THE DANCE


--03--


The next morning Nicole managed to sleep through Lance’s pick-up. She heard the honking of the car and checked the time only to see that it was way too early to get up then rolled over. She drifted back to sleep after she heard Lance run through the house and slam the door as he departed.

When she got up he was still gone so she planted herself on the couch, still in her pajamas, to study the morning away. She had her books, a drink, and a snack and wasn’t going to move until her reading was done. She had a paper due on Monday night and needed to finish a novel before she could finish the assignment. She didn’t have to work on Sunday, but had planned to work her way around the house cleaning so she only had that morning to get her homework done since she worked that afternoon.

Around nine o'clock the phone rang, but she didn't get up to get it figuring that the answering machine would pick up for her. The mechanical message played

"Leave a message after the tone…"

Nicole wondered if Lance just hadn't had time to put a message on the machine or if he'd left it as the mechanical tone like that because of his celebrity status.

Soon she heard, "Nicole? You there? Pick up! Nicole? It’s Lance. If you get this message can you please bring me…"

Nicole pushed her book off her lap and it hit her foot, but she ignored the pain and ran for the phone. She picked it up just before she thought Lance might hang up. "I’m here." She breathed hard for a moment then calmed down a bit, "What do you need?"

"I forgot that we have a meet and greet this afternoon and I need to have some clothes to change into. I have my workout stuff, but not something that I can justify wearing to meet fans in."

"Ok," Nicole said.

"Will you bring me some?" He sounded a bit embarrassed about having to ask her for a favor, which she thought, was completely sweet.

Nicole pressed the phone to her ear. "Sure…if you really need them. I think I can drop them off before I go to work."

"Good, will you take the cordless up to my room and I’ll tell you where my stuff is."

Nicole started out of the kitchen and made her way up to the second floor. As she walked she could hear music in the background. "So what are you doing this morning?"

"Well I spent two hours dancing my butt off, now I’m doing retouches to some songs we’re putting on a soundtrack, then I get to go back to dancing."

"Neat."

"You almost there?" he asked. He sounded a little edgy so Nicole took the last two steps with a little jump and sped up as she approached his room.

"Yeah, hold on."

Nicole opened the door to reveal the sparseness of the master bedroom contained within four light blue colored walls. She’d been in huge room only once before, when she first had moved into the house and the look of it hadn’t changed much since her last visit. The room contained a queen-sized bed, two wooden night stands, a wooden dresser, two lamps and only one picture on the wall. The framed poster of Garth Brooks promoting his Live in New York Concert stuck out in the room. It had been just another poster the last time she’d been in the room, but now that she knew the owner, she was surprised at his choice of decorating since Lance’s group was definitely not at all related to country music. Other than the navy blue and white comforter not being in place and the suitcases in the window seat on the far side of the bed, the untouched stack of moving boxes and everything else lay where it had been a few weeks before.

Nicole took a breath. "Ok, what do you want me to get?"

"There’s some clean shirts in my black suitcase. Grab a white one out, then grab a pair of jeans out of the top box near the closet and there should be a black sweater with a red and blue stripe across the chest hanging in the closet."

"Ok," she said, "Do you need socks and…stuff?"

Lance hesitated for a moment and she heard more noise behind him. "Yeah. There should be some clean ones in the bag next to the suitcase."

"You need shoes?" she asked trying to get away from the touchy subject of her picking out underwear for him.

"Yeah, there should be a pair of black boots inside the closet."

Nicole emptied the small bag that Lance had said contained his underwear and packed the jeans and shirt and other items, then tucked his black boots into the bag along with them. "Ok, so where do I bring these to?"

"You know where 105th is?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"The address is 2609 105th. It’s a big warehouse looking place."

"Ok," Nicole grabbed the bag and headed down to the first floor. "When do you need it by?"

"Some time in the next hour?" he asked, "Is that ok?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Ok, well then, see ya."

"Wait!" she said.

"What?"

"Are they going to stop me?" she said, "you know…the security guys?"

"Yeah. Just tell them that you’re looking for me. If they give you any trouble show them the address tag on the bag."

Nicole looked at the address tag on the bag and saw that it had the group’s NSYNC logo with a star then it said below it Lance’s name then "Country" underneath it.

"You set?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"Good, I have to run. See ya in a while."

"Bye," Nicole said.

* * * * *

The 105th studio where Lance and the others were working on their tour was housed in a huge warehouse that took up most of a city block. It contained not only a complete dance studio and a recording studio, but also housed a huge area where construction crews built the stages that groups used on the road. The group had used the 105th studio in years before and Lance always had compared the huge machine shop to the machine shop in his high school. The only thing that was different seemed to be the ages of the participants in the projects. The guys that were welding and pounding on the proposed stage for the group definitely weren’t high school aged.

Joey and Lance had finished up their morning recording session and were walking back across the construction area of the warehouse towards the dance studio when Lance heard Mike’s sharp whistle from the doorway. He turned to see Mike weaving through the maze of machines with Nicole on his heels.

"Hey," Lance waved then made his way over to where Mike and Nicole were coming towards him.

She was in the outfit she’d been in the night before when they talked in the kitchen. The white shirt and khaki pants made her look boring and with her hair pulled into a ponytail she looked really plain. She’d looked ok the night of the party in jeans and a T-shirt, but if he had to choose he’d put her in more girly clothing, like the pajamas he’d seen her in his first night home. He still remembered how great her legs had looked and how her tan had been shown off perfectly in the pink tank top.

"Look who I found," Mike said with a smile handing over the bag to Lance. He gave them both a smile then retreated.

Lance gave her a smile. "So are you on your way to work?"

"Yeah," she said. She looked around for a moment and seemed nervous again. He wondered if it was because the construction crew had returned from their morning break. "I guess I should head out. You look busy."

"Lance!" The voice echoed in the quiet of the warehouse.

"You don’t have to scream!" Lance yelled turning to find Chris leaning out of the dance studio.

"Stop flirting and come on!"

Lance turned back to Nicole who seemed to be blushing. "Wanna watch us practice for a minute? It’s noting great, but it might give you a few laughs."

"I don’t think I should," Nicole said. He watched her put her hands together nervously as if she was going to break something if she touched any of the equipment. "I’d feel strange…"

Feeling obliged to say something Lance leaned towards her, "You really should relax. None of us bite you know."

"I know," Nicole said. "It’s just that you’re at work and I feel strange interrupting."

"You’re not interrupting," Lance said, "Since I did need you to come over here."

"Well anyway," she said. She gave one last look around, flashed Lance a smile then said, "I think I’m going to be late tonight."

"Well we’re probably not going to get out of here early either," he said.

"James Lance Bass!" someone yelled from the dance studio.

Again Lance turned to the direction of the door. This time it was Darrin and Lance knew he needed to get to practice. When he turned back around to tell Nicole goodbye he saw her slipping out the door where she’d come in. He let out a sigh then made his way to the dance studio with his bag of stuff.

"Did you get your crap?" Justin asked when Lance returned to the dance studio.

"Yes mom," Lance said.

"Ooh…testy…. girl troubles Lancey boy?"

"No," he said.

"You sure?" Joey asked, "I thought you would have asked her to come and watch us for a while."

"I did," he said. He leaned down and retied his shoes then looked over at Darrin who seemed to be caught up in the drama that the guys were gossiping about.

"So why didn’t she come on in?" Darrin asked, "I want to meet the new love of your life."

"She’s not the love of my life," Lance said, "She’s the housekeeper."

"Sure. I’ve never heard of anyone going out of their way for you if they weren’t interested in you," Chris piped up.

"It’s her job." Lance rubbed his face with frustration. This wasn’t going well. He was already tired from his few days of practice and his lack of sleep, but the ragging from the other guys was just making his head begin to show the signs of a headache coming on.

"Ok, ok," Darrin said, "Lance clearly isn’t going to give up the goods on this girl so lets get some practicing done, then when he’s weak, we’ll attack him."

The guys laughed and Lance covered his face for a moment before he heard the music come on in the room and they began to practice the routine again.

* * * * * *

Nicole had just enough time to get to work, stuff her face with a piece of pizza then started her shift. It was going to be a hectic day, but she knew that she’d get out of there earlier than the night before since her shift was over at eight. She usually would have liked to work more hours, but that afternoon she started her shift feeling a little more tired than she normally did.

It was almost six o’clock, a full hour past when she should have had her dinner break, when Nicole finally called to the others that she was working with. "I’ll be down at Subway for about a half hour!"

She took her apron off and made her way to the sandwich shop, placed her order then sucked down a large coke and a small sub before she looked at her watch and saw that it was time to go back to work. Normally she would have stayed away for an hour and would have chatted with a few people that she knew on duty at the Subway, but it was Saturday night. Due to the beginning of the summer and the day of the week Nicole knew that more people would be out and about and ordering pizzas, so she decided to take pity on the people on her shift and get back to lighten the load.

When she returned to Gino’s she put her apron back on then went around the counter. Tricia, one of the high school girls that were working that night stopped her before she grabbed another pizza order. "Did you get your flowers?"

"Flowers?" Nicole looked around for a moment. What was she talking about?

"You didn’t see them?" Tricia said and pointed to the bouquet of long stem roses that were sitting just to the right of where customers were placing orders.

"Those are for me?"

"That’s what the delivery guy said," Tricia said, "I signed for them since you weren’t here."

"Thanks." Nicole shook her head and immediately wondered who would have sent her flowers. Most of her friends from school were still out of town on vacation and Sara was overseas.

Nicole paused to smell one of the roses before she pulled the card off the holder it was on and opened it.

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

"Who's LB?" Tricia asked suddenly looking over Nicole's shoulder.

"No one special," Nicole said and tucked the card into her pocket and returned to work.

"They send you flowers and are nobody special?" Tricia asked. "I wish I had no one that special in my life."

Nicole stopped for a moment and wondered if Lance really was the flower sending type of guy or if this was going to be a once in a lifetime sort of event. She knew that getting flowers might not be an every day occurrence so she was careful with the arrangement and set them further away from where they might get messed up.

 


--04--


"Hello?" Nicole said into the phone. She was about to walk out to the back of the house to see if Lance was home when it had sounded and she knew that she should answer it thinking that Lance might have forgotten something again since he didn't seem to be around the house.

She'd come home from work in a fairly good mood, closed the door when she didn't hear anything breathed a sigh of relief. She knew that Lance had the day off on Sunday and half expected to come home to a party.

"Hey Nicole." The confident male voice had a light tone and although Nicole didn't recognize the owner right away she figured that it was probably one of Lance's friends considering that she hadn't gotten any phone calls in the two weeks since she'd moved in.

"Hello?" she said with a cautious tone.

"It's Joey." He laughed a little and Nicole recognized it as him.

"Oh…Hi." She relaxed and leaned against the counter. "Lance isn't here…" She looked around once more for good measure to make sure that she hadn't missed him. "Isn't he with you?"

"I just got home…Lance should be there in a while…but…I wasn't calling for Lance…I wanted to ask you something," he said.

"Oh," Nicole tensed up a little. She didn't know Joey other than meeting him at the party for five minutes and it puzzled her as she tried to guess what he was going to ask her.

"I was going to go out tomorrow night with my brother Steve and his girlfriend Theresa and I wanted to know if you wanted to go dancing with us," he said.

"I don't know Joe," she said hesitantly. She remembered the way that Angela had practically scratched out her eyes and wondered for a moment why he wasn't asking her. Also there was the Lance factor. Would she step over some line with Lance if she went out with Joey? She didn't think that she needed his permission exactly, but they were friends and she just wasn't sure what the exact rules were between them. She knew that within her own groups of friends there were certain things that you just didn't do, and dating one of your friends' friends or co-workers was one of them.

"Awe come on," he said.

"I don't know if it's right…."

There was a pause and Nicole could hear the radio go on behind him. He covered up his end of the receiver and yelled something then got back on the phone. "Sorry about that," he said.

"No troubles," Nicole smiled. She tried to picture Joey in some house across town dealing with whoever or whatever that was in the room with him.

"So?" he said.

"So, are you going to come with me?"

"I'm not sure…I mean I don't really know you…"

I'm just a guy asking a girl to dance," he said with an overly dramatic and emotional voice.

She couldn't help but laugh at the way he made fun of the movie Notting Hill.

When she didn't answer Joey decided to whine a little. "Puhlease!…Puhlease!"

She laughed as he broke character for a moment and let out a huge laugh. With a smile nodded her head then said into the phone with a laugh, "I guess I can't pass up that offer."

"Good," he said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow around seven and we'll catch dinner and meet up with my brother and Trez at the club."

"Ok."

The sound of the front door opening made Nicole pause.

"Lu-cy! I'm Home!" Lance yelled with a strange wanna be Cuban accent. Normally it would have sounded fine coming from someone, but with his southern drawl it came out sounding even worse.

"Hey. I gotta go," Nicole said softly into the phone.

Joey whined for a moment then said, "Tomorrow at seven."

"Alright…see ya then." Nicole hung up the phone. "Funny!" Nicole called to him as she went around the counter and fished out a glass for some water.

"What's up?" Lance asked.

"Nothing much," she said. She wanted to tell him about her date…she needed to celebrate a little, but wasn't sure how he'd react so she kept her mouth shut.

Lance had on a hooded sweatshirt and jeans and for after a moment she asked, "Aren't you hot?"

"A little." He proceeded to strip off his sweatshirt, revealing a wrinkled orange T-shirt with a logo on it that said Men at Work and he threw the sweatshirt over into the living room. She hadn't really wanted him to strip down, but she distracted herself from watching him by keeping her eyes on the sweatshirt. It landed on the back of the couch. In her line of vision now was the bouquet of flowers. She kept her eyes on it, nervously staring at them to keep her eyes off him. She'd placed them on the counter by the phone when she'd first come in and had ignored them until he came in the door.

"I see that you got the flowers," he said with a cocky smile. He leaned over and smelled one of them.

"Yes…thank you." She watched him walk around the counter and into the kitchen with an air of happiness that she hadn't seen since he'd been drunk. "What's put you in a good mood all of a sudden?"

"I have the day off tomorrow." He pulled open the refrigerator and pulled out a coke can. "…And my parents are flying in with my sister for the night…I haven't seen them in about a month and a half now."

"What?" Nicole stood in front of him trying not to feel too panicked. Lance's parents were flying in and the house was a mess…or at least she thought that it could be cleaner. She'd planned to spend Sunday fixing the place up a little.

"What what?" he asked. He held the coke can away from himself and opened it.

She paced for a moment first going to get a paper towel then she leaned down and wiped up a few drops of soda that had fallen onto the floor. "Your parents are coming tomorrow?" She looked up at him from where she was at his feet.

"Yeah," he said stepping back, "Why?"

"Cuz the house is a mess." She got up and threw the used paper towel into the trash.

Lance looked around the room for a moment. "Where?" he asked.

"Well, if you throw all your stuff around like you did your sweatshirt I don't know what I'm up against…since I haven't been upstairs since you got home really."

"My room is a mess, but the rest of the house is ok."

"I need to vacuum and to dust."

"This is a bachelor pad Nicole, not Buckingham Palace," he said with a laugh.

"But it's your mother," she said.

* * * * *

Lance couldn't believe she was being so unreasonable. He knew that she didn't have a clue about the group, but really. Anyone would know that a person's family wasn't going to be staring at the floor if they hadn't seen their family member in almost two months. He wondered why she was so upset all of a sudden.

"Yeah…my mom who hasn't seen me in over a month. She's not going to notice if the place isn't vacuumed."

"Ugh!" she stomped her foot and walked out of the kitchen. "She'll notice and she'll be wondering why you've even got me here."

"Hey!" Lance called after her. He followed her out of the kitchen, down the hall and stopped in the doorway of her room. She was pacing around the room, which now actually looked lived in. When he'd left on tour there hadn't been anything in the room and now it contained a queen sized bed, a desk, a few paintings and a bean bag chair.

"Lance, you're paying me to be a housekeeper and since I've moved in, I hate to admit it, but I haven't really done anything to earn my keep."

"You brought me my stuff the other day," he said.

"That's not in my job description," she said.

"Don't freak out," he said.

Although the late hour didn't call for it, she was straightening her sheets.

"Hey!" he said when she brushed by him.

She hurried down the hall.

"Hey!" he boomed at her. She stopped and he could see her scrunch up her shoulders. "I was talking to you…"

She turned around and he saw that she had tears in her eyes.

"What the hell is going on?" he asked. He leaned against the wall and watched her. Her whole body was tense. She looked more nervous than a fan meeting him for the first time.

"Nothing," she said. She wiped her eyes quickly and said, "I'm just stressed out."

"Don't fall apart on me now…I'm just getting used to you." He walked towards her and put a hand out to her. Placing a hand on her shoulder he looked in her eyes and said, "Don't stress out. I know my mother and she won't notice anything."

Nicole nodded. He watched some of her worry subside, but there was still something there that she couldn't hide. Something really had freaked her out and Lance was going to find out what it was. If she was going to continue to live in his house then he needed to know what to do and what not to do to keep the stress level low. He didn't need to come home to face more stress.

"I really need to get to sleep."

"Sounds like a good idea," he said. "I have to make some phone calls, but I'll try to keep it down."

She walked back past him and turned around for a moment, "Sorry about that…"

"Don't worry about it."

Lance went into the living room and flopped down onto the couch after grabbing the cordless receiver from the counter. He was tired and needed a shower, but it was too early in the evening to be thinking of settling down. He needed to do a little unpacking in his room and needed to get used to his house again since he hadn't really been home in a long time. First though he needed to talk to Johnny. He hoped that maybe Johnny would have more answers about the mystery woman who was now occupying the first floor.

Lance dialed Johnny's cell number.

"Wrighty here."

"Hey Johnny," Lance said.

"What's up Lanceten?"

"I had a question really quickly," he said. He could heard the background noise of Johnny's house and hated to interupt his time with his family.

"Shoot," Johnny said.

"So what do you know about Nicole?" Lance asked.

"Why?" Johnny's voice filled with concern, "What happened?"

"Nothing," Lance said, "I just wanted to know more about her since she is living in my house."

"Well she goes to school and works at Gino's. She said she had a small group of friends and seemed pretty adament about her privacy. I figured that she would be the perfect person to hire since she didn't seem to be into blabbing information."

"Did she say anything about any family?"

"We had her checked out of course, by security. She is an only child and according to the file that Mike pulled up on her, she doesn't seem to be in contact with her family."

"Oh," Lance said.

"What happened?" Johnny said.

"Nothing," Lance said. "I gotta make some more calls. I'll see you on Monday."


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