24 Hours -- Part Five

Holding onto my backpack I keep my eyes on Tiny's back right shoulder as we unload from the elevator.  Eye contact can be a very dangerous thing in a situation like this so I try to keep my eyes low unless someone is talking to me.  I swear at myself for not leaving the baseball hat on from earlier.  Vivian is sliding her things back into her bag so I have no one to protect me for the time being.  Trace usually comes in handy in situations like this.  He will normally start up some random conversation with me just so I don't have to be out there on my own as I walk.  I can be surrounded by sixty million people, but if someone isn't directly talking to me the whole world thinks that as an invitation to strike up a conversation which can throw the rest of my day off.  It's funny how five minutes here and there can set you back an hour later on in the day.  The math never works out right, but it happens.

Half my brain is wondering who Mr. Clearwater is.  I've met the man before, probably a million and one times.  Still, with all the people that pass in front of me on an average day, his face is only slightly familiar to me.  The only clue I get from who he is really comes from Vivian's reaction.  She's jumped to attention so I know that he's one of the bigwigs.  I guess this is what I pay her for, she remembers all the details that I forget.

"Have a good rest of the day," Mr. Clearwater says as we step out of the elevator.

I feel like bowing since he is in the royal family of radio.  He's complete, except for a crown, which makes me laugh a little.  I don't bow though.  I don't do anything and find myself soon staring at Vivian who is looking at me strangely.  I practically jump when I realize he'd actually spoken to me.  I smile and wave trying to keep my expression neutral as my stomach rumbles as we step out of the elevator.  "You too."

"You want breakfast?" Vivian asks bumping into my shoulder to get my attention as Tiny turns us towards the door.  She speaks to me in a hushed voice as if breakfast is a trade secret or something.

My stomach growls and I look around.

I put a hand on my stomach and look around.  It's amazing how strange you can get when everyone notices everything about you.   How many times have I held a fart in my ass until I can get to a place where no one will hear or smell it?  Jay Leno's fifteen minute interview can seem to last four hours when you have to pee or fart.  It's childish to think that I have to hide my bodily functions from people, but when all the eyes of the world are on you EVERY detail is recorded.  I swear to God if I let out a fart or something the whole world would stop.  Or at least my publicist wouldn't be around any more since she takes most of the things that I do personally.

Does anyone ever realize how great it is to be able to fart whenever you want?  I think when I retire I'll just sit around and fart all day.  I know that Steven and Jonathan would think that it would be a good way to spend my time. It's surprising to know how ridiculous they think my life is.  They don't understand why six people have to make my schedule and it takes fifteen or so to make decisions about what I wear.  Hmmm.  Now that I think of it, I really do need to break out a little more and do my own thing.

I smile at that thought then frown when someone opens the front door and wind whips through the hallway.  "You heard that?"

"Yeah," she says suddenly in a good mood.  Maybe it's because I'm vulnerable right now and she could say anything to me and get me into trouble since we're in public.

It's sad to say that my true personality rarely comes out.  I think the only time lately that I've really been myself is sitting around in the living room in Tennessee with Trace on one side of me and my brothers on the other side of me playing four player Playstation.  That normally wouldn't be that bad, but the truth is that the blinds are always drawn when we play and the doors locked and the phone off the hook as if even the sound of the phone is an intrusion into my life.

She bumps me again and I realize that it's her perfume that's made it to my nose, pushing away the smells of the city.  "So what do you want for breakfast?"

I shake my head a little to clear my thoughts.  It doesn't work as fast as I want it to and I realize that it's been months since I've been with a woman.  Well it's not like I forgot, but being busy with the album and then this trip out to New York, my mind hasn't kept close tabs on the number of days it's been.

Vivian stops and looks at me with a serious expression.  "Justin?"

"Wish list or practical?" I say knowing that at times I can ask for whatever I want and get it, but there are some times in the day that getting what's close to us or what is practical is better for me.  I mean I can't always have peach cobbler in the mornings or have French toast delivered, but New York is famous for it's corner deli's and sometimes I can get at least some cereal and milk.  Being on the radio helps me today since no one will really be seeing me stuff food down my throat.

"Wish list," she says wiggling her eyebrows at me.  I know it's just an excuse.  If she goes out to get wish list stuff it means she'll be away from me for a while and I think she needs that right now.  "I'm feeling generous."

"Anything?" I ask.

"Except Nana's cooking," she says with a wink knowing that if I could have my way I'd send her home to Tennessee to get Nana's peach cobbler. 

I don't know why I act like such a dork when it comes to food, but instantly I'm hyperactive at the thought of eating.  I start to bounce on my feet instead of walk.  "Can you hit Mario's uptown and bring me custard and that fruit turn-over thing?"

She looks up at me with this smile that totally makes me smile back.  She's the only one that understands me.  "Are you sure?"

"Yeah."  One thing I never second guess is my love of Mario's fruit turn-overs.

Her hand whips out and she lays her palm out in front of me.  "Give me some money."

My eyes grow wide.  In all the years I've known her, this is the first time she's asked for cash from me to get something.  She normally sends her monthly expenses to Johnny and he pays her expenses out of my work fund.  I think of it like my own little personal business account.

"I'm just kidding punk."  She starts to walk away from Tiny and me.  "What kind?"

"Where are you going?" I ask.  A few people are looking at me and I make eye contact for only long enough to smile then look back at her.

"I'm gonna catch a cab."  She points to the street.  "I'll meet you across town."  She hails a cab.  "What kind?"

 "Apple or Raspberry."  I call out my order to her and notice people watching me as I watch her.  This could cause issues I'm sure.  It seems like lately whenever I talk on the phone people think it's a free for all, a place to ask me anything because they can hear me talking to something that might or might not be my girlfriend.

As I watch her go and bump into Tiny's shoulder with my chin.   I rub my chin and look around at the girls on the street.  They laugh a little and I wave and lean against Tiny with a sigh and pretend to sleep for a moment.

I should never close my eyes in public.  I know better than to do that.  When I open them again the poodle reaction goes into effect and they instantly push towards me.  Tiny pushes them back a little and tells me in an overly loud voice that we have a schedule to keep and I need to get in the car.  I love that he can take the heat off me sometimes.  He doesn't do it often, but I know today the schedule is tight so he kind of has to do it.

What he doesn't know and what I don't realize until I get into the car is that my day alone has just ended and that I should have work the khakis this morning.

"Morning Justin."

I turn in my seat and see Clive Calder, charcoal suit and all, stares back at me.  His assistant, a smaller version of him in a black suit waves a hand and then taps the phone to his ear and continues his conversation, something about album releases and records of the newest Jive artists.  He's probably talking to someone from the press.  It doesn't sound like he knows the guy.

Trying not to sound too surprised by his visit, I take a deep breath and tried to act as if this is a good surprise and that I've missed him in the last few months.  "Clive?"

"That sounded like a good interview," Clive said motioning towards the building.

"Ya think?" I ask nervously.  Why do I always become Super Southern Man when someone like him is talking to me?  I've managed to hold back my accent until he asks me something.  "I'm not sure that I was ready to get more girl questions than album questions."

"Well I'm sure that after tomorrow things will be fine."

I make myself comfortable and take a deep breath.  I don't have a clue what's going on today let alone what's going to happen tomorrow.  I'm sure it's all scheduled and I know about it, but I can't figure out which thing tomorrow that he's talking about.  "Tomorrow?"

Clive's eyebrows raise and now I know I look like an idiot.  "The Today Show performance."

"Yeah," I say, "I'm sorry.  My brain is on all the things I have to do this week and tomorrow is just another one in my list of things to do."

"Your album drops tomorrow," he reminds me as if I've forgotten about it.

How can I forget about it?  It's all that anyone is talking about anymore.  I told people that I wasn't going to do the kind of promotions that I did with NSYNC stuff and now it seems like they think that I've forgotten how important the first week of album sales can be for a career.  On the up-side it could be the best week of my life and on the other side.

I want to groan aloud.

No, I want to curl up in a ball and cry like a baby due to the pressure.

As much as I want tomorrow to come I know that there are a million and one bad things that can happen because of my album coming out.  The VMAs proved that.  I had a cold that day and my performance got murdered by every critic that was in the country and some that didn't even see it had horrible things to say to it.

"You aren't excited?" Clive asks.  "For someone who hasn't put out an album of their own yet you seem fairly cocky about this."

My eyes narrow knowing that Vivian probably left to go get breakfast because she knew Clive was in the car.  I hate her.

I hate her.

I hate the way she can manipulate herself through my schedule so that she can avoid all the high stress areas.  Now that I think about it, she's like freaking Superman...she just misses most of the exciting/stressful things in my life.  She'll disappear before them and show up after them.

"Of course not." I speak slowly and turn to look out the window before I turn back.  "I've just got things on my mind.  I know--I know.  I need to keep my head in the game, but for my rides around town my brain is processing them instead of work so that when I am working I can only think about work."

"Very noble of you," Clive says.  He doesn't seem convinced.  He scratches his chin then straightens his tie.  It's a typical reaction for something that he doesn't like.  How many times did I want to yell at him to straighten his tie on his own time when he was listening to possible NSYNC tracks and then again when we had the listening session for my album?  It's ridiculous.  It's tied tight enough around his neck to strangle him and yet he plays with the knot at every possible moment.  "Really I didn't need that intense an explanation.  I just wanted to make sure that you aren't regretting your decision to go solo."

I try not to smack him up side the head.  He doesn't care about me.  I mean he is concerned, but probably for all the wrong reasons.  He knows that I need to make him back a whole shitload of money and today is the start of that payback.  No wonder Vivian offered a wish list breakfast.  She has to know that this conversation with Clive is going to kill me and I'll need comfort food to make the world right again.

"Regret?" I ask.  I'm insulted by the thought.  It wasn't as if I just up and decided to abandon ship so I could get my own deal.  It took a lot of guts for me to go to my friends and tell them that I wanted to leave them behind for a while and do my own thing.  I had to tell my best friends in the world that I didn't want what we'd been working to get for the last seven years.

I sigh.  My shoulders tense and my stomach flip-flops.  What I wouldn't give to be able to tell this man the complete truth and that I hate that he's even here.  He's the maker and breaker of my destiny, but at the same time I want to tell him how I really feel even if it means ruining everything for myself in fifty seconds.

I look out the window and realize that I'm already almost to my next destination.  I know that I'll get to where I'm supposed to be, but as the car slows I'm thinking about where Vivian is compared to where I am and where I need to be.

"Yeah."

I turn back around an put my hand on the seat between us.  "I'm not at all regretting it."  I look him in the eyes to make sure that he knows that I haven't lost my edge and that this decision is the best thing for me.  "I think that I was shocked to see that I was out there alone this  morning on the radio--"  If I really stop to think about it I might not go to my next interview.  "--but I'm not regretting anything I've done when it comes to my career, except signing with Lou of course, but everyone on the planet knows that much."

Clive just nods.  I hate that.  I hate nodding.  I probably do it the most of anyone around and I hate when people do it back to me.  Silence is my savior these days, but it tortures me also.  I can't stand the fact that people can dismiss a comment or a question with silence as if the silence is this huge deep totally emotionally charged moment.

"Well," Clive finally says.  "I'm sure you'll have a great rest of the morning."

"You too," I say and can't help but to add in a butter tone, "I'm sure you have a busy morning to get back to."

I nod and leave the car to follow Tiny into the building that houses the next radio station on my agenda for the day.

"You need to be careful of that mouth," Tiny says to me in a lowered voice as he holds the door open for me to go inside.

"Fuck you," I say back to him in a grumble.

"Watch it man," Tiny says.

I nod and trudge forward knowing that my interview is basically going to be the same thing I just went through.  "I am.  I am."

The elevator magically appears and we step inside.  If it was just Tiny and me I would give him a piece of my mind about my morning so far, but since there are radio employees standing there I stay quiet and look at my reflection in the half shiny doors of the tiny elevator.  I finally decide to switch hats to my baseball hat and pull out the DEA one from earlier.

When it's sitting on my head I check to make sure that it's sitting right and then I realize that the woman standing next to me is staring at me.  I've found in the past that if I talk to people that stare in some situations I can embarrass them more than they could ever effect me.  "Is it on straight?"

"Ye-Yes," she says.  She lifts a hand then pulls it back like I'll break if she touches me.  It's a strange reaction to have considering that most girls want to grab a hold of me and hold on forever and a day.  "Almost--"  She hesitates and moves the brim slightly back on my head.  "It's better if you can see your eyes."

"Thanks," I nod.

The elevator stops at our floor and Tiny and I get out.  I wink at the woman and say in my overly flirty voice, "Have a good morning."  I love using that voice.  I get the best reactions out of people that way.  I think it flatters them sometimes to see me reacting to them.

"You need to stop that shit," Tiny says in my ear as we turn down towards where the studio is waiting for me.

"What shit?"

"Flirting with radio people," he says, "hell flirting with just about anyone right now is dangerous."

"Thanks Tiny.  I'll remember that when I'm talking to your woman."

Tiny's face turns into a frown as he pushes the studio door open and escorts me in.

When I walk in the door I'm expecting only a few people to be in the room, but it turns out that the small ten by ten room has almost 20 people in it.  There are five people on microphones and another fifteen fans lining the walls.  I wave to them and slide into the seat that is empty at the end of the counter and shove my bag near my feet.  The fans start the poodle reaction.  The whisper to each other like I'm not sitting in the room with them.  Imagine that white noise sound at a football game coming from fifteen people in a small room with you.  It makes a small room even smaller.