ALMOST HOME

By Patricia Brown


~~ONE~~


Mrs. Nicole Bass.

Nicole moved her hand from her glass of iced tea and brought the delicate place card up to her face to look at it again. Her fingers traced the embossed letters on the tiny card before she looked up to scan the room to find where her husband Mr. Bass was. Her sadness the last few days had been a worry for him, but it really wasn't something that could be helped. They were having a little rough spot, nothing major, but their distance from each other had been on her mind for a while now.

Standing next to Justin, Lance seemed a little less intimidating. He wasn't at all a bad guy, but she had begun to feel a little meek around him when it came to having conversations with him. He had been in business mode lately and it seemed as if their personal problems were being handled like contract renegotiations. It wasn't at all what she thought their marriage would turn out to be like.

Being with the guys always seemed to be less stressful him. He always seemed a little on edge when they were alone lately, but standing with Justin, talking over something, he looked like the old Lance, the man she married. He was laughing and smiling and probably having a drink in his hand was adding to his merry mood. She couldn’t hear the conversation, but she knew it probably wasn’t dealing with the state of affairs with the country or something so important. Lance had probably insulted some sports person that was probably Justin’s latest hero.

Both men were dressed up for a change. Lance wore dark slacks and white button down shirt and tie, something she hadn’t seen in a while other than when he'd gone to church with his parents for Christmas services, and Justin wore a nice black V-neck sweater and khakis.

Since they’d been touring again all five guys had gotten back into the idea that when they weren’t on stage jeans and a T-shirt was being dressed up. To say the least it didn’t go over well with most of their families or their significant others. It was nice to have an occasion for them to dress up at that didn’t involve any kind of press at it. One thing had been forced with this wedding. There was going to be no press there. Not even their friends could take pictures. It seemed extreme, but Nicole could understand why JC and Leah wanted it that way.

Most of the events that Nicole had attended with her husband in the last year since their marriage had been awards shows or interviews or movie premieres where the press went gaga over the new couple and the couple-to-be. Nicole hated that, but she never complained. It was pointless to do so because Lance couldn't really do anything about it. It was part of her marriage to be there through good times and bad, although her definition of good and bad seemed to be the same thing lately.

"Hello there Mrs. Bass," a playful voice said from behind her as two hands dropped onto the shoulders of her sweater. Nicole still couldn't get used to the idea of her being Mrs. Bass. Even almost a year later she found herself writing her maiden name for things and not fully paying attention when people called out her last name. Her shoulders were given a friendly squeeze then the person behind her revealed herself. "Don't drool over your husband too much."

"Hello there Mrs. Almost-Chasez," Nicole said with a smile as her friend slid into the empty seat next to her. "I'm not drooling over my husband. I'm merely admiring him. What about you? Where is your fiancé? You two looked like Siamese twins when you showed up tonight."

"Fiancé. Ugh. Don't remind me. I just want this stupid wedding to be over." Leah’s arms came around her friend and hugged Nicole while she replaced the place card on the table where it had been. "How goes married life?"

"Its good and bad." She shrugged. She felt like crying, like falling at Leah's feet and telling her how horrible the last month had been, but she knew she couldn't. It was definitely not the place or time to be bursting out in hysterics. "It’s a struggle, but you know how that goes."

Nicole tried not to let out a sigh. She and Lance had been having a few difficulties, but nothing too serious, at least for now. They were still in love and although they didn't have the same patience as the other, they would never do anything to jeopardize their marriage. Lance meant too much to her to have her screw it up.

"What?" Leah said and immediately sounded defensive. "Why would you say that?"

"No reason." Nicole’s eyes widened.

Something WAS wrong. She’d noticed Leah’s strange behavior earlier in the evening when they’d arrived. She’d been glued to JC’s side--or rather he’d been glued to hers--and the expression on her face had been twisted and worried, expressions that usually didn’t grace her friend’s face.

Nicole watched Leah’s eyes as they scanned the room for a moment then she seemed to relax or at least she looked a little more relaxed as she leaned back in her chair.

"Long day?" Nicole asked.

"Long few months," she said with a sigh.

"Don’t worry. Once all the wedding stuff is over you’ll be able to live a normal life again."

"Normal is never an option with us, you know that," Leah said with a sigh and leaned her arm against the table, propping her chin up while Nicole watched her.

"Are you ok?" Nicole asked.

"I'm fine. Just wedding junk. I haven't been feeling good lately then with everyone flying in and out of town I'm just a little nervous about all of this."

"Where’s Patty?" Nicole asked looking around the room while trying to keep an eye on Leah, "She was here earlier wasn’t she?"

"What a disaster that is," Leah sighed out. She looked around the room and Nicole saw where her eyes landed on Patty. "She’s with Justin’s parents and Steven and Jonathan."

"Have they made up yet?" Nicole asked trying to keep the conversation away from Leah's wedding issues and from Nicole’s own personal struggles.

"Not yet. I saw them say hello to each other earlier, but nothing seems to be going well for them. He is still really upset about her leaving and I have a feeling that she would rather avoid the whole subject than to talk to him," Leah said, "I've tried to get them to talk, but nothing has worked. I paired them up in the wedding so if they don't talk then I don't know what's going to happen."

"How’s the writing going for her?" Nicole asked.

"She’s doing really well with it."

Nicole leaned back in her chair and looked around the room. She sometimes still couldn't believe that her extended family had become so huge. She already had four extra honorary "brothers-in-law", a real sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and with all the rest of the family members that were too numerous to count she knew that she should feel blessed, but she found herself a little overwhelmed by it all instead.

"Her agent thinks that she’ll have the book done by the end of the year."

"Wow, our little Patty…an author."

"Our little Patty nothing," a voice said from behind them as the third of the trio of women joined the conversation. "Don’t be talking about me."

"I wasn’t," Nicole said.

"Yeah right Mrs. Bass." Patty said, "Does your husband know that you’re a horrible liar?"

Shaking her head no, Nicole tensed at the thought of lying. She’d been covering her butt for the last few weeks and although she felt horrible for keeping things from her husband there wasn’t much that she could do. The guys had been back to their busy schedule and her personal issues between her and her husband had taken a back seat to the scheduling issues that plagued first NSYNC then FreeLance Entertainment.

"So Patty are you and Justin talking again?" Nicole said taking the focus of the conversation way away from her own problems.

"We've spoken," she said coldly, "But I have my reasons for leaving and he needs to understand that my life and his life can't be together until we both get what we want out of our careers."

"Are you sure that's the only reason you up and went to California?" Nicole asked. She always had wondered what their trouble had been. She thought that they were perfect for each other and couldn't understand why when things were going so well that they just couldn't stay together.

"I had other reasons too," Patty said with a careful look in the direction of Justin.

Nicole watched as their eyes locked and they had a private conversation without saying a word. When the moment was over Patty looked back at the two of them.

All of a sudden there were tears in Leah's eyes. Nicole looked at her then reached out a hand. "Leah, what's wrong?"

"Nothings wrong really," she said, "Everything is too right."

"Too right?" Nicole asked.

"Come here," Leah said and pulled the girls into a little huddle.


"OH MY GOD!"

Lance turned his head and looked in the direction of the two women sitting with his wife. All of them were hugging and chatting away rapidly as if some news had been delivered by surprise. It was probably something to do with the wedding so he turned back to Justin.

"Do you think we should be worried?" Justin asked with a laugh looking over to where Lance had turned at the sound of the outburst.

"It's probably something stupid. You know how those girls get. I mean they probably got the right shoes for the wedding or something," Lance said taking a deep breath. If it was good news it probably didn't concern him considering the attitude he'd gotten from Nicole that day and the last few weeks. He hadn’t meant to fight with her, but there was tension between them that had now become like the Grand Canyon between them.

Taking a sip of his drink, he looked around the room and found his friends all in a state of relaxed party mode. It made his skin crawl. Unlike one of the house parties, this evening was being catered and because there were no press people invited to the party everyone was being themselves. He on the other hand was antsy, on edge, and he wanted out of the room. Lance knew he should be happy for JC and for Leah, but he was finding it hard to be festive. He just wasn't in the mood. He tried to be talkative during dinner and when they’d been hanging out, but his own troubles seemed to be overshadowing the joy he should be sharing with his friends.

When thoughts of the tension between him and Nicole surfaced in his mind he turned back and looked at Nicole. She looked so sad. She was in the middle of celebrating whatever news that had the girls talking, but there was still sadness in her eyes and if he didn't know any better he thought that her look was one of jealousy. He'd never seen her looking so depressed and after trying every trick in the book he still couldn't get her to smile. It was starting to become a drag. When he was home he felt her sadness and only wanted to get away from it and when he was on the road he could hear the worry and stress in her voice and wanted to rush home to be with her.

"What's up Lance?" Justin asked, "This is supposed to be a wedding, not a funeral."

"It's nothing," Lance said and took a deep breath sucking in the urge to cry and took another drink. He normally wasn’t so emotional, but after the strange greeting he’d gotten when he’d arrived home earlier he was feeling a little desperate. Things were definitely not right between him and Nicole and while all he wanted to do was to talk to her about he, he found himself stuck at the reception dinner trying to not look too depressed. "I'm just tired. As much as this party is great and all I just want to go home. I didn’t sleep on the plane and I didn’t sleep the other night either."

"You can't escape yet," JC said coming up to the group. He clearly had been drinking and looked happy as he slid an arm around Justin then Lance.

"As much as you know that I love to party, I really need to get home sometime tonight," Lance said and looked at his watch. It was still really early, but he just wanted to go home. He felt like he was putting on a front in front of his friends and he didn’t want to disappoint anyone or ruin the mood for anyone else.

"Take a hint from your WIFE," JC said with a smile, moving both the guys to face the girls who were still celebrating over their news, "Live a little. Party it up OK?"

Lance pushed JC's arm off of him. "Really JC. I'll party tomorrow night, but not right now."

Lance set his drink down and began to walk away from the group. When JC grabbed Lance's shoulder Lance turned around and faced his friend trying to remember that he needed to keep his cool.

"Lance man, this is supposed to be a party. You can't leave yet you big wuss!" JC said with a sloppy slur, "Your wife is going to be in your bed when you get home."

Lance pushed himself into JC's face and was nose to nose. Justin stepped between them and pushed the two of them apart. "JC, I'm going to give this one to you and just walk away," Lance said feeling that if JC HAD been sober he would have clocked the guy upside the head. "I'm going to excuse myself and see you guys tomorrow."

JC pushed towards him until Justin fully stepped in. "JC, your wedding is tomorrow and I know Leah is going to kick your ass if you end up with a black eye."

When Lance turned around he saw Nicole waiting for him. The look in her eyes scared him. He hadn’t seen her look that concerned about him in weeks. He wished that he could take a picture of her then. He would want to show that look to her later and try to remind her of how much he missed that look.

"Ricky, what was that all about?" She asked looking back towards where Justin was trying to calm JC down. She looked back at him and he watched as her eyes.

"Nothing Lucy," Lance said with a soft tone. His hand slid into hers and for the first time in weeks he felt as if the two of them were a united front against the world. They'd been on opposite sides of things for so long it was actually a treat to have her there with him, on the same page, at the same time.

"You ready to go?" She asked. She put a hand to his cheek and he tried not to lean into her touch too much. He’d missed that from her. When he’d gotten home the other night he’d gotten a hug from her then had been given the cold shoulder.

Snapping out of his daze, he smiled. "I think we should," he said.

"Let me just go get my purse and say goodbye," She said. He watched her eyes linger on him and he felt horrible. Did it take him almost getting in a fistfight to have her show any kind of emotion towards him? He wished it were a little simpler than that. He needed her and he knew that she needed him, but it seemed as if their signals were crossed and they were destined to miss each other when they were trying to meet each other in the middle.

"I’m going to head out. I’ll wait outside for you."

"Ok," she said. She leaned and kissed his cheek. "I’ll be right back."

Lance made his way out of the room. He didn’t stop to say goodnight to his parents who’d flown in for the wedding. He gave Leah a wave and hoped that Nicole would explain the situation. He didn’t want to offend anyone, but he needed out.


~~TWO~~


"Is everything ok?" Leah asked with a soft voice as Nicole slowly made her way back to the table.

Smoothing a hand through her hair she looked at Leah with sympathetic eyes. Nicole hated to see her friend worrying over something so trivial when she already had so many things to juggle. She had the wedding and a million family members to entertain and coordinate things for. She didn’t need to deal with whatever chip was on Lance’s shoulder that night and whatever stupid thing that had slipped out of her fiancé's mouth in his slightly drunken state.

Nicole had seen the argument start and had been out of her chair to try to stop it. She’d been watching him for most of the day waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was a storm brewing in him and she almost expected some kind of outburst from him. Lance had been on edge since he’d arrived back in town. He’d been grumpy on the way home from the airport, had taken a shower without a word to her, had taken a nap until they had to leave, then had driven all the way to the reception without more than a handful of words to her. She should have seen it coming, especially since Lance usually wasn’t a big drinker around her. She should have seen that something was wrong and stopped it before both men ended up having words.

"Yeah," Nicole said swallowing all the strange feelings that had just surfaced. Her mouth felt dry and she felt a little paranoid as if everyone was staring at her waiting for her to make some public apology for her husband’s behavior. She picked at the waistband of her black skirt and checked the buttons of her dress shirt as her nervousness momentarily got the best of her.

She hated the idea of the guys fighting. The tension between her and Lance was one thing, but tension between the guys was another thing entirely. Somehow, although Nicole was his wife, the guys seemed to be the ones who came after his blood relatives when it came to relationships. She was a close third, but she couldn’t make up for the time and the understanding that the guys and his own family had with him. She hadn’t been there through his struggles when the group was first starting out and she hadn’t been there for the lawsuit. She was new and would be new, she felt, for the rest of her life.

"Are you going to head out?" Patty asked.

Nicole turned looked around the room. Lance had disappeared out the front door and she knew that she should follow him. He still seemed to be upset about something and she wanted to make sure that he was ok. "Yeah," she shrugged. "I don’t think Lance is feeling well."

The excuse was horrible. She was a really bad liar, but she needed some way, some explanation, to remove herself and Lance from the reception without making a bigger deal of the event than it already was.

"We’ll see you guys tomorrow still, right?" Leah asked. The worry from earlier returned. She stared at her with this desperate look as if she expected Nicole to completely back out of coming to the wedding. She only wished that she’d knew what had been said so she could say for sure or not. She didn’t think it was something too bad or punches probably would have been thrown.

Nicole nodded. "Wouldn’t miss it for the world," Nicole said and hugged her friend. "Congratulations about the baby. I can’t believe that our little Leah is going to be a mother."

After laughing at her comment Leah gave her a smile. "Thanks," Leah said softly and looked over to where JC was still talking with Justin.

Nicole followed her eyes and could see that the two men were in the middle of a debate over something, probably the fight, but no one could be sure. "He really needs to just chill out. This tour has been tough on him with the whole FreeLance thing and everything."

"No worries," Patty said and laughed a little, "He probably is just trying to celebrate his conquest."

"Thanks Patty," Leah said angrily.

"Oh come on," Patty said defending herself, "You know what I mean. Boys are always like that, trying to be all macho and drink until they’re too drunk to stand up. I mean besides, in normal wedding ceremonies people actually have bachelor and bachelorette parties, but since the guys were out of town I’m sure the reception is just a good of a place to get drunk. Although I’m not sure that I’ll be stripping any time soon."

Nicole looked over at the guys then at the door where she could see a faint image of Lance pacing outside. She knew that she should go meet up with him, but the news of the missing bachelor party got her mind kicking into over drive. "I thought the guys went out and did a night up when they were in LA the last time."

"They were, but they got sidetracked and ended up going to a movie premiere instead," Leah explained, "JC called me and told me that he didn’t mind about missing out. He said he would have fallen asleep early if they had been drinking."

"Your man is such a wuss!" Patty said with a laugh.

Leah launched into her own version of an explanation to defend her fiancé and Nicole stood and watched them, letting her mind wander a little.

Nicole smoothed her hand over her stomach as she tried to remember the last week of calls from Lance. They’d been on the road and Lance had made his calls home like always, but she remembered that night he hadn’t called then the next night when she’d been woken up he’d explained to her that he’d fallen asleep the night before. There had been no mention of the movie premiere or any other partying going on. She wondered why all of a sudden he would lie to her and then that thought brought her to thinking about if he’d been lying to her about other things. She didn’t want to doubt things that he told her, but after tonight and his strange behavior she knew that something was wrong and it just wasn’t the troubles that had plagued their relationship.

"I’m going to head out," Nicole finally said interrupting the conversation. She was standing and her two friends were sitting and feeling even more like an outcast than she had when she’d been sitting alone earlier she took a breath and squared her shoulders. "I’ll see you both at the hairdresser’s appointment in the morning."

"Nicole?" Leah asked.

"Yeah?" She turned and looked down at Leah.

Leah reached out her hand and gripped Nicole’s hand. "I hope you know that I’m not bad about the whole fight thing. There has to be blood shed to totally ruin the day."

"I know."

"Go take care of your man," Patty said.

"Bye guys," Nicole said and gave them a wave. She wove through the tables slowly and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Lance’s parents were in the room and she even ignored them.

When she exited the restaurant she found Lance still pacing. She wondered if he even realized that she had been inside for kind of a long time. He was mumbling to himself and if she thought he’d been on edge earlier, he was now in mid-tirade.

"Ricky?" She used his nickname and a light tone in her voice hoping first that she wouldn’t startle him and second that she would let her disappointment be evident in her voice. She knew that she should stand by her man, but she couldn’t understand how Lance could be so upset about something that he would get into a fight with JC over something.

He stopped and turned and looked at her, making eye contact with her. Nicole didn’t like the look in his eyes or the way his hands came to rest of his hips as if he was ready to fight her too.

"What?" He asked harshly. She wasn’t sure if he thought she’d asked him a question or if his short temper was just flaring, but the look that he gave her, that anger and confusion that she saw there, scared her.

"Lets go home honey," she said, "I’m tired." She really wasn’t that tired, but at least it was better than asking him about the fight right away. She knew that they would eventually discuss the matter, but for the moment it was a subject that needed to be left alone.

"Don’t look at me like that," he said.

"Like what?" She asked. She stepped back a little and tried not to make eye contact with him. At this point he seemed like an angry pit bull ready to strike out at her, something that she didn’t want al all to experience.

"You look so god damn disappointed!"

"What am I supposed to do?" She asked, "Cheer you on while you and JC box it out?"

Lance let out a huge breath and turned away from her. His hands were still on his hips and she saw a slight movement of his head and wondered what was going on.

Remembering where they were Nicole looked around. "Lance, we should go home," she said.

"Why?" He said and whipped around to face her.

Nicole would have answered him right away, but she saw the tears in his eyes and stopped the words before she said them. Finding nothing more to do, but to approach him she inched forward. "Honey, what’s wrong?"

"I don’t want to talk about it," he said. He wiped his face and moved back from her. "Let’s just go home."

Nicole searched his face and saw a stranger. This wasn’t her husband. This wasn’t the man she married and it scared her that this man was going to replace the fun-loving passionate man that she married. The man she married, the one who loved her unconditionally hadn’t been seen in months.

"Fine," she said and reluctantly let him escort her to the car.

She expected him to be rude, but somehow his southern gentleman ways couldn’t be ignored even if he was angry with her. He opened the door for her and made sure that she was settled before he walked around the front of the car and got in on the driver’s side. She thought about not having him drive, but after the harshness he showed her a moment before she didn’t want to get into another argument with him.

Lance started up the car and began to drive. He pulled out of the parking spot quickly with a fast and hard press of his foot on the gas.

Nicole’s hand moved to hold onto the door and her other hand gripped the armrest between the passenger and driver’s seats. She thought she heard him mumble an apology for his action, but she didn’t look up at him to check. She kept her eyes staring at her lap then they moved from looking at her hand on the door to her hand on the armrest. It was a little unsettling to have him be so upset and drive so erratic, but she didn’t want to show him her slight fear.

"Honey, let go of the damn door," he said, "I’m not going to crash the car."

Nicole did as she was told and folded her hands in her lap.

Luckily the ride to the house wasn’t that long and Nicole soon found herself climbing out of the car into the garage. She noticed the bin of clothes next to the washer and knew that she should start a load. When she paused Lance didn’t seem to notice. He moved to the door that led into the house and touched the button that brought the garage door down.

"I’ll be in my office," he said and disappeared into the house.

Nicole leaned and began to sort the laundry. She put a load of darks to wash then slowly made her way into the house. The house was fairly clean, but when she saw that there were a few plates in the sink she started up the water and began to prepare to wash them. It was only a coffee mug and a plate left over from her lunch, but it was something to do, something to keep her mind from her troubles.

When the soap began to bubble up she leaned against the counter and sighed. Suddenly she didn’t want to do the dishes so she shut off the water, turned off the light and made her way through the house up to her bedroom.

When she heard Lance laughing she stopped in the hallway to listen. He was in their bedroom talking and she could hear his side of the conversation as he got undressed for the night. She knew that she shouldn’t be spying on him, but she couldn’t help but to hear his voice and hear the sudden happiness there; happiness that hadn’t been there all day or all evening.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. The guy is going crazy. Isn’t that so crazy? I mean he’s gonna be a dad and all, but shit. What a good example he’s already putting out."

Nicole held her breath and tried to figure out who he was talking to. She tried to rack her brain and think of who he could he talking to that hadn’t been at the party earlier.

"Yeah," he said, "No, she’s here. I think she’s doing laundry...No I didn’t tell her yet...Yes I know that I should, but how can I? She and I haven’t...What? No. I haven’t. No. I told you. She and I have been distant though for a while now."

Nicole could feel her lungs begin to restrict. She backed up a little bit from the open door and leaned against the wall. Her hands lay against the wall and she gripped at the paint for some kind of balance. This wasn’t happening. It wasn’t. She couldn’t believe that he would do such a thing. He wasn’t the type of guy who would cheat. He wasn’t.

Trying to gulp back her urge to cry she made a strained cry then slid down the wall and covered her face for a moment.

"Wait," she heard him say. "I’ll call you and check in tomorrow. I think she’s coming. No I’m not ashamed of you." He laughed, "I just don’t think I should be--. I am not a cheater...Yeah whatever girl. I’ll talk to you tomorrow and we’ll see about getting that trip out west hooked up."

When she thought she heard him moving towards the door she stood up and wiped her face. She straightened her clothes a little and entered their room as if nothing had been going on.

She went straight to the dresser and ignored him. He was sitting on his side of the bed wearing only his pajama bottoms and was watching her. She didn’t have to look at him to know that he was staring at her.

Slipping out of her clothes she found her way into a pair of his boxers and an extra large Mississippi State University T-shirt.

"Nicole?" He said into the silent room.

Nicole ran her hands through her hair, removed her earrings and necklace and lastly, as part of her nightly routine, she would removed her wedding ring. She didn’t like to sleep with her ring on. She had a habit of rubbing her face in her sleep and had found on more than one occasion that she’d have a scratch across her face when she woke up in the morning from her ring. It was the only part of the day that it wasn’t on her hand, but somehow tonight it seemed harder for her to remove it.

"Nicole?"

She heard his voice and looked up into the mirror above her dresser. "What Ricky?" She asked and tried to keep her mind off what she’d heard just moments before. She let her mind run over the things she had to do the next day. Over and over her mind scanned the list of things to do. She had to get her hair and make up done after she made sure that Lance got off to JC’s in the morning to help him get ready with the guys.

"Nicole look at me." His voice was harsh again and she wanted to yell at him about it. He shouldn’t be talking to her like she was one of his artists that he could boss around.

"I am looking at you," she said she made eye contact with his reflection.

"Turn around," he took a breath, "Please."

Nicole turned around and looked at her husband trying not to cry. His request for her to turn around had put his voice back into her mind and she began to hear his conversation again in her head. He’d been laughing and happy and had been speaking to the woman on the other end of the phone as if he’d been carefree. That wasn’t the look on her husband’s face now and she felt as if SHE was the reason for his scowl.

He broke eye contact with her and turned to make himself comfortable in bed. "Make sure you turn the hall light out," he said.

"I will," she said. She moved across the room, out into the hallway and turned off the light off before returning to the room. The only light in their bedroom now was the lamp next to the bed that was on. Lance was already looking half asleep so she crept to her side of the bed and settled herself in for the night, biting back a million things she could say to him just to avoid another fight.


Lance curled into his pillow still filled with anger. This time it was anger at himself and not JC or even Nicole that kept him on edge. He should have said something to her right then, but he knew that he couldn’t have. How was he going to break it to her? She was already upset about him being on tour and having to deal with FreeLance things. Throwing the Production Company in her face would just further enforce the feeling that she wasn’t the number one priority in his life. It wasn’t true of course. She was the love of his life and would always be number one. It was because of her that he wanted to branch out. He knew that the music career was only the first of many projects that he wanted to do and he also knew that the career that he built off from his singing career would keep them without any money worries for the rest of their lives.

He heard Nicole sigh in her sleep behind him and he rolled over to face her. He propped his head a little so he could see the side of her face as she curled to her pillow and faced the other side of the room. He knew that she would be sleeping by now, even when she was angry or upset she still slept like a baby, so it would be safe to watch her. She clearly had been uncomfortable having him look at hear earlier. He hated that, but he couldn’t help it. He’d hoped that she’d try to ask him about what was going on with him. She usually didn’t let him stay upset for long, but when she’d just stared back at him with that scared look in her eyes he hadn’t been able to open his mouth to say the right words.

Finding himself not able to lay there and watch her as he thought he would be able to he pushed himself out of bed and slowly moved across the room. He figured that if he couldn’t sleep he shouldn’t keep her up to. He had some contracts and his schedule to check over for the next week of vacation time so he thought he’d go read over his work for an hour downstairs.

He found the bag he used as a briefcase near the bottom of the stairs. He pulled the strap of the bag over his shoulder and made his way into the living room. It was a little chilly so when he got to the living room, he got the cordless phone from the kitchen then went to where the blanket was just under the end table and wrapped it around himself like a coat before sitting down to dial the number. He still had a few questions about the movie contract he’d gotten by FedEx the day before and wanted to get his questions out of the way before he signed the thing.

"Hello?" The voice said.

"Hey Wendy," Lance said in a low voice.

"What are you doing?" She asked, "It’s midnight you time. You’d you be sleeping or something? You didn’t get in another fight or something tonight did you? I thought you were home and were going to sleep."

"I can’t sleep," he said, "I thought I’d go over the movie contract with you real quick."

She paused for a long time. "I guess we can Lance, but isn’t your wife going to get angry that you’re spending the night on a business call rather than with her?"

Lance sighed and tried to make himself more comfortable on the couch. He opened his bag up and pulled out the contract and set it down on his lap. "She’s already asleep and I didn’t want to bother her tossing and turning so I thought I’d do some business. I should waste time that I don’t have to waste."

There was a pause. He could picture Wendy with a strange look on her face trying to figure him out. When he’d met with her in LA a few days ago she’d made the funniest face about half the time that they were talking. She’d told him that the face was part amazement and part bewilderment over his business sense and personality.

It had been a compliment that he’d taken and not returned. He had found himself completely comfortable with her talking and thought right off that they would make good business partners, but he hadn’t told her that. She was a very flirtatious woman and he didn’t want her to think that he was flirting back with her. He loved his wife and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that for anything so he’d kept his mouth shut about it.

"Ok, if you say so," she said, "Let me go grab my copy."

"Sounds good," he said. He leafed through his copy and looked at the redline notes that he’d already made the night before on the plane ride from LA.

"So how’s JC and the whole wedding thing going, other than the fight you guys got into earlier," she asked.

"It’s going well. I guess it turns out that he’s going to be a dad. It’s a really great thought and a really scary thought at the same time," he said.

"Scary?" She asked, "Weren’t you the one who bragged to me the other day that you and your wife were trying to start a family. I'm sure your meaning was more about the reason to have sex and all, but I thought you wanted kids and stuff."

"Yeah," he said, "That’s not the point. Me and Nicole having a family is a good thing, but can you imagine more than one moody hyperactive Chasez running around?" He let out a low laugh, "Poor Leah is going to have her plate full then that baby pops out." Lance had tried to imagine himself as a father and everything about it felt right, but it seemed as if he had hold ups about the others becoming fathers. Other than Justin’s little brothers and Chris’s sister none of them really had that much experience with little kids. It seemed like throwing little kids into the others lives would spell disaster, but for him it seemed like something that was completely natural.

"Everyone goes through that," Wendy said, "You should have seen my sister with her first kid. That was so much drama that I didn’t even visit her until the kid was a year old."

"Well you’ve been busy with your work and stuff," he said.

"Lance, she lives three blocks away from me."

"Oh," he said. He laughed aloud for a moment then quieted his voice, "Don’t make me laugh. I’ll wake up Nicole." He flipped pages a little on his copy of the contract and found himself now not wanting to think about work. "So what about you? Why haven't you and Todd started a family? You've been married forever."

"Four years isn't forever Lance," Wendy said.

"Well I'm just to the year point and I feel like I've been with Nicole forever yet at the same time it doesn't feel like we've been together at all."

"That's your touring depression talking," she said, "I thought you said that when you got home you'd be feeling better not worse."

"Well after tonight," he let out a huge sigh, "After tonight all I want to do is to crawl into a hole and stay there for a while."

"Really?" Wendy said, "It was that bad? I'm sure JC was just drunk."

"That’s not what I was talking about. Nicole and I…" he stopped and wondered if he should be sharing this with her. If they were going to have a professional relationship he wasn’t sure if he should involve her in his personal drama.

"Come on Lance, this has been on your mind for a while. I can tell that it's bothering you and I know that you should probably be talking about this with Nicole…but you need to talk to someone."

"Did you and Todd ever get to a point where you weren't sure why you got married?" Lance put his free hand over his eyes and held his breath for a moment as emotion welled up in him. "Ugh…" he said letting out a sigh, "Why the hell does that sound so bad?"

"Oh Lance," she said with sympathy in her voice, "It can't be that bad…can it?"

Lance took a deep breath and tried to compose himself a little. "I feel like I'm dying every time I see her."

"Why?" she asked.

Lance leaned his head back on the couch. His head ached and he felt sick to his stomach and if he didn't know better he would have thought that he was getting the flu or something. "She looks so sad every time I see her. I don't know what happen and I don't even know how to ask her about it."

"All you have to do is ask what's wrong," she said flatly.

Lance stared at the television in front of him. He could see the picture of them from the wedding sitting there almost mocking him. He didn't know how things had gotten so crazy and out of touch. Back then everything had been fine and now it was all a mess. "It's not all that simple."

"Lance Bass just spit it out. I've never known you to be shy with your feelings about something. You've been straight with me on everything and I want to know why all of a sudden you can't seem to--"

"It's personal," he said. He rubbed his eye and tried to breathe deeply.

"Well spit it out," she commanded.

His mind wandered over the events of the last few weeks. The group had been on the road and he'd been lonely, but he'd called her a million times and had tried to keep in touch with her. Flying home for the weekend had become routine, for even one night, but the separation was getting hard on the both of them. It wasn't a good situation to be in to begin with and the whole idea of them trying to have a family had put a strain on the two of them.

He took a deep breath and tried to speak his mind. "Well ever since she and I have agreed to have a family its like…I don't know…there's like this tension between us."

"Maybe you aren't ready then."

"I want it though," he said, "I didn’t think I ever would, but I want it."

"Lance honey, those are two different things. I think personally that you should go back and talk to her again about it. Maybe something did happen to cause her to change her mind or maybe it has to do with something completely different than what you thought."

"Will do," Lance said.

"Well I hope you get some sleep. Tell JC congratulations for me."

"Will do," Lance repeated, "Night Wendy. Sorry to cry all over you."

"No trouble," Wendy said, "I hope you feel better."

"I'm sure it'll get sorted out."

"Night then," she said

A moment later they hung up the phone and Lance made his way slowly back to their room. At the door he paused to make sure that she was asleep then crept in and slid into bed next to her.

He was about to curl back up to his pillow when a sigh escaped her mouth. He watched her roll over to face him. Lance scooted a little closer to her. He ached to hold her and tell her everything was going to be all right. At least if he did that while she was asleep it would give him peace of mind since he couldn’t seem to do anything right with her when she was awake.

As if by some magic Nicole seemed to realize in her sleep that he was there next to her and she turned even more and curled against him. Lance moved slowly and curled his arms around her, turning so that he was laying on his back so that she could use his shoulder for a pillow. A smile formed on his face when her arm snaked across his chest and her hand rested on his heart. Making an effort not to wake her he moved his left arm around her body and placed his right hand over where hand was on his heart.

Finding himself finally more comfortable and less on edge he leaned and kissed her forehead then closed his eyes for the night.

 


~~THREE~~


The heat of Lance's body woke Nicole in the middle of the night. While it was a comfort to know that he would cuddle her in her sleep still, even though they weren't really on good terms, she couldn't get used to the feel of his body pressed up against hers. She'd gotten used to sleeping alone in the few weeks that Lance had been on the road. The first few nights he'd been gone she'd slept with his pillow on his side of the bed then she'd migrated her way back over to her side of the bed. She now found it was hard to readjust to having someone else next to her after being able to sleep in any position in the bed that she wanted.

The night before Lance had come in late and she'd been already half asleep. She'd offered to come and get him at the airport, but he'd refused the gesture and had assured her that he would get home ok. She wondered why he would refuse and somehow it had become more of an insult to her than she had figured that it would be.

So having him come in late meant that after giving her a short kiss he'd curled up to his pillow and had slept on his side of the bed so she'd gotten her rest. Now though, when she should be curling into the heat of her husband's body, clinging to him in her time of need, she found herself conflicted, feeling more like she wanted to push him away than draw him closer.

Moving slowly, with smooth motions, Nicole inched herself away from Lance a little at a time. From his coma-like sleep, Lance protested the motion trying to contract his arms around her as she moved his arms from where they'd pulled her up against him. She thought that she might have accidentally woken him up, when he briefly spoke a few words in his sleep then shivered, but soon his arms seemed to curl back into the sheets.

Tugging her pajama top down from where it had ridden up a little Nicole slid from the bed, stepped carefully into the bathroom, and shut the door before she turned on the light. She leaned against the cool wood of the door then reached for the light. The nightlight that they'd installed had given enough light for her to see by but she figured that if Lance came to find her he might think it was a slight bit strange for her to be sitting in the bathroom in the dark.

"Crap," she breathed out and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The whole thing was stressing her out more than it should have. She should be happy to have Lance home, but there was a part of her that wished he'd just disappear.

Nicole had no clue about what a heart attack felt like, but she thought she might be having one. Her chest her and her stomach ached and she felt sick, not the kind of flu sick that she'd had before in her life. This wasn't a physical ailment. This was all mental and she knew where it was coming from.

Feeling tears begin to form in her eyes and her breath begin to be labored she slowly crept out of the bathroom and over to the nightstand. Lance rolled over just at the moment that she was reaching for the phone, but settled back to sleep after a moment.

Lifting the phone carefully from the cradle Nicole took the phone back into the bathroom and took a seat on the toilet. She carefully dialed the number and waited for the person on the other end to answer.

One ring.

Her heartbeat went into overdrive and she felt like she was going to throw up. This wasn’t cheating. It wasn’t. She’d been telling herself that for some time now, but as she waiting for the other end to pick up she stared at the door waiting for Lance to come blasting through to stop her from talking. She almost wanted him to because lying like this was getting hard on her. She knew that just talking really wasn’t something that should be punishable, but she still felt guilty for reaching out for help from someone that wasn’t her husband.

Two rings.

She put her hand to her forehead and felt clammy skin. This is wrong. She thought about hanging up, but knew that she shouldn’t. She was waking him up and he’d probably try to call her back like he had a few nights before when she’d been nervous about Lance’s return to town.

When she’d met him at Sweat Pea’s a few weeks ago she’d felt completely comfortable talking to him while he sat and had a drink at the bar. She’d been looking over the books, entering the latest batch of ordering information when he’d sat down beside her and had started talking to her. Their friendship had developed over the last few weeks. Nicole knew it was probably wasn’t going against her wedding vows to hang out with him. After all he was married himself, but the fact that he would just sit and listen to her and give her advice about Lance had really been a help to her and she needed him to be there to listen to her when Lance couldn’t.

On the third ring the phone was clumsily picked up. She could hear the sound of the receiver being hit against the cradle then being hit against something else before the person spoke. "Hello?"

"Thank God you're there Todd," she said. She leaned back in her seat on the toilet and tried to relax a little. Her foot bounced a nervous pattern and her eyes darted around the room, mostly focuses in the direction of the closed door.

"Mindy?" He said sleepily.

"No, it’s Nicole."

"Nicole?" His voice came out with concern in it, immediately. "Nicole what’s wrong? I thought Lance was home this weekend for the wedding. I thought you’d be out celebrating or something."

"I can’t sleep," she said, "Lance and I got in an argument the when I was asleep Lance curled up to me and I got...uncomfortable." Tears began to spill over as she thought about how bad that sounded. Her own husband made her cringe. She never in her wildest nightmares thought that something like that would ever happen to her. Their life thus far had been a fairy tale and she wanted the married life to continue that fantasy, but it wasn't coming as easily as she thought it would.

She could hear him take a huge breath then he let it out and spoke firmly, "Nikki, you’ve got to go back to bed."

She wiped her face and stared at her reflection in the mirror before she answered, "Why? I thought you said I could call if I needed--"

"Well first off because Lance is..." There was a long pause, "He’s not sleeping right there with you is he? I can't believe that you would do something like that."

"No," she said and looked around the room. She was in a very strange position here. She was hiding from her husband and talking to another man while sitting on a toilet. She never would have thought that something like that would happen to her. "I’m in the bathroom."

"You’re husband is asleep in your bed and you’re calling me in the middle of the night. I don’t mind talking to you, but isn’t this a little strange?"

"Please Todd, tell me what to do," she said gulping back tears. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and tried to keep from completely breaking down. She looked horrible with her hair all out of place and her tired eyes looking back at her. "I’ve been trying to just relax about all this, but...you know what this is like. You told me that this happened between you and Mindy when you first got married. I mean you probably see Mindy more than I see Lance since she’s only a flight attendant and Lance is gone for weeks at a time, but--"

"Nicole calm down," he said, "Hold on."

Nicole could hear noise in the background. "Mindy isn’t there is she?"

"No," he said, "She’s on a flight to London tonight. She’s not going to be back for a few days. I was just turning on the light so I can see." He let out a swear word, "It’s late girl."

"I’m sorry."

"Nikki what’s wrong?" He asked.

"I don’t know. I feel like I’m suffocating and at the same time I feel like I’m suffocating him too."

"What specifically happened?" He asked.

"Lance got in a fight tonight with one of his group mates. He was totally on edge, totally not himself, and it’s my fault. We don’t talk any more. It sounds like such a cliche, but all we do anymore is fight or just look at each other with hurt in our eyes."

"You need to talk to him," Todd said softly, "I told you that you need to tell him."

Her hand shook and she stared at the door. "I can’t do that. I thought this was going to be easy. I mean I thought that once I got married that things would fall into place. I mean it seemed to work for my parents. I mean for a while it worked anyway."

"Nothing is as easy as you parents make it seem."

"I just don’t know what to do." She began to cry until she heard the door click open. Nicole could feel all the blood in her body draining from her face and head as she quickly wiped her face and sniffed a few times. She gripped the phone to her ear. "Hold on."

"Nicole?" Lance pushed into the room and looked at her with squinted eyes from the brightness of the lights. He shuffled over to her sleepily and put a hand on the top of her head and had her lean against where his hip was, hugging her to him. "Lucy who’s on the phone? It’s the middle of the night."

"Is that him?" Todd said. His voice lowered as if Lance would be able to hear him through the phone.

"Uh huh," she said. She didn't let her eyes go anywhere near him. She couldn't chance him knowing who she was talking to. Even if it was just conversation going on between them, she knew it wouldn't be that for him. It would be a betrayal of their commitment to each other and she couldn't have that.

"Whatever you do don’t tell him it’s me. Make up some story or something, but don’t tell him it’s me. Hang up and I’ll talk to you later."

"Ok," she said loudly as she heard the phone click off on his end. She took a deep breath and tried to steady her voice. "I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t worry about the wedding. It’s going to be fine."

"Was that Leah?" Lance asked when she had clicked off the phone on her end.

She didn't trust her voice so she nodded and put the phone down on the counter and looked up at him. She felt like bursting into tears, just confessing all that had happened in the last few weeks to him, but knew that she couldn't. It would cause too much drama and it was too late to get into an argument now.

"Are you ok Lucy?" he asked.

A smile came to her lips when she heard her nickname. She'd almost forgotten what it was like for him to call her that. He'd been so busy and so stressed out the last few months that it seemed as if everything had been put on hold for a while.

She nodded yes very slightly then looked at him and prayed that he would ask her again. She needed a little coaxing to talk about all of this, but she figured that he knew that.

"Good," he said softly and held out a hand to her, "Come back to bed."

Nicole couldn't help but to cringe away from his hand a little. He seemed to think that everything was ok between them, but really it wasn't and she didn't know when it would be. Her life with Lance was supposed to be the home that she'd been missing for years now, but all she found with him was something that was just shy of that. It was almost a home, but not quite.

 


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