"Ooh. Look at this!" The screeching voice broke the silence of the tiny apartment kitchen.
Turning from her huge bowl of Captain Crunch, her one and only addiction, Nicole found her roommate excitedly pointing to the classified section of that morning's newspaper. It was amazing that her roommate was reading the newspaper at all, but the idea that there was something of interest to her was a whole other issue. Sara's two shoulder length pigtails bounced like a three-year-olds and Nicole wondered for a moment how they'd ever become friends. Not only did they look like complete opposites; Sara with her dark brown hair and stylish clothes and Nicole with her blond hair and blue jeans, but their maturity levels were way farther apart than the year that separated the two girls' birthdays.
"Don't you have to leave for class soon?" Nicole had a headache from the stress of the end of the school year and had hoped that Sara would have been gone by the time she got up that morning, but no such luck. Nicole had to spend her morning listening to the girl go on about what had been on MTV the night before and who was doing who on the basketball team at school. For the last month the only group that seemed to be on MTV was the pop group NSYNC and the only people screwing around on the basketball team were the assistant coach of the women’s team and the starting center of the men’s team. The news had gotten a little repetitive and she’d come to find that tuning out her roommate was more productive than trying to keep track of the non-existent drama.
"In a minute…look at this first." Sara put the paper down in front of Nicole then went around to wash her breakfast bowl in the sink that overlooked the parking lot.
"What am I looking at?"
"The ad on the bottom," Sara dropped her clean bowl into the rack then came over and sat down next to Nicole on one of the bar stools. "It's the housekeeper position on Lake Hinden."
Nicole searched the page and found the ad that Sara wanted her to read. Gathering her long hair into a ponytail to keep it out of her eyes she stared down at the black and white print of the ad.
* * * * * *
HOUSEKEEPER, Live-in F/T
for traveling business man.
$2600+/mo Valid FLDL + ref.
Call John at 555-9034
* * * * * *
Nicole had been keeping a close eye on the classified sections of a few of the local Orlando papers for the last few weeks for a new place to stay, but hadn’t found anything great. She'd declared, at least in her own mind that she was giving up, but somehow the dollar amount listed and Sara's enthusiasm pushed her to think for more than two seconds about the ad.
Sara was leaving for a year overseas, which left Nicole looking not only for a new place to stay, but also for a new job that might help her pay for her rent, and living expenses. She’d handled things well in the first three years of college through some scholarships. Holding down a part time job at a pizza place near school had paid for her extras. Her boss would have loved to have her working full time, the business’s budget couldn’t make room for her, leaving Nicole to find another job that would either replace her pizza job or would supplement the part time hours while she also took a few classes over the summer.
"I was thinking of working in an office this summer. I don’t want to be a housekeeper." Nicole scrunched her face up at the thought of cleaning up for someone she didn’t know. It was one thing to keep their apartment clean, it being the not so nice place that it was to begin with but it seemed too strange to be cleaning up after a complete stranger.
"Come on it’ll be great. You get a place to stay and a salary."
"Thanks mom," Nicole said sarcastically. She stared at the ad and decided that she was going to call and check it out, but didn’t let Sara in on that. She didn’t want to give her any kind of satisfaction for being right.
"Hey. I'm just trying to help out," Sara held up her hands in a surrendering motion, "It's the perfect job…I mean…You're already a clean freak!"
The click of the lock opening made him smile as he let himself into the house. Twenty-year-old Lance Bass had been on a promotional tour for the newest album of the pop group he was a part of. He was dead tired from his flight from Seattle the last stop of the month long schmoozing session with the press, but the mere idea of being home lifted his spirits. He'd barely moved into the house when he'd had to leave town, but his fatigue didn't let him register that the house was unfamiliar. The gray stone tile entryway, the grayish-white carpet, and the white walls were untouched, but it was in Orlando and that was good enough for him.
He knew that this stay at home was going to be a long one. A whole month to live in his house and sleep in the same bed at night. The month wouldn’t be all fun and games, due to the fact that the group would be rehearsing for their summer tour, but he’d be home. No hotel rooms, no stays on a bus, and no flying around the country, unless he decided to fly to Mississippi to see his parents.
While the four members of the group celebrated being home with their security crew and manager as they drove around town dropping people off, Lance had leaned his head against the window in the back of the van and hatched a plan for his evening. As the guys sang along noisily to one of the local radio stations, Lance had decided to take a shower and go to sleep. He figured that at least eighteen hours would make up for the fact that he'd slept only about ten in the last week. He’d been in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle before returning home and the eighteen-hour days, that usually began around sometime around four in the morning, had taken their toll on him. He was as physically and emotionally exhausted as he'd ever been.
Closing the door behind him he dropped his bag near metal and glass entryway table, along with his keys and made his way to the kitchen. One quick drink of water and it was off to the showers with him. He grabbed a glass of ice cold water, took a long swig then sighed when he heard the air conditioning fan kick on. Thank God for small miracles. He’d been out of the south for a little too long this time and found that he'd returned home to find himself a little less than comfortable in the muggy heat.
"What the hell are you doing?" The female voice that sliced the quiet air of the kitchen startled him and he dropped the clear bar style glass onto the counter spilling water all over the place.
Lance flipped the light switch next to where the phone lay on the counter and turned towards the front hallway to find the sleepy hazel eyes of a blond haired woman staring at him as she squinted at the light coming from where he was in the kitchen. She wore a tiny pink tank top and shorts that seemed to be her pajamas and for a moment Lance had to think. He might have been a little groggy from his flight but he distinctly remembered that he wasn't dating anyone, or at least no one in Orlando, and this wasn't his sister or his mother.
Most people would have been more than startled by the intrusion, but Lance vaguely remembered that his manager Johnny had hired him a housekeeper while they were out of town, although she wasn't exactly what he'd pictured. Johnny's housekeeper sure wasn't like any housekeeper he'd ever heard of or seen.
Housekeepers were like Alice on the Brady Bunch, older women with beehives and no social lives of their own. When Johnny had hounded him about getting someone to keep track of his house while he was out of town Lance had hated the idea. He'd figured that if he was mature enough to buy the house then he should have anyone there to take care of it. Besides, he’d come from a small family and they’d never needed housekeepers or any other kind of staff. Lance had a hard enough time dealing with the extras in his professional life, now he was going to have to deal with it at home. It seemed though that his housekeeper was the exact opposite of his stereotype, which would make things easier. She had long blond hair and a button nose and though Lance had seen a million girls around her age, she was a fairly nice twenty something to look at.
"I should be asking you the same thing." He leaned against a dry part of the counter. The jet lag seemed to hit him, causing his arms and legs to begin to ache, but instead of letting the fatigue cause him to be cranky he decided to have a little fun. He wanted to test the proverbial waters with his new housekeeper since for the moment she seemed to be completely confused by him.
"Who are you?" she asked. She didn’t seem to be very afraid of him, but she kept her distance and Lance figured that if he’d had a baseball bat in the house she would have brought it with her into the kitchen to meet him.
"Well who are you?" He wanted to joke with her and not make this first meeting so dramatic, but she didn't seem to be taking the light tone of the conversation to heart.
Moments later the woman startled him by grunting, "Ugh!"
Lance laughed at her frustration then decided to give the girl a rest from his game. "You must be Nicole." He held out a hand and walked over to her. "I'm Lance…"
The woman gave him a confused look.
She put her hands on her hips and stared at him, which made him uncomfortable. He had a million people staring at him every day, but the look in her eyes seemed to pierce through him. He wondered for a moment if she just couldn't see him in the bright light of the kitchen or if she was trying to recognize him. His hairstyle hadn't changed in the last few weeks, but he did have to admit that the fact that he hadn't shaved that morning might throw her off. He was wearing facial hair, which was something that was never really seen in public due to the band's image.
"…I own this house."
"Oh my God!" Her words came out as part sigh, part groan.
Lance watched her take a small step back and marveled at the way her cheeks seemed to immediately blush with what Lance took to be embarrassment over not recognizing him. He liked the pink tone that was added to her already sleep-flushed face. The tone almost matched the ultimately feminine shade of her outfit. Whoa boy…it's been a long night and you don't need to be starting in on those kinds of thoughts.
"Good." He made eye contact with her for a long moment, "I am in the right house."
Finally she seemed to regain her composure and held out a hand to meet his and shook his hand with a soft motion. Considering that he'd practically snuck in that night like a cat burglar he liked the fact that her grip on his hand wasn't as weak as he expected. "I'm sorry. I've never seen your face."
She stopped and stared at him and Lance moved his face from side to side to see if just the angle of his face had been throwing her off.
"Johnny and I only met twice before I moved in and since the house is so new and there aren't any pictures of anyone here." She looked around at the blank walls and sparsely decorated living room with its plain wooden entertainment center and off white couches, "I didn't know what you looked like."
Lance let go of her hand and smiled then mumbled, "That’s a new one."
He stared at her and tried to make sure that he understood her correctly. She really didn’t know who he was. He thought that everyone knew him and it was hard to deal with someone who didn’t after dealing with millions of strangers who seemed to know every detail of his life, whether it be true or not. He was going to have to rethink his life if she was going to be staying with him.
"I know…" He flashed her a smile. It was cute how naive she seemed with all of this. He wondered for a moment just how old she really was. Johnny had told him that she was still a college student, but he almost didn’t believe it. "Nice to meet you."
Suddenly Nicole crossed the room and made her way behind the breakfast bar and retrieved paper towels and mopped up the mess on the counter. He watched her and realized that she was nervous around him. He'd seen different reactions to him in his lifetime, but this woman was probably the most nervous person he'd met in a while.
"Sorry about that," he said then instantly felt foolish for the apology. It was his house and who cared if there was water on the counter. He grabbed a paper towel and helped then pushed her hands away. "I've got it. Really you don't have to clean up after me."
"Well it is my job," she said then held out a hand and took the paper towels from him and threw them away in the wastebasket under the sink.
Lance paused for a moment before speaking then finally admitted, "I'm beat and I need to get some sleep. I was going to sleep most of tomorrow so can you make sure that it’s quiet around here?"
"Sure," Nicole said, "I am going to just be doing homework."
"Yeah, summer school. It's a bummer, but I'm trying to get out of college and had a little set back that I have to make up for."
"Cool," he said with a sigh then slipped down the hallway to find his bag. His head was getting hazy, which normally wouldn't have worried him, but after a close call and a hospital stay, it was a warning sign of things to come.
"Night," she called after him.
"Oh yeah…night," he called back to her but didn't turn around. He decided on the way up to his room that he was going to skip the shower and just go to sleep.
After attending her fourth and final night class of the week Nicole pulled up to the gate of the house to enter the security code that Johnny had provided her with and heard loud music through her open window. Most of the day had gone well, but she was curious about her new living arrangements. She’d yet to really see her boss since he’d slept the day away while she studied. She’d been gone from the house since around one that afternoon and was nervous about going home. All of a sudden her new home didn’t seem so homey. Her boss hadn’t seemed like a mean guy, but she still felt like a visitor.
Nervousness had kept her speed low on the freeway and she’d thought of postponing the inevitable by going and getting dinner downtown, but it was late and she had to work the next day, so by ten o’clock she’d headed for home.
Ignoring the music and mentally blaming it on one of the kids that she’d seen in the neighborhood she pulled through the gate and started up the drive. She soon found, when she reached the circular drive in front of the house, that a party was going on inside. Twenty or so cars were parked along the drive and around the side of the garage and it seemed as if every bit space that could have been used for parking was occupied.
Nicole took a deep breath and steered her used Ford Explorer back out of the driveway past the newer cars that lined it. She figured that she could park on the street for the night. It took a moment, but after locking her car and letting herself back onto the property she hauled her backpack onto her shoulder and walked up the driveway. It was muggy outside and Nicole wished that she didn’t have to walk since the weather always seemed to pull the energy out of her, but she knew that she didn't have the luxury of complaining. After all, it wasn’t really her house in the first place. She really couldn’t see herself kicking one of her boss’s friends out of the way just to park.
After all her years of being passed from family member to family member she thought that she would have been used to the feeling of being an outsider, but this seemed to be the ultimate insult. When she’d moved into the empty house she'd made herself at home. In the two weeks before her introduction to Lance she'd ruled the five bedroom ranch style house and now it seemed as if the strangers were in her house, not his. She wasn’t normally territorial which things like that, but it seemed that the idea of having the whole house to herself had grown on her.
At the door she let herself in only to be blasted by loud rap music. It wasn’t the welcome home she was used to. Normally, in her apartment with Sara, she been blasted with MTV or Alanis Morrisette or sometimes NSYNC, rap wasn't really her cup of tea, so to speak.
She looked around for a moment and found that none of the fifty or so unfamiliar faces in the hallway and in the living room seemed to turn in her direction so she slipped down the hall to put her backpack away. She was glad to have the booming sound muted a bit by the walls of her room, but she figured that the party wasn’t going to let up any time soon which meant that she wasn’t going to get her homework done that night. Being alone would have been a nice luxury, but she had skipped dinner and needed to eat so she squared her shoulders and braced herself to meet whoever had taken up residency in the rest of the house.
Nicole made it to the kitchen without an incident, blending in with the other jean clad and T-shirt wearing crew, but wasn’t done gathering up everything for a sandwich when someone from behind her startled her by putting a hand on her shoulder. The mayonnaise jar dropped on to the counter, luckily it didn’t break, as her scream of alarm was swallowed by the loud dance music.
"What are you doing?" a low voice growled from behind her in a joking sort of tone.
Nicole turned around to find a slightly drunken Lance standing behind her and it hit her all at once. It was Lance Bass of NSYNC. The Lance Bass that Sara had been gushing over for the longest time. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t recognized him the night before. She didn’t know how she could confuse him with anyone else, but somehow his trademark green eyes and spiky hairdo had slipped by her in the confusion of waking up to find him in the kitchen in the middle of the night.
That night he looked more alive than when she’d last seen him. He had on jeans, running shoes and a white T-shirt and his face was blushing with the alcohol that she smelled on his breath. He actually looked tan, unlike before when she’d stared at his pasty complexion for more time that she should have.
"Come on," he grabbed another beer from the refrigerator and pulled her with him. Stopping only to quickly pop off the top of the bottle he pulled her through the maze of people in the living room out to the back of the house where it seemed that even more people were milling around. The pool light was on along with some other lights in the yard leaving the area looking like some exotic club with it’s wooden deck area, jacuzzi, pool, and landscaping. Most everyone was ignoring the mugginess of the night by drinking and smoking cigarettes, which reminded her of some of the parties she’s been to in high school, except that everyone was older at this party.
Nicole whipped her head around at the sound of the yell. Over where the garage met up with the back grassy area she found a guy with fire engine red hair, with his arm around a girl, holding up a beer in Lance’s direction with his free hand.
"Joey!" Lance quickly turned and yanked on her arm. He looked sort of like one of the band members that Sara had gone on and on about. Nicole suddenly wished that she’d paid more attention to Sara’s stories a few weeks earlier. Had she known that Lance was going to be her boss she would have taken notes.
"How ya doin’ LB?" the Joey guy asked. He seemed very relaxed, but Nicole’s instinct told her that it was his personality and not the alcohol that was making him that way. He seemed to be a bit older than Lance, or at least a little more practiced at drinking. He was smooth and seemed right at home with the girl that was with him, unlike the strange way that Lance was still holding onto her arm.
"Good." Lance tipped a beer at Joey spilling a little onto the deck then said, "I want you to meet Nicole."
Joey removed his arm from around his friend and reached to shake her hand. "Nice to meet you." He smiled and turned. "This is Angela."
Nicole nodded to the girl and got only a slightly friendly smile. She had a feeling that the greeting wasn’t as friendly as it could have been and wondered if all the people that hung out with the band were that distant towards newcomers.
"You seen the rest of the guys?" Lance's randomness was surprising. She'd thought that he was the mature one of the group, but it seemed as if the alcohol was ruining his reputation.
Joey looked around leaning a bit then pointed. "JC is over there with Boo…"
"Boo?" Nicole asked.
Joey reached out and touched her arm and made eye contact with her. His familiarity with her was in one second disturbing and the next comforting. "Don’t worry. It’s just her nickname."
"I was going to say…"
Joey smiled then looked around again. "I think Justin is inside and I think that Chris took Didi to get pizza."
"Pizza!" Lance rubbed his stomach and seemed to immediately have the munchies. "I’ll be right back…"
"So who are you?" Joey asked as Nicole watched Lance retreat back into the house.
"I’m the housekeeper…Johnny hired me," Nicole said. She worried that the title would cause a little tension, but Joey only smiled.
"So you’re going to clean up after Lance?" Joey’s tone. He leaned in close to her and Nicole watched as his friend glared at their closeness. "I just have to tell you that you’re robbing him blind. That guy is a pretty neat the last time I checked."
Nicole laughed at the thought of Lance spilling the water the night before. She shushed Joey. "Well don’t tell him that…or I’ll be out on the streets."
"Ok," Joey said and gave her a huge dramatic wink.
"Well I’ll get out of your hair." Nicole could practically feel Joey's friend's eyes piercing through her and decided to make a quick exit, "I was trying to get a little dinner when Lance kidnapped me."
"It was nice to meet you," Joey said, "I’m sure I'll be seeing you around."
Nicole nodded and said her good byes and went back to the kitchen where she found someone eating the box of Captain Crunch she’d left on the counter that morning. A younger guy, with his blondish-brown hair braided in cornrows, was sitting on the counter, beer in one hand and the cereal box in the other, dumping the open container into his mouth. He was in the middle of a group of people keeping up with the conversation as he munched when she pushed her way through the crowd. "Excuse me!"
"You’re excused," he said giving her a sideways glance that didn't spend too much time on her. The other guys kept talking but the one girl in the group seemed to stop and stare at her as if she was an alien. She almost seemed shocked that she would be that forward about talking to him.
Nicole grabbed the box out of his hands. "This is mine…thank you very much."
"Hey!" he said and jumped off the counter. He didn’t look to coordinated on his feet and had to steady himself a bit before he followed her to the refrigerator. "I was eating that."
He grabbed the box down and began to open the top tabs.
"Well the box is…" She grabbed it back and returned it to it’s spot. "…mine. I don’t appreciate that you were eating my food."
"Appreciate…apPREciate…" He said the word and repeated it a few more times seeming to marvel at the sound of it.
"Very good," Nicole said with a cold tone and stuffed the box back into its place on top of the refrigerator.
"Justin what are you doing?" a voice said from behind her.
Nicole turned around to find a huge black guy watching the both of them. He hadn’t been in the group of people that had been around Justin a few moments before which made Nicole wonder about him. She wondered just why this guy was following Justin around.
"Nothing House. I was just chatting to…" He nudged Nicole and gave the guy a huge smile.
"Nicole…" Nicole belted out then rubbed her ribs where he’d nudged her.
"You better not be getting into trouble man. Your mother would kill me if she knew you were drinking."
"Shhh…" Justin said and patted the guys chest.
"Well if you’ll excuse me…" She backed away from the two guys and dug in the refrigerator then decided that she’d had enough of the partying and grabbed an apple out of the fridge and retreated to her room. If only Sara knew how strange these guys were she'd never think of them as sex symbols again.
For the first time in the last two weeks Nicole regretted taking the job from Johnny. It had seemed like a dream job, but at the moment all she wanted to do was have her old life back. She hated the lifestyle that she’d seen being lived that night. She didn’t know if she could handle parties like that in the future. She had too much going on in her life at the moment to be dealing with high school aged drama.
A car horn was the unexpected and unappreciated alarm that woke Nicole up early the next morning. Soon after the blasts of the horn she heard people running around on the tile floor of the kitchen and front entryway. It sounded like a mad rush to the door and she wondered just how many of the guests had spent the night, which eventually brought her to the realization that she was going to be the one to clean up that morning.
The clock blinked its digital red six one five at her and she groaned. She suddenly hated the fact that the room Johnny had moved her into was on the first floor. It only shared one wall with the living room, but it seemed as if the walls of the house were very thin really early in the morning. Knowing she wasn’t going to get back to sleep soon she made her way to the kitchen just as Joey and Justin were heading out towards the front door.
Joey was wearing the same clothes as the night before, but seemed to be acting perfectly normally considering that alcohol had been present at the party. Justin, on the other hand, looked half-asleep, but seemed to be functioning even if his hair did look as if he'd electricuted himself by sticking his hand into an outlet.
Lance looked the worst, but he looked as if at least he'd made an attempt to clean himself up with a shower. She liked the way his hair stuck out all around, but a baseball hat soon covered it. Nicole wondered if any of the guys’ fans had ever seen them look so out of sorts. She figured that Sara would immediately lose interest in them if she knew what they looked like in the morning.
Just when she thought that she’d gotten away with being in the hallway unnoticed Joey looked over and waved. "Hey Nicole," Joey said. He wiggled his eyebrows at her. She wondered how he could flirt with her that early in the morning. She was barely awake herself and couldn’t believe that he’d stayed up later than her and had been drinking and could be so happy.
"Hi," she waved nervously. She still wasn’t sure that she could believe that NSYNC was in her living room or rather that she was in their living room.
"Hey Nicole," Justin mimicked Joey’s greeting with a goofy look in her direction.
"Hello," she said.
Lance finally looked over and waved as he stuffed an English muffin in his mouth. He took a bite and chewed hard then breathlessly said, "We’re going to be practicing all day. I’ll be back later."
Lance grabbed up his backpack then ran by her with a smile then waved back at the living room. "Just leave all the stuff out. I’m going to have someone come over and clean it up later."
"Whatever." Nicole waved to the guys. She wondered if the rest of her life living in their house was going to be such a whirling dervish. She felt as if they’d blown in the house and had messed stuff up and now were blowing out again.
* * * * *
"So who exactly is Nicole?" Justin immediately asked as the van doors closed and the engine started up. Everyone seemed to settle in a bit as the van wound down and out the driveway carefully then picked up speed on the city streets as they made their way towards the rehearsal hall.
The ten people in the van, spoke quietly as the traffic slowed their progress across town. Although only five would be rehearsing that day, the other five personal bodyguards of the group wouldn't leave the guys' sides. Wes, Lonnie, Mike, House, and Curtis had been with the group forever and everyone was considered family, but that morning Lance wasn’t sure if he wanted to discuss Nicole with the guys.
Instead of answering Lance looked over the seats from where he was in the back tying his shoes and said, "Didn’t you meet her last night?"
"Sort of." Justin was running his hands through his hair. He’d taken out the cornrows sometime the night before and now his hair was sticking out in all directions. Luckily House had remembered to pack up Justin’s baseball hat for practice. They’d made arrangements a few nights before to meet up that morning and House had remembered Justin’s backpack as planned.
Chris was stuffing his face with a breakfast bar, but stopped to ask, "Who?"
"Throw me one!" Lance called using the interuption to drag out the conversation.
"Don’t try to change the subject." Justin scowled at him with a disapproving look.
"I’m not," Lance caught the breakfast bar, ripped it open and stuffed it into his mouth.
"Who's Nicole?" Chris asked.
"The girl from the party last night." Justin laughed as Chris threw the wrapper of his bar over at JC who was sleeping against the window. JC was definitely not going to wake up until they got to practice. He didn’t even flinch when the wrapper bounced off him and fell to the floor.
"She’s just the housekeeper." Lance tried to stay calm, but he had to admit that he had thought about her. He remembered talking to her the night before then had lost her in the crowd. When he’d tried to find her in her room the door was locked so he just went back to partying.
"It didn’t seem to be just that last night." Joey rubbed his unshaven face and looked over at Chris. "You should have seen him. I haven’t seen him that googly eyed over someone since Dani."
"Is that a technical term?" Lance asked calmly trying to drag out the conversation more. He knew that if he waited long enough he’d be saved by the proverbial bell of having to start practice.
"Whoa!" Chris said.
Justin made eye contact with Chris and they repeated. "It’s like…Whoa!"
"What are you talking about?" Lance knew he was blushing, but hope that it wasn’t too noticeable.
"Oh no…I’ve seen that look before." Mike spoke up from his seat in the back next to Lance.
Lance elbowed his assigned guard. "You promised…" Mike knew way more about Lance than the guys did. He and Mike were like partners in crime. Whenever Lance wanted to be "alone" Mike would sneak him out of the hotel or venue to wherever he wanted to go. They were like Batman and Robin on their adventures and Lance had hoped that Mike would keep secrets, but it seemed that even that was going to be impossible.
"This is too good to be keeping promises…," Mike said with a chuckle then seemed to see the upset look on Lance’s face and shut up.
"I saw the way you were looking at her." Joey leaned back in the chair and adjusted the baseball hat to keep the rising sun out of his face.
Lance rubbed his face thinking that the action might turn his cheeks pink and camouflage his embarrassment. There wasn’t much he could hide from his band mates, which in some ways gave him an advantage over some of his friends from back home. The guys knew him better than anyone in the world did, but it was times like this that the familiarity got on Lance’s nerves. "I was drunk."
"You sure were," Justin said.
"Hey now!" Lance said. "Let’s all shut up about my personal life."
Lance leaned back and pulled his baseball hat down over his face.
"So she is…?" Chris said.
Lance pushed the brim of his hat up a bit and stared at the others for a moment. They all seemed to be waiting for an answer. "Is what?"
"Someone you’re interested in?" Joey said.
"Oh just admit it Lance and they’ll leave you alone," JC spoke from behind closed eyes as they slowed to a stop in front of the studio’s doors.
They all piled out and made it into the dance studio just as Darrin and Johnny were settling their business at a table in the corner. The two men, Darrin in his twenties and Johnny in his late thirties, took over the operations of the day as soon as the guys brought in their stuff and put it on the floor.
Lance knew the routine. He’d gotten the schedule the night before and knew that after practice that morning they were going to have lunch then take showers and do a publicity thing, then they were going to work with wardrobe on the costumes for the show before they went back to practicing. Dinner would be quick then they were going to go and watch another one of Johnny’s acts at a club on Paradise Island.
Most of the day was going to be fun, but at the early hour in the morning Lance could only think about going back to sleep. His party had been a success, but it being his first in a while it had left him with the present of a hang over. He wondered for a moment if Nicole had gone back to sleep after they’d left that morning. He didn’t know what her schedule was, but at the moment and with his head pounding he would switch his schedule with hers in a heartbeat.
"OK gentlemen. We’re going begin this project with an update to Bye Bye Bye then we’ll move through the set list and get all of the songs up and running for the show." Darrin stood in front of the mirror set up for their dance session, hands on his hips staring at the guys.
Justin, Chris, Joey, JC and Lance had known Darrin for more than a few years. He was a good choreographer, but Lance knew, as they began the rehearsals, that they were going be working their butts off that day. He just hoped that he could get out of there alive, although even that wouldn’t give him much peace considering that they would be working that way through the weekend.
Darrin flipped on the music and the song that they’d been singing for the last two months came booming out at them. They didn’t at all need to sing for the moment, but Lance found himself mimicking the others as they mouthed the words to the songs. JC, suddenly wide-awake from his nap was as hyper as ever and Joey was making all his hammy faces as usual. Lance of course was counting down the minutes until the dance session was over. He knew the routine like the back of his hand, which was something considering that he’d always had the roughest time with the dancing part of his job.
Twenty minutes later they’d learned the new changes and the adaptations that would be made for the stage version then Lance and Chris went off with Darrin to learn steps while the others went to go and practice their singing parts. Lance hated the extra dance work. He’d never felt comfortable doing the routines, but he knew that to sing meant having to dance and he’d never give up his singing career.
"You here Lance?"
Darrin’s voice broke Lance’s thoughts. Chris too was staring at him and Lance blushed. "Yeah."
"Good, now then, onto the second eight count."
* * * * *
After showering and changing into clothes, Nicole spent most of her morning cleaning up at least some of the mess from the party. She did it not to fulfill the perimeters of her job description, but because she couldn’t stand the sight of the cigarette butts and the beer bottles all over the house. She’d gotten tired of the array of cups and left over food wrappers and bottles after she’d almost stepped in glass in the kitchen when she was getting her morning bowl of cereal.
When the two person cleaning crew showed up she let them at it and confined herself to her room for the time being to catch up on her homework. She normally wasn’t such a bookworm, but she had a shift at the pizza place that night and knew that the rest of the weekend was going to be busy. She wondered for a moment what Lance was going to do for the weekend but put it out of her mind knowing that she didn’t really need to know that kind of information.
It really wasn’t any of her business. Her job description was to take care of the house and the mail that came to the address, not to really take care of the occupants. Being the nice person that she was she figured that she would tell Lance about her planned shopping trip over the weekend. She didn’t know him at all, but figured that he probably had a few favorites or some special foods he liked. It also intrigued her when she thought about it. She doubted that someone with his kind of fame could just go to the grocery store and suddenly wondered how anyone with that lifestyle could have any sort of a normal life.
As Nicole left for work around four thirty for her five o’clock shift she wrote a quick note to Lance saying where she was. She knew that she didn’t have to check in, but figured it would be nice for him to know where she was. She hoped he didn’t expect her to make dinner or anything like that. It wasn’t in the run-down Johnny had given her, but she hadn’t talked about the job with Lance so she wanted to cover her bases.
On her way to work she heard one of the group’s songs on the radio and felt for the first time in a long time that she was special. It was something that she couldn’t quiet explain, but it was as if her association with Lance connected her to the world again, something that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
When the thoughts of her crazy past entered her mind she turned the station and found another song to listen to. She hadn’t thought about her childhood in a long time and didn’t want to start back into those depths any time soon. She’d gotten over the way she and her parents had gotten along actually more importantly not gotten along. It had taken a while, but she was coping and the rest that followed was now only water under the bridge.
* * * * *
Two nights in a row of partying was just about enough for Lance. By the time that the showcase performance of Johnny’s new group ended Lance was feeling like an old man. His legs were sore from all the dancing that morning and he knew that he needed to get to sleep if he was going to get up the next morning and do it all over again. He had Sunday off, which he knew he would spend lounging around the house, but in the mean time he was calling his own curfew.
"They look good," Lance said above the music of the club reporting to Johnny on his new group. They were a girl trio who sang hip-hop songs. It wasn’t Lance’s favorite, but they had impressed him with their stage presence and the songs.
"Thanks man," Johnny said acting for the first time that day as a friend and not a manager, "They aren’t perfect, but we’re getting them there slowly but surely."
Lance noticed more than a few familiar faces in the crowd and knew that he needed to get out of there as soon as he could or he’d be there the rest of the night. For the first time in a long time he had a chance to be a little anti-social and he was going to take advantage it. He’d been feeling a little out of it lately, but he figured that a little more sleep and some free time might knock his head back into the game. "I’m going to head out."
"You ok?" Johnny asked with true concern in his voice. He stared at him closely as if he could tell that something was wrong.
Lance didn’t want to make it known about his need for a little time off so he just plastered a smile on his face, the way that he had for the last few weeks and said, "Yeah, just tired."
"I heard that you had a party last night." Lance wondered for a moment if Johnny really had known about the party or if he’d just imagined what the group had done the night before from the look on their faces that morning. "Did you talk to your mom?"
"Not yet. They’re coming down I think on Sunday with Stacey to celebrate, I think. Anyway I’m going to head out…"
Johnny grabbed Lance’s arm and pulled him over before he could get away. "Hey…how is Nicole working out?"
"I’ve only seen her for about five minutes, but I don’t think there should be any troubles."
"Five minutes?" Johnny said, "She wasn’t there last night?"
"She was for a while, but disappeared."
"She seemed like a shy one when we met, but really. I think if you give her a chance you’ll like her. Her boss at the other job gave her a great reference."
"Yeah, says that she’s a good worker and doesn’t gossip with people. That’s why I hired her."
"Good choice," Lance said with a smile then found himself yawning.
"Ok, well get out of here…"
* * * * *
Home Sweet Home Nicole thought as she opened the door to the dark house. Thank God that there wasn’t another party that night. If there had been she thought that she’d go crazy.
She wondered for a moment if Lance was around. She couldn’t tell if he’d returned or not. It was midnight, according to the clock in her car so she figured that he’d be asleep if he was home considering the fact that he’d left so early that morning. She knew if she’d been woken up that morning at such an early hour and not allowed to go back to sleep that she’d be dead on her feet.
Closing the door behind her she walked into the house and not only found that the air conditioning was on, but also found the television on in the living room. It was playing videos on MTV at a fairly low volume and she was about to shut it off when she saw Lance asleep in the overstuffed cushions of the couch.
Dressed in gray sweatpants and a plan white T-shirt he was lying on his back, remote still in one hand and a coke can in the other. His shirt was twisted a bit and she could see his flat stomach sticking out from the T-shirt and sweatpants. He looked as if he’d been there for a while and she didn’t want to bother him but she thought she’d put the remote on the coffee table.
Nicole kicked off her shoes then slowly made her way towards him. She reached for the remote carefully, uncurled his fingers then placed his hand back where it had been. She placed it on the wooden coffee table then turned to get the can of soda. She uncurled his fingers from around the can and he jerked awake.
"What?" he sat up and looked around for a moment. "What time is it?"
"It’s about midnight. Just go back to sleep."
Lance sat up and held his head for a minute then stood up knocking into Nicole. She put her hand out and held onto his shoulder to steady herself. Her reaction to him made even her almost sick to her stomach. It was something straight out of some romance novel, the hot flash sort of feeling and that split second where she thought about kissing him, but knew that she couldn’t. When his arm went around her waist to steady them she found her cheek next to his as he pressed her to him.
When he backed away Nicole found herself shivering in the air-conditioned temperature of the room. "Sorry about that."
Nicole backed away. "It’s ok."
"So what did you do tonight?" he asked as he made he way around her and went into the kitchen.
"I worked." She looked down at the white polo shirt that acted as her uniform shirt and frowned. She needed a shower. She could still feel the grease of the pizzas. It felt like she had a whole layer of it all over her face and arms and hands.
"Really?" he asked, "Did you have fun?"
"It wasn’t something I’ll write home about, but considering some nights I’ve had, tonight was pretty tame." She unhooked her nametag and pulled her apron off and put them on the counter.
"Where do you work?"
Nicole went around and grabbed out a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water then climbed up on the counter to sit. "At this pizza place…"
Lance stared at her with big eyes. "Does it have a name?"
"Yes…" She took a drink of water and tried to ignore the way his tired eyes were staring at her. "It’s Gino's on 7th."
"Never heard of it," Lance said. He took out a bowl and the ice cream from the freezer. She’d gotten vanilla and chocolate to replace the old half gallons that she’d thrown out when she’d moved in and luckily Lance didn’t seem to notice. "They have good stuff?"
"Yeah. It’s got some stiff competition from NYPD, but we’re doing ok."
"Well I’ll have to stop by there sometime." He scooped out a scoop into the bowl and said, "Want some?"
Nicole waved away the ice cream offer. "I wouldn’t if I were you,"
"Why not?" He licked the ice cream scooper then threw it into the sink.
"Well other than the fact that one of the girls there is obsessed with you?" Nicole leaned back and watched him stuff his face for a moment.
"Well it’ll be cool then. I’ll shock her when I show up." He held the spoon out to her and said, "Come on…just a bite."
Nicole stared at the spoon for a moment then said, "Fine…but if you get this on me I’m going to kill you."
Lance gave her the ice cream nicely then offered her another bite, but was startled and ended up dropping the scoop into her lap as the phone rang.
"Crap!" Lance said then handed her a towel and reached over to grab the phone. "Who’s this?"
Nicole waited for a moment wiping the ice cream off of her shirt and khakis then figured that the phone call was going to take a while so she made her exit waving to Lance as he continued his conversation.
After changing into her pajamas she passed by the kitchen again on her way to throw her work clothes into the washer and found Lance still on the phone. This time when she passed he was sitting at the kitchen table writing on a pad of paper. He didn’t notice her so she went to the garage and started a load of laundry then headed back to her room.
The next morning Nicole managed to sleep through Lance’s pick-up. She heard the honking of the car and checked the time only to see that it was way too early to get up then rolled over. She drifted back to sleep after she heard Lance run through the house and slam the door as he departed.
When she got up he was still gone so she planted herself on the couch, still in her pajamas, to study the morning away. She had her books, a drink, and a snack and wasn’t going to move until her reading was done. She had a paper due on Monday night and needed to finish a novel before she could finish the assignment. She didn’t have to work on Sunday, but had planned to work her way around the house cleaning so she only had that morning to get her homework done since she worked that afternoon.
Around nine o'clock the phone rang, but she didn't get up to get it figuring that the answering machine would pick up for her. The mechanical message played
"Leave a message after the tone…"
Nicole wondered if Lance just hadn't had time to put a message on the machine or if he'd left it as the mechanical tone like that because of his celebrity status.
Soon she heard, "Nicole? You there? Pick up! Nicole? It’s Lance. If you get this message can you please bring me…"
Nicole pushed her book off her lap and it hit her foot, but she ignored the pain and ran for the phone. She picked it up just before she thought Lance might hang up. "I’m here." She breathed hard for a moment then calmed down a bit, "What do you need?"
"I forgot that we have a meet and greet this afternoon and I need to have some clothes to change into. I have my workout stuff, but not something that I can justify wearing to meet fans in."
"Ok," Nicole said.
"Will you bring me some?" He sounded a bit embarrassed about having to ask her for a favor, which she thought, was completely sweet.
Nicole pressed the phone to her ear. "Sure…if you really need them. I think I can drop them off before I go to work."
"Good, will you take the cordless up to my room and I’ll tell you where my stuff is."
Nicole started out of the kitchen and made her way up to the second floor. As she walked she could hear music in the background. "So what are you doing this morning?"
"Well I spent two hours dancing my butt off, now I’m doing retouches to some songs we’re putting on a soundtrack, then I get to go back to dancing."
"You almost there?" he asked. He sounded a little edgy so Nicole took the last two steps with a little jump and sped up as she approached his room.
"Yeah, hold on."
Nicole opened the door to reveal the sparseness of the master bedroom contained within four light blue colored walls. She’d been in huge room only once before, when she first had moved into the house and the look of it hadn’t changed much since her last visit. The room contained a queen-sized bed, two wooden night stands, a wooden dresser, two lamps and only one picture on the wall. The framed poster of Garth Brooks promoting his Live in New York Concert stuck out in the room. It had been just another poster the last time she’d been in the room, but now that she knew the owner, she was surprised at his choice of decorating since Lance’s group was definitely not at all related to country music. Other than the navy blue and white comforter not being in place and the suitcases in the window seat on the far side of the bed, the untouched stack of moving boxes and everything else lay where it had been a few weeks before.
Nicole took a breath. "Ok, what do you want me to get?"
"There’s some clean shirts in my black suitcase. Grab a white one out, then grab a pair of jeans out of the top box near the closet and there should be a black sweater with a red and blue stripe across the chest hanging in the closet."
"Ok," she said, "Do you need socks and…stuff?"
Lance hesitated for a moment and she heard more noise behind him. "Yeah. There should be some clean ones in the bag next to the suitcase."
"You need shoes?" she asked trying to get away from the touchy subject of her picking out underwear for him.
"Yeah, there should be a pair of black boots inside the closet."
Nicole emptied the small bag that Lance had said contained his underwear and packed the jeans and shirt and other items, then tucked his black boots into the bag along with them. "Ok, so where do I bring these to?"
"You know where 105th is?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"The address is 2609 105th. It’s a big warehouse looking place."
"Ok," Nicole grabbed the bag and headed down to the first floor. "When do you need it by?"
"Some time in the next hour?" he asked, "Is that ok?"
"Yeah," she said.
"Ok, well then, see ya."
"Wait!" she said.
"Are they going to stop me?" she said, "you know…the security guys?"
"Yeah. Just tell them that you’re looking for me. If they give you any trouble show them the address tag on the bag."
Nicole looked at the address tag on the bag and saw that it had the group’s NSYNC logo with a star then it said below it Lance’s name then "Country" underneath it.
"You set?" he asked.
"Good, I have to run. See ya in a while."
"Bye," Nicole said.
* * * * *
The 105th studio where Lance and the others were working on their tour was housed in a huge warehouse that took up most of a city block. It contained not only a complete dance studio and a recording studio, but also housed a huge area where construction crews built the stages that groups used on the road. The group had used the 105th studio in years before and Lance always had compared the huge machine shop to the machine shop in his high school. The only thing that was different seemed to be the ages of the participants in the projects. The guys that were welding and pounding on the proposed stage for the group definitely weren’t high school aged.
Joey and Lance had finished up their morning recording session and were walking back across the construction area of the warehouse towards the dance studio when Lance heard Mike’s sharp whistle from the doorway. He turned to see Mike weaving through the maze of machines with Nicole on his heels.
"Hey," Lance waved then made his way over to where Mike and Nicole were coming towards him.
She was in the outfit she’d been in the night before when they talked in the kitchen. The white shirt and khaki pants made her look boring and with her hair pulled into a ponytail she looked really plain. She’d looked ok the night of the party in jeans and a T-shirt, but if he had to choose he’d put her in more girly clothing, like the pajamas he’d seen her in his first night home. He still remembered how great her legs had looked and how her tan had been shown off perfectly in the pink tank top.
"Look who I found," Mike said with a smile handing over the bag to Lance. He gave them both a smile then retreated.
Lance gave her a smile. "So are you on your way to work?"
"Yeah," she said. She looked around for a moment and seemed nervous again. He wondered if it was because the construction crew had returned from their morning break. "I guess I should head out. You look busy."
"Lance!" The voice echoed in the quiet of the warehouse.
"You don’t have to scream!" Lance yelled turning to find Chris leaning out of the dance studio.
"Stop flirting and come on!"
Lance turned back to Nicole who seemed to be blushing. "Wanna watch us practice for a minute? It’s noting great, but it might give you a few laughs."
"I don’t think I should," Nicole said. He watched her put her hands together nervously as if she was going to break something if she touched any of the equipment. "I’d feel strange…"
Feeling obliged to say something Lance leaned towards her, "You really should relax. None of us bite you know."
"I know," Nicole said. "It’s just that you’re at work and I feel strange interrupting."
"You’re not interrupting," Lance said, "Since I did need you to come over here."
"Well anyway," she said. She gave one last look around, flashed Lance a smile then said, "I think I’m going to be late tonight."
"Well we’re probably not going to get out of here early either," he said.
"James Lance Bass!" someone yelled from the dance studio.
Again Lance turned to the direction of the door. This time it was Darrin and Lance knew he needed to get to practice. When he turned back around to tell Nicole goodbye he saw her slipping out the door where she’d come in. He let out a sigh then made his way to the dance studio with his bag of stuff.
"Did you get your crap?" Justin asked when Lance returned to the dance studio.
"Yes mom," Lance said.
"Ooh…testy…. girl troubles Lancey boy?"
"No," he said.
"You sure?" Joey asked, "I thought you would have asked her to come and watch us for a while."
"I did," he said. He leaned down and retied his shoes then looked over at Darrin who seemed to be caught up in the drama that the guys were gossiping about.
"So why didn’t she come on in?" Darrin asked, "I want to meet the new love of your life."
"She’s not the love of my life," Lance said, "She’s the housekeeper."
"Sure. I’ve never heard of anyone going out of their way for you if they weren’t interested in you," Chris piped up.
"It’s her job." Lance rubbed his face with frustration. This wasn’t going well. He was already tired from his few days of practice and his lack of sleep, but the ragging from the other guys was just making his head begin to show the signs of a headache coming on.
"Ok, ok," Darrin said, "Lance clearly isn’t going to give up the goods on this girl so lets get some practicing done, then when he’s weak, we’ll attack him."
The guys laughed and Lance covered his face for a moment before he heard the music come on in the room and they began to practice the routine again.
* * * * * *
Nicole had just enough time to get to work, stuff her face with a piece of pizza then started her shift. It was going to be a hectic day, but she knew that she’d get out of there earlier than the night before since her shift was over at eight. She usually would have liked to work more hours, but that afternoon she started her shift feeling a little more tired than she normally did.
It was almost six o’clock, a full hour past when she should have had her dinner break, when Nicole finally called to the others that she was working with. "I’ll be down at Subway for about a half hour!"
She took her apron off and made her way to the sandwich shop, placed her order then sucked down a large coke and a small sub before she looked at her watch and saw that it was time to go back to work. Normally she would have stayed away for an hour and would have chatted with a few people that she knew on duty at the Subway, but it was Saturday night. Due to the beginning of the summer and the day of the week Nicole knew that more people would be out and about and ordering pizzas, so she decided to take pity on the people on her shift and get back to lighten the load.
When she returned to Gino’s she put her apron back on then went around the counter. Tricia, one of the high school girls that were working that night stopped her before she grabbed another pizza order. "Did you get your flowers?"
"Flowers?" Nicole looked around for a moment. What was she talking about?
"You didn’t see them?" Tricia said and pointed to the bouquet of long stem roses that were sitting just to the right of where customers were placing orders.
"Those are for me?"
"That’s what the delivery guy said," Tricia said, "I signed for them since you weren’t here."
"Thanks." Nicole shook her head and immediately wondered who would have sent her flowers. Most of her friends from school were still out of town on vacation and Sara was overseas.
Nicole paused to smell one of the roses before she pulled the card off the holder it was on and opened it.
* * * * * * *
Thanks for interrupting… LB
* * * * * * *
"Who's LB?" Tricia asked suddenly looking over Nicole's shoulder.
"No one special," Nicole said and tucked the card into her pocket and returned to work.
"They send you flowers and are nobody special?" Tricia asked. "I wish I had no one that special in my life."
Nicole stopped for a moment and wondered if Lance really was the flower sending type of guy or if this was going to be a once in a lifetime sort of event. She knew that getting flowers might not be an every day occurrence so she was careful with the arrangement and set them further away from where they might get messed up.
"Hello?" Nicole said into the phone. She was about to walk out to the back of the house to see if Lance was home when it had sounded and she knew that she should answer it thinking that Lance might have forgotten something again since he didn't seem to be around the house.
She'd come home from work in a fairly good mood, closed the door when she didn't hear anything breathed a sigh of relief. She knew that Lance had the day off on Sunday and half expected to come home to a party.
"Hey Nicole." The confident male voice had a light tone and although Nicole didn't recognize the owner right away she figured that it was probably one of Lance's friends considering that she hadn't gotten any phone calls in the two weeks since she'd moved in.
"Hello?" she said with a cautious tone.
"It's Joey." He laughed a little and Nicole recognized it as him.
"Oh…Hi." She relaxed and leaned against the counter. "Lance isn't here…" She looked around once more for good measure to make sure that she hadn't missed him. "Isn't he with you?"
"I just got home…Lance should be there in a while…but…I wasn't calling for Lance…I wanted to ask you something," he said.
"Oh," Nicole tensed up a little. She didn't know Joey other than meeting him at the party for five minutes and it puzzled her as she tried to guess what he was going to ask her.
"I was going to go out tomorrow night with my brother Steve and his girlfriend Theresa and I wanted to know if you wanted to go dancing with us," he said.
"I don't know Joe," she said hesitantly. She remembered the way that Angela had practically scratched out her eyes and wondered for a moment why he wasn't asking her. Also there was the Lance factor. Would she step over some line with Lance if she went out with Joey? She didn't think that she needed his permission exactly, but they were friends and she just wasn't sure what the exact rules were between them. She knew that within her own groups of friends there were certain things that you just didn't do, and dating one of your friends' friends or co-workers was one of them.
"Awe come on," he said.
"I don't know if it's right…."
There was a pause and Nicole could hear the radio go on behind him. He covered up his end of the receiver and yelled something then got back on the phone. "Sorry about that," he said.
"No troubles," Nicole smiled. She tried to picture Joey in some house across town dealing with whoever or whatever that was in the room with him.
"So?" he said.
"So, are you going to come with me?"
"I'm not sure…I mean I don't really know you…"
I'm just a guy asking a girl to dance," he said with an overly dramatic and emotional voice.
She couldn't help but laugh at the way he made fun of the movie Notting Hill.
When she didn't answer Joey decided to whine a little. "Puhlease!…Puhlease!"
She laughed as he broke character for a moment and let out a huge laugh. With a smile nodded her head then said into the phone with a laugh, "I guess I can't pass up that offer."
"Good," he said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow around seven and we'll catch dinner and meet up with my brother and Trez at the club."
The sound of the front door opening made Nicole pause.
"Lu-cy! I'm Home!" Lance yelled with a strange wanna be Cuban accent. Normally it would have sounded fine coming from someone, but with his southern drawl it came out sounding even worse.
"Hey. I gotta go," Nicole said softly into the phone.
Joey whined for a moment then said, "Tomorrow at seven."
"Alright…see ya then." Nicole hung up the phone. "Funny!" Nicole called to him as she went around the counter and fished out a glass for some water.
"What's up?" Lance asked.
"Nothing much," she said. She wanted to tell him about her date…she needed to celebrate a little, but wasn't sure how he'd react so she kept her mouth shut.
Lance had on a hooded sweatshirt and jeans and for after a moment she asked, "Aren't you hot?"
"A little." He proceeded to strip off his sweatshirt, revealing a wrinkled orange T-shirt with a logo on it that said Men at Work and he threw the sweatshirt over into the living room. She hadn't really wanted him to strip down, but she distracted herself from watching him by keeping her eyes on the sweatshirt. It landed on the back of the couch. In her line of vision now was the bouquet of flowers. She kept her eyes on it, nervously staring at them to keep her eyes off him. She'd placed them on the counter by the phone when she'd first come in and had ignored them until he came in the door.
"I see that you got the flowers," he said with a cocky smile. He leaned over and smelled one of them.
"Yes…thank you." She watched him walk around the counter and into the kitchen with an air of happiness that she hadn't seen since he'd been drunk. "What's put you in a good mood all of a sudden?"
"I have the day off tomorrow." He pulled open the refrigerator and pulled out a coke can. "…And my parents are flying in with my sister for the night…I haven't seen them in about a month and a half now."
"What?" Nicole stood in front of him trying not to feel too panicked. Lance's parents were flying in and the house was a mess…or at least she thought that it could be cleaner. She'd planned to spend Sunday fixing the place up a little.
"What what?" he asked. He held the coke can away from himself and opened it.
She paced for a moment first going to get a paper towel then she leaned down and wiped up a few drops of soda that had fallen onto the floor. "Your parents are coming tomorrow?" She looked up at him from where she was at his feet.
"Yeah," he said stepping back, "Why?"
"Cuz the house is a mess." She got up and threw the used paper towel into the trash.
Lance looked around the room for a moment. "Where?" he asked.
"Well, if you throw all your stuff around like you did your sweatshirt I don't know what I'm up against…since I haven't been upstairs since you got home really."
"My room is a mess, but the rest of the house is ok."
"I need to vacuum and to dust."
"This is a bachelor pad Nicole, not Buckingham Palace," he said with a laugh.
"But it's your mother," she said.
* * * * *
Lance couldn't believe she was being so unreasonable. He knew that she didn't have a clue about the group, but really. Anyone would know that a person's family wasn't going to be staring at the floor if they hadn't seen their family member in almost two months. He wondered why she was so upset all of a sudden.
"Yeah…my mom who hasn't seen me in over a month. She's not going to notice if the place isn't vacuumed."
"Ugh!" she stomped her foot and walked out of the kitchen. "She'll notice and she'll be wondering why you've even got me here."
"Hey!" Lance called after her. He followed her out of the kitchen, down the hall and stopped in the doorway of her room. She was pacing around the room, which now actually looked lived in. When he'd left on tour there hadn't been anything in the room and now it contained a queen sized bed, a desk, a few paintings and a bean bag chair.
"Lance, you're paying me to be a housekeeper and since I've moved in, I hate to admit it, but I haven't really done anything to earn my keep."
"You brought me my stuff the other day," he said.
"That's not in my job description," she said.
"Don't freak out," he said.
Although the late hour didn't call for it, she was straightening her sheets.
"Hey!" he said when she brushed by him.
She hurried down the hall.
"Hey!" he boomed at her. She stopped and he could see her scrunch up her shoulders. "I was talking to you…"
She turned around and he saw that she had tears in her eyes.
"What the hell is going on?" he asked. He leaned against the wall and watched her. Her whole body was tense. She looked more nervous than a fan meeting him for the first time.
"Nothing," she said. She wiped her eyes quickly and said, "I'm just stressed out."
"Don't fall apart on me now…I'm just getting used to you." He walked towards her and put a hand out to her. Placing a hand on her shoulder he looked in her eyes and said, "Don't stress out. I know my mother and she won't notice anything."
Nicole nodded. He watched some of her worry subside, but there was still something there that she couldn't hide. Something really had freaked her out and Lance was going to find out what it was. If she was going to continue to live in his house then he needed to know what to do and what not to do to keep the stress level low. He didn't need to come home to face more stress.
"I really need to get to sleep."
"Sounds like a good idea," he said. "I have to make some phone calls, but I'll try to keep it down."
She walked back past him and turned around for a moment, "Sorry about that…"
"Don't worry about it."
Lance went into the living room and flopped down onto the couch after grabbing the cordless receiver from the counter. He was tired and needed a shower, but it was too early in the evening to be thinking of settling down. He needed to do a little unpacking in his room and needed to get used to his house again since he hadn't really been home in a long time. First though he needed to talk to Johnny. He hoped that maybe Johnny would have more answers about the mystery woman who was now occupying the first floor.
Lance dialed Johnny's cell number.
"Hey Johnny," Lance said.
"What's up Lanceten?"
"I had a question really quickly," he said. He could heard the background noise of Johnny's house and hated to interupt his time with his family.
"Shoot," Johnny said.
"So what do you know about Nicole?" Lance asked.
"Why?" Johnny's voice filled with concern, "What happened?"
"Nothing," Lance said, "I just wanted to know more about her since she is living in my house."
"Well she goes to school and works at Gino's. She said she had a small group of friends and seemed pretty adament about her privacy. I figured that she would be the perfect person to hire since she didn't seem to be into blabbing information."
"Did she say anything about any family?"
"We had her checked out of course, by security. She is an only child and according to the file that Mike pulled up on her, she doesn't seem to be in contact with her family."
"Oh," Lance said.
"What happened?" Johnny said.
"Nothing," Lance said. "I gotta make some more calls. I'll see you on Monday."
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