As he made his way in the direction of the stage for sound check two hours after he'd arrived at the Coliseum, Lance was sure that hot showers could cure anything. He'd taken one that morning at the hotel and felt like a new person. It wasn't as good as going home and taking one there, but it felt damn close to it.
The hot water had loosened the right side of his neck that had been stiff after he'd woken up from his nap in the bus. It had also calmed the pain in his arm and shoulder from a sharp pinch into a dull ache, which he decided he could live with for the day. The bonus was that it had also done wonders for his mood. It was as if the frustrated guy he'd been the night before on the phone with Carrah, and the one that had snapped and Justin and Meredith had been washed away by the hot spray of the shower, at least for the moment.
As he got down from the sky-boxes that everyone had been hanging out in he stepped past some of the crew and made his way out to the far side of the stage to make a phone call. The hallways of the coliseum were made of cement and the cool air there had sent a chill through him despite the seventy-degree weather in the sun. When he stepped out from the hallway in his sweatshirt he reminded himself to take it off when they went on stage or he'd get too hot.
"Hey girl," he said when the answering machine picked up. He'd dialed Carrah's number knowing that she was out, but decided that he should leave her a message while he was thinking about it because later on in the day he might not be able to. "I'm really sorry about snapping last night. I didn't get enough sleep and..." He sighed then continued, "Crap Carrah, you know there isn't an excuse that can make up for it, but I hope that this will at least pave over some of the cracks...anyway call me later or I'll call you...bye."
He flipped close the phone and shoved it into his pocket then saw Melinda wave at him from the stage. He stood on his tiptoes for a moment and looked over towards where the group for the sound check party was gathering which of course sent a scream through the crowd. He didn't even know how they'd seen him, but someone had caught sight of him and soon four hundred or so people were standing there watching him. He threw an arm up then pointed that he was on his way around the back to come out on stage.
Fifteen minutes later the five of them were waiting to go on stage and Lance was just now hearing of the fight that occurred that morning. He'd been on a string of phone calls setting up things for the days that they were in LA when it had happened so he hadn't seen what Justin was now describing as a WWF match that had almost been played out in the hall. Lance expected it to be between two crewmembers, but he found that it had been the tour manager for Farzana who had tried to take on Tiny. From Justin's story it sounded like this woman had a death wish. He described her as being a fairly tall woman, but even with that it seemed like a kamikaze trip to start in on Tiny about something. Even Melinda wouldn't take him on and she was the toughest woman Lance had ever met.
"You should have seen her." Justin's eyes went wide with excitement as he described out the woman had gotten up in Tiny's face, "She yelled at me before because I saw her naked, but this was classic--worse than the time that Mike took Melinda's clothes and dunked them in the Jacuzzi. She marched up to Tiny and basically challenged him to throw down with her." He made punching movements with his hands as if mimicking the fight.
"Wait a minute...You saw her naked?" Chris asked.
"Yeah," Justin said, "I was looking for Mere and walked in on her--nice tits and ass--but a mouth on her like--"
Lance watched as Chris's eyes grow wide then a mischievous look crossed his face before he turned and made a so that he was looking down the hall. Lance knew immediately what he was going to do considering that Justin's girlfriend was standing about fifty feet away with her bodyguard looking at some paperwork. "Meredith...your man is a pervert!"
As expected she turned her head and fixed her ponytail then put her hand to her mouth and blew him a kiss, "That isn't news to me Chris!"
"Thanks Bear!" Justin called sarcastically as he rolled his eyes.
"I'm not talking to you!" she said with an evil look in his direction, but a playful tone to her voice and turned away from him.
"What's that all about?" Lance asked feeling suddenly as if he'd missed out more than he should have that morning while he was working. The last time he'd seen them together was when he'd yelled at them for making out so it was news to him to see them not hanging all over each other.
Justin shook his head then ran down, quickly avoiding not only the arm that Mike put out to stop him, but also Loni who was trying to keep them all together so they wouldn't mess up the schedule for the day. When Justin made it over to her he came up behind her, put his arms around her and then turned her around and kissed her then ran back before she could say anything slapping fives with both Loni and Mike on his way back by.
"You guys ok?" he asked when Justin returned. He normally could give a crap about what was going on in Justin's personal life. His schedule left him little time to even have one of his own, but since Meredith had become their opening act, and had become his honorary bus-mate, all the personal things that Lance had ignored in the past were now being played out in his living room.
"I made fun of her a little while ago and she got mad," he said adjusting his sweatshirt and baseball hat, "It's nothing."
The two black buses parked off to the far end of the secured backstage area stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the blue and gray and brown and reddish buses in their entourage even though they were the same style. When he approached the cigarette-smoking driver he smiled and looked up at the bus, "Is this Farzana's bus?"
He noticed the way that the guy looked at his security badge before he nodded. Being satisfied that Lance belonged there he took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, "Hers is the first one." He walked over opened up the door for him to let him in.
After two deep breaths and a quick pause to rub his shoulder he stepped up into the bus. Instantly he saw that it looked like home, except it smelled girlie. He wouldn't be able to put a finger on the exact scent, but it was something flowery that screamed that a woman lived on the bus. His own bus smelled like that after Meredith would come to spend a night with them.
The place looked empty for the most part then he saw her. There was a young girl sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar lying long ways across the table in front of her and a pair of needle-nosed pliers in her right hand. Her long dark hair had been braided out into two long braids that fell over her shoulders and she seemed to be sitting on her knees or something so that she could look down at the guitar instead of across at it. She had her tongue held between her lips concentrating hard on the object in front of her as her hands moved quickly over the guitar.
"What are you doing?" he asked panicking when he saw the way she was using the pliers. He put a hand out to stop her when she took the pliers and had one of the guitar strings between the teeth of the tool. "I don't think you're supposed to touch that."
Her whole body jumped when he spoke, due to the zone of concentration she'd been in, and the pliers she had in her hand cut through the string, sending it flying up at her. Luckily she dodged it. It hit her shoulder. A groan echoed through the tiny room. "Dang it!" the little girl said angrily. She glared up at him with an evil look that he didn't think most kids her age knew how to make. "Why the heck did you scare me? Now I have to start over!"
A woman's voice came from the back of the bus a moment later. "Honey who are you talking to?"
"Lance Bass!" she yelled back angrily as she began to pull the string from where she'd been working. She had to put the pliers down and work at it for a minute, but she got the thing free and threw it across the booth into the far seat, "He made me cut the wire...now I gotta start over."
Lance stood in the doorway feeling horrible about what he'd done, but at the same time tried to work through the confusion of the moment. The girl was too young to be Farzana. He knew that she was almost twenty, but this girl looked right at home in her seat.
"It's ok sweetie, we've got time."
He expected to find a sweet looking woman emerge from the back, but when she entered the kitchen seating area Lance knew that this was the woman that had been fighting with Tiny. She had her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and she wore jeans and a sleeveless black T-shirt that somehow made him think of a WWF wrestler due to Justin's story. Maybe she was the woman's version of Stone Cold Steve Austin. If she were judged on the look on her face she'd be him. She wore a scowl on her face that clouded over what he thought might be pretty blue eyes as she walked over to where he was standing, "That'll be fifteen bucks."
"Are you kidding me?" he asked looking down at the palm of her right hand that she held out to him as if waiting to be paid.
She didn't move a muscle. "Fifteen bucks for a new replacement string."
Lance stepped back a little and his arms immediately crossed defensively across his chest. "Excuse me?"
"You break it you bought it," she stated angrily.
"But the kid was the one who broke it," he pointed over at the girl at the table as she continued her work, "I tried to stop her, but she cut it anyway."
"Stop her?" the woman said, "She's in the middle of restringing it...why would she need to stop?"
Lance cringed a little. He'd definitely just got himself into a mess. "She's restringing it?"
"She's my guitar tech. I wouldn't let her near that thing if she didn't know what she was doing."
"She's your guitar techie?" Lance asked, "You've got to be kidding me. I know that opening acts were tight on cash and all, but don't you think that you should be--"
"Hey!" the girl finally said, "My Uncle Joe said I'm good at this!"
"Who's your Uncle Joe?"
"Joe Satriani!" she stated puffing her chest out a little proudly, "He's the best guitarist in the world."
Lance knew of Joe Satriani, Chris or Troy or Kevin had a few of his CD's and it was true that he was one of the best guitarists around, but that still didn't explain why a kid was their guitar tech.
"Fifteen bucks," the woman repeated.
"Fifteen," Lance sighed and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. He normally didn't have a lot of cash with him, but he found a twenty and handed it over, "Got change."
"No," she said and pocketed the money and walked back into the back, leaving Lance standing there.
He would have normally run after her about the money, but when he looked over and saw the girl sitting there practically in tears now trying to fix the mess that had been made of the strings he thought better of it. He'd become more conscious these days of what he did in front of people. If they'd been alone he would have fought the woman to the death over every penny that she wanted to extort from him, but the girl at the table had calmed him in that pursuit. He'd seen her earlier in the hallway watching the group of them and he'd seen that loving look in her eyes. He wasn't about to ruin the picture she had of all of them in her head by being a mean guy about the money. It was a blow to his ego to have to give into the woman, but it would save him the hassle of dealing with things later.
When the girl went back to her work and ignored him Lance slid into the far side of the booth from her. "Hey Kid, who was that?" Lance asked.
"My mom," she said, "And it's Gabby."
"Sorry Gabby." He stared back at the door to the back room. "THAT was your mom?" he asked, "How old is she? How old are you for that matter?"
"She's twenty six and I'm seven," she said.
Lance was floored. This woman was only a few years older than him and had a seven-year-old kid. It wasn't at all out of the ordinary since she'd been pregnant with her in her late teens, but the idea that she was where she was today amazed him.
"So Gabby," Lance said making himself comfortable, "How long have you been working on guitars?"
"Since I was six," she said not taking her eyes off her work as she wound the string around the tuning heads. "I helped my dad out for a while and now that he's in London with Uncle Joe I get to be the techie."
"That's a pretty important job," he said.
"Yeah well Farzana doesn't trust anyone except me and my dad with her guitar...not even her brother."
"WOW," Lance said and checked his watch knowing that he had an interview to do in a while. He watched her for a moment more then asked, "So what were you doing in the quiet room?"
She immediately stopped her work and looked at him with attitude in her eyes, "I didn't steal anything...that big jerk said that I was, but I wasn't."
"Well what were you doing?" he asked.
She put down the pliers and looked at him with a serious expression. "You aren't gonna call the cops on me are you?"
"No," Lance said with a laugh, "I just wanted to know what you were doing in there."
"I snuck in there because of the sunflowers."
"The sunflowers?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said and went back to working. "It's my Mom's birthday and Rodney told me he'd take me shopping." She turned the guitar a little and cranked hard on the tuning head then ran her fingers across the strings. The sound wasn't perfect, but he had a feeling that she'd be able to fix that. "Anyway...he didn't get to and I figured that since you and the other guys get so many flowers that you wouldn't mind letting me borrow one little flower from you...but that big jerk caught me and then he and my mom fought in the hallway." She looked up at him, "I love it when she wins fights."
"That big jer--that guy has a name. His name is Tiny," Lance said trying not to sound too patronizing with her.
Lance could hear a cell phone ring in the back and a moment later he heard the woman's voice in the back talking. She was barking orders for a moment then would speak then would bark out orders again.
"What idiot made up that name?" Gabby asked interrupting his concentration on the conversation in the back, "That guy isn't tiny."
Lance smiled at her, "Yeah...I know...that's kinda the point though."
"For you guys being old you sure are stupid."
"Gabby!" the woman's voice said from the back, "Get that guitar done. Farzana is on her way and she wants it tuned up."
"OK mom," she said.
"Well I guess that's my cue to leave," he said, "I guess I'll be seeing you around."
"Ok," she said, "Tell Justin I said hi."
Lance threw her another smile then pushed himself out of his chair and went for the door. "It was nice meeting you Gabby and tell your mom--"
"Patty," Gabby supplied.
"Tell your mom Patty that it was nice meeting her too."
From the buses Lance walked around for a little on his own. He thought about going to get dinner, but realized that it was too early to eat so he messaged his sister a few times on his two-way pager. She was going to be coming out to LA for the weekend so he checked on her flight times then she made a big deal about him making sure that he'd made all the calls that he needed to.
As the fans were let in for the evening Lance decided that he needed a little space. He thought about going back out to the buses, but instead found a quiet corner in the strangest of places. He wouldn't normally go looking for Meredith since he'd been seeing so much of her these days, but when he found that her dressing room was void of people, only her and her hairdresser were in there he snuck in and took a seat in a chair facing her.
"So what happened?" Meredith asked looking at him in the mirror. "I see that you're still all in one piece so the bitch didn't eat you alive."
"I met her kid," Lance said, "And she definitely is a character, but--" He sighed and looked at himself in the mirror for a moment.
"They let her reproduce?" Meredith said.
"Gabby seems like a great kid...ended up stealing some flowers or something from the quiet room, but other than that seems pretty smart."
"She's a thief?"
Lance sighed and rubbed his shoulder. The pain was coming back, but he figured it was just due to the excitement of the show coming up. With his adrenaline level beginning to rise his heart rate was faster, sending more blood to the sore area. "It's Patty's birthday so she thought she'd get a flower for her and the only ones around for her to borrow from were ours."
Meredith narrowed her eyes and looked at Lance, "She better not be caught in here or I'll sue her little butt...and I'm sure that Gritty wouldn't be to happy to see her in here."
"Whatever Meredith," Lance said with a laugh, "Knowing you the little girl would become your groupie since I know you have some evil Jedi mind shit going on with Justin."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"Like you haven't noticed how whipped your man is?" Lance asked.
His two-way pager received another message and he read it. It was from his mom wishing him luck and while it should have been something to lift his spirits he only felt worse about things since she was two thousand miles away home in Mississippi.
Snuggling down in his chair he let his eyes droop a little as he watched Meredith. She gave him a look in the mirror at one point then turned around in her seat to face him. "You ok?"
Lance rubbed his arm a little and nodded, "I just need more sleep."
"Want me to wake you up when I go on?" she asked.
"Nah," he said and pushed himself out of his chair came over to her and kissed her on the cheek, "I'm sorry about blowing up last night...have a good set, k?"
She nodded and watched him walk out of the room, when he looked back at the door she was still watching him.
"OK Oakland, we need your help with this next little bit," Justin began to say. Lance looked over at him and motioned asking for a reason for the change up in the show. He'd been almost ready to start walking down the runway out to the middle stage to sing Fallen when Justin stopped the show. It was normal that if there needed to be announcements made that this would be the time to do it, but he hadn't been informed of anything. "We have a birthday today and we thought we'd embarrass that person and have you all sing."
Lance looked around and tried to figure out what was going on. It wasn't any of the crew's birthdays or if it was he had completely forgotten about it so he was just as clueless as the crowd for the moment.
That's when he saw what was going on. Farzana, who he'd first seen when she was walking towards the stage that night and Patty and Gabby and what he assumed was Farzana's guard were standing on the edge of the stage next to Loni and Mike and he realized what must have happened. Gabby had said that it was her birthday so they must have planned it while he'd taken a shower earlier that night before he went on stage. His arm had been acting up again and he'd needed another shower to get it in working order.
"You guys like Farzana earlier tonight didn't you?" Justin called out to the crowd.
Screams filled the air.
"Well Farzana has this tour manager who joined us just this morning on tour and since we haven't really done anything special for her all day we thought we'd give her a little stage time."
Loni and Mike both brought Patty onto the stage. He stood there for a moment waiting to watch her fight back, but she didn't. She just stood there with all of them in the middle of the stage and looked frightened. Lance actually felt bad for her. She looked frozen even though she was standing on stage in a sweatshirt and jeans.
Even he had days that he felt completely out of it on stage. Earlier that night as he came on stage for the first time he'd stood on the middle stage and stared out into the crowd. Being that high up, about two stories off the ground in itself was fairly scary, but standing there looking out at the blur of all those people had gotten to him. Forty thousand people were staring at him at that moment, sharing the same air and space as him, and yet he'd felt completely alone...like no one in the entire place, no one in those forty thousand people even had a clue what was going on with him. Even the other guys seemed to be far away though they were standing right next to him.
Lance leaned over and spoke to Patty trying to be nice to her since she seemed so uncomfortable about things. He'd gotten totally used to being on stage in front of all of those people and it usually took him off guard that someone would be frightened to be up there with them. "It'll all be over in a minute...just smile."
Patty looked at him, gave him a dirty look then went with Justin as he came to pull her forward so everyone could sing.
Lance sang along in a daze then watched as she left the stage. He saw her as soon as she got off stage and although he couldn't hear her he had a feeling that they were all going to pay for Justin's great idea. He still didn't even know how Justin knew about the birthday, but figured someone had told him.
When she disappeared fully from his sight Lance turned back to the crowd and the task at hand.
His arm ached and his stomach hurt and his head was pounding as he stumbled half blindly into the bathroom. He flipped on the water in the shower then stepped in, forgetting to slide out of his boxers. His shoulder hurt. A piercing pain there that made the rest of his body feel weak.
Whatever pain he'd ever felt in his life paled in comparison to the squeezing feeling that invaded his chest that night. He'd pulled muscles, sprained ankles, even broken bones, but in no way could those bouts of pain hold a candle to this. As it seemed to take over every nerve ending in his body he slid down so that he was leaned against the shower wall and moved so that the water sprayed directly on his chest and shoulder. This hadn't happened in a while and he had forgotten how much of a pain it was to have this happen. The doctor had warned him last time to take it easy, but with his lifestyle there was no easy way to do things.
"I'm fine. It's nothing. I'm fine," he mumbled over and over again as he too his right hand and massaged his shoulder, going as far as to punch the skin to get some kind of pain that wasn't from whatever it was that had taken over.
"He-he-who-he-he-who. He-he-who-he-he-who," he repeated. He wasn't usually one to cry but the pain became too much. Tears streamed from his eyes as his breathing got more shallow.
He thought or a long time about getting up to all someone, he knew this was something to have someone look at, but anytime he moved it hurt more so he stayed where he was and tried to breathe through it. He would have laughed at himself for copying that whole pregnant lady Lamaze stuff but he found that it worked so he kept up with it.
"Damn it," he finally breathed out, "When was the last time you cried." In a strange way, the anger that he felt about crying was actually a good distraction. Keeping his mind on searching for a time that he'd cried kept it off the pain.
Time seemed to pass slowly, but soon his eyes began to droop and he thought that he drifted off to sleep for a while because soon he was being lifted into a standing position. Two people carried him into the other room after trying to help him dry off. Either the pain had faded or he'd become immune to it, but he didn't feel a thing as he was carried back into the bedroom and put to bed. He was so tired that nothing that they were saying or doing seemed to make it into his brain.
When he caught sight of the time he figured that it was Mike and Loni doing bed check. He hadn't gone out that night with the others which meant being without security so when they returned from clubbing they usually would come up and check on whoever didn't go out that night to make sure that the evening had gone ok.
He didn't hear most of what they said and wouldn't have been able to pick out who they were in the first place. He just listened enough to answer no when they asked if he needed to go to the hospital. Mike and Loni had been with him the last time this had happened and while they gave him worried looks they'd come to trust that he could call the shots when it came to dealing with his condition.
It wasn't every day that a guy in their early twenties found out about a heart condition, but Lance being the student that he was had spent the last few months reading up on the subject. In times when he wasn't in so much pain he could have described the medical version of what was going on with him, but now, in the eye of the storm all he could do was bite his lip and try not to swear out loud.
After a while his brain seemed to shut down. He didn't know if they were still there, but when they left his field of vision he pinched his eyes closed and pulled the pillow up to his face to block out the rest of the world. Normally before he went to sleep he'd be worried about when to get up in the morning, but that night he didn't care at all.