Little fingers curled into fists pressed against little tiny pink cheeks. Little fingernails no larger than the back of her No. 2 pencil eraser in her hand.
She looked down at the corner of the magazine page in front of her and was amazed at what she'd captured on paper. She'd been drawing absentmindedly over the mostly white page through her flight, while watching mother and child across the isle from her. She was a younger woman seemed to be about her age, and the little baby boy, or what she assumed was a baby boy, seeing as it was dressed in a light blue pair of pajamas was probably no older that six months. The duo had been sitting there quietly first the boy was sucking on a bottle then on a pacifier that the woman had pulled from the baby bag at her feet.
She let out a sigh and turned her head back to her partial view out the airplane's window staring at the greens and browns of the Midwest over the sleeping bodies of the two men next to her. She'd been staring at the baby too long and thought that if she didn't divert her attention elsewhere that the poor child's mother would start to think that she was a pervert or something. She shivered finally when she noticed that the air above her had been turned on full blast. She had on jeans, a T-shirt and a long sleeved sweater, but somehow even that didn't help against the air conditioning. She was about to turn around knowing that the culprit was seated in 10F, but decided not to turn to kill him when she saw a pair of eyes watching her over the back of the chair in front of her.
"Couldn't sleep?" the voice of the half hidden person asked; his low voice rumbling over the seat like the fog that had rolled across the San Francisco Bay as they'd been taking off earlier that day.
"I wasn't really trying," she said softly so that she didn't wake the sleeping giants next to her. A hand automatically covered her drawing as a sigh escaped her lips. She felt so embarrassed about what she'd been doing. Lately it seemed that babies were following her around, like they somehow knew that she was getting to the age where she should be having kids herself.
But she wasn't having kids. She didn't even have a date, let alone a husband to have a kid with. At twenty-eight she wasn't too old to be having kids, but she wasn't a spring chicken either, especially after the last year of events in her life. She felt old and tired, and very alone.
"Can I have you look at something real quickly?" the voice asked bringing her back to the reality of the jet they were traveling in. His face now was now showing. His chin rested on the back of a flat palm that lay across the back of the seat. His green eyes watched her carefully almost as if he was worried about bothering her, something that made her want to laugh. Him bothering her…usually it was the other way around considering that normally it was her job to critique people like him and his four band mates.
She could see through the crack between the seats that he was holding a folder in his hand. That meant only one thing. Work. She had only been on the job with them since the month before when they'd ended up extending her video shoot contract to six months instead of just six days, but she knew enough about her bosses to know that Lance was definitely the work-a-holic of the group. She had to laugh. He actually had about five hours to just sit and relax and she suspected that he hadn't thought to stow his briefcase in the belly of the plane so that he could actually sleep like the other four group members around him.
"What do you have?" she asked.
Lance leaned the chair back a little and leaned over, plopping a thick manila folder onto her tray table that she'd been drawing on. Despite the serious look on his face she couldn't help but to wonder just how this guy kept control of the three major parts of his life considering that he had on a black tourist type T-shirt that read "Brandon, MS 39042". He was the CEO of a music management company, a major player in a movie Production Company and a fifth of the biggest singing group in the world and yet he didn't look old enough to buy beer.
"Her name is Farzana Jabbar," he explained. Being from New York herself she could hear his southern accent. It didn't come out very thick when he was on stage, but when he hung out with the guys for a few hours he got lazy and really began to throw on the twang. "I'm thinkin' of signin' her. She needs a little style work…" His eyes widened as he thought for a moment. "She needs a little update. She sings like a bird, but we need to make her a little more poppish…don't you think? I just wanted an opinion on what you think I should do with her."
She opened up the manila envelope and a small stack of eight by ten head shots fell onto the tray along with a CD and some other paperwork. She looked at the homemade CD cover and smiled at the face that looked back at her. The girl was young, with very thick looking black hair flowing past her waist and eyes so dark they could be black, but were probably just brown. Her skin tone was a tan-olive-golden color, from the looks of it she could be from the Middle East or India. From the way she was standing she looked to be a healthy weight, not waif-like like a few of the popular stars, which she celebrated at seeing. She was tired of the waif-look. It should have been over years before, but still seemed to be hanging on.
"She's beautiful," she said with a sigh, "But I can see how you could update her style a little. I mean the outfit she has on is cute, but it seems like her hair is a little--" She looked up from the picture and saw him smiling at her. "When do you need this stuff by?"
"By the end of the weekend, if possible. I know you're not really my designer or anything, since you technically work for Chris, but I'll give you a consulting fee for the project," he said.
"Lemme see if I can come up with something and if I think its worth getting paid for then we'll talk business then," she said. Really she thought that there was a lot that could be done with the girl, but at the moment she didn't want to think about work. She had three more hours until she was on duty again and seeing that she had meeting starting when she got to Orlando up until the hour before she left again with the guys it seemed impossible that she would be able to do anything
He nodded and sat there watching her.
"Only one condition…" she said without looking up, "You can't look over my shoulder while I work."
"Fine," he said, "Just don't lose that paperwork." He nodded and turned around and settled back into his seat.
"I'll throw it right out the window," she mumbled to herself and took a moment to lean back in her chair to relax. She tried to put her arm on the armrest when it had been before, but she found that the six-foot man next to her had taken over that part of her chair. If she didn't know better she'd think that he was trying to molest her in his sleep. His arm now hung over the side of the armrest and his hand was dangerously close to lying in her lap. She didn't understand why she hadn't noticed it before, but now that she had she wasn't going to stand for it. She picked up the hand in question and dropped it back into the owner's lap.
Being that the hand was like a dead weight, it fell like a rock causing a groan to escape from the mouth of the man next to her when his hand hit his crotch heavily. "Damn it, what happened?" he mumbled.
"Go back to sleep Justin," she said, "Just this time keep your hands to yourself."
"Watch it Justin. I may be new here, but I learned the first day that your mom would kick your butt if she heard your language," she said as she reached for her phone, "I think I programmed her number in here yesterday."
"Whatever," Justin mumbled then turned his head away from her. "You can't use your cell phone in the plane anyway…" She wasn't mistaken at all a moment later when she heard him breathe out the word bitch in reference to her. She didn't know him that well really, but she had heard that he was a bear to deal with if you ever woke him up out of a deep sleep. She shrugged her shoulders at his behavior and snuggled into her seat a little to sleep, letting her eyes again fall on the child and mother across the row from her.
"Stick 'em up!"
Lance normally wasn't one to eavesdrop, but when he heard her voice in the hallway he thought he should see what was going on. It wasn't every day that he heard her sounding so playful. She normally was all about work. Of course she had her moments with them that weren't work related, but usually she was quiet when no one was interacting with her. Like on the plane, she'd sat there next to all of them, but hadn't said a word to anyone to start up a conversation. Maybe that had been because she had gotten stuck next to Justin and Todd who'd slept through the trip, but he tried to remember and couldn't find a single expample of when she'd been the forward one in a conversation and had started to talk to him before he went to talk to her other than when she was in work mode. He'd seen that when they'd returned to the tour and she'd immediately scheduled a meeting with him about Farzana.
After only two days she'd put together a whole package of ideas about Farzana. He hadn't expected anything like that at all. He figured she might have some ideas, but not sketches and certainly not the stack of papers that fell from the folder she handed him. He almost didn't know what to say to her. He'd known that she'd been busy with meetings all weekend long with Chris and the rest of the FuMan staff, but he was impressed by her professionalism that she brought to his little side project. She had it all there waiting for him to look over. She had even gone as far as to somehow scan the girl's face into a computer program and had designed new haircuts for her.
It had been then that he'd known he was in trouble. She was too impressive and he was going to have to pay her accordingly for her talent. It wasn't something that he'd budgeted in for the project, but he liked what he'd seen and he needed to hire her before someone else got to her.
Lance cracked the door of the dressing room open and saw her in the hallway standing with a young fan. He remembered that they'd be visited that night by a contest winner and he guessed that she'd been the one to be put in charge of the girl considering that it was FuMan that had run the contest.
"Stick 'em up," she repeated and he watched the little girl in front of her put her hands up over her head.
She took the t-shirt in her hands and carefully helped the girl into it, first making sure that her arms were in the right holes before she dropped the large t-shirt down over the girl.
"Where'd you go?" she asked the girl with a laugh as her parents looked on with smiles on their faces. Lance had to try not to laugh at her antics as she searched for the girl in the massive t-shirt.
Finally the little girl's head popped up and he couldn't help but feel a little something for her when she gave the girl a genuinely surprised look. He hadn't really paid too much attention to her before that, but she really was a great girl. She'd put up with Justin's teasing, Chris's practical jokes, Joey's pinches and butt slaps, JC's moodiness, and well Lance's requests to do some work for him. He couldn't have pictured anyone fitting in so well with all of them.
"So are you ready to meet NSYNC?" she asked the little girl.
"Yeah!" the girl said jumping up and down. Lance loved the way her eyes went wide. She was so excited and that was what Lance loved about his job. He knew he was the reason for that excitement and not to be egotistical, but he liked that feeling. He liked being the one in someone's life to bring them joy and he knew that even the littlest things that he did could change someone's attitude for a lifetime.
When the little girl looked towards the door Lance quickly shut himself back inside. They'd be coming in soon and Lance didn't want to look like he'd been watching the activity out in the hall. He wanted to look casual, not that he wasn't already casual about things. All of a sudden his heartrate went through the roof and he felt nervous. He didn't know exactly why, but he was actually nervous about seeing her again. He hadn't see in her about two days because of meetings.
A moment later there was a knock at the door. "You guys ready?" JC asked as he looked around the room. Everyone had gathered around, but no one seemed to be concentrating on meeting this little girl. THey all were doing their own things.
Finally with JC's question they all put their activities away. Cell phones got turned off pagers got stored into pockets and Justin even put away the video game controller that he'd pulled out of the cabinet.
When the door opened she came into the room with a big smile on her face, "Hey you guys."
"Hey Rad girl Serena," Chris said.
The little girl stepped into the room and Lance watched Serena put an arm around her. She was very motherly with the little girl when she saw that she had gotten shy. "Guys, this is Nerissa," she said with a smile. "Nerissa, these are the guys."
Everyone launched into conversations and soon the group of them were posing for pictures. Lance kept his head into what they were doing, but he also kept an eye on her as she watched the interaction. He worried about her for a moment when she began to frown, but when she caught him looking at her they exchanged a smile.
Serena turned her head and looked at the closed door and wondered what was going on. Normally the group's security crew was attached to them at the hip, but it seemed as if--from the sound of it--someone had misplaced Lance. She'd heard Melinda yell at the guys a few times, but her voice this time sounded like a frantic mother searching for a lost child in the middle of a crowded mall.
It was days like that day that Serena was glad that she wasn't really a part of that world. It was like that old saying. It was a nice place to visit, but she wouldn't want to live there. Her stay on tour was a unique. Once she got her things done for the day, making sure that the merchandise was at all the booths and that the local signing and fashion shows had been booked and properly organized she was free to design. It was the only way she knew she would survive the schedule of the tour. While the guys jumped on stage and performed, she escaped into her drawing to relax.
Today while the others went out to go through a Sound Check Party, emptying the usually busy hallways, she'd gone out to the bus she'd been staying on and grabbed up her supplies. With a drawing case that looked like a mechanic's toolbox, her tiny radio, and her large sketchbook she snuck into the room that had been set up as THE TOY ROOM to get away from everyone for a while. The small lockeroom that normally was home to the Oakland Raiders had been today turned into a small living room, with three couches, a few tables, and a box that opened up like an entertainment center with a television, video games, and VCR and stereo system. On the side of the set up, Justin's work out equipment sat along with five skateboards, bikes, and pairs of rollerblades.
Moving aside three bags of potato chips and an icechest full of sodas and water she flipped open her sketchbook on the folding table. She took her radio and set it up, plugging it in and loading in an Enya CD. At home she would listen to something more wild, but with the already hyper schedule of the tour she needed something to sooth her nerves.
Shutting off the radio she listened to the commotion in the hallway and looked at the design in front of her. It was a new outfit that Chris had asked her for. They were tinkering with the idea of making a mechanics jean suit for the women's line and some mechanic looking shirt for the men's line.
The voice got louder and she looked over to see that Melinda was now leaning in the doorway. She had her headphones on and a clipboard in hand and was looking frantic. "Have you seen Lance?" she asked.
Serena took a breath. "Wasn't he out there with all of you?"
"WAS is the key word here," Melinda said, "If you see him can you send him to hospitality? He's late for an interview."
"Sure," Serena said.
"Thanks," Melinda quickly snapped at her as she was pulling the door closed. She was already barking out more orders before the door fully closed.
Serena was about to turn back to work, but saw something out of the corner of her eye. WHen she looked closer she realized that it was a foot that was hanging off the end of the big brown couch across the room. The thing had been turned slightly so no one would have noticed, but when she got up and walked over to it she saw that it was Lance's foot and he was lying on his stomach, sound asleep.
Putting a hand on her hip she cocked her head a little and looked at the relaxed expression on his face and smiled. For once he hadn't been doing any work. SHe didn't even know how he'd gotten into the room, but he was there now, and he was very asleep so it seemed as if he'd been there for a while.
When she looked at her watch she saw that it was almost five thirty which meant that she'd been working for almost an hour and a half. Working the math in her head she realized that Lance had asleep for at least a half an hour if not longer considering that the Sound Check Parties were usually about forty five minutes long.
It hurt her to do it, but she knew that she needed to wake him up. If Melinda found out that he'd been in there asleep and she'd been harboring the fugitive she'd never hear the end of it.
Moving slowly she moved around to the other side of the couch and scooted so that she was sitting on the edge of the couch next to him. She put her hand on his back and nudged him a little. He wore a baggy hooded sweatshirt and she had to do it again just to make sure that he would feel the movement through the material.
"Hmm?" he said groggily and licked his lips. She found herself staring at his lips for a moment longer than she should have.
"Lance, Melinda is looking for you," she said softly.
"Hmm?" He rolled over onto his back and threw and arm over his eyes. He licked his lips again and swallowed before he moved his arm and looked up at her with a sleepy look in his eyes.
"She was looking for you. She says that you have an interview that you're late for."
Without asking he grabbed her arm and looked at her watch, blinking as if the sun was shining in his eyes, even though the room wasn't at all bright. "Crap. Is this clock really right?" he asked.
She nodded at him then caught eye contact with him and in that instant her heart broke in two when she realized that no one had looked at her that way in such a long time. She hadn't even gotten that close to a man in months and now that she was sitting there watching her with those expressive eyes of his she knew that she was taking his simple sleepy look for something else.
Serena heard Melinda's voice again in the hallway and saw that as a sign that she should move. If she sat there any longer she might do something that she would not only regret, but that would embarrass her to no end. If she was going to get through the rest of the tour there was no way that she was going to be able to face Lance if she accidentally kissed him.
"You should go," she said, "Melinda said that the reporter is waiting in the hospitality tent."
"Thanks," he said.
As he began to move to get up Serena went back to collect up her things. If they were going to be leaving that night for the next city she needed to get everything packed back up before she went out to check on the booths again. She busied herself with putting her pencils away trying to keep her eyes off him, although she did see him sit there for a moment and rub his face a few times before he stood up and walked around the couch.
"No babies this time?" he asked.
"What?" It startled her for more than just the fact that he was standing right behind her looking over her shoulder. She first was surprised that he had remembered the flight that they'd been on to Orlando and secondly it was strange that he'd remembered the whole thing about the babies.
She cursed herself for being so obvious about her obsession. She remembered the night before when she'd been sitting with that contest winner and her parents. There had been so many questions she'd wanted to ask them about the small girl. She couldn't have been over the age of six, but she was the sweetest thing. It was kind of sad, but Serena wanted to be a little spoiled brat. She wanted to jump up and down like a kid in a pet store wanting to take a little puppy home. Except she didn't want a child. She realized that she wanted a child and she wanted one soon. She couldn't wait around much longer.
"No more drawing babies and mother's?" he repeated. "I thought the picture you did on the plane a few days ago was better than these, but then again that wasn't for putting on a t-shirt. "
"Oh yeah," she stammered out as she shoved her hand into her pocket and flipped the book closed so he couldn't stare at her picture, "Well that was--"
"Lance!" The door flew open and Melinda came swooping in. "Damn it where have you been? I've got three reporters chomping down on damn Ritz crackers waiting for you."
"I'm sorry," he immediately said and before she knew it Lance was being led from the room leaving her alone to collect up the rest of her things to put away.