Footsteps echoed on the wood floor behind her, but she ignored them thinking that it was just her head bartender Patty bringing in another few handles of Tequila from the back room out to the bar. The room was fairly quiet, only the hum of the air conditioning and the voices of a few patrons filled the air. She'd listened to Patty clinking clean beer glasses and wineglasses together for the past hour, only being interrupted by the kitchen door swinging opened and closed every so often, while she'd been working on the books at her honored place at the end of the bar.
"Excuse me," a male voice said behind her as something or someone touched her shoulder.
Luckily when her pen dropped out of her hand it didn't leave a mark on the forms she was filling out. She swung the swiveling chair around to face a slender man standing behind her with a hesitant look on his face. She smiled at him instantly knowing that he wasn't an employee then found herself critiquing his black nylon running pants and black sleeveless T-shirt with a frown. He didn't look like most of the clientele that happened into Sweet Pea's, him being in his workout attire and all, but she plastered a smile on her face again and acted as if he was her highest tipping customer.
Everyone was welcome in Sweet Pea's but she did have to wonder what he was doing there in such a get up considering that most days the place looked like something out of a Banana Republic television commercial. She knew that’s where the money was, but hated the fact that a few of her customers were stuck up. They had their regulars though, mostly the young business types, like in the movie St. Elmo's Fire but even he didn't look like he'd fit in with them.
"Can I help you?" Her voice came out completely normal for a change. She'd only been at this for a year and still had the jitters when people asked to see the owner and she realized SHE WAS THE OWNER.
"Are you Leah?" he asked in a smooth voice. He had no traces of an accent, which startled her a little. Everyone these days who seemed to be in and around Orlando came from the South or from up North around the New England area. She was so used to a good old Southern Drawl or a Northern attitude that it took her a moment to find herself.
Maybe it was her shock and not hearing an accent that set her on edge, but it seemed as if it was his blue-green eyes which sparkled flirtatiously at her from under his Nike brand black baseball hat, that sent her into a daze.
"Yes," She said and slid off the barstool to greet him properly, knowing that if she sat there she might completely space out and embarrass herself. She smoothed her button down shirt down over the waistband of her black skirt then reached out to shake his hand carefully balancing herself on the sandals she'd chosen to wear that day. "And you would be?"
She wondered if she'd scheduled an interview that day and had forgotten about it. She'd been busy doing the books, scheduling the rest of the week, and trying to cover for the fact that they'd just lost one of their waiters that she would have forgotten to eat that day if Patty hadn't shoved a plate of pasta at her while she worked.
There was a small awkward pause before he shook her hand, as if something else should have been said, but wasn't. He made eye contact with her and held his gaze on her for a long time making her feel a little uncomfortable then let a smile curl at the edges of his mouth.
"Josh," he said with a nod, "Josh Chasez."
"Nice to meet you," she said softly wondering why he was now looking at her strangely. He had one eye open more than the other as if he didn't understand her reaction to him.
To avoid more of the tension that had come between them she smiled. "So what can I do for you?"
"A buddy of mine rented out your restaurant for his wedding reception and he recommend that I talk to you."
Leah remembered that the restaurant had been rented out about a month before for a private wedding reception. She'd been out of town visiting her old college roommate when the reception had taken place and she'd left the details up to Patty, who seemed to have taken over as second-in-command when her regular manager had skipped town with a waiter bound for Las Vegas.
"Are you thinking of having a party?" she asked now interested in finding out more about this sloppily dressed man in front of her. She didn't advertise that they hosted private parties and wondered how he'd known to come and talk to her.
"I just need to rent the place out for a friend of mine," he said. He looked around nervously for a moment then relaxed with a sigh.
A friend of a friend of a friend…who was this guy kidding? She stared at him and wondered who had told him to come here. Sweet Pea's wasn't really the type of place where the sporty-types visited. He looked to be about her age and she knew that no one her age could afford to rent out a whole restraurant. She'd inherited the place along with her house and she was the only twenty one year old that she knew of who was done with college and was their own business owner.
"How many people are you expecting?" she asked trying to ignore the feeling that she knew this guy from some place. He looked sort of familiar with his dark hair and eyes and smile, but she figured that it was just her fatigue getting to her.
"Two," he said simply.
"Two?" she asked.
"I told him he should stay home and propose, but he says he wants to rent this place out and when Kevin said that you guys handled his wedding without a flaw I thought I'd see if I could make the arrangements for him." Josh rambled for a moment then stopped and looked around.
Leah took the moment to check out his arms. He had them crossed over his chest now, hands gripping his elbows, exposing the upper part of his arms and shoulders to her. He worked out. There was no doubt about it. No man had perfect arms like that, free of tattoos, without help.
"It seems like a nice enough place…" Josh broke into her thoughts.
Thanks. Coming from you that means a lot. Leah narrowed her eyes wondering how this guy got through the day without getting lost. He seemed to be confused just standing still. Too keep her mouth from spouting off something she might regret, she smoothed her hand through her hair, tugging out a loose piece at the end and took a breath.
"Who is he?" she asked.
"Oh my friend?" Josh said. He shocked her by leaning out and grabbing something off her shoulder. "You had a hair." He held it up then let it drop to the floor with a smile on his face.
"Lance," he said giving her a funny look.
A crash came from behind the bar, which made Leah cringe. It was the sound of a handful of beer glasses hitting the floor and smashing. Patty had the habit of trying to take five in her hand at once and while most times she made it to the counter before one of them dropped, there always seemed to be at least one time a month that she ended up dropping the whole lot of them. Leah looked over to see Patty with her mouth open staring at the two of them. As soon as she and Leah made eye contact Patty ducked, "Sorry about that."
Leah turned back to Josh. "So this Lance guy is going to propose and wants the place to himself for the night?"
"Yep," Josh said.
"It's pretty expensive to rent out a whole restaurant," Leah said again eyeing his choice of wardrobe.
Josh stared at her for a moment. "You let me worry about that."
Leah took a deep breath and turned back to her pile of paperwork, searching for a card. She found them tucked under a half eaten package of Oreo cookies and handed him one. "Have your friend give me a call and we'll set things up."
"Ok," he said finally smiling.
Again Leah felt as if she should recognize him. He seemed so familiar. There was something in the way that he smiled at her that seemed so familiar.
"Hey Leah can I talk to you for a minute?" Patty's voice sounded from behind them and Leah turned around angry about the second interruption from the bartender.
"In a second," Leah said then turned back to Josh.
"Well it was nice meeting you," he said, now flipping the edge of the business card against the back of one hand. "I'll give this to Lance and he'll be in touch I'm sure."
"Ok," Leah said with a smile.
They shook hands again and he left out through the front door. Leah leaned around the wall that separated the main dining room from the bar and watched him outside as he climbed into a black Jeep that was at the curb. She frowned again at the huge black thug-looking guy who had been waiting for Josh then turned back to find out what Patty wanted.
"Why didn't you say something?" Patty demanded coming around the bar while wiping her hands on the towel that hung at her waist.
"What?" Leah gave her a cross-eyed look.
"You really must have been staring at those books for too long today…That was JC of NSYNC," Patty said with a wide smile.
"You know," Patty did a quick dance move that flipped her hip out to the side. "You know HIPS from that video."
"That was not HIPS," Leah said. She stared at the floor trying to place the face in the music video to the man that had been in front of her. "You think everyone is HIPS. Remember that guy in the grocery store who you almost jumped on because you thought it was HIPS."
"No," Patty said with a straight face. "That was him. The wedding he was talking about was Kevin Richardson's of the Backstreet Boys."
JC dropped off Wes at his apartment before heading home. He knew he was going to get a lecture from Boo about being out all night, but at the moment he didn't care. He'd gotten a lot done in the early morning hours and had told Keenan, the studio sound mixer that they would be done in a few days which would leave him with almost a week of vacation time before rehearsals started up again.
Pulling into the covered parking spot near the condo JC put the Jeep Wrangler into park, put on the emergency break and sat for a moment letting the song on the radio end before turning off the engine and letting himself out. He checked quickly to see that nothing was on the seats before taking a breath and heading towards the door.
JC was looking for the key when the door flew open and he was assaulted by Boo's first wave of interregatin. "Where the hell have you been?"
A sigh escaped him before he could catch it. "Honey I told you that I was going to be at the studio last night."
He watched a pout form on her face and tried to stay calm. Normally he thought the pout was cute, but he was too tired to deal with her.
"I was worried." The pout didn't leave her face.
"Not now Boo," he said and slipped by her into the house. He kicked off his running shoes and grabbed at the back of his T-shirt to pull it over his head. He threw it on his shoes and barechested walked into the kitchen remembering that he hadn't eaten in about twenty four hours.
"So is your stuff almost done?" He heard Boo ask.
Not pausing to look over at her, he pulled the milk out of the fridge and drank from the carton.
"JC! That's a new carton!" Boo whined.
"Well I'll get another one!" he snapped then replaced the carton to its spot on the top shelf.
"So when are you going to be done with the new recordings?"
JC knew that Boo wasn't interested in his schedule unless it had to do with him being out of the studio. She always hated when he'd disappear to record for more than a few hours at a time. "Almost done," he mumbled moving to search through a cupboard for something to munch on.
"Then we're going up to Bowie? Right?" she asked talking about their planned trip home to Maryland.
JC nodded then went back to the fridge, grabbed out a string cheese, opened the package, shoving half of it into his mouth, partially because he was starving and partially because he didn't want to have to talk to Boo. "I gotta go jump in the shower and take a nap before Justin gets here," he said and walked passed her and up the stairs.
"JC!" Boo exclaimed about the time he was half way up the stairs.
"Oh! Sorry!" JC returned to the first floor, picked up his shirt and shoes, leaned to kiss Boo on the cheek then escaped back up to the second floor.
"JC!" Boo whined and a moment later he heard her footsteps on the stairs.
"What?" he called to her as he stepped into the bathroom. He grabbed the toe of one sock, pulling it off in one clean motion then removed the other in the same manner before reaching to untie his running pants. A moment later, after his clothes had been shot, basketball style into the hamper stepped into the small shower stall. He was just about to turn on the water when he heard her voice again.
"I thought we were going to hang out tonight!" she said.
JC groaned and turned on the water. "We will. Tonight. But Justin and I have work to do first."
He heard the sound of her foot stomping on the floor then he heard the bathroom door slam shut loudly a moment later.
Left to his own thoughts JC's mind went over his mental list of things to do before his thoughts drifted to the image of the restaurant owner. He still couldn't get over the fact that she didn't either a) know him or b) didn't want to let on that she knew him. It was nice for a change to have someone treat him normally. He wished Boo could do that more. He feared in the last few months that she'd gotten caught up in his fame and wondered for an instant how much longer their relationship would last.
"What am I doing?" he mumbled after a moment. "I love Boo." He was shocked to find that he didn't sound too convincing.
"Leah! Phone!" Patty called just as Leah was leaving for the evening. Patty had run to get the phone as they were closing up so Leah figured that it was important if she hadn't just taken a message.
"Hello?" Leah said into the phone once she'd gotten to the bar extension.
"Yes?" She put down her purse.
"This is Lance…my buddy stopped by today and asked you about…"
"Oh yeah," Lead said, "You must be Josh's friend." She looked over at Patty who was now gripping the edge of the bar with an excited look in her eyes.
"Yeah," he said softly, "Anyway I was wondering if I could rent the place out sometime in the first week of November."
"I think we could arrange that," Leah said.
Patty put a hand over her mouth and said a few hushed "oh-my-god"'s.
"Why don't you come down this week and we'll have lunch or something and talk about it. Josh said that you were going to propose to your girlfriend?"
"Yeah." His tone sounded shy for a moment as he paused. "How about I come down on Friday for lunch say around noon?"
"Sounds good," Leah said.
"Ok. See ya then," he said, "Thanks."
"No trouble. Bye."
As soon as the receiever hit the cradle Patty immediately grabbed Leah's arm. "They're coming to lunch here?"
"Yes," Leah calmly replied.
"YOU have to schedule me to work."
"You already are!" Leah laughed at the wild look on her friend's eyes. "Lance will be down here around noon on Friday so don't let me forget to reserve the front table." Leah gathered her things and they went towards the front door again to leave.
"I can't believe this! First I got to stare at Kevin for five hours now I get to stare at Lance," Patty commented as the two girls headed for their cars.
Patty got into her white Ford Ranger and Leah got into her Navy blue Jeep and the two of them parted ways. Patty headed towards town and Leah headed the opposite way, towards the beach thinking of how much of her was hoping that Lance wouldn't bring JC with him back to the restraunt. She didn't want to have to deal with him two times in one week. She already felt bad about not knowing who he was, she didn't want to do anything else to embarrass herself.
"What’s with you man?" Justin said kicking JC's foot to jolt him out of his daze.
It was late and the two young men were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, with their shoes kicked off, lounging in kitchen chairs next to the table listening to the newest track they'd just finished. The two of them had gotten together to try to decide whether to keep the newest track or to trash it. Work had gone well for almost an hour before Boo had entered the living room. When she arrived JC looked out the window and had been staring out at his reflection since.
He'd been trying to keep his mind off of his little fight that afternoon with Boo. She'd forgiven him instantly for snapping at him when he'd first come home and when he'd crawled into bed to take a much needed nap she'd joined him and had practically threw herself on him. After explaining to her that he needed a nap and getting no reaction from her he'd had to physically pick her up off of him so he could sleep.
I bet Leah wouldn't act that way, he found himself thinking then noticed Justin waving a hand in front of his face.
"Nothing," JC said. He rubbed the back of his neck to ease the tension that had settled there and sighed looking over to where Boo was sitting on the couch talking on the phone wildly with her friend. She was no doubtedly talking about him as she balanced the cordless phone on her shoulder and painted her toes the most disgusting shade of red he'd ever seen.
"Married life not treating you well?" Justin asked. He was across the table from him writing notes on a piece of paper while eating grapes that Boo had left on the table. JC wanted to tell him not to eat them, considering how much of a fuss she made when he would touch her precious fruit bowl, but he figured that if she hadn't yelled at him yet, he wasn't going to get into too much trouble.
"What?" JC said turning to look at his friend with wide eyes.
"Seriously man, you need a vacation from her." Justin made a strained face, popped a grape in his mouth, then put his hands to his neck as if he was strangling himself. "She's sucking the life out of you." He chewed noisly for a moment, but kept a serious expression on his face.
"Justin!" JC said loudly. He was shocked to hear him talk that way about Boo. He expected his friend to help him try to keep her, not kick her out. He'd always known that Boo's outgoing personality didn't exactly fit in with the other guys. While everyone seemed to humor Chris and Joey's outbursts, Boo's had always been considered a pain.
"It's true," Justin leaned across the table, "Everyone's been thinkin' it for a long time."
"You've been thinking Justin?" Boo suddenly said. She was off the phone and was now staring at them.
"I know, I know. And yes my head DOES hurt," Justin said covering for the awkward moment with his own dry humor.
Boo laughed and went back to watching television.
Keeping an eye on her JC glance over to Justin who had his tongue sticking out at Boo. JC sat up in his chair and spoke softly. "It's been two years now and I don't know…"
The last two years had been good with Boo. There had been lots of laughs, lots of fun, and enough sex to keep any twenty-four year old guy happy, but it was all getting a little old. "I think I'm going crazy," he said aloud. He should have been thanking his lucky stars to have someone be that dedicated to him, especially in his line of work, but for the last few weeks he'd felt as if she'd been too dedicated to him.
"Nah," Justin said sitting back in his chair. "You just fell out of love."
"Like you know anything about it," JC replied.
Although the tabloids had connected Justin to Britney Spears, JC knew that the youngest member of the group hadn't had a serious girlfriend in a few years. He remembered that the last girlfriend that Justin did have was good to him, but they'd parted ways after the phone calls and miss anniversaries had gotten to the both of them.
"C, you gotta let this go man. It's only get worse from here on out. And no offense to her, but you really need someone new."
"I don't know Curly."
JC sighed. He put his hands onto the table top, fingers spread wide and stared at the ring Boo had given him two months before as a birthday gift. At first he'd been extremely excited and extremely touched by the the ring, since it did have "LEO" inscribed on it, his astrological sign, but now it seemed to be more of a symbol of Boo's steak on him rather than a symbol of their love for each other.
It took her almost forty minutes to reach the beach house. She was glad for coming home at such a late hour for once. There had been no traffic, which had made the drive an easy one. After all the activity of the day, Leah just wanted to curl up on the couch, drink some tea, and watch a little television.
She pulled into the driveway and could hear Tahoe barking through her window as she rolled it up. The poor year old Alaskan Huskie had been alone all day, but Leah knew that he was fine despite his sad "don't-leave-me" yelps he'd given that morning and the "oh-my-god-save-me" yelps that he welcomed her home with.
"I'm coming Tahoe," she called and made her way to the front door. She picked up her mail on the way in and was soon greeted by the hyperactive jumps of Tahoe who'd gone through the doggie door in record time to meet her. He had his paws on her skirt despite knowing that he shouldn't jump up but she was too tired to dicipline him.
"I love you too," she said smoothing back the spikey hair around his ears. "Is it dinner time?" she asked.
She'd eaten dinner earlier at the restaurant, but could tell that Tahoe was starving by the way he went to nudge his bowl when she said the d-word.
As she poured dog food into the bowl Leah finally let the days events sink in. She let the stresses of the day disappear and she thought of JC. He'd introduced himself as Josh and she finally realized why he had been looking at her funny. It did seem fairly ridiculous for him to be in his hometown and not be recognized. After all, wasn't it his face and his hips all over the television every day. Patty had even told her the local news had taken it upon themselves to do NSYNC updates.
"Update this Channel thirteen…local merchant makes a fool of herself not recognizing one of the most recognizable faces in Orlando."
Tahoe barked and Leah turned her attention back to him as she walked towards her bedroom. "I'm so over him Tahoe."
Friday came too quickly and Leah was already having a bad day when she realized that she had a lunch appointment. She was standing in the front of the restaurant taking a head count to make sure that all the tables were covered when she noticed the slightly familiar black jeep parked at the curb. The huge black guy that had been in the car was sitting in the front seat with a Walkman on, bopping his head to his own private concert.
Her heartbeat went from "cool-calm-and collected" to "hyperactive" in an instant as she scanned the room nervously looking for her lunch guests. She hoped that they'd either already been seated or had found their way to the bar and had asked Patty where she was. She checked her watch and for a moment couldn't read the watch hands. The silver-faced timepiece finally came into focus reading twelve fifteen and she sighed. She was late, but where were they?
A moment later she heard a loud crash come from the direction of the bar. What now? She walked towards the sound of the crash knowing that it was probably Patty, but figured that she should check on her. One of these days she's going to cut a finger off.
Before she rounded the corner into the bar she heard a loud male laugh and without seeing JC or ever hearing a real laugh from him she knew it was him.
"It wasn't me!" Patty said as Leah rounded the corner. A few customers were staring at the three comedians at the counter as Lance quickly demolished a stacked pyramid of glasses while JC laughed and Patty covered her mouth trying not to laugh.
"That will teach you!" JC laughed. He ran a hand through his short hair from front-to-back then unconsciously swept back over the hairdo to fix a strand that he somehow knew was sticking up. "No wonder Nicole doesn't ever let you into the kitchen anymore."
Leah stared at JC as he leaned against the counter. He wore dark blue jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt, definitely a step up from his last outfit, but it seemed as if he hadn't thought that their lunch appointment was as important as Lance had. She could tell that Lance was the more business type. He hadn't gone to the extreme of wearing a suit, but he had on nice slacks and a collared shirt.
"Shut it!" Lance grumbled back at him while giving Patty a truly apologetic look.
They deserved a real scolding, but when Lance turned to Leah with an embarrassed look on his face she didn't let out her words. She'd talk to Patty about it later. She knows better than that to stack up those glasses.
"Lance, meet Leah," JC said finally recognizing Leah's presence in the room. "Leah, Lance."
After a quick handshake Lance shoved his hands into his pockets, "I'm really sorry about that." He reached for his back pocket and brought out a well-worn black leather wallet. "I'll pay for those."
"Really," Leah said feeling strange about taking his money. He looked so bad, as if he thought she might be really mad at him that she couldn't help but to try to reassure him that everything was ok. "Its ok, I'll just add those to Patty's tab since she seems to break at least one a day."
Patty threw Leah a dirty look then went to help a customer at the far end of the bar.
"You boys ready for lunch?" Leah asked.
They nodded and she led the way to the table she'd left empty for them. She sat down stiffly in her chair and stared at the two guys as they settled into their seats. "So…" she turned and put all her attention on Lance while trying to keep the eerie feeling of JC's stare on her out of her mind. "…You wanted to propose to your girlfriend and need my place to do it in?"
"Yep," Lance said with a blush.
"Well I'm honored that you'd pick my restaurant."
The waitress brought them water and Lance immediately reached for his nervously. "I've only known her for a little while, about six months, but I want to make this special.
"I heard about the whole tabloid thing," Leah admitted to him. She saw Lance tense up and she looked at JC, who didn't seem to have heard her remark, or at least didn't react to it the way that Lance had. "As if you didn't know already, Patty is a huge fan and she explained to me about the whole situation and I want to assure you that whatever plans you make will stay between my staff and I."
JC laughed, "I think that Patty knows more about us than we do. Somehow she knew that I wanted an ice tea and that Lance only likes a frosted glass for his coke."
Leah shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "I hope that her behavior doesn't…"
"No," Lance said, "It's good. I think that it'll be good to have her around. She seems pretty knowledgeable about what she thinks I should do about this whole proposing thing. She thinks I need to have a piano player and told me to have Gardenia's instead roses."
"That sounds like Patty."
JC stayed out of the rest of the conversation quietly watching Leah and Lance plan the special event. He liked being invisible like that. Leah didn't spend too much time even noticing him other than the stare she'd given him when they'd first seen each other again. Now she kept her eyes on Lance, turning only to glance at him when she asked questions; JC figured to see if he agreed with Lance's answers or not. He nodded and smiled when needed all the while watching Leah as she sat on the edge of her chair listening to Lance as if anticipating his next words.
Now, without a scowl on her face, she was prettier than he'd first thought. A smile graced her face and he couldn't help but to appreciate it. It had already reassured Lance that everything was ok and now it was easing his own fears about seeing her again. He'd almost stayed home, remembering how he'd thought about her longer than he should have the last time they'd seen each other, but the thought of testing himself to her temptation was something he needed to push.
His mind immediately flew to Boo. He scolded himself for not having his mind on her in the first place, but couldn't help it. Leah intrigued him. She seemed to be a little younger than he was and she owned the restaurant, which was amazing to him. Besides her success in the business, he could tell that she was going to be dangerous for him. He felt at ease with her, too at ease than he should have been feeling, and while most people would have liked that feeling, especially in his line of work, he wasn't sure if he enjoyed feeling that way when he had Boo around.
"Do you always stare at people?" Leah asked with a nervous laugh.
"Sorry," JC pushed himself up in his chair and looked around a little confused how the conversation had turned towards him. He found himself alone at the table and wondered why Lance had disappeared. He felt more than a little foolish for losing himself into his thoughts. He tried not to do that in public. He didn't want everyone to think that he was some kind of airhead because he couldn't follow a conversation for more than a few minutes.
When Patty suddenly appeared at the table JC flashed her a smile. She gave him a strained smile in return then leaned and whispered something into Leah's ear, covering her mouth so that he couldn't see. He wondered what was going on, but soon found that it was something important when Leah pushed back her chair, rose to her feet and spoke softly, "Would you excuse me for a moment?"
"Sure," he said lazily glad for the moment to be alone and collect himself.
To keep himself occupied he picked up a fork and twirled it in his hand then let his eyes drift to Leah's figure as she maneuvered around tables on her way out of the room. His eyes shifted down to her backside as she walked away. In her fitting slacks her ass swayed as she walked through the narrow walkway then took a step up into the bar area. JC gripped the fork in his left hand and spread the fingers out on his right hand and stared at them.
Just about that size, he thought and dropped the fork to the floor. He grabbed for it and looked around wondering all the while if anyone had seen his reaction to her.
Leah arrived back in the bar with Patty to find a girl, wearing clothes that were clearly too tight for her figure, standing with her hands on her hips staring at them with an evil look as they approached. She looked like one of the vacationing college student from up north. That, I have money and daddy pays for everything, kind smile on the girl's face made Leah want to tear the girl's hair out.
Oh great. Just what I need to make my day complete.
"Took you long enough," the girl spat out, "I asked for a drink and Tinkerbell over there wouldn't serve me."
"Tinkerbell?" Patty said as the girl threw an arm out in her direction.
Leah tried not to laugh at the customer. It was an extremely strange name to give Patty considering that she was almost six feet tall and was no where near being pixie-like.
"What happened?" Leah asked Patty while counting to ten in her head. She knew that Patty probably had only been doing her job. The snobby customer wasn't upset about not being served; she was upset about not getting her way.
"She came to the bar and I asked to see some ID and she got…" Patty stared at the girl for a moment. "I believe the word is….hostile."
The girl frowned and reached out. Before Leah could stop her she grabbed a stray beer glass and threw it down to the ground.
"See?" Patty said with a completely sarcastic tone. Usually Leah would have gotten on her about being such a smart alec, but decided that it could go for a while due to the unique situation.
"Barbara!" JC said with a firm tone from behind where Patty and Leah were standing.
The girl stopped and stared, like a deer caught in headlights, as JC pushed past the crowd that had gathered. He swooped a hand under her arm and proceeded to escort her out of the restaurant without a word of explanation.
"What happened?" Lance asked after rejoining the group. He looked confused as he watched Patty picking up the broken glass off the floor.
"Well," Leah sighed. She sidestepped and saw JC and the girl sitting in the jeep out front arguing. "You're not the only one of Josh's friends who broke one of my bar glasses today."
"Oh no," Lance groaned. He took a breath. "I should go break them up before…" He trailed off. "I'm really sorry about all this."
Leah watched Lance run out and climb into the back seat of the jeep next to the bodyguard then the four of them sped off down the street.
"You sure know how to pick them," Leah said towards Patty's direction.
"Me?" Patty said defensively, "Just because I like the way the man moves his hips doesn't make me responsible for the Ice Princess and her incredible breaking glass routine."
Leah sighed. Another long day was just getting longer.
"What the fuck were you doing back there?" JC yelled. He didn't like the fact that she'd gotten him mad enough to swear at her. He stepped on the gas petal, downshifted taking the turn towards his house a little too fast. He felt the jeep begin to lean and slowed down. "God damn Boo! What were you thinking?"
"Why the hell were you having lunch with her?" Boo demanded from her seat next to him. She'd buckled herself in and was hanging on for dear life.
"I…I…" Lance said from the back seat.
"Shut up Lance!" they yelled at him.
JC glared at him in the rear view mirror. He wasn't sure if Lance was going to warn him about his driving or put something into their argument, but he knew that the guy really needed to stay out of it. He figured that if Lance just kept his mouth shut that there would be no harm done later considering that JC knew instantly that this was going to be the straw that broke his back. He and Boo were through.
"Why?" Boo asked. Her voice was like nails on a blackboard. JC winced at her whine and turned down the next street.
When she didn't got an answer out of him she began to pout and when that didn't work she tried using an apology on him, as if one little look from her would smooth things over.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Don't push me Barbara," JC said shrugging her hand off his shoulder when she reached out towards him. "I'm not in the mood for it."
JC heart rate had skyrocketed instantly with his anger. From his fingers to his toes he was furious. If he didn't know better he would have thought he was having a stroke or something from the way that his arm was hurting. That’s the sign of a heart attack right? He wondered. The whole thing was wild and out of control and if he hadn't been so pissed he probably would have broken down and cried because he knew that it was the end of the way his life had been for the last two years.
When they reached the condo, he slammed the car into park, shut off the engine and jumped out not waiting for the others. He stormed his way to the front door quickly opening it and stomped into the house.
"JC, man, what are you doing?" Lance called after him.
Taking the stairs in twos JC went into the bedroom, stalked into the walk-in closet, grabbed a bag and brought it into the bedroom. He slammed it down on the queen-sized mattress and began to pack.
"What are you doing?" Lance asked from the doorway.
"Packing." He stuffed a few shirts, a few pairs of jeans and other necessities into the bag and zipped the zipper in one motion.
His head pounded as he paced the room for a moment thinking of what to do next.
"JC, what the hell is going on?"
"Get her out of here Lance, or I'll have Mike and the guys escort her out."
He grabbed up the back and practically ran out of the house. He heard Boo crying into the phone as he passed through the first floor on his way to the door, but didn't stop to figure out who she was talking to. He added more anger to the situation when he slammed the door shut.
A few moments later he was in the jeep and on the road again, this time without his three passengers. When Mike had tried to climb in with him he'd pushed the guy out and told him in a firm tone that he needed to be alone. He usually didn't go anywhere without him while he was working and prayed that Mike would understand. Mike seemed to take the hint from the tone in his voice and warned him about checking in.
"Shooter?" Patty asked holding up an almost empty handle of Tequila.
Most nights the girls shared a toast, but that night all Leah could think of was going home and going to sleep. "You aren't driving are you?" Leah asked as Patty downed a shot and loaded another one.
With a sour expression on her face from the tequila Patty nodded no. "Sean's picking me up in a minute. I told him to come by and knock on the window."
Leah sighed partially at the thought of her long day and partially at the thought of Patty's crazy boyfriend Sean. He was something straight out of one of those Mad Max movies with Mel Gibson. The guy was just over six-five and out weighed any guy that Leah had ever met. He'd found his calling though. He was a bouncer at a club out on Paradise Island. The pair were a perfect match since their jobs always kept them up into the wee hours of the morning. Patty was always telling her about how she and Sean went out on dates in the middle of the night. Most of the so-called dates consisted of trips to the all-night Taco Bell or to Wal-Mart, which wasn't the most romantic of places to hang out, but they had fun together. It was something that Leah missed out on a lot in the last year since she'd taken over the business when her parents had both died suddenly.
"Where are you going this time?" Leah asked trying to put the other reasons for her sighing out of her mind.
"I'm not sure." She threw back her second shot and again made a sour face before continuing, "Whatever we do tonight won't be as fun as watching the psycho chick break glasses. What was with that girl?"
"I hate girls!" Leah growled and pulled her hair back out of her face, holding it there for a moment before letting it fall again. "That girl gives all of us a bad name."
A knock sounded on the window up front and Patty scooted out from behind the bar and skipped her way out to the front to get the door.
"Tell Sean I said hello!" Leah called as she reached and replaced the top to the tequila bottle.
"It's not Sean!" Patty called with a loud groan attached to the end of her words. "It's JC!"
Leah pushed herself off her barstool and went out towards the door. She found Patty and JC in the doorway. JC wore a serious, almost worried expression on his face and was holding onto a big cardboard box.
"I brought these for you," JC immediately said holding out the box to her. "They're to replace the glasses that Lance broke and the one Boo…"
Leah sighed again. "It’s ok," Leah said, "You didn't have to--"
"I'll take them," Patty said grabbing the box away from JC she headed back towards the bar.
Don't leave me here! Leah watched Patty disappear and knew that she'd done that on purpose.
"Anyway," JC said. He shoved his hands into his pockets.
Leah let her eyes slide over him once. Despite looking completely tired, she found him very sexy looking with his sleepy eyes focused on her.
"Well I should get going," he said.
"Wait!" Leah reached out and touched his arm. "I know that I don't really know you or anything, but are you ok?"
JC rubbed the back of his neck and held his breath. He wanted to tell her all about Boo and how crazy his life was. There was something in her eyes; some compassion he hadn't seen in a long time in Boo's eyes; maybe in forever.
"I don’t want to pry," Leah said, "But I am kind of curious to know about your friend's reaction to you having lunch here and why she decided to redecorate my bar."
"I'm really sorry about that," JC looked at the floor with a frown on his face. He truly had been more worried about how Leah would react to the commotion Boo had caused more than how he was going to deal with having Boo move out of the condo and out of his life.
A knock on the glass startled them both. JC turned to see a huge guy standing on the other side of the window with a goofy smile on his face.
"Hold on," Leah said and went and opened the door. "Hey Sean."
When Leah leaned and hugged the huge guy JC found himself feeling quite a stab of jealousy move through him. He wondered for the moment if the two were a couple.
"Patty! Sean's here!" Leah yelled.
JC found himself sighing with relief as Patty bounced in the room, almost skipping. She leaned and kissed Sean then smiled at JC.
"Oh sorry," Leah finally said. "Sean this is…"
"Josh," JC said and reached to shake the guy's hand.
Sean seemed to recognize him and gave him a quick smile before he wrapped an arm around Patty and pulled her off her feet. "You ready to go crazy girl?"
"Yep. Where are we going again?" Patty asked.
"It’s a surprise," Sean said with a smile to her then kissed her.
As the couple locked lips JC found himself glancing at Leah and found her staring back at him. She was standing close to him and he could have reached out and touched her if he'd been daring enough to.
"We're off," Patty's voice broke their eye contact.
JC smiled at the couple and waved with Leah as the two left them alone.
"Want a cup of coffee?" she asked.
JC stared at her for a moment. I should go now. Get away from her before she pulls you in even more. You don't want to do something stupid. "Sure," he found himself saying.
"Come on, I'll go make us a pot." She turned and walked towards the bar.
JC stuck his hands back into his pockets and followed her. He almost tripped on the step up to the bar because he was staring at her ass again. He remembered his reaction to her earlier and gripped his hand into a fist inside his pocket.
He settled himself into a barstool and watched her go behind the bar. She fixed the coffee with swift efficient movements and he delighted in watching her bend down every so often to get something or put something away.
Soon the coffeepot was started and Leah came around and settled herself in the chair next to him. He glanced at her sideways marveling at how good she looked at three in the morning.
Her hair was curly and framed her face. The burgundy locks of her hair and her tan made her almost glow with a natural beauty he hadn't seen in a long time. He'd been spending too much time in la-la-land and had grown tired of the silicone and fakeness that seemed to make up most of the girls in his world. He wanted--needed--to be able to site down with a girl and see her--not all the make up and props that she wore--just her.
"Do you always zone out like this?" Leah asked turning to look at him straight in the face.
"What?" he asked.
"You've spaced out a few times since we've met. I hope I'm not that boring," she said.
JC reached out and touched her shoulder without thinking about it then removed his hand when she made eye contact with him. "You're not boring me," he said trying to sound as sincere as he felt.
"Sure, sure," she said.
"No really." He took a deep breath and swiveled in his chair so that he was now facing her. He put a foot on the rung of her chair, but kept the other on his own. "I've been zoning out today because I haven't had my nap yet."
Leah laughed softly and turned towards him. "Nap?"
He leaned in close to her. She was so close that he could almost feel her breath on his cheek. "Don't tell anyone this, but I have to have at least one nap a day…it's my only addiction."
"Only one addiction? You're a rockstar with no addictions? Now there's a twist."
"Well I have one other addiction," he leaned close to her as her eyes sparkled at him.
"What's that?" she asked with a nervous laugh.
"Kissing." He leaned and touched his lips to her while the little voice inside him told him not to. She was dangerous. He had a feeling that he could get lost in her.
She kissed him back for almost a full minute before she seemed to realize what was going on and pulled back from him. She covered her mouth with a hand and he watched her blush.
"I'm…" JC instantly felt terrible. He loved the feel of her lips on his, but could tell that he'd just put some tension between them. "I'm sorry." He ran his hands through his hair to keep them from reaching out to her.
"Really, it's ok." She got off her stool and accidentally hit into his thigh. When she realized what she'd done she put a hand on his thigh. Her touch burned through his jeans and he tried not to jump back from her touch.
"Sorry," she said and moved by him to lift the coffee put off the burner.
Leah could feel his eyes on her as she had her back to him. Her hands shook as she poured the coffee from the machine pot into the mugs. Taking deep breaths she tried to calm down.
It was only kisses; a little tiny kiss; a little tiny kiss that made me a little dizzy.
Leah stepped back to grab some sugar and bumped into JC.
"Whoa!" he said and put his hands on her hips for a moment. "Sorry…" she could feel his breath near her ear. "I was just going to--" He moved away from her and she felt cold where his hands had been on her. "I was going to get the milk." He reached into the tiny fridge and pulled out the carton of milk.
Nervousness shook her as they stood close together. He reached across her to get one of the mugs and poured milk into his, without seeming nervous at all. Leah caught a breath of his cologne and melted. There was something about him that totally floored her. Normally she was fairly immune to guys. She liked them well enough, but it seemed as if most the guys she knew, who weren't already her friends treated her fairly badly.
JC sipped his coffee looking at her from over the edge of the mug. "Jeeze." He put the mug down. "Did I scare you that bad? I didn't meant to startle you like that."
When he reached out to her she stepped back. "It's ok." This is a bad idea Leah. Kick him out now while you still have a fighting chance. One more smile from him and you'll be a lost cause.
Leah went back around the bar and settled herself in her seat again and JC followed her lead. When they were both sitting again, sipping away at the coffee she turned to him. "So are you going to tell me about your psycho friend?"
"That was Barbara," he said with a sigh. "My girl-." She watched him take a deep breath then sigh once more. "MY ex-girlfriend."
"Ah," Leah said, "Gotta love ex's."
"Let's not talk about it," he said.
Leah sat silently for a moment next to him then glanced at the Budwiser clock over the cash register and groaned. It was already three in the morning.
"I hate to be the one to say this, but I need to kick you out," she said, "I need to get home."
"Someone waiting up for you?" he asked.
"Not unless you count my dog," she said.
"I guess I'll head over to the studio then," he said.
"Don't you sleep?"
"Yeah, but I'm sort of homeless at the moment."
"Homeless?" Leah couldn't believe that this guy had no place to live. According to Patty he had a condo somewhere in town and according to an issue of TEENTIME magazine Patty said that their manager had a huge house where he lived part of the time.
"Yeah well Boo and I were living together and since that is sort of over I'm just sort of waiting to go home."
"You seem way too calm about breaking up with her," Leah commented.
JC got up and walked around behind the bar again, poured his left over coffee out and rinsed the mug. "Where do you want this?"
When she pointed to the counter he flipped the mug over to dry then smiled, "Our breakup has been coming for a while," he said. He leaned against the counter. "Besides, I usually do my crying alone."
"You must not cry a lot then," Leah said, "Patty was saying that you guys only have like a week off a year."
"What's to really cry about?" he said, "Not to brag or anything, but life is pretty good right now for the most part."
"If you say so," Leah sighed. She found her purse and keys then turned to him. "Ready to go?"
"Sure," he said.
As they walked out to the front door she could see the sky getting lighter. It would be morning before she got home.
"If you really need a place to stay," she found herself saying as she locked the door, "I have a free couch you could crash on."
"Nah," JC said with a wink to her, "It's ok."
Leah's stomach flip-flopped when he smiled at her.
"I'll be fine. Maybe the next time I'm homeless I'll take you up on that offer."
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