FIREWORKS!


ONE:


"So how does this all work?" she asked as she waited in the crowded Orlando Airport to board the flight West. A million people were leaving for the long Fourth of July weekend letting Dani, Boo, Angela and her out of the spotlight. Her three traveling companions sat together across the isle from her in the waiting area wasting time by reading and chatting as if the trip was nothing to be nervous about.

Nicole on the other hand had been stressing for the last two weeks since Lance had told her that he'd booked her a flight out with the other girls to see him. She'd repacked a million times and had almost called to cancel her ticket a few times. She and Lance had been talking on the phone for the last two months while he'd been on tour and things had been going as well as any other long distance relationship could go. He called when he could get more than a few minutes of free time, which seemed always to be in the middle of the night and she missed him every moment in between.

Boo flipped the page of her magazine and gave Nicole a stern look. "We get on the plane and it flies away. If you want the specifics I'm sure you can talk to the pilot…"

"Boo, leave her alone," Angela said with a sympathetic look in Nicole's direction, "You were this nervous when you first went to see JC in England."

"I'm not nervous," Nicole said trying to convince herself of that. Boo had been bugging her all morning, making her even more unsettled than she already was, but the playful teasing had gotten worse since they'd gotten to the airport.

"And the Pope isn't Catholic!" Boo smiled at her with a corny smile.

"Don't mind her," Dani said readjusting the nylon carry-on bag that contained Chris's two pug puppies Busta and Korea. The dogs had fallen asleep in the ventilated bag on the way to the airport and seemed to still be asleep in the bag at their feet. "She's just sexually frustrated."

"Yeah right!" Boo said with an evil grin directed towards Dani. The play back and forth between the two girls could have been taken two ways, but Nicole knew, from spending a few lunches and shopping trips together with them that the girls were like sisters. Nicole had fallen into the group comfortably knowing that they were the only people in the world who knew what she was going through. Now though, as they left for the trip, they were making it clear that Nicole was the novice of the group and needed a little breaking in before she was really a part of their little click.

Dani was the more level headed one of the two of them and stayed calm while teased. "Hey. I already have three kids to take care of. I don't need any more."

"Three kids?" Nicole asked not quite understanding.

"Yeah," Dani said, "Busta, Korea-"

"And Chris!"

Angela laughed at Dani's instant lovesick expression at the mention of Chris. All of them had been in good moods over the last month and while a few of them had gotten a little depressed about being away from the guys they all seemed to be in better moods now that the trip was officially under way.

"Digital Get Down," Dani shot in with a laugh.

Nicole joined in the laughter at the mention of the group's song. Nicole had taken it upon herself, during her time away from Lance, to learn most of the groups' material. She hadn't sung in years, but found comfort in listening to the guys on the radio and the CD's she'd purchased, as if singing with them connected her to them in their absence. Digital Get Down, off their latest release, was the perfect song to describe the contact between the girls and the group. No one had seen them in person since Biloxi, about twenty shows ago and Nicole hadn't seen them since they'd left Orlando due to her schedule. The only contact had been through phone calls and a few letters but email seemed to be keeping Dani and Chris together.

"You both have some catching up to do," Boo said giving Angela and Nicole looks.

To say that Boo was outgoing was an understatement. She seemed to be fearless in social situations and made friends and enemies wherever she went, but Nicole found that it was good to have her on their side. Boo had sat Nicole down that morning, before she'd started her teasing and had given Nicole a crash course in being a famous person's girlfriend. She explained everything from avoiding the cameras to being polite to fans.

Dani seemed to be the brains of the outfit planning out all the details of the trip, down to the shopping time that they'd have before the second show to the spa treatment that they would have before the first show.

Angela and Nicole had their places in the group too. Angela had the most knowledge of the guys while Nicole seemed to be the mother of the group. Nicole's cool decision making skills caused them to think before they leapt into things, like when Boo had wanted to get a limo to the airport. From what Nicole could tell, leaving for a trip in a limo would only bring more attention to them which wasn't something that any of them wanted seeing that Boo's picture had somehow made it into the newspapers a few weeks before.

"Yeah well at least Justin isn't dating anyone right now. We can't be in last place." Angela spoke up.

Despite her initial reaction to Angela, Nicole had come to love all the girls in their own ways. Angela seemed to be the least affected by the whole living situation, but seemed also to be the most sensitive when it came to dealing with fans. When the guys had left town Angela had come over and hung out with Nicole at Gino's a few times. Since the girls both seemed to be in the same places in their relationships they'd discussed in detail how to deal with the jealousy and ill feelings that they had about seeing their men with girls hanging all over them.

The flight was called and everyone picked up their things and went to find their first class seats. Nicole hadn't flown first class in years and was excited and nervous about the whole thing. She made it to her seat before feeling extremely nervous again.

"Chill out girl. This is supposed to be fun." Dani set the bag of puppies on the floor for a moment while she removed a sweater from where she'd thrown it over her carry-on bag and slipped it on before sitting down again.

They'd all dressed nicely for the flight. Being the more tomboyish of the bunch Nicole had chosen sleek black pants and a deep blue button down short sleeved shirt and black slides. She stuck out a bit, looking more business casual than the others had dressed, but the other girls looked nice in their own ways. Dani had chosen a pink sweater-set and a black skirt and black slides while Boo had gone all out in her knee length dress that looked like the print of a red bandana that matched her platform sandals. Angela too had gone all out that morning, showing up at Lance's house in black Capri pants and a sea green back-less shirt and sandals.

Nicole had packed up one outrageous outfit that looked similar to Angela's shirt and a skirt that looked like the print of Dani's dress, but doubted that she would be bold enough to wear it. The girls had told her that they were going to dress up for the two concerts that they'd be attending while visiting the guys and that Nicole had to break out a little and dress like a teeny-bopper for a change.

"How does this all work though?" Nicole asked again with a low tone to her voice hoping that Boo wouldn't hear her and tease her again.

"It's easy. Basically in front of the fans we act like we don’t know them--"

"Then behind closed doors we attack them!" Boo said leaning over from the seat behind Nicole. She laughed uncontrollably for a moment then settled down.

Angela laughed at the strange behavior and the comment. "Ok, Whore."

Boo looked at her nails and smiled wickedly. "Two months is a long time to go without."

"Ok. We know a little too much about your sex life now. We don't need to hear all about you and JC. Thank you very much." Dani said.

"So do we get to hang out with them at all? During rehearsals they seemed really busy."

"What's with all the questions?" Boo asked with a nasty tone to her voice. "You writing an article?"

"No," Nicole said with a frown.

"They usually are busy," Dani began to explain before Nicole could try to answer Boo further.

"Switches!" Boo said loudly as she buckled herself in.

"Switches?" Nicole was learning slowly that the girls had their own certain language, but hadn't yet gotten down all the lingo.

"Yeah," Boo said with a smile. "We get rooms next to each other and use the connecting doors."

"Oh."

"That way Chris and I get to room together and so do Boo and JC, but it looks like the guys are rooming together still."

"Is all that a big concern--do people really notice stuff like that?"

"You'd be surprised what they notice and what gets on the Internet about us and the guys. You shouldn't be paranoid about it, just try not to call attention to yourself if you're anywhere near them."

"Easy for you to say," Angela chimed in. "I always get stuck with Boo."

Boo slapped at Angela playfully. "I can't help it if I love my man."

"It still amazes me that YOU and JC are together," Dani said leaning back to look at Boo.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She looked shocked and a little insulted by the comment.

"He's way mellow and well…" she smiled at her friend, "…you're just…not."

"If it weren't for me JC would be in the studio twenty-four-seven. I have to pull his ass away from the boards as it is and if being…" she put her fingers up to show quote signs. "…"Not mellow" works, then I'll act that way."

"Come on, let's get this Rancho in gear!" Angela said loudly into the plane compartment as if the pilot would hear her and pull away from the gate faster.

Nicole settled into her seat a little and tried to remain calm. Her heart was beating out of her chest and the thought of seeing Lance again made the butterflies awaken in her stomach.

****************

"Lance is your watch broken?" a reporter asked in a formal tone.

He looked away from his watch and looked around as the group of reporters and the other guys stared at him. He didn't know who had asked the question so he directed his next move to the whole crowd hoping that he didn't look too confused by missing the question. "I'm sorry. What was the question?" A few snickers rose from the press gathered in the small room. Lance smiled.

"Do you have somewhere else you'd liked to be?" a different reporter asked.

"No," he said trying to show a big smile while wanting to kill the reporter who'd dared to ask him about his lapse in attention. It was stupid of him to space out like that in front of a crowd and he knew that he'd hear about it later, but at the moment he wasn't worried about that. He had other issues on his mind, like the fact that Nicole was on her way to him and he was very nervous about seeing her again. "I just think I forgot to switch my watch to this time zone…" He calculated the wrong time in his head and continued, "My watch says its almost three…" It was almost two real time. "…Does anyone have the correct time?"

Someone in the crowd yelled out the time and everyone watched as Lance moved around the hands of his watch finally moving them back to where they'd been in the first place. A few reporters took pictures, which Lance hated considering that he wasn't doing anything special, but put up with it. He figured that they'd already taken enough pictures of the guys that day, but knew that any opportunity to get a picture was a good one to reporters. They'd been sitting there for the last hour answering questions and had another half an hour to go before being let out to go grab a late lunch with a contest winner. He smiled and when done said a huge, "There."

"Good one Lance," Chris said from next to him through clenched teeth while leaning away from the microphones the guys were using.

"Yeah Lance," Joey said with a cheeky smile from his other side.

"Sorry," Lance said as JC answered a question from the end of the row of guys. "I'm just worried about the flight."

A few flashes went off when JC took off the jean jacket he'd been wearing. The black sleeveless T-shirt, which over the last few weeks had become his new uniform, showed off his arms well, a picture that added to his already infamous status as being an eligible bachelor. Little did they know that he was already taken. JC wasn't normally the guy to bring attention to himself while off stage, but Lance thought that JC liked the extra attention his bare arms were getting in the press these days. Lance watched a smile crease over his friend's face and wondered if his good mood was because Boo was going to be in his room later. He was always a little more outgoing when his girlfriend was around.

"They've just landed," Joey said as he scratched his arm to camouflage that he was staring at his watch too. "They'll be up in the rooms by the time we get out of here."

"You as nervous as me?" Lance asked Joey as Justin began to explain about the controversy over Digital Get Down.

Lance had been feeling a little pressure from the guys and from just being who he was about the whole situation with Nicole. He and Chris were sharing a room which meant that Chris would move out and go stay with Dani for their few days leaving Lance to be alone with Nicole. He wasn't bothered by the living situation really, but had a feeling that she wouldn't be too pleased to be stuck with him overnight.

"Yeah, but just chill out," Joey said.

Lance made a face at Joey. He was as cool and calm as ever. He and Angela had known each other for a million years and had shared a room a few times on tour.

"Look at that tree!" Chris said loudly causing a diversion of attention from the two group members who were chatting amongst themselves.

The reporters laughed at Chris's antics and Lance took a few deep breaths. He'd had butterflies in his stomach since he'd gotten up that morning at three to go to the radio station interview with Justin. He wanted Nicole to get there and be in his arms so he could start dealing with his nervousness instead of going over and over in his head with "what ifs" that had been plaguing him for the two previous weeks since he'd booked her flight.

He wanted her to come and visit, but at the same time he was preparing himself to deal with the same type of reaction she'd had when she'd dropped him off when he'd left Orlando. He'd told her a million times over the phone that she had nothing to worry about, but deep down he knew that she would be a little out of sorts during her stay with him.


TWO:


"So what's next?" Nicole asked as they exited the plane with the rest of the passengers. She knew that they guys weren't going to pick them up, but was curious to see who would be waiting for them. When she hadn't seen anyone with a sign or at least a welcoming face she got a little worried. They were barely out of the gate and Boo gave her a nasty look. Nicole frowned at her expression. "I'll shut up now."

"Mike should be around here somewhere," Dani said straining to look over and around the other passengers from their flight. They'd been on a flight with vacationers and everyone seemed to be greeting relatives and friends in front of them, blocking their view from the rest of the gathered people.

"G Funk and The Homies!" A male voice boomed over the low rumbled of conversation coming from the exiting passengers and a moment later a huge black bodyguard made his way out of the crowd. He gave hugs to the other girls, petted Busta and Korea, who had popped their heads out of the carry-on bag, then presented himself to Nicole.

"I'm Mike. Bodyguard. At your service." He nodded with each statement then made a bow as if their meeting was in Buckingham Palace and not a crowded airport. Mike was about six feet five inches tall and Nicole guessed outweighed her by about a hundred fifty pounds if not more. He wore a black collared shirt with the NSYNC logo on the chest of the right side with his name embroidered underneath it. She'd seen the other bodyguard House in a shirt similar to that when she and Lance had said goodbye two months before.

"Mikey, the dogs need a pit stop," Dani said softly tugging on his shirt to get his attention.

"It's all covered. Follow me…" He spoke in a dramatic fashion and gave a wave and trailed off through the crowd leaving a path for them to follow.

Nicole followed behind Angela and Boo pulling both her own bag and Dani's behind her while struggling to keep her backpack from sliding off her shoulder. Dani had the doggie bag open still and was trying to balance it while keeping Busta and Korea from jumping out.

When they reached the curb a van was waiting and as she handed the two bags over to Mike Nicole looked around a little. She'd never been to the Midwest and found it strangely cold considering that it was the middle of the summer. The wind was blowing and the sun was out, but it was no Orlando.

"Ok campers hop in," Mike said holding the door.

Boo crawled in the back seat and stretched out and for the first time that day Nicole saw the girl quiet. She had talked the whole flight with Angela about their plans for the weekend, which had been interesting to listen to, but the sound of her voice had become a little annoying considering that it didn't stop.

Dani and Angela took the middle seat leaving Nicole to sit by Mike in the front seat just behind the driver. "The hotel is about a mile away," Mike explained crawling in after closing the door. He sat down then turned to look at Dani. "There is a sports park across the street from the hotel for the dogs."

"Thanks Mike," Dani said with a sweet smile.

"Don't thank me, Chris was so anal about the hotel that we had to check into one then check out and check into this one."

"You did all that for the dogs?" Nicole asked with a shocked look on her face. She couldn't believe that the group had changed hotels to accommodate Chris's pets. She wondered what was in store for her and prayed that she wouldn't make any halfhearted remarks or jokes that someone might take seriously. She didn't want to say something as simple as the fact that she liked ranch dressing--what if they didn't have any? She didn't want someone to waste their time to go out and find some for her.

Life was going to be very interesting for the next few days.

********************

"Lance, can I talk to you for a minute?" Johnny asked just as they'd sat down with the contest winner to eat.

Being on his best behavior, Lance excused himself from the table that the group had taken over, leaving his bubbly fourteen-year-old guest, Charlene, with the other guys then walked over towards where Johnny had settled into a table nearby with his cell phone and a drink.

"I'm sorry about before," Lance said even before sitting down.

"Man you can't be doing that," Johnny said.

"I know. I know." He tipped his head down hoping that Johnny would know how bad he felt about it.

"What's on your mind that's getting to you man?" Johnny asked quickly switching from disciplinarian to concerned friend.

"I'm nervous about Nicole coming to visit."

"How are you two doing?" Johnny asked, "Your phone bills still high?"

"Too the moon and back," Lance said with a smile, "I just want her to be here already and I can't help but to be nervous. She doesn't know anything about how we live and I want to make sure she doesn't freak out."

"You must really like this girl."

"I do," Lance said knowing that he was probably blushing.

"Well just keep your head in line while she and the other girls are here," Johnny said.

Lance knew that Johnny didn't approve of the girls being on tour, not that they were trouble or anything, but it seemed as if the guys were more distracted when they had visitors.

"I'll keep my head in line."

********************

After a quick pit stop at the Sports Park for the dogs they went across the four-lane street to the hotel and checked in. It was settled quickly that Dani and Nicole would be rooming together and that Angela and Boo would have the other free room on the guys' floor. The order was determined by the fact that JC and Joey happened to be rooming together and that Chris and Lance had been paired up.

Justin, the odd man out on that particular stop, had been stuck with Lonnie, which all the girls laughed at. "No parties for the little guy this trip," Boo laughed hard, now finding herself completely awake. "Lonnie is worse than Justin's Dad!"

"Shhh!" Angela said, "Justin's too young to be partying."

Nicole took the spare moment to look around the air-conditioned lobby of the local Double Tree Inn. The huge marble tiled room hummed with the excited voices of its young guests. Nicole couldn't help but to notice the amount of teenage-looking patrons the place had. And also didn't miss the fact that there was a grand piano in the lobby. She found herself, for the first time in a long time, wanting to play it.

"Gotta love the teenyboppers." Angela came up behind her and hit into her a little as she stared at a group of girls who were settled around a couch in the lobby talking. They looked to be about fifteen years old and all sported some sort of NSYNC clothing. One girl had a hat, the other a T-shirt and the other three had homemade looking jeans that had NSYNC written all over them in different colored markers.

"What are you talking about? I love having a million girls wanting my man and not being able to have him." Boo gave a different group of teenagers walking by a smug look then made her way towards the elevator.

The ride to the tenth floor took a minute and as they waited to be let out onto the secure floor Mike passed out laminated passes that he retrieved from the backpack he'd picked up in the van.

"You gotta keep this with you or it'll be a pain in the ass to hang out," Angela explained slipping the shoelace rope attached to the laminated card around her neck.

"She knows from experience," Dani said unpacking both Busta and Korea and attaching them to their leashes. Busta started to sniff everyone's shoes, which made the girls giggle, while Korea plopped down as if she'd just run a mile and stared up at everyone with a smile of sorts looking for attention.

The door slid open and Mike handed them plastic cards that were the room keys. "Ten-o-seven and ten-o-nine." He smiled. "They're across from each other."

As they stepped off onto the floor another bodyguard with a shirt that matched Mike's stood up from a folding chair he'd been sitting on and waved to the girls.

Boo waved to the guard then grabbed the first key and Dani took the other while trying to encourage Busta to leave the elevator and Korea to move.

"Nicole, this is Wes," Mike said pausing while Boo and the others went down the hall a little. "Wes, Nicole is with the girls so don't give her a hard time ok?"

"Me?" the guy said with a smile. "Never."

"Yeah right," Mike said with a laugh. He must have seen the strange look on Nicole's face. "He's the hard-ass when it comes to security and if you don't have your pass with you he'll give you a little trouble, but don't worry. You keep your pass and everything will be ok." He patted her shoulder, made eye contact with her and said, "Don't worry."

"So do you have the itinerary for the weekend Mikey?" Boo asked as she practically skipped her way down the hallway to the rooms.

Mike turned away from Nicole and followed the girls down the hall. "There are copies in the rooms and girls…" he stared at Angela for a moment. "…Don't loose them."

"Hey. It wasn't my fault that my backpack got stolen."

""You lost it," Boo said then unlocked her door on the left side of the hallway.

Nicole took the key from Dani and unlocked their door.

"They guys should be back from a late lunch date with a contest winner in about a half hour then they're off to do a meet and greet for an hour or so in the lobby."

"Ugh!" Boo groaned and stomped her foot.

*********************

Twenty minutes later, just as Nicole had drifted off to sleep on one of the beds in their room she heard a scream in the hallway.

"Baby!" Boo's voice echoed in the hallway and Nicole could hear a few laughs.

"Booberry!" JC yelled back.

Being fairly curious about the whole situation Nicole made her way out into the hallway. They were fully clothed; JC in jeans and a black sleeveless T-shirt and Boo in her dress, but she found them on the floor. JC on his back in the doorway of the room across the hall with Boo straddling him as if he'd gone to pick her up and had fallen backwards on to the floor.

They were kissing sloppily which made Dani groan from next to her. "Gross isn't it?

Dani stepped out into the hallway and was about to open her mouth to say something when Chris jumped out from an alcove wearing a bright green baseball style T-shirt that said FuMan across the front of it in black and grabbed her into a hug. Taking the more calm approach to their hello, they held each other close for a long time before Chris looked over at Nicole.

"The other guys should be here in a second," he said giving her a smile. "We ro-sham-bo-ed for the elevator and C and I won."

Nicole nodded and tried to swallow down the sick feeling in her throat. Nervousness wasn't the right word to describe her mood. She was terrified, so terrified that she'd broken into a cold sweat and had to lean against the wall for support when her knees had begun to shake.

The elevator slid open before Nicole could calm down and Joey, Lance and Justin emerged. The boys wore the same kind of casual clothes that JC and Chris were wearing. Joey wore a red hat, a bright blue T-shirt with "Super Pimp" written on it in the style of the Super Man emblem with a pair of khakis. Justin looked as if he'd stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch print ad in green khakis and an orange sweater with a matching khaki fisherman's hat. Lance had on khakis and a black long sleeved shirt with a hood on it.

"Here goes nothing," she mumbled to herself running a hand over her hair nervously as they approached.


THREE:

 


Lance exited the elevator slowly dragging his sneaker-clad feet on the carpet while Justin and Joey jogged down the hall ahead of him. He knew he should be extremely excited now that Nicole was actually in the building, but he found himself feeling more worried than anything. He wanted to laugh at himself for being so stupid. He got up on stage every almost every night in front of a million people and wasn't frightened so why was it that this one girl, his girlfriend, could make him so nervous?

"You ok LB?" Mike asked from next to him. "You aren't getting sick again are you?"

Lance lifted his hand letting the sleeves of the oversized jacket slide down his wrist a little. He liked the jean jacket, but hated feeling that he was the incredible shrinking man in it. He always found himself wanting to button up the sleeves like he had when he'd first put the jacket on when he'd found it in wardrobe, but the guys had scolded him like the fashion police and he'd never thought of it again, until now. Scratching at his slightly bearded chin Lance sucked in a lung full of air and let it out slowly. He tried not to let it come out in a sigh, but he didn't succeed. "I'm fine, it’s just been a long day."

Mike stared at him for a moment, Lance figured to see if he was telling the truth or not then pointed down the hall. "Well at least your woman is here."

"Yeah." He smiled at Mike to reassure him that he was ok. They'd all been a little over protective since Lance had been sick a few months before.

Lance looked ahead and saw Nicole leaning against the wall calmly waiting with Angela for them and there was no mistaking the worried look in her eyes. Though fear seemed to dominate her stare on him he saw a sparkle that he'd missed over the last few months. On the phone with her he mentioned a few times about missing her facial expressions when she laughed or even when she'd had a bad day. He always had thought that seeing a person's face was the only way to have a conversation that made sense because so much could be said with a look.

Doing his best to hide the fact that he noticed her slightly sour expression he flashed her a teeth-laden grin and pointed at JC and Boo on the floor. "Please tell me that you aren't going to greet me like that. I'm not as athletic as JC and I'll probably end up hurting myself." His tone was light and he made another face hoping she'd smile.

He got a laugh instead as she stepped towards him into his arms. He held her close for a moment trying to remember why he'd let so much time go by without her. Before he let himself get caught up in the feeling of having her in his arms he pulled back, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and asked, "How was the flight?"

"Good," she said and hugged him close again. "I missed you." Her voice came out softly as she pressed her cheek against his and watched Joey pick up Angela and swing her around while hugging her.

"Well, its all me, all the time, for the next few days. Think you'll be sick of me by the time you have to go home?"

"I doubt it," she beamed with a sudden excitement making him relax a little. He'd been worried a few minutes before that their trip was going to be stressed, but her smile gave him the hope that their time together was going to be good for them.

"I hate to break up the love-fest gentlemen, but we have somewhere we need to be." The fatherly voice that broke into the reunions caused a groan to ooze from the gathered crowd.

Lance knew that they had a schedule to keep that day, but at the moment he wanted to throw something at Johnny. The man had a family of his own, but wasn't big on the teary good-byes or hellos and didn't seem to understand the enormity of the situation that was occurring in the hallway. To him it was just another meeting of people, but to the group it was like putting together a puzzle that wasn't quite complete without all the pieces.

"Five more minutes!" JC whined getting up off the floor. Normally he would have been conscious of his clothing being wrinkled or covered in lint, but that afternoon Lance knew that his friends' mind was on other things. Lance watched JC pulled Boo close to him and pout. "We haven't seen them in two months."

Lance couldn't help but to see the way that JC let his hands roam over Boo's ass as they pressed their bodies together. JC had been talking all morning about how he couldn't wait for Boo to be in town, but Lance had tuned out when the others had been talking about their plans for the weekend. He glanced at Nicole as she leaned quietly against him and prayed that she didn't expect him to act like that. He'd always been pretty shy about public displays of affection and wasn't sure that he would be able to handle groping her or being groped in public. It was already bad enough that fans felt forward enough to reach out and touch him. He guessed that it was because of them that he had issues with such matters. He'd done pretty well in the past about being passionate and touchy-feelly, but couldn't see himself putting on a soft-porn display like the one Boo and JC seemed to always be involved in.

"You'll all be able to hang out for a few hours tonight after the next set of press events." Johnny checked his watch.

A groan came from Chris's direction. "I didn't even get to see Busta and Korea." He was acting very dramatic now, wiping fake tears from his eyes.

Justin, who had been lost in all the joyful reunions, now took the lead. "We can bring them down with us, can't we?"

"Spoken like a good Godfather!" Dani said with a laugh.

Lance smiled remembering how the dogs had both been "christened" the night of Chris's twenty-sixth birthday when Busta had tipped over a beer onto himself. The group had all been made Godfathers and Boo and Angela Godmothers. He noticed Nicole's confused look. "I'll explain it to you later."

"Go grab them." Johnny sighed looking at his watch again. "Hurry it up though."

While Chris and Justin disappeared into one of the rooms Lance leaned against the wall and linked a finger through a belt loop Nicole's slacks to pull her close. "Sorry about being busy this afternoon." He frowned.

"No troubles," Nicole smiled putting a hand to his cheek. He wondered for a moment if she needed a hand on him to make sure that he was really there in front of her. That had been his reason for holding onto her belt loop.

"We'll have dinner tonight though."

"Sounds good." She looked around at the rest of the group in the hallway. Joey and Angela were holding hands and chatting and JC still had himself wrapped around Boo while whispering things into her ear that were making the girl blush.

"Cole," Lance said lazily pulling her closer.

"What’s up?" she asked making eye contact with him.

"Calm down sweetie, you seem too nervous. It's just us guys," he said.

"And Mike and Lonnie and a million teenagers in the lobby," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"That’s nothing," he said wiggling his eyebrows at her. "Wait until the concert."

The shock in her eyes startled him. He'd meant for the comment to be a joke, but it seemed to do the reverse making her even more scared.

"Ok, we’re outta here boys!" Mike called as Justin and Chris returned with the two playful puppies.

Lance leaned, kissing her quickly on the lips. "To be continued of course," he whispered, "I'll be back in about an hour."

Nicole nodded as Lance joined the others heading back towards the elevator.

*************

"Do we have to?"

"Yes." Boo stopped and stared at Angela for a moment. She'd changed into a pair of tight jeans and a shirt that Nicole guessed to be just about JC's size which she proceeded to tie around her middle and roll up the sleeves on. She then took it upon herself to scold Angela about forgetting her camera. "Make sure that there are batteries in it!"

While Angela returned to the room Dani came out into the hallway. "Why are we doing this again?"

Boo sighed heavily as if all the explaining was putting a strain on her. Nicole had a feeling though that Boo liked being the bossy one. "Because Nicole is a virgin--"

"Hey!" Nicole protested. She hung onto her laminated pass, moving it from left to right before letting it dangle from her neck again.

Boo paused and stared at her for a moment as if surprised by her admission of such personal information. "No. I mean that you've never been to a meet and greet before so we have to devirginize you."

"Oh," Nicole said, "You aren't going to make a fool of me or anything?"

"She's too busy making a fool of herself to worry about you," Dani said with a smile thrown in her friend's direction as they got to the elevator where Wes was still stationed.

He waved and said, "And where are you fine ladies headed to?"

"Um like to the meet and greet!" Boo said doing a Valley Girl impression while twisting her hair and giving Wes an extremely air-headish look.

"Good one Boo," Wes said.

Dani pressed the button for the elevator rolling her eyes in Boo's direction.

"Thank you, no autographs now," she said keeping up the act. "I have to go like meet JC because I think that he's the dreamiest."

Wes laughed until the elevator appeared and the girls piled in. "Be careful down there."

"Don't worry. We'll bite back if they get to near."

"You wouldn't." Nicole said.

"Not the other fans silly. The guys!"

The doors closed leaving them in silence and Wes to the quiet of the hallway.

As s as the door closed Boo put on a serious face again. "Our mission ladies, if we chose to accept it, is to mess with the guys a little." She smiled wickedly. "Here's the plan. I'm Christina, Ang you be Gloria, Dani you're Jessica…"

"Not again. I hate that you pick stupid names like this. I hate being Jessica Simpson."

"Well at least you aren't Gloria Estevan. No offense to her and all, but do I really look that old?"

"Anyway…" Boo gave Nicole a stern look and said, "You be…"

"Lucy?" Nicole suggested thinking about when Lance would come home after rehearsals and call out "Lucy I'm home!"

Boo smiled and said, "It works."

The elevator dinged to tell them they'd arrived. "Passes in girls," she said tucking hers inside her shirt. The others followed her action then Boo led the way across the lobby which now echoed with the conversations of fans who were streaming out of the ballroom door just passed the front desk. They fell into line with the others. "Now, the plan is to act like we don't know them and get a little…" She stopped to narrow her eyes at a girl with a T-shirt with JC's face on it then continued, "…fresh."

"That's evil," Angela said, "You know they'll be helpless in there in front of all those people."

"I'm not going to throw myself on Lance!" Nicole protested drawing a few stares from the group in front of them.

"Don't say that or Boo will push you," Dani said with a low whisper clutching her camera to her mimicking the other girls who were in line.

Nicole finally calmed down as Boo and the other's plotted further. She noticed all the teenagers milling around and found herself more claustrophobic than excited. She'd been to things like this before as a kid, but she'd always been on the other side. The countless cast parties seemed to spell one thing out for her. She was a pawn and her parents were the players and for a moment she wondered if Lance was just playing her too. She'd been swept up into his life and wasn't sure that she was doing the right thing by being there.

"Lucy?"

Snapping to attention at the sound of her nickname she found Boo staring at her.

"What'd I miss?" she asked.

"We're almost there," Angela said.

"You aren't going to back are you?" Boo asked.

"No." She leaned and saw the guys at a long table side by side signing autographs and posing for pictures with the fans in front of them. She thought they looked completely out of sorts in front of the crowd with their huge fake smiles and too friendly greetings. She knew that they were all tired. She'd seen it in the few minutes she'd spent with them in the hallway upstairs.

They shuffled towards the guys and Boo started off by introducing everyone and when it came to Nicole Boo said the nickname Lucy and Lance gave Nicole a strange look. "Lucy?"

"What were you expecting?" Nicole's voice came out strangely calm. "Britney?"

Justin broke into hysterical laughter with Chris while Joey just stared at Angela who was petting Korea.

"So is that like Lucy from 7th Heaven or is that like Lucy from Lucy and Ricky?" Justin asked making a face at Nicole.

"Lucy and Ricky," she said with a laugh.

"We're your parents obsessed?" Lance asked playing along.

"Definitely," she said. "My dog's name is Mertz."

"And her boyfriend is Ricky," Boo said.

Lance laughed as the other's made comments about Ricky Ricardo directed nonchalantly in his direction. "So what can we sign for you girls?" He finally asked trying to redirect the conversation.

"My bra!" Boo unbuttoned her shirt one button and leaned towards JC pulling the neck open so that the black bra strap on her shoulder showed a little.

In response to her flirtatious manner he leaned, coming within inches of kissing her before Nicole watched in horror as his eyes slanted down as he looked down his girlfriend's shirt. "We can't have you undressing here in public now can we?" JC said with a laugh.

"We can!" Joey said under his breath getting a nod from Justin.

They both received stern looks for their antics not only from JC, but also from Johnny who'd walked up right as the girls had gotten to the table, but was just now showing his presence. JC straightened and seemed to regain control. He put an arm around Boo and posed for a picture before sending the girls off to be with the rest of the crowd.

While the other teenyboppers lingered in the ballroom excitingly chatting about who was cute and how whichever guy it was smiled at her "that special way," the girls took their leave of the nonsense and made their way back to the tenth floor.

Nicole paused in the lobby for a moment as she heard someone playing the piano and the pull of the instrument got to her again. She really wanted to play, but knew that with their schedule over the next few days she wasn't going to get a chance to. She'd be too busy with the girls or hanging out with Lance to get time away. Besides, she thought to herself as she entered the elevator, the person at the piano probably had been hired to play and being a guest at the hotel wouldn't allow her the right to mess around it.

"JC is going to kill you!" Nicole said with a laugh once they were in the soundproof room rejoining the conversation.

"Well what about you?" Angela said, "I don't think Lance is going to live down that whole Ricky thing." Angela smiled. "I can just hear them singing Oh Ricky you're so fine!"

"Oh who cares. At least I didn't practically flash my boyfriend in public," Nicole said leaning back against the wall.

"Finally!" Boo heaved a heavy sigh bent over at the waist then came back up with a smile on her face. "We're finally rubbing off on you."

"What?" Nicole asked.

"You're having fun…" Boo smiled giving her a hug. "…And you actually admitted that you were a girlfriend. Now that the words have been spoken you're an official girlfriend."

Nicole looked at Dani for some sort of explanation.

"She's crazy with the whole bonding thing. Don't ask me…" she said.

"We girls have to stick together," Boo said, "You know that we're all each other has."

"Oh Boo don't start crying!" Angela said. She turned to Nicole and said softly, "She's rock hard until she even thinks about being away from JC."

"I hope that her mood swings don't rub off on me," Nicole said.

A few moments later they were let out onto the tenth floor and pulled their laminated passes out to show Wes. Nicole felt a little foolish showing him the pass but Boo and Dani insisted upon showing them so that they could get in the habit of doing it since they'd be showing the passes a million times in the next four days.


FOUR:


Returning from the meet and greet Lance found the activity of the day catching up with him, but pushed his grumpy attitude to the side as he opened up the door to the room next door to the one he'd slept in the night before. He decided to use the comical approach and welcomed himself into the room by calling out "Lucy! I'm home!"

He heard a laugh from the hallway and found Joey and JC behind him with funny looks on their faces. "Go get her Ricky!" Joey said with a laugh.

Normally Lance would have had a come back to Joey's teasing, but he was too tired and too in need of some peace and quiet to deal with him. "Oh shut up," he mumbled walking into the room.

"Hey Ricky!" Nicole called from the bathroom.

Lance heard a laugh come from behind the closed door so he slid out of his jacket and flopped down on his back onto one of the beds throwing the jacket onto the back of a chair. He wished he could be home in his own bed that night, but the hotel room would have to do. Not lifting his head from where it had landed on the mattress he kicked off his sneakers then grabbed a pillow and shoved it under his head and closed his eyes as he rolled his ankles and toes around and stretched out a little. He'd been up that morning before the sun to do some interviews. This was the first real break he'd had all day and hated that it had come around six at night. He wasn't going to waste the break though. The pause in the activity of his day gave him just enough time to let the muscles in his back relax. Just as he was starting to feel like he was sinking into the mattress he forced his eyes open.

"Hey Cole? What are you up to?" he called to Nicole.

"I'm changing," she said with a casual tone. He heard her open the door click open and could hear the bathroom fan going. "I'll be right out."

"Ok." Lance immediately pictured her in the bathroom and sighed. Thank God he couldn't see into there or he would have lost it right there. He hadn't seen her in weeks, but the thought of her half way out of one outfit and half into another was the kind of mental pictures that had kept him up the last few nights. He hadn't had a chance to call her, except for the night before and had missed her voice putting him to bed every night.

Antsy with anticipation of seeing her again, Lance turned his head and stared out the window for a moment. The sun was starting to go down and he couldn't remember if he'd even been outside for more than five minutes that day. He stared at his arm for a moment. God was he white for this time of year. It was already July and he didn't have any kind of a tan due to the schedule. He'd had a better tan around Christmas time when the guys had all gone to Hawaii for a week. To keep his mind on happier thoughts he turned his head looking for a magazine or something to keep his eyes focused on when he noticed that his bags had been moved into the room and were now just out of his reach.

Groaning, he tightened the muscles in his back and stomach, magically lifting himself into a sitting position then reached down and grabbed the bottom of his T-shirt to pull it off. He let out a breath as he strained to get the shirt over his head then groaned again as he leaned over to dig for a fresh shirt to wear.

He picked out a shoe, a hair dryer, then a pair of jeans before he got his hands on a clean FreeLance Entertainment T-shirt. He didn't want to wear the shirt, considering that he was already a walking billboard for his management company, but he decided to put it on because he was too tired to reach in the bag again.

"I'm getting too old for this," he mumbled. He hadn't noticed the soreness in his arms and legs, but the moment of relaxation had brought out the pain that had been left over from the show the night before. He wished that he was selfish and rude so that he could go to sleep and not have to deal with anyone, but he knew he couldn't and deep down he really didn't want to. He had things to do and needed to spend time with Nicole, who would probably be more therapeutic than a nap anyway, but first he needed to change.

He wasn't normally over concerned with germs and being ultra clean, but he always felt a little dirty after being out and about with people all day. Some of the girls that he'd posed for pictures with seemed to have drenched themselves in perfume and it always seemed to stay on his clothes like cigarette smoke clung to him after being in a club. He normally wouldn't have minded, but he felt a little uncomfortable with the idea that he would go to hug his girlfriend smelling like another woman.

"Did you say somethi--?" Nicole said.

Lance hadn't yet pulled the fresh T-shirt over his head when Nicole came into the room. She had changed into a long sleeved T-shirt and a pair jeans that seemed to have been made especially for her. His eyes glanced over her from the ponytail on the top of her head to her sock-covered feet. He liked that she seemed more relaxed although when he saw her stunned expression it made him a little uncomfortable finding that she was admiring him in such an open stare. It was one thing for a fan to stare at him that way, but he hadn't expected that from her. He could brush off a fan's stare as a side effect of his fame, but wasn't sure how to take Nicole's stare.

"Had enough with being dressed up?" he asked hoping to ease the tension that had suddenly filled the room.

"I felt a little overdressed," she said blinking. She seemed nervous again as she stood up straight and shifted her weight from one foot to another as she shoved her hands in her pockets. Her eyes didn't move from staring at him.

Shrugging off her initial reaction to him, Lance pulled the shirt over his head and asked, "You hungry?"

"Starving," she replied. Her eyes widened in a dramatic way as she spoke. Moving across the room she hooked an arm around his waste, leaned around to kiss him on the lips, as if she'd done it a million times before, then sat down on the bed Indian style.

Shocked by her action he took a moment to collect himself before he went to speak again. She smelled like vanilla and as he rubbed his lips together nervously he found that she'd put on lip-gloss or something that tasted of mint which left his lips tingling.

"Should we go down and get something to eat?" he asked half hoping she'd say no. He wanted to relax the night away. Going out was almost more trouble than it was worth, although he'd like to take her on a mini-date since he had yet to really take her out.

"Can we?" she asked hesitantly. She picked at her jeans then looked up again. "I mean…is it safe?"

Lance frowned at her as he picked up a shoe and slid it back on. "I may lead a crazy life Nicole…" He pulled on the laces of his shoes hard and continued, "…but if I want to go eat out then I'm going to do it." He hadn't quite snapped at her, but he'd not been as pleasant as he could have been.

"Jeez," she said holding up her hands in a surrendering motion. "We don't have to go."

"Sorry, if that sounded bad," he said, "It's been a long day." He couldn't remember one person's face that he'd seen that day. They'd all blended into one teenaged looking face. He felt bad about not remembering the fans that way, but he had been distracted and hadn't put all his attention to them.

"Tell me about it!" she said with a laugh. She leaned against him and rubbed his back. "At least you were in this state when you woke up this morning."

"Yeah well I would love to have woken up at home this morning," he said. "I didn't get much sleep last night…then dealing with people all day long…"

 

**********************

 

Nicole could hear the fatigue in his voice as he leaned down for his second shoe. He let out a sigh as if leaning down to tie his shoe was a huge task. She wondered when he'd last slept. If she didn't know better she thought he was sick or something. She wondered if they should just stay in that night, seeing how tired he was, but she had listened to her stomach growling for the last hour and needed to eat.

When he'd gotten his other shoe on he sat back up and looked at her. He was only a few inches away from her face now. Dark circles seemed to suddenly appear under his eyes. He'd been tired sounding on the phone in the last few weeks, but she'd never expected him to really be that tired. She'd always thought that he was tired because he was calling in the middle of the night, but from the look on his face, it had been the work and not the time difference that had pulled the energy out of him.

To distract herself from her worry and him from his fatigue she did the only thing she could think of doing. She leaned and kissed him on the mouth, holding the kiss for longer than usual. "You ok?" she asked as she leaned back.

Lance gave her a weak smile only slightly curving up the sides of his mouth. "I think that the last week just caught up with me."

"Well we'll take it easy while I'm here. Maybe sleep in tomorrow?" She rubbed his back more and pressed her cheek to his shoulder looking at him with doe eyes, trying to flirt a little to keep his mind off his current sluggish state.

"Sleep in? What's that?" he asked with a laugh.

Nicole smiled. "Well…" she thought about Boo's sarcastic tone and tried to imitate it. "It's when you stay in bed until the sun actually is in the sky."

"You'll have to teach me that technique," he said, "Maybe that's what I've been doing wrong all these months."

"Anytime…" she smiled and leaned closer to him. She kissed his earlobe then whispered into his ear with a seductive tone, "Anytime..."

Lance sighed and leaned back so that he could get an arm around her and hugged her to him. "You should never dare me to keep you in bed…" He made eye contact with her for a moment then said, "I might take you up on that."

Knowing that what she said next would be important after seeing the spark of sexual electricity show in his expression a moment before she chose her words wisely. "Is that a promise?"

She lowered her eyes, drunk with the excitement of being with him and let her flirty side run wild. While she would never act that way around anyone else, she figured that Lance needed a little kick in the pants in the excitement department. She wasn't quiet up to jumping on him, like Boo had done with JC, but she wanted him to know that she was interested in whatever things might happen to develop.

"God you're bad…" He pulled away from her and stood up. "You've been hanging out with Boo too much today haven't you."

"No," she said, "I just haven't seen you in two months and the last time I saw you we fell asleep on the couch together and I…" She stood up, but didn't get close to him.

"What?" he asked. He took her hand and pulled her over to him. "And you what?"

Nicole shut her mouth and stared at him. Hanging out with Boo that afternoon had given her a little courage and she wanted to say what was on her mind, but didn't dare. "Nothing…let's go down and eat before my stomach starts its own singing group."

Laughing he watched for closely for a moment. She kept eye contact with him for a long time, almost daring him to take his shoes back off and stay in the room with her for the rest of the night. "This isn't over…" His low voice seemed to go even lower. He kissed the tip of her nose and smiled.

"Fine," she said. "Let me just get some flaps to wear and well go eat."

"Ok," he said, "Let me just get my wallet."

"You don't carry your wallet around with you?" she asked picking up the small nylon backpack that served as her purse.

"Nope, not normally when we do stuff with the fans. Not that I don't trust people, but I've had my wallet taken before…" he said with a smile, "A girl hugged me one time and took that and my cell phone."

"So you just walk around with no ID on you?"

"It's not like I'm going to get lost or something and get amnesia and not be able to find my way home. I'm with Mike about 23 hours of the day. For a while there I was thinking that I was adopted and that Mike and I were long lost twins."

Nicole laughed then sobered a bit. "I still think that’s strange."

"Yeah well, everything about my life is strange."

"Hey!" she said.

Lance stared at her for a moment not understanding her reaction to his comment then finally took a breath. "I didn't mean you," he said. He shoved his wallet into his jean pocket and said, "You ready?"

"Yeah," she said.

 


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