24 Hours -- Twelve

The sound of screaming echoes off the walls of the walkway I performed in and everything is magnified causing me to not be able to hear anything, even my own thoughts.  Tiny's arm comes out of the crowd of people on stage and I feel him pulling me along.  I hate how I'm treated like a little kid when I am out doing promotional stuff.  I mean really do I need to be pulled through the crowd like a small child.  Like I'm gonna run off and go somewhere--there would be a mob if I even tried it--I know from experience.  When I was in New York two years ago I tried to sneak off to see Britney at her friend's house and ended up needed three police cars to get away.  That one cost me.  I not only pissed off her friends, but her too.  I tried to throw them a New Year's party that they wouldn't forget and I think it worked because when I saw them last they weren't throwing daggers at me with their eyes.

Vivian falls into step beside us.  Her cheeks are pink from the cold and she looks dwarfed by the size of my backpack on her back.  We move directly to the car.  I turn to grab my bag from Vivian and I sling it over my shoulder then put a hand out to push her back towards where she was walking since I knocked her off balance when I grabbed the bag.

"Justin wait!"

I turn around thinking that it might be a fan calling to me and a part of me wants to instantly run away thinking that it might be someone from the Spears family.  I'm not at all afraid of the rest of that family, but seeing Britney right now isn't what I need.

A tiny curly haired girl runs up to me.  She's breathing hard as if she's not only late in getting to me, but also afraid to get in trouble if she was to miss me.  "Your microphone."

I finally notice that my ear monitors are hanging around my shoulders.  Making things easier, I hand my bag back to Vivian then unhook my ear monitors and battery pack and hand them over.

"The one in your back pocket too," the PA says holding her hand out.  She doesn't seem nervous at all.

I know that I know her name, but with everyone screaming now that I'm still standing there and with flashes going off I seriously can't remember my own name let alone the fact that there is a huge microphone in my back pocket.  I laugh a little and hand it over.  "Sorry about that."

"No problem.  Have a good drive," she says and turns and runs back over towards Troy where she hands him my microphone and ear monitors.  I'm sure that I've got another performance sometime tonight and I know that Troy will make sure that he shows up with my monitors.

"Ready?" Vivian asks motioning towards the car.  I don't know how this stuff happens.  I mean I know that they make plans to swing around and pick me up, but that's a part of the day that usually isn't discussed with me.  I wonder though sometime if something happened to all of them what I'd do.  I have my cell phone on me and I can call nine-one-one, but if I needed to call security or anything like that I'd be screwed.  I know the guys by name, but I couldn't tell you what company supplies them or even if they work for a company.  I never thought to ask.

I take my bag back from Vivian and we load into the car.  It's funny how the littlest things can get to a person.  It's lonely in the car now without the guys.  I wish that I could have more people around me this week.  Again I'm hating Trace for going to see his grandmother.

I take my seat in the car behind D.  I have to move my knees a little to be comfortable enough to lean forward a little to talk to him over the screaming outside.  "Hey D."

"Good show big guy," he says a moment later as he pulls into traffic.

"Where are we going now?" I ask looking around as we turn right.

There is a short pause then Vivian finally comes to life.  "We're heading to Philly."

"I don't have to do any interviews do I?" I ask trying not to whine about this, but it comes out that way.  At this point in my day I need just five minutes to do nothing and if she can get me two hours to get a nap I'd declare her a saint.  I need it for the rest of my day or I'll be in a shitty mood and no one wants that, especially me.

"No," she says as she lifts her phone to her ear, "I have to call my roommate about something.  You're free--"  She sighs.  "Well as free as this car--"  She motions around the fairly small space we're in.  "--Will let you be for the next two hours give or take some time for traffic."

"What am I doing in Philly?" I ask as I unlace my shoes.  I tug the tongue of the shoes to a looser position then leave them be to pull my jacket off.

"We're going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art--"  She still has the phone to her ear, but it seems as if no one is picking up the line.  "--And you're going to meet with a bunch of second graders to read them a story."

I narrow my eyes.  "Read them a story?"  I bite my tongue from saying more.  Why the hell am I going to be reading to some little kids?  I mean I know Challenge does a lot of gigs like this, but I'm really not the one that should be doing this.  Joey should be the one.  He's the one with the kids.  He's the fatherly figure, that Santa Claus type guy that would look better on a poster than me.  I mean I barely even read to Jonathan and Steven when I'm home.  I frown at that thought and pay attention again to what Vivian is saying.

"It's that Read to Succeed program that CFTC helps sponsor.  You're going to meet with Mr. Camdon's second grade class.  He was given a grant by the program to help his students read and their gift for reading books this year and getting good scores on their state exams is to have you to read to them."

"Oh."  I move my backpack a little and try to get comfortable.  "Lunch?"

"We'll hit the drive through on the way over."  She puts her phone  Somewhere around the near side of the Betsy Ross Bridge."

"Are we taking the Holland Tunnel?" I ask.  I hate to admit it, but I'm scared of tunnels.  It's a dumb reason and everyone who knows about my fear has been really great about it, but I find myself still having to remind people that I hate tunnels.

"Yeah," she says.

"Oh God." I say.

"I know," she says, "I know you hate the Tunnel."

"It's that damn movie Daylight!" I say throwing up my hands.  "Remember when Chris was killing me because I couldn't go through the tunnel without closing my eyes...and then when I scream at him for being afraid of heights he goes off on me?"

"That's just him," Vivian says calmly.

"Still it's not fair.  It's a phobia not a fear that I have," I say trying to ease the tension in my shoulders.  I hadn't realized it until then, but the energy that it took to get up and sing on stage is still corsing through my body causing me to tense up instead of relax.

Tiny grumbles from the front seat.  "You're sounding like him now."

I tip my head to the side and smile at him.  A part of me wants to turn towards the back seat expecting one of the other guys to be huddled there, but when I turn no one is sitting there laughing at Vivian and me.

"We can take one of the bridges," D offers.

"No," Vivian and I say together.

"It's easier--" We both continue to speak together.

"It's easier," Vivian says, "Just to go through the tunnel."

"Are you gonna be ok J?" D asks.

"Yeah," I say, "Just pray that I can fall asleep before we get there."

"Sleep?" Vivian says.

"I'm gonna close my eyes."  I throw my bag in the back seat.

"There's a pillow back there Justin," D says.

Tiny is messing with the radio and the heat as I pull the pillow from the back seat.

"You want to watch the game?" D asks pointing towards the DVD player that is in the front dashboard.  "I can put it in."

"I'm gonna take a nap," I say and suddenly yawn, "I'll watch it on the way back."  I stretch my arms out and almost hit Vivian.  She glares at me for a moment then points toward the front seat.  I sit up and put my hand on his shoulder, "Thanks a lot for getting it for me."

"No trouble big guy," he says and concentrates on his driving again.

Vivian sighs next to me then flips open her palm pilot and starts going at whatever program she's working in.

"Take a nap or something Vivian," I say and touch her shoulder with my hand.  I push her a little and she glares at me.  "Or not."

"Take your nap Justin," Tiny says with a warning voice, "Or--"

"Ok," I say.  I take my hat off and hang it on the back of Vivian's headrest then push the pillow against the window and lean against it then reach for my jacket and drape it over my shoulders.  I close my eyes, but in stop and go traffic in the city it's hard to get comfortable so I keep my eyes open and look at the lane markers whiz by.  Just as we see the sign for the Holland Tunnel I close my eyes and breathe deeply.

Someone once taught me how to meditate.  The guy said to repeat something over and over in my head and concentrate only on that.  I've twisted it a little and I start to breath in and out and count how many breaths I take.  I guess it's like counting sheep or something, but it seems to work and soon I find myself sleeping, or at least I figure that's what it is, because when I wake up next we're pulling into the drive through at Burger King that is clearly outside of New York City limits.

"What do you want to order?" Vivian says shaking me with her hand.  She leaves her hand on me as she leans forward.  "The usual?"

"Yeah," I say and close my eyes again.  I move my arm up to rub my face and I can feel tingles all up and down my arm.  I rub my shoulder and my elbow, down my forearm to my fingers then sit up.  "Where are we?"

"Camden." Vivian says, "New Jersey."

Vivian leans forward and I can feel her thigh against my knee.  "He'll have a number three without onion rings, coke to drink, and one of those Oreo pie things."

I've never taken sleeping pills, but at the moment I feel groggy like I've sleep too hard too fast or something like that.  I rub my face again then sit up more as the car pulls forward.  I try to stretch my legs, but from where I'm sitting if I move all I'll do is hit against Vivian, which is something I don't want to do.  The thought of my leg touching her thigh has already turned me into a horn ball.  I don't know if it's Vivian or if it's because I'm alone, but either way right now I want to just curl up, put my head in her lap and go back to sleep while she puts her hands through my hair.  It's a mothering thing.  I know it is because I miss mom right now.

Soon Burger King bags fill the car and I drink almost half my soda before I even get fries or my bacon double cheese burger into my mouth.

"You have time to eat," Vivian says as she leans and wipes ketchup off my cheek.  "Don't get sick on this stuff."

"What are you having?" I ask looking over at her.

"A cheese burger.  I got two and Tiny's gonna eat my other one," she says as she picks at her food.

At least she eats.  Britney never would eat in front of anyone.  When she was at home and she'd eat with me while I watched TV, she'd stand in the kitchen and eat at the counter then come and sit down with me when she was finished.  I guess it's because she was trying to be a lady, but I have to say that there are a million reasons I could give for her not being a lady and the way she eats isn't even on that list.

"So I have to read to these kids?" I ask.

"Yeah," Vivian says, "I figured that since you've read to Jonathan and Steven before that this would be perfect for you."

"Shit," I say, "I need to call them back."

"It's still early," Vivian says quickly, "You can call them on the way back.  Eat up so we can get over there and get you in and out."

"Is reading all I'm doing?"

Vivian wipes her mouth and takes a drink and swallows.  "You're going to do a meet and greet with all the kids and then we're going to hit some Philly radio stations since we're here."

"Cool," I say, "What time am I gonna get back to the city?"

"I don't know," Vivian says, "Once we get back you're going to be busy anyway.  Why?"

"What have I got to do tonight?"

"Conference call," she says.

I eat a bite.  "About what?"

"Concentrate on what's going on now before you freak out about tonight or this afternoon or anything," Vivian says.

"Fine," I say with a sigh and continue to eat not knowing when I'll be getting dinner.  I know we'll get it on the way back to New York, but when that will be is still up in the air.

Soon we're pulling up to the Museum of Modern Art in Philadelphia.  I figure that they picked this place because it's a little bit away from downtown and not a whole lot of teenagers are going to be around the Museum of Modern Art so it's safe and we don't have to order up the whole Philly Police Force to help me out.

After we park, I get out of the car and stand in the door to put my jacket on.  I take one last mouthful of fries, drink down three gulps of soda then grab a piece of gum out of the pack.  As I'm opening the wrapper,  Vivian comes around behind me and hands me a pack of those little Listerine breath fresheners.  I sigh and smile at her and put the gum in my pocket before I eat one of the breath mint fresheners then push my bag away from the edge of the seat and close the door.

"Where are we going?"

"Into the front lobby.  Mike is gonna meet up with us then we'll go head to a private reading room to meet the kids."  I can tell she's in work mode now.  She's running the details around in her head.  This is when she usually bitches at me, but for some reason she seems cool, calm, and collected, or at least is faking it well.  "There is going to be a lot of press around."

"My hat," I say instantly.

"I'll get it."

Vivian climbs back into the car and gets my backpack.

"Wear the skull cap," she says, "Having FBI or whatever that hat says on your head in pictures isn't gonna look good."

On most days I'd bitch at her that she isn't my stylist or be publicist, but today I just sigh.  I'm too tired right now to play games with her.  "Thanks," I say.  I stand and look at myself in the back window of the car and move the hat into place as Vivian closes up the car again.

We enter the front lobby of the museum and a person from Reading for Success approaches me.  The smaller man wears a Reading to Succeed t-shirt and has one of those squeaky clean smiles on.  "Welcome to the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art Justin," he says.  "I'm Michael Wilson.  I'm going to be presenting the children with their prize today."

He goes onto explain to me about the make up of the classroom of kids and that they come from some families that don't read at all and basically it's like all the sob stories of every child that lives in a lower income family.  I can imagine myself being in that spot if it weren't for my career.  Mom and Dad and Lisa and Paul have always taken care of me, but financially our lives wouldn't have been as good as they are if I hadn't gotten my MMC job.

Vivian nudges me and I pay attention.

"The press is already waiting," he says, "But we're going to have you meet and greet the kids without them in the room first."

"Sounds good," I say thanking God in my head for everyone being so nice today.  Being around kids always gets to me.  I guess it's the guilt trip that comes along with the fact that I don't see Jonathan and Steven enough and since I was kind of short with Jonathan on the phone this morning I feel even worse.

"We've got a big armchair for you to sit in and we'll have the kids come up and say hi for a few minutes.  Some of them want to ask you questions.  Most are reading related, but they are second graders so God knows what they'll come up with."  Michael smiles.  "We'll have the cameras in the other room so don't worry about just telling them that you can't talk about something or redirecting the conversation."

I nod.

As we walk up a set of stairs and into the far right corner of the building from where we entered in the lobby we find the reading room.  It looks like a school library with a lot of kids books and games and interestingly enough things that look as if they have been placed there for show.  Gotta love for staging and prop guys.  It looks almost like a kid's library if it weren't for the drab walls behind us.

I take a seat on the red chair and make myself comfortable then the children are let in.  There are twenty seven of them.  The file in and sit in rows in front of me like I used to do in kindergarten.  It's as if they all have a reserved seat and no one seems to be worried about finding their spot.

"Justin, this is Mr. Camdon's class.  Class this is Justin Timberlake."

"Hi Justin," they say together and I look around at them all and for a moment feel like I'm gonna cry.  I miss my brothers for the moment and I know that I was dumb for getting mad about that phone call this morning.

That's when I see Vivian and standing behind her are two little kids who are hiding behind her legs.  I stare at them for a moment wondering if there is some shy kid that's standing there, but all I need to see is my brother's small hand, with the watch I got him for Christmas.  Jonathan's face peaks out from behind Vivian and she smiles at me and mouth's the word, "Surprise."

Steven's face peaks out from the other side and he waves at me.

I must have been staring because it takes a hand on my shoulder and a little shake to get my attention.  "Justin are you ready to get some questions?"

I turn and look at Michael.  I look at the kids then at Mr. Camdon and I raise my hand.  "Mr. Camdon?"

"Yes?" he says shocked to be hearing from me.

"Can I use the restroom real quick before we start?" I joke.

All the kids laugh and Vivian is looking at me strangely.

"Yes," Mr. Camdon says with a smile.

A kid in the front row raises his hand, "We don't have a bathroom pass."

"I think Justin can be trusted to go straight there and come straight back."  He gives me that teacher look.

"Definitely," I say and I nod to Vivian to bring the boys with her.

We go around the corner and as soon as we're out of sight of the others Steven comes running at me and launches himself at me.  He's just really learned how to run well without tripping over his shoes and he gets all the way to me without looking like he's gonna fall down.

"Hey buddy!" I say as I hug him to me.  He's getting almost too big to hold, but I kiss his forehead and hold onto him as Jonathan comes up to my side and hugs the side of me.  "What are you guys doing here?"

Steven leans against my shoulder for a minute then sits up straighter.  "Momma said that we gots to come to visit."

I look around.  "Momma's here?"

"She sent them with Mike," Vivian fills in walking over to us.  "They're on a ten o'clock flight back to Tennesse."

I frown knowing that my afternoon is probably packed.  "Only until ten?"

"Ten in the mornin'." Steven says leaning against me against again.  "We was in a hotel room for hours and hours and we haveta go to another one until tomorrow."

"JFK tomorrow?" I ask feeling my spirits lift.  It's kind of a hassle to have them on the road, but at that moment it's the best thing that could have happened to me.

"Yep," Vivian says, "We've got the boys their own room on your floor and if you want to go out tonight you won't keep them up."

"Thanks Vivian.  I don't know if you did this for me, but I know you had to have helped plan it."

"Your welcome," she says and looks almost embarrassed that I'm thanking her.

"What are you guys gonna do while I'm reading?" I ask the boys.

"I'm gonna take them up to the art center on the other side of the building and draw with Steven."  Vivian smiles.  "Jonathan is going to work on his school work that he missed today."

"Awee...don't make him do homework," I sigh out.

"I only have a little," Jonathan says.

"Well get as much as you can done," I say suddenly sounding like my father, "And we'll finish it on the way back New York."

"Really?" Jonathan says.

"Yep," I say, "But for now you guys need to disappear for a while and let me work then we'll hang out this afternoon together.  Ok?"

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