The door to the small diner swung
open and Chris tucked his keys into his pocket as he waited behind an elderly
couple who were arguing over their parking spot outside. It didn't take more
than a minute for the hostess to return.
"I can take you to your table now," she said keeping her eyes on the couple.
They darted to his face and he waved to her and she smiled at him before taking
the couple across the room.
"Hey Whit," Chris smiled at her when she returned and looked passed her. "Is my
"One of them back there is open," she said without looking as she marked
something onto a little laminated map on the table in front of her, "You want a
"Yeah." He didn't look her straight in the eye. He knew that she had a crush
on him. He'd heard it from his normal waitress Veronica a million times and
didn't want to encourage her. Being friendly was one thing, but flirting with
her would have crossed the line for him. Funny how in high school and even in
junior college he would have prayed for women to notice him, but now he was
almost hiding from them. "A friend of mine is meeting me here so I should get
With that comment Whitney roughly handed him the flat laminated menu and said,
"Veronica is working back there so just flag her down when you're ready to
order." He knew that his comment about his friend coming had made it's impact.
He had wanted to warn her of things, but at the same time he wanted to tell her
that if someone came in looking for him that he was actually there. Normally he
hid in the back and didn't take "visitors" to his table.
"Thanks Whit," he said and made his way back to his table ducking his head.
He'd been there at least twice a week for the last five years. Well twice a
week any time he was in Orlando. Everyone knew him there, like his own little
Cheers bar, so it wasn't a big deal to get him a corner booth in the back. He
sometimes wished that he could sit up in the window and watch the street like
the couple he'd seen moments before, but with his familiar face he'd only cause
As he passed a table he could hear the reaction to him. He wasn't being
egotistical when he was thinking that they were talking about him. That would
be more of a Justin thing to do. He ususally cringed when he heard people
talking about him, not wanting to overhear a whispered insult if they chose to
use one. This time all he heard his name and someone asked the other what he
was doing there.
Chris sat with his back to the people and pulled out his palm pilot and began to
play a card game. He'd gotten there early trying to make sure that he didn't
get Ginni any madder at him so he thought he'd play to keep himself occupied.
"Hey Chris," Veronica said coming up to him. He set down his palm pilot down as
she leaned and gave him a hug then stood straight again. "How've you been?"
"Fine," he said.
"No Mike or Todd this time?" she asked looking around as if he had forgotten to
bring someone to the table with him.
"I'm on vacation for the week. Joey is getting married so we have no work this
"Wow. That's a great excuse for a vacation. Tell Joey and Kelly--he's marrying
Kelly right?" Chris nodded and laughed at her hyperness. "Tell them that I
send my congrats." She laughed a little.
The alarm on Chris's watch went off. "Can I get a drink?"
"Of course. What am I thinking here? Hello Veronica...you're working." She
brought out her pencil and pad. "What can I get ya?"
"Can I get a raspberry lemonade?" he asked.
"No coke?" She wrote down his drink order, her eyebrows coming together a
little then she tipped her head to the side and looked at him with a different
angle. "Something must be wrong."
"It's nothing." He picked up his palm pilot and stared at the cards that had
been dealt to him. It was a losing hand so he clicked to the next game then
looked up. "I'm just already hyper from the stuff I had for breakfast. I put
too much sugar in my Frosted Flakes."
"You put sugar on your frosted flakes?" He could see her cringe.
"I was half asleep and didn't realize which box I'd picked up until I was half
way through the bowl so I finished them and got hyper."
"Oh," Veronica said, "So can I get you something to eat too?"
"I'm gonna wait a minute or two. My friend is gonna meet up with me."
"Ok," she said, "I'll go grab your drink. Give me a wave when you want lunch."
"Thanks Veronica," he said.
"No problem big guy."
Chris went back to his game for a moment until he saw a flash of something next
to him. "Thanks for that drink--" When he looked over a girl was standing next
to him and his face formed into a frown for a split second before he forced a
smile onto his face. She was a fan in a big way. He could tell by the FuMan
shirt that she was wearing. It was one of the original runs that they'd put out
the year before.
He could see her face light up when he smiled at her and that instantly reminded
him of why he was doing what he did for a living. "Oh my God," She held out a
napkin to him then pulled it back looking at it for a moment. "I don't want to
bother you, but I just wanted to tell you I love your clothes sooo much. I only
wear FuMan stuff."
"Really?" he asked with a smile feeling that familiar sense of uncomfortableness
come over him. He reached for the paper. "Do you have a pen?" She handed a
ballpoint to him and he drew a little picture, keeping his eyes on the paper
instead of her. He hated when people gushed over him like this. It was easier
when he was with the other guys, but at the moment all the attention was focus
on him and he felt completely out of place. It was easier when it was Justin or
JC or Joey pulling for all the attention.
"Where's Dani?" she asked then made a face, "I shouldn't have mentioned her.
You two broke up. I saw Larry King Live. I didn't know that you really had
broken up until then."
His mind went back to that night. What a horrible thing for someone to say to
him. It was almost a week after he and Dani had broken up. Larry King had been
talking about all the guys and who they were dating and since he'd always been
the one to have someone they'd focused on him there at the end, only bringing
the focus on the fact that he almost couldn't keep from crying on camera. He'd
spent the whole week before that denying what was going on, but he couldn't deny
it any longer and he'd had to admit it on national television that they'd broken
TIMBERLAKE: What was the question?
KING: Now, Chris. OK, what about you Chris? Dating anyone? You don't want to
KIRKPATRICK: I don't mind revealing it, but...
KING: Who is it, Chris?
KING: How do you think she feels...
KIRKPATRICK: Not anymore. I know she's upset now because I'm not...
KING: You just said nobody.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, it is nobody.
KING: You're not dating any more?
He let his eyes close. He'd been startled when they'd begun to speak about him
and Dani on camera. Interviews ususally focused on Justin and Britney or Kelly
and Joey, but never had touched on his relationships for more than a yes or no
question of him dating or not dating. He'd been dating her so long that no one
ever heard drama about them. They were very good at hiding their fights. There
had been a million days that he remembered being in a fight with her, but they'd
agreed early on that they would keep their fights to themselves, that was until
she's booted Chris to the curb with no warning. He felt after her actions,
anything was fair now.
KING: I want to get dating when you're big stars -- Joey?
FATONE: Yes, I'm dating someone.
KING: Regular, show business girl or...
FATONE: No, she's a normal, normal woman. Plain Jane.
KING: Does she live in Orlando?
FATONE: Well, she's back and forth, Orlando and L.A., so...
KING: Anyone we know?
CHASEZ: No, wouldn't be anybody you know, but she's great. I love her very much.
KING: So, none of you -- you're the only one -- Lance, you seeing anyone?
BASS: Not right now.
KIRKPATRICK: Lance is dating me.
TIMBERLAKE: "The Enquirer" is watching right now.
KING: I noticed when you mentioned chemistry, he jumped. He said that's
interesting. None of you are married. All of you -- so you each of you see
steady girls. You don't see anyone else, and you are now playing the field and
you are playing the field.
BASS: I date everyone.
Chris's attention faded back to the girl in front of him. He should have been
paying attention better, but he wasn't sure that he could. He had too much on
his mind, too many issues to be dealing with at the moment.
When he saw Ginni coming through the door he stood up a little, as much as the
bench seat would allow him and waved to her. He handed the paper back to the
girl. "My friend is here for our lunch."
"Oh yeah," the girl said, "I guess she must be special if you're sending me
KIRKPATRICK: I did have somebody very special.
KING: I know, you said that.
KIRKPATRICK: And she's still very special.
KING: But what happened?
KIRKPATRICK: She's in the army now or something.
KING: She joined army.
KIRKPATRICK: No, I'm just kidding.
KING: Is dating difficult when you're this big?
KIRKPATRICK: Very, that is -- I'm living proof.
"I'm not sending you away," he said trying not to look at her eyes. They were
the give away with fans. They could always smile their way through him having
to leave, but the eyes always got watery. They could never hide that. "I just
have things to talk with her about so--"
"I'm just kidding." She took the napkin and the pen and smiled. "Anyway if you
see Dani tell her that I think she's cool."
"Ummm," he said as he signed her poster, "Dani is ummm busy right now, but I'll
try. There's a fashion show coming up and she's working with Monica and Erin
and everyone...she'll be out here...well New York anyway...in a few weeks for
the fashion show."
"Oh really?" The girl smiled, "Thanks for the autograph. I can't wait to see
the fashion thing."
"I think it's only for press, but maybe we'll have a contest on the web site to
get some people some tickets to it or something," he offered knowing full well
that no fans would be let into the show. It was a press event and unless
someone knew someone there was no chance in hell that she'd be able to get into
"Wow...I love the site."
"Thanks a lot," he said as Ginni approached. He didn't want to deal with this
fan in front of her. He knew Ginni on a certain level and didn't want to share
anything more than he had to with her. It was true that they worked together,
but Ginni wasn't the type of person to give ammunition to. He pushed out from
his seat and waited for Ginni to sit down and the little girl to leave.
"A fan?" she asked looking towards the girl.
"Yeah," he said and slid the menu to her.
She looked at it for only a moment then seemed in a rush to start their
conversation. "So what's good here?"
Chris was putting his palm pilot away and was about to answer when Veronica came
back to the table carrying his pink colored lemonade. "Oh don't ask him that,"
Veronica warned, "He's no good at ordering here."
"Excuse me?" Ginni said.
"I eat here a lot Ginni." He tried to use a voice that would calm her
concerns. He could see her instantly getting upset with the waitress for
butting into the conversation. "Veronica knows that I only order one thing."
Ginni looked at him then at Veronica. "What do you order?"
"All he can eat shrimp," Veronica recited. One eye squinted shut looking as if
she was straining to rememeber. "Lemon and tartar on the side and honey mustard
for his french fries."
"Wow," Ginni looked over the menu at Chris and smiled. "You really do come here
"Yeah." Chris sipped at his drink and nervously looked across the table at
Ginni. She looked relaxed enough but he still didn't like the idea that they
were out and about together. They worked together and that was fine, but this
was a little strange. He'd had to meet up with her though. She'd been upset
and him and he had to say sorry.
"Yeah well he's a great guy."
"Sometimes," Ginni said under her breath.
Chris caught the comment and saw the shock on Veronica's face. She'd only known
as the nice guy who came in and didn't make trouble and left good tips. He was
sure she didn't need to hear about his issues with other people.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Veronica asked.
"Iced Tea please, no lemon or sugar."
"No trouble. I'll give you guys a second and come back and take your order."
Chris watched Veronica leave then looked across at Ginni. "I'm glad you could
make it for lunch. I'm really sorry about snapping yesterday, but I--"
"Chris I don't care if you were in a pissy mood or whatever. Just don't do it
"Fine," he said and shut his mouth, praying now that his little fan would
interupt so that he wouldn't be in such a stressful situation. His hand went to
his pocket and he undid the bottle there. Quietly he pulled his pills from the
bottle and cupped them in his hand, faking a cough to put them in his mouth
while she read the menu.
The acidy taste of the pills in his mouth almost made him gag so he took a drink
of lemonade then sat back and waited to see when Ginni would be ready to order.
"THE END!" The television was playing the end of The Lion King when Colton
finally spoke. It had been almost twenty minutes since he'd said something to
her, having been drawn in by the movie. For a while she'd thought that he'd
turned into a zombie, but he finally snapped out of it. It was such a nice way
to spend an afternoon. When she'd watched movies with Chris he would always
fidgit or be doing other things while they watched. He never would sit still
and watch with her.
"Brianna is sleeping."
Dani reached over and moved the blanket away from Brianna's sleeping face where
she lay on the couch then turned back to the young girl's brother. "You ready
for lunch yet?" she asked.
Colton nodded. "Can we have hotdogs?" he asked.
"Sure," she said the thought about it for a moment. Kelly had said something
about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but she figured that if there was
something else that he wanted to eat then she should make him that. She knew
that kids were picky with what they ate. "I'll make them if your Mom remembered
to buy them."
Colton went running for the fridge. "I saw them in here with my juice."
"Sounds good to me then," Dani said stretching and pushing herself up to go in
the kitchen. She'd been sitting so often these days on her flights that she was
starting to feel like an old lady every time she had to get up. It was getting
easier and easier to sit down than it was to run around, another sign that she
hadn't been with Chris. Back when they were dating he'd make her go
skateboarding or running or even just go and walk with him around the
neighborhood, but without him she'd lost the need to go and be active. It
hadn't showed up on her hips just yet, but she knew another few months would get
her really lazy.
"Can we have cheese in them?" Colton pulled out the hotdogs and then some Kraft
cheese singles. "Mom knows how to cut them in half and cook 'em so that there's
cheese in the middle."
Dani nodded. "Let's cook then. You can help me since you know how to do the
"No," he said, "Mommy knows how to do it."
Dani sighed. Why did this remind her of conversations with Chris? It seemed
like all those times that she'd told him that he was acting like a four year old
weren't just in her imagination, because at the moment Colton sounded exactly
like him. "Well I'll try and figure it out and you can tell me if I did it
They spent the next ten minutes in the kitchen making hotdogs in the microwave
after Colton remembered that they didn't boil the hotdogs. Dani already had
figured this out, but she let him believe that it was his idea not to boil
them. She even made him work a little when she decided she wanted to just wrap
her hotdog in cheese. Colton was strict with his instructions, almost to the
point of comedy. His idea of a cheese hotdog was one that was cut down the
legnth so he could stick cheese in the cuts before they cooked them.
The sound of the doorbell ringing a while later made Nikita bark, not that
everything else that day hadn't made him bark. Dani was just sitting down with
Colton down to eat so she told Colton to stay put, checked on Brianna, and
walked towards the front of the house. Half way there she sighed. This whole
babysitting was harder than she thought it would be, but she'd offered since
Kelly and Joey had things to do that afternoon.
The doorbell rang again and she reached for the door pulling it open to reveal
Chris standing there on the other side.
When he saw that it was her, the energy in his eyes seemed to plummet. "Oh.
Hi. I didn't--" He took a breath and seemed to be trying to figure out how to
speak to her without sounding dumb even though he'd passed that stage miles
back. "I didn't think you'd be over here--no wait. That didn't come out right,
I didn't know that you--expect that you were going to be here."
She leaned against the door."Don't look so excited."
"Nikita!" Colton yelled and a moment later the dog and Colton were on the front
lawn running around, hotdog still in Colton's hand.
"I'll get him," Chris volunteered.
Dani watched as he ran around after them for a moment, more chasing Colton than
the dog. He'd gotten skinnier this last tour leg. Maybe he just looked
different because she hadn't gone without seeing him that many months in a row
ever in their friendship or relaitonship. She couldn't put a finger on it, but
there was definitely something different going on. He looked a little older, as
if the last six months had put a years worth of time on him.
"Hey wait Colton," Chris said finally stopping in the middle of the grass to
pant a moment, doing it more for effect than anything else. He leaned over a
little at the waist and looked up at Dani. She'd been watching with a smile on
her face, but became serious when he looked over at her. Chris seemed to see
it, but shrugged and waved at Colton. "Give me some of that hotdog and we'll
try and get him to eat it."
Seeing that the chase still wasn't going to end for a moment Dani finally sat
down on the front steps and watched them. She would have sat there all day in
the sun with them, but she thought she heard a noise in the house and decided
she should go back in and check on Brianna.
Sure enough she found the little girl sitting in the middle of the floor in the
living room, blanket in hand looking like she was about to burst into tears.
"Mommy?" Her voice came out dazed and she looked a little scared.
Luckily Kelly had warned her of Brianna's disorientation when she woke up from
naps so she knew exactly what to say to her to get her to stay calm. "Well
hello there Miss Sleepy Head. Did you have a good nap?" Brianna nodded her head
and looked around. "It's ok." Dani picked her up. "Mommy is going to be home
Brianna stuck her thumb in her mouth and began to suck on it. "K."
"Wanna go out front and see Uncle Chris and Colton?" she said.
Brianna nodded. "K."
"Your Uncle Chris is out front with Nikita chasing him with Colton."
Brianna leaned against Dani's shoulder. "Kiss is sieey."
There were so many ways that Kelly could say to back up her opinion of her
honorary Uncle. "Definitely."
When they got back out front Colton was in the street with Nikita at his feet
and Chris was nowhere in sight. "Colton!" Dani yelled and ran down and grabbed
onto his hand and pulled him back out of the street. "Colton what were you
doing in the street?"
"He was playing ball," Chris said appearing from the far side of his car. He
threw the small whiffle ball up into the air and caught it then changed
expressions as he stared her down. "Dani let go of him."
"I should have known that you would do something like this. You're so freaking
irresponsible," she said, "Don't think that I'm gonna leave this one out of my
report back to Kelly and Joey."
"OOHH!" Chris made a face and started to shake a little, "I'm sooo scared
Dani had made it to the door and set Brianna down and told Colton to make Nikita
go in then she closed the door and stared at Chris. "You should be
Christopher. You don't let little kids play in the street. I'm surprised that
Taylor is still living if you treat little kids this way."
"Leave my little sister out of this!" Chris spat at her. "And don't treat me
like a two year old Dani. I was standing right there. If you didn't
automatically assume that I was an imbasil then you would have seen that!"
"I only see the truth Chris," she said, "I saw Colton in the street which
shouldn't have happened."
"Well what about you leaving Colton out here in the first place Dani."
The door cracked open and Colton put his head out. His eyes were wide as if he
was trying to see the situation before he interupted them. "Dani?"
"Yes sweetie?" she said in a calm voice. She turned her back to Chris and bent
down a little.
He pointed over his shoulder as he tried to keep Nikita inside. "Can Brianna
have your hot dog? She says she's hungry."
Dani leaned and touched the top of his head. "Hold on just a second honey and
I'll come and make her one."
The door closed again and Dani turned back to him. "Was there a message that
you wanted to pass along to Joey or Kelly? I need to get back inside."
Chris glared at her, took two deep breaths and she saw him patting his pockets.
"Just tell Joey that I'll do my suit fitting tomorrow and I'll call them later."
"Fine," she said.
Chris called to her as she was going in the door. "See you at the wedding."
Dani groaned at the way that he was so nasty about saying what he had. He acted
as if it was a threat more than a reminder that they'd have to see each other
again. She slammed the door shut.