The sound of the phone ringing in the middle of the night would scare any person and Colleen was no different. After being startled awake her adrenaline was rushing through her veins so hard that she had to work on catching her breath. "Hello?"
She pushed back the blankets and started to get out of bed. "Who is this?"
She rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock. It was insane to be even awake at this time of night let alone be functioning enough to dial a phone. "Jesus."
"I didn't--I didn't interrupt something did I?" he asked.
"What?" she asked.
"You sound winded," he spoke softly, "I didn't interrupt--something did I?"
"No," she said, "I was just dead--" She yawned. "--I was dead asleep and I usually don't get calls in the middle of the night. For a minute I thought something had happened to Stacey or Spencer or something."
"Sorry about that." He paused. "I knew I should have called you early, but I had to reschedule a flight and detour to Atlanta from Orlando so I didn't have much time. I had to repack."
"That's great and all I'm sure," she said feeling cranky. "What are you doing calling me in the middle of the night? I just talked to you last night and you said you'd be busy--"
"I'm sorry. God I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--" He sighed, "I'm on my way to get on a plane to come to LA for a meeting in the morning and I thought I'd see if you were going to be around."
"Tomorrow morning?" she asked.
"Tomorrow night," he said, "I've got a meeting around ten with the television people and then I'm going to be going to lunch with JC and Farzana. I'm not due back on the east coast for a day or so. I thought I'd stop by and maybe take you out to dinner or something."
"I've got plans," she said.
"Oh, well ok. I guess--"
"You could come with us."
"Stacey and Spencer and I have a tradition to go out at least every other weekend. You could tag along. It'll be real low key. We get dinner then see if there is a movie or something to see."
"That sounds great," he rushed. "I've gotta get on this flight, but call me ok? Leave me directions or whatever plans you guys make. I'll have my phone off until about noon."
"Bye sugar," he said, "Sorry for waking you up."
"It's not a bother. I'll see you tomorrow either way."
"You can count on it," he said.
[The Next night...]
"Yes," she said turning from where she had already started to go into the door.
He looked at the sign again, his reservations about the evening's activities clearly on his face. "This is definitely something I've never done before."
She sighed. "You aren't lactose intolerant are you?"
"No." He turned up his nose thinking of insane jokes that Joey and Justin had told in the past about lactose intolerant, none that would be worth repeating that night. "What does that have to do with it?"
"It's cheese," she said with a smile. "You dip everything in cheese."
"I'd like to dip you in cheese," he mumbled to himself.
"Nothing." He sighed. "Where are you from again?" he asked shaking his head. He didn't mean to be rude, but Fondue wasn't something that people in the south were fond of. He knew about the dish from eating in some places in Europe, but he never knew that someone would like it enough to make a whole restaurant serving only foods that were dipped in cheese. His appreciated for cheese stopped at having macaroni and cheese.
"Come on." She moved away from the door and went to hold his hand. She leaned and kissed him. "Dinner is everything with cheese and then desert is everything with chocolate."
"Chocolate?" he asked looking at her sideways. "I think I can handle the cheese if we get to the chocolate later."
If she caught the double meaning in his words she didn't show it. She smiled, that smile where she was actually smiling, not the smile that she sometimes seemed to force onto her lips to make everyone around think that everything was ok. He'd seen it on her face on the plane.
"Stacey is going to love this tonight," she said.
He stopped short when she tried to pull him in the door. "Stacey?"
"Yeah. It's a group thing."
"I thought you and I were going to meet up with them later." He began to slow his steps.
"Lance don't worry," she said, "It's just Stacey and Spencer and you and me. She just got finished working on a big case and he promised her dinner and I thought it would be a good night to meet up with you. They're going to be in such good moods that--"
"That they won't rip me to pieces?" he asked cocking an eyebrow. He'd seen the women and men in his life attack potential and current girlfriend and boyfriends and he didn't think that he had the patience to sit through that tonight.
"She's heard all about you--" Her face turned a little pink. "I was telling her how you took me out in New York and--and after that one phone call right after we met, when she answered, she's been asking about you."
"I don't know," he said pulling back.
"Lance it's not like you're meeting my parents or anything." She sighed. "You woke me up in the middle of the night. I'm picking the plan for the night." She smiled at him and took his hand. "I just thought we'd hang out with them for a few hours." She sighed when he didn't give her a look to show that he was comfortable about the situation. "It's not turning this into something strange. I just thought it would be fun."
He shrugged his shoulders a few times trying to work out some of the tension there. "Ok."
"It'll be ok," she reassured him with another kiss.
He wrapped an arm around her back and pulled her against him. "You better not leave me alone with them."
She crinkled her nose and made a funny face at him. "You're acting like such a girl about this."
"It's not that," he said, "I just don't know--" He took a breath trying to find the words to explain to her the difficulties he'd had the last few months dealing with people that were outside of the business. Colleen was the first person outside of his small group of friends that he'd exchanged more than a few words with that didn't have some connection to his career or music in general.
"You'll love them," she said, "Believe me. They're big into music and they travel a lot. You'll at least have that much in common."
He nodded and followed her inside.
At the table he was met by Stacey and Spencer. He instantly noticed how casual they were. He'd dealt with a hundred and one lawyers before and had expected them to be more formal, but they took their seats he found them lounging in their chairs and already starting into drinks.
"Wait," Stacey said.
She put a hand out and leaned half way over the table. "Move over."
Lance looked at Stacey and Spencer and got nervous. He knew that he'd been out of the social circles of most people, but this strange custom wasn't something he'd heard of before.
"Don't worry," Spencer said, "These girls have this game that they like to play when they come here. I'm sure you'll get the hang of it, but you have to sit in the right order or you'll be kissing me."
"Kissing you?" Lance looked around wondering what he'd gotten himself into. This definitely wasn't something that he wanted to sign up for.
"Sit down," Colleen finally said when she'd scooted into the booth they'd be sharing so that he was on her left side.
"I'm Michael," the other man at the table.
"Michael?" he asked. He panicked for a moment thinking that he was losing his mind. He could have sworn that she'd said his name was Spencer. It was a bit of a tradition for him to remember names of people. He normally came by the talent easily, but as with everything about Colleen things weren't always as he expected them to be.
"Michael Spencer," Colleen said. "He's junior so instead of Michael his dad is Michael and he is Spencer. Besides. Doesn't Stacey and Spencer sound better than Stacey and Michael?"
"I wouldn't know," he said, "I dated a girl named Laura for a while and that made people sick. Lance and Laura...if they switched me to Luke we'd turn into a soap opera."
"I think that Colleen and Lance sound good together," Colleen leaned towards him a little and her hand came to rest on his thigh.
He sat and watched her flirt with him for a moment with her expression. "So, what's the deal with the game?"
"She just wants an excuse to make out with you--" Stacey sat back and suddenly seemed tougher than she had moments before.
"REE!" She turned towards Lance and smiled. "It's the fondue game."
"More like fondle game," Spencer said pinching Stacey's side making her almost spill the drink she was about to drink.
"Stop it," she said, "I mean it honey. You make me spill any of this on me and I'll iron your shirts for you."
His hands flew from her sides. "Ok. I'll stop."
Colleen turned and leaned towards him. "Stacey and irons don't get along."
"No," Stacey said, "Let me clarify that. My iron doesn't get along with his shirts. I never mess up my own stuff, but something always happens to his stuff."
"That's why I love my profession," he joked, "Wardrobe people always get blamed for that stuff and I never date them so it doesn't cause relationship troubles."
"Well at least Colleen knows how to use an iron and can wash laundry fairly well," Stacey's man said.
"Thanks," she said, "I'll put that on my resume when I apply for the part of the washer woman in my next life."
The waitress came up to take their drink orders. Lance thought about ordering something he'd like, but when he noticed what Spencer had so he ordered the same thing, not sure what exactly one should drink when they were eating fondue.
"So what are we going to order tonight?" Stacey asked.
Lance took a deep breath and concentrated on the menu. He saw mostly normal food, breads, veggies and some meatball thingies that seemed to be the popular choice of everyone at the table, but his eyes stayed on the listing of chocolate desert choices as conversation started between the rest of them.
It wasn't long though until she was excusing herself to go to the rest room. He thought for a moment that he might excuse himself too so that he wouldn't have to sit alone with her friends, but she didn't give him a chance. She leaned and kissed him and whispered into his ear. "Don't worry. They don't bite."
Colleen slid out of the booth and looked over at Stacey. "Just order what we normally get and see if Lance wants anything different."
Lance watched her leave and then turned back to the couple in front of them. Both of them seemed to be staring at him. He'd had people do that to him before, but this time it was a different feeling that he seemed to instantly drown in.
"So, Colleen said that you two are lawyers and just won a new case?"
"Yeah," Stacey smiled. The firm I work with just won a big case against a man who was trying to scam his company out of unemployment benefits."
"It's great to see the system working correctly."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," he said and readjusted the position he was sitting in. "I like the idea that a company was getting what it needed from a case like that and that the guy didn't get away with lying."
"Stacey the case is over. Retract the claws."
"Spencer." She glared at him.
"Honey. Really. It's just a comment."
"You should hear the stuff they say about me," Lance said with a laugh. "This week I think I'm linked to Kathy Lee Gifford!"
"Speaking of that," she said and leaned across the table, "And not that I want to be telling you what to do--"
"Excuse her. Too many hours in the court room."
"Spencer, let me say this. I think he needs to know where I'm coming from."
"She's a little overprotective too--"
"If you aren't in this for the right reason, I suggest you get the fuck out now, because if you hurt her, I will make your life a living hell. I don't care if you are a big time space man pop star. You screw with my friend's head...you deal with my wrath."
When she returned to the table she knew something was wrong. As she approached the table she was liking the way things looked. She liked the idea of returning to the table to find someone waiting for her. Of course Stacey and her man would always be there for her, but the idea that having Lance there might become a habit seemed like something she wanted to continue with. She still didn't know if their fling was going to turn into something more, but the possibility of that happening put a smile on her face.
The smile faded though when she saw how uncomfortable everyone at the table looked. No one said a word to her as she slid into the booth and when she tried to catch Lance's eye straight on he just smiled at her, but she could tell that something had happened while she'd been in the bathroom. Her heart prayed that Stacey hadn't gotten too overly protective about her. She knew she had a tendency to use her court-room attack mode on people, which logically was a great asset to have, but at the same time sometimes in real life seemed to offend people that weren't ready for it. She meant well, but Stacey could sometimes be more protective than a father with a sixteen year old daughter that looked like Britney Spears. Pity had to go out to the person that tried to mess with her when Stacey was putting her two cents in.
"You ok?" she asked leaning her shoulder into Lance's as the waitress brought out the plates of food and the fondue pot.
"Yeah," he said keeping his eyes on Stacey across the table as he lifted his drink to his mouth.
When he was finished drinking she put a hand to his chin. Her fingers gripped the slight scruff of his goatee and forced him to look at her. She glared into his eyes finding herself scared of the anger that she saw in his eyes. "Are you sure you're ok?"
He moved her hand away from his mouth with a little force and his head bobbed to show her that he was fine. "I'm just catching up with my jet lag and zoning out." He must have seen how the action had offended her so he slid a hand under the table and gave hers a squeeze. "I'm fine."
Silence filled the space between the four people at the table and for an instant she picture that this would be the last time she ever was to see Lance due to his reaction to them, but Stacey's man saved the day. "Girls you have to explain to Lance about the Fondue game."
"You do it," Stacey said leaning to hit her hand against the table nearest Colleen.
"Ok." Colleen moved her hair out of her face and took a quick drink before starting. "Basically it's like this sick and twisted game about being neat when you eat."
"Neat when you eat?" he asked starting to relax a little.
"Every time you drip cheese or drop something into the fondue pot or off your skewer thing you kiss the person that you came with."
"Ok," he said shaking his head.
"The more you drink though the more these girls seem to drop stuff--" Stacey's man put an arm around her and pulled her closer to him, placing a kiss on her temple. "So basically we've been calling this game the FONDLE game instead of the fondue game."
"I don't think I've ever heard you complain Mister."
"I wasn't complaining," he said, "I just don't want him to get offended if you end up crawling up in my lap like you did that time we were out with my brothers."
Stacey hit at him and finally smiled and Colleen began to laugh. She saw her friend get more relaxed at the table, saw Lance's whole body relax and she knew the rest of the night was going to be ok.
"Are you guys ready to try it?" Colleen finally said moving the plates a little and handing out the skewers. She immediately stuck a piece of broccoli on the end of hers, dipped it and handed it to Lance. She figured that was a food that most people had eaten with cheese before so it wasn't something he was going to hate.
When Stacey let out a laugh she looked over at her friend. "What?"
"You were so careful about making sure you didn't stick that thing up his nose that you didn't see what you did." She smiled and pointed at the blob of cheese that had fallen on his plate in front of him as he chewed the piece of broccoli that she'd made him eat.
He finished chewing, licked a little cheese off his lips and looked at her. "It's your game." He shrugged a little and moments later their lips were locked in a sweet kiss.
She'd played this game before with other dates, but there was something about the way Lance captured her lips and how his kiss made her forget that they were in a busy restaurant that again made her hope that there was something more there between them. She didn't want to think that way. She actually had spent the better part of the morning and afternoon before he'd picked her up trying to force herself not to, but she couldn't help it. She wanted this. She wanted the fairy tale relationship. It seemed extreme, but she was going to go to just about any lengths to keep it going just a few more minutes, a few more hours, or however long Lance would lend himself to be tricked into staying.
Watching Colleen walk toward the Ladies Room, Lance let a grin slide across his face. If nothing else, the girl knew how to walk.. The club was loud and crowded, but he hadn’t been approached at all. He was relaxing and had been dancing with her all night.
Tipping his beer back, he let the cold liquid slip down his throat and his eyes slowly closed as he thought back on the events of the night. With the exception of Stacey threatening him before dinner, the evening had been pleasant.
His eyes opened slowly and he leaned back against a pillar. Scanning the room he spotted Spencer heading toward the bathrooms and suddenly, he knew he was no longer standing there by himself. Stacey stepped out of a shadow and slowly moved to stand right in front of him.
She was five foot nothing, and had a small build, but this woman was somehow very intimidating. Her eyes slowly scanned his face and she shook her head, “You know what?”
Taking another long swallow of his beer Lance raised an eyebrow, “What?”
She straightened slightly, obviously not appreciating his sarcastic tone, “I don’t like you.”
Chuckling slightly, he crossed his arms, “Is that so?”
“Yeah. That’s so.”
“Is there a reason, or is this just a personality thing?”
Taking a step closer she lowered her voice. It was clear that she had to be a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom. She was obviously born into her profession, “You are clearly not aware of who you are fucking with here.”
“You don’t know me.” He was annoyed that she was cornering him for the second time. In the restaurant, he’d been taken completely off guard, but now he was a little drunk and feeling a lot bolder.
“No. No I don’t. But from what I have seen, I don’t want to get to know you either. You need to know that Colleen is NOT some piece of ass you can sleep with, keep around as a fuck buddy and then move on when you get bored.”
“Colleen is a big girl. She can take care of herself.”
“Fuck you. Colleen is a sweet, kind, caring, gentle person who doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t open up to guys and falls hard. She may be TRYING to play by your rules, but it’s going to catch up with her and it’s going to devastate her and if you’re not going to be around to pick up the pieces, leave now.”
“What in the hell are you talking about? My rules? WHAT is going to catch up?”
Her eyes never left his and he wondered if she did this to witnesses on the stand, if she just starred them down until they confessed to something just to get her to stop, “She doesn’t know how to do this. She has never had casual sex and she has never moved in a circle like yours. She thinks she’s out dancing with a guy she’s having fun with. She’s not thinking her face could be plastered all over tabloids tomorrow morning with headlines like ‘Lance’s Flavor of the Week’. She doesn’t KNOW that she’s the flavor of the week and she deserves a lot more than that. She is going to HAVE to deal with the fact that she slept with you the first night she met you at some point and the emotional fallout from that could be HUGE.”
“She knew what she was doing.”
“Bull shit. YOU knew what YOU were doing. She was following her emotions, you just don’t get it. I told you once, and this is the last time I will tell you this: if she gets hurt, you will not know what hit you. I will punish you. See, that’s what you don’t seem to understand here. Where Colleen is sweet, I'm not. Where she’s kind, I’m not. She cares about EVERYONE, I…I care about HER. She doesn’t need to be cold and hard because her best friend, who would die for her is a raging bitch that will take care of her when she isn’t able.”
“You’re insane.” His eyebrows drew together.
Stacey cocked her head, “You’re probably right.” She nodded, “But that’s just one more thing for you to worry about isn’t it?”