Kara stepped off the plane and nervously made her way up the walkway to
the inside airport gateway, pulling her small black travel suitcase slowly
behind her while trying not to fall over from the weight of her over stuffed
backpack. She’d been given a luggage limit for her trip and fearing that
she might forget something important had taken advantage of the three-bag
limit by stuffing last minute items into her backpack until it looked as
if it would burst. She’d worried that it wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment
of the plane, but a nice guy who’d sat in front of her on her flight had
helped her stuff it into the bin.
Walking slowly and keeping her eyes to the ground she thought about her
mother’s instructions. She’d had it explained to her three different times
that morning that someone who worked with her father was going to be meeting
her at the gate since her father would be busy. While Kara wasn’t exactly
pleased about the whole idea of being shipped off to stay with her father
for the summer, being met at the gate by a total stranger was making her
feel even more uncomfortable about the whole summer arrangement. She’d gotten
on the plane two hours before still begging and pleading to be left at home
for the summer as her mother put her onto the plane alone.
She and her father hadn’t seen each other in almost six months due to her
parents’ divorce and the strange nature of her father’s job as a sound technician
on a musical tour. When her father called her mother just after Kara’s high
school graduation and suggested that she spend the summer with him her mother
had immediately agreed and had told Kara that she wanted the two of them to
spend time together. It had initially sounded like a bad idea and sounded
even worse that morning when her mother had given her a last hug and set her
off on her adventure.
Kara scowled and scuffed her running shoes on the carpet as she neared where
the doors opened up into the airport. She reached down with her freehand and
pulled at the waste-band of her jeans then adjusted her jacket and T-shirt
a bit so that she didn’t look messy. She didn’t know who was meeting her,
but she didn’t want to look like a bag lady when they got to her. She made
a face as the woman ahead of her suddenly dropped her bag to the ground. Although
she was dreading meeting up with her father, being stuck in line still wasn’t
something she wanted to experience.
Kara took a deep breath and waited for the woman patiently. It was amazing
that she was acting this calmly considering how messed up her summer plans
were. While all her friends in Orlando were looking forward to summer jobs
at the assortment of amusement parks around town, Kara on the other hand,
was dreading her summer. Her plans to spend her last months before college
with all her friends had been ruined by her father’s invitation. While everyone
back home would be making the rounds and partying for the next two and a half
months Kara knew that her father was going to put her to work on the tour
doing what Kara predicted would be some uninteresting and hard job. She could
see herself spending the whole summer in her father’s crew’s cramped tour
bus with a bunch of older people she’d met only once about three years before
her parents had divorced.
"Kara?" A tall but heavyset man approached her with a wide smile and held
out a large hand in her direction as if he wanted to shake her hand. He stopped
and stared at her for a moment when she didn’t answer his first word to her.
"You’re Kara Parker, right?"
"Yeah," she looked at the dark-skinned black guy out of the side of an eye
and nervously readjusted her hold on her rolling suitcase. Although the guy
had a pleasant look on his face, for a moment she was scared. She didn’t know
him and her father hadn’t given her a description of the person who’d be
collecting her at the airport so she wasn’t sure if she should be friendly
to this stranger or any other person that approached her.
"I’m Wes Simmons," he said still holding his hand out, "Your father sent
me to get you."
"Oh," she said. She shook his hand with her freehand and took a breath to
calm her nerves. He didn’t try to grab her and he actually smiled at her even
more as their hands shook up and down three times. Kara normally wasn’t afraid
of strangers, but being in a strange town made her more cautious. Under the
circumstances anyone would have been intimidated by the man who was standing
in front of her. Wes must have been about six feet three inches tall and
must have weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds. Her fears were further
calmed when she looked closely and saw that the tiny white cursive print
on his dark collared shirt read his name and then underneath it was printed
the word, Security.
"Come on," Wes said with a smile, "I hate to rush you, but we’re on a tight
schedule today. I have to get out back to the arena A-S-A-P."
"Ok," she said.
Wes led her to baggage claim and after they collected her two suitcases
they headed out to the parking lot to a sea green minivan.
"Let’s throw your stuff in the back and you can ride shot gun and be the
DJ," Wes said with an overly friendly tone. She wondered for a moment if that
was his normal personality or if he was trying to overcompensate due to her
initial reaction to him.
"Ok." Kara piled her backpack onto the rest of her bags then got into the
front passenger seat immediately opening the window to let out the suffocating
new car smell that had poured out as they’d opened up the back doors to load
her luggage into the van.
Wes got in on the other side and after exiting the parking garage headed
the van onto the freeway where the higher speeds of the car made Kara roll
up the window due to the way that the wind was playing havoc with her shoulder
length brown hair.
"So do you talk in sentences or are you limited to one word answers?" Wes
asked as he changed lanes.
Kara put on her white framed Varnet skater-style sunglasses then switched
on the radio and changed channels past a Phil Collins song and a religious
channel finally resting on a channel that was playing a rap song by Ice Cube.
"I talk. I just don’t have anything much to say."
Kara removed her navy blue windbreaker to reveal the dark material of her
favorite Old Navy Basketball T-shirt. She wanted to kick off her shoes and
relax, but wasn’t sure that she’d have a long enough ride to make herself
"I would have thought that you’d have a lot of questions, but I guess not.
I was worried for a second that I’d picked up the wrong person since your
dad is so talkative. That guy could talk an ear off anyone."
"Really?" Kara stared across at him for a moment, "I wouldn’t know."
Wes turned his attention back to his driving and left Kara to sing to the
song on the radio. The rap song turned into a song by Ricky Martin and she
sang along with that also.
After Ricky Martin came a Melissa Ethridge song, then a back to back medley
of No Doubt songs played as they turned off the freeway. They traveled on
back streets until they came to the edge of a huge parking lot in which a
huge concrete building sat in the middle of.
Wes went into a gate and after rolling down his window to show a security
pass that he pulled from his front pocket he left the window open as they
sped across the empty parking lot towards the back of the building. Kara took
a moment to look at her surroundings. The computerized marquee sign at the
front of the building read "Tonight 7:30" then flipped to the next frame
but she couldn’t read the rest of the message before they slowed to a stop
between two maroon colored tour buses.
"Home sweet home," Wes said and turned off the engine cutting back to the
silence that had hung between them for most of the ride.
Kara stared out the window as a group of older men dressed in jeans and
blackened work boots and t-shirts walked out of the tour bus on the right
towards the doors of the arena. She didn’t recognize any of them as her father
and took a breath hoping that it would be awhile until she’d actually get
to see him. She had to work up some courage before she faced him.
Kara got out of the mini van and was grabbing in the backseat for her backpack
when she looked up to see the curious eyes of four guys staring down at her
from the open window of the tour bus on the left. She sneered at them from
behind her sunglasses and they stepped back from the window and she heard
them talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying.
"Come on, we’ll get your stuff inside then go and find your dad."
Wes led her over to the bus on the right and showed her a bottom bunk that
would be hers. He showed her how the small bunk bed flipped up to reveal a
long thin compartment to store her stuff in then told her to unpack her things
and said that he’d be back for her in twenty minutes. "Anything that won’t
fit under your bunk you can leave in the suitcases. We’ll put them in the
belly of the bus so put stuff that you don’t really need down there."
"Ok," she said.
"I’ll be back then," he said leaving Kara to the silence of the bus.
Taking a breath Kara went into the back room of the bus and pulled her suitcase
onto the bench seat. She opened it up and carefully removed the layers of
t-shirts and jeans and overalls and sweatpants she’d packed into the bag,
carefully choosing which clothes she needed and which ones could be put away
for a while. She chose to keep all her comfortable things and left the few
dressier outfits in her bag. She didn’t plan on going anywhere fancy for a
while and knew that she’d need her t-shirts more than her favorite black skirt
and the only dress that she owned.
Twenty-five minutes later Kara had unpacked everything and was trying to
figure out what of the contents of her backpack could be put away until needed.
She had almost ten packs of batteries for her walk-man and knew that most
of them could be put away for awhile. When she heard Wes in the front of the
bus she threw the rest of the batteries and books into her bag and zipped
them up making sure that her journal was at the bottom of the bag for safe
keeping. "Come on out Kara, I found your dad and he wants you to come out
and see him before they have to start getting ready for the show."
"Coming!" she called and clicked down her bunk bed. She grabbed up her suitcases
and shoved them onto the top of the bed so that they were out of the way until
she could get rid of them.
Wes met her at the door and handed over a wide necklace made of a shoelace.
It had a clip on the end of it which he told her to clip her security passes
to then dealt her out a handful of different laminated cards. "The red one
is a general pass that will let you go anywhere in the arena. The green and
white one is for your meals, the orange and black one is to get you onto the
floor to see your dad and the one with the superman logo lets you hang out
with the guys, after you meet them of course. The purple one with the band
logo on it gets you on the stage."
"Thanks," she said. She held onto the passes carefully and as she clipped
each one on. The backstage passes made her think about the movie Wayne’s World
and specifically the scene where Wayne and Garth were back stage at an Areosmith
concert and were showing off their back stage passes. She smiled to herself
thinking about how the two characters had shown their passes to anyone that
they’d met while they were walking around the backstage area, as if every
person they met was checking their Ids. She took a breath when she was done
and looked at Wes for her next directions.
"Now…onto the tour…" Wes led her around the arena for the next hour. Over
the squeaks and loud music from the sound check he introduced her to most
of the thirty or so staff members except the actual stars of the show—the
band members. The five-member group had gone off on some last minute interviews
and Wes apologized for not being able to introduce them.
"The guys are all around your age. Justin is 18, Lance is 20, JC’s 23 and
so is Joey and the old man of the group is Chris at 28."
Instead Wes led her out into the main room of the arena and to the small-elevated
platform that held a lot of technical equipment in the middle of a sea of
chairs. She immediately saw her father on the platform wearing a headset while
he was flipping switches and calling out directions to people. Although she
knew her father wasn’t the boss on the tour, he seemed to be running the
show at the moment as the rest of the crew on the stage forty yards away scurried
around checking equipment.
"Go on and climb up," Wes showed her the six rung ladder that lead to the
platform then walked away.
At the top of the ladder Kara took a deep breath and looked at her father’s
back for almost a minute before he turned around to say hello. He still had
his pot-belly and wore the same faded jeans and T-shirt that she’d always
pictured him in, although he had grown a beard since she’d seen him last and
looked very different as he smiled at her and stepped towards her.
"Hi daddy," she said with a soft voice as he pulled her into a forced hug.
"Hey." He looked down at her with a wide smile then turned and spoke into
his head seat then turned back to her. "I’m busy right now kiddo and I’ll
be all night, but I want you to have fun and hang out. Have you met everyone?"
"Everyone except the band." She tried to smile and not let on that seeing
him after so long was making her skin crawl. She knew that her father wasn’t
a bad guy, but the time apart from him had made him into a stranger.
"They’ll be busy tonight." Her father went back a flipped a few switches
on a control panel then turned back to her again, "Stay with Wes until after
the show. If you want anything to eat or drink talk to Kelsey. If you just
want to go and stay in the bus that’s fine too." Her father flipped another
switch then said, "If you need to get something at the store we’re going to
stop tomorrow and fill up the buses with food so you’ll have to wait until
"Ok," she said. She backed up to leave, but her father stopped her by pulling
out a small cell phone and a pager and reaching to give them to her while
keeping his eyes on the stage.
"Call me and check in with me before the show tonight and if I page you
call me back. The number is programmed into the phone." He looked at her
and let out a sigh when he saw the way she turned her nose up at the two
devices. "I’m not trying to keep you under lock and key. I just need to know
where you are for the first few days since not everyone will know who you
are and you don’t know your way around."
"Fine." Kara smiled but still felt like a prisoner. She shrugged off her
bad feelings knowing that she had to follow the rules. If her father kicked
her off the tour she didn’t want to know what her mother would do to her.
Climbing back down the ladder Kara looked over and saw Wes sitting with
another guy who seemed to be directing him with some kind of instructions.
Kara walked over to him and feeling very out of place she waited for a lull
in the conversation before interrupting.
Wes looked at her after a moment and asked, "You set?"
"Yeah," Kara replied taking one last look at her dad.
"Kara Parker, this is Johnny Wright. He’s the tour manager." Wes turned
to Johnny and said, "Johnny, this is Parker’s daughter, the one who’ll be
with us over the summer."
"Nice to meet you," The man shook her hand and immediately excused himself
from their little gathering.
Wes gave her a smile and said, "Things are fairly hectic right now since
the show starts in about four hours." Wes looked around while the squeaking
and music started up again. "You hungry?"
"I could eat," she said as she tried to mold the earplugs to fit her ears
while trying not to drop the pager and the phone. She finally had to clip
the pager to her jeans and slipped the cell phone into her jacket pocket.
"Come on," Wes led her across the arena floor then through a hallway and
into a small room that sort of looked like a living room, except that it had
five huge equipment boxes sitting to one side of it. She finally saw the
long banquet style table against the wall covered in snack foods with a big
bucket at the end with sodas sticking out from a pile of ice. She'd eaten
breakfast, but hadn't eaten the lunch that they'd served on the plane and
was now starving.
"Have at it." Wes grabbed a bag of chips and a Sprite and sat down on the
couch next to the table with a sigh.
Kara removed her earplugs then grabbed a coke and a bag of animal crackers
and sat down on one of the couches. Wes sat with her for a moment quietly
until a voice came out from a walkie-talkie he had with him. Soon he was up
and going to take care of something leaving Kara alone again. "Have fun. When
the concert starts come and find me on the right side of the stage just behind
the platform on that side. You can sit and watch the show from there if you
"Thanks Wes," she said and continued to eat her crackers.
Leaning back into the couch she relaxed for a moment and was almost falling
asleep when she heard people in the hallway. It sounded like about forty people,
but when the younger guys she’d seen earlier through the window of the bus
entered the room noisily she saw that their numbers had only increased by
"I totally think that MJ could kick Pippins…" A boy in an Orange Tennessee
Volunteer’s basketball jersey stopped mid-sentence and stared at Kara and
was soon followed by the four others. He was about six feet tall and looked
to be around her age while the other’s he was with seemed only a few years
"How you doin’?" A guy with fire engine red hair said quoting a pick up
line from the TV show Friends.
Kara smiled and continued to chew her crackers then took a sip of her coke
to wash them down. The delay of an answer gave one of the others enough time
to speak up for her.
"A stow away?" The low voice of the one with the bleached blond hair came
out sounding overly dramatic as he smiled at her with some sort of curiosity.
"Goldie-locks and the five NSYNC-ers…" The guy with fire engine red hair
spoke in a cartoon voice which made Kara laugh.
"It’s alive," a shorter guy with dark hair said smiling. There was a devilish
look in his eyes which matched the crazy logo on the front of his black T-shirt
which Kara finally figured out said FuManSkeeto on it in graffiti letters.
"I’m Kara Parker," she finally said after taking another swig of her drink.
"I win," the guy with the fire engine red hair said.
"Shut up Joey!" The taller guy in a red Chicago Bulls' number 33 jersey
"Guys chill." The one with the FuManSkeeto shirt said. He stepped forward.
"I’m Chris. That’s Justin in the Tennessee shirt, Joey is the red head over
there, Blondie over there is Lance and the one who hasn’t said a freakin’
word to you is JC."
Kara immediately lost track of who was who but said a quick hello anyway.
She stood up and collected her things, "I guess I’ll get out of here and leave
you guys alone."
The one that she thought was Joey stepped forward and said, "You don’t have
"Really I should," she insisted and retreated from the room quickly.
In the hallway Kara checked her watch. It was only four o’clock so she decided
to go back to the bus to see if she could get a nap before the show started.
She wanted to watch part of the show, but a nap sounded better than hanging
out with people she didn’t know so she found herself a route out of the arena.
She stopped and called her dad on the phone and told him that she’d be napping
before she climbed back up the stairs to go find her bed.
On the second step of the entrance she looked over to see what she thought
to be the driver sitting in the front seat looking at a clipboard. He turned
and immediately said, "Hey."
"Hi," she said softly.
"You’re Kara, right?" he asked.
"I’m Charlie Howard. Jake Bell and I are the drivers." He put down his clipboard
and asked, "Can you get me your suitcases and I’ll put them underneath?"
"Yeah." Kara made her way to her bunk and pulled her bags off it then brought
them back to Charlie.
"Let me show you how to open up the door," Charlie said. He proceeded to
show her how to open up the belly of the bus and showed her how to open the
door of the bus. "It’s usually not locked, but if it is your dad or Kelsey
will have a key. If I can get one made I’ll get you a copy of the key, but
for now you’ll have to wait."
"No trouble," she said.
"Anyway I have to go check on some stuff."
"I’m going to take a nap. Should I close up the door when I go back to watch
"Yeah." Charlie gave her another smile then walked off leaving her by herself.
"The opening act goes on in about an hour and the guys go on in about two
hours so have a good nap."
After waking two hours later to the alarm she’d set on her watch Kara climbed
out of her little hole of a bed and collected up her jacket, her security
passes, phone and pager and made her way out of the bus. It was colder now
that the sun was going down so Kara pulled on her jacket and zipped it up.
The wind was blowing and she could hear it mixing with the sounds of the freeway
in the distance. Shivering she put her hair up into a ponytail then walked
back towards the doors to the arena. She flung the door open and was caught
by the strange noise that came out of the hallway. She was still trying to
figure out what the strange loud humming noise was when Kelsey walked by.
Kelsey looked about thirty and was the youngest of the women on the tour
besides Kara. She and Kara had spoken for a moment earlier and had become
instantly friendly to each other. Kelsey had warned her about the guy’s antics
and said to keep her guard up and look out for any practical jokes that might
come her way. She’d laughed and explained that it was all in good fun, but
that the guys could get out of hand if a person didn’t keep their eyes open.
"Hey Kara," Kelsey waved while balancing a clipboard and a box of something
heavy with her right hand.
"Hey," Kara waved then asked, "What’s that noise?"
"The fans." Kelsey stopped and leaned the box in her hands against her hip.
"It’s a packed house tonight. You have earplugs, right?"
"You’re going to need them."
"Thanks for the advice."
Kelsey looked at her watch then readjusted the box. "I gotta run…I’ll catch
"Ok." Kara waved as Kelsey continued down the hall in the direction of the
A few minutes later Kara showed her security passes to some guys sitting
near the door to the inside room of the arena then made her way carefully
to the right side of the stage. Wes was sitting on a metal folding chair and
had an empty one next to him. Not being able to hear anything Kara waved to
Wes and took a seat next to him to watch the show.
The guys were dressed in jeans and t-shirts and jackets and were in the
middle of a fast song dancing around wildly so Kara sat and watched in amazement
at their hyperactive state. At the end of the fast song Joey and Justin stood
in the front of the crowd and Lance, JC and Chris went off to the left side
of the stage. Kara could see them getting water then they returned with stools
for the other guys to sit on and they went into a slow song, called, This
I Promise You, which Kara found herself instantly falling in love with.
After the two-hour performance she and Wes walked out onto the floor of
the arena and climbed back up to where her father was. She gave her father
a hug and congratulated him on the show.
"Did you like it?" he asked.
"Definitely," she said.
"Well we have to pack up tonight so I have to get going. I’m going to have
you go on with the buses tonight and I’ll be in the eighteen wheeler behind
"Ok," Kara said.
"Well get going and go see the guys. I’ll come and find you for breakfast
"Ok," she said, "Night dad."
Kara climbed down and they went back towards the room where she and Wes
had eaten their snack earlier and Wes had her wait outside in the hallway
while he went into the dressing room.
In the hallway Kelsey came up to her and introduced her around to about
fifteen people who turned out to be various relatives of the band. The most
talkative of the bunch was the cutest little five-year old boy named Jonathan
who was Justin’s little brother. Kara knew instantly that Jonathan belonged
to Justin from the orange and white Tennessee Volunteers baseball hat and
NSYNC T-shirt and backstage passes that Jonathan was wearing.
"Are you in a band?" Jonathan asked his eyes wide. He spoke boldly, but
hadn’t let go of holding onto his mother’s hand as his mom and Kelsey talked.
"No, my daddy works with your brother," Kara said.
"Do you know my brother?" Jonathan’s curious stare made Kara smile.
"Actually I just met him today."
"He’s really cool. He’s the bestest big brother in the whole world."
"Is that so?"
"Yep," Jonathan smiled and leaned against his mother’s leg for a minute.
"Excuse me," Jonathan’s mom said a moment later. "Can you watch him while
I to the restroom?"
"Sure," Kara said with a smile. She took Jonathan’s hand from his mother’s
and said, "So Jonathan, are you in a band?"
"Nope," he said with a smile then looked around, "Have you seen my brother?"
Kara crouched next to his three and a half-foot body and said, "Not since
he was on stage. I think he’s changing his clothes so that he can meet the
"Yo Jonathan!" A voice from behind them yelled above the talking in the
hallway. Kara looked up to see Justin coming out of the dressing room this
time wearing a baby blue North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball T-shirt, jeans
and black basketball shoes.
"Justin!" Jonathan let go of her hand and ran full steam ahead into Justin’s
arms where he was picked up and thrown in the air once before Justin tickled
Kara walked over to where they were and Jonathan said to his brother, "This
is Kara. She’s not in a band, but her daddy is on your tour."
"Really?" Justin said with genuine interest.
"Yep." Jonathan said with a wide smile
Justin looked around for a moment then at her. "Did you see where my mom
"She’s down in the rest room," Kara said.
"I’ll take over the baby-sitting," Justin offered.
"I’m not a baby!" Jonathan wiggled out of Justin’s arms and then stood next
to his brother holding onto his hand tightly.
"I know you aren’t big guy. That’s just what they call it. We know better
though." Justin winked and for the first time that day Kara was glad that
she was on tour. Now that she was standing there with Justin she could see
why the eight thousand fans had bought tickets to the concert that night.
Justin, with his blonde hair and blue eyes, was fairly good looking and had
manners, which in Kara’s book was something important.
"Hey Jus, you ready?" The one that she remembered as Lance said from over
"Can I come too?" Jonathan said.
"Of course," Justin said.
"Piggy back!" Jonathan yelled and soon they were heading down the hall.
Joey, the one with the red hair, came up behind Kara and put an arm around
her pulling her with them down the hallway. "Come on and meet the fans."
"I guess I don’t have a choice." Kara flashed him a smile.
"You’ll have a blast," Joey said.
The next hour was spent in a small room with about seventy five screaming
fans who took pictures and got hugs and autographs from the band members.
Kara stood with Jonathan hanging onto her back as he commented on how gross
all the girls were.
When the meet and greet was over Jonathan and his mother went off with the
guys and as Wes was following them out of the room he stopped in front of
Kara. "Go grab a snack and get back to the bus. We’re leaving for the next
city in about an hour. It’s going to be about a five hour ride."
Kara nodded and made her way out to the bus. She was exhausted from the
constant high energy level that surrounded the tour. She’d known that her
father was busy while on tour, but the activity level that surrounded a single
show would have tired out even the most hyperactive person.
"Hey Kara!" Lance was in line to get onto the other tour bus when he called
to her, "Want to watch a movie with me and the guys?"
Kara smiled and said, "Sure."
"Go grab a pillow and comfy clothes and come on over!" Lance called.
Kara went into the bus and nervously passed by Charlie. "The guys invited
me to watch a movie on their bus so I’m going to go and sit over there."
"Sounds good. No one else is in here yet so if you want to change or whatever
go right ahead," Charlie said.
Kara hurriedly went into the back, flipped open her bed and grabbed out
a pair of sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt and changed into them then grabbed
her pillow off her bed and went back out to the front.
"Better hurry," Charlie said, "Jake is going to leave soon."
"On my way," Kara said stuffing the cell phone and pager into her sweatshirt
Walking across the parking lot Kara took deep breaths and tried to stay
calm. She would have been nervous to hang out with any five guys she’d just
met, but under the strange circumstances of her life she was even more unnerved
about going into their bus with them.
Kara knocked on the open door and symotanously said, "Knock, knock."
"Hey, come on up," an older man said. He stuck his head out from behind
a curtain and said, "You must be Kara. I’m Jake."
"Hi," Kara said and hugged her pillow to her chest.
"Come on in. The guys are in the back already."
Kara stepped up into the bus that was the twin version of the other bus
and immediately smelled popcorn. She could hear muffled voices coming from
the back and a moment later she knocked on the door and was let into the
cramped back room where the five guys were sitting on couches throwing popcorn
at each other.
They stopped when the door opened and saw her standing in the doorway. Justin’s
back was to her and it seemed as if he was going to sit and lean against the
door and sit on the floor instead of sitting on the couches where the guys
were sitting facing sideways with their feet up on the opposite couch.
"Hey," Joey said stuffing the handful of popcorn into his mouth. He was
the farthest away from her sitting with his shoulder against one wall with
Lance’s feet next to him.
The mix of sweatpants and running pants and t-shirts made the perfect outfits
for their nice little sleepover. With pillows behind them and a big bowl of
popcorn being passed around between them they looked completely comfortable
in the strange room. Kara stepped inside the door and looked around wondering
how long the guys had been living out of a tour bus. To any other person the
novelty of the bus would have been too much to handle, the way it was for
her, but for the guys they didn’t seemed to even acknowledge their surroundings
or seem to notice the low rumble of the engine of the bus.
"Hey, got any room for a sixth?" Kara said with a half smile wondering if
all six of them could sit in the cramped space.
"Yeah." Lance moved a pillow and said, "Over here."
Kara stepped across Justin then scooted in between Lance’s and JC’s feet
so that she was sitting on the same couch as Chris and Joey. She put her feet
up, like the others and settled into the coziness of the room.
"So Kara, welcome to movie time," Chris said with a strange fake accent
while clasping his hands together in front of him in a very proper manner
as if they were at high tea with the Queen of England not hanging in the
cramped living space that the guys called home.
"She’s not a little kid," Justin said. He pulled the door closed and leaned
up against the door.
"Start the movie," JC whined.
"Alright," Joey leaned over and pressed play just about the time that the
bus started up.
The floor shook startling Kara and as they pulled out of their parking spot
she leaned a little and thought that she was going to be ok until they made
a turn. "Whoa!" Kara reached and tried to stop herself from falling. She couldn’t
find a place to put her hand fast enough and accidentally hit into Joey’s
shoulder squishing Lance’s feet for a moment as they went over some sort
of a bump.
"You’ll get used to it," Chris said with a smile as they bumped along for
a while then must have gotten on the freeway because things smoothed out a
"What are we watching?" Kara asked just as the Feature Presentation sign
on the tape came up.
"It was Lance’s pick so we’re watching Clue." JC scooted down in his seat
a little then leaned his head against the back of the couch to watch.
"Again." Chris said with a slight whine to his voice.
About an hour into the movie Kara was leaning against Joey’s shoulder and
staring across at Lance who was half-asleep, but still watching the movie.
Justin was still intently watching but all the others seemed to be half-asleep.
In the blue light coming from the television Kara watched Lance lean against
his hand. His long eyelashes fluttered open and closed then his eyes closed
for a moment then opened again quickly as if he was fighting off sleep.
Just as Kara was finally falling asleep a cell phone rang. Everyone woke
up and began searching for phones. Kara grabbed into her pocket and found
the phone. "It’s mine guys." Everyone made groaning noises before settling
back in their seats. Justin mumbled something under his breath, but it wasn’t
loud enough for anyone to really hear.
"Hello?" She said cautiously.
"Where are you?" She recognized her father’s angry voice and held her breath.
She knew that she was in trouble. It might have been six months since she’d
last seen him, but he still had the same way of disciplining her long distance.
"I’m with the guys watching a movie." Kara tried to whisper as to not disturb
them, but it didn’t work that well. "I’m sorry. I knew I should have called."
"I’ll talk to you in the morning about it. Try not to bother the guys too
much. They have an early morning tomorrow."
"I’ll be good," I said.
Chris laughed a bit at Kara’s comment and JC hit him with a pillow to shut
"Ok, night then," her father said.
"Night." Kara clicked off the phone and wanted to throw it at someone. She
couldn’t believe that she was eighteen and her father was still treating her
like a high schooler. She stood up stepping over two sets of legs then looked
at down at Justin and said, "Let me out."
Justin looked up at her sleepily.
"Let me out Justin." Tears formed in her eyes and she tried not to let them
flow as Justin reached up and opened the door and let her out.
She made her way past the bunks and into the front living room. They were
still on the freeway and as she flopped down at the tiny table and stared
out the window she wished the bus would turn around and head back to Orlando.
"You okay?" Lance asked. He stood at the end of the table and looked down
at her with a concerned look.
"Yeah." Her voice was shaky so she took a breath and held it.
Lance slid into the seat across from her with the concerned look still on
his face. "You sure?"
Kara leaned forward and covered her face with her hands and held her breath
for a long time. She took exactly five more deep breaths before uncovering
Lance reached out and covered her left hand with his. "I take it that you
and your dad don’t get along that well?"
"Actually I wouldn’t know how we get along." Kara held her breath as tears
welled in her eyes. "I haven’t seen him in about six months."
Lance squeezed her hand and she was comforted by the sincere and sympathetic
look on his face. "It’s gonna be a rough tour for you."
"It’s just hard since he left my mom and me and now he wants to be my parent
Lance sat back and with a completely serious look said, "You’ll do ok with
it. I’m sure whatever happened will get worked out."
"At least someone thinks that."
"Just don’t think about it too much. Your dad is going to try to be a parent
and I’m sure there is a lot of stuff that he says that actually makes sense,
but I think you’ll have to figure out what to listen to and what not to listen
Kara leaned back in her seat. "Is that advice you follow in your own life
or did you get it out of some book?"
Lance smiled, "Why would you say that?"
Kara leaned and looked at him closely for a moment with one eyebrow raised.
"It just seems a little mature for a normal twenty year old to be spurting
"Yeah well I’m not the normal twenty year old." His voice was thick with
sarcasm. He kept a serious look on his face for a moment then laughed.
Laughing at his antics Kara finally smiled and said, "I guess with all you
guys around there isn’t time to be upset or sad."
"Nope and it only gets better from here." Lance got up.
Kara put her hands up. "Is that a promise or a threat?"
The bus slowed and made a turn making Lance and Kara lean. When it stopped
she heard the sound of the door swishing open then saw Jake stick his head
through the curtain. "Rest-Stop guys."
"Mini-mart?" Lance asked.
"But of course!"
"Rest Stop!" Lance screamed.
Soon we were joined by the others, who, though half asleep, seemed to rally
around the idea of getting junk food in the middle of the night.
Kara sat up and rubbed her head and looked around. It was still dark outside
and she heard the engine of the bus slowing into the low rumble that it’d
had when they’d been parked earlier.
"Did you sleep with your head at that end?" Lance said. He was sleeping
on the other couch with his head towards the back of the bus while Kara’s
head was towards the front of the bus on the other couch.
"Yeah," she said rubbing her head.
"We should have told you not to do that," Lance said, "Are you ok?"
"Yeah." Kara turned and plumped up her pillow and moved the pillow to the
other side of the couch so that her head was across from Lance’s and lay back
"Did you see what time it was?" Lance asked.
"Where is it?" Kara sat up and looked around.
"On the VCR," Lance turned a little onto this back and let out a sigh.
"It’s about four." Curling up to her pillow again Kara lay back down and
stared across at Lance. They’d been in the back room after everyone had gone
to sleep and had talked for almost two hours before they’d both gone quiet
and had fallen asleep. Looking at him now in the low light of the room she
felt some sort of connection to him, but didn’t yet know what the exact kind
of a name to give that connection, whether it be friendship or relationship.
"Great!" Lance said and Kara could see him put his hands to his forehead
in an exasperated manner.
"What?" she asked.
Lance turned and faced her and although she couldn’t see most of his face
due to the shadows she could tell that he was tired from the way he sighed
and said, "I have to leave in about an hour for a radio spot."
"Why do you have to go so early?" Kara asked, "Why do they need you at five
in the morning?"
"It’s the morning show, some commute hour show or something spot so Justin
and I get to eat breakfast on the air."
"Why do you have to go?" Kara felt like Barbara Walters with all her questions,
but she was generally interested in Lance’s schedule.
"We rotate the schedule so that not everyone has to get up that early. Tomorrow
morning Joey and JC are going to be on a different station’s show. Justin
and I just happen to be "on" this morning."
"Oh." Kara settled back in to her makeshift bed. "I guess I should shut
up now so you can get back to sleep."
"It’s ok," Lance said, "I probably won’t go back to sleep anyway."
"How do you live on so little sleep?"
"I got used to it a long time ago. I spend most of my days off at home sleeping.
My parents hate it when I come to visit because I sleep about eighteen hours
straight. They never get to see me."
"I bet JC is worse, from what I hear about his sleeping patterns," Kara
"Actually he sleeps more on tour than at home. Usually when we have time
off he’s in the studio either producing or recording or playing around with
"That’s one thing I’d hate if I was on the road all the time. I need my
Lance laughed and said, "I don’t think anyone in this group even knows what
free time is. We’re all over achievers. We never like to sit still, except
maybe JC…since he’s so into his naps."
Kara laughed. "You make him sound like such a bum."
"He is one."
"I heard that!" A voice called from the other room.
A moment later JC came into the room and sat down by Lance’s feet. He rubbed
his eyes and looked at Lance then at Kara for a moment. Kara couldn’t see
his face, but she imagined that he was trying to get his eyes to adjust to
the darkness due to the way he wiped his eyes another time before sitting
"Did we wake you up?" Kara asked.
"No," JC said. "The bus stopped. It always happens, but usually I don’t
hear people up at four in the morning."
"Sorry C, Kara and I were just talking…"
"Yeah, yeah I know…I’m a bum."
"That wasn’t the topic of our whole conversation."
"Yeah, just most of it," Lance said.
"Shut up!" someone called in a half-whisper from the other room.
Kara couldn’t tell which one it was, but soon Lance and JC called back in
hushed voices, "Sorry Chris."
A moment of silence passed as JC leaned to close the door. "So are you going
to the station this morning?"
"Yeah, Justin and I got this morning and you and Joey get tomorrow."
"Are you sure?" JC asked, "I swear it’s Chris’s turn."
"Nope C…remember…Chris went to two in a row while we were in Orlando since
Justin had the flu."
"Oh yeah." JC leaned back with a groan then turned his head towards Kara.
"So what are you doing today?"
"I don’t know yet. I think my dad is going to put me to work."
"You mean this isn’t a vacation trip?"
"You want to come with us to the radio station?" Lance asked.
"I don’t want to be a bother."
"No bother. It’ll be fun."
"You need more sleep Lancten," JC commented, "You’re losing it."
"Think about it C. Justin in the morning without cereal until we get there.
At least I can have Kara sit in between us so His Highness won’t kill me…at
least not until he gets her first."
Kara picked up her pillow and hit at Lance with it. "Thanks."
JC laughed then got up and sighed. "I’m going back to sleep. You guys have
fun at the radio station."
"See ya C," Lance said.
Lance stretched back out and sighed and said, "I guess I’m going to be up
all day then."
"You don’t have time to take a nap today?" Kara asked.
"Don’t let the schedule fool you. Just because we don’t perform tonight
doesn’t mean that we are just going to sit around all day. I have the radio
spot, then we have a huge meet and greet, then we’re filming something for
one of the local TV stations and then we’re going to start working on the
new video choreography."
"Don’t you ever get tired of it all?"
"Nah. It’s been crazy for about the last two months because of the new album,
but as soon as the initial promotional stuff gets out of the way it’ll be
back to just plain touring again."
I heard the front door of the bus open and sat still. I could hear the other
bus pulling in, as the door stayed open.
Lance sat up and said, "It’s Johnny and the other bus."
Kara could hear Johnny walking through the bus then heard him open up one
of the sets of curtains on the bunks and whisper loudly, "Hey Justin. Get
up man." The sound of another curtain opening filled the silence and then
Johnny called out softly, "Lance?"
"I’m back here J. I’m coming."
"Ok," Johnny said, "Hit Justin again on the way out."
"Sure," Lance called then turned to Kara, "That’s my cue."
"Can I still come with you?" Kara asked.
"Sure," Lance stood up and held out a hand to her and once she was standing
took a breath. "You’re not going to have time to take a shower or anything
"That’s what they make baseball hats and anti-persperant for. Besides…it’s
radio. No one is going to see me."
"Bonus points." Lance smiled.
"I’ll explain on the way over to the station. Run or we’ll be late."
Kara grabbed her pillow and ran out of the bus in her socks and went to
the other bus, which was open due to the fact that Charlie was standing outside
smoking a cigarette.
"Hey, you’re up early," Charlie commented blowing out smoke.
"I’m going to the radio station with the guys this morning."
"Sounds like fun," Charlie said.
"Is anyone up in there?" Kara asked.
"Nope," Charlie said taking another drag of his cigarette. "Go on in."
"Crowley and Crowley here with the Madhouse Crew. This morning we have two
fifths of NSYNC with us. They’re going to be performing at the Houston Civic
Center tomorrow night. Say hello guys." Bryan Crowley said nudging his brother
Ryan. The twin DJ’s of that morning’s show sat across a wide table from Lance
and Justin. They all had their own microphones and headphones and were paying
attention to the broadcast.
"Hello out there," Justin said with a laugh. His voice was thick with sleep,
but he’d grabbed a cup of coffee on the way into the studio Kara figured that
she would soon be seeing him perk up considering how strong the coffee tasted
when she’d poured herself some after Justin had.
"Hey," Lance said with a very low tone to his voice. His tiredness made
him sound sexier to Kara.
The show began and the hosts chatted with Lance and Justin so Kara turned
and looked out the window as she listened to the show. There were about a
hundred people sitting outside the radio station listening to the show on
stereos. She’d sort of zoned out watching the girls outside until she heard
her name. She turned and looked at Wes thinking he was calling her, but it
turned out that it was coming over the air. "KA-RA, Hey Ka-ra!"
Kara turned and faced the glass of the studio to find Lance, Justin, Bryan
and Ryan all staring at her with wide eyes. Lance and Justin had turned in
their seats and Justin was waving.
"Ah yeah…in here sweetie." Bryan or maybe it was Ryan’s voice was thick
with a mocking tone that made Kara feel instantly stupid.
She blushed and said, "What?" She knew that they couldn’t hear her, but
one of the twin hosts waved for her to come to the door.
"Get in here!"
Kara went over and opened the door to the studio and stuck her head in.
Lance and Justin were both turned around and staring at her. She whispered,
"Come on in here. We want to meet you," one of the twins said.
"Are you on the air?" Kara asked quietly.
"Yes we’re on the air. Now get in here," the other twin said.
Lance scooted over and let Kara have his headphones and she sat on the arm
of his chair. Lance put an arm around her and one of the twins said, "I’m
so jealous. Lance put his arm around Kara."
"Hey. I just don’t want her to fall off the chair." Lance smiled and winked
"Sure," the twins said in unison.
Justin laughed and said, "Kara is like our little sister."
Kara whipped her head around and stared at Justin. She'd only known him
for about twelve hours. How could he have already made the assumption that
they were like family. And besides, it was ridiculous of him to talk as if
he was so much older and wiser than her. "Little? Justin, I’m your age, actually
I think I’m older than you!"
"Sor-ry!" Justin said into the microphone and leaned back with a smile and
"So all our listeners want to know is first off how did you get to be so
lucky to be on tour with these guys…"
"My father works on the tour and I’m visiting him for the summer before
I go off to college."
Lance pinched her side with the arm that was around her and she jumped a
bit. She stared at him with this "stop-it" look.
"Hmmm." One of the twins said.
"What?" Kara laughed and looked up again.
"Nothing," the twin said.
They spent the next hour and a half joking around and when Kara and the
guys finally left the studio Kara was sad. She’d liked hanging out with the
guys and having Lance’s arm around her for an hour was something she wanted
to have happen again.
When they arrived back at the arena fans were already lined up for the "Meet
& Greet" which meant that Justin and Lance had to get changed to go and
join the others. Kara followed them over to the buses and was climbing into
the number-two bus when Johnny came up and stopped her for a minute. "I need
your help today, ok?"
"Sure," Kara said with a smile trying to be polite although she was feeling
tired from her lack of sleep.
"Go get cleaned up and meet me up by where the guys are signing autographs
and stuff," Johnny said.
"Can I ask what I’ll be doing?" Kara asked.
"You’re going to be showing around a girl and the camera crew from MTV.
They’re taping Fanatic. You know that show?"
Kara nodded and gave him a smile, "Thanks. I just wanted to know if I should
be wearing work clothes or not."
"No trouble…see you in about twenty or twenty-five minutes then?"
Kara looked at her watch. It was ten 'til which meant that she’d be meeting
Johnny around eight thirty. "Yeah," she started into the bus then said, "Hey
wait…where’s the shower?"
Johnny turned and pointed at the door of the arena. "It’s the fourth door
on the right."
Kara hurried through her normal morning routine and was dressed and on her
way to find Johnny twenty-five minutes after they’d first spoken. She’d changed
into jeans and a new T-shirt and running shoes and had her credentials around
her neck; her pager clipped on her waste-band and had stuck her phone in a
tiny backpack. She was just about to where she’d been told that the autograph
signing would be when she heard screaming. It had turned out that she’d arrived
to the "Meet & Greet" just as the guys had. While she hadn’t been able
to really hear the fans talking as they were waiting in line, when the guys
revealed themselves by stepping up onto the tiny stage that had been set up
everyone had immediately gone into hysterics.
Kara grabbed in her backpack and pulled out her sunglasses and put them
on before politely weaving through the line to the stage area. The guys smelled
of coconut smelling sunscreen and she debated whether or not she should go
to the bus and find some if she was going to be out in the sun. Deciding not
to take the chance of showing up late for her "job" she waved at the guys.
"Waaaaaasssssssssuuuuuuupppppppp." Five tired voices joined in quoting the
newest Budweiser commercial that not only made Kara laugh, but also seemed
to entertain about the first fifty or so people in line.
Kara stopped laughing after a moment then looked around then, not seeing
Johnny right away, went over to Wes, who was sitting in a folding chair behind
the guys if he’d seen Johnny.
"He’s down there," Wes said pointing across the other side of the stage
Kara walked behind the guys and made her way over to Johnny who immediately
told her to get in. "It turns out that the girl from Fanatic isn’t going to
be here until after the Meet and Greet. She's going to stay for part of the
choreography session later on tonight. We’re going to set up dinner for her
and the guys, but I have another job for you in the meantime."
"Ok," Kara said.
Johnny pulled away in the golf cart and they zoomed back towards the tour
buses just as Kelsey was coming out of the number one bus. She was carrying
her clipboard again, but didn’t look as stressed as she had the last time
Kara had seen her.
"You ready to go?" Kelsey asked as they drove up.
"Go?" Kara asked.
"We get to go grocery shopping," Kelsey said. She stuck out her tongue at
Johnny and sighed, "How Ozzie and Harriet of us."
Kara smiled as Kelsey got onto the back of the golf cart.
Five minutes later Kara and Kelsey were driving around town trying to find
a grocery store. Kelsey had opened the window and they were playing the radio
loudly and for a moment Kara felt normal again. She’d had such a strange night
and morning that she felt that she was going to go a bit crazy being around
the tour’s hectic schedule. She hadn't had time to think about it, but as
they drove along she let it all sink in. Over ten thousand people. Ten thousand.
And the radio. The radio.
"It’s nice to act normal for a minute," Kelsey said breaking into the song
that was on the radio.
Kara turned down Sting's Desert Rose on the radio and smiled. She watched
Kelsey drive for a moment then asked, "How did you end up on tour with them?"
"I worked for Johnny’s father and when I graduated college his father got
me a job working with another one of Johnny’s groups then when they took over
the management for NSYNC I was traded over to that tour. I’ve been with these
guys since around 1996."
"Whoa!" Kara was amazed that the group had been around that long and that
Kelsey had been living life on the road for so long.
"I know I'm crazy for staying on the road that long, but it’s addicting.
I made a bet with your dad that you’d get hooked and want to stay on tour.
He says you’ll go back and go to college though."
"I just want to make it through the summer for now. Besides, I have a lot
of friends that I’d like to get back and see."
"Did you have fun with the guys this morning?" Kelsey asked, "sometimes
it's hard to get into their little click, but I think you've done a pretty
good job considering the movie invite last night."
"Yeah. I guess I have the little sister syndrome, but I guess if I could
just hang out with them and laugh the summer would be as good as hanging out
at home." Kara looked out the window as they passed yet another McDonalds.
She hadn't really eaten that morning and she was getting hungry.
"OK, spill it, which one do you have a crush on?" Kelsey reached and turned
off the radio.
"Why would you say that?" Kara asked as Kelsey pulled into the parking lot
of the grocery store.
"Well I happen to be a long time sufferer of the little sister syndrome
so we have a lot in common." Kelsey turned and got her clipboard from the
back seat then looked at Kara closely. "Out with it."
"I like Lance." Kara sat back for a moment.
"What?" Kara asked.
"I thought it would have been Justin, since you two are around the same
age." She got out the car and waited for Kara then they made their way over
to the store.
"Justin is cool, but he reminds me of this guy back home which ruins the
whole thing." Kara scrunched up her face.
Kelsey grabbed and cart. "Grab one."
"Are we going to need two?" Kara asked.
"We’re shopping for thirty people. I think if we make it out of here with
less than four we can call this trip a success. This is just the first round
of stuff we have to go and buy. Our next stop after we take the groceries
back is to take a list to the hardware store."
Kelsey and Kara shopped for the next hour then made an hour-long trip to
the hardware store before returning to the buses. Their shopping consisted
of everything from toilet paper to electrical tape. It was the strangest shopping
trip Kara had ever been on, but it was fun hanging out and chatting with
Kelsey the whole time.
When they returned Johnny grabbed Kara away from Kelsey and drove her across
to meet up with the Fanatic girl and the camera crew that was with her.
"Kara this is Monica and her mother Holly," Johnny said. The blond-headed
pre-teen and her mother were looking around the parking lot with wide eyes.
"Hi," Kara said shaking their hands with a professional manner. She gave
the girl a smile and turned to Johnny as he handed her a list.
"The guys should be done and ready to eat lunch in about a half hour. So
give them the grand tour," Johnny turned to Monica and her mother, "We’ll
see you in a while. Have fun."
Johnny drove off leaving Kara alone with the girl and her mother. "Ok, let's
see what Johnny has written down. I’m a little new here so I have to see where
we should take you."
The camera crew followed them into the arena and while Johnny had written
not to take them onto the floor of the arena they walked around on the first
level and watched the stage being put up. Monica asked tons of questions about
the guys and Kara found many of them hard to answer, but tried her best to
answer them. Kara's knowledge of the guys had been supplemented by a teeny-bopper
magazine that she'd read on the way back from the grocery trip, but even
one magazine couldn't cover all the things that Monica asked of Kara.