FIREWORKS


THREE:

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We'll have dinner tonight though."

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

"Cole," Lance said lazily pulling her closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

"Do we have to?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good one Boo," Wes said.

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

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

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

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

"You wouldn't." Nicole said.

"Not the other fans silly. The guys!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boo smiled and said, "It works."

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

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

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

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

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

"Lucy?"

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

"What'd I miss?" she asked.

"We're almost there," Angela said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And her boyfriend is Ricky," Boo said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?" Nicole asked.

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

Nicole looked at Dani for some sort of explanation.

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

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

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

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

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


FOUR:


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

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

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

"Hey Ricky!" Nicole called from the bathroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey!" she said.

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

"Yeah," she said.

 


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