THE DANCE


--00--


"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.

* * * * * *

* * * * * *

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!"


--01--


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.

"Lance Bass…"

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.

"Oh…I'm Nicole."

"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."

"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.

"Lancten!"

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.


--02--


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."

"Really?"

"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…"

"I’m going."

* * * * *

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.


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