"So how does this all work?" she asked as she waited in the crowded Orlando Airport to board the flight West. A million people were leaving for the long Fourth of July weekend letting Dani, Boo, Angela and her out of the spotlight. Her three traveling companions sat together across the isle from her in the waiting area wasting time by reading and chatting as if the trip was nothing to be nervous about.
Nicole on the other hand had been stressing for the last two weeks since Lance had told her that he'd booked her a flight out with the other girls to see him. She'd repacked a million times and had almost called to cancel her ticket a few times. She and Lance had been talking on the phone for the last two months while he'd been on tour and things had been going as well as any other long distance relationship could go. He called when he could get more than a few minutes of free time, which seemed always to be in the middle of the night and she missed him every moment in between.
Boo flipped the page of her magazine and gave Nicole a stern look. "We get on the plane and it flies away. If you want the specifics I'm sure you can talk to the pilot…"
"Boo, leave her alone," Angela said with a sympathetic look in Nicole's direction, "You were this nervous when you first went to see JC in England."
"I'm not nervous," Nicole said trying to convince herself of that. Boo had been bugging her all morning, making her even more unsettled than she already was, but the playful teasing had gotten worse since they'd gotten to the airport.
"And the Pope isn't Catholic!" Boo smiled at her with a corny smile.
"Don't mind her," Dani said readjusting the nylon carry-on bag that contained Chris's two pug puppies Busta and Korea. The dogs had fallen asleep in the ventilated bag on the way to the airport and seemed to still be asleep in the bag at their feet. "She's just sexually frustrated."
"Yeah right!" Boo said with an evil grin directed towards Dani. The play back and forth between the two girls could have been taken two ways, but Nicole knew, from spending a few lunches and shopping trips together with them that the girls were like sisters. Nicole had fallen into the group comfortably knowing that they were the only people in the world who knew what she was going through. Now though, as they left for the trip, they were making it clear that Nicole was the novice of the group and needed a little breaking in before she was really a part of their little click.
Dani was the more level headed one of the two of them and stayed calm while teased. "Hey. I already have three kids to take care of. I don't need any more."
"Three kids?" Nicole asked not quite understanding.
"Yeah," Dani said, "Busta, Korea-"
Angela laughed at Dani's instant lovesick expression at the mention of Chris. All of them had been in good moods over the last month and while a few of them had gotten a little depressed about being away from the guys they all seemed to be in better moods now that the trip was officially under way.
"Digital Get Down," Dani shot in with a laugh.
Nicole joined in the laughter at the mention of the group's song. Nicole had taken it upon herself, during her time away from Lance, to learn most of the groups' material. She hadn't sung in years, but found comfort in listening to the guys on the radio and the CD's she'd purchased, as if singing with them connected her to them in their absence. Digital Get Down, off their latest release, was the perfect song to describe the contact between the girls and the group. No one had seen them in person since Biloxi, about twenty shows ago and Nicole hadn't seen them since they'd left Orlando due to her schedule. The only contact had been through phone calls and a few letters but email seemed to be keeping Dani and Chris together.
"You both have some catching up to do," Boo said giving Angela and Nicole looks.
To say that Boo was outgoing was an understatement. She seemed to be fearless in social situations and made friends and enemies wherever she went, but Nicole found that it was good to have her on their side. Boo had sat Nicole down that morning, before she'd started her teasing and had given Nicole a crash course in being a famous person's girlfriend. She explained everything from avoiding the cameras to being polite to fans.
Dani seemed to be the brains of the outfit planning out all the details of the trip, down to the shopping time that they'd have before the second show to the spa treatment that they would have before the first show.
Angela and Nicole had their places in the group too. Angela had the most knowledge of the guys while Nicole seemed to be the mother of the group. Nicole's cool decision making skills caused them to think before they leapt into things, like when Boo had wanted to get a limo to the airport. From what Nicole could tell, leaving for a trip in a limo would only bring more attention to them which wasn't something that any of them wanted seeing that Boo's picture had somehow made it into the newspapers a few weeks before.
"Yeah well at least Justin isn't dating anyone right now. We can't be in last place." Angela spoke up.
Despite her initial reaction to Angela, Nicole had come to love all the girls in their own ways. Angela seemed to be the least affected by the whole living situation, but seemed also to be the most sensitive when it came to dealing with fans. When the guys had left town Angela had come over and hung out with Nicole at Gino's a few times. Since the girls both seemed to be in the same places in their relationships they'd discussed in detail how to deal with the jealousy and ill feelings that they had about seeing their men with girls hanging all over them.
The flight was called and everyone picked up their things and went to find their first class seats. Nicole hadn't flown first class in years and was excited and nervous about the whole thing. She made it to her seat before feeling extremely nervous again.
"Chill out girl. This is supposed to be fun." Dani set the bag of puppies on the floor for a moment while she removed a sweater from where she'd thrown it over her carry-on bag and slipped it on before sitting down again.
They'd all dressed nicely for the flight. Being the more tomboyish of the bunch Nicole had chosen sleek black pants and a deep blue button down short sleeved shirt and black slides. She stuck out a bit, looking more business casual than the others had dressed, but the other girls looked nice in their own ways. Dani had chosen a pink sweater-set and a black skirt and black slides while Boo had gone all out in her knee length dress that looked like the print of a red bandana that matched her platform sandals. Angela too had gone all out that morning, showing up at Lance's house in black Capri pants and a sea green back-less shirt and sandals.
Nicole had packed up one outrageous outfit that looked similar to Angela's shirt and a skirt that looked like the print of Dani's dress, but doubted that she would be bold enough to wear it. The girls had told her that they were going to dress up for the two concerts that they'd be attending while visiting the guys and that Nicole had to break out a little and dress like a teeny-bopper for a change.
"How does this all work though?" Nicole asked again with a low tone to her voice hoping that Boo wouldn't hear her and tease her again.
"It's easy. Basically in front of the fans we act like we don’t know them--"
"Then behind closed doors we attack them!" Boo said leaning over from the seat behind Nicole. She laughed uncontrollably for a moment then settled down.
Angela laughed at the strange behavior and the comment. "Ok, Whore."
Boo looked at her nails and smiled wickedly. "Two months is a long time to go without."
"Ok. We know a little too much about your sex life now. We don't need to hear all about you and JC. Thank you very much." Dani said.
"So do we get to hang out with them at all? During rehearsals they seemed really busy."
"What's with all the questions?" Boo asked with a nasty tone to her voice. "You writing an article?"
"No," Nicole said with a frown.
"They usually are busy," Dani began to explain before Nicole could try to answer Boo further.
"Switches!" Boo said loudly as she buckled herself in.
"Switches?" Nicole was learning slowly that the girls had their own certain language, but hadn't yet gotten down all the lingo.
"Yeah," Boo said with a smile. "We get rooms next to each other and use the connecting doors."
"That way Chris and I get to room together and so do Boo and JC, but it looks like the guys are rooming together still."
"Is all that a big concern--do people really notice stuff like that?"
"You'd be surprised what they notice and what gets on the Internet about us and the guys. You shouldn't be paranoid about it, just try not to call attention to yourself if you're anywhere near them."
"Easy for you to say," Angela chimed in. "I always get stuck with Boo."
Boo slapped at Angela playfully. "I can't help it if I love my man."
"It still amazes me that YOU and JC are together," Dani said leaning back to look at Boo.
"What's that supposed to mean?" She looked shocked and a little insulted by the comment.
"He's way mellow and well…" she smiled at her friend, "…you're just…not."
"If it weren't for me JC would be in the studio twenty-four-seven. I have to pull his ass away from the boards as it is and if being…" she put her fingers up to show quote signs. "…"Not mellow" works, then I'll act that way."
"Come on, let's get this Rancho in gear!" Angela said loudly into the plane compartment as if the pilot would hear her and pull away from the gate faster.
Nicole settled into her seat a little and tried to remain calm. Her heart was beating out of her chest and the thought of seeing Lance again made the butterflies awaken in her stomach.
"Lance is your watch broken?" a reporter asked in a formal tone.
He looked away from his watch and looked around as the group of reporters and the other guys stared at him. He didn't know who had asked the question so he directed his next move to the whole crowd hoping that he didn't look too confused by missing the question. "I'm sorry. What was the question?" A few snickers rose from the press gathered in the small room. Lance smiled.
"Do you have somewhere else you'd liked to be?" a different reporter asked.
"No," he said trying to show a big smile while wanting to kill the reporter who'd dared to ask him about his lapse in attention. It was stupid of him to space out like that in front of a crowd and he knew that he'd hear about it later, but at the moment he wasn't worried about that. He had other issues on his mind, like the fact that Nicole was on her way to him and he was very nervous about seeing her again. "I just think I forgot to switch my watch to this time zone…" He calculated the wrong time in his head and continued, "My watch says its almost three…" It was almost two real time. "…Does anyone have the correct time?"
Someone in the crowd yelled out the time and everyone watched as Lance moved around the hands of his watch finally moving them back to where they'd been in the first place. A few reporters took pictures, which Lance hated considering that he wasn't doing anything special, but put up with it. He figured that they'd already taken enough pictures of the guys that day, but knew that any opportunity to get a picture was a good one to reporters. They'd been sitting there for the last hour answering questions and had another half an hour to go before being let out to go grab a late lunch with a contest winner. He smiled and when done said a huge, "There."
"Good one Lance," Chris said from next to him through clenched teeth while leaning away from the microphones the guys were using.
"Yeah Lance," Joey said with a cheeky smile from his other side.
"Sorry," Lance said as JC answered a question from the end of the row of guys. "I'm just worried about the flight."
A few flashes went off when JC took off the jean jacket he'd been wearing. The black sleeveless T-shirt, which over the last few weeks had become his new uniform, showed off his arms well, a picture that added to his already infamous status as being an eligible bachelor. Little did they know that he was already taken. JC wasn't normally the guy to bring attention to himself while off stage, but Lance thought that JC liked the extra attention his bare arms were getting in the press these days. Lance watched a smile crease over his friend's face and wondered if his good mood was because Boo was going to be in his room later. He was always a little more outgoing when his girlfriend was around.
"They've just landed," Joey said as he scratched his arm to camouflage that he was staring at his watch too. "They'll be up in the rooms by the time we get out of here."
"You as nervous as me?" Lance asked Joey as Justin began to explain about the controversy over Digital Get Down.
Lance had been feeling a little pressure from the guys and from just being who he was about the whole situation with Nicole. He and Chris were sharing a room which meant that Chris would move out and go stay with Dani for their few days leaving Lance to be alone with Nicole. He wasn't bothered by the living situation really, but had a feeling that she wouldn't be too pleased to be stuck with him overnight.
"Yeah, but just chill out," Joey said.
Lance made a face at Joey. He was as cool and calm as ever. He and Angela had known each other for a million years and had shared a room a few times on tour.
"Look at that tree!" Chris said loudly causing a diversion of attention from the two group members who were chatting amongst themselves.
The reporters laughed at Chris's antics and Lance took a few deep breaths. He'd had butterflies in his stomach since he'd gotten up that morning at three to go to the radio station interview with Justin. He wanted Nicole to get there and be in his arms so he could start dealing with his nervousness instead of going over and over in his head with "what ifs" that had been plaguing him for the two previous weeks since he'd booked her flight.
He wanted her to come and visit, but at the same time he was preparing himself to deal with the same type of reaction she'd had when she'd dropped him off when he'd left Orlando. He'd told her a million times over the phone that she had nothing to worry about, but deep down he knew that she would be a little out of sorts during her stay with him.
"So what's next?" Nicole asked as they exited the plane with the rest of the passengers. She knew that they guys weren't going to pick them up, but was curious to see who would be waiting for them. When she hadn't seen anyone with a sign or at least a welcoming face she got a little worried. They were barely out of the gate and Boo gave her a nasty look. Nicole frowned at her expression. "I'll shut up now."
"Mike should be around here somewhere," Dani said straining to look over and around the other passengers from their flight. They'd been on a flight with vacationers and everyone seemed to be greeting relatives and friends in front of them, blocking their view from the rest of the gathered people.
"G Funk and The Homies!" A male voice boomed over the low rumbled of conversation coming from the exiting passengers and a moment later a huge black bodyguard made his way out of the crowd. He gave hugs to the other girls, petted Busta and Korea, who had popped their heads out of the carry-on bag, then presented himself to Nicole.
"I'm Mike. Bodyguard. At your service." He nodded with each statement then made a bow as if their meeting was in Buckingham Palace and not a crowded airport. Mike was about six feet five inches tall and Nicole guessed outweighed her by about a hundred fifty pounds if not more. He wore a black collared shirt with the NSYNC logo on the chest of the right side with his name embroidered underneath it. She'd seen the other bodyguard House in a shirt similar to that when she and Lance had said goodbye two months before.
"Mikey, the dogs need a pit stop," Dani said softly tugging on his shirt to get his attention.
"It's all covered. Follow me…" He spoke in a dramatic fashion and gave a wave and trailed off through the crowd leaving a path for them to follow.
Nicole followed behind Angela and Boo pulling both her own bag and Dani's behind her while struggling to keep her backpack from sliding off her shoulder. Dani had the doggie bag open still and was trying to balance it while keeping Busta and Korea from jumping out.
When they reached the curb a van was waiting and as she handed the two bags over to Mike Nicole looked around a little. She'd never been to the Midwest and found it strangely cold considering that it was the middle of the summer. The wind was blowing and the sun was out, but it was no Orlando.
"Ok campers hop in," Mike said holding the door.
Boo crawled in the back seat and stretched out and for the first time that day Nicole saw the girl quiet. She had talked the whole flight with Angela about their plans for the weekend, which had been interesting to listen to, but the sound of her voice had become a little annoying considering that it didn't stop.
Dani and Angela took the middle seat leaving Nicole to sit by Mike in the front seat just behind the driver. "The hotel is about a mile away," Mike explained crawling in after closing the door. He sat down then turned to look at Dani. "There is a sports park across the street from the hotel for the dogs."
"Thanks Mike," Dani said with a sweet smile.
"Don't thank me, Chris was so anal about the hotel that we had to check into one then check out and check into this one."
"You did all that for the dogs?" Nicole asked with a shocked look on her face. She couldn't believe that the group had changed hotels to accommodate Chris's pets. She wondered what was in store for her and prayed that she wouldn't make any halfhearted remarks or jokes that someone might take seriously. She didn't want to say something as simple as the fact that she liked ranch dressing--what if they didn't have any? She didn't want someone to waste their time to go out and find some for her.
Life was going to be very interesting for the next few days.
"Lance, can I talk to you for a minute?" Johnny asked just as they'd sat down with the contest winner to eat.
Being on his best behavior, Lance excused himself from the table that the group had taken over, leaving his bubbly fourteen-year-old guest, Charlene, with the other guys then walked over towards where Johnny had settled into a table nearby with his cell phone and a drink.
"I'm sorry about before," Lance said even before sitting down.
"Man you can't be doing that," Johnny said.
"I know. I know." He tipped his head down hoping that Johnny would know how bad he felt about it.
"What's on your mind that's getting to you man?" Johnny asked quickly switching from disciplinarian to concerned friend.
"I'm nervous about Nicole coming to visit."
"How are you two doing?" Johnny asked, "Your phone bills still high?"
"Too the moon and back," Lance said with a smile, "I just want her to be here already and I can't help but to be nervous. She doesn't know anything about how we live and I want to make sure she doesn't freak out."
"You must really like this girl."
"I do," Lance said knowing that he was probably blushing.
"Well just keep your head in line while she and the other girls are here," Johnny said.
Lance knew that Johnny didn't approve of the girls being on tour, not that they were trouble or anything, but it seemed as if the guys were more distracted when they had visitors.
"I'll keep my head in line."
After a quick pit stop at the Sports Park for the dogs they went across the four-lane street to the hotel and checked in. It was settled quickly that Dani and Nicole would be rooming together and that Angela and Boo would have the other free room on the guys' floor. The order was determined by the fact that JC and Joey happened to be rooming together and that Chris and Lance had been paired up.
Justin, the odd man out on that particular stop, had been stuck with Lonnie, which all the girls laughed at. "No parties for the little guy this trip," Boo laughed hard, now finding herself completely awake. "Lonnie is worse than Justin's Dad!"
"Shhh!" Angela said, "Justin's too young to be partying."
Nicole took the spare moment to look around the air-conditioned lobby of the local Double Tree Inn. The huge marble tiled room hummed with the excited voices of its young guests. Nicole couldn't help but to notice the amount of teenage-looking patrons the place had. And also didn't miss the fact that there was a grand piano in the lobby. She found herself, for the first time in a long time, wanting to play it.
"Gotta love the teenyboppers." Angela came up behind her and hit into her a little as she stared at a group of girls who were settled around a couch in the lobby talking. They looked to be about fifteen years old and all sported some sort of NSYNC clothing. One girl had a hat, the other a T-shirt and the other three had homemade looking jeans that had NSYNC written all over them in different colored markers.
"What are you talking about? I love having a million girls wanting my man and not being able to have him." Boo gave a different group of teenagers walking by a smug look then made her way towards the elevator.
The ride to the tenth floor took a minute and as they waited to be let out onto the secure floor Mike passed out laminated passes that he retrieved from the backpack he'd picked up in the van.
"You gotta keep this with you or it'll be a pain in the ass to hang out," Angela explained slipping the shoelace rope attached to the laminated card around her neck.
"She knows from experience," Dani said unpacking both Busta and Korea and attaching them to their leashes. Busta started to sniff everyone's shoes, which made the girls giggle, while Korea plopped down as if she'd just run a mile and stared up at everyone with a smile of sorts looking for attention.
The door slid open and Mike handed them plastic cards that were the room keys. "Ten-o-seven and ten-o-nine." He smiled. "They're across from each other."
As they stepped off onto the floor another bodyguard with a shirt that matched Mike's stood up from a folding chair he'd been sitting on and waved to the girls.
Boo waved to the guard then grabbed the first key and Dani took the other while trying to encourage Busta to leave the elevator and Korea to move.
"Nicole, this is Wes," Mike said pausing while Boo and the others went down the hall a little. "Wes, Nicole is with the girls so don't give her a hard time ok?"
"Me?" the guy said with a smile. "Never."
"Yeah right," Mike said with a laugh. He must have seen the strange look on Nicole's face. "He's the hard-ass when it comes to security and if you don't have your pass with you he'll give you a little trouble, but don't worry. You keep your pass and everything will be ok." He patted her shoulder, made eye contact with her and said, "Don't worry."
"So do you have the itinerary for the weekend Mikey?" Boo asked as she practically skipped her way down the hallway to the rooms.
Mike turned away from Nicole and followed the girls down the hall. "There are copies in the rooms and girls…" he stared at Angela for a moment. "…Don't loose them."
"Hey. It wasn't my fault that my backpack got stolen."
""You lost it," Boo said then unlocked her door on the left side of the hallway.
Nicole took the key from Dani and unlocked their door.
"They guys should be back from a late lunch date with a contest winner in about a half hour then they're off to do a meet and greet for an hour or so in the lobby."
"Ugh!" Boo groaned and stomped her foot.
Twenty minutes later, just as Nicole had drifted off to sleep on one of the beds in their room she heard a scream in the hallway.
"Baby!" Boo's voice echoed in the hallway and Nicole could hear a few laughs.
"Booberry!" JC yelled back.
Being fairly curious about the whole situation Nicole made her way out into the hallway. They were fully clothed; JC in jeans and a black sleeveless T-shirt and Boo in her dress, but she found them on the floor. JC on his back in the doorway of the room across the hall with Boo straddling him as if he'd gone to pick her up and had fallen backwards on to the floor.
They were kissing sloppily which made Dani groan from next to her. "Gross isn't it?
Dani stepped out into the hallway and was about to open her mouth to say something when Chris jumped out from an alcove wearing a bright green baseball style T-shirt that said FuMan across the front of it in black and grabbed her into a hug. Taking the more calm approach to their hello, they held each other close for a long time before Chris looked over at Nicole.
"The other guys should be here in a second," he said giving her a smile. "We ro-sham-bo-ed for the elevator and C and I won."
Nicole nodded and tried to swallow down the sick feeling in her throat. Nervousness wasn't the right word to describe her mood. She was terrified, so terrified that she'd broken into a cold sweat and had to lean against the wall for support when her knees had begun to shake.
The elevator slid open before Nicole could calm down and Joey, Lance and Justin emerged. The boys wore the same kind of casual clothes that JC and Chris were wearing. Joey wore a red hat, a bright blue T-shirt with "Super Pimp" written on it in the style of the Super Man emblem with a pair of khakis. Justin looked as if he'd stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch print ad in green khakis and an orange sweater with a matching khaki fisherman's hat. Lance had on khakis and a black long sleeved shirt with a hood on it.
"Here goes nothing," she mumbled to herself running a hand over her hair nervously as they approached.
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