ELEVEN


The crowd of people at the lobby level of the hotel was nothing short of overwhelming.  When they stepped off the elevator there was a cheering noise that reminded her of those State of the Union Addresses that she used to have to watch in school for her Civics classes, the ones where the President of the United States would walk into the room and everyone in the House or Senate or whatever it was would cheer for like twenty five minutes straight, as if him walking into the room was some great event.  That day Lance was the president and she was the first lady.  Everyone wanted to get a picture with him and bugged him for autographs on the twenty yard walk to the restaurant.

Once inside the doors the crowd stared through the window as them.  EJ pulled on her shirt and then her shorts and looked around nervously waiting for one of them to jump through the door and attack.  She didn't like  this crowd.  It had been bad at the pool and at the basketball warm ups, but  this experience was like nothing she'd ever seen before.  When she saw how  Lance wasn't making a big deal of things she tried to keep her head looking further into the hotel, rather than looking back at the crowd.  She plastered a smile on her face and leaned towards him as they waited for  the hostess to find them a table.

"I believe some other people from your party are already in the back corner away from the windows.  Would you like to sit with them or would you like to sit out on the patio?" the hostess said gathering menus for them.

She watched Lance lean a little then smiled, "My mom and dad and sister are over there.  We should go sit with them."

EJ nodded and followed him as he explained that he wanted to sit near his family to the waitress.

When they approached the table Lance came up behind his mother, dropping EJ's hand in the process, to put his arms around the woman's shoulders.  He hugged her and kissed her cheek and then slid into the seat next to her, reaching for EJ's hand so that she could sit on his leg next to them.

"We can get another seat," Stacy said with a laugh.

"This one is just fine."

Lance's mother was all smiles and their family launched into telling stories about Vegas for a moment while EJ listened.

"Honey are you ok today?" Diane finally asked reaching to take a hold of her hand.

"Yes," EJ said, "I mean to thank you for taking care of me.  It was really sweet of you, especially since I'm--"

"You're kind of part of the family now," Diane said.  EJ's eyes must have widened.  "I don't mean to say that to scare you off.  Our family is very open like that.  Despite the fact that my son basically needs a babysitter to go outside his house, we've never made a point of keeping anyone out of our little inner circle."

"You make us sound like Mobsters mom," Lance said squeezing EJ around her middle.  "Mom just wants to add to her little brood of kids.  She's got the five of us guys in the group and all our brothers and sisters and their families and the girlfriends and their families.  I think she's going for a Guinness Record.  I've even found her making out Christmas cards to fans that she sees on a regular basis."

"It never hurts to be polite," she said.

"I know Mom," Lance complained, "But if everyone is special then I think that EJ isn't going to think that she's really on the inner circle."

"I'm just fine where I am," she said, "You've made it pretty clear--"

Lance leaned and kissed her to shut her up.  She wasn't exactly sure what he was trying to get her to not say, but  "Shhh."

"Lance?" His mother gave him a critical look.  "You didn't do anything that I wouldn't want you to be doing, did you?"

His eyes went wide and he let out a huge laugh.

"Mom, don't get over dramatic with me.  Just because we're in Vegas--no offense EJ--that doesn't mean that I'm going to be getting married or anything.  I think I'd like to have that done back in Clinton or at least in Orlando.  I think I'll leave the Elvis Priests and Ministers to the tourists."  Lance leaned back in the chair and smiled at his mom.  "I'm always doing something that you didn't want me to do.  Remember?  It started when I turned sixteen and spent eleven months in Europe."

EJ watched the conversation in awe.  His mother was so sweet and he treated her more like a friend than a parent.  She missed that.  It made her think of all the times that she'd complained to her father about having to clean up while she worked at Pop's in the summer and how many days she wished she could have been anywhere else in the world but there.  She wanted to be
in Pop's now and sitting with her father and his friends on the weekends eating morning breakfast and talking about how there were no good baseball teams left on the East Coast since the Dodgers had left New York.

"Emma what's wrong?" Lance finally asked.

"Nothing."  She shook away her thoughts and looked around at the small table.  His mother and father sat next to each other, one facing Lance,  the other facing Stacy holding the kind of conversations that most families missed out on.  If they'd been any other family they wouldn't have been discussing when Stacy was going to cook dinner and when Lance would be home to barbeque next.  "Your family is just great."

He bounced her on his knee once. "You sure?"

She nodded and smiled at him.  "I'm glad that I came out here.  I missed this kind of stuff back in Orlando."

"You should come to visit more often.  We're all going to be in Mexico for a concert in a month or so," she said, "You should come down with us.  It's another four day event like this one and while Lance will have a lot of  time to hang out since there is only a concert to be filmed, I'd love to sneak you away with us to the spa while we're down there.  The Atlantis Hotel  is amazing when it comes to pampering it's clients."

"I don't know if I can afford something like that."

"Nonsense," His mother said, "If my son here is too cheap to buy your ticket I'll get you one for an early Christmas present."

"It's the middle of the summer Mrs. Bass," she said.

"It's Diane," his mother laughed, "And don't argue with me.  Stacy is more into the roller coasters and water parks.  I need someone who would want to sit with me in mud until we get so relaxed we turn into Jell-O."

"Sounds good to me," EJ said with a laugh.

"Did you want to order lunch?" Lance finally asked, "I've only got another hour or so before I have to get back over to the complex for a press conference."

"I'm not THAT hungry, but we should order something," she said.


Lance kept a careful eye on EJ that afternoon at the table.  She was sitting between him and his mom seeming to have a good time, but there was something in her eyes that made him think she wasn't as happy as she was letting  his mother think she was.  He hadn't thought about how it might effect her to be around his family.  It was always strange for the girls he dated to meet his parents, but would have hoped that she would feel at home with them.  Her father passing away probably had some effect on things.  He'd spoken to  her about it a few weeks ago when they were having one of their three hour long phone calls and she was saying that she was doing better, but it seemed now that being there and seeing his parents was bringing back things she
probably had avoided thinking about at home.

"You ok?" she asked tapping his thigh underneath the table.  He had been watching her and nodding along to the conversation, but hadn't been paying attention really to what was being said.

He slid an arm around the back of her chair and leaned towards her moving to kiss her temple.  "I'm worried about you," he whispered trying not to  draw his parents attention towards their little side conversation

Leaning away from him, she plastered a smile on her face.  "Why?"

"You seem distracted," he said.

"I'm not.."  She immediately took offense to his comment.  It was like telling someone they looked tired.  Sometimes they'd answer that they hadn't slept well the night before and sometimes they'd start to get paranoid about looking tired and not being tired.  "I was the one pay attention to your mother and father while you were day dreaming."

"I'm sorry for that," he said, "I didn't mean to day dream, but I'm still kind of floating trying to figure out if you're really here or not."

"I'm here," she said and put her hand back on his thigh.  "I'm not going anywhere for a while at least."

"Please say you'll come to Mexico with us," he pleaded.  His fingers moved to her hair and started to twirl the ends of it, "I'm not sure that I can take waiting until the end of the tour to hang out with you again."

"I'll try," she said, "I can't make promises like that to you."

"Why not EJ?" His anger rose when he heard her refuse his offer like that.  He wasn't normally one who threw fits when he didn't get his way, but he didn't think that his offer was something she should shy away from.   Most people he knew would kill for an all expenses paid trip to Mexico. "I thought we were a couple and I thought that's what couples do."

"Just give me some time."  Sighing like she did pulled at his heart even more.  He wanted to push her a little bit to become more comfortable with him, but it didn't seem to be working well.  "I can't leave Pop's like that."

"But it's four days."  Using that whining voice probably wasn't going to win him points with her, but he needed to try something.  "Four days out of God knows how many."

Her frown made him wince.  He didn't like that he was causing her pain  like that, but he thought that she had a right to know that he was angry that she was hiding away in Orlando.  It wasn't good for her to be stuck in the diner.  Of course he wanted her to keep the place and have it as a memory to her father, but he also was very selfish when it came to her and he wanted to spend more time with her.  She was good for him and he needed more of that around.

"Lance do I need to remind you of your manners?" his mother leaned over and joined their conversation.

"No mom," he said angrily.  "EJ and I are just having a difference of opinion over here.  It's nothing."

"Are you sure?" she asked looking at EJ then at him.

"Yeah," EJ said, "I'm just worried about my diner and Lance wants me to stop being a work-a-holic for once."

"Oh," she said, "The pot calling the kettle black again?"

"I know I'm a work-a-holic.  I won't deny that.  I just wanted to spend some time with my girlfriend and it seems easier for her to fly out to see me rather than me flying home to see her.  It's not my fault that I'm stuck out here, but that's the way it is."

"Don't pull a diva tantrum on me now James Lance," his mother scolded.

His eyebrows raised with that one.  He'd heard other people accuse him of being a diva, but his mother hadn't. " I'm not pulling a tantrum.  Is it wrong for me to want to spend time with her?"  He rolled his eyes, "Why am I even trying to defend myself to you."  He sighed, dropped his hands to his side and looked at them both.  "I should get back to work anyway.  Enjoy the rest of your lunch."

"Lance?"  Her voice sounded hurt as he got up from his seat and started to move away from them.

He looked down at her for a moment then started to walk away.

"Lance wait up," she said as she rushed to catch up with him.

He started to walk slower as Tiny followed them.  "What?" he asked.

"Don't be like this," she said.

"Like what?"  He looked around and made sure no one was staring and tried not to act to upset.   He didn't need their conversation to end up in some tabloid.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said, "I'm just hot and irritated and I need a vacation."

"Well then take one," she said.

"It's not that simple."  He moved out of the way of a waitress and
pulled
her to sit at an empty booth.

"Why all of a sudden are you pissy with me?"

"Because I'm frustrated with you Emma," he stated boldly, "I've never messed around with you about the way I feel about you and now that I can actually have you come out on tour and hang out with me, you're refusing.  I'm starting to think that you don't like me as much as I thought you did."

"Lance I do like you.  I love you even, but I can't keep dropping everything and running around the country after you.  I told you that I'd try and make plans to go to Mexico and that's all I can promise.  If nothing comes up at the diner then I'll go to Mexico, but that place is my responsibility now and I just don't trust anyone else with it.  My father was going to give me that, hell did give me that place to run and I'm not going to run it into the ground because I have a boyfriend who is never in town.  You  wouldn't do that to FreeLance or to NSYNC so don't try to assume that Pop's is any less significant."

He ducked his head as she scolded him.  She was right about him assuming that his schedule was more important.  It wasn't even the level of importance that got to him.  He was just sure that it would be easier to rearrange her schedule than his.  It always had been in the past.  He had more people and a more complicated system to be working in.

"You're important to me Lance," she said, "I don't want you to think that you're not, but you have to see where I'm coming from.  I don't want to be the groupie type girlfriend.  I can't be that for you.  It wouldn't be good for either of us."  She leaned back in the booth then looked him in the eyes.  "I'll make you a promise though, she said, if you'll promise me something back."

"What do I have to promise?" he asked.

"Promise me that you won't bug me about visiting and I'll promise you that I'll try and come out on the road as many weekends that I can."  She smiled, "When you're in the southern states or up in the New York Area I'll try to come out every weekend, but when you're out on the west coast I'll try and come out every other weekend or every third weekend or something.  Ok?"

"Really?" he asked.

"Yeah, but if I say that I have to stay in town because I need to work don't bug me about it and if you have to work one weekend or something then I won't bug you about it."

"That seems fair enough."

"So what day is the Mexico trip?" she asked.

"Three weeks from now," he said.

"Ok then."  She took his hands in hers.  "I'm gonna stick around Orlando for three weeks then spend the weekend with you in Mexico."

He nodded and smiled at her.  "I'm sorry if I'm a drag about my schedule.  I just want to spend time with you and its hard for me to get away."

"It's not a problem honey, you just need to not get so hyper with me about it.  I know that you want to see me and I want to see you, but we need  to make some compromises about this so we don't make each other crazy."

"Fine."

"So what's the schedule for this afternoon?"

"I have a conference call with some people about some of my artists then I have a dinner to go to, but I think I might skip it, then tomorrow is the game and then we party the rest of the weekend until you go home on Sunday Night, then I go back on the road and finish out the tour before we go to Mexico."

"Party all weekend?" she asked, "Do we get to go dancing again?"

"Of course."

"Good," she said, "I should find your mother or Dani or one of the girls and go buy some party clothes."

"You need money?"

"No," she said.

"I don't mind," he said, "Around here the best stuff is usually expensive. I don't think that you should have to pay for stuff like that if it's me you're buying them for."

"I'm buying you dresses?"

"No," he said, "But you're buying them because you need them for a trip I made you go on."

"Wait until before we go to Mexico to buy me stuff," she said, "I need a new bathing suit and some more beach-type kinds of clothes for down there."

"It's a deal."




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