Maybe it was the fact that he'd been in the same place for more than two days or the fact that his schedule had gone from working twenty-four hours a day to not working at all, but either way, when JC woke up the next morning just after ten in the morning he felt like he'd been hit by a truck.  His ankles and knees and hips felt like he'd been put through an eighteen-hour day of rehearsals, even though the days before had been unusually quiet.  He'd spent his first day home napping and hanging out and the second spending time with his friends in an unusually lazy way, but that morning his fatigue caught up with him.

Every move that he made, every stretch that he did, took so much effort that his lungs were burning by the time he pulled himself together enough to get into the bathroom and find his way into the shower.  It took him two times to get out of his boxers, not able to get flexible enough to get them down past his knees and when he glanced at himself in the mirror he had to snicker at himself for being so pathetic looking.  When he finally got  into the shower stall he had to hold onto the wall for a minute while he adjusted the spray of the water. Standing under the cold water for a few moments he found himself waking up enough to turn it to a warmer level so that he could wash his hair and get cleaned up enough to start his day.

When he stepped out of the shower he wrapped the towel around his waist and went into the bedroom, leaving his boxers on the floor.  His back felt better and his knees and hips and ankles had eased up a little.  He slid into boxers then into a pair of army green nylon running pants, put on some socks and black and white running shoes and grabbed out a wife beater to wear.  He grabbed a maroon hooded sweatshirt out of the closet and draped it over his arm instead of putting it on, choosing to only wear the wife beater for the moment due to the heat that somehow he'd been able to ignore until then.

Moving back into the bathroom he ran a brush through his hair and tried to make it behave a little before he slid on some deodorant, brushed his teeth and grabbed his phone and keys and wallet to leave the house.  He didn't have a clue as to where he should head first.  He thought about getting coffee then going to get something to eat, but no matter where he headed that day he knew he needed to get out for a while.

When his phone rang at the bottom of the hill of their neighborhood he smiled at his brother's number.  "Hey T."

"Are you in LA?"

His brother's voice didn't sound worried, but more curious.  He hadn't seen him in a while and hadn't thought to tell him his schedule for the next few weeks, seeing that Tyler was going to be working on his fall semester of school without going on the road to be with them that  semester.  "Yeah," he said, "Why didn't you head over yesterday?  All the guys were here."

"I was busy, plus I wasn't sure if you were coming home this week or next week.  You never called me back last week."

"Sorry about that."  He plugged in his headphone into his cell phone and coughed.  "The schedule has been hectic lately, but I'm freed up now until March or something."

"Then make it up to me."  He laughed.  "Come over."

Tyler wasn't normally the one to invite him to the dorms.  He knew about the dangers that JC would face if he was put into a situation like that, not that college campuses were full of screaming teenies, but with groups like that they always had to be careful.

"What girl are you trying to impress?" he asked his brother.  He knew this pattern instantly.  His brother bashed on the group and the work until it gave him something he needed then he was all about embracing the NSYNC love and spending time with his "favorite brother" which happened to always co-inside with someone new in his life.

"No one," he said, "I haven't seen you in three weeks."

"Awe--" JC said, "As much as I'd LOVE to come over to school and see you, I can't."  He rolled his eyes.  "I've got a deadline."

JC saw Laurel Canyon Boulevard and knew that there was a Gold's Gym at the other end of the street.  He looked at the bicep of the arm that was gripping the steering wheel and for a moment thought he saw his arm hanging a little lower than it should have.  He took a right and drove up the road trying to remember exactly where the gym was.  "Come up to Hollywood and we'll go to the gym."

His brother sighed.  "I'm headed down to Venice for a few hours to meet up with Leanne to find clothes for Hawaii."

"Hawaii?" he asked.  He racked his brain trying to think of a reason that his brother would be going to Hawaii and he couldn't remember any mention of their family not doing the traditional Christmas at home thing like they tried to do every year.  It had been harder the last few years to always be together, but even if they weren't together on exactly Christmas day they always had one Christmas morning set aside, even if it might happen on the twenty-eighth instead of the twenty-fifth.

"Mom said--"  He paused for a moment as if he finally realized that he wasn't living at home any more, but still was waiting for permission from her to let him go places.  "Mom and Dad said that I could go to Maui with Leanne's family for Christmas."

"You're not going home?"  He paused for a moment and completely felt out of the loop.  He'd been trying to keep track of everyone, but with his schedule and his lifestyle since they'd switched lifestyles back to half normal, he didn't have the motivation to call them every single day or every two days like he usually did on the road.  "Who's Leanne again?"

"You've got to remember her.  We hung out for a whole night together with you."  He sighed.  "Leanne is that girl that I brought to the VMA party last year."

"OH."  So many faces had passed his eyes over the last few months that he didn't have a clue as to what this girl looked like, but he vaguely remembered that his brother had gotten a date that year to bring with him.  "That small girl, dark hair and green dress?"

"Yeah," he said, "Her."

He remembered that the girl was cool enough.  She'd been into Tyler for once and not into him so that gave JC enough reason to like the girl.  "So you're dating her now?"

"Yeah," he said, "I have been for a while.  She would have come to CFTC but she had a test and couldn't get away for the weekend because of a study group.  Where have you been?"

"In the clouds--" He paused for a moment.  "I thought that everyone was going to go to Mom's for Christmas?"

"No," he said, "Heather is taking her Christmas break in France so that Peter can do a lecture in Paris and mom and dad are going out to grandpa's in Chicago."

"Shit," he said.  He pulled up towards the gym front and couldn't find a spot to park so he swung around on another street to see if he could find a spot down the way a little.  "Well I guess I should see what Zana is doing for Christmas.  If no one is gonna be around I may have to take a trip down to The Keys."

"Are you gonna marry this one?" Tyler asked.

"This one?" JC coughed out.  He didn't understand why Tyler made it sound like he'd dated half the population of the west coast when he'd only really dated two people since high school.  "What does that supposed to mean?"

"I was just thinking that you and her are getting serious.  I mean she lives with you and--"

"Bobbie lived with me," JC countered back with, but didn't really even know why he had.

"It's not the same," Tyler said.  "And I mean that in a totally good way.  I love Farzana and mom loves her and dad loves her and even Heather likes her.  I just don't want--well we I think as a family want you to--to find someone."

JC laughed and saw a spot to park.  "You sound totally like mom right now."

"I know," Tyler said, "I hate it, but you know it's true.  You should marry this one before she gets away."

"Well I'm trying to fix it so that will work out, but we both still have things to work on before we're ready for marriage."

Tyler sighed.  "Well everyone loves her, in case that makes a difference."

"It helps."  He caught his smile in the rear view mirror.  "But really it's up to us to decide what's gonna happen."

"I know.  I know."  He sighed, "Anyway I gotta run, but I'll see you before Thanksgiving definitely."

"Definitely.  We'll be having a party or two I'm sure in the next few weeks.  The group Zana is working with is having their debut performance I think next week or something so I'll put you and Leanne on the list."

"Thanks."  Tyler said then went to hang up.  "I'll see you in a few weeks."

"Yeah," JC said.

The thought of going to the gym suddenly didn't sound good so instead of taking the parking space he put the car into drive and drove out to Simi Valley, which was totally out of his way, but with the midday traffic a little thin, he made it there without much trouble.

He didn't even know why he was in the neighborhood.  He shouldn't have even been in this side of the valley, but something pulled him there, to that neighborhood, to that house, just to drive by and see the name on the mailbox made him sick to his stomach.

*****

"Before you start in on me," he said, "Lemme tell you where I am and stuff ok?" he asked.

"Fine."

He took a deep breath knowing that his sister was the worrier in the family, worse than his mother. The conversation promised to be a lot of yelling and a lot of apologizing due to her tendency to over react to things. The one good thing that he could think about for the conversation's tone would be that she liked the idea of him and Bobbie breaking up, but he wasn't sure if that would save his butt. "I'm in Key Largo. I'm ok. I broke up with Bobbie. I'm not hiding out. I just need to have a break. AND I'll be coming home in about two weeks to visit."

"You done?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

"That's all you have to say?"

"What do you want me to say?" he asked, "I'm sorry I disappeared and had all of you worried, but I had to leave LA pretty quick."

He heard his sister sigh and he turned and looked back in the kitchen. Farzana had her notebook out and she was writing for a moment while she pulled more things out of the refrigerator. The music could be heard on the porch and liked the way that it filled the space between them.

"Joshua are you listening to me?" she asked.

"Um."

"I just said that I'm glad that you and Bobbie finally ended things," she said, "I'm sorry for you having to go through that, but you know my feelings on the subject of her. You've been driving down the road to break up for weeks now."

"I know. I know," he said and put a hand over his eyes, "I've known it for longer than that."

*****

Seeing the front door of her house start to open he sped down the street and out of the neighborhood and headed back towards the house.  On his way the phone began to ring and he noticed Farzana's number on the caller ID so he didn't pick it up.

Checking the clock on the dashboard he drove towards home, running through the McDonald's drive through to get a hamburger before he headed for the house and straight to the studio.  He had lyrics to work on and he needed to get working on them before the end of the week.

[Downtown Los Angeles...]

The elevator opened and they started off across the lobby.  She glanced at the woman next to her as she started to speak.  Joylynn Winters was the writer of the song she'd be singing for the movie.  It was strange to be singing someone else's song for a change since she'd only been singing studio cuts of her own songs before they were given to other people for the last five months, but Joylynn hadn't been at all constrictive in the process.  "We'll finish this up before the end of the week, ok?  I've got meetings until Wednesday, but I'll call you on Wednesday afternoon and we'll meet on Thursday or Friday."

"Sounds good.  Today went well.  I think the last verse will need another few tweaks to it," she nodded as she pulled her hair up into a pony tail.  Her purse was falling off her shoulder and it took her two times to get it to stay before she could get her hair under control.  "We're going to be up in the studio Monday through Friday right?"

"Yep," she said, "I hate that we have to get out of the country to do this, but the studio and the orchestra are based out of Toronto, and I thought it would be fun for you to actually get a chance to get home for a day or so.  I know you haven't been there for a while."

"It's ok.  I wanted to be around for The Next Ones debut.  They're playing an opening date for Marc Anthony at Staples.  It's insane that they're going to play in front of a stadium the first time they're performing together, but with the contest running on MTV they needed something big as their first time around.  I don't know who is more nervous about it, Me, or the group or Lance."  She finally got her hair into place and smiled.  "And then it'll be mastered at Battery Park in New York?"

She could tell that JoyLynn was waiting for a comment about Toronto.  Her reaction to the comment was to search for her phone and luckily it seemed to know her dilemma and began to rang as they pushed through the front doors out onto the street.

"What?"

"Our song," she said.  Her mind started to race.  She looked at her watch to see what time it was.  She hadn't left JC a note when she'd left that morning and wondered if he was wondering what she was.  She hadn't made plans with him for dinner and thought that maybe he might get annoyed if she stopped by the gym.  She hadn't meant to leave him out of the loop, but she had too many things going on that week.  "I mean your song, for the movie, it'll get mastered at Battery Park, right?"

"Yeah."  she nodded.

"I'd better get this," Farzana said with a smile, "I think it's--"

"I need to run anyway."  She pointed the other direction, "Have a good week.  I'll talk to you Wednesday."

"You too," she said and then finally picked up the line.  "Hello?"

The soft voice on the other end of the phone could barely be heard over the noise of the street and the wind.  "Hi baby."

She closed her eyes hard for a split second to concentrate.  "Mom?"

"I haven't been able to call for a few days so I thought I'd ring you and see if things are ok."

"Things are fine," she said trying to ignore the fact that her father had made her cry the day before.

"Did Joshua get home ok from his trip?"  Her voice sounded shaky and Farzana worried for a moment that something had happened in Toronto since her mother never usually called her during the day.

"Yeah."  She started towards the car and took a few deep breaths.  She'd always known that her mother cared about all the things that were going on in her life, but it was a slight surprise that she'd remembered that he'd be coming back from his trip that weekend.  "He and the guys are really tired, but some of them came over and picnicked with us."

Her mother laughed, "I keep forgetting that it's so warm in California.  It's already too cold over here to be outside for a picnic.  It's sunny still, but staying outside for long isn't that great."

"You should come and visit sometime this winter."

"I don't think that it would be possible," her mother said, "Your father--"

"Please don't tell me you won't visit me because Daddy won't let you."

"I'll have to see what is coming up in the future and see if I can get away from Toronto for a few days.  Your brother is doing a lot of after school things and I need to be here for them."

"Need to or have to be there for them?" Farzana's eyes pricked with tears and she felt her lips tremble.  "Why can't he just let you come and visit me.  I've asked for five months for you to come here and see me."

"Why can't you come home honey?"

"Because he won't let me.  I'll get there and he'll brow beat me into thinking that I need to stay and as much as I love him, my life no longer revolves around Toronto.  I live in LA, I love LA--and I love Josh and I'm--"  She sucked in a breath of air.  "I've got to get to the gym."

"Baby?"

"Mom.  I'll call you later.  I talked to Daddy yesterday and it made me feel sick the rest of the day and I don't want to go through that again.  I'll call you later when I have time to deal with this."

"Deal with?"

"Mom.  I have to meet Colleen at the gym and Josh and I are probably going to have dinner.  I'll call you tomorrow and find out if we can get you a visit out here."

"I love you baby."

"I love you too," she said could feel herself starting to cry.  "I'll call you later."

When she got herself into the safety of the little Honda and put her purse on the passenger seat and plugged the phone into the car charger before she leaned forward and rested her head against the steering wheel.  She didn't know what was worse, having her father criticizing her every move or having her mother tell her how much she was missed at home and how she should come home.  The only worse thing was the sound of her brother's voice telling her that he hated being an only child.  She'd tried to convince her father to send BJ down for the summer, but their father wouldn't hear of it.

When the phone rang again she wiped her eyes.  She checked the number and saw that it was an LA number.  "Hello?" she asked.

"Farzana.  It's Colleen.  Are you still going to have time to go to the gym this afternoon?"

"Sure," she said, "I've got my stuff in the back of the car right now if you're ready."

"Yeah," she said, "Lance is stuck on a conference call despite him being on vacation and since the group is doing their debut on Friday--oh by the way are you and JC going to make it to that?  I know that Joey and Kelly and Justin and Mere are going home, but Chris and Dani are going to show up."

"Let me check with Josh and see if he's gonna be around.  I know that I'll definitely be there, but I'm not sure what is up with his schedule.  He's working on a new song for--"  She paused thinking for a second about telling her who the song was for.  She wouldn't have hesitated with anyone else in the group, but it took her a second to realize that she could trust Colleen with information that wouldn't be given to the public probably for weeks, unless Melinda let the news out to the public.  "--he's working with Brian McKnight on something and it's a big project so I'll have to see if he can take the night off.  I know he should be able to, but with him and his habits you never know."

"I know how that goes."

"I thought that you were going to have Lance meet your parents."

"That got pushed back."  She sighed.  "He and I know that it's because of the debut of the group, but I'm starting to think that it might be because he really isn't sure about meeting them."

"It's a lot of pressure," she said.  She started up the car and turned onto the city streets heading towards the freeway that would lead up from the downtown area back up towards the house.  "I can understand the hesistation.  I've met Josh's parents a few times, but the longest I've actually been in the same place with them is the weekend of CFTC and we were out and about the whole weekend so we barely saw them."

"Do you think I'm paranoid?" she asked.

"Not at all," Farzana said, "My father and Josh don't get along at all and that still is a big thing for us to get over."

"Oh no," Colleen sighed.

"My case is a little different though," she said, "Josh is doing what is right and my father needs to stop being so traditional, but neither of them or I can seem to be all on the same page at the same time.  We--"

"It's still scary."  She laughed.  "Are you heading over to Gold's on Laurel?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Ok," she said, "Not to cut you off, but I should go tell Lance that I'll be at the gym and head over there so I don't get over there late."

"Tell him I said hi and that I'm really excited about the performance on Friday."

"Will do," she said, "I'll be over there in like twenty."

"Sounds good.  I'll call Josh and see if he's gonna show up at the concert on Friday night."

"Ok."

She dialed the phone and turned on the radio as she waited for the phone to be picked up.  When his number clicked to voicemail she sighed.

"This is me.  If you don't know who me is then you shouldn't have this number.  Leave a message."

"Hey hon," she said.  "I'm heading over to the gym to work out.  I'll be at the Laurel Gold's Gym for about an hour or two.  Colleen wanted to know if we're going to go to the debut of The Next Ones on Friday.  It's a Marc Anthony concert.  Anyway, call Lance and tell him if you are coming or not.  I'm sure there will be tickets and stuff, but still we should tell him."  She turned off the freeway and headed up the expressway towards the gym.  "I'll talk to you later.  Love you.  Bye."

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