[ Two and a half weeks later…]

"He's home you know."

"Huh?" Patty said glancing over at where Leah was watching her from behind the half full shopping cart.

"He's home." Leah sighed and smiled, "They got back last night around midnight. You should call him."

"Call who?"

Leah made a face at her. "Justin, duh?"

"I can't."

"Yes you can," Leah stated matter of factly, "All you do is pick up the phone, dial and talk. Now how hard his that? I've seen you do it before."

Patty made a face. "I don't want to."

Leah bumped her with the shopping cart. "Then stop staring at that magazine cover like you want to hump it."

"What?" Patty said looking up.

"You've been staring at that magazine for almost ten minutes now. You're acting like a teenybopper." Leah laughed. "Oh wait. I forgot. You already are one."

"Thanks," Patty laughed and turned away from the magazine isle.

"At least you can still laugh."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Patty asked.

"You've been moping around since you made this big crazy decision and I'm getting sick of it."

Patty ignored her comment and looked at the list in her hand for a moment then looked at the almost full cart. "What else do we need?"

"Nothing," Leah said with a half smile. "I finished shopping while you were having an affair with the magazine rack."

Patty rolled her eyes. "Thanks."

"So you're really leaving?" Leah asked.

"Yep." She sighed and turned back to look down the empty magazine isle one last time. She'd been staring at Justin's face staring off the pages of the magazines and had felt for a moment that her whole life was going to fall apart. "I've got a meeting…"

She paused and looked at the magazines that were next to the cashier they approached at the front of the store. There were a few more magazines with Justin's face on them.

"The meeting," her voice came out in a vague sounding whisper then she straightened and cleared her throat. "It's in San Francisco in a two days."

"You're really going to get that book done aren't you."

"I have to," Patty said softly thinking about how much a drain her passion for writing was becoming. It was slowly taking over her life. Away from her computer the world was falling apart, but in the pages of her story, her characters were living perfect lives, or at least lives that she knew were going to have happy endings.

"I always knew that you'd get published. You're way to obsessed with your writing to not become one, but really this is all very ridiculous."

"Well I never meant for you to even read that copy, but I guess I can't take that back."

Leah gave her a sideways glance as she unloaded the groceries onto the conveyer belt. "You shouldn't be feeling bad about this."

"I do though. I know that with this book comes a whole life style change."

Leah frowned. "You don't have to push him away though. He could always visit you in California instead of Orlando."

Patty had thought about it a million times and it wasn't fair for either of them to stretch themselves that thinly. He didn't need the extra distraction of her being across the country from his home and she didn't want the bother of worrying where and when she'd see him next. She firmly replied, "If I'm going to get this done I need to concentrate."

Her one mistake was that she didn't look her friend in the eye. She hated to be the one avoiding things, but this time her relationship with Justin was almost beyond repair, although deep down she prayed that when this was all over they'd be together, but she doubted that happening.

"You sound like JC," Leah commented. "He and I argue all the time when he gets in one of his writing moods. Sometimes I swear I only see that man a few hours a visit. It's a miracle that he and I even see each other in the first place. It's a wonder why the two of you aren't together. You could just set up your laptops next to each other and party."

"Yeah, two self-absorbed hermits would make a good couple," Patty shrugged and heaved the gallon milk jugs onto the conveyer.

"At least you know that you're self-absorbed." Leah shook her head at the amount of groceries they'd gotten. "I can't believe that I'm buying so much stuff."

"He's your fiance."

"Well you could have one too if you got your head out of the…"

Patty gave her a warning look. "I don't need a guilt trip. I'm already having a complex over this whole thing."

"Then why are you doing it?"

"Because it's what I want and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get it done."

"Even ruin the rest of your life?"

"I'm not ruining my life."

"Keep telling yourself that. You may start to believe it."


"So you're still going out with all of us tonight, right?"

"I guess."

"Come on. If you're going to leave town and leave all the rest of us girls in the lurch then you should at least have a good going away party."

"Fine, I'll go, but no mentioning You Know Who."



Patty stomped her foot. "YES!"

They waited a few more minutes before paying the cashier and leaving the store.

"You have to come back for the wedding!" Leah said as they were pushing the cart towards the car.

"Of course silly. I wouldn't miss that for the world."

"Good," Leah said, "Because I'd come and hunt you down if you missed it."

"I wouldn't miss that thing for anything. I mean, wasn't it about five years ago that we were both saying we were going to be old spinsters together?"

"Thank God you talked me into getting a dog instead of a cat or we'd really be in trouble."

Justin held his breath. He didn't want to be home, let alone go out, but the guys were forcing him. He'd at least gotten to sleep in that day. It was a godsend, not only because he needed the rest, but it meant less hours of him staring at the phone wanting to call her.

The guys had already told him that he should leave Patty alone and just try to wait the whole situation out, but he couldn't help being anxious about the tension between them. It had been almost three weeks since he'd last spoken to Patty and he knew that being in town was going to tempt him into talking to her, something that he'd promised himself he wouldn't. If she wanted to be away from him then he was going to make the separation was as firm as she'd wanted it to be.

"Come on Curly! You're holding up the crowd!" JC yelled at him from outside the car.

Joey pushed his head in the open window then began to climb in while JC yelled from behind him, "Don't scratch the paint Fatone!"

When most of Joey's arms and his torso were inside the car he leaned into Justin's face already smelling of some sort of cologne and Jack Daniel's concoction. With a loud whooping noise Joey pressed a finger against Justin's chest. "The ladies are waiting!"

"Does Angela know that you're loose?" Justin asked with an apathetic tone as he pushed Joey away. He waited until Joey was out of the window before he rolled it up then opened the door.

"Of course," he said, "She's the one who picked out the outfit."

All of the guys were in party gear that night. They had stylists on the road, but that night they were back to their normal clubbing attire, most of which consisted of jeans--real blue jeans and not those blue black ones--and various t-shirts. Joey had his Superman logo shirt, JC had his signature sleeveless thing, Chris had a hooded shirt on and Lance was in a Hawaiian print shirt next to Justin's own polo shirt.

"And why aren't any of your women with you guys tonight? I know that I'm in the doghouse, but you all should be with them, not me."

"Come on man!" Joey said and grabbed his shirt trying to pull him out of the car. "No getting out of it this time. You've blown us off three times this week already."

Justin pushed Joey off of him and joined the others as they made their way towards the club. "We haven’t been out like this since before Lanceten tied the knot."

JC nodded, "Been busy."

"I was working," Chris said.

"I forgot," Joey said.

"I'm a married man," Lance said with a shrug, "What can I say?"

"So what are the girls up to?" Justin asked. The silence between him and the group was unbearable.

"No one has talked to Patty," JC said firmly. "I think they were all going to hang out tonight, but I lost track of their plans sometime after Leah had a fit over me going out in the first place. It seems that she can do whatever, but that I need babysitting."

"I hate girls," Justin mumbled.

"Is there something you need to tell us?" Chris asked with a strange look at him.

"You just hate the idea that you actually do need babysitting," Lance sommented.

"I do not." JC folded his arms over his chest and stared at all of them with contempt.

"Last time I checked you do need babysitting Chasez," a deep voice said from behind them.

They guys all groaned when they saw Loni, Mike, and Dre standing behind them. Normally the guys were a gift to have around. It was different tonight though. They'd been together almost twenty four hours a day for the last few months. The thought of being with security was getting a little taxing on all of them, especially since they were all old enough now to take care of themselves. Lance had complained the week before that he was a married man and didn't need someone looking after him. The comment had been taken seriously for about a half hour until a group of fans cornered him in the hallway of their hotel and Loni had to pull him out of the rioting bunch of girls.

"Didn't think you were going to get out tonight without us did you?" Dre asked with a huge teethy smile.

"More like prayed," Justin mumbled.

"What was that Timberlake?" Loni asked.

"Nothing," Justin mumbled.

"That’s what I thought. Don't cross me J or I swear the first girl who tries to pull your clothes off is going to get her wish." The big smile got laughs from the others.

"Do the words YOU'RE FIRED mean anything to you?" Justin said quickly.

"Do the words VALID ID mean anything to you?"

"Do the words CONTRIBUTING TO THE DELINQUENCY OF A MINOR mean anything to you?"

"OK, do the words BEAT DOWN mean anything to the two of you?" Lance said, "I think we get the idea."

Everyone was silent for a moment.

"Bite me Timberlake," Loni said with a smile.

"Justin Randall Timberlake if you even dare to say a word, its going to be like the WWF out in this parking lot," Lance said.

The play between the guys made everyone feel a little more at ease. When they were on the road they didn't get to joke around as much as they used to. Tour life was work and although they did get to do a little socializing on the road, being back home always put them in better moods.


Patty leaned over and kissed Sean's cheek then let her eyes drift to where she thought she'd seen Justin standing a few minutes before. She'd caught sight of him when he'd come in the door and while she and the girls had been dancing he'd had his eye on her. Somehow, to keep herself away from him she'd found Sean by the door and had asked him to come and sit with her at the bar while he was on his break.

Now, when she stopped and stared after she didn't see Justin right off Sean noticed and gave out a huge cough.

"So who's winning at this little game of yours?"


"He's gone," Sean pointed half-heartedly over her shoulder towards where the back of Justin's head was visible as he left the club.

"Huh? What?" She looked back at Sean and tried to cover for her inattention to her date.

Sean smiled at her then pointed towards where she'd been staring. "He's gone."


Taking a sip of beer he took a breath. "Justin was there until you first hugged me. He gave me--actually I should say that he gave you-- the evil eye then left. I think Loni left with him."

She sighed, but was confused at why she let out her breath like that. She couldn't tell if she was glad that he was gone or that she was worried that she might not see him again. Everything was so strange to her now and she wasn't sure how to handle it all.

"You should be careful with that one," Sean said leaning close. "That guy really loves you."

Patty shook her head as the words were pushed at her. She'd been able to escape the truth for a while now, but she couldn't evade Sean's persistent tone. "No he doesn't."

Sean sipped his drink. "Yes he does. It's completely obvious."

Patty held her breath for a moment until she knew that Sean wasn't going to leave this alone. It was like Loni and Justin trying to play off each other. Neither of them liked to give up and either one of them would turn blue in the face if they held their breaths until the other gave in. "Oh what do you know about it?"

"I know that you didn't come over to me tonight because you wanted to hang out. I mean sure, we haven't seen each other in about a year, but really you aren't very good company. You knew he was going to be here and you knew that you wanted to hurt him a little."

"What are you talking about?"

"I know you too well Patty. You only started to hang on me like you used to when you saw him looking."

She hung her head in shame. She felt like a complete jerk and completely stupid at the same time.

"You're trying to push him away, like you did with me, but you want it to look like he's pushing you away."


"It's easier that way," Sean said taking her hand. He rubbed her knuckles with the pad of his thumb and looked into her eyes. "Just the way it was easy for you to just drop me off to the wayside when you realized that you and I weren't supposed to be together."

"What?" She took a breath and ran her hand through her hair. "God! I sound like a parrot."

"Honey, you love that guy too much to mess it up. And if you ask me, it's a shame to waste something like that."

"You don't know anything about this. I can't be with him Sean." She got up to leave.

"Hey wait a minute," he said following her out of the club.

They were on the curb and halfway down the block, walking at a swift pace before she stopped. "What do you want?" she asked. "You found me out. Now I think I should go home before I embarrass myself anymore."

"Patty, honey. You have to deal with this. It's not going to go away if you run away from him."

"I know that!" she said as tears sprung to her eyes. "Don't you think I know that?"

"Well at least you can admit it," he said.

"Sean I don't know what I'm doing. I never have. I just know that it scares me to death that this guy, this great guy loves me and…"

"And what?" Sean said pulling her into a hug as she began to shiver. He pulled his jacket around her. "And that you love him back more than you loved anyone before."

She nodded against him as she cried. Finally, when she thought she looked ridiculous enough she sighed. "How'd you know?"

"Because you never looked at me, or any other guy I've seen you with, the way that you look at him. Your eyes light up like a Christmas tree when you even know that he's around. You can't hide that from him for long."

The morning light shone through her eyelids causing her to flinch. She felt sore. Her hip hurt and her neck ached and if she didn't know any better she would have guessed that she'd been run over by some sort of fast moving vehicle. She hadn't expected that dancing at a club could take so much out of a person.

She knew that whatever had gone on the night before, most of which she sure she couldn't remember because she didn't know how she ended up in bed, she was now in the middle of a huge hang over, which didn't help matters any. This definitely not the way she thought she should be waking up on a weekend morning, especially one that she knew she didn't have to work on.

When there was a movement next to her in bed she held her breath. She hadn't really remembered getting home the night before. She prayed that she was home and not somewhere strange. She didn't know what she'd do if she had to call someone to come and pick her up from where ever she'd ended up the night before. She'd done that a few times during college and had found that it wasn't fun trying to explain herself out of a room that she had just shared intimately with complete stranger.

Opening her eyes she felt a stab of pain above her right eye and shut her eyes again. She felt the bed or where ever she was sleeping move again. She held her breath then heard a mumble as if someone was talking in their sleep. She couldn't place the voice exactly so she opened her eyes.

It all came flooding back to her in a dreamlike projection. She'd gone back into the club thinking that she'd find Leah and go home, but when she couldn't find her in the club she'd sat at the bar and had a few more drinks before she'd found someone else instead…


"Honey, where are you going?"

"Don't "honey" me," she said finding her head a little heavier than usual. She couldn't remember what she'd had to drink that night, but it wasn't helping her already clumsy state. She couldn't see him very well in the dimly lit room, but the effects of the alcohol on her state of vision and balance were reeking havoc not only with her head, but her stomach.

"Cli," he said, "You're too drunk to go home by yourself. I'll drive you."

"You aren't too hot yourself. I'd rather take my chances with a stranger rather than end up with you."

Justin made a face at her. Pulling her close he gritted his teeth and his whole demeaner seemed to change before her eyes. He then spoke to her roughly. It was a tone she'd never heard from him before. He spoke to her in a half angry-half seductive voice, "You don't know what you're saying. You know how much you want it."

"Want what?" she asked as he pressed her close again. She could tell exactly what he'd meant, but she was in no position to be fighting his roaming hands. They felt too good on her and although it'd had only been a few weeks, she missed him terribly.

"You want to be the one that I wake up with in the morning."

"Whatever." She stared at him. "More like you want to be with me, but I guess Bambi or Britney or whoever you DO is taking your mind off that."

He gave her a shocked look then recovered quickly. "I'm so sure about you wanting me," he said leaning to speak into her ear, "That I bet…" He moved his hand in between them and put it in the waistband of her pants rubbing her stomach in circles. "I bet you wouldn't say no right now if I offered."

He pressed his lips to her neck and had kissed his way along her chin before crashing down onto her mouth with a hungry kiss that had left her so dizzy that when he'd pulled her out of the club and had taken her into his car she hadn't refused.


"Oh no," she said aloud as she realized that she was naked.

Some people would have thought that she was stupid for not realizing her nakedness but she'd been so concerned with the pain in her head that she didn't even notice how sore was throughout her body until that moment when the reality of the night before came crashing down. She'd been with Justin the whole night and she remembered most of the lovemaking they'd done, not because it had been that memorable, but because it had been angry sex, which she knew wasn't the kind to be having.

Justin had practically cursed at her the whole time they were together, but their physically need for each other was a higher addiction than their spite for each other could hold off. They'd come crashing together last night and the aftermath was worse than a wreck at the Indianapolis 500.

Patty cursed the pain in her head, but thanked God above that she had actually ended up in her own apartment the night before. At least the recovering and rebuilding would be easier on her home turf.

Seeing that Justin wasn't going to get up anytime soon she pushed herself up and out of bed and made her way to the bathroom to take a shower. She felt like she was going to throw up on her way there, but knew that if she did puke she'd probably wake up Justin, which was something she didn't want to deal with until after a long hot shower.

As she closed the bathroom door she looked out into the room and saw Justin lying on his stomach, dead to the world, snoring lightly as if he belonged there. She wished for an instant that she could just take back what she'd said to him the last time he'd been home, but it was clearly a situation she couldn't wish away. She'd made her decision to leave love behind for the chance of a lifetime and she knew that she couldn't have regrets now. It was so soon to regret living out a dream when it hadn't really even started yet.


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