not amused.

After a few episodes of sexual frustration, Carrie turned the TV off and headed to her bedroom. As soon as she turned the lights off she knew what she was going to do about Joey.

 Three days later she called Lance to arrange it, knowing he’d have "connections". He wasn’t in his room, so she left him a message with her number and asked him to call when he got the chance. Later that night, he did.

"Yeah we can get you tickets and everything." Lance smiled and flopped down on a couch in the green room backstage. "Is this… I mean does he know?"

"No, it’s a surprise, since I haven’t seen him since you guys got that weekend off like 3 weeks ago. And that, well we were kind of cranky the whole time he was here, so…" She shrugged, "So don’t tell him. Don’t tell anyone."

"Okay." Lane said softly, thinking about how Joey had been acting lately.

"So you can hook me up?"

"Absolutely. I’ll even come get you at the airport myself."

"No, you don’t have to do that."

"I know I don’t, I’d just like to meet you finally." He smiled.

"Okay. Well I’ll tell you what, as soon as I get my tickets I’ll call you and let you know what time and everything. Then, if you show up, great, and if not, I’ll understand."

"Nah, I’ll be there."

"Okay." She smiled. "Thanks a lot Lance. You rule."

"I know." He laughed as Joey and Justin walked in.

"Who’s that?" Justin asked as he sat down beside Lance on the couch.

"It’s, um, my mom." Lance said quickly. "Hey mom, I’ve gotta get going, the guys are showing up."

"Mom huh?" Carrie laughed.

"All right, call me when you find out. I love you too. Bye." He hung up and turned his phone off.

"Finds out what?"

"Um, she’s going to come up and see one of our last shows. So she needs to let me know when she knows what day she has off."

"Oh, cool." Joey nodded and tossed a bottle of water at Justin.

"Yeah." Lance said softly, pulling a string on the arm of the couch. "Yeah, cool."

Carrie laughed and hung up the phone. She reached for the yellow pages and called a couple airlines looking for something that would get her to New York the next week. After an hour she found a flight that wasn’t priced through the roof, that would get her to New York a mere 4 hours before the show started that night, and left the next day at 2. She gave the ticket agent her credit card number and wrote down all the important information.

Carrie picked up the phone and called Lance's room at the hotel, "I know you’re at the show or whatever, but here’s my flight information, just in case." She left him the basics and thanked him again before hanging up.

"Hey, we’re having girls on stage with us for the HBO special too right?" Justin asked as they all grouped in the green room before the show the same night.

"Yeah, they’re doing a contest thing before the show with the girls in line." JC explained.

"Oh man, are they gonna use that closed circuited TV stuff so we can see and chose?" Joey asked, getting excited.

"Probably." JC shrugged.

"That is the coolest thing. We can watch it as they film and tell them which girls we want. It’s like going to a hottie buffet." Joey laughed.

"Well I don’t know about you but I’m going right for the desserts." Justin laughed and they all continued too goof around and warm up. Lance watched as Joey cruised the room flirting with all the female reporters and the small group of fans that had won backstage passes to the show.

"Hey Chris…" Lance said quietly, pulling Chris aside.

"Hey Lance." Chris smiled.

"I talked to Carrie the other day, and she made it sound like she and Joey were still like, dating."

"Joey doesn’t date." Chris reminded him.

"No, but remember he was seeing that girl Carrie?"

"I don’t remember." He shrugged

"Well, she’s under the impression that they’re still dating."

"If they ever were." Chris pointed out.

"No Joey said they were." Lance pointed at Joey, "But then look at him." Joey had his arm around a young ladies waist and had his hand resting on her hip.

"So he’s acting like Joey."

"Yeah, but don’t you think-"

"Lance, I put my arms around fans too, that doesn’t mean Danielle and I   broke up."

"I know."

"What’s the big deal anyway? If she’s dating Joey she knows how he is."

"I know." Lance nodded. "Oh well." He smiled and headed out into the room to mingle with the fans. Hey, he was single, he could hug who he wanted.

 

Less than a week later Carrie stood in the aisle on the plane waiting to get off. It had been an okay flight, but she was still nervous. She straightened her sweater and adjusted the backpack on her shoulder as she shifted her weight from foot to foot. The line ahead of her was moving at a snails pace, which wasn’t helping her nervousness.

Her heart rate sped up as she walked up the walkway to the crowded terminal, she wasn’t sure who she was looking for exactly, if anyone. Lance had said he’d be there to pick her up, but she wasn’t expecting him to be just standing out in the open. Not with the scene that the fans created at the Orlando Airport last time. He’d be crazy.

Maybe he was, because as she made her way through the crowd she spotted a familiar blonde haired guy off to the side. She smiled and walked up, "Are you waiting for me?"

"Are you Carrie?" He asked with a smile.

"Yep." She laughed and extended her hand, "You must be Lance. Of course the last time I saw you, you were asleep in the back seat of the van… so…"

"Ahh, well, I’m surprised you recognized me." He laughed and shook her hand, pulling her in for a hug in the process. "Do you have luggage?"

"No, I managed to get everything in here." She patted her backpack. "Since I’m only going to be here overnight."

"Cool." He smiled and they headed out.

"I didn’t expect you to really be here, I mean, I’ve seen how you guys get mobbed."

"Yeah, when we’re all together it gets crazy. But when we’re by ourselves, its not usually so bad." He slowed his pace and walked beside her. "Besides, my hairs down and I’m dressed like a scrub, no fan would expect to find me like this."

"True." She smiled as they walked outside to head toward the taxi line. "Not that I think you look like a scrub or anything."

"Thanks." Lance laughed and stood at the curb to wait for a cab. When one finally stopped they climbed in and Lance had the driver take them to Madison Square Garden. "Have you seen the show yet?"

"Hmm?" Carrie tore her eyes away from the New York skyline. "Oh, no I haven’t. I taped the special on HBO last night but I haven’t been able to watch it yet."

"Ahh cool, you’ll have a great time then." Lance watched the city go flying by out the window. "So Joey doesn’t know you’re coming?"

"Nope, not unless you said something."

"I didn’t." He shook his head.

"Then he’s going to be surprised."

"You can say that again." Lance said softly as he concentrated on the frayed hem of his jean jacket.

When they arrived at the venue, Lance took her around the back way to the backstage area, "Did you want to go see him now?"

"I… sure, I mean, is he busy?" Carrie asked, looking around at the thousands of seats.

Lance laughed quietly, "Doubt it. They’re probably just warming up or hanging out with the press."

"Well I don’t want to interrupt."

"Trust me, any distraction these guys can get is good at this point." Lance always seemed to be smiling.

"Okay." Carrie said, moving her backpack to her other hand. "Lead the way."

Lance led the way to the side of the stage and around to the back where there were several halls going in every direction. He took the one on the right and walked down about halfway to what looked like a locker room. "Let me just make sure they're decent." Lance knocked on the door.

"Yeeeeeeees?"

"Who iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis it?" Came a chorus of responses from the inside.

"Are you guys decent?" Lance shouted through the door.

"For you Lancey baby? Always!" Chris shouted as he flung the door open. "Hi, why are you knocking?"

"Hi." Carrie said.

"Because I brought a surprise." Lance said as he entered the room.

Chris got a surprised look on his face and hugged Carrie tight spinning her around, "Oh Lance! A real live girl!?! Just for me?!"

"Not for you, for Joey." Lance said as he reached into the little refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water, "Would you like one?"

"No thank you." Carrie said, still locked in Chris’s arms.

"Joey always gets the girls, how come he gets this one too?" Chris pouted, not letting go.

"Because this is his girlfriend." Lance said quietly.

"Is Joey here?" Carrie asked as Chris let go and took a step back.

"He’s um, he went out to the bus to, you know, do those photos for Teen People." Justin said, he made a bad liar.

"Today?" JC asked. "I thought we were doing that tomorrow?"

"I don’t know, maybe. He said something about pictures." Justin shrugged.

"He told me that was in the press box…" Chris said.

"Wherever." Justin shrugged.

"So you’re the infamous Carrie huh?" JC asked as he sat across from Justin at the little table.

"Infamous? Well I’m Carrie anyway." She smiled and stood where Chris left her.

"Anyone that can make Joey date them, and actually date them for longer than a couple nights is definitely infamous." Chris laughed.

"Ahh, okay." She suddenly seemed uncomfortable.

"Do you want me to take you to him?" JC asked.

"Hmm? To Joey?"

"Well yeah, if he’s up in the press box I can take you. Really surprise him." JC smiled and stood up.

"But if he’s in the middle of a photo shoot…" Justin started.

"So what? Like I’ve never seen him strike a pose?" JC laughed and headed for the doorway where Carrie was still standing.

"Come on, I can give you the mini tour."

"Is it okay?" She asked.

"Sure, come on." He held the door open for her as she stepped out, backpack in hand. "So you’re from Florida?"

"Yeah, Orlando. Born and raised." She said.

"That’s cool, I really like it down there." He was very tall and he walked fast.

"Me too." She smiled and tried to keep up.

"Have you been to New York before?"

"No, well once when I was like 6, but I don’t really remember it." Carrie explained as JC led the way up a set of stairs.

"I love the city. One of these days I want to move up here. Maybe do some theater or something."

"Oh, do you act?"

"Not really. I mean we did skits and stuff on the Mickey Mouse Club, but never any real acting. It just looks like fun though."

"You were on the Mickey Mouse Club?" Carrie asked.

"Yeah, Justin and I were."

"You’re kidding. I went to school with a girl named Joley who was on there."

"Yeah! I remember her, she was only on for a couple months after I got there." He smiled down at her, "That’s weird, small world."

"Yeah." She smiled and kept following him down another couple walkways.

"That was a lot of fun, and it got me prepared for all of this. Kind of, I mean there really isn’t a way to prepare for this."

"Yeah, I can imagine." Carrie said as they stopped in front of a door off to the left.

"Here we go." JC smiled and knocked on the door, "Hey Joe, are you about done in here?" He pushed the door open and Carrie followed him.

"Oh, hey guys." Joey was staring out at the empty arena, he turned around when JC cleared his throat. "Carrie!" He jumped up and over the backs of the seats to where Carrie and JC stood near the back.  "Oh my God what are you doing here?" He laughed and pulled her in for a tight hug.

"I’ll just… leave you two alone." JC backed out of the door completely unnoticed by the other two.

"How did you get here?"

"I flew." Carrie laughed and took a step back. Joey closed the gap she had created and kissed her for a long time, making up for the past couple weeks.

"Wow, this is so awesome. You came all the way up here for our last show? Man, this is going to be so cool." Joey couldn’t stop smiling as he took her hand and lead her down to the seats. They sat side by side and held hands tightly.

"So you were surprised?"

"Oh totally." Joey laughed. "This is just going to be so cool." He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. "How long are you here?"

"Just until tomorrow." Carrie frowned. "I could only get these two days off, but you’ll be home the day after that, right?"

"Yeah, for 9 days."

"Okay." Carrie nodded, and kissed him again.

"So really, how did you get here?" Joey asked a minute later.

"I took that money you sent and I bought my plane ticket, then Lance hooked me up with the concert stuff." She smiled.

"Right on." Joey smiled. "I didn’t send you the money, but that’s cool, at least you're here."

"If you didn’t then who did?" Carrie asked, not believing him for a second.

"Beats me." He shrugged. "So Lance was in on this huh? That little shit. Did you meet the rest of the guys yet?"

"Yeah, I think I’ve met them all." Carrie laughed.

"Good, then it won’t be too rude if we stay here for a little longer." Joey said as he leaned over and slowly nibbled her ear lobe.

"No, not too rude." She whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him close.

"Wait, I want to show you all around." Joey stopped abruptly. "You said before you have no idea what I do or who my friends are. You’ve met my friends, let me show you what I do." He stood up and pulled her to her feet.

"Now?" She laughed.

"Yeah, come on." Joey headed for the door with Carrie in tow. Joey shut the door carefully behind them and wrapped his arm around Carries waist. "Okay, well first of all, we never see this part of the arena. Usually we’re ushered backstage and we stay back there until the show starts. But sometimes we can escape and creep around out here."

"This is an awesome view. I can’t even imagine all these seats being filled." Carrie stopped and leaned on the railing. "And I definitely can’t imagine looking out and seeing all these people."

"You can’t even see past the first maybe ten rows, unless they turn the house lights on." Joey shrugged and leaned beside her. "But you want to see an even more awesome view?" Joey asked with a devilish smile.

"You bet." Carrie smiled before she leaned in to kiss him.

"Let’s go." He took her hand and they walked down the concrete steps toward the floor.

Analise watched from the press box as Joey and Carrie trotted down the steps less than 50 feet from where she stood. She sighed and adjusted her skirt before grabbing her purse from under the seat, and leaving the room. "He has a lot of damn nerve to tell me to hide. And in the closet of all places." Analise frowned and stormed off toward the backstage area. Her heels made clicking sounds all the way down the corridor, and her backstage pass swung from the cord around her neck.

 

Joey hoisted himself onto the stage and reached down to pull Carrie up beside him. "Check this out." Joey smiled proudly and stared out at the empty seats.

"Wow…" Carrie whispered. "I would vomit. Seriously." She laughed and walked from one end of the stage to the other.

"And these here are moving sidewalk things, we dance on these. Then we have these pedestals that lift us into the air about 20 feet."

"Oh man…" Carrie looked down at the circular cutouts in the floor. "What about this?" She asked, pointing to the clear plexiglas section of the stage.

"That is probably the coolest part. This whole section comes off and we ride it down to the end of the aisle here. We have cameras underneath shooting up so you see the bottoms of our shoes and stuff. You’ll have to wait and see." Joey smiled and took her hand to lead her up to the platform at the back of the stage. They stood up there and surveyed the entire stage.

"This is just crazy, it had to have cost a fortune."

"Yeah, it did." Joey nodded. "But I think the show’s worth it. It all just works."

"I can’t wait to see it." Carrie smiled and looked out over the seats again. She saw a figure walking down the stairs beside the press box, heading toward the floor. "Who’s that?"

"Hmm?" Joey followed her stare and blushed, "That’s um, Analise." Joey explained quickly. "She’s a photographer for one of the magazines around here."

"Oh, is she who you were supposed to be having a photo shoot with?"

"What?"

"Well Justin said you were doing a shoot with People or something? That’s how we knew where to find you." She smiled and started down the ramp to the stage.

"Oh… yeah, we were supposed to, but she never showed up." Joey said. "So do you want to check out the green room?" He changed the subject.

"Sure." Carrie said slowly. They left the stage and walked back through the maze of halls to the green room where there was food and drinks set up, and a mess of reporters huddled together in small groups.

"Do you want to grab some food? I need to go let the guys know that we’ll be in here so when they’re ready to warm up they’ll know where to find me."

"Oh sure." She nodded and glanced around the room.

"Okay, I’ll be right back." He kissed her cheek quickly before he took off out the door.

Carrie helped herself to a drink then sat on an uncomfortable chair against the wall. She watched the people around her mingle and chat with each other, they were obviously all on the same "team".

"Hi, I’m Analise Taylor from Teen People." A young looking redhead said as she sat beside Carrie.

"Oh, hi. I’m Carrie." She shook Analise’s outstretched hand and smiled.

"I saw you on the stage with Joey just now, are you guys friends?" She asked sweetly as she took a sip of her drink.

"Yeah, you could say that." Carrie said cautiously. She wasn’t sure if Joey wanted to announce that he had a girlfriend. He should be okay with that, but this was his career life, and Carrie didn’t want to say anything out of line.

"He’s a nice guy. A major flirt, but a nice guy." Analise smiled.

"Yeah." Carrie nodded and played with the ice in her cup. "He seems to have tamed himself a little lately." Carrie said, hoping the reporter would agree.

"Yeah right." Analise rolled her eyes. "He slowed down for a little a couple months ago, but I think he was sick. He’s right back up to the same old Joey now though." She laughed. Joey was not going to make her look like a fool, not without paying the price.

"Really? I didn’t notice." Carrie said nervously.

"Well I just spent the last hour or so in the press box with him, and let me tell you, he hasn’t changed a bit, if you know what I mean." She smiled and licked her lips as she stood up, "Well it was nice to meet you Carrie, I’m sure I’ll see you around later today." She flipped her hair over her shoulder and Carrie noticed a red bite mark just below her ear.

"Um… yeah, thanks you too." Carrie said shakily.

Joey stood in the doorway and watched the conversation take place. He couldn’t hear the words, but the look on Carries face meant he knew what was said. Analise walked toward him with a smug grin on her face, "What did you say?" He asked as she stopped in front of him.

"Nothing." She smiled sweetly. "Just that you’re back to the same old Joey." She bounced up on her toes and kissed him quickly on the lips. He turned his face away, but not fast enough. "Really Joey, you should know better." Analise frowned, and playfully scolded him. "A girlfriend? You? Come on."

Joey watched her leave through the door he had just come in. He closed his eyes and turned to face Carrie, wondering what on earth he could possibly say.

He shouldn’t have worried. She wasn’t there.

 

As soon as Carrie saw Joey walk in, she headed for the only other exit in the room. She shoved the door open and stepped out into a dark hallway. She tried to control her tears as she ran down to the end of the hall and through another door. She was now in a lit section of the maze, but she had no idea where she was. She pushed her way through several more doors and hallways before ending up on the side of the stage, opposite from where she and Joey and been standing.

She took a couple deep breaths and mentally tried to figure out how she was going to get out of there. She sat on the hard metal steps leading up to the stage and rested her head in her hands. Her mind was racing a mile a minute.

"Wake me up, before you go-go…" She heard someone sing. Their voice became louder as they got closer to where Carrie was sitting. She looked up quickly, not wanting a scene.

"I don’t wanna miss it when you hit that – " JC stopped as he rounded the corner. "Hey." He smiled and waved.

Carrie looked up and wiped her eyes before waving back. "How do I get out of here?"

"That’s the million dollar question, we all wanna know that one." He laughed and walked over to where she was sitting. "Where are you trying to get?"

"Orlando. Jamaica. I don’t care, just not here." She sniffed and composed herself.

"Uh oh, what happened?" JC asked as he sat beside her.

"Nothing." She shook her head angrily and stood up.

"Whoa, something happened. Now your life is none of my business, but if it has to do with Joey, maybe I can help you out here."

"Maybe." Carrie nodded and placed her hands on her hips. "Maybe you can help. Did you know he spent this afternoon in the press box with Analise? Did you know he hasn’t changed one bit since we started dating? Did you know that he’s lied to me about going out with other girls?"

"Wow… hang on a second here." JC placed his hand on Carries shoulder. "Come on, let’s go somewhere more private." He looked up at the crewmen adjusting the lights. He led her down a couple more halls to a small dressing room in the back. She flopped down in one of the chairs and he pulled another around so they could face each other.

"Okay first of all, I did not know he spent the afternoon with Analise. Second, he has changed since you started dating. Believe it or not he actually likes you and wants to make it work, he’s just… well, he’s Joey."

"That’s no excuse."

"I know that’s not an excuse. And yeah he messed up, but he has changed, trust me."

Carrie sighed and said, "I don’t see it."

"He visited you when he came home right?"

"Well yeah, but-"

"But he’s never done that before. Ever. He’s hardly even had a friendly relationship with a girl longer than a month or two, nevermind an actual boyfriend girlfriend relationship."

"But if he’s going to screw around with every little reporter that comes around…" She wiped her eyes.

"Well, we don’t know Joey messed around, and I know that he doesn’t do this all the time. I’m just playing Joey advocate here. Yeah he goofed."

"But he lied to me."

"If he lied you have every reason to be upset. There is no excuse for that. But before you take off, I think you should talk to him, I mean at least give the guy a chance to dig himself out."

"I can’t." She shook her head. "I just want to go home."

JC paused for a second before pulling Carrie into a big hug, "If you want to go home you can do that, but don’t hate Joey for being who he is. He made an effort at being a good boyfriend, but if he can’t do it… then he can’t do it. He might not be ready yet."

"No kidding." Carrie sniffed. "Can I call a cab or something from here?"

"You sure you don’t want to stay for the show?" JC sat back in his chair, keeping steady eye contact with Carrie.

"I’m sure." Carrie nodded and stood up.

"Okay." He said after a moment pause, "I’ll call a car around."

"Thanks." She nodded and wiped her nose again.

"What do you want me to tell Joey?"

"Nothing." Carrie shook her head then thought about it for a second. She sighed and said, "No, tell him to call when he’s had time to formulate a decent apology."

"I’ll pass that along." JC smiled and hugged her again.

"I’m sorry I’ll miss the show." She said softly.

"Me too."

"And I don’t hate Joey." She whispered. "I’m just disappointed, and hurt."

"I know you are." JC stroked her hair slowly.

She took a step back slowly and said, "Thanks JC."

"Anytime." He smiled his killer smile and reached for his cell phone. He called someone and let them know that a car was needed around back. "Where are you headed?"

"Um, I don’t know. The airport I guess." She shrugged.

"JFK?" He asked.

"Yeah." Carrie nodded.

He passed the info along to the person on the other end, then said, "It’s ready when you are."

"Okay, let’s go." Carrie said. "Before I lose my nerve." She thought to herself. She took her backpack and stayed close to JC as he led the way to the back door. He pushed the door open with his foot and held it open as she stepped out into the chilly New York air.

"Well it was nice to meet you Carrie." JC smiled and opened the car door for her.

"You too JC. Have a good show."

"Thanks." He gave her a quick hug before she slid into the seat and sighed.

Joey walked out the back door in time to see JC hug Carrie and shut the car door. By the time Joey made it over to JC, the car was halfway across the parking lot. "Was that Carrie??" He asked, breathlessly.

"Yeah." JC nodded.

"Shit, where’s she going?"

"Home, I think." JC shrugged. "To the airport anyways."

"What the fuck? You let her go?"

"Well Joe…" JC squinted at Joey as the sun came out from behind the clouds. "She’s pissed, she’s hurt and she’s disappointed in you. What did you expect?"

"Well I didn’t expect you to put her in a fucking car to the airport." Joey said angrily.

"She wanted to leave." JC shrugged and headed back into the arena.

"Nothing happened man." Joey said as he followed JC.

"You don’t have to plead your case to me Joey. I don’t care who you screw around with." JC turned suddenly to face Joey. "What I do care about is if you’re going to try to play the part of the good boyfriend, you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. Now if you’re not ready to do that yet, then don’t even try man. You’re messing with her head, and that is not cool with me."

"Me being a player never pissed you off before." Joey said as he pushed past JC and stormed into the backstage area.

"It’s doesn’t piss me off now. That’s who you are and that fine, you have a good time and no one gets hurt. But this time someone got hurt, and it’s the worst kind of hurt because you can’t just take a pill or see a doctor."

"I screwed up JC, what do you want me to say?" Joey shouted.

"Me? I don’t want you to say anything. You don’t owe me anything, you’re cool with me." JC shrugged. "You do however owe Carrie an apology."

"Dude, she’s not gonna talk to me."

"Well, she might not, but regardless, you owe her an apology." JC said as he turned and left Joey standing alone near the exit.

 

Carrie sat at the airport with her backpack in her lap, waiting for her flight. She had another 2 hours before she was due to leave, but even sitting in that hard plastic chair was better than being at the concert. She had run the whole course of emotions, angry, sadness, hurt, guilt and stupidity. But now she couldn’t get the thought out of her head that Joey had made a mistake. He was human.

But the other side of her head kept saying, "Yeah but that doesn’t make it right." She sighed in frustration, she really liked Joey and she wanted it to work, but trusting Joey was hard enough as it was, without everything that had just happened. Carrie mentally kicked herself, "I should never have tried to change things, he was great the way he was."

But he messed up, and she couldn’t forget the look on his face when he walked into the room. Like a dog caught stealing food off the table. Total guilt.

By the time Carrie arrived back at her apartment, it was after midnight and she was mentally and physically exhausted. She had spent the entire flight having imaginary conversations with Joey in her mind. In some she would tell him what a jerk he’d been and leave him cold. In others she’d accept his heartfelt apology and they’d live happily ever after. And in others, in others… he hadn’t even called.

Carrie saw the light flashing on her answering machine in the living room, and thought twice before hitting play. "Hey Care, it’s me Missy. I know you said you were going to New York tonight, you lucky dog, but give me a call when you get back, I got Tuesday off and I wanna go see that new Nicolas Cage movie. Byeee." Carrie smiled and made a mental note to call Missy first thing in the morning.

"Hi, this message is for Carrie McBride, this is Jan from Dr. Simons dental office, you’re due for a cleaning-" Carrie pressed skip and moved onto the next message.

"Carrie, this is Joey. Please don’t skip message. Please listen. I know I don’t have any kind of right to ask you to listen, but if you’ve gotten this far please hear me out." He paused and took a deep breath. "I have this nasty feeling in my stomach that I’ve just messed up the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time." His voice was soft, so unlike Joey. "I’m not going to try to explain myself to you. I know there’s nothing I can say that will change anything." She heard him sneeze before he continued, "Sorry, I had to sneeze. But I guess you heard that. Nevermind, anyways, Carrie I… Carrie I’m really sorry. It might not seem that way and you might not want to hear it, but I am. I’m so sorry." He whispered. "Joey, come on we’ve got like 7 minutes and we’ve gotta hackey!" Someone in the background shouted. "Just a sec." Joey answered back, before continuing with the message for Carrie. "I would really like to see you when I get back this weekend. Really see you. If… if you don’t want to then… then okay. But please think about it. I…" He started to say something and changed his mind. "Bye." He hung up, and Carrie stared at the machine with tears in her eyes.

She dropped her backpack on the floor and kicked her shoes off on the way to her bedroom. All she wanted to do was go to sleep for at least 12 hours.

 

Ten hours would have to do. At 10:05 the next morning, Carrie was awakened by an insistent knocking at her front door. She rolled herself out of bed and tied her robe around her waist before shuffling out to the living room. She rubbed her eyes and looked through the peephole. Her heart stopped as Joey came into focus, standing on her porch.

She took a step back and for a split second thought about just not answering the door. She almost did that, but before she knew it her hand reached out and unlocked the door, then pulled it open.

They stared at each other for a full minute of silence before Carrie took a step back and let him into her apartment. "Carrie, I-"

She cut him off, "Please don’t Joey." She sighed and shut the door behind him. "Let’s go in the living room and sit down."

She walked past Joey and sat on her much loved dark red corduroy couch. Joey sat on the opposite end and sighed softly. "I thought you weren’t coming down until tomorrow?"

"I left last night."

"You flew?"

"I took a bus." His red eyes proved he hadn’t slept at all.

"Joey…"

"Carrie…" They started at the same time. Carrie nodded, and Joey continued, "I know there’s nothing that I can say right now that will… I don’t know, change anything." He paused and ran his hands through his hair. "I never really thought I was boyfriend material. That was never anything I wanted. Until you asked me to. Even then I wasn’t sure. But when I came home that first time, and you met me at the airport, I just, I don’t know. I’ve never had that before and it felt great. I didn’t want that feeling to go away." He moved the zipper on his jacket up and down. "But at the same time I felt stuck. Like if I committed to you then that was it, and I wasn’t ready to let go. Maybe I should have said something then. I know I should have. But I didn’t want to lose that feeling I had when I was with you."

"You can’t have it both ways."

"I know." Joey nodded slowly. "But that means that someone has to win, and someone has to lose."

"It’s not a matter of winning or losing."

"That’s just a bad analogy of mine. I couldn’t think of anything better." He smiled shyly. "Either the good boyfriend Joey wins, or the player Joey wins. I can’t think of another way to express that. I can’t have it both ways and I know that."

"No, you can’t." She shook her head.

"Will you give me another chance to try this? If I promise to you that I will do all I can to be what you need?" Joe looked up and caught her eye.

"Under different circumstances I would."

"Different how?"

"Well… I mean, you’re a world renowned ladies man." Carrie smiled as tears sprang up in her eyes. "You have hundreds of girls throwing themselves at you every day. The temptation there is just too much."

"You don’t think I can do it?"

"I think you can Joey. I just don’t think you will." She said softly. "I’m not mad at you anymore Joey. I just can’t think of a way this can work."

"I’m going to be home now. After Japan, I’ll be home for a couple months. We can spend that time building a strong foundation. That way we’ll have someplace good to start. The way we started this, there was no chance."

"You sound like JC." Carrie smiled.

"Yeah well, he’s the one who coached me the whole way home."

"He came down on the bus too?"

"Yeah." Joey nodded. "He knew if I came by myself I’d just make a bigger ass out of myself. He helped me make sense of what I was trying to say. Kind of." Joey smiled and rubbed his eyes again. "Not that I’m making a lot of sense I’m sure."

"No, you are." Carrie nodded.

"Do you think we can try this again?" Joey asked a second later.

"Can… can we talk about that when you get back from Japan?"

"Sure." Joey said softly. "Can we still be friends, either way?"

"Of course Joey." Carrie stood up and walked over to his end of the couch. She pulled him to his feet and hugged him tightly. "We’ll always be friends Joey." She whispered as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

"I’m sorry I hurt you Carrie." He whispered back.

"I know Joey." She nodded, and squeezed him harder. "You look like you could use some sleep though."

"Yeah." Joey sniffed and stepped back.

"Do you want to crash here?" She asked.

"No, that’s okay…"

"No, come on. You can go on in there and crash out for a couple hours. I’d feel better if you did."

"Okay." He nodded. He didn’t take much convincing.

"We can talk more when you wake up." She placed her hand gently on his back and led him across the living room to the bedroom. Her rumpled bed sat on the other end of the room covered in a light blue and yellow quilt and a handful of pillows. Joey sat on the edge of the bed and took his shoes off before lying down and inhaling her light flowery scent.

"Thank you Carrie." Joey said softly, before he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Carrie was now more confused than before. She sat there beside Joey on the bed and watched him sleep for a couple minutes. It was hard to believe that this innocent, sweet looking, baby faced young man, could confuse her so much, and cause her to second guess herself. She had decided before he even got there that she couldn’t go back to trying to date Joey. It just wasn’t meant to be. She would forever feel jealous of his flirtatious ways, and would never be able to cope with the media portraying him as a player. But him showing up on her doorstep was more than she bargained for. How was she going to tell him she’d made up her mind, when he’d laid his heart out for her, and basically pleaded for another chance? Should she wait till he got back from Japan? Would it even make a difference? She wasn’t going to back down this time though. Joey would be a friend forever, but she didn’t think he could be any more. And not because she didn’t care about him, just the opposite, it was because she cared about Joey that she had to let him find "the one" for himself, and not try to force it on him. She sighed, and went back out to the living room, letting Joey sleep in peace.

Carrie picked up the phone… she needed to talk to him. She needed a shoulder to cry on, a heart to listen and a smile to keep her going. She dialed his cell phone number slowly, and waited patiently as it rang three, then four times. Before the 5th ring could finish the phone was answered, "Hello?" He asked.

"Hi." Carrie sighed and began talking.

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2 years later

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Joey stood at the front of the church with butterflies in his stomach. His best friends were close by, and the pews were filled with familiar faces. The organ music started as he followed the example of everyone else in the candle lit church, and turned his head to the doorway. The heavy woodcarved doors were pushed open, and Carrie stood there perfectly still. Joey smiled slowly and stared in awe. She looked stunning in her cream colored silk dress. The neck of her gown was cut high enough to be appropriate, and low enough to be sexy. The pale pink edging on the neckline framed her delicate pearl necklace perfectly. Across the bodice of her dress, there was a baby pink embroidered design that ran from her shoulder, down to her long full skirt. The train that fell behind her was touched with tiny beads that caught the candlelight and seemed to sparkle as she walked slowly down the aisle. She carried a small bouquet of baby pink and ivory roses that matched the tiny satin flowers in her hair.

Joey watched breathlessly as she marched down the aisle looking calmer than any one else in the church. Chris nudged him gently in the ribs, as Carrie stopped not 5 feet from him. He glanced over his shoulder quickly, as Chris patted his shoulder, and Carrie took Lances hand. Lance squeezed her hand tightly as they stepped up the two stairs to where the pastor waited. Today was the beginning of the rest of their lives… but that’s a whole other story…

 

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Copyright 2000 Amy Lynn