FIRST KNIGHT 1

 


ONE

It was late in the summer and instead of being home celebrating my older brother's 27th birthday I was spending the day moving into my newest dorm room at Columbia University. It was my last year of school and although graduation was just over the horizon I wasn't feeling in a very happy mood as I stuck my favorite poster on the bare wall with my pushpins. The summer at home had been great and leaving Orlando and all that was there depressed me.

Pressing extra hard into the plain white wall I looked over at my roommate who had turned from her own decorating to look at my progress. I smiled and looked at the poster. "I know...don't say it. I hate to admit it, but I'm a fan of a boy band."

Paula Walker, my newest roommate of my college career, laughed from her side of the room and gave me a smile. We were opposites in almost every way, but I thought that maybe the poster would be the straw that would break the camel's back considering how Martha Stewart her side of the room was beginning to look with its flowers and natural looking baskets. She acted more like an adult than my boy-band poster and pictures of friends from back home showed that I did. Even the sweaters she was wearing matched her comforter and besides, who wore a sweater-set to unpack? I was in jeans and a Columbia T-shirt I'd gotten at the bookstore the year before. I looked more like a moving man than a senior in college.

"You make it sound like AA or something. I don't obsess over those guys, but they do have a few catchy songs. Besides, you can't turn on MTV anymore without seeing them on there."

It was nice to know that my new roommate wasn't going to hassle me about my poster. In years before I'd been furiously tortured and teased because I listened boy-bands. I was a long time fan of New Kids on the Block and though it wasn't my fault I had gotten caught up in the current round of boy-bands. I was a bystander; a "Teenie-Bopper" by association.

"It's almost like AA...like some deep dark confession. Hi, my name is Gwen Brickman and I listen to 'NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys." I groaned at how pathetic that sounded. I was proud of the way that I lived my life, but for another twenty-something college student to hear the confession from me was a bit embarrassing. After all, boy bands were popular, but it seemed like no one over about 15 admitted to listening to them.

I pulled out more shirts from the box on my unmade bed and began to try to organize them before putting them in the closet. "I'm 23 and I love guys with names like Joey and Lance and Chris and JC." I groaned.

Paula unpacked some more of her clothes straight into her dresser drawer. "Well I won't tell anyone, but I guess they will see the poster."

Breaking down the now empty box I took a moment to look around at the tiny cluttered floor of the fifteen by ten-foot room and sighed, "We're not even close to being done."

Paula gave me a nervous look as silence hung between us for a moment. "Hey...we should hook up the phone," she suggested, "You never know who might be wanting to get a hold of us."

"I take it you still have a lot of friends around here." I smiled. Most of my closest friends were from home.

"Yeah. Where did you say you were from again?"

"Orlando."

"Oh. I'm from San Francisco so being out here in New York again is great. I haven't seen my friends from here in two months, so I'm expecting a few calls in the next day or so since we're planning to party this weekend."

"Oh." I got up and walked towards my set of boxes. We'd agreed that Paula was going to bring her bigger stereo and I'd get the phone. I was glad though that I'd remembered to put in my CD walk-man. I could tell that the listening pleasure I got from my headphones was going to come in handy that year.

"Find it yet?" She asked putting up a picture frame of what I thought to be her family near her computer.

"Almost." I moved towards the boxes in the corner and pulled out one and soon our white cordless phone was plugged in and although the batteries seemed to be low, we knew that in a few hours our lives would be complete...the phone would be working.

Two weeks later I returned home from class and a late meeting with my advisor wearing my walkman and had been listening to a new group I'd randomly discovered called Vertical Horizon. Bobbing my head along to the beat I mouthed the words, "He's everything I Want…" as I came in the door.

When I noticed Paula watching I smiled at her and took off my headphones.

"What's up?"

"Nothing. Some guy named Lance called. The message is on the machine."

"Thanks." I threw my backpack onto my bed and sighed. It had been a long day. Being back in class still didn't seem normal to me and the idea of studying seemed even more of a torture to me. The thought of getting a call from one of the guys back home was exactly what I needed to end my day correctly and to get me happy enough to finish my studying.

I pressed the blinking button on the machine. The low bass voice floated from the tiny speaker filling the room with an electricity that even my roommate couldn't ignore. I saw her turn and look at the machine as the message started. "Hey hon... It's Lance...you know the number...Love you...Bye."

Paula was across the room, but I could tell that she wanted to know more about my mystery man from the way she didn't look back at her studying right away. The message left a lot to the imagination, but that fact wasn't a coincidence. I'd had issues with roommates and messages in the past so people from back home knew to just leave a short message and I would get back to them for more. We also had made up code words to help me with determining if it was an important message or not. There were no code words in his message so I didn't rush too quickly to call him back

"Like that guy in the poster." Paula said suddenly, her comment coming out of nowhere.

"What?"

"Lance, like in the poster."

"Yeah I guess I never noticed that." It was a little white lie...one that I figured would go unnoticed in the big scheme of things. "Lance is a good friend of mine from home."

"Hon and love you and he's not your boyfriend? What's wrong with him?" She scrunched up her face a bit. "What's wrong with you?" Paula got up from where she'd been attempting to study and walked across the room to our sink and got a drink in her all-purpose coffee mug.

Picking up the phone I dialed Lance's pager number from memory then hung up. I went over to my closet to hang up my jacket and shirt and changed into pajama bottoms and a T-shirt--my favorite study uniform. I had two papers to start writing that night and about fifty pages of research to go over for a presentation.

"So is he available? When do I get to meet him?"

Paula had admitted to me the first night in our room that she was a huge flirt so I knew that I had to stop whatever thoughts she might be having about Lance. "He's not really available." Pacing in front of my bed, I cracked my knuckles as I waited for the phone to ring.

Lance hadn't called in the two weeks since I'd left Orlando, but that was typical of him. I knew the reasons and had learned long ago to forgive and forget when it came to inconveniences like that. There was no way around the situation so I had to deal with it.

"So what does his woman have to say about you?" Paula walked back over to her bed and was next to the phone when it rang. The ring was a relief on the one hand letting me avoid her questions, but on the other hand it rang when she was closer to the phone that I was so Paula grabbed it up and immediately started a conversation.

"Hello Columbia's House of Horrors."

Lance must have been confused and had to have been explaining that he was looking for me since Paula didn't say anything for a moment.

"Well hello there Mr. Lance." She looked at me with a smile.

Lance must have asked for me.

"Yes, I do believe she is here."

She laughed and it made me want to hit her. Her voice went up an octave or two and she began her flirting.

"Well that's very nice of you. So when do we get to meet in person?"

I immediately wanted to rip the phone from her hands. I wasn't normally a violent type of person, but I also didn't want her bugging Lance. Instead I stood and held out my hand trying to show her that I wanted her to finish the conversation. I didn't want to be rude to her so early in our friendship, but I also didn't want her to think that she could use up all the time he had to talk to me. Time was precisous between Lance and I. He had a busy schedule and could afford to stay on the phone for a while, but I knew that if he hadn't called before then that his schedule was even more hectic than before. I didn't want him to use up all his free time trying to get a message to me. Besides, I thought, Lance shouldn't be getting all buddy-buddy with my roommate even before I'd really gotten to know her.

Finally Paula gave up the phone and went to sit on her bed again.

"Hello?" I said into the phone when I was satisfied that she was far enough away from me so that I could talk.

"Nice roommate." Lance said. I wasn't quite sure if he was being sarcastic or not. A lot of the emphasis of his personality came from facial expressions and sometimes his sarcasm could be mistaken for seriousness.

"Yeah."

"So.... I take it you didn't tell her who I was yet," he said, "Considering she didn't scream and that she actually let you have the phone finally."

I glanced over at Paula who had gone back to studying or reading something anyway. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I chose my words carefully. "I put up my poster, that’s about it." I figured that my answer could be for a number of questions, such as, Have you unpacked yet?

"So how is school so far?" Lance always seemed to ask me that question seeing that he couldn't go sit in classes because of his line of work and the answer always seemed to be the same.

"Probably not as fun as being overseas." Sarcasm dripped from my voice. Overseas had become one of their code words used for situations like that. It had all started back in 1995 when Lance had spent most of the first year I'd known him over in Europe. Since then I usually explained that Lance and my friends were all from Army bases in Germany. I would help account for the strange timing of phone calls and the fact that the guys would never be able to hang out with me in person.

"Classes are as crazy as ever. You got lucky taking them on-line." At the moment I wasn't a huge fan of school, but it was due to Senioritis, not from lack of interest in learning. And when it came to Lance, I would have rather been at home with friends than in the city any day. Lance got the best of both worlds by taking classes online from a University of Nebraska program while he was away from a normal life.

"How about you? How are things on the home-front?"

"Rehearsals are going pretty awful." He let out a huge breath. "You know me though...I'm always the one to blame since I'm no Fred Astaire." He sounded even more down than he usually did. It must have been from a hard day's work seeing as their promotional tour was starting up in a few weeks.

"Well you did just get over the flu so they can't give you too much shit." He'd spent a whole week of his month long vacation from work sick in bed with some flu. It seemed that he'd saved up his sickness for his vacation days and although that helped in his line of work, his vacation was partially ruined by the incident.

"You'd be surprised. Those guys can be pretty brutal." He sighed and for a moment I wondered if he was ok. I hadn't known him to be depressed, but in the last few weeks before I'd left for school I'd noticed a bit of depression begin to sweep through the ranks. The guys loved what they were doing, but with their month off they'd really gotten used to being regular guys and didn't like to think about going back on the road and being so busy again.

The silence of his depressive state worried me so I tried to fill in the lull in the conversation, "How's the weather?"

"About the same as normal...Sunny and hot." He didn't seem to be too excited which worried me even more.

"New York is ok. Same old stuff different day."

"Are you busy?"

"No why?" I looked over at Paula who looked as if she'd settled in for the evening to study. I was hoping that she'd leave so I could have some privacy, but no such luck.

He let out a breath then said, "I…." I heard him sigh and I immediately knew that there was something wrong, but also knew that it would be hard for him to talk about it. We'd always talked about everything, but if he didn't come right out and tell me, like he had in the past then it must have been something huge. "I…just wanted to call and tell you that we'll be up at MTV next Tuesday night so I want you to stop by and see us. We'll put you on the list. Maybe you can have lunch and dinner with us and spend some time with us while we do the rounds for two weeks."

I wanted to ask him if he wanted to chat seriously. He'd been known to call me up with major drama in the past, but I didn't know if he would talk to me that night.

"If I get my homework done. I'll email you in the meantime."

"Ok. Have fun and don't study too hard." He coughed a bit.

"Lance, are you ok?"

"Yeah." He didn't sound too convincing. I wish I'd been there to see his face. He wouldn't have been to hide whatever was on his mind if I'd been face to face with him.

"You sure?"

"Just a little sore from all the singing today. Don't worry about me. I'm fine."

"I won't"

Lance coughed and said, "I gotta run, my mom is making me some tea for my throat."

I still wasn't convinced that he was ok, but decided not to bug him about it. He'd come to me with it sooner or later. "Say hi to your mom for me."

"Hey mom Gwen says hi."

I heard his mother's reply then he said, "She says hi back. Anyway, I'll let you go. Bye. Love you."

"Bye love you too." I put down the phone and went to get to my studying. Paula stared at me for a moment silently then went back to her work. She'd heard the love you part on my end and probably thought that there was some drama that I wasn't telling her about.

It was true; there was drama, but nothing that I could reveal to her.

 


TWO

Dropping my backpack to the floor as I entered the room I looked over at Paula who was at her tiny dorm desk in front of her computer. I listened to the sound of typing and figured that she was probably chatting online with some new boys she'd met from the way her fingers flew over the keys furiously as if she couldn't get the words out fast enough. She had her back to me so I stepped out of my black loafers kicking them over towards my closet and slid out of my jacket before checking the machine for any messages.

When I didn't see any on the machine I turned and finally disturbed Paula. "Were there any messages?" It was Tuesday and I knew that the guys were supposed to be in town, but figured they'd gotten caught up with something.

Paula turned around and leaned over the back of her chair for a moment. Her eyes glanced towards her computer screen, but she smiled at me and said, "Some guy named Justin called this morning after you left for class." She typed something quickly into the computer; pressed "return" hard then turned back to me. "He said that the cow is in the field...whatever that means." Paula shook her head and gave me a strange look.

I quickly grabbed the phone, dialed Lance's cell phone number since it was the one I knew off the top of my head due to the fact that his last phone had been lost, shoved the phone between my head and my shoulder and went over to the sink. Loading toothpaste onto my toothbrush I combed the hair on the side of my head that wasn't holding the phone to my ear then traded the hair brush for my toothbrush I began brushing while the phone rang.

Lance startled me after the fourth ring. "Who dis?"

"Helwow." I said not wanting to leave the line with dead air.

"Gwen?"

"Hew." I tried to talk but found too much froth in my mouth to do it without drooling on myself.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Brushing my teeth," I said taking the brush out of my mouth I spit in the sink then said, "Where are you?"

"Weee'rrreee Heeerrreee...." The sarcastic movie quote bombed. "Anyway we're going on TRL in about a half hour...think you can make it?" I loved that he could be so famous and yet act so normal, or as normal as Lance had always been anyway. If it had been me I would have been completely nervous about going on television live in front of so many people, but Lance sounded very calm about the whole situation.

I checked my watch knowing that I'd have to take the subway over. "Yeah."

I went over and slid back into my shoes. "If I don't see you before I'll see you on your way out of the studio, but if I'm going to make it at all I'm going to have to leave right now."

"Ok. See you then."

"Bye." I hung up not realizing what I'd just revealed to the ever-open ears of Paula. I brushed my teeth furiously and hoped that I'd be in too much of a rush to answer any questions from her.

"Studio? Who was that?" Paula turned all the way around and stared at me. I had never asked Lance or the others about facing the press, but I figured I'd need help trying to deal with my curious roommate.

"It's a long story." I swished my mouth with water and went to find my purse. Transferring my wallet and other essentials from my backpack to the black purse I said, "I have to run. I'll explain later."

While pulling on my jacket I grabbed my keys from the table next to the door then looked back at her as I was pulling the door closed behind me. "I'll be back later."

"Ok...see ya." Paula stared at me as I left, but I knew that she would be back to chatting moments later.

At a medium run I made it down the three flights of uneven stairs that lead from our floor to street level without killing myself. I made my way to the subway station just around the corner and found my ride to Times Square. If the train arrived on time I'd make it to the show just as they were going on the air.

Taking a moment to calm myself while riding in the tunnel across town I fixed my hair some more and watched the afternoon commuters around me. There were more business suits on the trains just as work was getting out and there were still people getting on at stops and heading more into the city than out of it during the commute.

Stepping off at the correct station twenty minutes after I'd gotten on I ran up the stairs to street level and was hit first by the sounds of what I thought to be a million people on the streets above. It seemed as bad as it had the year before when a group of us from school had come to Times Square to see the ball drop for New Years. In reality the sidewalks that were packed with a sea of shoulder to shoulder, screaming 'NSYNC fans who seemed to be armed only with a passion to meet the guys and some flimpsy posters. The crowd was especially bad just under the MTV Studio's second floor window, which I recognized because I knew that most of their live shows were taped facing the Virgin Record's store just across the intersection.

Not seeing a face over the age of 18 on the street reminded me of how outrageously strange my life was. I wanted to see the guys, but hesitated as the crowd surged forward towards barriers that had been set out by the NYPD. For a moment I didn't want to have to deal with the crowds, I wanted to be back home and be able to drive over and see the guys. I didn't want to have to run a gauntlet just to get to them.

The thought of how little of the guys I got to see already pushed me on in my quest to find the studio door. I had forgotten to put on a watch that day, but I knew I was just about on time to see the show due to the fact that the jumbo-tron screen across the street was still showing commercials.

With some bit of relief at their delayed start of the show I pushed through to the front of the crowd and began to try to explain to the police officer over the screaming that I wanted to get into the building. I think the only reason they let me through was because I actually looked older than the fans on the street.

Moments later I was inside at the front reception desk.

"Can I help you?" A young woman at the desk said looking up at me. I'm sure that the scowl on her face had come from being bugged by fans all day who were trying to get into the studio, but it upset me a little that she'd already thought so badly of me even before I opened my mouth.

"Yes. My name is Gwen Brickman and I'm looking for 'NSYNC." I threw on my best southern accent trying to be polite while also trying to hint that I knew the guys, since everyone knew that they were from the south.

"Well," she looked up at a television monitor on the far wall. They've started the broadcast already so you might as well go back to wherever you came from."

It took all my courage to not burst into tears. I wanted to break down and whine to her right then that my life was miserable since the guys had gotten so popular. It was amazing to me the things I had to do just to hang out with some friends. It was worse that trying to negotiate a new curfew like I always had had to do in high school with my father just to be out as late as everyone else.

"Look." I put my hands firmly on the edge of her desk took a huge breath then said, "I'm sure this is just a big mix-up. I really am a friend of the guys. If you'll just go up and get Wes their bodyguard he'll tell you that I'm here to meet up with them."

"I'll call up, but I can't make any promises."

Pacing while she called I listened and watched to the broadcast that was showing on the monitor. The guys weren't on camera yet, but as they came back from a commercial I could tell that Carson Daly the host was about to introduce them.

The sound on the television was fairly low, but I could hear Carson's voice a little…"I know that all those fans out there aren't for just me so without further wait…Here are the guys from NSYNC…"

I turned back and looked at the receptionist wanting to know what the hold up was. She finally looked up at me again so I made my way over to the desk.

"I'm sorry for the wait." She took something out of a desk drawer and wrote on it then handed it to me. "We've had kids in here all morning with the same story."

"No problem." I smiled and took the sticker with my name and the MTV logo on it from her and put it onto the chest of my blouse.

"Up the flight of stairs and to your right. Walk down the hall and at the dead end turn right and you'll be inside the studio."

With a smile and a quick thank you I walked towards the stairs trying to calm my heartbeat. It had been only about a month since I'd seen the guys, but I still got excited every time I knew I'd have a chance to see them since their schedules were so busy.

When I got in to the thirty foot by forty foot rectangular shaped studio I thought I'd gone to the wrong place for a moment seeing only the backs of people. Soon though, with some slick positioning on my part, I slid around the side of a set of small bleachers that revealed to me the stars of the show. JC, Joey, Lance, Justin, and Chris with Carson on the end stood with Times Square as a backdrop out the studio windows. A smaller crowd of fans sat facing the window stage area as some of the group's new video played on the freestanding television screen next to them.

All five guys wore casual clothing from their assortment of appropriate "outfits." The only spark of real personality came from the various accessories they wore. The guys liked jeans and t-shirts and would have lived in those squishy Adidas and Nike running pants, but television called for a mix of crisp blue jeans and sparkling white sneakers or designer sweaters and leather shoes appropriate for their viewing audience.

Chris, who's pineapple-shaped dread-lock hair cut had been cut into a more family friendly buzz cut, wore a dark T-shirt with the strange white logo of his clothing company Fu Man Skeeto on it. His walking billboard chest accompanied his dark-dark almost blue-black jeans with the cuffs of the legs turned up revealed the dull black toes of one of his favorite pairs of thick workman style boots.

Next to and a little behind Chris, Joey stood with a calm look on his face. His dyed fire engine red hair had begun to grow out more than it had the last time I'd seen him so there was about an inch of bright red sticking out from under one of his prized Superman baseball hats. Although the guys were all about six feet tall Joey seemed to look the biggest of all of them and had once been mistaken for a security guard in his earlier days with the group due to his love of wearing black.

Today he'd picked a black T-shirt with the Superman logo on the front and had picked a pair of regular looking A&F blue jeans. I figured that the sales of Abercrombie and Fitch would go up due to his choice to wear them that afternoon.

In the middle was Justin in his trademark baby blue North Carolina Basketball T-shirt. He'd let his hair grow out from his normally short style. I wasn't impressed with the choice myself and wondered for a moment what his mother thought of his new look. I figured that the choice was ok for him due to the kind of management the guys had. They'd become living Barbie-dolls in the last six months and it seemed as if a focus group had to be polled even before they decided to shave.

JC, who I'd always referred to as "Mr. Business," wore subdued clothing compared to the rest of them. He was straight out of a GAP advertisement wearing a navy colored V-neck sweater. Underneath was a plain white T-shirt that stuck out of the V-neck revealing his favorite Leo astrology-sign necklace.

Lance stood next to Carson with a dazed, fake smile on. He was the most shy of the group and had always been soft spoken, but it seemed as if that afternoon he was a little more quiet and out of it than normal. He'd tucked his hands into the long sleeves of his dark jean jacket, which was a sure sign that he had his mind on other things. Also his choice of a red shirt showed that the wardrobe lady Linda had picked out his outfit. When Lance had other things on his mind the wardrobe people always got to dress him in different things due to his lack of concentration. Once he'd even been put in a neon yellow skin-tight shirt before he even knew what was going on. My heart went out to him, but I knew that the time and place were wrong for trying to figure out what was on his mind and that frustrated me to no end. At that moment I would have given anything to be able to just talk to him.

Carson took control of the crowd and the guys by chatting to them before they had to get back to the business at hand, which was to announce the day's top ten videos. "They should rename the network to NSYNC TV. You guys are taking over for the next week or so." A smile creased his face and for a moment I thought that I saw some sort of sarcastic nod happen between him and Chris as if they were playing some practical joke on the rest of us by just being themselves.

"You're stopping by TRL today and a week from now to visit with your Super Fans and in between I think you're scheduled for seven or eight appearances."

JC put the microphone to his mouth and it seemed that the motion gave each girl in the crowd the cue to scream with excitement. "Yep." He stepped back for a moment and smiled at the crowd before continuing. "With this new album we knew that we had to come to MTV to really start things off right."

"And look at all of those fans out there." Carson pointed out the window at the huge crowd of fans and all the guys waved.

"So I know that this is your first day in New York, but I guess that you'll be in town for the next few weeks...how do you guys deal with being on the road so much?"

The guys made sad faces and the girls in the crowd all seemed to sympathize with them by letting out in unison a huge, "Awe."

Joey took this question and as he answered I watched Lance who was now biting on his thumbnail. It was his worst habit, one of which he tried very hard to stop, but to me it was another sign that something with him wasn't right.

"We keep in touch with everyone from home, but having cool fans is great." Joey pointed at the camera and more screams of excitement filled the air. "It's cool though to be in New York since we have friends in the city."

"GB in the house!" Chris yelled in a low voice out of nowhere.

I ducked my head recognizing my initials, but before I did I made eye contact with Lance for a split second and saw some sort of fear in his eyes that I didn't quite understand. I wondered, as I stared at the ground, if he'd seen the fear in my own eyes at the thought of being recognized. I hadn't thought the guys could see me in the back of the room. I hadn't made eye contact with any of them up until when Lance shot me a strange look, but I had been seriously mistaken by thinking that my presence wasn't noticed because of that. I'd always stayed in the shadows when I was with them. In the early days it had been easy. Back then there were only ten or twelve people who even recognized them and it was mind blowing to think that there were ten or twelve thousand people outside the window cheering for them now.

"GB?" Carson said with a laugh, "Who's that?"

Joey and Justin pointed at me in the back and being the joking kind of person Carson was he immediately pushed through the crowd towards me, took my hand, and pulled me to the windows where the guys were. I laughed and tried to be good-natured about the whole situation but I wasn't pleased to be going on camera. I knew from watching Carson on other episodes of TRL that he had a knack for embarrassing people so I knew I would soon be involved in some spontaneous adventure.

"You're mean Carson," Justin said as we got to the stage.

Once up in front I hugged everyone hello then was pulled over by Carson to the side where he proceeded to do a mini interview. "And who might you be?"

"I'm Gwen." I laughed as Chris made faces at me over Carson's shoulder. I think he knew that I was upset about being in front of the camera, but he was also the first one who would realize that I would forgive them for the incident.

"And how do you know these guys?"

"I'm from Orlando, where the guys are based out of."

"O-town!" Chris said, his wacky hyperactive manner making the crowd cheer.

Carson laughed at the reaction then said, "So you're the one we should go to for dirt on the guys?"

I smiled at the guys who groaned at the mention of me spilling my guts about them. The subject had never been discussed before and although I was a bit of a blabber mouth between the six of us and our other friends I think for a moment that they thought I'd be the same way to the public. Joey even came over and hugged me again, "I'm sorry about making you go on camera." As if hugging me and saying that would stop me from revealing information about them.

Although the situation called for some sort of revenge I decided not to get it on camera and in front of so many people. I just smiled and looked at Carson. "I could tell ya then I'd have to kill ya."

Carson laughed. "Anyway...Let's get to the countdown. Our number 10 video is from the Bloodhound Gang."

As they turned the attention from us to the video I saw my chance to retreat to my position at the back of the room. The girls were screaming again and chanting and calling out the guys' names randomly. I needed to get out. With all my experience with the fans and being around the whole music business for the last five years I would have thought that I could handle a few of the "Super Fans." For some reason I wasn't at all in an accepting mood of the attention that was being thrown in the general direction of my friends.

I looked over at Lance as I was about to leave, but found him waving out the window to some fans so I stepped closer to Joey, whispered into his ear that I'd wait for them and made my escape. I wove my way back to where I'd been standing before and Wes told me that I could wait in the Green Room.

I was led to the quieter room thinking that I'd be able to relax, but was soon attacked by an even smaller group of red-faced girl Super Fans that proceeded to surrounded me and began in with their questions. I would have called them vultures if I'd been on my own, but knowing the sensitivity issues that came with being part of the hurricane known as NSYNC I smiled graciously and tried to remain as calm as possible.

"You really know them?" One girl bounced in front of me with an energy that made even me tired.

I nodded yes as another girl grabbed my arm and said, "What's it like to live with those guys?"

"Well." Claustrophobia began to close in so instead of answering I took a breath and looked for an escape. Finding the couches close by I instantly wanted a seat. "Let's sit down and I'll tell you guys a few secrets."

The girls scattered and found seats on the two couches in the small room leaving me with a spot in the middle of them. I smiled, took my seat, and said, "Now. I don't get to see them much any more since they are on tour, but I've known the guys for a while. Have you met them yet?"

"No." A chorus of excited voices echoed.

I began to answer questions and they spent the next fifteen minutes glued to my every word although they kept their eyes on the monitors that were playing the show, just so they wouldn't miss something.

We were in the middle of discussing Joey's obsession with Superman when Joey and the others and Carson popped into the room.

Joey approached the fans first with a hand out and the girls nervously said their hellos. I backed off, putting the group of people between the cameras and me. I'd already used up most of my fifteen minutes of fame and didn't want to go into debt for my next lifetime.

The show ended soon after that and as I waited for the guys to finish up with some scheduling troubles Carson approached me.

"Sorry about pulling you on camera like that. Chris told me that you don't usually go public like that. I didn't mean to cause trouble."

"No problem. I'll probably be popular now, but don't worry about it. It would have happened sooner or later."

"Anyway Chris mentioned that you are a Communications major at Columbia."

"Yeah." I smiled not knowing where he was going with this conversation.

"The studio is having the special broadcast this weekend for the album release and we were planning to do a little background and behind the scenes stuff of the guys. Want to help me with it? Be my roving reporter?"

"Really?" I stepped back stunned by his offer. I'd been dreaming of a reporting job like that with MTV studios or some other network, but never had planned that it would come from my association with the guys. After graduation I'd planned to spend the summer on tour as a present to myself before coming back to New York to find a job.

Carson smiled. "We can call it an internship if you want to try to explain it to your professors. I'll call them if you need me to."

"No...that will be ok. I'll handle it."

"Good then." He handed me a card. "Give me a call tomorrow around seven and we'll meet about filming the guys for the rest of their stay in New York."

"Thank you sooo much." I said with a smile and went to find the guys who now were waiting for me so that we could all leave the studio.

 


THREE

Walking towards the wall of my five friends I let out a breath and tried to relax. The guys weren't in their home territory and I half expected them to act differently towards me. They usually had to act a little differently when out on public appearances so I was expecting more of the same friendly but distant attitude as they had acted on camera with me. I found though that in between instructions from Security, their tour manager, and the MTV Studios staff the guys smiled their familiar smiles.

"Awe GB." Chris jumped forward dramatically, grinned an especially cheesy smile and pulled me into a hug almost squeezing me to death. "You're such a good sport."

I hugged him back as he rocked me a little in his arms then I pulled my head back a little and placed a small chaste kiss to his freshly shaven cheek. He smelled of boy cologne. I wasn't at all up on what kind he liked best, but it was a familiar smell that reminded me more of home. "I wouldn't say that..." I narrowed my eyes, "I'll get my revenge on you somehow."

"Let her breath." Joey's hyperactivity was almost contagious. I even felt a little jumpy standing with all of them. Joey put a hand on my shoulder and pulled a little. "Come on. Give her up."

I turned around and looked at him with a stern look. "I only give hugs to people that call."

Justin pushed through to hug me. "That would make me next."

The baby blue color of his shirt made his eyes even more gorgeous than normal. I'd been asked before about who I thought was the cutest and although I kept my final answer to myself I did tell everyone that I thought that Justin had the most gorgeous blue eyes I'd ever seen.

"Give me some sugar, Sugar." With my southern accent filling in to meet their drawls, I pulled him into a hug and we gave each other overly dramatic sloppy movie star kisses. The movie kisses came from a joke we had about him filming a teenaged version of a romantic movie for the Disney Channel. I sighed with satisfaction. "Awe. Much better."

JC put his head down and said, "I'm sorry. I've been busy." It was true. I could tell from his lack of a tan that he'd probably been in the studio every day since I'd left Orlando. He'd begun writing and producing and on top of his already hectic schedule it barely gave him time enough to sleep let alone make phone calls.

"Oh all right you big babies." I hugged him then turned to look at Lance who seemed to be acting strangely all of a sudden. He'd never acted this indifferent to seeing me. "Earth to Lance!"

He didn't even blink so I snapped in front of his face and he looked at me. "Where were you?"

"Nowhere."

"Hug?" I opened my arms and held them there waiting for a reaction from him.

He hugged me stiffly and said, "I'm sorry. This week is extra hectic and I'm just trying to keep it all straight in my head. Plus I didn't sleep well last night."

"I'm sorry." I stepped back from our hug. "You should have called me last night. I was up late studying."

"I went to sleep on time, but just tossed and turned."

"No troubles." I patted his shoulder and with a sympathetic smile asked, "When did you guys get here?"

"Food!" Justin piped up to interrupt my conversation with Lance.

"I guess that means not in enough time to eat."

"Food!" Justin repeated.

"So are you coming to lunch-slash-dinner with us?" JC asked with a smile.

"Yeah. Where to?"

"Back to the hotel supposedly, unless we can't make it in time then we're going to order out and eat at Z100," Lance rambled off. He'd been given the nickname Scoop from one of Joey's siblings a few years before and seemed to take pride in being the organized one of the group.

"Mind a sixth for lunch?" I asked looking at Lance for his approval.

"Of course not." He said stiffly. It wasn't like him to be so standoffish. He normally was overly friendly.

"Shot gun!" Justin yelled.

"Limo Idiot Boy." Chris's outburst brought a calm over the group. They all let out a sigh. They'd been home for almost a month, which meant that they'd gotten back into the habit of driving themselves around. The idea of riding in the limos or vans that they used while on publicity tours or on their regular tour was a strong reminder of the restrictions put on their lives because of their celebrity status.

"Come on you guys. You aren't bored with being stars yet are you? I've never heard of you to pass up a limousine…. Besides, this is supposed to be fun. You know No Strings Attached and all that."

"N-S-Y-N-C," Joey spelled in his high pitched Bobby cartoon voice trying to lighten the mood.

"Let's get some food in you guys." I looked at all of them hoping that we'd be able to spend some time together on their trip. I had always missed them while I was at school, but with their rising star status it was getting harder and harder to spend time with them. I'd even postponed my return to school by a few days so that I could monopolize on their vacation time. I was already missing them knowing that they'd be leaving in a week or two and would be out of my life for most of the next year.

"Here we go…" JC sang.

"One more time…" Chris filled in.

"He we go now…" Justin said completing the opening line of a song from their first album.

They sang the lyrics with goofy expressions as we went down the stairs and made it to the limos through the security-lined path. For a moment or two, before we hit the crowd outside the guys were back to their old selves. They were pranksters at heart and while joking about Justin's new haircut and the way that Lance had tripped a little on a move during a performance earlier that day the guys slipped back into their laid back personalities and the tension faded.


FOUR

The guys were staying in the Plaza in a suite on one of the upper levels that had two bedrooms two bathrooms and a huge living room to hang out in. I could tell that they were the only ones staying there considering the mess on the floor. If Johnny Wright, their tour manager, or any of the others had been in that room there would have been some better sense of order. The guys had only arrived that morning, but it hadn't taken them much time to make the place look lived in. Their Sony Playstation and other Nintendo game machines had been hooked up to the television and the guys had taken the liberty of creatively decorating the place with clothes and shoes and food wrappers as well as a dozen half-open backpacks and suitcases. It seemed very homey despite the fact that it wasn't Orlando.

We ate a casual lunch of burgers, fries, and pizza from room service and I offered to do a little last minute shopping for the guys that night while they went to a press conference.

I had orders for a new toothbrush for Joey, who admitted in a soft voice that he'd left his at home. The news got groans from the other about the smell of his breath.

Justin wanted more batteries for his Walkman.

JC asked if I'd try to get him a copy of the new Star Wars paperback after he showed me his dog eared and crumpled copy of a William Gibson novel he'd been reading since I'd last seen him.

"French Toast" was Lance's only answer to my question. I knew that his request could only have come from the fact that he was already feeling a bit homesick. Lance was very close to his family and seemed to be close to me. I seemed to only get late night calls from him considering that his mother had told him that life in their house couldn't go on properly if he called in the middle of the night all the time. I on the other hand didn't have a restriction, so it wasn't at all crazy to get a call from him as early as three in the morning.

When Chris heard Lance's food order he wanted Tacos from Taco Bell. I promised that I'd try to get it all for them but doubted that I could get French Toast and Tacos in enough time.

When the guys left to go to their press conference I left and did my shopping. I got the toothbrush, paperback book, and batteries at one place then went in search of Taco Bell as well as making a stop at my friend Jack's restaurant. I knew that he'd be working that night so I asked him to make French Toast for me. He didn't quite understand why I wanted French Toast in the middle of the evening, but he made five pieces and sprinkled them with powdered sugar and packaged them up for me so that I could reheat them at the hotel.

Stopping on my way back I went to Taco Bell and got Chris a few tacos. It had been a productive afternoon and when I got back to the hotel the hotel room was empty so I was let into their room and I sat and watched television while I waited for them.

They returned to the hotel this time with a more subdued attitude than before. Flopping down around on the two couches in the living room they all seemed to be deflated from their busy schedule.

"So I take it that you didn't have a good afternoon?"

"It's craz-zy out there." JC rolled his eyes then shut them to engage in his favorite pass time…sleeping.

"Too many people?"

"I've never felt that claustrophobic." Justin said.

"You didn't say that when MJ bumped into you." Joey smiled and leaned his head back on the couch as if expecting more of a conversation to erupt from his one comment.

"Oh my god! Gwen!" Justin stood up and began to pace as he explained how he'd met Michael Jordan on the way out of the radio station. "We were just walking out and he was walking in...Michael Jordan...and Boom! I hit into him. I thought he was going to squish me!"

"Calm down Justin." Lance said with a bitter tone to his voice. He stared at the group and walked out of the room into one of the bedrooms.

"What's up his...?" JC said.

"PMS!" Chris said interrupting JC.

"He's been like that for about three weeks now." Joey said looking at me as if I would have some miracle cure for him. In the past Lance and I had been thick as thieves. We told each other everything and I made a clear policy to him (and the others) that if they needed an open ear that I would be there for all of them any time day or night. In the last few weeks I hadn't gotten any calls from Lance so I'd assumed that he was doing ok.

"Want me to talk to him?" I offered.

"You'd better before he beats up on Justin like he did last time he got into this kind of a mood." JC said. It was a rare occasion for Lance to be mean, but the last time Lance had gotten mean with anyone was just after his breakup with his now ex girlfriend Dani. Lance had been tired and upset and although a physical fight never took place, for a while there everyone thought that Lance might start one.

"Funkmaster L." Chris said from behind closed eyes. I looked around and saw that the guys were all trying to rest so I excused myself after telling them about my shopping presents then went to take the French Toast to Lance in the other room.

"Knock. Knock." I said pushing the door open.

"What?" Lance snapped at me from his seat at the bedroom window. He was on his cell phone and turned to stare at me. His face didn't change when he saw that it was me so instead of speaking I brought him over the box with his food, opened it, and left it sitting it on the table while I made a quick retreat.

Excusing myself from the others I told them that I'd see them the next day. They got all excited when I told them about my mini-internship, but when I mentioned what I'd be doing for MTV and they weren't as pleased. They wanted to see me, but it seemed as if I was a traitor by bringing a camera crew with me.

"I'll try to keep them out of the way, but Carson does want to do a little mini-interview with each of you. He talked to Johnny about it and I guess that he was going to do the spot himself, but now I get to do it for him."

Chris smiled, "At least you get to spend most of the rest of the week with us."

"It should be interesting. I'll tell you more about it in the morning."

"Night."

Just as I was opening the door to leave Lance came out of the bedroom. "Where are you going?"

"Home for the night. You guys all need to have some peace and quiet."

"Take Wes with you."

"What?"

"Take Wes with you. I don't like you out at night."

"Fine." I sighed. It amazed me at how Lance always acted like a big brother to me when it came to dealing with me living in New York. He acted as if Wes was going to save me or something. I just wondered if he realized that I spent most of my year walking around the city by myself. I guess he tried to help out when he could so I decided not to fight him on it.

"I'll get Wes," Chris said getting up. He went across the hall and came back a moment later with a huge body-builder type black security guard and Wes immediately offered to take me in one of the cars they'd rented for their trip.

"No. I'll go home on the subway. It's faster that way...but if you want to walk with me home you can come along." I looked at Lance with a perturbed look. He was causing so much drama! He hadn't been this way the last time I'd seen him and it was hard to understand where all this drama was coming from.

"Call me when you get home!" Lance yelled as I was going down the hall with Wes.

Paula was awake when I got home. She was in bed reading one of her textbooks and looked up and immediately. "How was MTV?"

I stopped dead in my tracks. Fear rose in me and for a moment I thought I was going to puke. I hadn't thought that I'd have to deal with explaining myself to her for at least another few weeks, but my fifteen minutes of fame was now pushing up the deadline for me to spill the beans.

"Carrie from down the hall came over and told me that she'd seen you on TRL this afternoon. I caught the rebroadcast at nine."

I sighed and finished my trip from the door to my bed. "I couldn't tell you about being friends with them. I didn't want to start having our hallway looking like Times Square looked today...so if its all the same with you...I'd rather prefer if it was kept somewhat of a secret that I'm friends with them."

"Well I have no troubles with that, but Carrie and everyone else saw you on TV so you'll have to put up with some crap from people." Paula closed her book and put it away.

"I've..." I began to speak but the phone rang.

Picking it up I said hello and soon was yelled at by Lance. "Where have you been?"

"Lance!" I said with a stern sound to my voice. "Hold on a second." I tried to sound calm.

I turned to Paula and said, "I'll tell you more about it tomorrow."

Paula nodded and went to roll over to go to sleep.

"Now Lance," I said uncovering the receiver, "What are you getting so hyper about?"

"Where have you been?" Although his parental tone was annoying I did appreciate his concern. "You didn't call so I thought something happened to you."

"Lance. Why are you being so hyperactive about me being in the city? I live here for most of the year and get along fine without a bodyguard."

I heard Lance sigh so I asked, "Now. What's really wrong?"

"Its stupid."

"It can't be that stupid if you give enough to yell at me for something so strange."

"Well..."

"Out with it!" I laughed trying to relieve the tension I could hear in his voice.

"I think I've fallen for you..."

Panic hit me. I knew that something like this might happen one day or another. It was hard to be so close to someone without having a desire to make that girl-guy friendship into a relationship. "Did you have a good trip?"

"Gwen. I'm serious."

I stopped smiling and held the phone close to my ear. "Lance we've talked about this before. It would never work out between us."

"This is different..." He sighed with what I took to be frustration. "I've been thinking about it and I think that we should try dating...I mean I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since you left to go to school and the guys are about to kill me. Joey actually said that he was going to wait until we were on tour then announce to the audience that we were going to go on a blind date and well I don't want that to happen..."

"Whoa!" I said a little too loudly. I checked quickly to see if Paula was still asleep and she was so I lowered my voice, "Where did all this come from?"

A long silence filled the line. I heard Lance breathing, but I thought that maybe his shyness was overtaking whatever courage he'd had to tell me about his feelings.

"Lance? You still there?"

"Yeah." His voice was soft and for a moment I thought he might actually be afraid to talk to me.

Trying to be the calm one in the conversation, plus trying to deal with my own shock of his confession to me, I took a breath. "Now...what is going on?"

"Ugh!" Lance finally said. I could tell that his shyness was definitely effecting his ability to say what to most people would find easy to say.

"Just spit it out Lance. I won't get mad or anything. I'm not going to embarrass you or anything...I won't tell the guys."

The tension of the silence between us popped and crackled.

"I..." he spoke softly and slowly. "I...I, I was so distant today because...well because I think so differently about you now and I thought I might make a fool of myself. You know how shy I can be with girls that I like."

Smiling to myself I settled deeper into my bed so that we could chat. "So when did you start feeling like this?"

"Please don't analyze me like you do with all my other girl problems. Just tell me what you think."

"Think about what?"

He paused for a moment and then when he finally did speak he didn't sound too sure of himself. "About us dating."

I stopped from answering right away and thought about it. Someone on the outside would have probably guessed that we were dating already. We were as close or even closer than most couples I knew. Lance always had seemed closer to me than his past girlfriends. There were a few occasions, especially during their "divorce" from their management company and record company the year before that he'd end up calling me before he called the person he was dating.

We were buddy-buddy with each other, more brother and sister than anything else, but actually making it an official relationship was a bit overwhelming to think about. Giving ourselves that title of girlfriend and boyfriend was going to change the whole dynamics of our lives. Just the title would pull so many outside tensions on us that I wasn't sure if I wanted to really date him or not for fear that it would ruin what we already had.

"I take that as a no." Lance finally said.

Sitting up in bed I tried to stop him from hanging up. I knew Lance's voice well enough to hear defeat, but I didn't want him to hang up because I had a feeling that if I called him back he might not answer due to some kind of embarrassment he was feeling. "No Lance... I mean yes."

"What?"

"Yes. We should date or have a relationship or whatever you want to call it."

Lance sighed and I could tell that he was smiling.

"We have some things to discuss first though..." I said.

"Like what?"

"Well there are a lot of things, but I want to make it a rule that we don't change our friendship any if we date," I said, "If you have girl problems I want you to talk to me about them ok?"

"Honesty is the best policy." Lance's use of the quote made me think that he immediately was back to his old self again knowing the outcome of whatever drama he'd built up in his mind over the last few weeks.

"Now that we have that settled can you just act normal around me again?" I said.

"I'm sorry about acting so crazy today."

"Good. Now tomorrow will I get a regular glad to see ya hug instead of whatever crap you gave me today."

"Definitely."

There was a pause and I said, "I know that you and I could stay on the phone all night, but I really need to make some calls and leave messages for my professors about my new internship and get to sleep. You may like to live on about four hours of sleep a night, but this college girl can't."

"I'm sorry for keeping you up."

"Don't apologize. If you hadn't told me this now I think I would have killed you in the morning."

Lance laughed at my comment. The sound immediately put me at ease, as if that was the only sound that could make the world right again. "Good night then."

"Night Lance. Sweet dreams and I'll see you guys around ten am tomorrow."

"Night."

We hung up without our ritual partings of Byes and Love You's and although I thought it was a little strange I wondered if Lance didn't want to say love you since it would have different meaning now because of the change of our relationship.

After getting off the phone with Lance that night I went and found Carson's card then set an alarm for six so that I could get up and get a shower before I called about the filming project.