Somebody Needs You 9


LAX had a reputation for being a very busy place, but that day everyone in the whole world had been sent to get in his path.  The people walking off the plane had been extremely slow, seeming to walk almost backwards as they came out into the main part of the airport.  If he'd been with the guys he would have heard Chris moo like a cow or Justin whine about the line, but today it was just him. He had a million and one thoughts going through his head, the first being the thoughts about how to kill the person who invented the nasty perfume the lady in front of him was wearing.  He kept his mouth closed and his eyes on the ground.  He stayed away from where he might have to make eye contact with anyone, knowing that on days like this anything might set him off, which would have been a public relations nightmare considering the reason for his trip to the city.

Being away from the group with only security with him, having the attention solely on him, wasn't a situation that he wanted to be in.  If he was going to voice his opinions he needed a little bit of back up.  It wasn't that he was scared of what might happen.  He wasn't a coward like that.  He just didn't think that he needed to get into something like that on his own.  The guys had long ago mastered the fine art of covertly voicing their opinions to the general public.  If Justin or Chris or JC would have been there they would be playing the insult game with Joey saying what they wanted to say to the people around them, only directing it at Joey or one of the other guys instead of saying what they wanted to say to the person they wanted to say it to.

"My momma gave me these meat hooks for a reason," Loni grumbled as he latch a hand onto Lance's shoulder when they stepped out of walkway from the plane.  "And this wasn't the use she intended them for."

Lance had been staring at the feet of the woman in front of him and had been jolted by the sudden grab at him. His eyes went wide and his whole body tensed. He'd been used to crowds and had gotten used to people grabbing at him, but he usually didn't encounter a hand that was as big as Loni's.  When the pressure on his shoulder eased he was glad that it was Loni on his side.

As far as airports were concerned LAX wasn't as tourist friendly as Chicago-O'Hare. Lance had spent more than a few days there and liked the layout of the place better than any other airport he'd encountered so far. Chicago had it's own style and due to the long nature of the hallways there the amount of foot traffic to have to deal with was less. Considering the amount of time he spent on tour, airports had become his second home. Instead of going to the mall to hang out as a kid, he and the guys had roamed the hallways of the various airports that they'd been stuck in. This one almost seemed like home, if that wasn't too sick a thought to be stuck with. He was at his usual gate and could almost count the steps to the Starbucks Coffee Shop that was down to the right and knew that the no-name coffee shop to the right probably had a new batch of cinnamon rolls ready about now, considering that it was just after ten in the morning.

The sound of the wheels of his tiny rolling suitcase was lost in the noise of the crowd as his feet scuffed across the industrial carpeting as he stepped off the plane following Loni's lead and took a deep breath. The air was stale and hot and the jet fuel mixed horribly with the woman's perfume that hung in the air as the woman who'd sat across from him on the flight from Orlando moved across his path to hug a grandchild that didn't look at all excited to see his grandmother. He'd been smelling the woman for hours now and it was starting to make him sick to his stomach. He'd tried to block it out and sleep, but this Pigpen-like cloud of smell hadn't let him sleep too soundly.

Normally this kind of disruption in his sleep pattern would have left him a little grumpy, but with a full day of meetings and having to spend time with the Talent Search candidates he wasn't at all looking forward to keeping his eyes open. He'd been the one to set up the Talent Search, but eleven months ago he hadn't thought that the touring schedule would have been so hectic.  It had been a long week and it was going to be an even longer weekend seeing that he had to fly back and forth to Orlando to get there by Monday then up to New York to meet up with the guys for their appearance on TRL on Wednesday.

He could have done something via satellite. Last time it had been a little barstool and microphone in front of a blue or black background. It was a poor substitute for the real thing, but sometimes his schedule called for it.  He always seemed to feel guilty if he didn't make the trip with the guys, not only would his "brothers" get upset, but the fans always seemed to get upset that he didn't show up with the others.  He didn't pay attention to the internet much, but Melinda usually would send him a little blurb or two about their appearances and he would find usually that when he wasn't there it was noticed.  It was a strange twist of fate considering that they hadn't noticed him at all a year or so before.

Being a no-show, although totally not professional position to be in, sounded good at the moment. He wanted a warm bed at the W hotel or at  least a lumpy couch at JC's or even at this point a small corner in the airport where he could curl up in a ball and close his eyes for as long as it took for him to catch up on at least three or four hours of the sleep he'd been lacking that week sounded good. He wished that he could be a slacker and not care about things like that. Some of the guys had gotten a little more relaxed about their appearances, but Lance had more than just NSYNC to be the spokes person for. His business, his livelihood, and his love were in the line for things like that.

"Over here," Loni said in a low rumbling growl, pulling on his arm to get him across the flow of traffic to where they needed to be. They looked a little out of place considering that it was a Friday morning and most people were in business suits instead of jeans and t-shirts.  Lance loved his job that way.  Dressed up for him was just a nicer version of the one he had on now.  If he was going to a meeting like later he'd probably change into a different pair of jeans, a newer pair of running shoes and maybe a clean shirt since he'd slept in the shirt he had on.

Lance's eyes met Loni's when a woman tried to step between them instead of around them. She wore glasses that were sliding down her nose, distorting her view along with the dark hair that fell in her eyes.  She looked like a struggling artist with a heavy bag slung over her shoulder and a guitar case in the other hand.  While he had a lot of respect for the struggling side of the industry, he was wondering if she shouldn't already be calling herself a diva.  She wore red cowboy boots, hip hugging jeans and a red shirt that was covered by a trendy jean jacket.  He wondered for a moment if she knew that she wasn't in Nashville or Memphis and that LA wasn't really the home of country music.

"Sorry."  His lips formed the word before he could stop himself.  He hadn't done anything, but he felt like he should apologize.

She didn't take the apology.  he woman gave him a dirty look as her bag slipped from her shoulder.  Her glasses slid closer to the end of her nose threatening to fall off her face.  With a quick hand he moved a finger and pushed the glasses back up on her nose.  She was shocked to have him do it, but that wasn't fully felt until they made eye contact a moment later.  "Excuse me."

Instead of ripping into her about being rude to him, he reached and helped her put her bag back onto her shoulder then moved along with Loni towards where they knew the car would be waiting for them.  If he'd had more time he would have looked back to see if the woman was ok, but since they had places to go and people to see he kept his eyes on Loni.  Their path was towards the car, towards the chair he could sit and relax in for another half hour to forty five minutes if traffic was really bad.

Details swam in his head.  He'd looked over his itinerary for the weekend that his mother had sent him but only remembered the high points of the day. Roberta Blanchard, his mother's contact with the WB, was going to meet him for breakfast at Water Bagel out in  Westwood Village after they checked into the suite at the W.  Then they would be heading over to Millennium Dance to start going over the list of candidates that had been weeded out in the two days prior to his LA visit.  He'd be seeing the last few rounds until they picked a winner the next day.

He didn't have more than a rolling suitcase with him that trip so they went straight from the gate to the car without any stops along the way. The driver took his bag and Loni's tiny bag and put them in the trunk while Lance got settled in the back of the sedan. He stretched out sideways across the back seat, putting his feet behind the driver's seat while he sat behind the front passenger seat. He closed himself inside and leaned back, closing his eyes instantly when he heard the trunk shut.

The car moved slightly when Loni eased himself into the front seat. He heard a slight laugh and then the driver pulled away from the curb. "You better not fall asleep on me," Loni said, "That Roberta lady scares me. I don't want to have to talk to her for you."

"Kiss my--" The sound of his phone ringing caught his attention. He'd programmed it to ring to the tune of Dexys Midnight Runners' Come On Eileen. He heard the first few notes and started to pat himself down. He'd worn a jacket with four different zipper pockets on it and couldn't remember which one he'd shoved the phone into.   "Hello?"


She should have been getting ready to get out to her car, but instead she was sitting in the little cafe eating cottage cheese and fruit and laughing at what she'd just seen.  She'd found herself a quiet corner near a glass wall and had seen everything.  She wouldn't have really thought twice about watching the group that came off the plane, but the flight from Florida was always interesting to look at since half the people seemed to be movie or music people and the other half were sun-burnt tourists that looked like they were about to die.

"You know you really should think about going to etiquette classes."

"Who is this?"  His phone was fuzzy for a moment then all the sound around him stopped.  He must have reached the car.

"It's Colleen," she said.  She tried to stay calm.  Her breathing started to speed up and she wasn't feeling hungry any more.  She found herself becoming nervous even though she shouldn't have been.  She was the one that started this conversation and she knew she needed to finish it.  "I was in the terminal and just saw you.  You and Loni should have asked that girl to a concert."

"Colleen."  He let out a sigh and she could hear him move the phone away and swear a few times.  "Listen...about the concert and all--"

"Look.  It's no trouble."  She sighed.  "I'm not trying to--I was just wondering how long you're going to be in Los Angeles.  I thought maybe we could have lunch or something."  She should have smacked herself in the head for this one, but she wanted to see him again, just to make sure that her first impressions of him weren't true.  It had only been two days, but she felt like it had been lifetime since she'd been with him.

"You want to have lunch?"

"Well maybe dinner if you're just going to be here today.  I've just gotten back from another set of flights from New York that I hadn't expected to be on.  I thought that maybe if you were around tonight I could show you around my city since you seemed to have let me see most of--"  She coughed stuffing back a laugh of what she could say about what he'd showed her.  "--most of New York City."

"I'm actually working," he said, "I've got auditions for a contest today."

"Contest?"

"I'm putting together a girl group," he said.  "If we were going to sing John Mayer songs I'd ask you do join, but we're doing more Pop sounding songs."

"That's ok," she said, "I'll keep my day job for the moment."

"What time is your last flight tonight?" he asked.

"I should be back at LAX around eight," she said.

"How about I meet up with you at my hotel here at about nine?" he asked.  "It'll be late, but we could get dinner or maybe hit some clubs.  John isn't in town, but we might be able to find something to do."

Colleen shook her head and smiled.  She didn't have a clue what she was doing, but she liked hanging out with him and understood that this probably wasn't going to lead anywhere, but how many women could say that they had an almost fairy tale romance with a rock star.  "Make it nine thirty so I can get some stuff done around the house."

"You've got it," he said.  "I need to run right now, but call me when you get back in town and I'll make sure I'm at the hotel on time.  It's gonna be a long day and I'm not sure where I'll be around that time."

"If it's not a good day just say so."

"It's not that," he said, "I just know that I'm going through an audition process of a thousand people and it's going to take more than a few hours."

"I get it," she said.  She looked at her watch.  "I've gotta run too, but I'll see you tonight."

"It's a date."


"There's a seat in the corner."

The patio at Water Bagel was the place to be in Westwood that afternoon and probably every other afternoon around lunchtime.  The tiny deli faced across the street towards a huge suburban shopping center, leaving it in prime position for one to see and be seen.  Most suburbs would present their own cast of characters, but in the Los Angeles area there was always the added bonus that someone might see an extremely famous person chasing their kids in the parking lot or reading a newspaper and having a Danish.

Trying to act as normal as possible, Lance sat down at a table with four chairs in the shade of the building facing outwards with his back up against the wall of the building between two windows.  There were probably a dozen tables lined along the building and most of them were occupied.  For once he felt relaxed as Loni took the seat across from him.

In this part of LA he didn't worry about being seen.  He knew that they were close to Beverly Hills to think that HE might be who people were looking for here.  There were too many movie people and music people in town to think that people would, first, be expecting to see him there and, second, care that he was there in the first place when Tom Cruise or Natalie Portman were probably shopping across the street.  It was kind of nice to sit back and act semi-normal for a while.  He only had a normal life in between tours and this time it had been weeks since he'd been able to sit one place for more than a few minutes before he'd have to get up and move again.

"Lance."

Rachel Yorn was a woman in her twenties, but she bounced up to him as if she was a three year old.  Dark hair fell over her shoulders in an up-to-date style and the cat eyed shaped glasses that she wore were perched perfectly on her nose, looking to be more for style than for necessity.  She carried a small leather backpack that she flung into the extra seat on the far side of the table from him and she took the remaining seat so that she was in between Loni and him.  He had worried a little that they would get along, but she seemed to make herself at home before he could even reach over to shake her hand hello.

"How was your flight?"

"Long," he sighed and rubbed his face.  He knew he should smile and play the part of the happy little pop star, but he was tired and needed a nap, not another few hours of work.  Without the watchful eye of a manager or his assistant who was home sick that week he could act however he wanted and only maybe get a look or two from Loni about it.  "Night flights aren't that bad, but touring is getting harder and harder."  He'd forgotten his sunglasses and was now squinting across the table at her due to the fact that someone had parked at just the right angle to send a beam of sunlight at him that of course only hit him when he sat back in a comfortable position in his chair.  "How have the auditions been so far?"

She looked shocked at his comment.  She pointed at him and nodded with a smile.  "A man that doesn't beat around the bush.  I knew I'd like you," she said.  She stood up again to grab for her bag, but Loni sensed that she'd need it and lifted the bag for her, making sure not to hit the cups of coffee that they'd brought to the table with them while they waited for Lance's breakfast bagel and Loni's breakfast burrito.  "Your mother said that you were a fairly determined man to work with, but I didn't think that we'd completely skip the small talk like you did."

Finally papers were placed on the table in front of him.  "These are the best twenty we have so far."  She moved her finger down the list.  "Most of the sing well, but the ones with the stars may need some work.  They all have the look we're going for so I think it'll be up to you to be making the final decision of who you want to send to New York."  Her eyes went over the page and she looked up at him.  "It's pretty standard to have this kind of a turn out.  With the success of the Pop Stars series we've been overly blessed with some talented people, but since the network says that we have to be fair about the audition process we have to see almost everyone, even if it only is for thirty seconds."

His fingers filed through the through the pages of headshots and from the look of them, Rachel was right.  They all had the look, but that didn't really say much for the talent end of things.  While he was in LA this weekend the people in Chicago were being seen so that by the time he got around to seeing them, they'd already have the groups weeded out.  He'd be in New York, Chicago, Orlando, and Los Angeles for the auditions.  It seemed crazy to have a nation wide search when he himself knew of people he already would want in the group, but when the WB said that they would flip for the bill if they did it their way, he couldn't say no.  All his travel and the travel for the contestants for the final show were being paid by them so he figured it was worth it.  He could afford to pay for it all, but every little penny helped.  He had enough expenses as it was and FreeLance wasn't as popular as he had thought it would be so all the publicity was again going to push his name and the company name to the top.

"We were thinking that there would be five finalists from each group.  That would give us twenty at the final tryout, but that's up to you.  We have the budget to get them out there, but I'm not sure that we should leave it that open."  She pulled out a piece of paper and read over something quickly.

"Leo--"  She made eye contact with Lance probably to make sure that he knew who she was talking about.  "--was thinking that we'd do three finalists from each, like a first, second, and third place kind of a deal so that we can at least have a way of tracking who we liked the best in each city."

Leo Thornton was the executive producer of the show and it was his job to add the extra element of drama to the making of this group.  He'd suggested doing this over a whole month so that the contestants would be able to have some kind of drama waiting for the final pick.  The idea was that they would do back stories on all of them and then grab up the last few contestants to do mini stories on them before the show aired on television in the fall line up.

Rachel cleared her throat.  "I know that the less time we debate who is who and how good they are, the better we'll be.  I want this group to be good, but at the same time I think we shouldn't spend too much time dickering about the little things."

"I agree," she said, "WB is leaving the choice up to you, but we definitely think that there should be some decision made about this before we see anyone this afternoon.  We have to be justified in the way we pick the finalists.  Someone from Legal is going to be hanging around so that we make sure that we're being fair.  If there is a certain number that we are going to take to New York then we should have that number before you see any of them."

Lance sighed and sipped his coffee.  He hadn't put enough sugar in it so he put the paper down on the table and grabbed out a packet of sugar and dumped it in the coffee.  "I thought all these details were in place.  I didn't think that I'd be coming in and having to make up the rules as I went along."  His back began to hurt and the ache in his shoulder and chest that he'd had a few months before seemed to start to act up.

"It's up to you.  Pick a number between one and five," she said.

"Make it five," he said, "Might as well."  He shrugged and let his mind drift for a moment.  He could see the car from where they were and wanted to run over and jump in and drive away.  He hated making business decisions like that.  Carrah always teased him about being too nice.  He didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but a contest was a contest and there could only be so many winners.  "We may not find what we're looking for anywhere else.  I want this to be good and we need the best candidates for the job."

"Fine," she pulled out a palm pilot and wrote a little note to herself then whipped out her phone and dialed.  Lance watched in awe as this Hollywood we'll-do-lunch-style business was being done in front of him.  "Hello Zachary.  I'm here with Lance and we're going to go with five finalists this afternoon.  Warn the girls of this and make sure that everyone else knows about it.  I'll call Ilene to set up the flights and hotel later, but we need to make sure that all these girls understand that they will basically be on call to us once they become finalists."

Lance tuned out her voice and sipped at his coffee again.  His bagel soon arrived and he dug into it like he'd been starving himself over the last few weeks.  He'd eaten the night before and had gotten some orange juice before he'd gotten off the plane, but it was almost eleven-thirty and he was just now eating his first meal of the day.

When he looked up again he chewed fiercely and licked the cream cheese off the top of his mouth before Rachel was off the phone.

She smiled at him across the table and handed him a napkin from the tiny dispenser that was between them.  "All of that is set."

Lance held his bagel in one hand and reached for the packet of headshots and resumes with the other after wiping his mouth.  He put the pile next to his plate and stared down at the headshot in front of him of a pretty girl and then took another smaller bite.  He saw Loni eyeing the picture and moved the pile more into the middle of the table so that Loni could see the girls too.  Loni normally kept to himself on trips like this, but he seemed to be bored that morning so he figured he'd give him a little insight to how they were planning to spend the rest of the afternoon.

When he was looking at about the tenth picture he noticed that his coffee was gone and that his bagel plate had been taken away.  He was basically up to his elbows in work, but it didn't stop him from seeing something out of the corner of his eye.

"What?" Loni asked when his expression changed.

"Nothing."  Lance's eyes scanned the paper again.  "This says that her name is Wendy and that she's from Prather--Pranther?  Where the hell is Pranther?"

"It's north of here more near Fresno then LA--"  Rachel picked up a sugar packet and shook it a little before setting it back into the little cup on the table that held the rest of the sugar.  She looked at her watch.  "It's almost one and we should get going."

"Are you riding with us?" Loni asked as they moved to pay the bill and slide out of their table.

"Yes," Rachel said, "My roommate was working from home today and dropped me off.  I should be able to call her later on and have her get me from the studio if I can catch a ride with you.  I thought of meeting you all up here since being inside the studio can get a little boring.  I knew you'd want to get something to eat and to rest a little before you got bombarded with people all afternoon."

"Thanks for that," Lance said as they walked back through the deli out to the street where the driver was sitting in the car.  When he saw them coming he got out and opened the door for Rachel.  She settled herself on the side of the car behind where Loni would be sitting in the front seat.

Lance just nodded at the driver as he moved around to the other side of the car without the driver to open his door for him while Loni got into the front passenger seat.

Once inside the car again Lance put the folder on his lap.  If he was going to be spending the afternoon with them he didn't really need to stare at their stats all day long too.  The girls all seemed to be what they were looking for, but a few of them already stood out.  It was looking good so far and he was glad that this trip was going as well as he had planned.

To make himself look busy, Lance opened the folder and began to look at the pictures.  He really wasn't paying attention, but his eyes took in the top picture as the car got back onto the freeway and they drove away from Water Bagel towards the dance studio where they were expected to be that afternoon.

^V^V^V^V^V^

Millennium Dance Studio was surrounded by girls.  For a three block radius around the hotel it seemed that everything else had stopped in the city and everyone there was paying attention to the studio, the contest and as he stepped out of the car to go inside, all the attention was turned to him.  They'd been stuck two streets away due to the contestants lining the streets and the media attention that had suddenly focused on the contest.  There were local news vans and radio stations there as well as a crew from MTV.  It had caused them to everyone a little more cranky then usual when they finally got to the front door of the studio.

He wasn't usually that nervous when out in public, but that day he felt almost shaky as they made their way through the studio.  The first group of twenty girls were already across the large studio space learning their lines to the song as he sat down at the small judges table.  "Water in every direction as far as the eye can see and not a drop to drink."

Rachel took her seat next to him.  "What was that?"

"Nothing," he sighed, "Let's get this thing going."


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