Gold’s Gym was definitely dominated by weight benches, but in the back corner next to two television screens there were five treadmills. When she walked into the place she passed by the benches and barbells that she would normally would use for her workout, went into the small dressing area to change before locking up her bag and returning to the main gym floor. She decided that she needed a little aerobic activity that day instead of the weight routine she’d been doing two or three times a week. She’d found herself needed to burn off a little excess energy than came from the amount of stress she was under that week.

She was just stepping onto the stair master on the right when she saw Colleen come across the floor towards her already wearing navy blue yoga pants and a t-shirt with Lance’s face on it.

“That’s cute.” She nodded towards her shirt.

“It bugs the crap out of him when I do that,” she said with a devilish smile as Colleen climbed onto the machine next to her.  She paused for a moment to pull her hair up in a ponytail then programmed her stair-master.  "You should try it sometime.  Although I do have to love the fact that you kind of dress like him right now."

"What?"

"You with the flourscent pink tank top over the white wife beater and then black shorts?"

"The only reason I have this is because I got this shirt for free and it's too ugly to wear anywhere else."

"Whatever girl," she said, "I think his taste is invading your closet."

"Maybe a little," Farzana said with a laugh, "How’s your boy?”

“A boy.” She frowned. “I’m sorry I’m late but he decided last minute that I needed to make him a sandwich before I left because was starving and didn’t have time to do it himself. Never mind that he’s sitting in my living room not ten feet away from the kitchen, but I have to make it and I’m on the way out the door because he has three people on the phone and paperwork on his lap.”

Farzana rolled her eyes. “Why are boys so stupid sometimes?”

A few guys standing near by turned towards her when they heard her comment and she looked down at the keypad in front of her with an embarrassed smile.  A few months ago she never would have said something like that so loudly.  Her father and mother wouldn't have allowed her to do that and she would have felt like she was causing too much attention to come her way if she did that.  Her shy nature had taken a little bit of a vacation when she'd been on the road and performing, but now that she was back behind the scenes that shy part of her came out again.

“Sometimes?” Colleen stated boldly. “All the time for me.” She started up her machine slowly. “There are numerous things I could point to as reasons, but the basics of it are this: It's all in the chromosomes. Women are XX, two perfect chromosomes. Men on the other hand are XY, One perfect, one imperfect chromosome.”

Farzana had to laugh at that. JC was already a perfectionist and telling him that he was genetically imperfect wouldn’t help the situation. Her father on the other hand probably needed to hear something like that from time to time.

“They are missing the second tail on the bottom of the second chromosome. This is OBVIOUSLY where compassion, common sense, caring, and general human emotion were all supposed to be.” She glared at the men that were lifting near them then shrugged. “So really, we should feel sorry for them because on the most base genetic level...they're broken.”

Farzana looked at the guys and didn't see anything she liked.  She didn't know what her type was exactly, but these overly pumped up guys didn't seem like someone she'd want to be with.  “Can I quote you on that?”

“Of course you can, well don’t push that idea at Lance too much, I’m still in the honeymoon phase with him and he might get a little offended.”

She started to feel her lungs burn at the activity she was doing.  She slowed for a moment and reset the machine then started to pump her feet a littler slower on the machine.  “You need to write a book or something.”

Colleen laughed, “Stacey is the one that needs the book deal with this subject. I sound so much like her right now.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“Definitely. Stacey is my best friend. I'll have you meet her sometime.  This last month has been hectic so I haven't had time to have everyone over.  Dani was back east taking care of Chris's sister after she broke her arm, Kelly has been back east with the kids, Meredith isn't allowed out of Justin's sight--"  She laughed at that.  "--and you've been busy working.  Stacey’s been out of town working on a big case this week, but that’s almost exactly what she’d say right now.”

“Hmm…I need an instruction book. I never know when to say what and usually about the time I get my opinion out in the open it’s already too late and the damage as been done.”

“With JC?”

“With most males,” she said, “It’s like when they turn left I turn right and when they turn right I’m around the block trying to get back on the street I missed. I never can read them really well. I’ve started to get a few things going where I can read Josh when he won’t talk to me about stuff, but generally I think I’ve lost my little map of where guys are heading because I’m definitely heading the wrong direction.”

“It’s never your fault.” Colleen smiled. “We should pity the poor broken idiots. I've got a whole bag full of reasons guys do the dumb-ass things they do.”

“I wish you could tell that they were dumb-asses before you got into a long involved relationship.”

Colleen turned and glared at her. “Are you and Josh ok?”

“Yeah,” she said and stopped walking for a moment; just the thought of something being wrong with them made her stomach churn. She didn’t like the idea that someone would let alone think something was wrong, let alone something actually being wrong. “I’m not talking about personal experience, but just in general. Even friendships can follow your rules.”

“My rules,” she laughed. “My second theory is you can tell so much about the type of guy he is by asking if he'd rather see his girlfriend...the woman he loves completely in nothing but his button down shirt or a trashy, red lace teddy. If he says teddy...he's still thinking with the little head...if he says HIS button down shirt...he's a committer...he's a romantic, he's a keeper.”

“Josh is romantic in his own ways, but as for me I basically just nibble on his ear and he turns to jell-o.” She said that without a second thought and found that he face started to turn red in the mirror across from them. “Jell-O is definitely a good thing-Whoa. I need to concentrate.”

Colleen laughed a little. “For me it’s--If he gets home from work and I'm wearing one of Lance’s button downs-“ She wiggled her eyebrows “I get lucky.”

“As far as I remember, Lance doesn’t wear button downs unless forced,” Farzana said.

“Yeah well sometimes it’s just his boxers or just a wife-beater. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s something comfortable. At least he won’t be wearing a teddy,” she said with a laugh.

Farzana pumped her feet more and wiped her forehead. “I don’t know why we get clothes like that anyway. I’m not the most adventurous person in the world, but I wear all that stuff just sounds good to talk about, but in reality never really seems to work out in the end as being practical.”

“That's what so many women forget-” Colleen took a drink of water. “Stacey told me one time that the whole flowers, candlelight dinner, soft music thing-that great romance novel waiting to happen-” She sighed heavily. “That's what WE want them to want...it's not what they really want. A guy would rather come home to his girl wearing his shirt holding a six pack with a football game on or sometimes in Lance’s case having CNN on sometimes gets him in the mood for some reason.”

“CNN?”

“He’s a business junkie--"  Her feet suddenly dipped when she got to another level on her work out program and she almost fell off the machine.  She steadied herself and laughed, brushing her hair out of her face.  "Even though he has consultants that do all his investing he still likes to watch the stock market go up and down.”

Farzana's eyes moved around the gym to check to see if anyone was paying attention to them.    She hadn't noticed anyone in there who seemed to be too famous and she wondered if anyone was watching them.  “That does sound like a sexual thing.”

“It’s a power trip really,” she said, “Anyway…the point is that--Think about it--What guy do you know that wants to sit in a room with Yani playing in the background, with only candle light eating chicken saltenbocco?”

“Josh would either fall asleep or start in with some analysis of the music and picking out who is off key and that he needs to remix it.”

“That’s because your man is a geek.”

“He’s a savant,” she protested.

Colleen rolled her eyes. “Sure.”

“Generally though, on a rare occasion, I could see them doing that, but mostly because they know if they do it the girl might give in and sleep with them, but actually doing that for anything other than their own benefit is ridiculous.”

“EXACTLY!”

“So other than that I know I asked you about this the other day, but things are going well?”

“I love the boy to death, but it seems like just when you think he’s grown up he turns into a baby.”

“Thank God Josh isn’t like that too much. There are those expected times, like when he’s tried or sick and gets a little grumpy and needs babying, but most of the time he seems to be the one taking care of me.”

“I’m not at all implying that Lance doesn’t take good care of me, but there are times where I wonder if he’s too pampered when he’s out on the road.”

"That comes from the idea that there is a thing called room service and that maids clean up after them."

"Oh," she said rolling her eyes, "I hadn't noticed."

As he stepped into the studio his chest contracted and he had to force himself to breathe.  He started to hum the verse he'd written the day before and as he unpacked his burger he pulled out a pad of paper and a pen so fifteen minutes after he'd parked the car he found himself, burger in one hand and pen in the other hand writing more lyrics.

Or at least trying.

*****

The paper stared up at him mocking him just as the keyboard had done earlier. Blank. "Just like my mind," he said and picked up the pen. He put his sunglasses on the table and put the pen to the paper and willed himself to get something down. He didn't want to be known as this great artist and then have nothing to show someone who clearly thought that he had the right stuff.

He noticed where he put his pen wasn't even close to the place where normal people start writing on the paper so he wrote what came to mind.

little left of center

He laughed a little. Isn't that the truth? Centered. He was the last person in the world to be centered with his lifestyle and the whole hurricane around him.

I'm out of my mind
Who wants to be ordinary?

He paused and moved and cracked his back then looked at the paper.

So busy outside
So lonely inside

He scratched out what he'd written and looked up just in time to see Farzana coming back into the little laundry mat.

"So what'd you come up with?" She asked.

"This isn't fair," he said, "I wrote and you didn't."

"It's a process," she said, "I'll write from what you've written...kinda like tic tac toe ya know?"

"Comparing writing to tic tac toe is interesting Zana," he said moving a hand across his face. He hadn't shaved that morning and didn't plan to for a few days. The nice thing about vacation was he didn't have to look good for people.

"Just trust me," she said, "Can I see what you have?"

"It isn't much," he said pushing it across to her. She took the paper, turned it around and stared at it. "It's not very good. I'm just kinda stuck...ya know? It's hard to just write something--" He watched her take off writing for a moment. She scratched out what he'd written and scribbled underneath it.

So wants to be ordinary
So I'm a little left of center
Some say I'm a little paranormal
I don't care what they're saying
As long as I'm your girl

She pushed the page back at him. "Now you go."

"Are you kidding me?"

"Just look at what I wrote and edit it," she said, "Scratch it out for all I care, just make it better."

He stared at her. "This is the strangest thing I've ever heard of."

"It'll be good," she said, "Trust me...I told you that doing laundry would be fun."

"If you say so," he said and looked down at the paper.

So I'm a little left of center
I'm a little out of tune
Some say I'm a little paranormal
So I just bend their spoon
Who wants to be ordinary
In a crazy world
I don't care what they're saying
As long as I'm your girl

JC looked at what he wrote and cringed. This was horrible, but somehow it made sense and he had the hope that Farzana would fix it for them.

When she got the piece of paper she only made one change then started to say the words out loud slowly half singing them to a tune he thought sounded ok.

So I'm a little left of center
I'm a little out of tune
Some say I'm a little paranormal
So I just bend their spoon
Who wants to be ordinary
In a crazy, mixed up world
I don't care what they're saying
As long as I'm your girl

A smile came over his face. He couldn't help it. He liked it. "Sounds good so far...although I'm not sure about the whole spoon thing," he said.

"It's different." She stared at it, "It's unique."

"If you say so," he said, "I'll have to trust you on this one."

He liked the smile on her face as she watched him.

"So we're a team?" She asked.

His alliances would always fall with the guys when it came to music, but for the moment, if she could turn his writer's block into something at least readable he'd have to put his trust in her.

He nodded at her with a smile and a wink.
 

*****

His hand worked furiously for the next fifteen minutes.  His burger was dropped to the table top and never picked up again as he moved across to the small studio microphone to record the lines he'd just created.

When his brain finally let him be semi satisfied with his work, he recorded what he had, took a deep breath then pressed the play button and his own voice filled the room.  It was a very rough cut of the song, but he liked the way the second part that he'd been working on came out.

Girl you're the on my mind always
Come feel my nights and my days
You make me so crazy
Darlin' you know I wanna

He shut off the song mid-way through the verse and took a deep breath then reached for the phone and dialed Brian's number.  He didn't have a clue why he was dialing or what he was going to say so by the time it had rung twice he felt sick to his stomach with nervousness and hung up.

As he was thinking about who to call next he heard the alarm going off saying that he had voicemail so he clicked in his password and listened to the 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.  I'll talk to you later.  Love you.  Bye."

He looked at the clock then back to the papers in front of him.  Switching modes, he instantly dialed Melinda's number.

The phone was picked up after the second ring.  "This is Melinda Bell."

"Hey Melly.  You must be busy if you aren't checking caller ID."

"I saw that it was your number, but wasn't sure if it was you or Farzana."

"Nope," he said, "It's me."

"Are you ok?" she asked.

"Why does something have to be wrong to have me call you?"

"Because I saw you two days ago and we talked and now you're calling me so something has to be messed up if you're wanting to talk to me so soon again."

"I'm having writer's block."  He sighed and leaned back in the chair then scooted his chair over so that he could look through the desk drawer that was attached to the underside of the counter on the far side of the room.  He felt through the door for a moment.

"Josh don't be searching for the cigarettes."  She scolded him from three thousand miles away.  "You told me how Farzana hates that."

"I know.  I know, but I need something to settle my nerves," he said.

"Go have a drink or something, at least it won't effect your lungs," she said, "Or just be like a normal person and freaking sit still on your own."

"Fine. Fine. I get the idea," he said.

"So what's the issue?"

"Pressure," he chose instead to pick at his nails as he sat there.

“What’s wrong?” Her voice got softer and he could tell that she’d shut the door to her office. He couldn’t hear Johnny’s voice in the background anymore. “I thought you were on vacation now.”

“I am, but at the same time I’ve got this project-“ He rubbed his temple. “This HUGE project I’m working on that I think is going to kill me.”

“Nothing can be that bad,” she said, “Especially after you guys flipped out an album in a month.”

“I’m writing a song for Brian McKnight,” he said.

“What?”

“I know--"  He got up from where he was sitting and left the basement to go up and grab a drink.   "That’s what everyone is saying. I’m shocked as hell that he’s even asking another writer to do a song for him and the fact that he picked me is already giving me an ulcer. I’ve got something thrown together, but it’s like I’m ten again waiting to see if I’m gonna get a failing grade on my homework or something.”

“What does Farzana say?”

“Zana woke up the other night and came to rescue me. I stepped off a plane two days ago and came home and worked from the time I got home until--"  He noticed that his hand was drumming a beat on the table and he put his hand into a fist.  "--she got back from work then I took two naps because I haven’t slept well this week then woke up in the middle of the night to work again. She made me stop around 3am and now I’m back to it.”

“You need to calm down,” she said, “I don’t know what’s going on with you-“

His conscience was killing him. “I drove over to Bobbie’s parents house today.”

“Josh."  She groaned into the phone.  "What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just ended up there, like some old habit or something. I was driving and my car just kind of took me there and when I got to her street I told myself not to drive down it.”

“Does Farzana know you were over there?”

“No,” he said, “You know it’s funny-When I was over there driving out of Bobbie’s neighborhood, the phone rang and Farzana was on the line.”

“What’d you tell her?”

“I didn’t answer the phone,” he said, “I couldn’t.” He started to feel like he was going to hyperventilate. “I couldn’t think of any reason to tell her why I was over there and it was like that’s the only thing that was on my mind.”

“Guilt,” she said.

“Yeah. I didn’t even do anything though. I didn’t talk to her, didn’t call her, hell I haven’t spoken to her in months, but I feel bad about the fact that I’m stressed out and I’m ending up in her neighborhood.”

“Calm down, it can’t be that bad.”

“I just feel like I need to tell Farzana--"  He grabbed a beer out of the refridgerator and cracked it open and gulped down some before he continued.  "--But then when I think about it I didn’t do anything to really tell her about.”

“You really haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Not really,” he said. His brain randomly thought about Christmas for some reason. “Did you know that my parents aren’t going to make my brother and sister come home for Christmas this year?” He knew he was probably going to start to ramble, but he needed some way to get it all out of him. “Can you believe that? My brother is going to be on the beach with some bimbo and I’m gonna be God knows where and my sister will be in France while my parents are in Chicago or whatever.”

“Josh stop a minute.” Melinda laughed a little. “You’re being such a woman right now.”

“It isn’t funny Melinda,” he said, “It’s driving me insane.”

“You’re letting it drive you nuts. You need to just take a few deep breaths and tell yourself that its all gonna work out because you know that it is. Maybe you should go see Farzana’s family for Christmas.”

“I thought about that, but her relationship with her dad is strained enough already. I think bringing me up there with her would cause World War Three to break out.”

“Daddy doesn’t like the idea that you’re sleeping with his little girl?”

“Daddy doesn’t like the fact that Zana isn’t listening to him anymore and I guess that’s my fault, which makes me feel even worse. If I had let her go home and hadn’t messed with her life, her whole family wouldn’t be messed up right now.”

“Josh from what you told me, Farzana is better off being in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world.”

He didn’t tell her, but it was that day, the one where he went to find her, that had been haunting him for so long now. He kept dreaming it over and over again. This time though, instead of coming with him, she ended up staying where she was.

Feeling tears come to his eyes he coughed. “I should go and let you do all that important event coordinator shit,” he said, “These lyrics need work anyway.”

“Don’t do that Josh."  She was almost pleading with him now.  He knew her worried voice and he wasn't in the mood to hear all the things she had to say.  He needed some time to relax.  he was supposed to be on vacation and he needed to start acting like it.  "Don’t get all manly on me now.”

“I really should go. I need to get a work out in today and I haven’t walked more than out to my car earlier.”

“Fine,” she said, “Just take care of yourself and don’t smoke ok?”

He shrugged and looked towards a drawer where he thought there might have been a pack stashed.  “Easier said than done.”

"Don't start talking like that."

"Like what?" he asked, "My nerves are shot right now."

“Don’t make me have the lawyers draw up a contract about it.”

“But they’re so good at that, and you’re so good at being a mother hen Chicken.”

“Don’t call me that WipeOut or I’ll pull out the old MMC footage for the fans.”

“Fine.” He smiled. “Fine.”

“If you’re gonna be out this way soon give me a holler and we’ll go to get Chinese.”

“I will.”

When he hung up the phone he took his beer with him back down to the basement.  He noticed his food still sitting there. It was cold by now. He had a habit of doing that, leaving stuff until later, until it got cold and uneatable. Rubbing his temples, he grabbed it all in a bunch and took it upstairs to the kitchen garbage and threw it away before he pulled out an apple for lunch.

With beer and apple in hand JC searched around for his glasses, finally found them in the pocket of his backpack up in their bedroom.  He took them and Newsweek Magazine out onto the porch. He didn’t even know why he’d kept the subscription to the magazine, but it seemed like a good time to try and attempt to read some of one of the issues. He’d been feeling completely out of touch with life after talking to Melinda and Tyler that morning and needed a little something to remind him that life wasn’t all about his music and the flights that he’d been taking all over the country and the world lately.

• Back • Up • Next •