WORK IT OUT --  Part 1

Kara stepped off the plane and nervously made her way up the walkway to the inside airport gateway, pulling her small black travel suitcase slowly behind her while trying not to fall over from the weight of her over stuffed backpack. She’d been given a luggage limit for her trip and fearing that she might forget something important had taken advantage of the three-bag limit by stuffing last minute items into her backpack until it looked as if it would burst. She’d worried that it wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment of the plane, but a nice guy who’d sat in front of her on her flight had helped her stuff it into the bin.

Walking slowly and keeping her eyes to the ground she thought about her mother’s instructions. She’d had it explained to her three different times that morning that someone who worked with her father was going to be meeting her at the gate since her father would be busy. While Kara wasn’t exactly pleased about the whole idea of being shipped off to stay with her father for the summer, being met at the gate by a total stranger was making her feel even more uncomfortable about the whole summer arrangement. She’d gotten on the plane two hours before still begging and pleading to be left at home for the summer as her mother put her onto the plane alone.

She and her father hadn’t seen each other in almost six months due to her parents’ divorce and the strange nature of her father’s job as a sound technician on a musical tour. When her father called her mother just after Kara’s high school graduation and suggested that she spend the summer with him her mother had immediately agreed and had told Kara that she wanted the two of them to spend time together. It had initially sounded like a bad idea and sounded even worse that morning when her mother had given her a last hug and set her off on her adventure.

Kara scowled and scuffed her running shoes on the carpet as she neared where the doors opened up into the airport. She reached down with her freehand and pulled at the waste-band of her jeans then adjusted her jacket and T-shirt a bit so that she didn’t look messy. She didn’t know who was meeting her, but she didn’t want to look like a bag lady when they got to her. She made a face as the woman ahead of her suddenly dropped her bag to the ground. Although she was dreading meeting up with her father, being stuck in line still wasn’t something she wanted to experience.

Kara took a deep breath and waited for the woman patiently. It was amazing that she was acting this calmly considering how messed up her summer plans were. While all her friends in Orlando were looking forward to summer jobs at the assortment of amusement parks around town, Kara on the other hand, was dreading her summer. Her plans to spend her last months before college with all her friends had been ruined by her father’s invitation. While everyone back home would be making the rounds and partying for the next two and a half months Kara knew that her father was going to put her to work on the tour doing what Kara predicted would be some uninteresting and hard job. She could see herself spending the whole summer in her father’s crew’s cramped tour bus with a bunch of older people she’d met only once about three years before her parents had divorced.

"Kara?" A tall but heavyset man approached her with a wide smile and held out a large hand in her direction as if he wanted to shake her hand. He stopped and stared at her for a moment when she didn’t answer his first word to her. "You’re Kara Parker, right?"

"Yeah," she looked at the dark-skinned black guy out of the side of an eye and nervously readjusted her hold on her rolling suitcase. Although the guy had a pleasant look on his face, for a moment she was scared. She didn’t know him and her father hadn’t given her a description of the person who’d be collecting her at the airport so she wasn’t sure if she should be friendly to this stranger or any other person that approached her.

"I’m Wes Simmons," he said still holding his hand out, "Your father sent me to get you."

"Oh," she said. She shook his hand with her freehand and took a breath to calm her nerves. He didn’t try to grab her and he actually smiled at her even more as their hands shook up and down three times. Kara normally wasn’t afraid of strangers, but being in a strange town made her more cautious. Under the circumstances anyone would have been intimidated by the man who was standing in front of her. Wes must have been about six feet three inches tall and must have weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. Her fears were further calmed when she looked closely and saw that the tiny white cursive print on his dark collared shirt read his name and then underneath it was printed the word, Security.

"Come on," Wes said with a smile, "I hate to rush you, but we’re on a tight schedule today. I have to get out back to the arena A-S-A-P."

"Ok," she said.

Wes led her to baggage claim and after they collected her two suitcases they headed out to the parking lot to a sea green minivan.

"Let’s throw your stuff in the back and you can ride shot gun and be the DJ," Wes said with an overly friendly tone. She wondered for a moment if that was his normal personality or if he was trying to overcompensate due to her initial reaction to him.

"Ok." Kara piled her backpack onto the rest of her bags then got into the front passenger seat immediately opening the window to let out the suffocating new car smell that had poured out as they’d opened up the back doors to load her luggage into the van.

Wes got in on the other side and after exiting the parking garage headed the van onto the freeway where the higher speeds of the car made Kara roll up the window due to the way that the wind was playing havoc with her shoulder length brown hair.

"So do you talk in sentences or are you limited to one word answers?" Wes asked as he changed lanes.

Kara put on her white framed Varnet skater-style sunglasses then switched on the radio and changed channels past a Phil Collins song and a religious channel finally resting on a channel that was playing a rap song by Ice Cube. "I talk. I just don’t have anything much to say."

Kara removed her navy blue windbreaker to reveal the dark material of her favorite Old Navy Basketball T-shirt. She wanted to kick off her shoes and relax, but wasn’t sure that she’d have a long enough ride to make herself comfortable.

"I would have thought that you’d have a lot of questions, but I guess not. I was worried for a second that I’d picked up the wrong person since your dad is so talkative. That guy could talk an ear off anyone."

"Really?" Kara stared across at him for a moment, "I wouldn’t know."

Wes turned his attention back to his driving and left Kara to sing to the song on the radio. The rap song turned into a song by Ricky Martin and she sang along with that also.

After Ricky Martin came a Melissa Ethridge song, then a back to back medley of No Doubt songs played as they turned off the freeway. They traveled on back streets until they came to the edge of a huge parking lot in which a huge concrete building sat in the middle of.

Wes went into a gate and after rolling down his window to show a security pass that he pulled from his front pocket he left the window open as they sped across the empty parking lot towards the back of the building. Kara took a moment to look at her surroundings. The computerized marquee sign at the front of the building read "Tonight 7:30" then flipped to the next frame but she couldn’t read the rest of the message before they slowed to a stop between two maroon colored tour buses.

"Home sweet home," Wes said and turned off the engine cutting back to the silence that had hung between them for most of the ride.

Kara stared out the window as a group of older men dressed in jeans and blackened work boots and t-shirts walked out of the tour bus on the right towards the doors of the arena. She didn’t recognize any of them as her father and took a breath hoping that it would be awhile until she’d actually get to see him. She had to work up some courage before she faced him.

Kara got out of the mini van and was grabbing in the backseat for her backpack when she looked up to see the curious eyes of four guys staring down at her from the open window of the tour bus on the left. She sneered at them from behind her sunglasses and they stepped back from the window and she heard them talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying.

"Come on, we’ll get your stuff inside then go and find your dad."

Wes led her over to the bus on the right and showed her a bottom bunk that would be hers. He showed her how the small bunk bed flipped up to reveal a long thin compartment to store her stuff in then told her to unpack her things and said that he’d be back for her in twenty minutes. "Anything that won’t fit under your bunk you can leave in the suitcases. We’ll put them in the belly of the bus so put stuff that you don’t really need down there."

"Ok," she said.

"I’ll be back then," he said leaving Kara to the silence of the bus.

Taking a breath Kara went into the back room of the bus and pulled her suitcase onto the bench seat. She opened it up and carefully removed the layers of t-shirts and jeans and overalls and sweatpants she’d packed into the bag, carefully choosing which clothes she needed and which ones could be put away for a while. She chose to keep all her comfortable things and left the few dressier outfits in her bag. She didn’t plan on going anywhere fancy for a while and knew that she’d need her t-shirts more than her favorite black skirt and the only dress that she owned.

Twenty-five minutes later Kara had unpacked everything and was trying to figure out what of the contents of her backpack could be put away until needed. She had almost ten packs of batteries for her walk-man and knew that most of them could be put away for awhile. When she heard Wes in the front of the bus she threw the rest of the batteries and books into her bag and zipped them up making sure that her journal was at the bottom of the bag for safe keeping. "Come on out Kara, I found your dad and he wants you to come out and see him before they have to start getting ready for the show."

"Coming!" she called and clicked down her bunk bed. She grabbed up her suitcases and shoved them onto the top of the bed so that they were out of the way until she could get rid of them.


Wes met her at the door and handed over a wide necklace made of a shoelace. It had a clip on the end of it which he told her to clip her security passes to then dealt her out a handful of different laminated cards. "The red one is a general pass that will let you go anywhere in the arena. The green and white one is for your meals, the orange and black one is to get you onto the floor to see your dad and the one with the superman logo lets you hang out with the guys, after you meet them of course. The purple one with the band logo on it gets you on the stage."

"Thanks," she said. She held onto the passes carefully and as she clipped each one on. The backstage passes made her think about the movie Wayne’s World and specifically the scene where Wayne and Garth were back stage at an Areosmith concert and were showing off their back stage passes. She smiled to herself thinking about how the two characters had shown their passes to anyone that they’d met while they were walking around the backstage area, as if every person they met was checking their Ids. She took a breath when she was done and looked at Wes for her next directions.

"Now…onto the tour…" Wes led her around the arena for the next hour. Over the squeaks and loud music from the sound check he introduced her to most of the thirty or so staff members except the actual stars of the show—the band members. The five-member group had gone off on some last minute interviews and Wes apologized for not being able to introduce them.

"The guys are all around your age. Justin is 18, Lance is 20, JC’s 23 and so is Joey and the old man of the group is Chris at 28."

Instead Wes led her out into the main room of the arena and to the small-elevated platform that held a lot of technical equipment in the middle of a sea of chairs. She immediately saw her father on the platform wearing a headset while he was flipping switches and calling out directions to people. Although she knew her father wasn’t the boss on the tour, he seemed to be running the show at the moment as the rest of the crew on the stage forty yards away scurried around checking equipment.

"Go on and climb up," Wes showed her the six rung ladder that lead to the platform then walked away.

At the top of the ladder Kara took a deep breath and looked at her father’s back for almost a minute before he turned around to say hello. He still had his pot-belly and wore the same faded jeans and T-shirt that she’d always pictured him in, although he had grown a beard since she’d seen him last and looked very different as he smiled at her and stepped towards her.

"Hi daddy," she said with a soft voice as he pulled her into a forced hug.

"Hey." He looked down at her with a wide smile then turned and spoke into his head seat then turned back to her. "I’m busy right now kiddo and I’ll be all night, but I want you to have fun and hang out. Have you met everyone?"

"Everyone except the band." She tried to smile and not let on that seeing him after so long was making her skin crawl. She knew that her father wasn’t a bad guy, but the time apart from him had made him into a stranger.

"They’ll be busy tonight." Her father went back a flipped a few switches on a control panel then turned back to her again, "Stay with Wes until after the show. If you want anything to eat or drink talk to Kelsey. If you just want to go and stay in the bus that’s fine too." Her father flipped another switch then said, "If you need to get something at the store we’re going to stop tomorrow and fill up the buses with food so you’ll have to wait until then."

"Ok," she said. She backed up to leave, but her father stopped her by pulling out a small cell phone and a pager and reaching to give them to her while keeping his eyes on the stage.

"Call me and check in with me before the show tonight and if I page you call me back. The number is programmed into the phone." He looked at her and let out a sigh when he saw the way she turned her nose up at the two devices. "I’m not trying to keep you under lock and key. I just need to know where you are for the first few days since not everyone will know who you are and you don’t know your way around."

"Fine." Kara smiled but still felt like a prisoner. She shrugged off her bad feelings knowing that she had to follow the rules. If her father kicked her off the tour she didn’t want to know what her mother would do to her.

Climbing back down the ladder Kara looked over and saw Wes sitting with another guy who seemed to be directing him with some kind of instructions. Kara walked over to him and feeling very out of place she waited for a lull in the conversation before interrupting.

Wes looked at her after a moment and asked, "You set?"

"Yeah," Kara replied taking one last look at her dad.

"Kara Parker, this is Johnny Wright. He’s the tour manager." Wes turned to Johnny and said, "Johnny, this is Parker’s daughter, the one who’ll be with us over the summer."

"Nice to meet you," The man shook her hand and immediately excused himself from their little gathering.

Wes gave her a smile and said, "Things are fairly hectic right now since the show starts in about four hours." Wes looked around while thll phone into her jacket pocket.

"Come on," Wes led her across the arena floor then through a hallway and into a small room that sort of looked like a living room, except that it had five huge equipment boxes sitting to one side of it. She finally saw the long banquet style table against the wall covered in snack foods with a big bucket at the end with sodas sticking out from a pile of ice. She'd eaten breakfast, but hadn't eaten the lunch that they'd served on the plane and was now starving.

"Have at it." Wes grabbed a bag of chips and a Sprite and sat down on the couch next to the table with a sigh.

Kara removed her earplugs then grabbed a coke and a bag of animal crackers and sat down on one of the couches. Wes sat with her for a moment quietly until a voice came out from a walkie-talkie he had with him. Soon he was up and going to take care of something leaving Kara alone again. "Have fun. When the concert starts come and find me on the right side of the stage just behind the platform on that side. You can sit and watch the show from there if you want."

"Thanks Wes," she said and continued to eat her crackers.

Leaning back into the couch she relaxed for a moment and was almost falling asleep when she heard people in the hallway. It sounded like about forty people, but when the younger guys she’d seen earlier through the window of the bus entered the room noisily she saw that their numbers had only increased by one.

"I totally think that MJ could kick Pippins…" A boy in an Orange Tennessee Volunteer’s basketball jersey stopped mid-sentence and stared at Kara and was soon followed by the four others. He was about six feet tall and looked to be around her age while the other’s he was with seemed only a few years older.

"How you doin’?" A guy with fire engine red hair said quoting a pick up line from the TV show Friends.

Kara smiled and continued to chew her crackers then took a sip of her coke to wash them down. The delay of an answer gave one of the others enough time to speak up for her.

"A stow away?" The low voice of the one with the bleached blond hair came out sounding overly dramatic as he smiled at her with some sort of curiosity.

"Goldie-locks and the five NSYNC-ers…" The guy with fire engine red hair spoke in a cartoon voice which made Kara laugh.

"It’s alive," a shorter guy with dark hair said smiling. There was a devilish look in his eyes which matched the crazy logo on the front of his black T-shirt which Kara finally figured out said FuManSkeeto on it in graffiti letters.

"I’m Kara Parker," she finally said after taking another swig of her drink.

"I win," the guy with the fire engine red hair said.

"Shut up Joey!" The taller guy in a red Chicago Bulls' number 33 jersey said sharply.

"Guys chill." The one with the FuManSkeeto shirt said. He stepped forward. "I’m Chris. That’s Justin in the Tennessee shirt, Joey is the red head over there, Blondie over there is Lance and the one who hasn’t said a freakin’ word to you is JC."

Kara immediately lost track of who was who but said a quick hello anyway. She stood up and collected her things, "I guess I’ll get out of here and leave you guys alone."

The one that she thought was Joey stepped forward and said, "You don’t have to go."

"Really I should," she insisted and retreated from the room quickly.

In the hallway Kara checked her watch. It was only four o’clock so she decided to go back to the bus to see if she could get a nap before the show started. She wanted to watch part of the show, but a nap sounded better than hanging out with people she didn’t know so she found herself a route out of the arena. She stopped and called her dad on the phone and told him that she’d be napping before she climbed back up the stairs to go find her bed.

On the second step of the entrance she looked over to see what she thought to be the driver sitting in the front seat looking at a clipboard. He turned and immediately said, "Hey."

"Hi," she said softly.

"You’re Kara, right?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"I’m Charlie Howard. Jake Bell and I are the drivers." He put down his clipboard and asked, "Can you get me your suitcases and I’ll put them underneath?"

"Yeah." Kara made her way to her bunk and pulled her bags off it then brought them back to Charlie.

"Let me show you how to open up the door," Charlie said. He proceeded to show her how to open up the belly of the bus and showed her how to open the door of the bus. "It’s usually not locked, but if it is your dad or Kelsey will have a key. If I can get one made I’ll get you a copy of the key, but for now you’ll have to wait."

"No trouble," she said.

"Anyway I have to go check on some stuff."

"I’m going to take a nap. Should I close up the door when I go back to watch the show?"

"Yeah." Charlie gave her another smile then walked off leaving her by herself. "The opening act goes on in about an hour and the guys go on in about two hours so have a good nap."


After waking two hours later to the alarm she’d set on her watch Kara climbed out of her little hole of a bed and collected up her jacket, her security passes, phone and pager and made her way out of the bus. It was colder now that the sun was going down so Kara pulled on her jacket and zipped it up. The wind was blowing and she could hear it mixing with the sounds of the freeway in the distance. Shivering she put her hair up into a ponytail then walked back towards the doors to the arena. She flung the door open and was caught by the strange noise that came out of the hallway. She was still trying to figure out what the strange loud humming noise was when Kelsey walked by.

Kelsey looked about thirty and was the youngest of the women on the tour besides Kara. She and Kara had spoken for a moment earlier and had become instantly friendly to each other. Kelsey had warned her about the guy’s antics and said to keep her guard up and look out for any practical jokes that might come her way. She’d laughed and explained that it was all in good fun, but that the guys could get out of hand if a person didn’t keep their eyes open.

"Hey Kara," Kelsey waved while balancing a clipboard and a box of something heavy with her right hand.

"Hey," Kara waved then asked, "What’s that noise?"

"The fans." Kelsey stopped and leaned the box in her hands against her hip. "It’s a packed house tonight. You have earplugs, right?"

"Yeah."

"You’re going to need them."

"Thanks for the advice."

Kelsey looked at her watch then readjusted the box. "I gotta run…I’ll catch you later."

"Ok." Kara waved as Kelsey continued down the hall in the direction of the buses.

A few minutes later Kara showed her security passes to some guys sitting near the door to the inside room of the arena then made her way carefully to the right side of the stage. Wes was sitting on a metal folding chair and had an empty one next to him. Not being able to hear anything Kara waved to Wes and took a seat next to him to watch the show.

The guys were dressed in jeans and t-shirts and jackets and were in the middle of a fast song dancing around wildly so Kara sat and watched in amazement at their hyperactive state. At the end of the fast song Joey and Justin stood in the front of the crowd and Lance, JC and Chris went off to the left side of the stage. Kara could see them getting water then they returned with stools for the other guys to sit on and they went into a slow song, called, This I Promise You, which Kara found herself instantly falling in love with.

After the two-hour performance she and Wes walked out onto the floor of the arena and climbed back up to where her father was. She gave her father a hug and congratulated him on the show.

"Did you like it?" he asked.

"Definitely," she said.

"Well we have to pack up tonight so I have to get going. I’m going to have you go on with the buses tonight and I’ll be in the eighteen wheeler behind you guys."

"Ok," Kara said.

"Well get going and go see the guys. I’ll come and find you for breakfast tomorrow."

"Ok," she said, "Night dad."

"Night."

Kara climbed down and they went back towards the room where she and Wes had eaten their snack earlier and Wes had her wait outside in the hallway while he went into the dressing room.

In the hallway Kelsey came up to her and introduced her around to about fifteen people who turned out to be various relatives of the band. The most talkative of the bunch was the cutest little five-year old boy named Jonathan who was Justin’s little brother. Kara knew instantly that Jonathan belonged to Justin from the orange and white Tennessee Volunteers baseball hat and NSYNC T-shirt and backstage passes that Jonathan was wearing.

"Are you in a band?" Jonathan asked his eyes wide. He spoke boldly, but hadn’t let go of holding onto his mother’s hand as his mom and Kelsey talked.

"No, my daddy works with your brother," Kara said.

"Do you know my brother?" Jonathan’s curious stare made Kara smile.

"Actually I just met him today."

"He’s really cool. He’s the bestest big brother in the whole world."

"Is that so?"

"Yep," Jonathan smiled and leaned against his mother’s leg for a minute.

"Excuse me," Jonathan’s mom said a moment later. "Can you watch him while I to the restroom?"

"Sure," Kara said with a smile. She took Jonathan’s hand from his mother’s and said, "So Jonathan, are you in a band?"

"Nope," he said with a smile then looked around, "Have you seen my brother?"

Kara crouched next to his three and a half-foot body and said, "Not since he was on stage. I think he’s changing his clothes so that he can meet the fans."

"Yo Jonathan!" A voice from behind them yelled above the talking in the hallway. Kara looked up to see Justin coming out of the dressing room this time wearing a baby blue North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball T-shirt, jeans and black basketball shoes.

"Justin!" Jonathan let go of her hand and ran full steam ahead into Justin’s arms where he was picked up and thrown in the air once before Justin tickled him.

Kara walked over to where they were and Jonathan said to his brother, "This is Kara. She’s not in a band, but her daddy is on your tour."

"Really?" Justin said with genuine interest.

"Yep." Jonathan said with a wide smile

Justin looked around for a moment then at her. "Did you see where my mom went?"

"She’s down in the rest room," Kara said.

"I’ll take over the baby-sitting," Justin offered.

"I’m not a baby!" Jonathan wiggled out of Justin’s arms and then stood next to his brother holding onto his hand tightly.

"I know you aren’t big guy. That’s just what they call it. We know better though." Justin winked and for the first time that day Kara was glad that she was on tour. Now that she was standing there with Justin she could see why the eight thousand fans had bought tickets to the concert that night. Justin, with his blonde hair and blue eyes, was fairly good looking and had manners, which in Kara’s book was something important.

"Hey Jus, you ready?" The one that she remembered as Lance said from over Justin’s shoulder.

"Yeah."

"Can I come too?" Jonathan said.

"Of course," Justin said.

"Piggy back!" Jonathan yelled and soon they were heading down the hall.

Joey, the one with the red hair, came up behind Kara and put an arm around her pulling her with them down the hallway. "Come on and meet the fans."

"I guess I don’t have a choice." Kara flashed him a smile.

"You’ll have a blast," Joey said.

The next hour was spent in a small room with about seventy five screaming fans who took pictures and got hugs and autographs from the band members. Kara stood with Jonathan hanging onto her back as he commented on how gross all the girls were.

When the meet and greet was over Jonathan and his mother went off with the guys and as Wes was following them out of the room he stopped in front of Kara. "Go grab a snack and get back to the bus. We’re leaving for the next city in about an hour. It’s going to be about a five hour ride."

Kara nodded and made her way out to the bus. She was exhausted from the constant high energy level that surrounded the tour. She’d known that her father was busy while on tour, but the activity level that surrounded a single show would have tired out even the most hyperactive person.

"Hey Kara!" Lance was in line to get onto the other tour bus when he called to her, "Want to watch a movie with me and the guys?"

Kara smiled and said, "Sure."

"Go grab a pillow and comfy clothes and come on over!" Lance called.

Kara went into the bus and nervously passed by Charlie. "The guys invited me to watch a movie on their bus so I’m going to go and sit over there."

"Sounds good. No one else is in here yet so if you want to change or whatever go right ahead," Charlie said.

Kara hurriedly went into the back, flipped open her bed and grabbed out a pair of sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt and changed into them then grabbed her pillow off her bed and went back out to the front.

"Better hurry," Charlie said, "Jake is going to leave soon."

"On my way," Kara said stuffing the cell phone and pager into her sweatshirt pocket.

Walking across the parking lot Kara took deep breaths and tried to stay calm. She would have been nervous to hang out with any five guys she’d just met, but under the strange circumstances of her life she was even more unnerved about going into their bus with them.

Kara knocked on the open door and symotanously said, "Knock, knock."

"Hey, come on up," an older man said. He stuck his head out from behind a curtain and said, "You must be Kara. I’m Jake."

"Hi," Kara said and hugged her pillow to her chest.

"Come on in. The guys are in the back already."

"Thanks."

Kara stepped up into the bus that was the twin version of the other bus and immediately smelled popcorn. She could hear muffled voices coming from the back and a moment later she knocked on the door and was let into the cramped back room where the five guys were sitting on couches throwing popcorn at each other.

They stopped when the door opened and saw her standing in the doorway. Justin’s back was to her and it seemed as if he was going to sit and lean against the door and sit on the floor instead of sitting on the couches where the guys were sitting facing sideways with their feet up on the opposite couch.

"Hey," Joey said stuffing the handful of popcorn into his mouth. He was the farthest away from her sitting with his shoulder against one wall with Lance’s feet next to him.

The mix of sweatpants and running pants and t-shirts made the perfect outfits for their nice little sleepover. With pillows behind them and a big bowl of popcorn being passed around between them they looked completely comfortable in the strange room. Kara stepped inside the door and looked around wondering how long the guys had been living out of a tour bus. To any other person the novelty of the bus would have been too much to handle, the way it was for her, but for the guys they didn’t seemed to even acknowledge their surroundings or seem to notice the low rumble of the engine of the bus.

"Hey, got any room for a sixth?" Kara said with a half smile wondering if all six of them could sit in the cramped space.

"Yeah." Lance moved a pillow and said, "Over here."

Kara stepped across Justin then scooted in between Lance’s and JC’s feet so that she was sitting on the same couch as Chris and Joey. She put her feet up, like the others and settled into the coziness of the room.

"So Kara, welcome to movie time," Chris said with a strange fake accent while clasping his hands together in front of him in a very proper manner as if they were at high tea with the Queen of England not hanging in the cramped living space that the guys called home.

"She’s not a little kid," Justin said. He pulled the door closed and leaned up against the door.

"Start the movie," JC whined.

"Alright," Joey leaned over and pressed play just about the time that the bus started up.

The floor shook startling Kara and as they pulled out of their parking spot she leaned a little and thought that she was going to be ok until they made a turn. "Whoa!" Kara reached and tried to stop herself from falling. She couldn’t find a place to put her hand fast enough and accidentally hit into Joey’s shoulder squishing Lance’s feet for a moment as they went over some sort of a bump.

"You’ll get used to it," Chris said with a smile as they bumped along for a while then must have gotten on the freeway because things smoothed out a bit.

"What are we watching?" Kara asked just as the Feature Presentation sign on the tape came up.

"It was Lance’s pick so we’re watching Clue." JC scooted down in his seat a little then leaned his head against the back of the couch to watch.

"Again." Chris said with a slight whine to his voice.

About an hour into the movie Kara was leaning against Joey’s shoulder and staring across at Lance who was half-asleep, but still watching the movie. Justin was still intently watching but all the others seemed to be half-asleep.

In the blue light coming from the television Kara watched Lance lean against his hand. His long eyelashes fluttered open and closed then his eyes closed for a moment then opened again quickly as if he was fighting off sleep.

Just as Kara was finally falling asleep a cell phone rang. Everyone woke up and began searching for phones. Kara grabbed into her pocket and found the phone. "It’s mine guys." Everyone made groaning noises before settling back in their seats. Justin mumbled something under his breath, but it wasn’t loud enough for anyone to really hear.

"Hello?" She said cautiously.

"Where are you?" She recognized her father’s angry voice and held her breath. She knew that she was in trouble. It might have been six months since she’d last seen him, but he still had the same way of disciplining her long distance.

"I’m with the guys watching a movie." Kara tried to whisper as to not disturb them, but it didn’t work that well. "I’m sorry. I knew I should have called."

"I’ll talk to you in the morning about it. Try not to bother the guys too much. They have an early morning tomorrow."

"I’ll be good," I said.

Chris laughed a bit at Kara’s comment and JC hit him with a pillow to shut him up.

"Ok, night then," her father said.

"Night." Kara clicked off the phone and wanted to throw it at someone. She couldn’t believe that she was eighteen and her father was still treating her like a high schooler. She stood up stepping over two sets of legs then looked at down at Justin and said, "Let me out."

Justin looked up at her sleepily.

"Let me out Justin." Tears formed in her eyes and she tried not to let them flow as Justin reached up and opened the door and let her out.

She made her way past the bunks and into the front living room. They were still on the freeway and as she flopped down at the tiny table and stared out the window she wished the bus would turn around and head back to Orlando.

"You okay?" Lance asked. He stood at the end of the table and looked down at her with a concerned look.

"Yeah." Her voice was shaky so she took a breath and held it.

Lance slid into the seat across from her with the concerned look still on his face. "You sure?"

Kara leaned forward and covered her face with her hands and held her breath for a long time. She took exactly five more deep breaths before uncovering her face.

Lance reached out and covered her left hand with his. "I take it that you and your dad don’t get along that well?"

"Actually I wouldn’t know how we get along." Kara held her breath as tears welled in her eyes. "I haven’t seen him in about six months."

Lance squeezed her hand and she was comforted by the sincere and sympathetic look on his face. "It’s gonna be a rough tour for you."

"It’s just hard since he left my mom and me and now he wants to be my parent again."

Lance sat back and with a completely serious look said, "You’ll do ok with it. I’m sure whatever happened will get worked out."

"At least someone thinks that."

"Just don’t think about it too much. Your dad is going to try to be a parent and I’m sure there is a lot of stuff that he says that actually makes sense, but I think you’ll have to figure out what to listen to and what not to listen to."

Kara leaned back in her seat. "Is that advice you follow in your own life or did you get it out of some book?"

Lance smiled, "Why would you say that?"

Kara leaned and looked at him closely for a moment with one eyebrow raised. "It just seems a little mature for a normal twenty year old to be spurting out."

"Yeah well I’m not the normal twenty year old." His voice was thick with sarcasm. He kept a serious look on his face for a moment then laughed.

Laughing at his antics Kara finally smiled and said, "I guess with all you guys around there isn’t time to be upset or sad."

"Nope and it only gets better from here." Lance got up.

Kara put her hands up. "Is that a promise or a threat?"

"Both?"

The bus slowed and made a turn making Lance and Kara lean. When it stopped she heard the sound of the door swishing open then saw Jake stick his head through the curtain. "Rest-Stop guys."

"Mini-mart?" Lance asked.

"But of course!"

"Rest Stop!" Lance screamed.

Soon we were joined by the others, who, though half asleep, seemed to rally around the idea of getting junk food in the middle of the night.


"Owe!"

Kara sat up and rubbed her head and looked around. It was still dark outside and she heard the engine of the bus slowing into the low rumble that it’d had when they’d been parked earlier.

"Did you sleep with your head at that end?" Lance said. He was sleeping on the other couch with his head towards the back of the bus while Kara’s head was towards the front of the bus on the other couch.

"Yeah," she said rubbing her head.

"We should have told you not to do that," Lance said, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah." Kara turned and plumped up her pillow and moved the pillow to the other side of the couch so that her head was across from Lance’s and lay back down.

"Did you see what time it was?" Lance asked.

"Where is it?" Kara sat up and looked around.

"On the VCR," Lance turned a little onto this back and let out a sigh.

"It’s about four." Curling up to her pillow again Kara lay back down and stared across at Lance. They’d been in the back room after everyone had gone to sleep and had talked for almost two hours before they’d both gone quiet and had fallen asleep. Looking at him now in the low light of the room she felt some sort of connection to him, but didn’t yet know what the exact kind of a name to give that connection, whether it be friendship or relationship.

"Great!" Lance said and Kara could see him put his hands to his forehead in an exasperated manner.

"What?" she asked.

Lance turned and faced her and although she couldn’t see most of his face due to the shadows she could tell that he was tired from the way he sighed and said, "I have to leave in about an hour for a radio spot."

"Why do you have to go so early?" Kara asked, "Why do they need you at five in the morning?"

"It’s the morning show, some commute hour show or something spot so Justin and I get to eat breakfast on the air."

"Why do you have to go?" Kara felt like Barbara Walters with all her questions, but she was generally interested in Lance’s schedule.

"We rotate the schedule so that not everyone has to get up that early. Tomorrow morning Joey and JC are going to be on a different station’s show. Justin and I just happen to be "on" this morning."

"Oh." Kara settled back in to her makeshift bed. "I guess I should shut up now so you can get back to sleep."

"It’s ok," Lance said, "I probably won’t go back to sleep anyway."

"How do you live on so little sleep?"

"I got used to it a long time ago. I spend most of my days off at home sleeping. My parents hate it when I come to visit because I sleep about eighteen hours straight. They never get to see me."

"I bet JC is worse, from what I hear about his sleeping patterns," Kara said.

"Actually he sleeps more on tour than at home. Usually when we have time off he’s in the studio either producing or recording or playing around with his friend’s."

"That’s one thing I’d hate if I was on the road all the time. I need my free time."

Lance laughed and said, "I don’t think anyone in this group even knows what free time is. We’re all over achievers. We never like to sit still, except maybe JC…since he’s so into his naps."

Kara laughed. "You make him sound like such a bum."

"He is one."

"I heard that!" A voice called from the other room.

A moment later JC came into the room and sat down by Lance’s feet. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Lance then at Kara for a moment. Kara couldn’t see his face, but she imagined that he was trying to get his eyes to adjust to the darkness due to the way he wiped his eyes another time before sitting back.

"Did we wake you up?" Kara asked.

"No," JC said. "The bus stopped. It always happens, but usually I don’t hear people up at four in the morning."

"Sorry C, Kara and I were just talking…"

"Yeah, yeah I know…I’m a bum."

"That wasn’t the topic of our whole conversation."

"Yeah, just most of it," Lance said.

"Shut up!" someone called in a half-whisper from the other room.

Kara couldn’t tell which one it was, but soon Lance and JC called back in hushed voices, "Sorry Chris."

A moment of silence passed as JC leaned to close the door. "So are you going to the station this morning?"

"Yeah, Justin and I got this morning and you and Joey get tomorrow."

"Are you sure?" JC asked, "I swear it’s Chris’s turn."

"Nope C…remember…Chris went to two in a row while we were in Orlando since Justin had the flu."

"Oh yeah." JC leaned back with a groan then turned his head towards Kara. "So what are you doing today?"

"I don’t know yet. I think my dad is going to put me to work."

"You mean this isn’t a vacation trip?"

"Nope."

"You want to come with us to the radio station?" Lance asked.

"I don’t want to be a bother."

"No bother. It’ll be fun."

"You need more sleep Lancten," JC commented, "You’re losing it."

"Think about it C. Justin in the morning without cereal until we get there. At least I can have Kara sit in between us so His Highness won’t kill me…at least not until he gets her first."

Kara picked up her pillow and hit at Lance with it. "Thanks."

JC laughed then got up and sighed. "I’m going back to sleep. You guys have fun at the radio station."

"See ya C," Lance said.

Lance stretched back out and sighed and said, "I guess I’m going to be up all day then."

"You don’t have time to take a nap today?" Kara asked.

"Don’t let the schedule fool you. Just because we don’t perform tonight doesn’t mean that we are just going to sit around all day. I have the radio spot, then we have a huge meet and greet, then we’re filming something for one of the local TV stations and then we’re going to start working on the new video choreography."

"Don’t you ever get tired of it all?"

"Nah. It’s been crazy for about the last two months because of the new album, but as soon as the initial promotional stuff gets out of the way it’ll be back to just plain touring again."

I heard the front door of the bus open and sat still. I could hear the other bus pulling in, as the door stayed open.

Lance sat up and said, "It’s Johnny and the other bus."

Kara could hear Johnny walking through the bus then heard him open up one of the sets of curtains on the bunks and whisper loudly, "Hey Justin. Get up man." The sound of another curtain opening filled the silence and then Johnny called out softly, "Lance?"

"I’m back here J. I’m coming."

"Ok," Johnny said, "Hit Justin again on the way out."

"Sure," Lance called then turned to Kara, "That’s my cue."

"Can I still come with you?" Kara asked.

"Sure," Lance stood up and held out a hand to her and once she was standing took a breath. "You’re not going to have time to take a shower or anything though."

"That’s what they make baseball hats and anti-persperant for. Besides…it’s radio. No one is going to see me."

"Bonus points." Lance smiled.

"What?"

"I’ll explain on the way over to the station. Run or we’ll be late."

Kara grabbed her pillow and ran out of the bus in her socks and went to the other bus, which was open due to the fact that Charlie was standing outside smoking a cigarette.

"Hey, you’re up early," Charlie commented blowing out smoke.

"I’m going to the radio station with the guys this morning."

"Sounds like fun," Charlie said.

"Is anyone up in there?" Kara asked.

"Nope," Charlie said taking another drag of his cigarette. "Go on in."

"See ya."


"Crowley and Crowley here with the Madhouse Crew. This morning we have two fifths of NSYNC with us. They’re going to be performing at the Houston Civic Center tomorrow night. Say hello guys." Bryan Crowley said nudging his brother Ryan. The twin DJ’s of that morning’s show sat across a wide table from Lance and Justin. They all had their own microphones and headphones and were paying attention to the broadcast.

"Hello out there," Justin said with a laugh. His voice was thick with sleep, but he’d grabbed a cup of coffee on the way into the studio Kara figured that she would soon be seeing him perk up considering how strong the coffee tasted when she’d poured herself some after Justin had.

"Hey," Lance said with a very low tone to his voice. His tiredness made him sound sexier to Kara.

The show began and the hosts chatted with Lance and Justin so Kara turned and looked out the window as she listened to the show. There were about a hundred people sitting outside the radio station listening to the show on stereos. She’d sort of zoned out watching the girls outside until she heard her name. She turned and looked at Wes thinking he was calling her, but it turned out that it was coming over the air. "KA-RA, Hey Ka-ra!"

Kara turned and faced the glass of the studio to find Lance, Justin, Bryan and Ryan all staring at her with wide eyes. Lance and Justin had turned in their seats and Justin was waving.

"Ah yeah…in here sweetie." Bryan or maybe it was Ryan’s voice was thick with a mocking tone that made Kara feel instantly stupid.

She blushed and said, "What?" She knew that they couldn’t hear her, but one of the twin hosts waved for her to come to the door.

"Get in here!"

Kara went over and opened the door to the studio and stuck her head in. Lance and Justin were both turned around and staring at her. She whispered, "What?"

"Come on in here. We want to meet you," one of the twins said.

"Are you on the air?" Kara asked quietly.

"Yes we’re on the air. Now get in here," the other twin said.

Lance scooted over and let Kara have his headphones and she sat on the arm of his chair. Lance put an arm around her and one of the twins said, "I’m so jealous. Lance put his arm around Kara."

"Hey. I just don’t want her to fall off the chair." Lance smiled and winked at Kara.

"Sure," the twins said in unison.

Justin laughed and said, "Kara is like our little sister."

Kara whipped her head around and stared at Justin. She'd only known him for about twelve hours. How could he have already made the assumption that they were like family. And besides, it was ridiculous of him to talk as if he was so much older and wiser than her. "Little? Justin, I’m your age, actually I think I’m older than you!"

"Sor-ry!" Justin said into the microphone and leaned back with a smile and laugh.

"So all our listeners want to know is first off how did you get to be so lucky to be on tour with these guys…"

"My father works on the tour and I’m visiting him for the summer before I go off to college."

Lance pinched her side with the arm that was around her and she jumped a bit. She stared at him with this "stop-it" look.

"Hmmm." One of the twins said.

"What?" Kara laughed and looked up again.

"Nothing," the twin said.

They spent the next hour and a half joking around and when Kara and the guys finally left the studio Kara was sad. She’d liked hanging out with the guys and having Lance’s arm around her for an hour was something she wanted to have happen again.

When they arrived back at the arena fans were already lined up for the "Meet & Greet" which meant that Justin and Lance had to get changed to go and join the others. Kara followed them over to the buses and was climbing into the number-two bus when Johnny came up and stopped her for a minute. "I need your help today, ok?"

"Sure," Kara said with a smile trying to be polite although she was feeling tired from her lack of sleep.

"Go get cleaned up and meet me up by where the guys are signing autographs and stuff," Johnny said.

"Can I ask what I’ll be doing?" Kara asked.

"You’re going to be showing around a girl and the camera crew from MTV. They’re taping Fanatic. You know that show?"

Kara nodded and gave him a smile, "Thanks. I just wanted to know if I should be wearing work clothes or not."

"No trouble…see you in about twenty or twenty-five minutes then?"

Kara looked at her watch. It was ten 'til which meant that she’d be meeting Johnny around eight thirty. "Yeah," she started into the bus then said, "Hey wait…where’s the shower?"

Johnny turned and pointed at the door of the arena. "It’s the fourth door on the right."

"Thanks."

Kara hurried through her normal morning routine and was dressed and on her way to find Johnny twenty-five minutes after they’d first spoken. She’d changed into jeans and a new T-shirt and running shoes and had her credentials around her neck; her pager clipped on her waste-band and had stuck her phone in a tiny backpack. She was just about to where she’d been told that the autograph signing would be when she heard screaming. It had turned out that she’d arrived to the "Meet & Greet" just as the guys had. While she hadn’t been able to really hear the fans talking as they were waiting in line, when the guys revealed themselves by stepping up onto the tiny stage that had been set up everyone had immediately gone into hysterics.

Kara grabbed in her backpack and pulled out her sunglasses and put them on before politely weaving through the line to the stage area. The guys smelled of coconut smelling sunscreen and she debated whether or not she should go to the bus and find some if she was going to be out in the sun. Deciding not to take the chance of showing up late for her "job" she waved at the guys.

"Waaaaaasssssssssuuuuuuupppppppp." Five tired voices joined in quoting the newest Budweiser commercial that not only made Kara laugh, but also seemed to entertain about the first fifty or so people in line.

Kara stopped laughing after a moment then looked around then, not seeing Johnny right away, went over to Wes, who was sitting in a folding chair behind the guys if he’d seen Johnny.

"He’s down there," Wes said pointing across the other side of the stage area.

"Thanks."

Kara walked behind the guys and made her way over to Johnny who immediately told her to get in. "It turns out that the girl from Fanatic isn’t going to be here until after the Meet and Greet. She's going to stay for part of the choreography session later on tonight. We’re going to set up dinner for her and the guys, but I have another job for you in the meantime."

"Ok," Kara said.

Johnny pulled away in the golf cart and they zoomed back towards the tour buses just as Kelsey was coming out of the number one bus. She was carrying her clipboard again, but didn’t look as stressed as she had the last time Kara had seen her.

"You ready to go?" Kelsey asked as they drove up.

"Go?" Kara asked.

"We get to go grocery shopping," Kelsey said. She stuck out her tongue at Johnny and sighed, "How Ozzie and Harriet of us."

Kara smiled as Kelsey got onto the back of the golf cart.

Five minutes later Kara and Kelsey were driving around town trying to find a grocery store. Kelsey had opened the window and they were playing the radio loudly and for a moment Kara felt normal again. She’d had such a strange night and morning that she felt that she was going to go a bit crazy being around the tour’s hectic schedule. She hadn't had time to think about it, but as they drove along she let it all sink in. Over ten thousand people. Ten thousand. And the radio. The radio.

"It’s nice to act normal for a minute," Kelsey said breaking into the song that was on the radio.

Kara turned down Sting's Desert Rose on the radio and smiled. She watched Kelsey drive for a moment then asked, "How did you end up on tour with them?"

"I worked for Johnny’s father and when I graduated college his father got me a job working with another one of Johnny’s groups then when they took over the management for NSYNC I was traded over to that tour. I’ve been with these guys since around 1996."

"Whoa!" Kara was amazed that the group had been around that long and that Kelsey had been living life on the road for so long.

"I know I'm crazy for staying on the road that long, but it’s addicting. I made a bet with your dad that you’d get hooked and want to stay on tour. He says you’ll go back and go to college though."

"I just want to make it through the summer for now. Besides, I have a lot of friends that I’d like to get back and see."

"Did you have fun with the guys this morning?" Kelsey asked, "sometimes it's hard to get into their little click, but I think you've done a pretty good job considering the movie invite last night."

"Yeah. I guess I have the little sister syndrome, but I guess if I could just hang out with them and laugh the summer would be as good as hanging out at home." Kara looked out the window as they passed yet another McDonalds. She hadn't really eaten that morning and she was getting hungry.

"OK, spill it, which one do you have a crush on?" Kelsey reached and turned off the radio.

"Why would you say that?" Kara asked as Kelsey pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store.

"Well I happen to be a long time sufferer of the little sister syndrome so we have a lot in common." Kelsey turned and got her clipboard from the back seat then looked at Kara closely. "Out with it."

"I like Lance." Kara sat back for a moment.

"Oh."

"What?" Kara asked.

"I thought it would have been Justin, since you two are around the same age." She got out the car and waited for Kara then they made their way over to the store.

"Justin is cool, but he reminds me of this guy back home which ruins the whole thing." Kara scrunched up her face.

"Oh."

Kelsey grabbed a cart. "Grab one."

"Are we going to need two?" Kara asked.

"We’re shopping for thirty people. I think if we make it out of here with less than four we can call this trip a success. This is just the first round of stuff we have to go and buy. Our next stop after we take the groceries back is to take a list to the hardware store."

"Whoa."

Kelsey and Kara shopped for the next hour then made an hour-long trip to the hardware store before returning to the buses. Their shopping consisted of everything from toilet paper to electrical tape. It was the strangest shopping trip Kara had ever been on, but it was fun hanging out and chatting with Kelsey the whole time.

When they returned Johnny grabbed Kara away from Kelsey and drove her across to meet up with the Fanatic girl and the camera crew that was with her.

"Kara this is Monica and her mother Holly," Johnny said. The blond-headed pre-teen and her mother were looking around the parking lot with wide eyes.

"Hi," Kara said shaking their hands with a professional manner. She gave the girl a smile and turned to Johnny as he handed her a list.

"The guys should be done and ready to eat lunch in about a half hour. So give them the grand tour," Johnny turned to Monica and her mother, "We’ll see you in a while. Have fun."

Johnny drove off leaving Kara alone with the girl and her mother. "Ok, let's see what Johnny has written down. I’m a little new here so I have to see where we should take you."

The camera crew followed them into the arena and while Johnny had written not to take them onto the floor of the arena they walked around on the first level and watched the stage being put up. Monica asked tons of questions about the guys and Kara found many of them hard to answer, but tried her best to answer them. Kara's knowledge of the guys had been supplemented by a teeny-bopper magazine that she'd read on the way back from the grocery trip, but even one magazine couldn't cover all the things that Monica asked of Kara.

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Last updated: 09/19/04.