86,400 Seconds - 1

“A proud heart can survive general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone."

My eyes drift open and closed as I try to read the line again.  I’ve been working on trying to get through this story for a week and a half now and I’m only in the third chapter, and only on page twenty one.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s this line that has gotten me caught up or maybe it's the fact that I've gotten off my summer break schedule and now am working again.  I mean when I think about it it’s probably the most profound thing that I’ve read in the last few years, maybe even my life.  Who knew that I’d actually go back to all those books I read during college and actually enjoy them or at least have them make a bigger impression on me than just reminding me of how much I should have stayed off the football field and in the classroom?


My eyes shoot open from where they’ve drifted closed.  I don’t know how long I’ve been dozing since the sound of the plane always seems to make time stop.  My body tenses for a moment before I realize that the voice is only there to wake me up since an alarm clock wasn’t part of my carry on luggage.  I didn’t even realize that I’d fallen a sleep but when I look down I see my book at my feet and I don’t remember dropping it.

“Yeah?”  I answer instantly awake when I hear my nickname being called.

Horace Theodore Ashford.  If you mentioned that name to anyone outside of the football world and maybe even inside the football world you get blanks stares.  No one knows me as that name, not even the people I work for or with.  I’ve always been Tiny—or at least I’ve always had that nickname.  I like to think of it as a stage name rather than a nickname, but I guess that when a stage name follows you home at night it probably should just be considered your name, something that I could probably get advice from Sting or Bono on.

At just under six feet six inches tall, I weigh in at three hundred twenty pounds--or rather a hefty three hundred pounds.  People always overestimate when they look at me and somehow add twenty pounds to my true weight.  For every day life most people would hate to be considered heavier than they naturally were, but for me those twenty extra pounds only add to the intimidation factor that I need when working.  Vivian once told me it’s all about body posture and that because I stand with my shoulders back and am trying to look intimidating that it adds pounds.  She started to babble something about the defense mechanisms of animals, but I think Justin told her to shut up so I never got to hear her whole theory. 

Somehow in my younger years I was given the nickname Tiny.  I can’t remember the exact date or time, but it happened somewhere during my high school football playing years and carried over to my career at USC then of course was picked up by ESPN and Fox Sports when they spoke of me during my short NFL career.

“Tiny, we’re going to be landing in a little while.  You might want to get the kids up.”

“We’re awake,” Justin’s groggy voice comes from the back of the plane.

He and Vivian called dibs on the couch before I could get it last night so now that they’ve had a good night’s sleep.  I’ve been pushed into this tiny plane seat all night.  It’s nothing new since I’m not the pop star here.  I live the life but don’t get all the perks.  I normally don’t have pent up feelings towards Justin when it comes to stuff like this, but putting a guy over six feet into a small Challenger 601 jet isn’t a way to make friends and influence people.

Justin lets out a breath of air, “Not because I wanted to be though.”

“You’re mean,” Vivian’s voice comes out from behind the chair I’m in.  “I didn’t mean to elbow you.  I was asleep.”

Justin groans.  “Well you did it anyway.”

Gona be a beautiful morning I see,” Ronan says as he turns to go back to the cockpit.

“You two have skipped the wedding, the honeymoon and are heading straight for divorce,” I mumble as I move to pick up my book.  My comments aren't really supposed to be hurtful, but at the same time I know Justin and Vivian and how insanely sparatic they can be with their behavior.  They've been semi-officially dating for just under twenty four hours and I've already seen them fight.  Really it was more that Vivian was once again voicing her opinion on things and Justin was fighting what--to the normal person--was something that he did that was completely out of control.  Vivian's amazing with him though and holds her own and you have to respect that.

While I’m leaned over I shove my feet back in my running shoes, fix the pant legs of my jeans before I sit up again.  My knees and back are gonna give me hell for sleeping in a chair last night, but according to Vivian there will be free time this afternoon for a few hours.  I'm not at all upset about Justin and her dating.  Normally girls around him are a pain in the ass, but I know the way Vivian works and if I can guess at what she has planned for the few hours of free time that afternoon, I'm sure it doesn't include doing anything more than sitting by the pool if the weather is nice enough.  She'll do it because she wants to spend time with Justin, take some time away from work herself, but she'll also do it because she knows that I've been used to having breaks like that in the afternoons since Justin's recording schedule only called for me to drive him and pick him up and be around if he was going out.  Summer in Virginia definitely spoiled us all.

Book in my lap, I find page twenty one again and fold down the edge of the page before leaning to grab my bag to put the book away.  I’m glad that we’re flying into Los Angeles and not heading into New York.  At least when Justin is at home I can actually have time off, not much of it this trip because I know that his schedule is packed, but at least I can get away from him for a while.  He’s a good kid and a great traveling partner, but on little sleep any one of us bodyguards would want to get away.

“What time is it Tiny?” Vivian asks.

I look at my watch.  “About six in the morning New York time so about three in the morning here.”

“Fuck,” Vivian says and I finally am turned enough to see her sleepy face as she yawns.  “Justin’s first interview isn’t until' the ten am taping of The Wayne Brady Show so maybe we’ll just go to the house and sleep until like maybe eight then get breakfast—“

“I don’t have an early radio interview?” Justin asks rubbing his hands over his head to wake up.  It’s funny how he still does this even though he’s shaven his head.  He’s got some hair, but more stubble than actual style at the moment.  I’m sure he’ll eventually grow it out again, but for now I’ve got more hair than him, which hasn’t happened since Chris and I made some bet back in like ninety nine about some chicken wings or something over the length of my hair.  Growing out an afro for a few weeks was fun, but life on the road and having longer hair really isn't that fun.

“Shit,” Vivian swears, “Wait—  She runs her hands through her hair and looks at me for a moment.  “It’s a call in, right?”

Why she looks at the bodyguard for answers is beyond me.  I mean I normally know the rough outline of the schedule and try to stay on top of all the changes, but when the schedule flip-flops every five minutes I normally am just along for the ride like everyone else.  “I didn’t get word that we were going anywhere this morning until Wayne Brady so I’d assume—“

“No,” Vivian pushes herself up and reaches for her bag.  She pulls out her scheduling book.  “Yeah.  It’s a call in to JoJo about the album then we don’t have to be anywhere until ten, but after that we have stuff booked all the way up until five o’clock including The Late Late Show with Conan O’Brien.  Nothing crazy though, no live performances most of them will show clips of the videos for Cry Me A River and Like I Love you.”

“We aren’t gonna be in the car half the day are we?” Justin asked.  I really hate when the boy whines, but seriously, taking three hours to go three and a half miles on the freeway definitely gives ANYONE the right to complain about having to go across town to their next appointment.

“Nope, most of this is gonna be done at a press junket at the W hotel—“

I got a copy of the schedule a few days ago, but it’s nice to know it hasn’t changed.  Press junkets are the most boring thing I’ve ever sat through and I’m sure Justin will be just as bored.  Maybe it’ll give me time to call Jayden and see if I can convince Beverly that dinner in Justin’s guesthouse isn’t going to corrupt her too much.

Ex-wives are supposed to be upset at their ex-husbands or else they wouldn’t ex-husbands in the first place, but Beverly likes to take that to the extreme.  She thinks that pop-stars are as bad as the crew that hangs around with Metallica or some of the latest rap groups.  I wouldn’t say that the guys in NSYNC are by any means angels, but they know that when my seven and a half year old is around that they better mind their p’s and q’s.  I’m not sure that Jayden has gotten away without seeing a few drunken nights from the guys, but at least most of those nights were when they were stumbling home with me back to Justin’s guest house to get some sleep on the couch and hadn’t been her watching them shoot up or anything to that extreme.

“--and a small trip to have snacks with some of the West Coast Jive people, before we—I mean Justin—“  She looks up at me, “--Gets a break then there is the west coast launch party at eight.”

Justin and I both groan.

“Ok,” Vivian says looking over at Justin.  She turns to me, “I know why he’s groaning, but why are you joining his bandwagon?”

“I’m allowed to whine,” I say and look around trying to give her a real answer that isn’t too close to the truth, “--Because I’m a tired old man.”

Ronan came back into the cabin, “I hate to break up the love-fest back here, but I need y’all to buckle up so we can land.”

Landing at the small private section of the airport goes smoothly.  I'm buckled in and as we taxi towards where the car will be waiting for us I look out into the dark sky and wonder if I'm gonna get any sleep that night.  Leaving for a 10am taping would make it sound like we all got to sleep in, but in truth I'm up at 8am and on the phone with security at the studio for at least an hour before we pack everything up and get over to actually tape.

"Look," Vivian says from next to me just as my eyes start to slide closed again.  Her hand comes to pat me on the arm excitedly despite the early morning hour.

"Hmm?" I ask wondering what's got her so excited.

"People are waiting for us."

I look out the window to see Paul and Lynn Harless standing near Justin's silver Cadillac EXT.  The truck looked huge compared to the people standing next to it and looked like the Titanic next to where my daughter was clung to Lynn, probably half asleep looking like a monkey.  Jayden got her mother's thin long frame instead of my bulkier one and lighter toned skin making her look more hispanic than African American.  The combination in my eyes made her extremely gorgeous, like Haley Barry.  "Jayden," I say immediately.

"Momma," Justin says the same time I start to speak.

The plane turned and we lost sight of them which only made Justin more aggitated.  His foot starts to bounce and he moves around in his seat leaning so that he can see everyone outside.  Sometimes I swear Jayden is more composed that him.  If you sat both of them in a chair for a few hours I think Jayden would win if the point was to sit still.

When we finally stop and the engine winds down to its turned off position, Ronan tells us we can get out.  Justin is the first out pushing past Vivian in an almost rude way.  She just rolls her eyes at him then sighs and collects up their bags.  I pull mine over my shoulder and look outside.  I swear Justin only takes three steps before he reaches his mother to pull her into a hug.

When I step off the plane Jayden is in Paul's arm now that Lynn is being mobbed by Justin.  I immediately drop my bag and reach for her.  "Hey Paul," I say and curl my daughter into my arms.  I hold her close and tip her head back to look at me.  "Hi Pumpkin."

"Hi daddy," she says to me and moves to hug me.

"You guys got here right on time," Lynn says coming over to check out Jayden.  She's turned towards me while Justin talks to Paul, but I notice that Justin's hand is still in hers.  Jayden acts like that in public, but she's not even ten years old just yet so it's expected.  Having a son that would do that at the age of twenty-one shows how close the pair really are.  "She's been hanging out with Paul and me today."

"I'm surprised Beverly let her--"

Lynn smiled at me, that totally understanding smile that only a divorced parent can make at another divorced parent.  "I called her earlier today and asked.  I hope you don't mind, but I know that you haven't seen her since the summer and you needed to see her."

I lean and kiss her cheek.  "Thanks Lynn."

"No troubles," she says and pats Jayden's back.

Paul clapped his hands together trying to get people's attention, and sighs, "You all ready to head home?"

Justin was the only one to answer.  The boy amazes me.  Five minutes ago he was looking like he wanted to just stay asleep on the plane and now that he's in his mother's presence he's got his second wind.  "Yeah."

And what a second wind that she is.  Lynn Harless is a red headed ball of energy that would light a fire under anyone's ass.  People misunderstand the way that she mother's him.  She's been called a stage mom and complaints have been muttered about her being too involved and normally I would have to agree with something like that, except for with Lynn and Justin.  The two of them have a bond like no other.  It's not unhealthy or ridiculous and she's not trying to steal any of his thunder by always being there.

Lynn simply loves her son.  It's the parental love that knows no boundry or distance.

In the beginning, when Justin was young and touring overseas Lynn gave up her life in the United States to tour with the group.  She was on the road to protect him and after all the bullshit that happened with Pearlman, I for one was glad that she was there with him.  Her support never became smothering at least in my eyes, but there was a point in time when it took a very serious sit down talk from Justin with my full support behind him when he wanted to fly on his own.  The talk wasn't a good one, Lynn refusing to talk to myself or Justin for almost two days before she came to me and made me swear on my life that I wouldn't let anything happen to him.  So we've been basically attached at the hip ever since.

She never let's Justin know this, but she still calls me to check in on him and normally talks to Justin a few times a day when they're apart.  Over the summer while we were in Virginia I had the days off and got more than a few phone calls from her.  I would have called too seeing that Justin was so distraught for most of the summer months.  If I was the gossiping type and wanted to sell the stories of how Justin acted after the breakup I could make a few billion dollars.

Truthfully though it was a hard time for both of us.  The two of them had grown up along side me and when I saw the boy in so much pain and not able to help him, I ended up feeling like a failure too.  It was my job to protect him and in those months there was nothing I could do to save him from the pain he was feeling.

"Tired Tiny?" Vivian touches my shoulder and leans to smile at Jayden.  "Hi Pumpkin," she says with smile.

Vivian is a godsend, not only for Justin, but for also for me.  I know that something has been going on with Justin and Vivian over the last few days, but as a silent observer I would never bring it up.  I can see the change in him though and her too.  They both seemed more relaxed, more stable and happier with life.  For a while there was a time when Vivian was upset with Justin.  He shut her out over the summer.  She went home to Washington DC to see her parents while Justin was recording and for a while I thought she might not come back.

He never meant to block her out of his life, but at the time he told me that Vivian knew him too well and he wasn't wanting to sit and cry to her about how messed up things were.  He barely even cried to his mother about it.  He knew better than to cry over the phone.  I only heard three conversations when he even mentioned Britney to his mother during that time and each conversation ended with him locking himself into his hotel room for the night and telling me that he didn't want to be bothered until the morning.  I'm not sure exactly what went on during those nights, but staying in the Holiday Inn with thin walls definitely didn't block out the sounds of his tears in the middle of the night.

I look at Jayden and wonder if she's ever cried in the middle of the night before.  I try not to think about stuff like that.  I worry and I call like Lynn calls Justin and usually talk to her once a week to check in, but I always have to wonder if she misses me physically being there.  "A little."

I start to lean down to get the bag and Paul grabs it up and gives me a wink.  "Is this it?"

"There's the suitcases in the plane--"  I turn around and see that Ronan has taken care of the bags, throwing them up into the back of the open truck bed.  "Thanks Ronan."

"No troubles," Ronan says and comes over for a moment.  "Lynn was saying when I called to check in with her earlier today that you hadn't seen the little one in a while so I figured I'd help out with the bags and let you guys say hello."

I nod.  "Thanks man."

We start to pile into the truck.  I reach to open the back door of the car, but Lynn pushes my hand away.  "Honey, you and Jayden get in the front."  I nod to her and see her hand still attached to her son's.  I know that  Lynn's comment is more of an excuse to sit in the back seat with her son rather really to make sure that I have enough room.

I move to get into the front seat and Justin pulls Jayden away, dropping his mother's hand.  "You didn't say hi to me girl."  He pouts and Jayden hugs him.  "There we go."

"I got her now," I say softly and hold out my arms from my seat.  Jayden crawls up into my lap and sits sideways as Justin shuts us in.  He makes a face at Jayden through the window and she laughs tiredly.

"We need to get you home Pumpkin," I say to her and kiss the top of her head.  I really want to sit and talk to her for the rest of the night, but I know that it's way passed her bed time and Beverly will kill me if I keep her up all night.

  • The quote Tiny is reading at the beginning of the chapter is from Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

  • Justin's car looks like this.  Cadillac EXT