ONCE IN A LIFETIME 2


THREE:


Ana held her breath as Lance pulled her closer to him, making the space between them minimal. She thanked God that pants were in style. If she'd been forced to wear a skirt that night instead of the black pants and tank shirt things would have looked worse than they were. They were body to body on the packed dance floor at Izzi's club JOURNEYS, dancing to a new song by DMX.

For any other two people in the world the action would have been normal, but with Lance's reputation as a pop star and her status as a mother she felt that the two of them were acting a bit outrageous. They'd been dancing close most of the night just fine but when the space between them became even smaller it startled her a bit.

Without any kind of discussion they bent their knees and in unison danced to the heavy booming bass beat grinding into each other in an overtly sexual manner. She hadn't expected that Lance would be so wild. She'd seen him be crazy on stage and on television, but with her he'd always seemed reserved. Trying to stay calm about the whole ordeal she kept her arms around him trying to let the uncomfortable nervous feeling in her stomach disappear. She hadn't expected for him to be so possessive of her. He had his hands on her in a way that he never had them on her before. She hadn't expected the tingles that went up her arm when they held hands earlier in the evening and she hadn't expected at all to feel so much when he held her close.

Hell, she hadn't been expecting at all to even be out that night…


When his phone rang during lunch he tried his best to ignore it. She watched his eyes go wide with every ring and he seemed a bit embarrassed to even have the phone be ringing. He even went as far as to place his hand over the phone to deaden the noise.

"So what are you going to do this afternoon?" he asked ignoring the noise.

"Just get the phone," Ana said with an angry tone. "The sooner you get it over with the sooner--"

Lance pulled the phone out and the record time had the phone to his ear.

Ana watched him speak into the phone calmly, but didn't really pay attention to the conversation due to the fact that JJ was playing with his macaroni, trying to put a noodle on each of the prongs of his fork. He had cheese all over his fingers and she was watching him to make sure that he didn't put his hands down onto the fabric covered dining room chair.

"It’s Izzi," he finally said holding out the phone to her. "She wants to talk to you."

Ana took the phone and watched as Lance came around the table and picked up JJ. "Come on kiddo. You have more cheese on your hands than is on that macaroni."

They left and went into the kitchen as Ana greeted Izzi. "Hey girl."

"Joey and the guys are getting together tonight to party a little and they want Lance to be there, but they know he won't come out unless you are there," Izzi said.

"What are you talking about? Lance goes out whenever he wants to."

"I'm not saying that he's babysitting or something, but really, I think that he'll chose to stay home tonight unless you come with us."

"That's not true," she said, "Lance will come out and hang out with you if he wants to."

"No he won't," she said, "You have to come out with us."

"I can't," Ana said.

Knowing that Izzi wasn't just going to stop because she refused she braced herself for a long drawn out explanation and pleading session. "Please Ana," Izzi whined. "You haven't seen the guys in months and it'll be a good way for you to hang out with Lance without the kids. You two need some grown up time."


Grown up time.

It was definitely a unique way to describe how they were spending their time together. They'd been dancing together before at least a few dozen or so times in the last few years, but that night things seemed to have stepped up a notch for them. Either it was the drinks that they'd had when they'd arrived or it was the time apart, but something was pulling them together in a new way, as if their bodies pulled together without them in anticipation of something in their future.

Ana held onto Lance's shoulder as they danced. They'd fallen into a set of moves that worked perfectly with the song letting her forget for a moment about the moves and concentrate on the other people on the dance floor. She wondered if anyone was staring at them. She half expected a reporter to pop out of the woodwork and take a picture of the two of them, but all she found was Izzi and Joey dancing together along with Justin and his date for the evening. She found JC and Bobbie at a table wrapped in each other's arms while Chris and Dani were at the bar with drinks in their hands. When she found that no one was playing attention to them, she took a deep breath and relaxed a little more, paying attention only to where Lance's hands were and the smell of his cologne.

At least having someone staring at them would give her an excuse to stop. She found that everyone around them were in their own little worlds, dancing to the music as if everyone in the room was just as unimportant as she was. She remembered that was the reason that they'd come to Izzi's in the first place. Not only did they know the owner, but also it was a place where everyone could just relax. The guys could actually hang out and be themselves in the club, unlike most places in Orlando.

Just as Ana was drifting off into the music and her own little world Lance pulled her closer and with a smile leaned in and spoke into her ear. It was at a level just under a yell because of the music, but his deep voice and his breath on her ear wasn't lost on her. It made the hair on her arms stand on end.

"Having fun?" His one arm was still around her waste and his other arm was draped around her neck pulling her closer as he pressed his hips closer to hers.

Trying to catch her breath, not only from his action, but also because of the strain of the dancing she smiled and half yelled back to him. "Yep."

"Good." He nodded to accentuate the word then leaned to place a kiss on her neck. She'd almost giggled at the feel of his lips on her neck and for a moment in her slightly drunken buzz wanted him to do it again. He didn't. Instead he kept dancing letting the arm around her neck fall so that both of his hands were near her hips. His warm hands slipped under her shirt at her waste line and were pressing her closer to him with every dance step.

The strange feeling in her stomach returned, but this time it was different. It was one of wanting. He had never been so forward about his feelings for her in the past no matter how much she wanted him to be. It felt good to have him be this way, but at the same time Ana knew that she shouldn't be bought by his attention to her. He was going to be leaving again in a few weeks and she knew that if she fell for him tonight, she was going to get hurt. It wasn't just her in the fight. She had to think of the twins and how they would react first to the idea of them being a couple, then again if something would break that couple a part.

When she felt Lance's hand slid down over her butt to pull her even closer than she already was she could feel how he felt about the situation. It shocked her to know his reaction to her. She had prayed for a reaction for so long from him, but now, with him being so close she wasn't sure if he really could face him if something sexual did occur between them. From their moves that night it seemed as if it was inevitable. She knew she had to get out of there before something happened. It took all her strength and her courage to do it, but she reached around and slid her arms between them then pushed him back a little.

His T-shirt stuck to his chest under her hands leaving two partially visible handprints on his shirt from his sweat from dancing. His arms took a moment to get the signal that they needed to release her, but he soon let her out of the circle of his arms then looked at her with a worried look.

"I'll be right back!" she yelled over the music.

Lance looked a bit startled, but didn't seem to try to stop her. He ran his hands through his hair and watched her for a moment. "I'll be over with JC and Bobbie!" He called to her then followed her off the dance floor since both their destinations were in the same direction.

She escaped to the bathroom of the club and looked at herself in the mirror. It wasn't quiet in the small room, but at least the music wasn't pounding into her ears. While the adrenaline surged through her body and her skin tingled where his hands had been on her she took a breath and tried to push the thoughts of him out of her mind. She needed to calm down, but found herself not being able to.

"What's wrong?" Izzi asked from behind her. Her voice was thick with concern as if it was the first time in the world that the two of them hadn't thought to go to the restroom at the same time.

Ana looked at her friend in the mirror for a moment then turned around to face her with a frown. "It was hot in there. I needed a break."

"It's even worse in here." Izzi fanned her face with her hand. "I should get air conditioning blown into this place."

A few women walked in to the bathroom and Izzi directed them to the bathroom stalls when they hesitated looking at Izzi and Ana as if the girls were waiting in a line.

"You were having fun out there weren't you?" Izzi asked when the two women were in the stalls.

"Yes, of course I was," Ana said with a sigh. She wondered for a moment if everyone was wondering about that. They all seemed way more attentive to her that night, asking her if she liked the music and the drinks as if they half expected her to bolt out of the club at any moment.

"Then why'd you leave?"

"I got a little tired, " she said. "I'm not used to partying this hard anymore."

"That's why you need to come out with us more. You need to get back into the swing of things. I mean look at you. You actually look like a twenty-eight-year-old tonight. That outfit is perfect."

Ana smiled at herself in the mirror. It had been the perfect outfit; but then again Izzi would say that since she was the one who'd picked out the blue tank shirt to go with her pants. "Easy for you to say. You own a night club and you don't have kids."

"Yeah well that doesn't matter. You know that your mother loves to take care of JJ and Olivia. You should take advantage of that and live it up a little."

"Why are you making such a big deal about this?" Ana asked.

"Because you're twenty eight and single and that boy is in love with you!" Izzi said loudly.

"Who? Lance?"

"Duh?" Izzi retorted.

"Lance," she laughed nervously. From the way he was acting that night it seemed as if he was interested in her, but in the past they'd danced together without having a hidden meaning or agenda behind the action so why would there be one now. She was starting to think that she was imagining a hidden meaning behind his actions towards her and kept telling herself to stop. "Lance is…Lance is definitely not in love with me."

"Yes he is. Don't you see it?"

"See what?"

"The way he looks at you. It's written all over his face for God's sakes! I'm surprised that it's taken this long for you all to get close."

"Izzi stop it," Ana warned.

She didn't want to believe her words. Just the thought of them even being half-true got her hopes up to a level that she knew could hurt her. At the moment she lived in a half-real-half-fantasy world where he loved and cared for her and her kids even if he wasn't there all the time. He was a part of her life and that's what she'd come to live with and for. She could pretend that the way that he looked at her showed his true emotions for her, never really expecting him to act on them or even acknowledge that's what she saw from him.

The women in the stalls came out to the counter to wash their hands. Ana backed away from the counter and stared at the condom machine on the wall for a moment.

When was the last time you needed one of those? You're definitely not going to go broke because of your condom budget. You really haven't had a serious date in years and from the way it looks you never will.

She turned her gaze towards Izzi as she kept giving Ana looks. Izzi was too much of a romantic. She and Joey had hit it off from the start and had been inseparable since they began dating. They had their fights and their wars, but in the end the two of them understood each other and always seemed to find a way to make things work. Izzi's club gave her the freedom to do what she wanted and it wasn't at all out of the ordinary for her to jump on a plane and fly across the country to see Joey for the weekend. She'd always wanted Ana to come with her, but Ana never had. That was Lance's life out there and she wasn't a part of that. Their lives together existed in Orlando and only in Orlando.

Ana turned away from her and wet a paper towel and put it on the back of her neck to cool herself off a bit. She and Lance never fought, or when they did get into a disagreement, if you could call it that, it was whether to let the kids eat ice cream or not. Trivial married-couple sort of fights that left her feeling more married to him than ever before, but in those same arguments she heard a tone in his voice, a frustration from him that she couldn't understand. She guessed that it was because they actually matched each other in the arguments and that he couldn't out fight her. Ana had told herself that it was because Lance wanted to have input in the kids lives when he was home even if he couldn't be there all the time. She thought that he liked being their father figure. It caused a little confusion for a year or so because when the twins had started to talk they called him Daddy a few times. That’s when the title of Uncle had been attached to the guys in the group. At least that way everyone wouldn't get confused.

When the other women left the tiny bathroom Ana turned to Izzi. "I think I'm going to go home. Will you tell Lance for me?"

Izzi put her hands on her hips. "You can't ditch everyone this early."

Ana threw her a dirty look.

"Are you going to walk?" Izzi asked.

"No, I'll get a cab or something," she said rubbing her temple.

"Oh no you won't," she said, "If you're going to go home I'll get Joey to take you or I'll take you myself, but you're not going alone and you're not going to ditch Lance like that, no matter what is going on between you two."

"Fine, I'll get him to take me home."

"You need to hang out," Izzi called after her as they walked back into the club.

"I can't," she said and bit her lip.

She knew that if they started to dance again that she was going to lose it right there on the dance floor. It was something that she'd feared for a while. He'd seen her cry before, but the sexual tension between them that night would push her over the edge if they got involved then realized what they were doing and had to stop. Teasing like that wasn't good for her or for him.

They exited the bathroom together and made their way to the table JC and Bobbie had been sitting for most of the evening. Normally JC was the first on the dance floor and the last one off, but that night he'd been feeling a little under the weather due to lack of sleep but had promised to hang out so that everyone could be together that night.

"Back so soon?" Joey asked looking at his watch. "That must be the shortest trip to--"

"Oh be quiet Mr. I Can't Leave Yet Because My Hair Won't Work Right!" Ana leaned and kissed him when he growled at her. He pulled her into his lap and laughed kissing her while she messed up his hair, which had already been thrown around while he'd been dancing.

"You ok?" Lance asked into her ear handing her a bottle of water as she slid in next to him.

She leaned over after taking a sip of water and said, "Yeah, but I'm getting tired. Mind if we head out soon?"

"Sure," he said. He looked back at the dance floor and put a hand on her thigh slipping it up higher that he usually did. "One more dance for the road?"

"I'm not sure if I could handle it. Rain check for next time though."

"So there will be a next time?" He seemed a little surprised by her offer of a rain check.

"Of course," she said and leaned towards him hugging his arm. She rested her head against his shoulder and let out a sigh then put her hand over his on her thigh and moved it lower than it was on her leg.

In return Lance kissed her forehead. They made eye contact and he leaned in and kissed her on the lips softly, as if they shared kisses all the time without thinking about it.

Wait. We do share kisses and they mean nothing. This is nothing. There is nothing going on between the two of us. Stop trying to make something that isn't possible to come true Ana. You're going to end up crying yourself to sleep tonight if you keep thinking like this.

"You ready?" he asked giving her knee a squeeze.

She nodded and they got up. She collected her jacket and his and they stood and looked at everyone for a moment.

"Wait. Where are you going?" Izzi said.

"Home," she said.

Justin let out a laugh and made a joke, but Ana didn't hear it. Lance was slipping an arm around her waste and had her pinned up against him and she could feel his hand moving towards the hem of her shirt again. It made any coherent thoughts leave her mind as his fingertips tucked themselves into the waistline of her slacks.

Izzi stood up and hugged her. Ana was glad for the separation from Lance. She needed to think a little before she and he got into things.

"Thanks for coming out tonight." She leaned in close then asked, "Are you gonna be ok?"

Ana nodded.

Izzi chose to speak into her ear again before letting her go. "I'm telling you, he's in love with you and you need to be able to enjoy that."

"Whatever Izzi," she said and pulled away from her friend.

Lance offered her his hand and he pushed his way through the club to the door making sure all the time that she was with him. When the crowd seemed to suck them into a gridlock moment he squeezed her hand and turned his head to look at her, as if she might get lost in the club if he didn't keep eye contact with her.

The car ride home was quiet and for a moment Ana was almost scared to end the night not knowing how their parting would go considering that their last parting like that had been so strained. She sat in the passenger seat practically hugging the door hoping that it was all going to be quick and painless. She didn't want to go to bed that night feeling bad again because she and Lance had yet another awkward moment.

"Are you sure you're ok?" Lance asked as they neared her house.

"Yeah, I'm just not used to being out so late. I'm a nine o'clock bedtime sort of person now." She sighed. "It makes me feel old."

"You are old," he joked then reached over and patted her leg. The sparkle in his eye mad her lock eyes with him as he let his hand drift higher on her thigh again. "You're still as sexy as the day I met you."

"Ha Ha," she said with a sarcastic tone pushing his hand away. "Good one Lance. I was as big as a house the day you met me."

"You were still sexy then," he said.

"Do you want me to drive? Because I think you drank too much tonight."

"Why do you say that? I'm perfectly sober. Dancing does that to you…You never can keep the buzz going if you move around too much."

"Well why all of a sudden are you acting this way?"

"All of a sudden?" He took a breath. "Acting this way?"

"Yeah."

"Ana--" he started to say then stopped and looked at her. He looked like he might start to talk again, but instead turned the car and parked in front of the condo. "We’re here."

"So that's it?" she asked. "No explanation?"

"Nevermind. Come on, I'll walk you to the door." He pushed open the door open and let himself out then went around and let her out.

It was a repeat of their disastrous night three months ago. She could feel it, but part of her didn't want it to be a repeat.

At the door he hugged her and said his goodnight and to her shock didn't try to kiss her. She caught his arm as he tried to walk away and pulled him back to her and planted her lips on his.

"What are you doing?" he asked pushing her away.

"You always try to kiss me and you didn't tonight so I thought I'd kiss you." She smiled.

"Whatever," he said and pulled away from her.

As he angrily stalked away Ana stared at him. She was totally confused. She'd thought that's what he'd wanted. He'd been showing her that he'd wanted to get close to her all evening. Now that she'd made the move on him he was angry. Ana knew then that she would never understand men, especially that one.


~~~~~


Fifteen minutes later, Lance slammed down his foot hard on the foot brake on the 4Runner causing a strange wrenching sound to rip through the car. He turned the engine off and pulled the keys from the ignition, pushed the door open and hopped out of the truck, slamming the car door closed as he made his way towards the entrance to his kitchen.

On the way in the door he slapped his hand against the garage door opener button and cursed under his breath when the thing didn't go down right away. Just another thing that hadn't gone as he had planned that night…


"Where'd Ana go?" JC asked looking around as Lance plopped down next to him and Bobbie in the booth.

Lance stared in the direction where she'd disappeared and wondered what had gone wrong. She'd been right there with him, move for move, then all of a sudden she just disappeared. It was a light switch was turned off and she pushed away from him. He wondered if he'd done something wrong or if she was just tired of dancing.

"The bathroom." He reached across and took the drink stirer out of a glass on the table and played with it trying to keep himself calm. He was not only still a little buzzed from the drinks, but at the moment all he could think of was Ana's body pressed up against him. He'd always hugged her, but that was their first encounter like that. He hadn't expected her to be so great and feel so good.

"She ok?" JC asked.

"I don't know," Lance said.

"Want me to check on her?" Bobbie asked.

"Nah, she'll be ok," he said. He didn't really want Ana to be checked on. Partially because he wasn't sure he wanted to hear that something was wrong. "I think she was just tired."

"How are you two doing?" JC asked.

"I don't know," Lance said, "One minute its good and the next it's just…"

"Well Lance if you'd call her more than once in three months--" Bobbie said.

Lance stared at JC. There was no way that Bobbie should have known about that. He had meant to call, but with his break up with MacKenzie and the whole tour plus all the crap that was going on with Meredith and Jack's careers it was hard to get a minute to call his own mother let alone anyone else.


He turned back and slapped at the button again before entering the house as his anger grew. He stomped into the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it in the sink, drinking it down the water in one gulp breathlessly. He would have downed another beer or two, but at the moment he didn't have any in the house. He hadn't been home long enough to go shopping. He was never home long enough to do anything.

Thinking that he might go back out to the club he reached for the phone to call Joey, but it rang before he could dial. He stared at it for a moment then clicked it on. "Hello?"

"Lance. Good I caught you."

"Ana?"

"No, it's Meredith."

"Oh," he sighed. He looked at the clock and realized that it wasn't as late as he expected. It was only eleven o'clock. "Hey Mer, what's up?"

"Nothing much."

His mind clicked gears from being on Ana to concentrating on Meredith. She was one of the artists that he was managing and he mentally ran down her schedule in his mind before speaking again. "Hey, how was your first day in the studio?"

"That's why I called."

"What's wrong?" Meredith was almost seventeen and was new to the business. He'd called her a few times that week to check on her and hadn't expected a call from her seeing that her mother was going to be with her during the recording and they'd all met the recording technicians a few weeks before.

"I was wondering if you could come to Nashville," she asked.

"What's wrong?" It didn't surprise him to be asked, but he wondered why she was calling so late to do so.

"Nothing really. My mother has to go back home because my brother got sick and my dad has to work which leaves me alone in the studio," she said.

Lance knew that because of her young age some kind of a chaperone needed to be with her. She didn't need the babysitting, but they would all feel better if someone she knew was with her.

"I can't just jump on a plane and be there. Let me make some calls and I'll give you a call back in an hour or so. If I can't get out there to be with you I'll see if my sister or my mom can come out there to be with you until I can get out that way."

"Thanks," she said.

"No trouble."

Lance got off the phone with Meredith a few minutes later and immediately dialed Johnny then after clearing it with him he called up Mike and set things up then called and made a reservation before calling Meredith back.

"I'll be in Nashville in the morning," he said when she picked up.

"I'm sorry for taking away from your vacation," she replied.

"Don't worry about it," he said, "I should be up there anyway." He ran his hands through his hair. "I got a flight that will get in there about eight so I'll come by and get you for your session at eleven."

"Thanks Lance," she said.

"Well get off the phone with me and get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."

Lance hung up the phone and went to pack. He planned on staying about a week figuring that Meredith's mother would be done taking care of her brother by then. It would only leave him with a few days of vacation after that, but he figured that it would be worth the sacrifice since time and again he wanted to be with Ana and that wasn't going to happen this trip. They were officially fighting, although at the moment he wasn't sure why.


FOUR:


"He's gone?" Her breath came out in a rush as if she'd been punched in the stomach. She turned away from her laptop and stared at herself in the mirror across the room from her and stared at her reflection, making a face into the empty room.

Out of town. He never left without telling her--Never. He hadn't done that to her once in the five years since she'd known him. Even if he did leave without telling her at least he left her a message or called her when he got where he was going. It had been a week. There was no way that he was still on his way somewhere.

The background where Justin was sounded busy, but he seemed fairly relaxed. She figured he was probably on a break, that’s why he'd actually answered his cell phone. He was up in Canada shooting a film and she hadn't wanted to bother him, but when she didn't hear from Lance and hadn't had any of her calls returned she began to worry. "He left about a week ago for Nashville."

She put her hand on her hip and held the phone to her ear completely confused by the information that Justin was feeding her. "A week ago?" It had been that long since she'd seen him. Since the night at the club. "Nashville?"

"Did I stutter?" Justin snapped.

"No." She took a breath. "Sorry about that. I'm just surprised. He usually…" She took a breath. Usually wasn't really a word she could use. There was no usual with Lance. He was the most unusual person she knew. "He, he usually warns me when he leaves so that I can tell the twins when he's out of town."

"He didn't really tell anyone he left. His mom said that he booked a flight in the middle of the night and was in Nashville by lunch time the next day." Justin sighed. "We would haven't have known he was gone, but JC wanted his input on a new song we're working on. C had to call Mississippi to find out where he was since Mike went on vacation."

"That isn't like him," Ana said with a sigh.

"I don't know what's up with him. Since he broke up with what's her face he hasn't been the same guy. I'm not saying he's been depressed, but I've seen the guy in better moods."

"He seemed fine when he came over after you guys got back to Orlando." She took a deep breath and tried to think of reasons for him being in such a strange mood that he would leave town without telling anyone. She couldn't think of one right off the bat and wondered if it really was the kiss that they shared that had sent him away or if if his trip just happened to have landed after their fight. "Anyway Justin…how's Canada?"

"Good, but the fans here are killing me. We've had to shut down production three different days because of the crowds…"

She was still thinking when she realized he'd stopped talking. "Wow."

"Look Ana I know you called just to ask about Lance. You don't have to try to have a conversation with me."

"No, really Justin. I want to know how the movie is going."

"It's fine. Nothing that I haven't done before." He laughed then asked, "How are the twins doing?"

"They're ok. They miss you and want you to come and visit when you get back from Canada. JJ has learned how to dribble a basketball and wants to show you."

"Those kids are getting big," Justin said with a laugh. "Hey, are they around?"

"Nope. They're at my mom's house for the day. I was working on the newest script and thought about calling you since I called over to Lance's and got his voicemail then called his cell and got voicemail there too."

Sounding a little depressed Justin remarked with a sigh, "Thanks for thinking of me."

"That's not how it was supposed to sound. I was going to call you anyway this week. I have to keep in touch with my little brother, make sure that he isn't up in Canada breaking all the girls hearts."

"Nah…I've been too busy." There was a pause and she thought she heard him yawning. There wasn't a time difference between them and it was in the early afternoon so she wondered what was going on with him. She knew that his filming was rushed because he only had a certain amount of days to work on the movie because of the touring schedule. She just hoped that he did get some kind of rest while he had the chance. "How've you been doing? Made the rounds lately?"

"Not since everyone went over to Izzi's before you left town."

"You can go out without us you know," Justin remarked, "The last time I checked you are well over the 18 and over limit."

"Thanks for the advice." She sighed. It wouldn't be the same without them. She only felt comfortable with them and the bodyguards to protect her. She wasn't really into the party scene. She didn't like that whole "let's-dance-then-go-to-bed" mentality. "I just don't really have the time to."

"You seem to make time when we're in town." She could tell that he was smiling. Everyone always teased her and Lance about liking each other, but they'd always sworn that they were just friends and they had been just that up until their little argument.

"Leave me alone Justy," she warned.

"Hey look. I know this guy you should go out with," Justin said.

"You are not going to set me up," she stated firmly, although the thought of a night out with someone other than Lance seemed like not a half bad idea.

"His name is Craig Thompson. He's a recording engineer for Jive and happens to live in your part of the world."

"I'm not going to date a techie. I have a hard enough time talking to JC when he's in his recording mood."

"No, he's a great guy. He's your age and he's also a writer. He wrote some songs for Blaque and is working with Ron Irizarry on a few projects. He's a really good guy."

"Well if he's such a good guy then why is he still single?"

"I don't know…he's only been in Orlando for a year or so. Before that he was in LA then before that he was in New York. I think he was in Europe before that. I don't know…just give him a call sometime if you want a change of pace."

"I'll think about it."

She heard a noise in the background. "Opps…Lunch is over. I've gotta run. I'll try and stop by next week when I get back into town. Maybe I can baby-sit and you can go and meet Craig."

"I said I'll think about it Justin." She hoped that she didn't sound too condensending with him, but she really didn't want to make her life a living version of the Dating Game.

"Ok. Love you. Tell the twins I love them too."

"Bye Justy." She sighed. "Have fun the rest of the week and get some sleep."

"I will," he said and the line went dead.

Ana hung up the phone feeling even more confused than when she started her phone calls that morning. She'd wanted to figure things out that day, but had only confused herself more by calling Justin. She thought about calling the other guys to ask their opinions of the situation, but didn't thinking that Lance might think she was snooping around.


At the sound of the off key line, Lance flew forward in his chair, dropping his notepad onto the floor, and pushed the intercom and yelled into the microphone that played into the next room. "Dang it Meredith!"

She stopped the note and stared at him, like a deer caught in car headlights.

With a scowl on his face, he slapped the counter in front of him with his palm and stared at her with a frown on his face. He was very disappointed in her performance that day. Normally he was all praises about her voice, but that morning something was off and he didn't know what it was. They'd been going over the same verse for almost an hour and she just wasn't hitting it the way he wanted, not that he was in charge, but he had the sound in his mind and wanted her to sing it that way.

He was in a sour mood, which wasn't normal for him as of late. He'd been up all the night before trying to book Meredith with some gigs for the rest of the summer and wasn't getting very far. He was afraid that her only gigs would be with NSYNC on the second leg of the tour and didn't want that for her. It wasn't part of his plan.

It was convenient that he had the ability to get her attention from his fame, but he didn't want that. He wanted to build her up on her own, give her some credibility that he knew that he couldn't get her through him and the others. He'd never admit it, but being an opening act for a boyband wasn't really a way to get true credibility, especially as a solo artist. He was also afraid that rumors would start about her being on tour with them and he didn't want her to get hurt from those. There had been enough damage done with the whole Justin-Britney rumors to last them all a lifetime.

Meredith's wide eyes stared back at him through the glass of the studio. With a shocked look on her face she pulled her hands up into the arms of the FuManSkeeto sweatshirt that Chris had given her for her birthday. She had her hand up to the set of headphones and looked like she was about to cry. He'd been tough on her all day, but it seemed as if his last remark was going to break her.

"I'm sorry," he said with a softer voice when he saw the look on her face. "You're doing good Meredith, but we really need to get this verse. We've been at this for an hour." He let go of the intercom button and sat back.

Rubbing his unshaven chin he stared at his reflection in the studio glass and took a deep breath. "Why is this taking so long?"

"Have some patience with her man. She's been working on this for a long time now and her throat is probably starting to give out a little."

"We should have gotten this done about an hour ago."

Willis Monroe, the thirty-something sound engineer turned and stared at Lance. Willis Monroe didn't look like the country type, but he spoke with a southern twang and had been sporting a cowboy hat that morning when he'd arrived in the studio. Now though Willis looked like a street thug staring him down waiting for a fight. They'd known each other for all of a week and a half and they'd been friendly with each other, but now Lance seemed to be getting on his nerves.

"Do you have any other place you need to be?" Willis finally asked.

"No," he snapped.

"Well then what's the hurry?" Willis said, speaking with a soft tone. "It's quality not quantity we're looking for here. Mercury has the place rented out for you for the next three days and after we finish this song we only have one more to do."

"She should have been done with this an hour ago. What take are we on again?" Lance's nostrils flared with his anger.

"Why don't you take a break man," Willis suggested. He turned and flipped some switches then pushed the intercom button and spoke to Meredith. "Take a minute honey and we'll start up again. Have some of your tea and sit down."

Meredith nodded and took a seat and held onto a coffee mug that she'd had filled with tea for that morning's session. She'd been singing for almost two weeks now, with breaks of course, but it was getting harder and harder for her to put out a quality sound due to the way that her voice was being tortured with all the recording.

"Have her do it again."

Lance coughed and pushed himself away from the counter. He wondered for a moment if he was getting sick. He'd been sleeping hard at night when he finally did get to sleep and had been waking up with headaches coming out of his sleeping coma. He dismissed the thought and concentrated on Meredith. He knew he shouldn't be rough on her, but he felt like she was the future of his company. Her material would reflect back on him a million times over and he needed that reflection to be sparkling considering the media attention she was getting now that it had officially been announced that she was signed with FreeLance Entertainment.

"Go on out and get food or something. You've been inside too long today."

Lance took a deep breath, looked at Meredith again. She still seemed to be scared from his outburst, then turned to leave. It made him think of Ana. She'd looked that scared when the twins had been born, but he couldn't remember seeing her that afraid until the moment he pulled away from her kiss. It was as if everything that their lives had become changed in the moment that he made his decision to leave.

"I'll be back in a minute." Taking a deep breath Lance pushed his way out of the studio and into the quiet hallway. His ears were ringing from listening to music all morning and the quiet of the hallway was nice. He loved Nashville for that reason. He'd been in Nashville for almost a week and a half and had been in the studio most of that time, which most of the time would have been a drag, but not being the one to record gave him a little relaxation time.

He could have gone out or even gone home, since Meredith's mom had returned to town after her son's slight illness, but he didn't. He didn't know what he'd do if he did go home. He had left partially because of Ana and wasn't quite sure if he wanted to go back and face the mess he'd made with her. No one knew he was in Nashville, other than Mike and his mom, and he liked it that way.

For the last few days of his life he'd actually felt like a real person. Although he was in Nashville to record, a lot of his free time had been spent doing regular things. He'd gone to a bookstore to see if there was anything good out and he'd had a chance to actually sit and have ice cream with Meredith at Baskin-Robbins.


"So how's Ana?" Meredith asked.

"Good," lance said licking his icecream while staring at the two young employees of the ice cream shop who seemed to be having a powwow in the corner while staring at him.

"How are my niece and my nephew?" Meredith asked. Seeing that Meredith and Lance were like brother and sister, Meredith had also been recruited into the family. She was the first person Ana would call to baby-sit if Meredith happened to be in Orlando.

"They're good."

It was a luxury to sit in a public place, without truly worrying about people coming up to him and mobbing him. He'd stopped shaving due to that and now had himself a nice little beard going…so even if someone did think that he was him he didn't think that they would approach him.

"Lance what's wrong?"

"I think those girls know who I am," he said and turned back to her.

"No they don't," Meredith said, "I wouldn't recognize you myself if I didn't already know you. You look like a Mountain Man, not a boyband--"

"Hey!" She knew that he hated that term. Yeah he was in a band with boys in it, but the group had never been comfortable with the stigma that was attached to being a fabricated band. Many people thought of them as fabricated even though the group had formed itself.

She laughed and rolled her eyes at him. "You know what I mean."

"You really think that I look that different?" he asked. He turned and looked at his reflection in the glass window. He didn't think that he looked that different really, but if someone were to hold up a magazine photo shoot sample next to his current appearance they might not see the resemblance right away.

"Yes," she said and reached over to rub his chin with a laugh. "You look awful like that, but if it lets you eat ice cream in a public place then I second the motion for keeping the beard."

"I'm going to shave when I go back to Orlando," he said.

"And when will that be?"

"When you finish your recording."

"Hopefully that will be soon." She sighed and sat back watching him with one eyebrow cocked the side as if she was waiting for some sort of reaction to her remark. "I never knew how tedious singing into an empty room could be."

"You still want this though, right?"

"Of course, I'm just ready to perform live again. Stop changing the subject and tell me why you are so quiet."

"I'm not," he said and held close the feeling of being a normal person for once.


He made his way down to the vending machine at the end of the hall. They had one with food, one with hot drinks, and a cola machine. He decided he needed caffeine and grabbed for some change sticking his hand all the way into the deep pockets of his cargo pants before he remembered that he didn't have any. It was just another strange thing, on a long list that had happened to make him realize that he wasn't normal. He made a gazillion dollars a year but never seemed to have cash on him. This time he'd used up the cash in his wallet buying dinner and ice cream and hadn't had a chance to get to an ATM by himself. He usually sent someone out to do it for him while he was on the road, not that he liked it that way, but because it was hard for him to go out anywhere, let alone to stop at an ATM.

"Here." The voice was soft, but startled him none the less as a female hand reached around him and presented him with a folded dollar bill. The woman behind him didn't touch him, but he could feel her all around him as if every nerve ending in his body was standing on end in anticipation of something.

He turned from the shock of the gesture of the stranger and smiled when he found a very attractive redhead standing there. He normally didn't go for redheads, but she looked to be about his age, which pleased him considering that the only person he'd talked to that was his age was Willis since he'd come to Nashville. Most of the people he met these days were more around Meredith's high school age rather than his own.

"Thanks," he said taking the bill. "I'll pay you back." He looked towards the door of the recording studio. "I'm sure someone has a dollar in there that I can bum off them."

"Bum off them?" She laughed. "Don't worry about it. It happens all the time. I hate that they can't just let us have drinks. I do work here for God's sakes."

He took in her outfit. Stylish jeans and a form fitting T-shirt with a zipper front hooded sweatshirt accompanied fashionable platform running shoes. She looked like she'd just stepped out of one of those teeny bopper magazines. He wondered what department she worked in. He'd been in the building for way too many hours and hadn't really seen any other employees unless they were in the hallways. She didn't seem to fit into the country atmosphere that Nashville was famous for. She almost looked like a club-kid straight out of New York.

"Yeah well I'm used to the whole fast food thing. I'm not much of a cook."

"I didn't expect that you would be." Her eyes sparkled with a kind of spunk that told Lance that he needed to be careful of this girl. When she winked at him he saw that she was trouble, not that bad kind, but the oh-my-god-we're-having-way-too-much-fun kind.

"What?" He blinked. He hoped he hadn't just zoned out. He often did that when the other guys were around. It was hard to stay interested in the conversations that kept going on between the guys and the public. He usually zoned back in at a good point, only to give another quote before going back to dream world.

She smiled. "Do you mind if I cut in line. I'm just about addicted to caffeine and I think I'm getting a migraine since I forgot my morning coffee."

Lance let out a laugh. "You sound like Justin," he said with a sigh. He should call that kid. He was up in Canada making another movie and knowing Justin he was probably romancing his leading lady, the way only he could.

Lance stared at the girl in front of him. It was really strange being alone with someone like that. He normally had the other guys to save him when stragne silences happened or at least he'd have a bodyguard with him to joke with or tell stories with, but as he glanced around he found himself a little scared. He was alone-completely alone-with her.

"Ah…the little Q-tip." She smiled. She stepped passed him and reached to feed her dollar bill into the machine. It got taken after the second attempt and she reached and pressed the button that held Coca-Cola.

"Excuse me?" Lance asked. He watched her bend over to retrieve her soda with a smile on his face.

"Oh…how original." She rolled her eyes. "A star trying to be humble."

"What?" he asked.

"Give it up…you may have hidden your chin…" she pointed at his face. "…but those green eyes of yours are too well known to be mistaken for anyone else's."

"Oh really?"

"Like growing a beard really makes you less…" she turned and laughed. "Your face is all over the place. Even we country bumpkins know who you are." Her tone was sharp and accusing.

He immediately felt as if she was trying to make him out to be stuck up. He hated having people think badly of him so he mumbled the words of an apology. "I wasn't trying to--"

She put a hand up. "That must have been my alter ego talking." She popped open the can of cola and drained half of it into her mouth then swallowed before speaking again. "I'm horrible without my coffee or coke."

"It's ok," he said. "I wasn't really trying to be someone else." He lied with a smile on his face. He rubbed his chin for a moment. "I guess I haven't been thinking about it lately. I forgot my razor somewhere."

Good one Lance. Jesus! Just shut up and smile!

"BIC. Twenty-nine cents," she said. She reached and put a hand on his cheek. "Try it out sometime."

"I'll think about it," he said.

No better way to forget one woman than by thinking about another.

She laughed and tipped her can to drink then smiled at him from behind the can and began to leave. "Have a nice day Lance."

For some insane reason it still hit him funny that she knew his name. She didn't seem to be the boyband listening type and being in Nashville didn't really put her in the most demographically ideal spot on the planet to be exposed to the group's music, even if they had recorded a song with ALABAMA.

"You too," he called after her in a low voice. He normally wasn't a flirt. He left that up to Joey, but this new girl had been so calm and collected that he thought he'd like to see her again. He could kill himself for not getting her number. Even if things didn't work out with him he had a feeling that Joey or JC would love that girl. He was glad that he hadn't left for Orlando when he thought it had been time to go home.

Lance watched her retreat down the hallway and looked at the dollar bill in his hand. That was the strangest encounter he'd ever experienced. He'd been through screaming fans who threw himself at him, but that got old after the first hundred or so. He'd always known how to smile while wriggling from their grasps, but actually dealing with a conversation was something new to him or at least something foreign considering how little he got to socialize with his own kind.

Lance turned the dollar bill over to feed it into the machine and noticed writing across the face of George Washington. There was a number and a name. Amber. He smiled and watched as she disappeared around the corner. He saw her look back and he looked away.

Making his way back to the studio he stuffed the dollar bill in his pocket and tried to keep the smile that Amber had caused off his face. He knew that Meredith would see right through him if Willis didn't considering how aweful he'd been that morning.

Although Meredith was about five years younger than he was, she seemed to know him pretty well. They'd gone to the same church when he was still living at home and since the whole family and her whole family were devote in their visits to the small church the two families became close. He'd even been in her group when they'd all gone to Bible Camp and he knew that his thoughts about Amber were definitely not the Bible Camp kind, which Meredith would see and which he didn't want to try to explain his way out of.


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