FIRST KNIGHT 2

 


FIVE

When Carson met me at the reception desk the next morning around seven-thirty we looked almost like twins. Both dressed in dark colored blue jeans and button-down short sleeved shirts, the uniform of the summer that seemed to be hanging on into the fall. His shirt was a dark shade of blue while mine was a light blue, yellow and white plaid. We looked strangely like a GAP advertisement.

I wasn't sure how to act towards him since I didn't really know him so I smiled and tried to act as normal as possible, but I was almost shaking in my sneakers. He, on the other hand, seemed fairly calm, as if meeting me was part of another day on the job. The only strangeness I saw from him was when he shook my hand lightly giving me a warm, but slightly strained smile, as if he wasn't sure exactly what my reaction to seeing him would be due to the incident the day before. "I hope that my stunt yesterday didn't piss you off too much." His voice sounded very sincere which was strange for me to hear since on television he was always such a jokester.

I shrugged at his comment, smiled, and then adjusted my purse to the other arm. "Its ok. I know that you didn't realize that I'd never been on camera before."

"Good." Relief washed over his face and he seemed to relax, "We have a lot of work to do today. The producers want to meet you then personnel has a few papers for you to sign before the camera crew and you get started. We talked to Johnny and set up four or five hours a day during their trip to film."

"I'm sure you'll be able to get a lot of great footage of the guys this week considering how crazy yesterday was."

"That’s what we're planning on." Carson led me up the stairs and into the office portion of the studios where everyone seemed to be busy. The office looked like any other except for the television monitors on one wall with the MTV broadcast playing on them. By seven-forty we were already into a non-stop string of meetings that lasted until around eight-forty five when I was sent across town with a cameraman and soundman to meet up with the guys.

Harrison Coleman and Zach Garner were my camera crew. They were both in their thirties and assured me that the tapings would go smoothly and all I had to do was follow the little script of things to get on tape that I'd been given at our meetings. There was an intro spot, a closing spot, and a few navigational intros and exits that I had to do to guide the viewers through the hour long special.

I'd imagined that shadowing the promotional tour for the week would be a fun job considering that in the past I'd had fun hanging out with everyone, but by their lunch break around noon after three appearances, the prospects of the project being considered fun wasn't at all coming true. I hadn't really done much in the way of real work other than a short intro that morning when we'd first met up with them at the hotel, but the traveling back and forth all over town was getting to me. I'd forgotten how rushed and hectic their schedule was.

On tour the guys had a set schedule of performing at night with almost daily press events, but their schedule that week was jam packed with events and after the first half of their rounds that day I was exhausted. We'd stopped at The Rosie O'Donnell Show and they performed two songs and had a short interview, then over to Regis and Kathy Lee where they sang a cappella, then they did an hour long appearance in the hotel's ballroom for a radio station to sign autographs. The only part of the day when I really got to chat with them one on one seemed to be the time when the camera crew left and I got to eat lunch in peace with the guys in their room. While we ate they were still busy signing autographs for a different radio station, but the peace and quiet was a nice change from the screaming we'd heard all that morning.

We all sat down in the living room to eat room service. Joey lay stomach down on the floor, JC in a single chair, Lance and Justin across from Chris and me. It was like a jump back to the summer when I'd go meet the guys at the studio and we'd sit down for a quick lunch. Other things preoccupied everyone, but we seemed to make an effort to chat and relax.

"I was reading in this article that I found the other day about Jessica Simpson and Nick…" JC said. He was signing posters with one hand while stuffing fries into his mouth with the other while trying not to get ketchup on the poster he was signing. They were all trying to get through fifty posters in the hour time allotment Johnny had given them to relax. I was surprised that he hadn't skipped lunch for a nap, but I think that signing the posters prevented him from taking his nap.

"You read Seventeen Magazine?" I was about to eat a fry, but I stopped and looked at him trying to keep a straight face. I couldn't imagine him picking up a copy of the ultra girly magazine. JC was a reader though and actually when I thought for a minute that I could picture him sitting waiting for some interview with the magazine in his lap.

"Yes." He gave me a completely serious look as he blew on the marker, to make sure it had dried before he switched one poster for the next, handing off the signed copy to Joey who would be the last to sign the posters.

"Its better than most of his reading material." Lance said with a half smile. Chris and Joey laughed at some joke that I didn't quite get.

"Playboy!" Justin piped up, as always then smiled widely like a child who was proud of being grown up enough to know a bad word.

"Ok Biggin'" he said. JC turned and looked at me with a serious face again. "I was in the airport and I saw the cover and started to read about those two. It was a really good article. I think it's crazy that both of those guys have careers and yet they've been together for over a year now."

"Yeah." I said and looked at Lance, who immediately looked away. He'd broken his promise to me from the night before about giving me a proper hug hello. He'd hugged me softly that morning and told me that we needed to talk before we started to play the new roles we'd decided on so there I was sitting almost across the room from him trying to act as normal as possible.

"It's hard to deal with stuff like that, but I guess it will be easier for us, since we aren't dating people in the business." As Lance commented on some of the others' significant others he caught my eyes with his and didn't take his eyes away from me. I wasn't sure what he was doing considering a moment ago he wouldn't look at me so I took a deep breath and sipped my drink trying to look away from his now open stare.

"What are you talking about Lancten?" Chris said he said with a laugh. He threw down his Sharpie marker and picked up his hamburger. "JC has Kara and I have Molly, and well Joey has Crystal and Maggie and Angela…" Joey smiled from his place on the floor reveling in his plethora of girlfriends. "But you, my little friend, and Justin are as single as you were the day you were born."

"Hey!" Justin protested throwing a fry in Chris's direction.

"Am not!" Lance sat up straighter, signed the poster in front of him with a furious nature that made the autograph come out messy, then threw the pen down.

Joey, who'd been lying on his stomach on the floor laughed and looked up at the rest of us. "OK, Stealth, who is your girlfriend then?"

Lance stared at me for a moment as if he wanted permission to reveal our relationship but before he could say a word I said, "I am."

"Yeah right." Justin laughed, looked at me for a split second, then went back to eating his lunch.

JC looked at me then at Lance with the look of a psychologist trying to interpret what I'd said. When I saw the look in his eyes change, acknowledging that my statement really was true he tapped the backside of his pen on the coffee table he was writing on. "Guys."

Justin, Chris and Joey were all preoccupied but answered with "Yeah."

"Take a look at this." JC put the pen down, sat back folding his arms across his chest and said, "Well, well, well…the drama continues."

They looked up and followed to where JC was looking at us. Four sets of curious eyes went from Lance's face to mine. Soon the three remaining set of eyes turned from curiosity to surprise and everyone seemed to smile a bit, which I wasn't sure how to take.

"You weren't kidding, were you?" JC said.

"Nope." Lance said with a half smile. I could see him start to blush and I felt awful for him. The guys were brutal in their brotherly kidding of each other and this was just more fuel for the fire.

Before the conversation could go any further the door of the suite opened and the camera crew returned with Johnny who informed everyone that they needed to hit the road. They had a radio interview in New Jersey in an hour and a half and they all needed to get ready to go if they were going to make it on time.

The rush to get ready and get through the lobby and out through the crowd of fans to the van left everyone emotionally exhausted. They'd been going non-stop since they'd arrived in the city and I knew that although they loved the fans and wouldn't trade them for anything, it did take a lot out of them to be "on" all the time.

Once inside the van the tension seemed to fade. We had a long ride out to New Jersey so everyone settled into their seats. The camera crew and Lonnie were in the way back, and then there was Justin and I, then Lance and JC then Chris and Joey and Wes with Johnny in the front with the driver. The seating arrangement was a bit squished due to the extra people in the van, but the guys didn't complain.

Although no one had called their seats in the van I knew that they had followed some sort of order since Justin was the last one in the van and he'd been left a seat in the back with me. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that they were already planning out the seating arrangement for the trip back. It seemed like an insignificant thing to be worrying about, but with them any time that they could act like the twenty-something's they were gave them a little piece of mind about keeping their sanity. Sometimes the arguments over the seating arrangement was as bad as the ones I'd had with my brother when we were really little, but they never seemed to let the arguments effect them for too long.

The tension level in the back of the van was relatively low, but the hum of tension that was coming from the front where Johnny had chosen to sit was high. The group would be doing a live feed for a radio station from a shopping mall, which was nothing special to the guys, they'd done a million of them before and weren't at all nervous about the event, but the security staff was having heart attacks. Johnny was on the phone six or seven times to clear up security hiccups and mishaps even before we left the city limits.

"Full house!" Justin said with a slightly hushed voice. He grinned widely, that cocky, but cute little brother grin, with more teeth than gums then triumphantly showed the cards to the cameraman in the far back seat of the van. They'd been quietly filming part of our game and I'd almost forgotten that they were there, although Justin seemed to be very aware of the lens just a foot away from his face. Justin dramatically set the cards down on the seat between us and gave me a cocky smile.

JC half-turned from his window seat in front of us to see what was going on. He was sitting in the second bench seat next to Lance with his headphones on half asleep with a novel in his lap and I thought that he'd fallen asleep so I was surprised to hear him say, "You know not to play games with him…"

I looked at the cards and sure enough Justin had three sixes and a pair of black Jacks. I groaned. We'd been in the car for a half-hour and I'd yet to beat him at the five hands of poker we'd played.

"Be glad you aren't betting on those hands," Lance said from in front of us, "I remember when we were on tour in Germany, I lost all of my allowance to him more than a few times."

"Lance is Bitter Betty," Chris said candidly from the front bench seat where he was on his cell phone. He'd been talking to Debbie the president of his clothing company and I thought he hadn't been paying attention.

"Shut up Chris!" Lance said madly.

Chris made a face at him then turned back to his phone call and I heard him explain what was going on into the phone.

Joey turned around and took off his headphones. "What'd I miss?"

"Everything." Lance said with a sarcastically mean tone to his voice.

"Nothing," I said hitting Lance's shoulder, trying to tell him to be nicer. "Justin is just killing me at poker…again."

"You aren't betting are you?"

"No," I said, "Thank God."

"We are the champions…we are the champions," Justin sang.

"Yeah, you and your ego," JC said with a smile.

Justin abruptly stopped his singing, picked up the cards, and began to shuffle them while looking out the window with a scowl on his face.

"Poor Baby J," I said with an overly condescending tone to my voice.

"Shut up Gwen," he said.

The rest of the ride was fairly quiet which was a stark contrast to the welcome the group got at the shopping mall.

While the camera crew followed the guys around I went and stood with Johnny to the side. He and I'd stood together that morning and had chatted about the schedule and he'd asked about school and my plans for that upcoming summer. For the afternoon appearance he was too busy keeping track of the security team over a headset he'd put on as we were walking into the mall so he didn't have time to speak to me.

About three-thirty, half way through the radio spot, my cell phone ring so I walked away from the crowd to answer it.

"Hey Gwen, its Carson."

"What's up?"

"I just wanted to check in with you," he said loudly. He must have heard the screaming in the background. "So how's it going? I know I threw you into the fire alone today, but Harrision and Zach were telling me that you did pretty good this morning."

"It's going really well, I think." I covered up my free ear and tried to hear him.

"Good. I just wanted to tell you that we need to meet again tomorrow afternoon during the guy's S-N-L rehearsal," he said, "Harrison and Zach brought back some good footage and we need to do some editing on it. Sound ok with you?"

"Yeah. I think they go into rehearsals around eleven or so…Is one o'clock ok for our meeting?"

"Yeah. I'll have to go and film TRL in the middle of that, but my buddy Marcus is going to help us edit the material so you two will have to keep working while I'm on camera. I was planning on getting lunch around that time so why don't you bring a friend with you and we'll order take out and chat for a while before we get down to work."

"That sounds good."

"Ok. See you at one. I'll meet you at the desk again like today."

"Ok, bye."

I clicked "end" on my phone and went back over to where the guys were still being interviewed. Lance was up on a platform, but he gave me a worried look so I waved, smiled and mouthed to him that I would tell him about the call later.

I let my shoulders hang and wondered if Lance's worried look was actually a jealous look. I hadn't known him to be the jealous type, but then again I hadn't known him as a girlfriend. It was going to be hard work to struggle with this new beginning to our lives.


SIX

The ride back to the city was quite an experience. I’d seen the guys acting hyperactive before, but the van ride was out of control due to the fact that we were being followed by a car full of fans who were leaning out the windows of their car screaming and yelling at the van. JC was in the front seat and waved then the guys rotated so that they all got a chance to wave to the girls since the rest of the windows of the van were tinted.

"Look at that girl. I think she's going to fall out of the window," JC said with a certain tone to his voice. He sounded concerned, but I think that with their good moods all the guys weren't ready to return to their room for the night. The crowd they'd been with at the mall had been incredible and they wanted to hold onto that feeling a little longer.

"Fine. Pull over," Johnny finally said with a sigh. "You guys have fifteen minutes, get a snack and take some pictures then we really need to get back to the city before the traffic gets too bad."

Joey laughed and stared at Johnny, "When isn't the traffic in the city bad?"

"Joey!" Johnny said, "Fifteen minutes."

"Fine."

"But Johnny that isn't enough time for him to get their numbers," Justin said.

"Those girls are too young for you anyway," I said looking at the car next to us. "That one driving probably just got her license."

"Cool, more for me," Justin said.

"Justin. I hate to remind you, but they're jail-bait, even for you."

"Why did I have to turn 18 anyway!" Justin said.

"It has something to do with statues," Joey said quoting a line from a new movie that was going to be on MTV titled "JAILBAIT."

Everyone laughed and Chris motioned to the girls to follow the van so a few moments later everyone piled out of the van to chat with the group of girls.

Feeling suddenly out of place I took a seat on the floor in the doublewide doorway of the van. I leaned back against the bench seat and watched the four girls who’d been following us hug and chat with the guys as the camera rolled. I could have easily joined in the social time, but I felt as if I would give myself away to the fans and the camera so I busied myself by looking over the list of spots I needed to film for the show.

"You ok?" Johnny came over to me. Speaking softly he leaned against the van door.

"Yeah," I said with a sigh, "How do you guys do this day after day?"

"It’s a lifestyle you come to love. Haven’t you ever noticed how the guys get bored really quickly when they don’t have fifty things planned for the day."

"Well that happens with everyone except JC. I swear that guy could sleep all day if you let him."

Johnny laughed. "Humor always helps. Half the time I think those guys have lost their minds, but I guess you do what you have to do to survive."

"I know what you mean."

"So have you and Lance chatted about you know what?" Johnny asked.

"Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about?"

"He talked to me about it last night. He’s worried about the two of you."

"It’s been less than twenty-four hours and he’s already worried."

Johnny gave me a sympathetic smile. "He just doesn’t want it to end badly."

"Was he really that shaken up over the stuff with Dani?" I asked.

"Yeah. I thought he’d talked to you about it."

"We talked a little, but he didn’t really tell me much. Every time I mentioned it he sort of shut down and would changed the subject."

"Put it this way," Johnny said, "Remember a few months ago when Lance had the flu?"

"Yeah."

"He wasn’t sick. He took off and went on a mini-vacation for a few days."

"What?" I said.

"He took a vacation to collect himself."

"Whoa!" I looked over at Lance who was at JC’s side as they were showing one of the girls some of their new dance moves. "It was that bad?"

"He didn’t really want to talk about it, but he came to me and told me he needed a few days so we made up the rumor about him being sick and he left for three days." Johnny put a hand to my shoulder. "It took a lot of courage for him to ask you to sacrifice so much for a relationship and that’s why he’s acting so cautious. He doesn’t want another broken heart."

I stared at Lance with new wonder. I couldn’t believe that he’d not only floated a rumor about the flu to his fans, but he’d lied to me about it. I thought that he and I’d been close, but I was finding out that there were parts of him that even I didn’t know about.

"I’ll leave you alone with this one," Johnny said.

He turned back to the guys and yelled, "Come on guys. We need to get going."

The guys groaned and the girls got last minute hugs in before we all piled back into the van.

I sat in the back with Justin again, but didn’t feel like playing cards with the others as they dealt out the cards for more poker. Even JC joined in, but I stared out the window for a while then stared at Lance for a while as he made jokes with everyone.

As we entered the hotel room that night everyone branched out into the room to find a seat when Johnny came in and announced that they had the rest of the evening off. It was only five thirty or so which left the guys most of the night to play in the city.

"Anyone want to go to pizza and the movies with my cousins," Joey asked pulling out his phone.

"I’m in," Chris said.

"Can JC and I go over to the NYSC and play some ball?" Justin asked Johnny. The New York Sports Club was a gym that a lot of famous people in New York went to. They were open twenty-four hours, which meant that Justin and JC could play basketball for a few hours without fear of being kicked out at closing time.

"As long as you take Wes with you."

"Is it cool if we tape them playing for an hour or so?" Harrison asked Johnny.

"It would be cool," Justin said, "I want to show off my new moves."

"I think that’s a yes," Johnny said.

"Yeah!" Justin said. He and JC practically ran to get to change.

Lance came over to where I was sitting on the couch and flopped down next to me. "That leaves you and me," Lance said softly, "Want to hang out a while and have dinner, unless you have to go and study or something."

"I think that I can stick around for a while." I was nervous about hanging out with him, but I knew that I needed to stay and be there with him for at least a while. I wouldn’t know when I’d get another chance like that.

"Good."

Fifteen minutes later Joey and Chris were on their way to Brooklyn and Justin and JC were on their way to play basketball with the camera crew.

"Give a holler if you guys go anywhere," Johnny said shutting us into the room alone.

"Want to go out to dinner or stay in?" Lance asked when Johnny was gone. He got up and went over and turned off the television, which had been turned on when everyone had gotten back to the room.

"It doesn’t matter to me," I said with a shrug. I was too busy thinking about what Johnny had said earlier about Lance’s "flu" to really care where I was.

"Let’s go down and have dinner…it’ll be our first date."

"Lance why did you lie to me?" I blurted out.

Lance immediately turned to me and said, "What are you talking about?"

"When you had the flu. You weren’t really sick were you?"

"Oh that," he said, "Did Johnny tell you that I took a vacation?"

I nodded.

Lance came over and sat down next to me. "He told you that it was because of Dani?"

"Yeah."

"Well what do you want to know then?"

"James," I said seriously using his first name, which meant that I was really concerned. Only his mother called him that, but I’d been known to use it on occasion when I was trying to be very serious with him. "Why didn’t you tell me?"

"I don’t want to talk about this." Lance began to untie his shoes instead of looking at me.

"I don’t want to be a nag. I just want to know if you are ok."

Lance covered his face and said, "I know that you aren’t trying to be a nag. I just really don’t want to get into this again. I’m fine. That was almost two months ago."

"Fine. I won’t bug you, but please don’t lie to me like that in the future. If something happens I want to know about it, even if you didn’t want to tell me why you were going on vacation, you could have at least let me know you were going. I was really worried that you’d had to be put into a hospital for the flu."

Lance finally looked over at me again. "Dani and I broke up and I felt awful and I wanted to be alone and since that can’t happen we made up the story. I know that I should have told you, but it was a spur of the moment trip I took. I only told my mom and dad so that they wouldn’t worry. Stacey didn’t even know."

"Oh," he said.

"Now are you going to act strange all night or are we going to be able to hang out like normal?"

I held up my hands and said, "Ok, ok. I’ll drop it."

"Good. Now do you want to go down stairs and eat?"

"Yeah," I said and gave him a smile.

Lance slid out of his shoes and said, "I’ll be right back."

He disappeared into one of the bedrooms and I sat back and took a breath. I still wasn’t satisfied with what he’d told me but I knew that I had to deal with the answer he’d given me. If he hadn’t told Stacey, his sister, about things then it must have been bad.

Lance returned a moment later wearing a baseball hat, a different T-shirt and Adidas running shoes. "Ready?"

"Yeah."

We left the room and Lance went and knocked on the door across the hall. He stuck his head in the room and told Johnny that we’d be down in the restaurant then came over to my side.

"Shall we?" he said with a smile presenting his arm.

"Ok," I said.

We went down to the lobby and talked to the headwaiter to arrange for a table in the back somewhere and soon we were sitting across from each other. We could have sat next to each other, but it seemed more appropriate to sit across from each other. Although the restaurant wasn’t too crowded and we were in the back of the place there was a chance that someone might see us.

I felt out of place in our casual clothes, but Lance didn’t seem to notice, although he did remove his hat when we sat down. I think will all his practice he could be comfortable anywhere.

The waiter took our orders of Lance’s spaghetti and my steak and we soon were sitting at the table alone.

"So who called you tonight?" he asked.

"Carson. He and I have a lunch meeting scheduled for tomorrow. Which reminds me. I have to make a call real quick." I reached for the phone and dialed my dorm room number.

"Hello?" Paula said.

"Hey Paula. It’s me."

"Hey," she said.

"I was wondering if you want to have lunch with me and Carson tomorrow at MTV."

"Carson?" she said, "Carson Daly?"

"The one and only," I said with a smile looking over at Lance who must have been trying to picture my roommate’s reaction to the invitation.

"Sure," she said.

"Good, meet us at the MTV studios downtown at one then."

"OK."

"I gotta run. I’ll be home later on tonight."

"Cool."

I hung up the phone and Lance laughed.

"What?" I asked.

"I’m surprised I didn’t hear a scream come out of the phone."

"What from Paula?"

"Yeah. Did you tell her who I was?"

"She saw me on MTV. It was sort of hard to not tell her after that."

"I really wish that Carson hadn’t done that."

"Don’t worry about it." I sat back in my chair. "He already apologized to me about it this morning."

There was a lull in the conversation for a moment as a young girl and her mother approached our table.

"I’m sorry to interrupt," the elegantly dressed mother said, "Can my daughter have your autograph?"

"Sure," Lance said, "Do you have a pen?"

"I have one," I offered digging into my purse I retrieved a pen and a piece of paper from the tiny notebook I’d had with me to take notes on.

Lance took the pen and paper. "What’s your name?"

"Angelica." The girl spoke softly, her tiny wide eyes never leaving Lance’s face. He wrote a short note, signed it, and handed the paper over to the girl.

"Thank you," the girl said and they left the table.

"Thanks." Lance handed the pen back to me.

"No trouble."

"What would I do without you around?"

"I don’t know."

Dinner went smoothly and when we got back to the room around seven we flopped down in front of the television, kicked off our shoes and turned on a movie. Normally we would have cuddled together, but that night we sat shoulder to shoulder, as if we might get caught for actually hugging each other or something.

"Gwen," a voice from somewhere above me made me open my eyes. I hadn’t remembered falling asleep, but when I opened my eyes I found myself curled up to Lance’s chest halfway lying on him still in front of the TV.

I looked around and saw JC standing over us.

"Gwenny. I hate to wake you up, but you have to go. It’s almost midnight…"

I closed my eyes for a moment, took a breath then finally sat up. "Thanks JC."

"Wes is going to take you home since it’s so late, I’m going to bed."

I looked over and saw Wes sitting at the table. I waved then turned to JC. "Thanks."

I looked over at Lance who was asleep and shook him lightly as JC left to go to bed. "Lance, wake up."

Lance opened his eyes quickly and sat up. "I’m up."

As soon as he was sitting up straight his fatigue hit him and he sat back a little.

"I’m going to go home. It’s around midnight. I just wanted to tell you."

"Ok," he said trying to sit up again, "I’ll go get Wes."

"No," I said pushing him back, "JC asked him to take me home. You go back to sleep."

"Ok," he said. He closed his eyes and sat back.

I leaned over and kissed him lightly, "I’ll see you in the morning."

"Ok," he said with a smile from behind closed eyes.

Great. I thought as I was leaving. I kiss him and I'm sure he won't remember it because he's too asleep. What a way to start off a relationship.

 


SEVEN

The SNL rehearsal was in full swing when I realized what time it was. Since the crew couldn't really reveal the content of that week's episode to the MTV viewers they left around eleven. I stayed on for another half-hour knowing that I'd have to leave about a half an hour's time to get across to the Studios to meet up with Carson.

The guys were practicing their lines and going over the show when I decided to leave. I'd been sitting at the edge of the crowd of people so I got up and quietly excused myself. I thought that I'd made it out without disturbing anyone, but once in the hallway Lance came up behind me and grabbed me around the waist stopping my departure.

He put his chin just above my right shoulder and spoke softly to me. "What are you up to?" His mouth was right near my ear and his breath against my skin made the hair on my arms prickle.

"I have a lunch meeting, remember?"

"Oh yeah." He spun me around into a hug and said, "Weren't you going to say goodbye?"

"I didn't want to bother anyone."

"Oh." He frowned. "I wish you didn't have to go."

"I know. I'll only be a few hours. I'll call you about two or so and check in. You should be done here by then."

"Ok." He leaned and kissed my cheek. "I should go on back."

I hugged him tight once more and said, "See you in a few hours."

"See ya later." He turned and ran back down the hall.

Catching up with Paula at the front desk we got our passes and made it to the second floor and to Carson's desk just before noon. It was embarrassing to have Paula with me especially when I heard her repeating "Oh my god" on her way up the stairs and when she said it even louder when Carson looked up from talking to another guy.

Introductions were made to introduce Carson's friend Marcus and Paula to the rest of the foursome. I was relieved that Paula acted half-normal through them. She shook hands and seemed to be all right. I prayed that her condition would remain for the rest of our lunch.

"So what do you ladies want for lunch?" He opened up a desk drawer and pulled out a few take-out menus. "Pizza, Chinese, Japanese, Subs... We've got it all here at MTV Take Out."

Paula stared at Carson like a dear in headlights. "Oh my god."

Carson smiled then turned to me to ask, "Is she ok?"

I stared at Paula's reaction to Carson with embarrassment. "Yeah." I looked at the menus and made the decision for her. "Pizza sounds good."

"We should get Tony's." Marcus said, "What do you guys want?"

"Cheese?"

"Good Cheese." Paula said.

Marcus went to call and Carson took us to the conference room. On the way across the maze of cubicles a girl handed him a small piece of paper which he read then at the door of the conference room he excused himself to make a call.

Once inside I took a seat next to Paula and said, "Chica, what are you doing?"

"He's so cute." Her eyes were still wide and for a moment I thought that she was trying to maneuver around so that she could keep her eyes on Carson through the glass walls of the room we were in.

"Well quit it. You're making a fool of yourself and of me!" I slapped her arm playfully trying to snap her out of her daze.

She looked at me finally blinking and said, "Fine."

Carson returned and soon we were off and running with the editing process going over the footage we already had and trying to plan some more interview sessions to fill in the show with. It was almost five o'clock before I looked at the clock. Carson had left a few times to do other things and Paula had left after eating, but Marcus and I were working on the editing machines when he said that it was almost dinner.

"Crap!" I frowned and searched for my phone.

"You late for something?"

"Just three hours late."

"Uh oh."

I found the phone and saw that I had two messages waiting for me. I called in and checked my voicemail. They were both from Lance, who was wondering where I was. Groaning with my growing sense of guilt, I dialed Lance's cell phone number. The phone must have been turned off because his voicemail picked up. "Leave a message for you know who and if I know who you are I'll call back."

"Hey you. It's me. It's about five and I'm still editing. I'll chat with you later."

Carson returned just before I hung up the phone.

"Don't worry about the crew. They've been with the guys since they got out of SNL. They went over to Z100 for some contest thing." He smiled which I supposed was a reaction to the way I seemed to be stressing out. "So... Which one of the guys are you checking in with?"

"On or off the record?" I asked knowing that although Carson was a nice guy, he was still a reporter.

"Off." He said with a smile.

"Lance worries about me. He seems to forget that I actually live on my own in this city when he's not here."

"It's cute."

"So who do you call?" I asked.

"I see someone out of the business so I call to check in every once in a while. She lives across the street from me in Connecticut and always checks to see if my car is home."

"That must be nice to be able to see each other on a regular basis." I sighed and said, "You don't mind if I head out, do you?

"Definitely not," he said, "Five hours is too long to be obsessing over tapes. Besides, you need to tell the guys that they made number one again on TRL."

I gathered my purse and jacket, said my good-byes and made my way out to the street when I bumped into Paula.

"Lance called over to the room and I thought I'd come over and see if you were still here." She smiled.

My next decision would be hard. Either I could invite her to go to dinner with the guys and me or I could ditch her. It's not that I didn't like her or anything, but I didn't want a replay of her encounter with Carson to happen with the guys. It was their rest time of the day and they didn't need to be bothered by her or anyone else for that matter.

"It's ok if you want to ditch me." Paula said. She must have seen through the smile that I'd put on my face when I'd first seen her.

"No. You should come. After all you did come all this way to find me for Lance."

We caught the subway and eventually made it to the hotel around five-forty five, just in time to see the guys walking back into the hotel from a limo.

Paula stopped dead in her tracks just inside the lobby and stared at them in the way that she'd stared at Carson. "You know how I said that I wasn't a fan?"

"Yeah?" I said pushing her in the direction of the elevators. I knew we wouldn't ride to the floor with the guys, but I wanted to get out of the lobby fast.

"I am one now."

"Come on." I said pushing her more. "We'll take the other elevator and meet up with them in the suite."

Five minutes later we were at the door and I let Paula knock. We waited for a moment although the bodyguards had let us to the door.

"Hey guys." I said as the door opened I pulled Paula past Chris and into the room with me.

I got three hellos back.

"This is my roommate Paula," I immediately said. I introduced Joey and Justin who were in the middle of playing a video game and Chris who seemed to be waiting to get a turn then pointed over to the couch where JC was sleeping and told her who he was.

Sliding out of my jacket and putting my purse on the coffee table I looked around and said, "Where's Lance?"

"He went to take a nap." Chris informed me.

"I'm going to say hi. Why don't you guys entertain Paula for me?"

"No Problemo," Joey said with a flirtatious tone to his voice.

Stepping from the crowd I went towards the closed bedroom door and opened it quietly slipping into the mostly dark room like a cat burglar. Lance was asleep on his stomach, fully clothed in a white tank top and jeans. It looked as if he'd walked into the room and just fallen onto the bed and fallen instantly asleep. He must have been tired because his breaths were deep, an almost snoring sound coming from his relaxed body.

I went over and sat on the edge of the bed, removed my shoes and turned back to Lance finding him awake. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."

"I'm glad you did."

It wasn't at all an awkward moment for him to scoot onto his back and pull me so that I was snuggled close to him. We'd slept like that before, platonically of course, but this time there was something more to the pressure of his arms around me and the way he kissed my temple.

I immediately accepted my fate and curled into him more. Listening to his heartbeat I closed my eyes and waited to fall asleep.

"I've been your boyfriend for almost twelve hours and I haven't even kissed you yet."

Smiling with my eye shut I responded with a pat to his chest. "Yes you did."

"When?"

"At the SNL studio." I looked up at him. "You kissed me good-bye."

"That wasn't a kiss."

"What do you mean? Do you want to give me a 7th Heaven kiss?"

"Ugh." He sat up a bit and with a laugh said, "Why'd you have to bring that up? It was just a cheesy TV show kiss."

"You'll kiss a total stranger like that and not me?" I sat up and sat Indian style on the bed to pout.

Holding up his hands to surrender he sighed with fake worry in his voice, "The pressure." He gave me a goofy face.

"Well." I said sitting up a bit I put my hands on my hips.

"Well what?" He said.

"I'm waiting." I pursed my lips and shut my eyes and there was no kiss.

"Waiting for what?" Lance's voice was overwhelmed with a sarcastic tone to it as if he was trying to play stupid.

"A kiss, like in the show." I opened my eyes to speak then shut them again.

Feeling the bed move a bit I opened my eyes just enough to steady myself. I waited. I was now kneeling on the bed and it took a moment but soon Lance was kneeling in front of me.

I opened my eyes again and looked at him. "I dare you." I shut my eyes immediately and smiled.

He didn't move.

"Double dare?" I peaked out of one eye at him and thought he looked way too nervous over this whole situation. We'd kissed casually before, strangely enough under the mistletoe that last Christmas, but from the nervousness showing on Lance's face I would have thought that this was his first kiss.

Finally he made his move. Cupping my chin with his hand he leaned in and kissed me square on the mouth. It was heaven. Years of pent up sexual tension melted away and I found myself leaning into him as we mutually deepened the kiss.

We pulled apart and sat back and watched each other for a moment in the quiet of the room. "I like it when it's like this."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Quiet."

At that moment Paula burst out with a cheer from the other room. "Beaten by a girl!"

"It's Tetris," Justin said matter of factly as if Tetris wasn't up to his video game playing standards.

I smiled. "How are we ever going to get a minute alone together?"

"We can always lock ourselves into the bathroom like on the Real World."

Lance got up and pulled me with him into the other room.

"I'm just hoping it works," I said as we took seats with the others.

"What the bathroom trick? I think it would." He smiled.

"No. I'm talking about this...you know...us."

"It will. Let's not worry too much about it right now. Weren't you the one who told me that last night?"

"Time to go." And with those words Wes broke any hope of getting some time alone with Lance.

Moments later, after including Paula into the plans for the evening, we were out into the hallway and walking towards the elevators. We entered the elevator with Lance and the others, two bodyguards, and three others to ride to the lobby. The guys joked and tried to wake up from their restful hour, while Lance took his own way and leaned against me.

"7th Heaven." I said.

"Double Dare," he replied.

Soon we were rushed through the lobby and I faded back into the woodwork. It was my place to be in the background and I played the part well for the next few hours.


EIGHT

A few nights later….

"You did what?" The yell in the suite’s living room hurt my ears. Johnny wasn't looking straight at me, but I felt as if he was blaming me for the limp that Lance suddenly showed as we walked into the suite.

"We went to a picnic last night and at one point when we came out of Carson’s friend's house there was a crowd so we had to run for it and I sprained it." Lance smiled at the rest of the band and the tour manager, but the way he favored his left ankle over his right showed his pain that hadn't gone away even though we'd taken care of his ankle the night before.

The four serious faces of his band-mates followed Lance as he limped across the room to sit on the couch. At first I had thought that he was playing Possum when we'd gotten back to Carson's after he'd twisted his foot, but when he took his shoe off and his ankle was starting to swell my face had looked as serious as his band-mates' faces.

I brought in his bag then stood away from him as everyone hovered around. I felt completely uncomfortable being there, which had never happened before, and it was hard to deal with.

Lance and I had just returned from a surprise mini-vacation and were now revealing to the rest of the group the slightly crippled ankle Lance was bringing back with him from Connecticut.

The vacation had sounded like a good idea from the beginning…

* * * * * *

At a five minute break of the SNL rehearsal Lance ran over to where I was watching from the stairs that lead to where the audience sat. I looked up from my notes to find Lance smiling at me over his water bottle with the most excited look I’d seen from him in days. "Guess what?"

"What?" I leaned closer to him touching my forehead to his as he leaned into me.

"We have Sunday and Monday morning off!"

"Yeah?" I sat back and watched him. He was jumpy with his excitement. It reminded me of the old days when Lance would think of crazy things to do, but would never really go through with them. He’d always talk me into doing the dare or stunt then sit back and watch me do it.

"Well that means thirty six hours to be free!" He patted my leg and took a seat next to me on the stairs.

"And?" I knew that we had the time off, but I figured that there would have been some other matter that would come up and take the guys away. I wasn’t normally pessimistic, but with the guys, plans never were set in stone.

"Well I think that I’m going to take you on a mini-vacation." He smiled mischievously as if there was some great adventure ahead for the two of us.

"Really?" I immediately pictured someplace tropical, even home would have been better than the muggy northern weather. "Where to then?"

"Connecticut." His smile never faded.

"What?" I smiled and said, "I’d love to spend time with you anywhere, but why Connecticut?"

"Because Carson is a saint and is lending his house to us for Saturday night and Sunday night."

"Just the two of us?" I said with a smile.

Nodding Lance put an arm around me and sipped his water with his free hand.

"Where’s he going to be?"

"At his girlfriends. He’s gonna pick us up after SNL and bring us back in time for the interview with CNN lunch time on Monday."

"Oh my God!" I screamed making more than a few people around stare at us.

Lance laughed and hugged me to him for a moment then said, "I have to run. Keep this on the down-low." He ran back over to his rehearsal and they went through the rest of their dance steps leaving me to my notes.

* * * * * *

…But from the look on everyone's faces, the short happy memories from the weekend were fading quickly.

"Gwen. I think you should go home." Wes said softly to me as the band's trainer Anthony, came in to look at Lance's ankle.

"But…"

"Just get out of here for a while. He's pretty steamed about Lance's ankle and we need to get it checked out…" He took my arm and guided me out into the hallway.

"Wes…" I tried to pull away from him so that I could stay a little longer.

"I know that you had nothing to do with this, but you know how things are overly dramatic with these guys, especially injuries…just go and let everyone chill out for a while then meet up with us at CNN."

Tears sprung to my eyes as I realized that Gus was trying to help me out. Although I knew that I was an important part of the guys' lives, me having me in the room added to the already high tension level. The tour manager always seemed to have the view that if you weren't working for the guys or weren't family then you shouldn't be around. It was a hard fact to face being just a friend to the guys, but being a girlfriend made the manager's working conditions an even more hurtful fact.

"Please try to explain to him that it wasn't anyone's fault. We were careful…"

Gus put up a hand to stop my babbling. "I will. Now get home and get lunch and I'm sure when you meet up with us later that things will be ok."

"Ok." I sniffed and wiped my eyes and went away with my broken heart as I was told. I'd been handed my walking papers without even being able to explain my situation. The whole fifteen minutes before had been a real slap in the face.