WINNER TAKES ALL
[ Orlando, FL -- Almost One Year After Lance and Nicole's Wedding ]
"Timberlake! You're so…" She reached out to try and grab him, but he slipped her grasp as he flew by her towards the basket. "UGH!…Dead!" The threat escaped her mouth with a laugh. She spun a full circle before facing the basket again to watch him shoot.
He stopped in his tracks--mid lay-up, landing with his arm extended into the air with the ball, to look over at her with a cocky smile. He brought the ball down to his waist level, palming it then laughed. "Dead? Those are some strong words you have there, babe."
"You heard me." Justin winked. It was a motion that he knew would keep him in her good graces no matter what he said. She was beginning to regret telling him about the power his wink had over her. It was getting to be a habit for him to use it to get out of things.
He did crossovers between his legs, handling the basketball as if it was more of an extension of his body, than just a toy. He used his right hand more than his left, but it seemed as if he was skilled with either hand. She loved watching him handle the ball like that. She'd practically gone into fits during the Challenge for the Children Charity Basketball Game. She was glad that they'd chosen to play basketball and not softball like some of the other celebrity charity events. Basketball was definitely a sexier game than softball.
He'd flown her up to New York for the event, almost against her will, and she'd gotten to sit, along with all the other NSYNC women, with the stats person, which gave her and up close and personal view of his ball handling skills. Somehow the way his hands held the ball and moved it around with such ease came out as a sexual innuendo. She knew that the control he had over the ball was the same control he had over her when his hands were on her. It had been a strange trip, being in public with him, but the joy she got from watching the game had made up for the uncomfortable feeling that she'd felt for most of the trip.
His wide eyes never left her face. She liked watching them. He'd been wearing sunglasses that morning when he'd arrived at her door and had only taken them off when they'd begun to slip down his nose as they played.
She watched him with a smile as she tried to catch her breath. His face was red and sweat was trickling down the sides of his face and from underneath his Tarheels baseball hat. Luckily, as with most things when it came to her and him, the sun had chosen that day to shine after almost a week straight of winter rains. It left everything feeling muggy, but at least it wasn't raining. They hadn't been playing long, she'd find that it was only fifteen minutes when she looked at her watch, but she was more out of shape than she'd figured on being and he was beating her, something she definitely didn't like.
Normally she wouldn't have been very tired, but the anticipation of his homecoming had been rough this time. She'd ended up staying up most of the night worrying about how their reunion would go. He'd flown in the night before, and had left her a message on the answering machine at home, which she found after work. He had said he'd be spending the night at his mother's house, which she'd not taken very well, considering that usually he called her at work to tell her things. She'd felt that he'd been avoiding her until he showed up on her doorstep that morning.
She usually encouraged him to stay with his mother for at least a few nights of his trips home, since she felt that he should be with his family when he could be, but she'd been worried when he'd suggested the sleeping arrangement. They'd gotten into an argument over the phone the last time they'd talked and she wasn't sure how they'd act when they saw each other again, but to her surprise he'd shown up at the door and had acted as if nothing had happened. She'd gone along with the flow of the evening, but had a feeling that some sort of fight was brewing for them just under the surface. She'd felt the unrest for a month or so after an incident occurred between them.
They'd been talking one night about marriages since Lance and Nicole's anniversary was coming up and Justin had asked her what she saw in her future with him. She'd been too truthful and she'd ended up hurting his feelings a little. It wasn't that he wasn't going to be a part of her life. In fact she thought that he would be in her life forever, but she had a feeling that he wanted to hear that they would be together forever as a couple or something along those lines. At the moment Patty wasn't sure that she could commit to something like that, even if it was just a hypothetical situation. She was almost twenty-four, but couldn't see herself being married just yet.
He looked comfortable in his baby blue baggy knee-length shorts and North Carolina Tarheels tank top, but he didn't look like he'd been out to play in a while considering how white he was. She was always amazed her that he could be gone for months at a time, traveling all over the place, but he came back looking like he hadn't seen the light of day in weeks.
After being on the road for so many months, he'd been the one to suggest that they do something in the sun that day so that he could work on his non-existent tan. She'd been in Orlando for the whole summer while he'd been on the road, which meant that he had some catching up to do in the tan department. She'd worn a wide strapped tank top over her sports bra along with a pair of old basketball shorts that her brother had given her that showed off her few weeks of tanning sessions perfectly.
Justin licked his lips and moved around a little with the ball, first moving closer to her then backing up again as she reached out for the ball. When she couldn't get a hand on it he spoke to her in a cocky tone. It was one that she knew was only a joking tone, but at the moment and with the score being what it was--with her on the losing end--it hurt a little to hear him say, "Honey, I told you that we shouldn't play ball."
"You said you wanted to though," she said, "Besides…" She leaned down and brushed off some of the dirt that had gotten on her shoes, "You said that I should break in my new sneakers."
Justin looked at the matching pair of basketball shoes he hand on his feet and said, "You like them, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, "I never thought I'd wear matching shoes with my boyfriend, but yes I like them." They'd gone shopping that morning and had gotten her shoes when she'd found that she'd thrown out all her basketball shoes.
"So do you want to stop playing?" he asked.
"If you want to we can."
He gave her a funny look. He'd given her that same face a few times before during his latest visit home, both had been when they'd been making decisions about what to do and she'd sided with his decision, for what he figured was over her own. "We could have just gone to the beach or something."
"Yeah and lay around like couch potatoes," she said, "You wouldn't have lasted fifteen minutes you hyperactive little…"
"Do you want to stop playing?" he asked cutting her off. He picked up the ball and held it against his hip and walked towards her.
"No, just take it easy on me. You're supposed to make it so that I win," she said while biting her lip and smiling at him flirtatiously.
"Oh stop with the face hon," he said and leaned over and kissed her. "Don't pout. It's not very becoming. Besides, you know that Jonathan is the only one that gets to beat me at this game…and his time is almost up too. Now it's just Bubba who'll get to beat me."
"You're such a poor sport."
"What about you?" he said, "Miss Pout."
"I'm not pouting," she said and thought about how his eye lit up at the mention of his younger brother.
He laughed. "So what's that look then?"
"My sexy look." She crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue.
"That's not the look you gave me the other night." His voice dropped an octave as he slid an arm around her and pulled her closer. Her hands went up to his shoulders, naturally resting around his neck as he leaned and kissed her softly, then let the basketball drop to the ground before pulling her even closer to take full advantage of her mouth.
He pressed their bodies together firmly and ground into a little as they kissed. Normally she would have liked that motion, but at the moment they were out in the open--in public--which wasn't the proper location for behavior like they were sharing.
"Hmmm," she breathed out and pulled back breathlessly.
"Time to hit the showers?" he asked. His voice rumbled in his chest. She'd only heard his voice go that low and both occasions were when they'd been in bed together.
"Maybe." She smiled.
"Oh…I see how it is…Maybe?" He kissed her cheek. She loved that. For someone his age he sure acted like an old married man sometimes. He always liked to hold her hand and he sent her flowers for no reasons with notes that sounded like something her father would send her mother.
"Yeah," she said. She gave him a serious look. "You gave me this whole day. You promised--just you and me. I have a feeling if you go and take a shower I'm going to find you asleep on my couch in front of ESPN highlights."
Justin laughed. "That only happened one time Cli."
She smiled. "You haven't used that nickname in a while."
"I guess I forgot about it for a while," he said and let her go long enough to collect up the basketball. He shot the ball into the hoop then collected it and came back over to her and tugged on her hand, "I win. Come on…let's go."
Fifteen minutes later, as Justin parked Patty's truck in the driveway next to where he'd left the Boxster and he let out a sigh. "Home sweet home."
"Justin," Patty said with what he took as being a cautious tone, "You are going to spend the night at your mom's tonight aren't you?"
"I spent last night over there and I'm going to be home for a week…" He counted the nights. Five nights…one with mom, two with her, then two at home. "I figured I'd go home on Wednesday night and Thursday since Jonathan and Bubba are coming to visit. I thought I'd spend time with you the next two nights before they get here, if that's ok?"
Patty nodded. She seemed nervous all of a sudden.
"If I'm overstaying my welcome just tell me. I know that you get home from work and just want peace and quiet, everyone does…"
"Curly, it's not that," she said.
"Thank God." He sighed.
"What?" she asked.
"You haven't used my nickname in a while. I thought you were mad at me or something."
"I'm not mad at you. I thought you'd be mad at me."
"For what?" he asked.
"For our conversation," she said.
"What conversation." He hoped that he hadn't been drunk and gotten into a fight with her at some point over the phone and not remembered it. He usually remembered most of those types of incidents, but this time he wasn't sure.
"You and I talked about the future…"
"Oh that," he sighed remembering the conversation.
"I can't believe it's already been almost a year."
"It's amazing that they've been married that long."
"I was talking about us Patty," Justin said.
He heard her take a breath over the line and wondered if she was as happy as he hoped she was. It hadn't been the smoothest of rides, but they'd kept afloat.
"Oh, I know," she said. She sounded distracted somehow all of a sudden.
"So do you think we'll be like them one day?" Justin asked trying to press the issue without coming out and asking her if she and he had a future. "You think we'll be like the little married couple?"
"Um," she said, "No one can be as old couple as them. I'm surprised they haven't started having kids yet. I can just see it now…The most beautiful kids in the world, with gorgeous green eyes and voices like angels."
He could tell that she was trying to avoid the subject. She'd done the same thing when he'd first made her admit that she liked him.
"Honey I asked you a question." He prompted.
"And I answered it," she said.
"I asked you about the two of us and you…"
"Justin, you and I are going to be in each others lives for a long time. You know that we will be since four of our friends are going to be married to each other."
Somehow their conversation had been cut short. He couldn't remember if it was Chris or Joey that had interrupted, but he'd remembered hanging up the phone and thinking that he should call her back. He hadn't though. The schedule that night had been for him to be on the Tonight Show and although he'd tried to remind himself to call, he'd gotten back to the hotel too late to call her up.
"I thought that you were pissed at me because you called and said you were going to your mom's house last night." She sounded very emotional. He hated that.
"I went to my mom's last night because I was tired and wanted to sleep."
"You always sleep at my house," she said defensively.
"Hey don't get pissy at me." Justin held up his hands hoping that she wasn't going to blow up at him. He'd avoided that so far in their year old relationship and he didn't want to start fighting now.
"I'm not pissy," she said madly and got out of the truck. She slammed the door behind her and headed to the house.
Justin jumped out of the truck and followed her. "Why are you acting like this?"
She spun around and stared at him. "Acting like what Justin?" She spat out, suddenly going from cool and calm to irate.
"Why are you so pissed at me?"
"I wasn't pissy with you until you basically told me that you don't sleep at my house."
Justin scratched his head. "Ok, back up and explain to me how we went from being all up on each other to yelling at each other."
Patty covered her face as tears started to fall from her eyes.
"On come on now Cli, you never cry. What's going on?"
"Justin, maybe we shouldn't be together anymore."
"What?" he asked. The words punched him in the gut. He'd known that something was up between them, but there had always been this strange sort of tension between them.
"I can't do this anymore Justin," she said.
"Do this." She motioned from him to her and back again. "This is just…"
"This is just what?" he asked now getting angry with her. If she was going to break up with him she was going to have to give him a REALLY good reason for it.
"I don't think I can't keep hanging onto this. It hasn't been good between us for a while now."
Her words were another punch to the stomach. He felt like doubling over in pain.
"Cli, tell me what's going on." He took deep breaths and tried to control his anger, but he wasn't doing a good job of it.
"Justin you and I live in two different worlds. Yours and mine don't go together…they never have and this is just too much."
Justin took a deep breath and held it in his lungs until it hurt then let it out in a huge swooshing noise. "Look. I'm going to go home and get a shower and leave you alone. I don't know what is going on with you, but I think that whatever it is, you need to think it out a little more."
"I don't need to think it out. I've been thinking about it for months now."
"Then why didn't you tell me!" He found himself yelling at her and he bit down hard on his lip when he saw her flinch. He took a deep breath and reached a hand out to her. "I'm sorry."
She slipped away from his touch. "I should go inside now."
"I gotta get my keys."
"Fine," she said and they went into the apartment.
He followed her. In the kitchen, where he left his keys he lingered after she handed them to her. "Honey, are you feeling ok?"
"Justin just leave me alone for a while," she said in a calm voice. She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
"Call me later," he said hoping that she could tell how concerned he was about her.
"Please," he said. He didn't want this conversation to be over just yet. He figured that he deserved more of an explanation than she'd given.
"Why don't you call me before you go to sleep tonight?" she said.
"Promise you'll pick up."
"You know I will," she said.
Justin took a breath and slowly lifted his hand to knock on the door. He'd already been let through the security gate, but he knew that he should knock before he walked into Lance's. It used to be that he would have just walked in, but now that Lance was married there were different "rules" the guys followed. It was something that had taken some getting used to, and they'd hated it at first, but at the moment Justin prayed that one day he and Patty would have their own set of rules for the guys to follow.
Justin knocked three times and heard someone call out that they were coming so he stood and stared at his feet for a moment while he waited. He didn't know why he'd driven over to Lance's and not gone home to his mother, but at the moment he was still completely confused by Patty's reaction to seeing him again and he didn't want to be in a funk in front of Jonathan and Bubba. They always thought of him as the hyperactive "cool" brother that they barely saw and he tried to be in a good mood with them to make up for some of his absences.
The door flew open and Justin found himself face to face with Meredith Edwards, one of Lance's projects. They'd known each other for a long time, since Meredith was ten or so. Lance had known her from back home in Mississippi, so it was not at all strange for her to offer a hug.
"Hey Justin," she said with a smile, "What a surprise. Lance and Nicole were saying that I probably wouldn't see you this trip home since Patty and you've been so tight lately."
Justin sighed and bit his lip. The thought of being without Patty in his life had already had a permanent effect on him. He didn't understand why she was breaking up with him and he didn't know how to force her to explain it to him. "You're looking good these days," he commented and let his eyes drift over her choice of outfit. She had on jeans and an oversized T-shirt that hung down past her knees. Lance hadn't said that she was going to be in town, but he figured from her outfit that she was staying for a while. "I hadn't planned on coming over, but I gotta talk to Lance for a minute."
"Come on in. He's on the phone I think, but Nicole is around."
Justin found Lance lounging in nylon running pants and a sweatshirt on the couch in front of the television, which was playing VH1, a definite choice of Nicole's. For most people this would be a relaxing activity, but for Lance that night he was definitely in work mode. He had his day planner on the seat next to him, and he seemed to be filing a huge stack of papers from a stack on his lap to a stack leaning against his chest while talking on the phone and writing notes on a big legal pad.
"Hey Justin," Nicole called from the kitchen.
Seeing that Lance was busy for the moment, Justin joined Meredith at the breakfast bar across from Nicole and sat down on a barstool. "What's up Nicole?"
"Nothing," she said holding up her hands for a moment. Justin laughed. She was elbow deep in food. "I'm making lasagna tonight so I have to put it together."
"You guys having people over?" Justin asked.
"Just Diane and Jim," Nicole said speaking of Lance's parents. "They went into the city today to talk to some recording people about Jack's recording session."
Justin smiled at the thought of Jack DeFeo. He still couldn't believe that Lance was in charge of someone else's career. It was one thing to have his own mother managing people, but having his best friend in that line of work seemed strange.
"How's your stuff going?" Justin asked Meredith.
She blushed and nodded, "It's going ok."
"You like Nashville?" he asked. Meredith had been recording there for the last month
"It's good, It's boring since I'm there without my friends, but it's going well. We've got six songs done and I'm going to fly back up there next week to finish the rest."
"That's good," Justin said.
"You want to stay for dinner Justin?" Nicole asked. She grabbed a glass of wine that was next to her and took a sip.
"I wasn't planning on it. Jonathan and Bubba are in town so I think I'm going to head over there."
"Where's Patty?" Nicole asked, "She didn't come with you?"
Justin flipped his hat off of his head and rubbed his hands through his hair fiercely before answering. "She and I…um…got into a little fight."
Nicole's eyes went wide, as well did Meredith's. "What happened?" they asked in unison.
Justin rubbed his face and leaned so that he was resting his forehead on the counter. "I don't know."
"You didn't get mud all over the place again?"
"No," he mumbled into the tabletop.
Meredith reached out and patted his back in a comforting way.
"I picked her up, we went shopping then went to play basketball then all of a sudden she just said that we should break up."
"That doesn't sound like her. She's usually the one to make you stay over longer than you should…why would she do that?" Meredith commented.
"I have no clue," he said and looked over at Meredith.
Nicole grabbed up a towel and wiped her hands. "I'm going to call her."
Justin watched her march over to where Lance was. "Let me use the phone honey."
Lance looked up at her for a moment then spoke into the phone, "I'll call you back on my cell."
Nicole smiled at him, kissed his cheek then took the phone back over to the kitchen.
"What'd I miss?" Lance asked. Lance asked coming over to where they were in the kitchen.
When silence greeted his question he looked at Meredith and pointed towards Justin. "Someone key his car?"
"No," Justin sighed, "My Boxster and its paintjob are perfectly fine. It's the rest of life that's falling apart."
"What's going on?"
"He and Patty had a fight," Meredith explained. "She's breaking up with him."
"Nothing is final, but she says she wants to." Justin rubbed his face.
Nicole stared at them. "You want me to call her or not?"
"Go ahead. At least maybe she'll tell you what's going on in her head."
When the phone rang Patty lifted her head from where she'd been staring at the television and reached for the phone. She'd been sitting there since Justin had left and her head had ached the entire time. She was about to fall asleep when the phone rang, and thought for a moment that she would just sleep through the call, but she'd promised that she would pick up the phone if Justin called and she couldn't go back on her word so fast. She had to leave the relationship with some sort of honor.
Sniffing back her congestion one last time, she clicked the phone on and held it to her ear. "Hello?" She half-prayed that it wasn't Justin.
"PB, what's up girl?"
Patty groaned at her perky tone, ran a hand through her hair and sat up a little letting the anger and tiredness go. She was tired and needed to stay calm so that she didn't lose all her friends in the process of making this huge decision. "Hey Cole. Justin's over there isn't he."
Nicole sighed, "Of course. What's going on? What happened?"
"Is he ok?" she asked.
"He's upset, but who wouldn't be."
"You aren't standing in front of him are you? I don't want our conversation repeated in front of him."
"I'll move. Hold on." Patty could hear her moving around then there was a shutting sound and there was silence again. "Ok, now spill the beans."
"I can't explain it all, but I just had to break things off with him."
"Why?" Nicole asked, "You know he's over here in my kitchen looking like he just lost his best friend."
Patty took a breath. She knew exactly what he looked like. It was the same look that he'd have on his face when he left his brothers or thought about home for too long. "I didn't mean to hurt him, but really this is for the best."
"So you're just breaking it off with him?"
"No, it's a little more complicated than that."
"Well what is it then?"
How could she explain this to Nicole or anyone else for that matter when she couldn't really explain it to herself? She knew deep down that moving to California was the right thing to do. Her future would be set well from this change, but the decision was going to mess up her life in the immediate future.
"Moving?" Nicole said with a shocked voice. "Does Leah know about this?"
"Yeah. I told Leah the other day. I'm leaving in about two weeks," Patty explained.
"Two weeks!" She said, "But why?"
Taking a deep breath she held back her tears for a moment then cried into the phone. "Nicole. I can't explain this to you or to anyone. I just have to go. I don't want to, but I have to. It's the only way that I can do what I want to do."
"That made no sense. You don't want to move but you have to so you can do what you want."
"I can't explain it," Patty said. She sat up a little on the couch and stared at the television again, not really watching the screen, but letting the colors blur with her tears. "I can't talk about this right now. Just tell Justin that I'm sorry and that I'll call him tomorrow."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm going to be fine, but I…" she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I just can't do this right now."
Nicole agreed to tell Justin the message then hung up the phone with her. "Call me and keep me updated."
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