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"ATOTR" Part 106

Still with me?

:)




By Micki Bailey

Well, she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn’t help thinkin’ that
There was a little more to life
Somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to

Oh yeah, all right
Take it easy, baby
Make it last all night
She was an American girl
— Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


Cassidy hadn’t planned to be along for the ride for an entire two months of *NSYNC’s Celebrity Tour. Really. She hadn’t meant to hang around and become a permanent fixture in the behind-the-scenes chaos of moving the big show from one stop to the next.

But, three weeks and 12 cities in now, here she was, at Justin’s side, like the average GF would want to be, like the perfect wife would feel the need to be.

All in a day’s work, right? Waking up in a different hotel suite than the one you’d opened your eyes to the day before; sharing a late breakfast or early lunch with Justin, either courtesy of room service or at a nearby restaurant with several of the security personnel in tow and hovering close by; whiling away the afternoon hours by reading a novel or a magazine or working on an editing project or shopping with Em or Kelly; kissing Justin farewell when he’s leaving to catch the shuttle over to today’s sound check at the venue; watching the concert that evening from yet another VIP section, where you’ve been escorted by yet another security professional or two, along with Lynn and Paul and any other of the guys’ family members or close friends who might be in town for that night’s show; getting a late dinner afterward with a different combination each evening of the other guys and their folks; then hopping on the buses or in the SUVs to swing into the next city and the next hotel where you’ll start the routine all over again.

Yes, there were plane rides and days off sprinkled in here and there to break up the daily repetitiveness. But, all in all, that was the typical bounce and roll of this completely atypical road trip with the pop stars.

Atypical to Cassidy in particular because she had never felt this close, this vested in the heart and the chemistry of a tour with these guys before. Atypical to everyone else in general because the whole vibe, the soul energy of the thing simply felt different than a tour of theirs ever had before. And ever would again. It was as if everybody was putting their all into it because something was whispering down inside the collective life pulse of the group, telling them that they’d never have the chance to do this together again, and they were pulling out everything they had left to make every brilliant memory worth holding on to, perserving.

But wait now.

Hold the fuck on.

Hit pause for a sec on the heavy, sentimental stuff.

Back up some in the babbly blog of this road touring with the band experience, as seen through the eyes of Cassidy Lyman.

Yeah. All the way up to there.

What?

Had she actually processed THIS through her mental mechanisms without raising ONE red flag or triggering even a SINGLE warning signal? “……here she was, at Justin’s side……like the perfect wife would feel the need to be.”

What the?

“Perfect wife”?

Had she really, truly written that?

What the fuck?”

Yes, ma’am. Absolutely atypical, I’ll say, on a jacked-up level, that. For the “wife” thing to pass right by the ol’ brain synapses without attracting one tiny second glance or raised eyebrow. Just like it was automatically assumed, taken for granted as the norm, and everyone around was used to it now.

But had she, the alleged “wife”, started taking it as the everyday norm too? Just like that? Had she?

Cassidy looked down at the laptop screen again. Honestly, she didn’t have time to be scaring herself crazy like this today. She’d have to pull that pot off the burner and set it aside for later stirring. What she needed to be doing right now was wrapping up the e-mail response to Lance she’d been trying to type for the past half hour. She had been switching back and forth between this screen and her personal journal screen, waiting for Justin to make it back from his afternoon of “errands,” whatever the hell he’d meant by that.

The words she’d already typed blurred back at her, most of them reminding her of things she didn’t much care to think on right now. Damn. The very e-mail itself — where it was going and the fact that she had to communicate with her best friend this way at all — was enough to cloud over her psyche and bring her down.

The tour had started out weeks ago way up in Portland, Oregon, and, despite the constant light rain and the cool temperatures in that part of the country, everyone had been in high, energetic spirits, busting out the opening gates like the seasoned pros they all were in the music biz,. Glancing to her right where she’d laid the tour schedule for quick reference, she smiled a little sadly when her eyes lit on the name of the arena where they’d played in Portland: Rose Garden.

That night, after the first show, Lance had gotten drunk off his ass at the customary kickoff party some of the crew had thrown on their floor of the hotel that everyone had attended, as usual. It had been a boisterous, reckless, “happy” drunk for him, she remembered, Lance’s way of downloading some of the tension and stress he’d been lugging around inside since he’d gotten word he needed to go to Russia for those preliminary physical exams and stuff on his quest to go into space.

Deservedly so, he’d been feeling mighty fine near the end of the evening, with a system full of the ever-effective 80-proof muscle relaxer. And it had been awesome to watch him let loose with the genuine laughter and horsing around and feeling good. Eventually, inspired by the Rose Garden name maybe, he’d lapsed into a stumbly-bumbly, seemingly boneless version of his adorable Lance Dance, stealing the room’s collective attention by grabbing up a beer bottle and bursting into a very off-key rendition of that oldoldold-school country song by Lynn Anderson.

I beg your pardon
I never promizzed you a roze garden
Along with duh sunshine
Therzz godduh be a liddul rain sometimez


He’d lost track of the actual words at one point and started making his up own much more hilarious ones on the spot, causing everyone in the room to crack up and bust a gut heehawing at him and enjoying the “after” show he was putting on. They hardly knew the difference between the real lyrics and the Lance lyrics. Besides, he’d been slurring so thickly and hilariously by then, his audience hadn’t understood half of what he’d belted out anyway and hadn’t given a damn. As long as he was having a ball. And, clearly, he had been.

Somehow she’d sensed that the parts of the lyrics that he could remember were strangely significant and double-edged in meaning to him. As if deep within his alcohol-logged little subconscious, something had dragged them out into the shadowy lights of the party for him to playfully toss around like small stress-diffusing spearheads.

I could promise you thangs liige big diiamun rangs
But you don’t fine rozez growin’ on stawks of clovah
So you bettah thank it ovah

So smile for a while and letz be jolly
Love shuddunt be so melancholy
Come along and share the good timez while we can

I beg your pardon
I never promizzed you a roze garden


Leaning back and resting against Justin’s upper body, with his arm slung loosely around her neck, Cassidy, relaxed and comfortable herself, had laughed and applauded along with the wild crowd. She’d been high too, after lots of white wine and champagne, but not so much so that she missed out on the sight of JC, back in a corner of the room, curled into a cushy chair, all alone except for the glass of red wine in his hand. From that distance, he’d been watching Lance with eyes full of fire and love, giggling loudly with everyone else, freeing himself, at least for a little while, of the dark weight of anxiety he too had been carrying around with him.

Yes, it was clear he’d heard the sweet irony in his boyfriend’s funny song. He didn’t need to a Rose Garden. He only needed Lance and the good times they could share. While there was still time.

Cassidy’s own eyes had filled with warm, wet gladness for that, for the unconditional adoration and peaceful acceptance she could feel flowing so fluidly between the two of them, amidst all the partygoers, the way they could feel each other, the way they loved each other so deeply. And here they were filling up with tears again, those eyes of hers, as she remembered the unforgettable scene from that night.

Cruelly ironic, she thought as the glanced down the tour’s schedule to the current date. They were on a much-needed four-day break right now. Next stop: Denver, Colorado. But not until March 25th. Several days away.

She and Justin had come back to LA with JC and had taken him up on his offer to hang out at his pad while they were house-hunting in this general area. He’d decided at the last minute to skip a trip to Chicago to see his parents over the mini-vacation, opting instead to play hotel host to his buddies and hopefully keep his mind off, well, Lance.

Lance was in Moscow. So damn far away it was hardly imaginable. So no one tried to imagine it.

Cassidy blinked back a tender teardrop as she read the name of the venue they’d last played in. Before the break. Before Lance had taken off. Last stop: Dallas, Texas.

Reunion Arena.

Oh, man. “Reunion,” of all damn things?

Why was she the only one to get stabbed every damn time with the acutely sharp sensitivity of things like this? It made her heart hurt. It was cruel. And ironic. But mostly just cruel. Especially for Lance and JC. And she hoped and prayed that that precious bond that superceded physical between them was holding out while they were anything but “reunion-ed” these few days.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Let’s go back and check out this one again, Cass. Look. This one. Remember it?” Justin’s tapping her bare upper arm with the crisp printout in his hand.

For a split second, her eyes leave the PC screen she’s scrolling through, and she glances at it, recognizing it. As her boyfriend is begging her to do. Then, coolly, her gaze returns to the lit-up monitor in front of her.

“Okay. You’re joking, right? That one? Justin, I was totally kidding around picking that thing out of the bunch of potentials on this site. It’s gargantuous! What’s it got? Like 43 bedrooms and 42-point-five baths? The main house alone takes up nine whole acres of land, doesn’t it? Man, a small island nation could live in that one crib! Okay?”

Justin laughs, soft and breathy, and shoves at her shoulder with his palm. “Will you shut up? Girl, please. It does
not have that many bedrooms and baths.”

“Sure. I was close.”

“Hardly. It’s big, okay. Give ya that. But it’s nice too. And spread out.”

“Yeah. Like in several LA counties.”

“Cassidy.”

“Justin.”

“It had one of those, you know, guesthouses. Maybe even more than one. I can’t remember now. When did we look at it? Yesterday?”

She cuts her eyes sideways, to look at him wryly. “The guesthouse — or two — got your attention? Justin, Trace is
not coming to live with us. Not even in a guesthouse. Ground rule number one.”

He snickers again, silk-like. And she shivers with the touch of gentle breath on her arm. “I know that, baby. I wasn’t even going there. Don’t worry.”

“I mean I love the guy and all. And I know he’s practically a relative. But having to deal with THAT one on a daily basis — even at the safe distance of an onsite guesthouse? Um, just —”

“Cassidy, stop. I said that’s a no-go. Now can we just go and do another walk-through of this place? To either nix it or keep it on the list of contenders?” he pleads quietly, earnestly. “I like it a lot. It’s got a good vibe to it. And I was thinking the guesthouse would be a kick-ass studio for me or maybe even a little private office for you, wouldn’t it?”

Cassidy rolls her eyes. And sighs. Still staring at the computer screen and the many available real estate properties with their color photos and bulleted lists of exclusive features that are slowly rolling by for perusal.

“A studio. Hmm. Oh. Yeah. For that music thing you call yourself doing sometimes.”

Justin smiles. She’s funny, this girl. He has a wickedly witty girlfriend. Always getting such a little rush off giving him a run for his money. And he loves her. For that. And for so much more. Crazy-beautiful chick.

“Maybe for that
solo music thing I hope to be calling myself doing a lot of the time soon, baby. Know what I mean?”

Another sigh eases through her glossy-pink lips. “Even so. That place is SO BIG, honey. And what’s the asking price? A bagillion million bucks?”

“Um, no. Not even close. But whatever. We can afford it.”

You can afford it, maybe.”

“Cass, you work hard at your job. You contribute too.
We can afford it. Okay?”

He says this, she knows, because he’s vividly aware, after all their time together so far, how vehemently she refuses to give in and become the “kept” woman latcher-on who relies completely on his wealth for all her needs. She’s not rich and famous like Justin Timberlake. But she’s not a pathetically dependent leech either. Not on any level. She cuts her eyes his way again and sees him smile, so genuinely in its melting brilliance.

“But, Justin, we just bought a house in Orlando. Barely a year ago,” she offers quietly.

It’s one more holdout line of protest, close to a whisper. And she hears instantly how weak it sounds, even useless against his passioned arguments. He’s made up his mind. He wants a home of his own in beautiful Southern California. He’s determined. And he’ll get one too. There will be no stopping him from this point on — not from Hell, high water, or his quibbling, wishy-washy girlfriend.

“Yeah. I remember. And so what? Who’s to say we can’t buy another one? Like, say, out here? In LA?”

We. He’s including her. Always including her. Comes naturally now. He’s not going anywhere. Unless she’s there too.

“Justin, lemme ask again. What the hell is wrong with you? Besides, you know, the usual?”

He snickers, and it’s a pretty, feathery sound. “You so crazy.”

“I was
teasing about that house! Didn’t you hear me the first time? Teasing! It’s got more rooms than the freaking Vatican! Certainly more than we’ll ever know what to do with! And it’s just a street or two over from this place right here! JC’s house!” She stops, narrows her eyes drastically with the turning cogs in her mind. “Wait a second. I think I’m seeing the light here. So clear to me is it now.”

“What,” Justin utters in expressionless monotone, waiting for more drama.

“You and Jace have been secret closet lovers for a while now, haven’t you? And you wanna live this near to him so you two can do your nasty little back-door booty calls easier and more conveniently! That’s it, isn’t it? The ulterior motive behind THIS particular house! Right?”

Justin laughs, full of warm air, and scoots his chair closer to hers. It’s the third day they’ve stayed at JC’s house during the short break in the tour. And they’re sitting in JC’s study downstairs where the desktop PC is. It’s not quite noon, and JC isn’t up yet. Or at least they haven’t heard him leave his bedroom yet. Same routine he’s kept up the previous two days.

“Yeah, Cass. Busted. You got me. It’s not you — no, no, no — that I’ve been sleeping with the past couple of nights in the guest room here. I’ve actually been in JC’s bed instead, fucking him. Right you are, baby.” He chuckles.

She shrugs and swallows and turns to the screen again. She hasn’t told Justin anything at all about the oh-so-real and oh-so-pornographic sex dream she’d had a few weeks back — the one involving herself, JC, a hazy dark club scene, some raunchy sweaty dancing, and a steamed up corner of a private VIP room where they’d kissed and groped and fucked each other blind.

Yes. Cassidy and JC. In her insanely,
obscenely wildest dream.

No. She hasn’t mentioned it to Justin.

She hasn’t shared that craziness from her own subconscious with anyone, not even Lance. Because, really,
who would find it the least bit amusing? Right? Who wouldn’t give her a strange, raised-eyebrow look of what-the-fuck-Cassidy? and want to know how twisted thoughts like those — even if buried for dreamland viewing only — had been lurking in her head at all. Uh, hello. Justin wouldn’t exactly dig the idea of her getting off with his best friend, and she was pretty sure Lance wouldn’t give it the big thumbs-up either, well, because, you know, his boyfriend and all.

She still doesn’t know how the images, thoughts, ideas, fractured screwy mental reflections, whatever, had gotten there, wouldn’t be able to answer that if asked. The dream scenario — as explicit and indecent as it was — is still a jarring shock and unexplained mystery to her psyche. So she’s keeping it to herself. Maybe, she sometimes imagines, when she has allowed herself to dwell on it for longer than five minutes at a time, maybe JC’s shrink could unravel the tangled web of it all for her. The good psychiatrist is the only living soul she might even consider bringing it out into the light of day for. Until then…….Yeah. Zipped lips forever.

And being around JC afterward hasn’t been as weird and awkward as she had feared it would be. He didn’t have a clue that, in the forbidden recesses of her mind, the two of them had had ohmyfuckinggod sex up against a wall in a shadowy public place. He has nothing to feel uncomfortable about. Besides, he’s been just as hyped and preoccupied with the tour kicking off as Justin has been — not to mention how distracted and neurotically focused he’s been on Lance’s first little cross-the-world jaunt to Moscow.

So, with all of that freaky chaos going on around them, their face-to-face encounters, JC’s and Cassidy’s, had been as “friendly” and as “norma”l as they’d been before The Dream. If you can call their relationship either “friendly” or “normal.” Nothing out of the ordinary so far. And for that, she is terribly grateful.

She can hang. Yeah. She can keep up appearances and keep that memory under wraps forever if she needs to. And — bottom line on the whole situation, so listen up here — there’s nothing to it all anyhow. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Yes, she loves Justin. And no, she does not fantasize about fucking JC. So there. End of story. Take it and run.

“And is he as great in the sack as Lance always brags he is?” she answers Justin’s laughing with a sleek upturned eyebrow and sarcastic glance. “Since you know so well and all.”

“Are you joking? Dude can suck the chrome off a brand-new car bumper! Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Justin winks and snickers. With naughty, back-atcha-babe glee. “He topped ‘great’ about four miles back!”

“You’re sick, Justin.”

“Wrong, Cassidy. I feel just fine.”

“You think he’s okay up there? Squirreled away in his room all alone?”

Justin nods. “Yeah. Same as yesterday and the day before, right? I think he’s fine. He just wants some alone time, time to himself. Can’t blame him, can we? And he always comes out eventually.”

“Hmm. Comes out because he has to eat. I swear Lance bugs me about that in every damn e-mail he sends…….to make sure Jace eats. Says he forgets sometimes.”

“He does. Sometimes. Bad, spacey habit of his. And I guess this weekend is, like, a thousand times worse for the potential, eh? I mean with Bass MIA and all?”

Cassidy glares at the screen pensively. And the fact that he cares about JC and what JC is going through slides around her like a comforting velvet shawl. “Man, I can’t bear to tell him how we can’t get the guy to leave the house and go out with us.”

“Well, tell Lancers to keep his panties on straight and out of a wad, that C’s eating just fine. I mean remember last night? The two chili-cheese dogs and large fries he scarfed down when you came home with the takeout? Then, whoa, the huge-orium slice of chocolate cream pie after that? Hell, he had so much energy by then, he SO thought he was gonna whoop my ass in Final Fantasy X on PlayStation!” Justin laughs and sweeps in stealthily to graze her throat with his lips. “Be sure and let his wife know
that shit too while you’re at it. Okay? And don’t leave out how miserably I stomped his skinny butt for him!”

“He was also pretty drunk, Justin. Remember that part? Lots of wine from his cellar downstairs? So congrats to you on such a score,” she drones and rolls her eyes.

“Right, sweet cheeks. Whatever. I can take Jace down anytime anywhere. And you know it.”

“Ah, I’m so
proud of you. Do you make him scream ‘who’s your daddy?’ when y’all are boinking each other in bed at night?”

Justin cracks up. “Hell, yeah, I do! You can’t hear his ass moaning and groaning from the guest room? He’s a yelper, that Jace, I swear.”

Again with the classic rolling of her bright eyes and shaking of her head. “Jesus. You are an alarmingly disturbed person, Justin. You scare me sometimes. I’m serious.”

Undeterred, Justin leans closer and brushes his soft mouth over the lush fullness of hers, licking gently at the moisture on her lips. “You scare me
all the time, baby. I’m serious too…….Love you.”

She smiles into their soft exchange of kisses, loving the feel of the steam from his mouth. “I love you more.”

“How much more?” he whispers, enticingly.

“Enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“Enough to go with you and take a second tour of that damn chateau up in the Hollywood Hills. The one that comes with a few golf carts for traveling from one wing of the grounds to another.”

Justin laughs again, a delicate rush of air onto her cheeks. “Well, well. Thank you, Cass. What. The. Hell. I
knew you were charmed off your sweet buns by that place too. I saw the fire in your eyes blaze up when you pranced into that gourmet-designer kitchen. It was all kinds of cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have me fooled, girl.”

“Oh. That kitchen that could be the functioning kitchen of a major
hotel?”

Justin grins, and it’s so warm it’s magical. “Smartass Cass. My one and only.”

“You call the realtor and set it up, sweetie. He’ll pee his boxers to hear from you. I think he’s got a crush on you anyway.”

“No way, Cassidy. He’s got a kid.”

“A kid he squirted out
before he got himself out of the closet and found him a husband, apparently. Did you miss that chapter of his ultra-friendly LA-brand schmooze spiel?”

Daniel had hooked them up with Bryson Lockhart, the real estate specialist who’s been consulting with them and escorting them from property to property the past couple of days. Daniel, from their History 101 here, is now the live-in partner of JC’s shrink, Dr. Jeffers. He came into their little universe via the chance meeting he had with Lance on a plane a million moons ago during the filming of
On The Line and subsequently dated Lance in the few weeks Lance and JC were split up back then. Now, however, in this century, he’s with Colin, the psychiatrist, and still a friend to Lance and Lance’s friends.

It has taken lots of time and therapy — just ask Colin — for JC to acclimate the guy into the peripheral picture with an accepting attitude, but all is adjusted and cozy now. And Daniel, a very successful real estate agent in Orlando, is always kindly willing to help out with his far-reaching professional contacts and resources. Cassidy has sent him a nice, expensive thank-you gift from Gucci for putting them in touch with a likable pro in the business out here.

“Yes, ma’am,” Justin breathes out with an acquiescent mumble. “I’ll make the call to the Lockhard dude. If that’s what it takes.”

“LockharT, Justin. Not Lockhard. Hello? You wanna insult the guy?”

“WhatEVER,” he groans and snickers. “I’m on it. I’ll ring up Peebo right now.”

“Peebo?”

“Bryson. Dude’s first name? Hello?”


* * * * * * * * * *

Cassidy sat there, staring at the body of the e-mail she’d been typing to Lance, going back over in her head everything the four of them have all managed to survive throughout the past year or so. And it seemed like so much longer than just a year, didn’t it? Bittersweet memories, so many of them, some good, some not so good, some truly bad.

Damn. Daniel did look almost exactly like that actor David Boreanaz, didn’t he? The one from Angel, the TV vampire show on the WB. Lance had been right. The dude may have been even more handsome than ol’ Boreanaz.

But not as knockdown gorgeous as JC Chasez.

That was one thing for sure. Okay, he was nice and polite and intelligent and, whoa, what a looker. But he wasn’t JC. Nobody was JC. Lance knew that. Lance had known that all along. He’d been fully aware who he ultimately wanted. For the long haul. Hadn’t he? And that’s who he had ultimately ended up with now.

She smiled again, a little achingly. She won’t tell Lance now how JC’s been isolating himself in his room away from everyone since Lance has been gone, these last few days that she and Justin have been staying with him. She won’t write and say how JC comes downstairs and shows some signs of life only once in a while each day, although they beg him to come with them every single time they head out of the house to go somewhere. She’ll hold back on admitting that JC obviously preferred only his own company if he couldn’t have Lance’s too.

No, she won’t relay any of that. The words, even in serif-friendly Times New Roman font, won’t come out on the screen the way she wanted them to, won’t translate emotionally over the oceans and countries in this multi-continental correspondence the way she needed them to. Lance would read them and worry. And Lance worried enough already. Too much, in fact.

She would describe instead how Justin had been doing his best to draw JC out of his tortured soul confines and engage him, connect with him naturally and normally, take his mind off everything as best as he could. Exactly like Justin had been doing every night during the stage show since the tour had begun, revving the crowds up with his and JC’s constant, hot interaction and close playfulness. Lance would be able to relate to that vision. He’d seen it with his own eyes already. They’d all seen it. And it had been effective. And beautiful.

She’d tell about how she had cooked dinner for the three of them the first night here, and how she’d joked around and taunted JC that it was the first time ever his kitchen had been used for actual culinary purposes, and then how she’d covered her ears and sung “Row-Row-Row-Your Boat” very loudly to herself while he’d retorted with detailed accounts of the non-culinary purposes he and Lance had found for different parts of said kitchen she had just cooked on. Yeah, gross.

Yes, she and Justin were doing their collective best to take care of JC during his blue-is-a-way-of-life phase right now. Lance wouldn’t worry. Hopefully.

“Hey, baby. ‘Sup?” Justin’s creamy voice feathered through her cell phone when she answered the low-volume ring.

“Not much. Where are you?”

“Eh. Over on Sunset right now. Had to pick you up a little something.”

“No, you didn’t have to pick me up a damn thing, Justin. I wish you’d just stop doing that,” Cassidy lied.

Justin giggled. “Liar. C back yet?”

“No. They’re still out. Probably doing grownup little boy stuff.”

“Still? Well, damn. At least he’s getting his stale as out of the house. Finally.”

She smirked. For no real reason. “He’ll be home before we go out for dinner tonight. He promised he’d go this time. Fucking finally. He loves Thai. And this is you guys’ final night off. We need to celebrate. All three of us.”

That last part, “All three of us,” sounded glaringly off to Cassidy. Very not right. Very, well, lacking Lance. But she didn’t/couldn’t focus on it too much. It wouldn’t bring him home any sooner.

“Yeah. We need to celebrate all right, yo,” Justin snickered again.

“And that means what?”

“Nothing much, baby.”

She bit at her lip, definitely not trusting that tone from him. “Then where’ve you been?” she asked, definitely not expecting a straight answer from him.

“Around.”

“That’s cute, Justin. For a second-grader.”

“Well. Maybe, ya know, swung by the Harley dealership. Maybe.”

Cassidy felt a long muscle in her stomach loop itself into a sharp knot. Oh, fuck. Unpredictable, this one, or what? “Justin. Did you go and buy another motorcycle? Man. You didn’t, did you?”

Because hello? That will make THREE! Who in the hell needs THREE Harley Davidsons? I mean really! What’s the damn world coming to? One — or even two — isn’t enough? Plus where the hell will you store it out here while you’re on tour anyway? Here at JC’s house?

“Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t,” Justin teased in a whisper, laughter floating in his voice.

“Justin.”

“And maybe I sprung for…….two.”

“Two?”

“His and Hers.”

“Justin!” She choked and gasped at the same time as the knot in her gut extended and doubled back on itself. “No, you didn’t! What the —”

“Yours is too-too adorable, baby. Totally. Aquamarine, just like your eyes, with a splash here and there of hot pink. It’s not too big, see, but not too girlie either. Just sleek and sex-ay. Woo hoo. It’ll be a piece of cake to handle. Like a dream. You’ll see. And the seat is covered in the finest Italian leather money can buy, I’m saying. Yeah, just the perfect size for those awesome sweet cheeks of yours.”

Cassidy’s heart and mind were both racing at warp speed by the time he was finished with his proud recitation of the bike’s features. Her mouth opened and closed without any audible sounds coming out.

She’d never driven a motorcycle in her life — not even one of the two Justin already owned back in Orlando. She’d never had any desire to drive one of them either. Riding behind Justin, her chest pressed flat and warm against his back, holding onto him, squeezing his hips between her thighs, and feeling the rush of his pulse against her cheek as he sped down the open road had always been enough for her. Always.

And, damnit, here he was again, throwing her for a major loop, busting her out of her sweet little comfort zone. Damn Timberlake boy.

“Justin, I’ve never —”

“I know, Cass. I’ll teach you. It’s a breeze. You’ll see.”

“You keep saying that.”

“‘Cause it’s true! You’ll see! Now. How does it feel to be a first-time, big-time Harley owner, babe?”

“Uh…….unbelievable,” she fumbled, a little unsure of herself, unbelievably. “I can’t believe you went out and did this shit, Justin. I mean without asking me or anything. Such a spontaneous, big fucking purchase.” Yep, here she was, with this such-a-spontaneous-big-fucking-purchase guy.

Through the phone, he sighed, patiently. “Cass, the dude at the shop said we can return it if you just really totally hate it. But you won’t. I promise.”

“Still. Totally can’t believe it, Justin.”

“Well, you’re welcome, my love,” he laughed softly.

“And where are we going to keep them both, Justin? Did you consider that? I mean it’s not like we can fold them up and tuck them away in the damn luggage, right?”

“Just sit tight. I’ve thought of that. The thing is…….they can be ground-shipped home to Florida if necessary. I checked. The Harley folks said they use FedEx for that kind of thing all the time. Or…….”

“Or what?”

“Well? Have you thought anymore about that house? Like since we did another walk-through yesterday? Hmm?”

Cassidy let out a deep breath she’d been hoarding to herself for too long. “So that’s how it is? You’re out buying shit already for a house we haven’t even decided to make an offer on yet? Hmm?”

“Cass, that crib is perfect. For both of us. You know it is. Didn’t you get that vibe too? The one calling out to us saying, ‘We’re the ultimate, bestest hookup, baby. This house and the Timberlakes.’ Domestic bliss purrrfection at the top levels. Don’t ya think?”

“The Timberlakes,” she echoed skeptically. “That ‘bestest hookup’ in ‘domestic bliss purrrfection’ has, like, 800 rooms, Justin!”

“Slightly less than that, babe. Stop ex-stagger-ating.”

Delicately, she huffed, knowing already she’d lost this one. That is if one could ever consider being with Justin Timberlake losing.

“What exactly would we do with that many damn rooms anyway?”

Justin made a small, breezy-like noise through the phone’s receiver, something similar to a hushed-break sound he created when he was way into the beat-boxing. Cassidy can see him in her mind’s eye, and she knows he’s shrugging and smiling that impeccable, confident, downright smug smile.

“Eh, I dunno. We’ll have tons of time to work on that, girl. Won’t we? Hell, we’ll find a way to fill ‘em up. You know us……Maybe with a kid or two…….after we get ourselves officially hitched for good. Whatcha think, sweetness? Hmm? Sound okay to you?”

That last part came out in a silken whisper that glided through her consciousness with a life of its own, shattering her into a million soft pieces and then melding her back together again. Had he really just said what she’d thought she heard?

“Um, what I think is that I hope you didn’t lose your mind completely and buy anything else today. Did you? Like, say, furniture or window treatments or shrubs for the front yard?” she choked out after she’d managed to recover from her quick trip to the far side of the sun and back.

He’d really said it, hadn’t he? So casual and cool had he dropped it on her and just kept going like it was totally nothing. And over the phone too. Damn him. She might just have to drop-kick his fine ass.

Justin laughed. “Negative on more super-spending, babe. Just the coolacious bikes.”

“Good. I caught you in the nick of time, maybe. Then bring your shopping-crazy ass back here now before you go certifiably hedonistic again, Justin.”

“Uh-oh. Am I in trouble?”

“You might be, mister. Or I might just wanna get in some practice on my, um, riding technique.”

Justin sighed, long and loud, effortlessly seduced. “Whew. Fuck, man. No argument there. See you in five flat ones, babe.”

When she tapped the Off button and laid the phone down, Cassidy glanced at the unfinished e-mail yet again. She needed to get it done and sent before Justin returned with his bigger-than-life fantastic mood and his vague notions about their immediate future.

Should she tell Lance about Joey unexpectedly stopping by here right before lunchtime today to talk to JC? About how caught-off-guard and uncomfortable JC had seemed when he’d finally ambled downstairs, but had then reluctantly agreed (after some dramatic fidgeting and muttering a lot of nothing) to throw on a hat and some sandals and go out for some grub with Joey so that they could “chat, one-on-one” for a while? Like they hadn’t done, just the two of them, in ages? Would this be good news Lance would want to hear over there in Moscow?

She knew — same as everyone else around knew — there had been bad, bristly blood between JC and Joey since Joey had helped orchestrate the little “date” for Lance to make him stop moping and brooding over JC the last time the couple had been on the outs. Joey had only been looking out for his friend. He’d been genuinely concerned that Lance had been so down in the dumps over the split-up and miserably lonely. And all he’d done was introduce the guy to a friend of his from the acting scene in New York City — which had subsequently ended up being a little more than just a “friendly” encounter for Lance. But JC had taken the “betrayal” personally. And everyone knew about JC’s legendary jealousy and how deeply he could hold a grudge. Even against a good friend and fellow group member like Joey.

So would Lance be relieved to find out that the two of them were off somewhere right now, alone together, possibly sorting out the messed up relations between them? He would, wouldn’t he? Maybe she’d mention it in passing. As if it weren’t a big deal at all. It couldn’t hurt. It was a positive situation after all, something to be hopeful about. And Lance seemed to be craving (i.e., homesick for) any news he could get from the folks he loved right now. She new that.

And then, different subject entirely, should she fill Lance in on the most recent out-of-the-damn-blue insanity that Justin had just whammied on her? Wouldn’t her best friend be interested in hearing about how her boyfriend’s idea of a pseudo (?) proposal of marriage (?) was to toss it in — last-minute, no-warning-whatsoever-style — at the end of a cell phone conversation, no less, about a monster of a house in the Hollywood Hills they were about to make an offer on together? Or about how his warped version of an engagement ring (?) must be something completely unconventional and whack like an aquamarine and pink femme fatale Harley Davidson motorcycle?

As she started to type, she grinned, imagining Lance’s reaction to word of these strange events from the other side of the world when he opened up his e-mail and read all of this later — his green eyes wide and full as they skimmed over the sentences, his mouth forming a show, silent “What the fuck is going on over there when I can’t be around to check it out for myself? No way! No, those fool-asses didn’t!”

Cassidy laughed softly. All in an off-day’s work.

* * * * * * * * * *

TO BE CONTINUED

Part 107


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