The door swung open and she automatically looked at the clock as if the chime that hung above the door was the sound that announced the hour. The young man dressed in jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt, running shoes, with a baseball hat on backwards and sunglasses on his face that entered the door took his place in line with the others. No one really seemed to notice him in the place except her. Her only indication of this recognition of his entrance, besides her looking at the clock, was the smile that formed on her face before she turned back to work.
Wow, a different hat this morning. I wonder if he knows that everyone can tell who he is, even behind that lame disguise. Um hello Lance, you can see your eyes through those designer shades and really, the FuManSkeeto hat isn't fooling anyone.
She watched him at the back of the line, his head sticking out between and behind two truckers who'd been there for about an hour. He always stood in line playing with his car keys or his cell phone if he was kept waiting in line. Today he'd taken off his sunglasses and was swinging them around for a moment as he stared down the menu that was behind her on the wall.
Why do you even bother to look? You always order the same thing. If it's sunny out, it's hot chocolate and if it's raining it's green tea. Two packets of honey and a squeeze of lemon, only if we have fresh lemon. Snob.
She shook her head. It was probably illegal to know that much about a person she never had spoken to before. She knew who he was. Everyone in Orlando knew him, but when he came into the diner he didn't seem like a famous guy. The first three or four times he'd been in there she hadn't even recognized him. Someone had to tell her who he was, but now that she knew him she would have been able to pick him out of a crowd any day.
"That'll be a buck eighty-eight."
She said his total loudly ringing up his order before he placed it as he stepped to the counter. When he'd come in the door she'd already grabbed out the white chocolate hot chocolate mix and was halfway through mixing the drink when he leaned his elbows against the counter, like he always did. Today he had to stick his sunglasses in his pocket before he did it, but he leaned just the same. On the rainy days she'd have the green tea packet already in the cup for him when he went to go pour hot water into the mug. Today she mixed and mumbled, "Not that you didn't already know how much it was since you order it every morning."
A moment later she passed the cup across to him and smiled at him, like she did every time she saw him. She hoped that one day she'd get more than the straight face that looked back at her when he passed over two crisp dollar bills to pay for the drink. He wouldn't even smile when he put the change into her tip cup. It was twelve cents a day, but she figured that after a year of this at least she probably could buy a car with the change he'd contributed to her stash. It sounded a little corny, but she would trade all the change in the world for just a smile from him, some sense of recognition on his part to her would be nice.
Today was different.
Normally he would hold the cup in his left hand and take a drink as he reached into his right back pocket of his jeans to pull out the worn leather wallet that she always stared at in his pocket as he turned to leave everyday, but today he didn't. She watched him pat down his pocket then put his cup back on the counter. He patted the left pocket of the jeans, then the chest pocket on his blue over-shirt.
When he didn't seem to find what he was looking for he made eye contact with her with wide eyes. "I forgot my wallet." He looked towards the door then turned back looking very embarrassed. "Maybe it's in the car."
"Don't worry about it," she said firmly with a smile, "You can pay me back later."
He stopped and stared at her.
She smiled wider.
No moron, I don't want concert tickets or an autograph, although both would be nice. I'll see you tomorrow I'm sure and you'll pay me then.
"Yeah," she said, "You already drank half of it, you can't return it now. Besides you're the only one who drinks white hot chocolate around here anyway."
"Thanks," he said after a moment then grabbed up a pen out of the cup next to the register and grabbed a napkin. "I'll write you an IOU, just so you don't think I'm going to ditch you on this one."
He winked at her, which threw her off guard for a moment then she recovered, "It's like two dollars. Don't worry about it."
"Still," he said. He scribbled something on the napkin then slid it across the counter top. "I should be back this way tonight sometime. I'll have the money then."
"Seriously don't worry about it. You usually come in here in the mornings, just bring it tomorrow or on Monday."
"Wow, a real stalker."
She smiled shyly. "You're one of the regulars, even if it only is for a few weeks a year..." She paused for a moment then whispered his name, "…Lance."
"Well don't think I won't remember this…" he read her name tag, "…E.J."
"Really, it's not that big of a deal."
I'd do this for anyone star boy. It just happens to be your lucky day.
"Well thanks," he said then looked at his watch, "I'm going to be late. Talk to you later."
"Bye," she said softly and watched him run out. She checked to see that he was right. His wallet wasn't in any of his back pockets.
Taking a deep breath, she exhaled and hoped that the rest of her day was going to be that easy. It took her a minute, but she finally found the two dollars she was looking for in her apron pocket and deposited the amount for the cup of hot chocolate into the till from the lunch money she'd stashed in her uniform before leaving the apartment. The twelve cents change went into the tip cup.
"So you do drink something besides my hot chocolate!"
Lance looked up from where he was moping over his drink when he heard a strange noise. He thought it might be the waitress, but looked to find a brown haired girl smiling at him. He had barely heard her over the pounding music coming from the dance floor, but when he saw her staring at him he knew that she must have said something to him. He thought that he'd sat down in the VIP section and thought he'd be left alone, but apparently he'd been drinking too much and had sat down some place else. It had happened a few times before, nothing to worry about. "Huh?"
She leaned closer to him. "I said, no hot chocolate tonight?"
"What?" He looked over to the VIP sign and saw that he was on the VIP side of the velvet rope. He wondered how this girl had gotten over to him, not that he minded that much considering the slinky outfit she seemed to be busting out of.
"I guess next time I won't give you the two bucks," she said and began to walk away.
Lance watched her begin to walk away then it all seemed to click. He pushed himself up from behind the table he had been sitting at and stumbled after her. "Wait a minute."
He remembered her a little, but couldn't place her face with that outfit. The tubetop shirt and sleek pants seemed too dressed up for her. He wondered if he looked the same. He had a feeling that she'd never seen him dressed up before since he normally saw her in the mornings.
She stopped and turned around and smiled at him. "So you remember me?"
"You're…God…what was that name…CJ? BJ? DJ?"
"DJ was your ex-girlfriend," she mumbled then smiled. "Close, it's EJ. "Or Emma."
"Ok, well EJ," Lance said softly. He threw a friendly arm around her. "You wanna get a drink with me?"
"How many have you had?"
"A few," he said.
"You should stick with hot chocolate, no hang over to deal with."
"I'm fine," he said.
"Yep." He took a deep breath and straightened up then asked, "Want me to walk the line?"
"No," she said, "Why don't we take a break though and sit down?" she said.
"Sounds good," he said.
Almost as soon as they sat down with the coffee that EJ insisted he drink, Joey and Justin returned to the table. "Come on Lance, We're going home," Joey said.
"I can take him home," EJ volunteered with a smile.
Lance had been hugging a cup of coffee, but threw an arm around EJ. "Yeah, she can take me home."
"You sure?" They both stared at him with frowns on their faces. He was getting insulted. He'd had a few drinks that night, but he wasn't completely wasted. He'd remembered, well sort of remembered her name. That had to say something.
"We're old buddies," Lance said with a smile and leaned and kissed EJ's cheek.
When she didn't flinch away visibly the guys gave him another frown then turned to EJ.
"I know who he is and I'll be careful with him. If I can't find the way to his house I'm sure he can stay just fine on my couch."
"Make sure he gets home," Justin said firmly.
"Fine, you wanna give me directions?" she asked.
"Just call…" Justin started to say.
"Don't give her your cell number," Joey said quickly cutting him off.
"Look guys, I'm sure I can find his house, even if I do have to look at his license to find the address."
They left with a few other people, leaving Lance alone with her. He leaned towards her and nuzzled her neck. She didn't protest. She just smiled at him as her perfume over took him.
"You wanna get out of here?" she asked.
He nodded and downed the rest of the coffee, only slightly burning his mouth. He'd pay for it tomorrow, but for the moment he was leaving the club with a cute girl, what else could he ask for?
"You don't need to tell anyone else do you? No security people or anything?" she asked.
He nodded no again and stood up from his seat and took her hand as she led the way to the door. He had to admit that he was watching her butt the whole time and not where he was going. He thought he probably hit a few people on his way out, but that wasn't really a concern for him a the moment.
When they got to the door he pulled her up short. He stopped to say good-bye to the bouncers then stumbled down the steps behind her. His head was beginning to spin, but all he cared about was going home with EJ. He knew that she'd take care of him, just the way she had that morning. He still remembered the look on her face when she'd smiled at him and had said for him to leave. If he'd had to go out to the car and come back he would have been late, which would have messed up the whole rest of his day.
"You ok?" she asked still holding onto his hand. He thought he might be leaning against her a little and tried to straighten up.
He nodded and watched as she unlocked the door of her car. It wasn't as nice as his was, but it would have to do considering that the guys had ditched him.
"I think we should hang out a while before I take you home. You need to sober up a little before you go to sleep."
"It doesn't matter to me," he said and checked his watch. His eyes wouldn't focus on the numbers.
He threw his hand out and shoved the watch in her face. "What time does this say?"
She held his hand still and said, "It says one."
"You aren't messing with me, are you?" he asked.
"No," she said. She showed him her watch. "See, mine says one too."
"I can't read it," he said with a mean tone, "That's why I wanted you to tell me what time it was."
"Oh," she said and smiled. "Well hop in. I won't have you home by midnight so don't go turning into a pumpkin on me."
Lance burst out laughing at that remark. She wasn't as funny as Chris or Justin or Joey, hell it wasn't even that funny at all, but he liked the fact that she was treating him like a normal human being. Usually girls were asking him to take them home, even if he did have security with them. She seemed to have made up her mind about taking him home. He just hoped that he ended up there. He wasn't sure that he wanted to make a call in the morning to get himself a ride home.
"Are you sure you're going to be ok?" she asked. "You aren't going to puke in my car are you?"
"No," he said nodding to show that he meant it. He didn't really feel that drunk, but acting the part was going to get him a nice evening with his little savior.
"Good," she said.
She let him into the passenger side of the small truck then went around to the driver side. He leaned over and unlocked her door, hoping hat whatever embarrassing things he might do that night would be erased by that one gesture.
"Thanks," she said getting in.
He watched her nervously close the door and put on her seatbelt. He followed her motion and soon they were flying down the road.
"Where are we going?" he asked since she hadn't bothered to ask directions. After the whole getting on the freeway thing he didn't know where he was exactly. It was night and he usually didn't drive out to the club, which was probably a bad idea since he really didn't know his way home.
"To Pops, for ice cream."
"You have chocolate?" he asked then stopped short. "Isn't it kind of late for that?"
"Not when you have the key, and you're the owner's daughter."
"Oh." He liked the way she was smiling at him.
"You don't have to eat ice cream. I can make you hot chocolate."
"What is this obsession with hot chocolate?" he asked.
"That's what you always drink," she said.
"You aren't a stalker are you?"
"No," she said, "I told you that this morning. I just know your order because you have the same thing every day."
"I do not," he said. Did he order the same thing every day? He couldn't remember. Usually at that time of the morning he didn't know which way was up, let alone what he was putting into his body. It was a habit of being on the road so much; every day seemed to bleed into the next one and almost every face he saw looked like the last one.
"Ok, well on rainy days you have green tea," she said, "But that's not the point."
"You really are a stalker, maybe you should let me out." He hoped she knew that he was joking. He figured if the guys hadn't trusted her they wouldn't have left him with her, besides, Dre and Mike had let him be that night. They wouldn't let him go off with some crazy girl.
"Are you sure?" she said, "I don't think you know your way home from here. Besides, you're about fifteen minutes away from Pops which I figured is close to your house since you come in every day…"
"Please tell me you don't know where I live too," he said. That would be the only thing that could make his day worse. He hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before, he'd left his wallet at home, he was almost late for his recording appointment, some things with Meredith's contract had fallen through and he hadn't heard from his parents that day. All around he figured that if his stalker started hanging out at his house it was just another sign that this was hell on earth.
"No," she said. She glanced at him and stared for a moment. "Really, I'm not a stalker. I just pay attention."
"Good," he said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as the car rocked him a little. He felt hyperactive, but at the same time he felt like he could fall asleep at any minute.
Just as he began to let his eyes slide shut, but was interrupted.
"Now, do you want ice cream or hot chocolate?" she asked.
He frowned and pouted, "Hot chocolate."
"Let me guess," she said, "No whip cream…and I know…wow, what a stalker."
Lance laughed a little. "Yeah, yeah, that’s what you say, but you realize how crazy it is for you to know all about you when I know nothing about you."
"What'd I say?"
"You really are drunk."
"Why?" he asked, "What'd I say?"
"You aren't making sense anymore…don't worry about it."
"I'm not making sense?"
"Not really," she said, "Don't worry, I won't ruin your reputation."
He leaned back in his seat for a moment and stared at her.
"So anyway," she said, "A little about me…"
"Yeah," he said nodding. It wasn't a good idea, because it ended up making him dizzy, but somehow he wasn't sure if she understood him since he felt like his speech was slurred. He hadn't been really drunk since he turned twenty-one, but he thought me might have headed that way if she hadn't taken him home, or where ever they were headed.
"Well I'm Emma Jean," she said with a smile. "My dad is Pop's."
"I know that already," he said. He slid his hand into hers, scooping her arm up from where she had it laid out on the arm rest between them and smiled, "So what else do you do besides make me hot chocolate every morning."
"And green tea," she said matter of factly.
"Yeah, that too," he said with another nod. This time his head didn't feel so heavy. He caught his reflection in the window of the car and stared out into the darkness for a moment. They were still on the freeway, but now he recognized sort of where he was. Soon she'd be getting off the freeway to get to Pop's.
"Well I listen to music, go to clubs…" She turned to look at him. "Are you paying attention?"
She watched him turn his head back to her. His eyes were definitely heavy with sleep now. He wanted to close them for good, but knew that it would be rude to do so. "I'm sorry. It's been a long day."
"What happened?" she asked, "If you don't mind me asking…"
"All hell broke loose, but other than that it was fine," he said.
Yeah everything under the sun had gone wrong and he felt like he hadn't slept in days and the tour was coming up and all he wanted to do was to crawl into bed and sleep for a few weeks.
"I bet your life, even when all hell breaks loose, is more interesting than mine."
"Sure," he said, "How many crazy stalkers do you meet a day?"
"Hey. I get the point about that," she said and pulled her hand from his.
"Oh…I'm sorry," he said and put an arm through hers. He drew her closer to him and kissed her cheek. I didn't mean to make you mad."
A few minutes later, after she'd parked out front she opened the door to Pop's while trying to hold up Lance. He'd had a little trouble getting out of the car so she thought she'd help hold him up, which had two purposes. One, he was standing and two, she got to hold onto him tight. She wasn't sure if his unsteadiness was because he was drunk or because he was tired, but he was definitely about to pass out if she didn't get some sugar in him. She thought that he'd fallen asleep a few times while she'd been driving, but she'd tried to keep talking to him so that he didn't pass out there. She didn't know what it was about him, but she felt like he needed a little extra attention. She wouldn't mind having him stay over, but she had a feeling that the other guys he'd been with might get a little pissed at her for keeping him away from home.
"This place is nice." Lance's voice sounded slurred with sleep as she led him over and plopped him down on one of the bar stools. She left him there after making sure he wouldn't fall over and went to start making his drink.
"I keep telling my dad to update the place, but he seems to think that it's good just the way it is." She tried to keep her mouth running, not only because the silence of the place was getting to her, but because it was finally sinking in that the guy sitting at the bar wasn't just any guy. He was a super star and had a million fans and yet he was there with her that night. It was a little overwhelming considering that she usually listened to the guy sing on the radio.
"I like the old fifties style places. I really should put one of these bars in my house." She watched him look around for a moment. She wondered if he'd ever even looked around before. Usually he had his eyes on the menu or on his shoes or something. "C would get a kick out of this place. That guy loves…" He stopped and stared at her.
"What?" she asked as she grabbed a cup and poured the hot chocolate mix into the cup.
"Nothing," he said.
"Then why are you looking at me like that? It's giving me the creeps." It was horrible. She was nervous already and there he was staring at her. She ran a hand through her hair wondering if it was messed up or something. She knew that she wasn't looking as great as she had earlier, considering that she'd been in the club for over two hours before she'd approached him. She and a few friends had been dancing and they'd finally dared her to go over and say hello, which was what she had intended on doing, but now was finding herself being caught up in this little adventure of theirs.
"Did you know that you have great eyes?" he said. His sleepy voice was now coming out in a very seductive tone as he leaned an arm against the counter and stared at her.
She pushed her hair behind her ear and reached for the hot chocolate mix to close it.
"They're stupid," she said lowering her eyes. She wasn't used to hearing compliments and coming from them it was even worse for her. He could have any girl in the club, but somehow he'd decided to come with her. It was all too surreal at the moment.
"No really." He came down to the counter and leaned towards her. "Really. They're a great shade of green."
"Well thank you." She hoped she wasn't blushing too hard.
"But what? Am I totally making a fool of myself by hitting on you or something?" he asked. "You don't have a boyfriend…or a girlfriend do you?"
"No. I don't have a BOYFRIEND. It's not that at all," she said with a smile. "That's fine."
"What then?" He leaned and winked at her like he had earlier.
"My eyes aren't green."
"What?" he asked.
"They aren't green, they're blue," she said. She leaned towards him and opened her eyes widely.
"Really?" he squinted then frowned.
For a moment their faces were very close. She hadn't expected to get a kiss out of them, but she thought she saw the thought cross his mind when his eyes went all cloudy for a moment before he straightened up.
"The compliment was nice though," she said as she turned to get some hot water for his drink. They had a special tap on the sink that poured straight hot water from the tap.
When she turned back around Lance had his arms crossed in front of him and was leaning on them. She stopped and stared at him praying that he hadn't passed out.
"I'm still awake," he said softly. His voice was muffled from his hiding spot.
"Maybe I should make this to go and we should get you home." It was in a paper cup already, since she hadn't wanted to do dishes, but still the offer to make it "to go" would give him the hint that it was time to leave.
He looked up at her. "You think you can drive me home?"
"Sure," she said, "I told those guys I would and I have a feeling that they'd kill me if I didn't get you home." She passed him the cup of hot chocolate and smiled, "You want to drink this first or take it with you?"
"Take it with me." He took a sip just as she was about to warn him about how hot it might be.
When the hot liquid hit his mouth he spit it out into the cup and swore. She smiled at him. "I was going to warn you."
As Lance came around the counter she handed him another cup and started the cold water running. He stuck the cup under quickly and took a long drink. "Damn."
"Here, let me see," she said. He faced her, staring at her for a moment. "Stick out your tongue."
He did as he was told and they made eye contact as they stood there. She watched his blood shot eyes wander over her face. She wasn't sure, but she almost thought that he couldn't really focus too well considering that he kept blinking and squinting at her.
A ringing noise hit the air startling them both. "My hone," he said holding his tongue out still. He dug in his pocket. "Hewwo?" He listened for a moment then said, "Here." He stuck the phone out at her. "Tawk."
She stared at the cell phone for a moment then held it to her ear when Lance leaned over and started to stick his tongue under the cold running water in the sink. "Hello?"
"Who is this?" a male voice asked with attitude.
"It's EJ, who's this?" she asked with the same attitude back.
"Tell Lance to get back on the phone."
"I can't." She pointed him towards the freezer and watched him dig into the ice and pull some out to hold against his tongue. "He's sort of busy."
"What the hell is he doing?"
"He burnt his tongue."
"Burnt his tongue?"
"That's what I said."
"Look, will you make sure that he gets home tonight. He's got a six a.m. wake up call tomorrow," the person on the phone said.
"Uh, yeah I guess."
"I'm telling you, it's important so make sure he gets home."
"All right already."
"I'm calling him back in two hours. If he isn't home he's going to get an earful and so are you. Someone is picking him up in the morning and he needs to be there."
"Jesus Christ. Give me a break…get the guy home so he can get up at six. Is there anything else you need me to do? Pick up some dry cleaning, make coffee, or something?"
"Goodnight then," she said and hung up the phone.
"Who was that?" she asked.
"I think it was C or maybe it was Johnny or Mike. I'm not really sure." He laughed. "Whoever it was though, you didn't seem to care. Are you always that bitchy?"
"I'm not bitchy," she said, "I just don't back down easily. I hope I didn't get you in too much trouble."
"Don't worry about it," he said.
"The guy wanted me to get you home…which I think is a good idea."
"Give me the cup and turn of the water."
She watched him do the tasks she asked then she went for the door. Luckily he followed her.
"Is your tongue ok?"
"I think so," he said. He reached out and grabbed her and pulled her close. "Tell me what you think."
His lips met hers before she could protest and when she felt his tongue slip into her mouth and she tasted the remnants of chocolate on it she thought she was going to faint. She'd heard about kisses that powerful, but hadn't experienced one in a while. She tried to pull back from it, wondering if he really knew what he was doing, but when his arm forced her against him she stayed put.
It wasn't until he started to lean too much towards her and she thought that they might topple over like dominos that she pulled back. "It seems fine to me," she said then pushed him away and pushed open the door.
When he didn't follow her outside she turned back. "Come on Romeo…let's get you home."
When they got to the house they stumbled up the two steps to the door and Lance leaned against he door while he pulled the key from his pocket and tried the lock. It didn't work the first time so he tried to cover for himself. "Ah…home sweet home," he said and fiddled with the key again. "Damn it. It usually is home sweet home unless the key doesn't work."
For a moment he thought about the kiss they shared. He hadn't been planning that, but the moment had seemed right and she hadn't put up a protest so he'd taken his chances. He wondered if she'd come in the house so that they could share another one, or maybe he'd lay one on her at the doorstep before she left.
She tried not to laugh as he missed the key hole twice more. He'd had to have her enter the gate number three times before they got the right code. He should have the stupid number changed to something he could remember, like his birthday or his mom's or something, but the security company said that he should keep it some random number so that no one could figure it out. He hoped that he could remember to change it the next morning since she knew the number now.
"You need some help with that?" she asked leaning against his shoulder.
"No," he said taking a breath. He took a breath of her perfume and leaned and kissed her neck. "I got it."
"Oh come on," she said with a laugh. "It's cold out here."
Lance turned to find her shivering behind him on the front porch. He did the only thing he could think of. He stuck his keys in his pocket and slid out of his long sleeved sweater.
"What are you doing?" she asked with a laugh.
"Put it on," he said.
"Lance you're half naked!" she said with another laugh.
He looked down at his wife beater and smiled, "It doesn't matter. You looked cold."
"You've definitely had too much to drink." She laughed harder.
"Don't laugh at me, I'm a gentleman," he said and tried to bow but almost fell over.
When he was standing straight up again she smiled at him. "If I put this thing on will you open the door?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said. In truth he was freezing, but he had a feeling that he'd look like an idiot now if he took back his sweater. He probably already looked like an idiot. He hoped that maybe she had a few drinks and would remember as little of the night as he was thinking he would. He wanted to remember the good parts, like how good she felt in his arms and how nice she kissed, but other than that he figured that the falling over and the whole thing about him burning his tongue would go unnoticed.
When she had the shirt over her head he helped get her head through the neck hole then took another deep breath and turned and put the key in the door, this time hitting the lock on the first time. "Bingo," he said and held the door open.
"Well I guess I can go," she said.
"No, come on in," he said, "I'm not a stalker."
She made a face and started to turn away. He threw an arm out at her and pulled her to him hugging her tightly against his chest. He kissed the top of her head. "I just want you to have a tour…then you can go home if you want to…or you can stay if you want to…it's up to you."
"I guess I am a little curious about where you live…maybe I can help you figure out how to use your own stuff to make hot chocolate so you don't keep wasting your money."
"Oh, trying to get rid of me already?" he asked trying to flirt with her. He wasn't sure it was coming out right since he'd been drinking.
A beeping noise filled the air and he swore under his breath and stepped into the house.
"What is that?" she asked with a laugh.
"My security alarm," he said.
"Oh," she laughed as he punched in a number then swore under his breath and punched in another number. He looked over at her. She was standing in the doorway with her arms crossed across her chest. She had on his shirt and was looking damn good in it.
Finally on the fourth try he got the number right and the beeping stopped. "So what was it you were saying about my own stuff?" he asked scratching his head as he stared at the keypad.
He turned his attention back to her when she didn't anwer then he went to close the door so that the alarm wouldn't go off again.
She shivered as he reached around her and closed the door. "I was saying that you might want to learn how to use your coffee maker or at least learn how to boil water…"
"You still cold?" he asked cutting her off.
"A little," she said.
"I have a jacket or something," he said.
She smiled, "Really, that's ok."
"Well come on. Let's go on the tour."
"Actually, can we just sit down?" she asked.
He looked at her. "Uh, yeah," he said and made his way into the living room.
She didn't follow him right away. He flopped down on the couch and flipped on the fake fireplace and a lamp and waited. He figured if she didn't show up soon he'd go looking for her.
She showed up a moment later, this time without her shoes on. He found, to his amusement that she was wearing sports socks.
"I know…they're totally sexy," she said looking at her feet, "but when you stand on your feet all day then dance all night you have to be comfy."
"Do you want some clothes to change into?" he asked, "Those pants can't be that comfortable."
"Trying to get me out of my pants already?" she asked.
"It wasn't like that," he said standing up.
"Hey," she said, "It was a joke."
He sighed and sat down again.
"Sweats would be nice though, if you have them," she said.
"Well come on then," he said. He flipped off the fireplace and got up. He took her hand as he passed her and brought her upstairs with him.
In his room he flipped open the door with his foot, turned on the ligths and walked into the room over to the dresser on the right side of his bed. He had one on the left side too, but knew that what he was looking for was on the right side. It was strange how you could be drunk and forget so many things, but could remember the simplies things. He dug around for a moment in a drawer then found the sweats he was looking for and handed them to her. He grabbed out a t-shirt and handed her a sweatshirt too.
"You can change in there," he said and pointed to the bathroom.
"Ok," she said with a smile, "I'll be right back."
"Take your time," he said, "I'm going to change too."
"Ok," she said, "I'll be right back."
When she stepped out of the bathroom she found the bedroom dark and quiet and for a moment she thought that he'd left her there, which completely freaked her out. She had stopped shivering from the cold now that she was in his clothes, but she thought that she'd start shivering from fear now. She knew that she wasn't a stalker, but in that instant, before she saw his silhouette across the room, she thought that he might be one. She was stupid for coming home with him. At least at Pop's she'd had the upper hand. She knew where the knives were. Here, in his house she didn't even know where the door was, let alone any weapons he might have.
"What am I thinking?" she mumbled, "He's in a boyband."
"It's not a boyband," he said. She heard the bed squeak and saw him sit down. He had his back to her, which she saw now that her eyes were adjusted to the light in the room, was now uncovered completely. She looked around and found that his pants and the shirt he'd been wearing were on the floor. She hoped that he'd put on shorts or something.
"Shit," she said in a soft voice.
"You staying or you going?" he asked as he settled onto the bed so that he was on his back with his head against the pillows. He put his arm out and she heard the click of the television turning on. A moment later the room was lit up with the glow from the screen.
When she didn't move he put a hand out to her.
With a little hesitation she made her way across to him, crawled across the side of the queen-sized bed and settled in next to him, hugging herself up against him as if this was something she did every night. She shivered again.
"You still cold?" He rubbed his hand up and down her arm for a moment then flipped off the television.
"No," she said.
"Are you ready for bed?" he asked.
"Yeah, I guess."
"I have to get up early tomorrow." He stopped and looked away from her.
She looked over and saw that the alarm clock next to the bed was glowing green numbers that read three a.m. "Did that guy call back?"
"Yeah, that was Mike. He's one of the security guys. He's like my babysitter sometimes, but he needed to make sure that I don't miss my flight tomorrow."
"Flight?" she asked wondering for a moment where he'd be heading out to. She wondered if he was going to be in Los Angeles or New York since that's where most of the stars she knew about ended up heading to this time of year, with all the awards shows and talk shows. "Wait…you don't have to tell me."
"Really, it's fine. I'm headed to Nashville," he said with a sigh. "I have to go renegotiate a contract in the morning."
"Nashville?" she asked. "That's not boyband land."
"No," he said with a laugh. He sat up, taking his arms from around her, then scooted down in bed then held out his arm so that she could cuddle against him. "It's not boyband land," he said, "I have to go there for one of the acts I've been managing."
"Oh," she said softly.
"Anyway," he said with a yawn, "I have the alarm set which means…"
"I'll leave when you leave…that's fine," she said.
"Good," he said, "I…"
"What?" she asked when he drifted off. She moved so that she could see his face.
"Nothing," he said then pulled her close and kissed her. When he pulled back he sighed, "I need to go to sleep…but you feel so good."
She wanted to laugh, not knowing if that was a line or not. When he didn't show that it was anything but serious she settled back into her sleeping position. "I don't want you to get into trouble since I'm sure I already pissed off Mike or whoever was on the phone earlier."
"Well maybe next time we can hang out longer."
"So there is going to be a next time?" she asked.
"Well it's not like I'm not going to see you," he said. "Pop's is the only place I can get my white hot chocolate fix."
"Uh…yeah," she said disappointed with the way that she'd put way too much into their night together. It didn't mean anything. They weren't a couple or anything. They were just two friends that had ended up in the same place and had ended up sleeping in the same place.
When she went to ask him when he'd be back from Nashville she found him asleep, something that she found more comforting that not. At least it would be a few hours before she would have to face the fact that maybe she and he were just a one night stand kind of thing.
EJ opened an eye when she heard the beeping noise. She thought it might be the alarm going off, but found, after she leaned over Lance so that she could see the alarm clock that the alarm wasn't going off in the bedroom. The clock read 4:55.
"Lance!" she whispered frantically and shook him a little when she realized that it was the security alarm and not the bedside alarm going off. It was still dark and she couldn't hear if someone was in the house, but the alarm was going off and she wondered if there had been a break in.
"Huh? Five more minutes Mel. Tell Nick to turn off the alarm." Lance spoke to himself in some sleep-blurred language for a moment then opened his eyes and stared at her. He had his arms still around her and was breathing deeply almost as if the extra oxygen in his lungs would help him wake up. "What's going on?
"Your house alarm is going off," she said softly.
He took a deep breath and pulled her close to hug her to him, now more awake than before. "It's ok."
"How do you know that?" she asked.
"It's probably Cub."
Just as she was about to ask about who this Cub person was, the alarm turned off. She held her breath for a moment then heard heavy footsteps on the stairway coming up to the second floor. To EJ it sounded like a heard of elephants coming up the stairs, but Lance didn't seem to care. He didn't even move from his place in bed. He just rubbed her back and closed his eyes again. "Five, four, three, two…"
The bedroom door burst open and a hyperactive young man flew through the door. "OK Bass, get your butt--" He stopped and stared at the two of them, as if it hit him, right at that moment, that he should have knocked first before coming into the room.
"Good morning Nick," Lance said in an even tone, adding a laugh when he saw the look on his face. He sat up and smiled at the guy as if this was typical behavior for his friend.
"Sorry about that," Nick apologized and began to turn to leave.
"No problem," Lance said and pushed EJ up a little from where she was still laying snuggled to his chest. She wanted to protest, but wasn't sure that she should so she moved away from him and propped herself up as Lance spoke to the guy who was now staring at her with one of those "and-who-might-you-be?" looks. "Nick Jacobs, this is…"
When he started to hesitate saying her name EJ felt a little more than hurt, but tried to play it off since he had been drunk the night before. "EJ Bellerman," she said with a smile and slid out from under the covers on the far side of the bed as Lance did the same on his side. She started to walk towards the bathroom to retrieve her clothes when Nick spoke to her, which made her stop.
"Nice to meet you," Nick said.
"Nice to meet you too," she said softly then watched as Nick returned to the hyperactive state that he'd been in when he'd entered the room.
"You were the one on the phone last night," Nick said watching her closely for a minute. She wasn't sure how things worked in their group of friends, but she felt like she was going through a job interview. The two guys the night before had given her the same look and she hated it. They looked at her like she was some criminal and that she was trying to get on Lance because she needed or wanted something from him. That wasn't the case at all…all she wanted to do was to hang out with the guy.
"Sorry about that," she said, "I hope I wasn't rude."
He turned to Lance almost hopping with hyper energy. "You almost ready to go?"
"Jacobs man, it's too early to be getting up to your hyperactive butt." Lance looked at the clock. "I have to leave in…" He looked at the clock for a moment then groaned, "I don't leave for a freaking hour…hell, my alarm clock hasn't even gone off."
"J and Joey called me last night and told me that you'd been drinking so I figured you might need a little extra help." He smiled brightly in an overly patronizing way.
"God I love baby-sitters." Lance leaned against the bed for a moment then pushed himself out of bed. He didn't look in EJ's direction when he went to the dresser on his side of the room. He proceeded to pull open a few drawers. "Hey Cub, what's the agenda for today?"
Nick stared at EJ for a minute then turned and leaned against the door he'd just come through. "Your sister is going to meet you at the airport. She's got all the stuff for Meredith's contract with her. Your mother called me yesterday and wanted you to know that she's sorry she couldn't make the meeting too."
"It sucks, but she's getting ready for that…" Lance turned around and looked at Nick for a moment then turned and looked to where Nick was looking at EJ again. "Hey EJ?"
"I hate to kick you out, but I'm going to be running around here for the next…" His voice held no malice, but she felt as if it was a little rude of him to actually use the words "kick you out" in this situation.
"Hey, it's no problem," she said instantly trying to hold her composure. She was having a hard time holding back her tears and she knew that a quick exit would be the best thing for the both of them. "I'll go change out of…"
"No, keep those on," Lance said, "It's probably freezing outside."
Nick backed out of the room. "It is kind of cold out there…" Lance shot him a look and EJ wondered if she shouldn't just run away now, before she made the scene even more tense than it already was. "I'll be in the kitchen," Nick said and disappeared into the hallway.
When he was gone Lance walked over to her carrying the clothes he'd picked out of the dresser. "I'm sorry about ignoring you there for a minute," he said softly and pulled her into a hug.
"I should go," she said struggling against his arms.
"What's wrong?" he asked looking at her closely while he paused to drop the clothes he had in his hand onto the bed. He held her captive and smiled at her.
"Nothing," she said running her hands through her hair, "I'm just tired. A girl needs more than a few hours of beauty sleep a night. It's still dark outside."
"I'm sorry about that," he said.
"Look, don't worry about it, I should get home and you need to get to the airport. I'll keep your clothes and have them at Pop's if you want to come and pick them up," she said and pushed away from him before she really started to cry. She hadn't expected an invitation into his life, by any means, but she also hadn't expected such a strange morning after scene.
She found her clothes, where she'd left them on the counter in the bathroom and picked them up, along with her car keys, and headed out of the bathroom as Lance was heading in.
He stopped her with an arm across the doorway. She didn't know what she expected him to say or do, but it sure wasn't what he finally did say to her. "Can I see you again?" he asked with a soft voice leaning towards her like he might kiss her.
"Of course, you know where Pop's is," she said coldly and pushed past him not waiting to see his reaction to her tone of voice. She hoped that he was as confused and hurt as she was.
She was now in full analysis mode, which meant the more that she stood there with him, the more she was thinking about what had just happened, which meant the angrier she was getting.
"EJ!" he called after her, but she ignored him and made her way to the first floor. She felt completely stupid and wanted out of there as fast as possible.
She went down the stairs by twos and hoped that Nick wasn't around when she got to the first floor, but no such luck.
"Hey!" Nick called to her when she made it to the bottom step.
EJ stopped and turned away from the direction of the front door to stare at him. She wasn't angry with the guy, but she didn't really want to speak to him either. It wasn't his fault, but he'd been witness to her making a fool out of herself upstairs. "What?" she asked.
"Don't be pissed off at him," Nick said.
"I'm not pissed off at him," she stated and tucked her clothes bundle a little tighter together then gripped the banister with her hand. "I'm pissed at me."
"I don't know you at all, but you seem like a smart girl. He really isn't a bad guy," Nick said, "He just has a lot on his mind."
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"I've seen it before…he forgot your name and well let's just say wasn't the friendliest the morning after…that's just him."
"Nothing happened between the two of us," she stated firmly. "He was drunk and I brought him home then we fell asleep."
"I wasn't saying that anything did happen," he said with a smile. She thought he seemed sincere enough in his sympathetic tone, but she wasn't sure since she had only met the guy a few minutes before. "Just give the guy a break and don't write him off too soon."
"And why should I do that?"
Nick smiled a wide smile. "Because he NEVER brings…I mean NEVER brings girls here."
"So am I the first of many or should I feel special for being the only one," she spat out hoping that if she was angry that she wouldn't start to cry.
Nick stepped closer to her and calmly patted her hand. "I think you can figure it out."
"Well look, I've gotta run and I'm sure that will be on my mind for days…" She rolled her eyes for sarcastic effect. "Tell him he can get his clothes at Pop's if he wants them back," she said.
Nick nodded and stepped back from her as she rushed out of the house, down the steps, to where her truck was parked, now next to a small blue Honda Accord.
When she was safely inside the vehicle she reached her key to start it up, but her hand was shaking so badly from her anger and from the cold that it took her two tries to get it into the ignition. She finally got it in and got the truck started, but she didn't move to drive away from the house due to the tears that she had held back inside the house were now tumbling from her eyes.
The radio came on and music played as she shifted the truck into DRIVE and pulled out of the driveway. When she reached the front gate she slowed down and prayed that she didn't need some sort of code to get out. She waited for a moment then watched it open for her and when she was on the city streets she sped down the road not exactly sure if she was going in the right way.
"Jacobs!" Lance had been out of the shower long enough to get dressed, to find his wallet, and pack a backpack of stuff up for his trip to Nashville and to come downstairs, but knew he was already probably running late.
Nick appeared, coming from the direction of the kitchen and handed over a sandwich like the one he was already eating. Trusting the guy's taste in food, Lance stuffed it into his mouth, bit down and chewed furiously then spoke. "Did she get out of here ok?"
"It's leftover ham and cheese," Nick said pointing at the sandwich then continued. "She got out of here alright, practically ran away more like it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lance asked.
"Never mind," Nick said rolling his eyes, "You ready to go?"
"What?" Lance asked when he found the guy staring at him strangely.
Nick had become more than just a crew member in the last few months since he'd been hired and Lance usually trusted the guy on most things, but that morning he had this look in his eyes that Lance wasn't quite sure he liked. It was a cross between anger and disappointment and although Nick usually kept out of all the guys' personal business, he seemed to have an opinion on the scene that had been played out that morning.
"Nothing!" Nick said then went over the checklist that the two guys had perfected over the last few months. It was Nick's job to be the stand-in tour manager when Melinda, the real tour manager wasn't around. "Cell phone?"
Lance patted his jean jacket pocket and smiled. "Check."
"Check." Lance gave him a look for that one. It was a smart-ass remark considering that Lance was wearing his backpack.
"In the backpack."
Lance patted down the pockets of his jacket and his jeans for a moment.
Nick handed over the ticket with a laugh. "You know you'd be lost without me and Melinda."
"Whatever Cub," Lance said.
"Wallet?" Nick asked.
"Yes, thank you mom!" Lance said and walked passed Nick to the door. "You sure you don't want to come to Nashville with me?"
"As much as I would love to spend my vacation hours sitting through a boring plane ride and some boring meetings, no thank you," Nick said, "Although I'm sure you're going to have a blast though. Don't party down too hard." Nick did a little dance move.
"Cub, you're killing me," Lance said as the two guys climbed into Nick's car.
The car ride to the airport was quiet. Nick turned on the radio and the guys listened to the music without speaking.
"Dude! If you don't stop staring at me like that I'm going to have to…"
"You realize that girl thinks you're an asshole right now, don't you?"
"Who made you my Jimminey Cricket?" Lance asked moving in his seat so he was a little more comfortable.
"I'm not one to judge, but you really screwed that up royally," he said.
"Like you know anything about it." Lance folded his arms across his chest and looked out the window away from the direction of Nick.
Nick suddenly broke out swearing in French at Lance. To Lance it was a jumble of words he didn't understand, but he knew Nick was ripping him in two. It was something that everyone on tour had gotten used to. Nick didn't have that bad of a temper, but when he got angry he would swear in French, mostly, he admitted once a long time ago, because no one really could understand what he was saying. Only JC and Melinda seemed to understand the guy, normally it would have pissed Lance off, but that morning he was too tired to argue and he had a feeling he might lose if he went into it with Nick.
Finally they made it to the airport. Lance grabbed out his hat and shoved it on his head then turned to Nick. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Find out the number for Pop's Diner," he said, "And call and leave the number on my cell phone."
"I can do that," Nick said with anger in his voice still.
"Thanks," Lance replied and got out of the car.
He took his backpack to the counter alone, a change of pace for him. Nick was dropping him off that morning and leaving him to be on his own for his flight and his day in Nashville. The alone time was a rare occurrence, but Lance had insisted on going alone, considering that no one would expect him in their places since the trip had been fairly unscheduled. Usually he traveled with a bodyguard every where he went. His trips to Pop's in the morning had been an ordeal to arrange, but he'd managed to get out of having security follow him the three miles from home to the diner then to work. He'd been left alone on very few occasions in the past few months and he hoped that his day was going to be smoother than his morning had been.
Lance went through the motions of checking in. He'd done it some many times he didn't really even listen to the woman at the counter until she was directing him to his gate. "Sir your flight is boarding in about thirty minutes. The VIP lounge is just off to the left of your gate…" she checked her monitor for a moment, "…that's at gate 25A just off to our right."
"Thanks," he said.
Fifteen minutes later Lance was sitting in the VIP lounge going over the notes he'd entered into his palm pilot. Meredith had signed a contract that specifically stated that her schooling wouldn't be compromised by her recording schedule and they were already having some differences of opinion about the situation. He, Meredith, and Meredith's mother all thought that Meredith's schooling was the most important thing, since she was in high school still and it was her junior year, the most important year for a student who would be eventually going onto college. He needed to make it clear to the record company that she intended to go to college one day, maybe after her recording career was over and that this year of school needed to be finished properly for that to happen.
When his cell phone rang Lance kept reading his notes, but grabbed up the phone hoping that it was Nick with the number he wanted.
"LB, I've got that number for you," Nick said over the line.
"Good, throw it at me," Lance said and clicked over to the place on his palm pilot so he could write the number in.
Nick rambled off the number.
"Are you picking me up tonight?" Lance asked.
"Yeah, or Melinda will," Nick explained.
"I'll give you a call before I leave Nashville. If I can do it I may have EJ pick me up," he said.
Nick let out a laugh. "Fat chance, but you can try."
"Like you know her better than me?" Lance said.
"I at least spoke to her this morning, which is more than I can say for you."
"Why are you so protective of her? You don't know her."
"I have to go," Nick said, "Good luck in Nashville. Call me or Melinda if you need a ride."
Lance hung up his phone and dialed Pop's number hoping that EJ would be there. He didn't even know what he was going to say to her, but he thought he needed to say something considering the mess he'd made of their morning, or actually the mess that Nick had told him he'd made of their morning.
After sleeping another few hours after she got home, EJ showered then went downstairs. She entered Pop's from the door in the back that led to her upstairs apartment and went towards the counter. She wasn't working that morning, but she had some paperwork she needed to help her father with. She found him in the corner, as usual and flopped down next to him after grabbing herself a cup, a packet of tea, and Danish that was sitting on the counter next to some doughnuts.
Her father, Quincy Bellerman, known as Pop's to everyone who'd ever met him, was sitting alone in the farthest booth to the right looking over a folder of paperwork while sipping his morning coffee. It was Saturday, but that didn't mean that it was the weekend for him. Quincy was technically retired, and had been since EJ's mother had died, but still owned the diner and spent his Saturday mornings there in the corner talking to the locals and regulars while dealing with the paperwork for the week. Although most other days he left the operations end of things to EJ, he still liked to check up on things, not that she wasn't doing the job, but he liked to play like he wasn't retired one day a week.
"So where were you?" he asked.
"I went out last night then spent the night at a friends house," she said. She didn't have to tell him where she'd been, but it was easier just to explain her whereabouts than to try to think up some great story to tell him.
"How's Lizzy?" her father asked.
"She's good," EJ lied. She hadn't spoken to her friend in over a week, since the girl had gone on a business trip for work, but as always she just said the easiest answer to her father. He had enough to worry about before trying to keep track of her. He was always worried about her social life, which wasn't at all ridiculous considering that most of her friends from college and from high school had left town after graduation. EJ had her small circle of friends and liked her life that way, but her father thought that she should be more outgoing and have a million friends instead of the tight knit crew of friends she had chosen.
"How's Cameron?" her father asked.
As EJ dunked her tea bag into the hot water she sighed remembering again why she was going to remind herself never to introduce her boyfriends to her father. He seemed to get more attached to them than she ever got which screwed up their relationships every time.
"I haven't spoken to him in a while."
"Did you two break up?" he asked.
"Daddy, can we not talk about this?" she said.
EJ heard the phone ringing and saw Marty and Paul at the counter so she didn't bother to get up to get it.
"EJ, the phone is for you," Marty yelled over with her southern drawl prominent that morning.
EJ slid out of the booth and took her cup with her, leaving her untouched Danish behind. She leaned over the counter and took the phone from the small waitress and put it to her ear. "This is EJ."
"Hi," the voice said.
She wondered for a moment if the person actually expected her to know who it was just by voice. It wasn't anyone that she could think of which left only one option for who the mystery caller could be, but she wanted the person to squirm a little. "Who is this?" she asked.
"It's Lance," he said softly.
"Don't sound too excited," he said with a laugh.
"I'm not," she stated then let go of the phone for a minute and walked around the counter then took the phone into the back hallway away from the kitchen and the rest of the eating area.
"Look, I wanted to call to apologize to you about this morning."
"No explanation needed," she said softly. Why was he dragging this out? Next thing she knew he'd be writing her an IOU for their horrible morning too, like he'd written for the two dollars he owed her.
"Well I want to give you one," he said.
"Really Lance, it's ok," she said.
"Are you ever going to believe me when I tell you things are ok? First it was with the two dollars and now this…"
"Oh, I meant to pay you back last night."
"Really, it's ok," she said, "It's not like I don't know where you live."
"Stalker," he said and laughed.
"Just you wait…" She flirted a little not wanting to completely cut all ties with him.
"I'm shaking in my boots." He laughed a little. "So do you forgive me for being a jerk this morning?"
"I guess," she said. She didn't care either way; she just wanted the conversation to be over. No sense dwelling on the fact that while he'd been leaving on a jet plane, she'd been crying herself back to sleep then cried her way through a shower.
"Can I ask you a favor?" he said.
"Well…I was hoping to spend some more time with you tonight," he said.
"You're in Nashville, its going to be a little hard," she shot in.
"I'm flying back in tonight around ten," he said.
"And?" she asked.
"If you pick me up maybe we can catch a movie or something on television before it gets too late."
"If you need a ride, just ask for a ride," she said.
"I asked because I want to spend time with you," he spoke slowly and clearly.
"It didn't seem like that this morning," she said.
"Look, I started off on the wrong foot with you this morning," he said, "Let me try to end the day on a better foot."
She sighed. Part of her was really mad about the way she'd been treated that morning, but she found herself wanting to see him again. She'd been witness to more than a few of his smiles and winks and she found herself becoming addicted to them.
"Fine, let me get a piece of paper and I'll write down your information," she said.
A moment later she had his flight information in her hand and was headed back to sit with her father. She had no idea what she was doing being friends with Lance, but her trip to the airport that night was going to at least make her happy. She rarely had such crazy things to look forward to. It was a nice change of pace for her.
"What was that all about?" her father asked.
"Nothing, I just have to pick someone up at the airport tonight."
"Care to share?" he asked.
"No," she said and grabbed her Danish away from where he was picking at it. "Daddy, you know you're not supposed to be eating this stuff."
"I know, but it's Saturday. I always eat good during the week." She loved the way her father tried to whine like a child when she got on him about his eating habits.
"Fine," she said, "But you only get half, because this is the last one."
"I can deal with that," he said softly.
"So are you going to tell me about Cameron now?"
"No Daddy," she said softly, "We broke up, there's nothing to tell."
"Honey, I just worry about you," he said, "A girl your age should start thinking about finding a mate."
"You make it sound like I'm an old spinster. I just twenty three," she said firmly
She hated the way her father liked to think that it was still the fifties and that she needed a husband on her arm to be complete. She wished that he would meet some of the guys she'd hung out with in the past, none of them were up for that fifties sort of mentality.
"I'm fine," she said and pushed herself out of the booth, "I'm going to clean up a little upstairs. Are you coming back for dinner tonight?"
"Of course," he said, "I think Hugh, Willy, and Reno are coming down tonight."
She smiled knowing that her father and his poker buddies were all up to no good. There wasn't much four retired men could get into, but they seemed to find trouble even in the sleepy Orlando retirement community. "Daddy you haven't been playing poker again have you?"
"Just a few hands," he said, "I owe them dinner."
She watched him closely knowing that if he was playing poker, he was probably doing all the other things that he wasn't supposed to be doing. "You haven't been smoking cigars again have you."
"No," he said.
"Yeah right, and the Pope's not Catholic," she said.
He laughed as she left the booth. "I'll see you tonight honey."
"You'd better tell those guys to be nice or I might cut off their pie supply," she joked. She came back and kissed her father's cheek. "Tell them I love them if you see them before I do."
Lance landed in Nashville on time and was met by his sister at the gate. He hadn't seen her in almost three weeks so their reunion was filled with huge hugs before he settled into business mode.
"The meeting got moved back," Stacey explained handing over the folder to him.
"They rescheduled this morning," she said, "Don't worry though. We've got it handled."
"Are you ok?" she asked, "You look tired."
"You better keep an eye on me or I might fall asleep during this meeting," he said, "I'm working on about two hours of sleep."
"Did you go out with Joey again?" she asked.
"Don't mother me Stace," he said, "I went out with Joey last night, yes, but he's not the reason that I didn't get to sleep."
"Ewe!" she said covering her ears, "I don't want to hear about you and your women."
He reached and pulled her hands away from her ears as they walked away from the gate towards where he knew that their car would be waiting. He hadn't been in the Nashville airport in a while, but he didn't spend much time paying attention to his surroundings as they walked through the airport. He was a little paranoid about being noticed and wanted to get out of there as quickly as he could, something that he knew his sister understood. "I didn't go insane last night."
"So you didn't meet a girl last night?" she asked.
"God you're nosy!"
"So are you going to tell me about her?"
"I guess," he said with a smile, "But nothing happened."
"That's not what Cub said."
Lance sighed. Nick would be the one to tell his sister about his personal life. Normally he wouldn't say anything, but Nick was pissed about that morning which was fueling his need to talk about him. "He called you?"
"He just wanted to tell me to keep an eye on you since you didn't sleep much last night."
"I'm gonna kill that guy," Lance said.
They made their way to the parking lot and got in the rented car that Stacey had. He knew that she'd been in town to meet with Meredith the day before.
"How's she holding up?" Lance asked then let his mind wander a little as Stacey went on and on about how Meredith was handling her school and her recording schedule.
"Lance, pay attention," Stacey said.
"I am," he said and listened to his sister.
"She's going ok," Stacey said, "But if we can't get her on a regular schedule the school is going to boot her out."
"Is the school rep coming to the meeting?"
"Yeah," she said, "That's partially why the meeting was pushed back. The school rep had to meet with the school board one last time before the meeting today."
"We should be able to fix this up, right?"
"Yeah," Stacey said.
"Good, because I don't need the extra stress."
"Are you sure you're ok?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he said, "I just need a nap."
"Well maybe you can catch one before the meeting."
Lance let his eyes slide shut as they drove away from the airport and towards Stacey's hotel. They were closed for only a few moments before his cell phone rang again.
"Hello?" Lance said with his eyes closed.
"Yeah! You're still alive."
"Hi Joey," Lance said with a laugh.
"Hi Joey!" Stacey called out into the car.
"So what's with the woman?" Joey asked.
"Why is everyone so worried about me and this girl?" Lance asked looking at his sister for some sympathy.
"Why did you ever agree to do this?" EJ chastised herself aloud as she pulled into the half empty parking lot at the airport. She still didn't know why she was at the airport to pick him up, but she would have been even crazier if she wasn't there. She would be pulling what-if scenarios out of her brain left and right, probably regretting staying home, knowing in the back of her mind that she would be missing out on something great if she was there instead of with him.
Throwing the car into park she set the emergency break and turned off the engine. She grabbed her purse from the seat next to her and checked to see if she had the flight information with her. She'd checked for the piece of paper seven times on her way over, but she was nervous and needed to check again. She caught her reflection in the rear view mirror and checked to see that she looked ok one last time then opened up the car door slowly and made her way into the terminal.
She wasn't that familiar with the airport, so when she got inside the lobby area she checked the wall mounted schedules then the map and saw that she had luckily chosen the right place to park in and would only have to walk a little ways before finding his gate. She walked slowly to the gate seeing that she had about ten minutes before the flight was due in. She wished that she would have gotten there late because having to wait for the plane was making her more nervous than she'd been on the way over or for most of that day.
"EJ?" she heard her name and turned to find Nick sitting comfortably on a bench seat near the gate she was going to. He had his legs thrown out into the walkway in front of him and looked to be trying to sleep rather than read the open newspaper in his lap.
"What are you doing here?" she asked with a half smile, glad to not be alone in the airport. She didn't know Nick any better than Lance, but a familiar face was comforting in the crowds that she had waded through on the way to the gate. She held onto her purse nervously and took a seat next to him facing the walkway.
"I was about to ask you the same thing," he said.
"I'm picking up Lance," she said softly.
He gave her a strange look then laughed. "Well there goes my night, he was supposed to call me and tell me if he didn't need a ride." Nick frowned.
"Well if you're already here I might as well let you take him home." She started to stand up.
"Why?" he asked. He grabbed her arm and sat her back down.
"Well you're his friend…you should be the one to take him home," she mumbled feeling stupid for the second time that day. She'd gone along with the whole idea that she might be able to date Lance, but now that she was faced with the reality of the situation she knew that she'd been wishing a little too hard about this one. She needed to go home. Before he saw her there. Before she made a fool of herself again.
"Then why are you here?"
She frowned and shrugged. "Because he asked."
It sounded horrible, but it was the truth. At the moment she could see herself doing just about anything for the guy, just to hang out with him. She'd had the biggest crush on him for most of the year that she'd seen him in the diner and she wanted to play make-believe a little and see what it would be like to be a part of his life.
She watched Nick staring at her. "I'm stupid aren't I?"
"No," he said, "Not at all."
The announcement came over the PA system that the flight had landed. Nick sighed and stretched then stood up. "Pick him up…Take him home…Hang out with him," he paused and gave her a sympathetic look. "I think he wants to try to make up for this morning."
"You guys talked about me?" she asked.
"Just a little," Nick admitted. "Go on and get him while I get out of here and get home."
She nodded and watched Nick disappear into the crowd of people walking by. They'd talked about her. That had to mean something. She watched Nick with a little hope in her hand hoping that whatever good luck she was having lately was going to stay with her and make her have little fun with Lance before reality truly kicked in and she realized that she was a fool.
Lance walked out from the plane and looked around with a sigh trying to adjust his backpack a little on his back. He'd fallen asleep on the plane and his back was killing him. He usually would see Mel or Nick or his mom or security or someone familiar right there at the gate to meet him, but he found himself alone in the airport wondering where EJ was.
He kept walking and tried to stay calm. If someone recognized him it might be disastrous for him since he was alone, but after a moment he side stepped the businessman in front of him and saw her standing, looking away from the gate. He decided to surprise her so he made his move and went to sneak up behind her. He took a breath then reached and tickled her sides, at the place where her T-shirt met her jeans. He didn't expect it, but he got an earth-shattering scream from her instead of a welcoming hug.
She turned around and was about to hit him when she recognized him. The look on her face was priceless. She looked somewhere between angry and happy with her eyes sparkling and her cheeks flushed with adrenaline.
"No welcome home for me?" he asked with a smile. He tipped his hat back a little and watched her trying to recover from the scare he'd given her.
"No!" She hit at his arm. "You scared the shit out of me!"
"Shh," he said and looked around a little noticing that a few people were watching them.
She covered her mouth and laughed a little. "Sorry about that, but you really scared me."
"Well come on and let's get out of here," he said with a little urgency in his voice. He saw a girl staring at him openly and he didn't like the look in her eyes.
She nodded and said, "I'm parked over that way."
They walked through the airport and Lance could feel the fatigue of the day catching up with him. It had been nice to see Stacey for the whole day, but the meetings had gone horribly, but things had been settled. He hated arguing like that, but he knew it was important for Meredith's career and her life to have things settled.
"Cat got your tongue?" she asked.
He let out a breath when she bumped into him a little. Her hand tugged at his jeans trying to get his attention.
He smiled at her. "Huh?"
"Long day," he murmured and let his hand slip into hers. He squeezed her hand reassuringly hoping that she would forget about their strange morning together. He'd really messed up, and although he'd been busy most of the day, she hadn't been far from his thoughts.
She stopped and looked at his hand for a moment then continued walking.
"What about you?" he asked.
She stopped again and stared at him as if he'd just insulted her or something.
"I'm just surprised that you'd want to…" She shook her head. "You really want to know?"
"Is it that insane that I would want to know about you?"
"Well after this morning…Never mind…" She shook her head again. "I had a long day. I didn't work, so I ended up cleaning up my apartment, I washed my car, then had dinner with my father and his poker buddies."
"Sounds fun," Lance said trying to imagine her sitting at a table with four older men talking about whatever they all talked about. She amazed him. He had to admit that he hadn't really noticed her until the day before, but now that he was getting to know her he was intrigued. She seemed so different than anyone she knew. "So you washed your truck?"
"It wasn't for your benefit," she said with a smart smile thrown in his direction.
"No. I didn't mean it that way. I'm just surprised to see that you do stuff like that on your own."
"Who else is going to do it?"
Lance frowned and readjusted his backpack again by moving his shoulders around a little. "You act like I’m a spoiled brat or something."
EJ seemed to notice that he needed to move his backpack and she leaned over and pulled the strap up off his shoulder and replaced it a little to the outside of where it'd been.
"Thanks," he said softly.
She looked at him for a moment, as if she'd forgotten her place in their conversation then she seemed to remember. "Well not all of us just fly all over the country every day."
Lance frowned and let go of her hand, "I was working. It's not like I had a vacation day today. It's Saturday and I worked." She made a face at him and he sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm tired and cranky and I had a hell of a day."
"What happened?" she asked as they made their way into the parking lot.
He let her lead the way over to her truck, since he couldn't really remember what it looked like, and followed her over to it. "I sat in meetings all day. I had to meet with my artist's school district. She's still in high school and she wants to graduate, but the record company is making it hard for that to happen so there we were in Nashville with her parents, the school and the record company. It was a mess."
"Have you eaten?" she asked randomly.
Lance was confused. He couldn't tell if she was pissed at him or not. One minute she acted one way then the next she was mothering him. It was hard to try to figure out how he was supposed to act since he couldn't gage how she was going to act. "No," he said and scratched the back of his neck.
"You want to stop some place?" she asked walking to the far side of her truck.
"I thought you already ate?" he said going to the passenger door.
"Yeah well I could use a drink or some desert or something."
"What's with you and desert?" he asked with a laugh as he watched her unlock the door of the truck and get in the truck. He slid out of his backpack and held onto it while she leaned over and unlocked his door and opened it.
"I love desert, what's wrong with that?" she asked.
Lance got into the truck and settled himself into the seat, putting his backpack down by his feet. "Nice truck."
She laughed. "You really were drunk weren't you?"
He smiled sheepishly. "A little."
EJ leaned and put her purse on the floor between the two of them. When she came back up from leaning over she pushed her long hair over her shoulder. He hadn't noticed until then, but she really was pretty good looking considering all things. She turned and looked at him. "So do you want food?"
"I think I can throw something together at home," he said. He wanted nothing more than to go home and take a shower and get into bed and sleep the night away. He had to record in the morning again and he knew that his throat was going to be horrible if he didn't get some sleep. "Unless you want to go shopping for ice cream."
"We could do that," she said with a smile.
He was definitely confused now. For the life of him he thought he could at least guess what she was going to do, but he found himself floundering.
"You could go shopping," he said and tipped his chair back a little.
"You don't shop?"
"Not alone," he said, "And especially not in Orlando."
"Oh, come on," she said, "I'll protect you."
"I'm sure you could."
She started the car with a laugh and said, "Come on…one quick trip into the store."
Lance leaned his head back and asked, "Mind if I turn on the radio."
"No," she said as she pulled up to the little toll station for parking.
Lance reached for his wallet and handed her a twenty hand before she could reach for her purse. She stared at the money for a second then took it from him and paid the toll guy, while he flipped the channels on the radio.
He hit a station that was playing one of the group's songs and flipped past it quickly.
"Don't like listening to yourself?" she asked as she handed him the change from the parking toll.
"I listen to those songs every night for three months straight when we sing them, then there was the promotional tour that started….oh…about a year and a half ago…so you could say that I need some new tunes to listen to," he said looking at her. He didn't mean to be rude, but he hated that question from everyone. He liked the songs that were on the current album, but listening to other stuff was better for him than listening to himself sing.
"Well choose away…the radio is yours," she said.
Lance settled on the local country station and watched her reaction.
"I'm from Mississippi, what do you expect?" He laughed thinking about how many times people had given him such a strange reaction to his love of country music.
"So you really are a cowboy at heart?"
He laughed. "Not quite, but I like the music. I grew up on stuff like that."
A Garth Brooks song came on and Lance sat back and mouthed the words along to the song as EJ maneuvered through the streets towards whatever shopping place she was headed to.
EJ wanted to stare at him while she drove, but she knew she shouldn't. She could see the headlines now if they got into an accident. She'd probably be blamed for trying to kill him or something. And of course Lance would probably claim that she was a stalker. She really hated that he kept calling her that. She thought that she was a fan, but considering that she had seen the man over fifty or so times in the last year and hadn't asked for an autograph or any kind of anything from him she thought that stalker definitely wasn't a title for her.
"So where are we going?" he asked.
EJ laughed at the way he kept looking out the window as if he'd never been in Orlando before. She wondered if he really didn't know where they were or if he was just asking her where she was going since she knew a few short cuts through the traffic. "Do you ever know where you are?"
"I don't drive much anymore. Justin always teases me about having my old Explorer, but I really think it's crazy to have new cars if I can't ever be home long enough to enjoy them." He stopped and looked at her. "I've live in Orlando for almost six years now, but I can only seem to find my way from the studio to home then from home to the airport."
"Isn't that weird?" she asked.
"Everything about your life."
She glanced out of the side of her eye to see him take off his hat and scratch his head. "Whose life IS normal?"
"Mine," she said softly, "Or at least it's boring."
"And like mine is a bunch of laughs?"
"You always seem to be having fun."
"So you ARE a stalker," he said, "You HAVE been watching me."
"How can I not…hello Lance…I live in Orlando. It's kind of hard to ignore you guys."
She pulled into an open spot in the grocery store parking lot and turned off the engine. "Are you ready for our shopping experience?"
"Sure," he said and pulled his hat back on and pushed it low on his head.
They got out and went into the store. She watched Lance looking around. "Paranoid are we?"
"Wait until you get mobbed by a few hundred teenage girls a few times," he said.
She took his hand and pulled him along to the isle where the ice cream was. "Pick one," she said. She wondered if he would pick one himself. She hoped that the decision making act would keep his mind off of being paranoid about being in public.
Lance leaned into the freezer and picked out a thing of Ben and Jerry's then said, "Mind if I get a frozen pizza or something?"
"You can't eat a frozen pizza." She was having fun playing at this with him and wanted to play house a little more. She actually was fairly hungry herself since she'd been so nervous before when she'd eaten dinner with her father and she couldn't see herself eating frozen pizza with him.
"Do you have pasta at home?" she asked.
Lance looked like he was thinking for a minute. "Yeah."
"Good, then we're making spaghetti." She ignored the feeling in the back of her mind that told her that she was playing too well at this game and pulled him along so that she could get stuff for the sauce that she wanted to make.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"Sauce," she said.
"You are the domestic one, aren't you?"
She thought that maybe she should back off with her whole Martha Stewart act, but when he just looked at her with a smile she sighed and spoke softly. "Just a little."
It was becoming easier to pretend now…she and Lance were a couple and she was making him dinner…yeah…that sounded about right.
Twenty minutes later, with three grocery bags in hand Lance unlocked the door to the house, stepped in and turned off the alarm, then invited her in.
"Why don't you go take a shower and I'll make us dinner?"
Lance stared at her as she moved into the house and found her way to the kitchen. He heard her unpacking things and followed her. She was already making herself at home, pulling out pans that he'd forgotten he owned. He'd been eating take out or going over to Joey's parents' house to eat with the rest of the guys when he could and hadn't really don’t much in his kitchen except heat up left-overs. "You really don't have to make dinner."
"You'll be thanking me in about an hour," she said to him.
Lance shook his head. He wasn't too comfortable having her be that domestic in his house, but he figured if he was going to get a good meal out of it he should play along with it. She was a nice girl and they didn't seem to have too many conflicts with each other, besides, it might be nice to have someone to hang out with now that he was going to be in the city for awhile.
He had a million friends, but all of them seemed to come and go after his first few nights being home. After partying out the first four days of him being home they all seemed to get a little bored with it. He didn't expect them to hang out with him because he had free time and totally understood when they all had to go back to work.
What was he looking for now? He wasn't quite sure. He just wanted a one-on-one sort of relationship, a sleepy in front of the TV-movie watching type relationship to keep him a little grounded.
He made his way to his room, threw his backpack on the bed and stripped out of his clothes. He made his way into the shower and stood under the streaming water for a full fifteen minutes, first letting his head be soaked then he turned up the heat and let the massaging water work the kinks out of his back. He was dead tired and all he wanted to do was go to sleep, but he knew he couldn't kick EJ out times in one day.
Stepping out of the shower in a much better mood he wrapped himself in a towel and went to find his sweats. He remembered, half way into tearing into his top drawer that EJ had his sweats, so he grabbed out a pair of boxers and a pair of shorts and went to his closet to grab out a T-shirt. He threw the towel around his neck as he stared at his closet for a moment then rubbed the towel against his head a few times before randomly grabbing one of his gray shirts. He slid into it before going downstairs.
Half way out of his room he went back and grabbed his phone out of his backpack. He grabbed the extension cord thing from his dresser and took it with him down the stairs.
When he got back to the kitchen EJ was stirring the sauce. The vegetables that they'd gotten at the store were missing and he found that she had already washed off the cutting board and the knife that she must have used to cut them with.
"Have a good shower?" she asked not looking up at him.
"Yeah," he said. He moved cautiously into the kitchen and plugged in the cord in his hand then plugged his phone in.
"This should be done in about a half hour so go do whatever until it finishes."
"I'm going to watch TV," he said then found his way to the couch and flopped down. A stack of paperwork was waiting for him in the home office just off the living room, but he figured he'd get to it later. Enough with work for one day. He'd been at it for almost six hours today, or at least that’s how long his meetings had gone, and he needed a break.
He lay back and put his feet on the coffee table and flipped on the news. He hadn't been watching on a regular basis, but supposedly there was a huge court battle going on in Washington over something. Ever since his own court battle with the record company he had gotten away from watching the local news. He hated to hear about any court things and switched the channel to a movie station that was playing Fight Club.
Setting the remote down he leaned his head back and watched her in the kitchen. She was now washing something that he couldn't see in the sink. She looked up when he began to stare.
"You want a drink?"
"Why don't you sit down and watch TV or something…you're making me nervous."
"Sorry," she said with a frown.
"Its not that I don't appreciate the help with dinner and…it's just that I never have anyone over her is so domestic besides my mother…"
She stirred the pot one last time then set an alarm on the stove clock and came around and sat down on the couch with him.
EJ sat down and watched television as the smell of her sauce filled the room. She'd seen the movie before and sat next to Lance, her shoulder hitting into his as she breathed for almost fifteen minutes before she looked over to find that Lance was asleep.
He looked completely peaceful with his eyes closed and his arms thrown over his stomach as he slept. She decided to check on the sauce and maybe make the noodles before she woke him up. She decided that if she made the noodles and he was still asleep that she would leave. She didn't expect to spend the night, and wasn't planning on doing it unless he asked her to.
She moved away from him slowly and watched as he moved himself a little on the couch, but kept sleeping. She went into the kitchen, checked the sauce then put some water on to boil then went and sat back down next to Lance.
When she sat down this time he leaned against her shoulder. Carfully she reached up and patted his head. He leaned into her hand and mumbled something into her hand.
When her timer went off she thought that he might wake up, but he didn't, so she slipped away from him for the second time that night and went and cooked the noodles.
When everything was done she went over to Lance and nudged him. "Lance, dinner's ready."
He mumbled something and leaned over more fully onto the couch.
Seeing that he wasn't going to get up she moved his feet from the coffee table and found a blanket under an endtable and threw it over him.
She mixed the noodles and the sauce and put the mixture into the refridgerator and found her way out of the house. She didn't know exactly why she didn't curl up with him on the couch and fall asleep, but she felt like she should go home. She wasn't exactly his girlfriend and she thought she should end her little play-acting session before she got herself into some trouble.
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Last updated: 07/07/04.