Remember Me

By:  Dolphin Princess

Renee sat at her desk, typing the employee list for the third time that day. This was the list that allowed people who were not artists to go upstairs into the studio and the company. Not many were allowed due to fans trying to sneak in, but at least the list gave her something to do when the phone wasn't ringing off the hook when some 14 year old girl tried calling to see if she could talk to Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter or Britney Spears. Some days Renee wished she worked anywhere but at JIVE Records as the receptionist for the lobby but then again the job did give her perks. She was able to meet the top paid artists and the up and coming ones as well. Managers, recording engineers, top executives all knew her by sight, even though she would bet her bi-weekly salary that they didn't know her name.

She looked up from the computer as the front door to the office complex opened, a tall, dark, lean man walked in, his eyes covered by dark sunglasses and his short dark hair standing every which way from the wind that was howling outside.

He nodded in her direction, acknowledging her presence, while she waved him by. "Hi JC." She called out with a smile. "They're expecting you up in the board room in an hour."

"Thanks." He said, smiling his million-dollar smile, even though he had no idea who she was.

She nodded again and went back to typing. She looked up watching him walk into the elevator with a sigh, before turning her attention back to the computer. NSYNC had been a part of JIVE now for almost a year and they still didn't know who she was, even though every time one of them walked in, she said hi. How she wished one of them would acknowledge her… speak to her…

The front door opened again, causing Renee to look up. This one she didn't know. She was dressed in a tailored green suit, matching flats with a matching bag that called out neat freak, but her hair was messed up, the high ponytail sloppily done, giving a mixed impression of what the girl was like. The young lady raced through the front door, heading straight to the elevator. Renee frowned. She wasn't supposed to go up there unless she was signed in as a guest. Probably someone trying to make it in the music business. "Miss…"

The girl whirled around just as she was about to press the button. "Yes…"

"You need to sign in if you have an appointment."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I…." The girl turned around and walked over to her desk. "I'm new. I was just hired and I'm late for my meeting with Janet Kleinbaum."

"No worries." Renee smiled. "What's your name and I'll let her secretary know you're on your way up."

"Stephanie Kingsley."

Renee knew her name was on the list cause she had just typed it in, but made the motion for checking it anyway. "Yes… here you are." She reached into her desk and pulled out a new pass and handed it to her. "This will let you get in without having to check with me every time. Welcome to JIVE."

"Thanks." The girl smiled, before running a hand through her already messed up hair. Renee's eyes widened as the girl's green eyes sparkled down at her when she smiled.

"No problem, but if you're late, you'd better hurry."

Stephanie smiled again as she checked her watch. "You're right, thanks." She turned and rushed to the elevator, punching the button several times in impatience while she waited. All of a sudden, Renee watched her slap her forehead and turn to face her again. "What's your name, I forgot to ask."

"R…Renee." She stuttered, shocked that someone was curious about her.

"Nice to meet you Renee. Call me Stevie." She waved with a laugh before entering the elevator.

**********************************************************************

"Thanks, Jan. I should get going. I don't want to be late for my meeting with Barry but I wanted to drop these off for your inspection." The dark haired, blue eyed young man smiled at the executive that held his career in her hands.

The woman behind the desk folded her hands on top and smiled up at him. "I'll take a look at them and get back to you, JC."

"Thanks Jan. That would be great." He took a deep breath before smiling again. He was always nervous whenever he dropped a song off for her to inspect let alone three. He ran a hand through his short hair, before chuckling. "You'd think after a year, I'd stop being nervous."

Janet Kleinbaum smiled at him reassuringly. "JC, have I ever turned away something you've written?"

He shook his head. "No, but…"

Her brown eyes twinkled at him. "But, they're your creation… you artists and your egos. Get out of here, kid. I'll be back with you about them in a few days. You ready for the new album?"

He smiled the first genuine smile she'd seen on his face all day. "You betcha. I can't wait to be down in the studio. It's just too bad that John got another job offer and left. We'll miss him, but I'm sure the new guy will be great."

Janet smiled. "Stevie has been highly recommended."

JC nodded. "Well as long he lets me work, we'll be fine."

"Show em you're more than an artist."

JC laughed. "Yup, you understand, Jan, that's why I love working with you. But I need to get going…" He looked down at his watch and realized he was already ten minutes late.

"Stop in within the next few days and I'll have my comments."

He nodded before turning to leave.

"Miss Kleinbaum, you're two o clock is here." Her secretary beeped in over the intercom.

"Thanks, Sandy. Bye JC."

He waved as he walked down the hall, already thinking of apologies to Barry. Barry was used to his artists being late from being caught in the studio or traffic or whatnot, but JC prided himself on being an artist that was always punctual and professional. He didn't want the flaky musician title to be labeled on him or his groupmates. They worked hard and he wanted the world to know that.

The elevator door opened and a young woman stepped off it, but wasn't paying attention as she was bopping her head to some song in her head, as she rushed down the hallway, not wanting to be any later. JC turned the corner and almost ran into her as she turned the same corner, heading in the direction he had just come from.

"Sorry." She mumbled, her head down as she moved around him, still humming under her breath.

JC watched her walk off, stunned. He couldn't shake the feeling that he knew her somehow. He turned around for a second glimpse but she was gone, having entered an office. He shook his head and ran to catch the elevator to head up to the tenth floor where the conference rooms were.

As he waited, his thoughts drifted back to her. The curly hair, tall, thin body, and never ending energy. He knew her… he knew he knew her. An image of an airplane and a young dark haired monster flitted through his mind but he shook it off. It couldn't be her, it… just couldn't.

He hit the button in the elevator, going back to his initial thoughts of an excuse, but the music distracted him and he realized just what the woman had been humming. NSYNC muzac. JC Chasez of the famous pop group called NSYNC shook his head and began to laugh. "Only JIVE would produce this and play it…" He chuckled to himself before the elevator dinged, telling him he had arrived at the appropriate floor.

************************************************************************

Janet opened the door to the studios and ushered the young woman in. "And this will be your home away from home." She laughed, throwing her arm out as she motioned to all the doors down the hall that housed all the recording studios.

Her eyes lit up as they walked down the hall. "This is great. I mean… I've worked in small studios before and Nashville, but… none of them compare to this place."

Janet laughed. "Yeah, we've really grown from the small company that had only two or three artists signed but now… we've got so many big name people that its hard to keep track of everything."

Stevie turned and looked at the walls and smiled softly to herself. Her dreams were coming true. On one side of the hallway, platinum records and awards for the artists drifted all the way down. She turned her head to the left and noticed the promotional posters for the company's artists. "Which group will I be working with?"

Janet walked over to the one of the posters outside studio B and pointed. "This one. NSYNC. Their recording engineer quit a few months ago, right in the beginning of the initial proceedings of their new album, so we were lucky to have found you. We want to start recording next week if that’s all right, that should give you enough time to set up a few meetings with the group and go over the material, right?"

Stevie nodded, her eyes still glued to the poster. "Yeah… I'll start on it tonight and maybe set up a meeting tomorrow?" She turned to look at Janet, who nodded.

"I'll set it up, no problem. I know one of the members if running around here today, meetings all day long, so I'll let him know."

"Okay…" She eyed one of the members, a flicker of recognition coursing through her, but she couldn't place the face.

"Stephanie?"

She shook herself mentally, coming out of her trance. "Show me the studio."

Janet smiled. "I like your work ethic already. You're going to get along great with these guys… they are some of the most hard working guys you'll ever meet and…"

Stevie shook her head. "Don't tell me anything. I like to make my own impressions of the groups and work directly with them, get a feel for their styles and work around that so we can get the right sound."

Janet eyed the younger girl more closely before nodding. "They are going to love you. A prefect compliment; I couldn't have picked a better engineer if I had tried. Let's get you settled in the studio." She turned and unlocked the door, before handing over the key. "This is your copy, mine is upstairs so don't worry about taking mine."

"Thanks…"

They walked into the studio and Stevie’s eyes lit up. Her fingers itched to touch the soundboard but she knew she was going to have to wait till she saw the music and talked to the musicians before anything could take place. She had to be patient. Her nose wrinkled when she thought of that word; boy did she hate being patient.

Beep Beep

Janet looked down at her hip where her pager was and grimaced when she saw the number. "Stevie, will you be okay on your own? Barry wants me to sit in on this next meeting apparently, he said he’d page me if he needed me."

She smiled. "I’ll be fine. Do you mind if I just sit and get acquainted with everything?"

"Nope, go right ahead and that’s pretty much everything that I wanted to talk to you about so…. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Do you remember where your office is?"

"Third floor."

"Right. Oh and I’ll talk to the Jace and get that meeting with the group set up for you. Any preferences on time?"

"Early afternoon. That let’s me get used to everything, get my office set up, meet people…"

"Get acquainted with the office." Janet interrupted.

"Exactly. Get going… I’ll be fine."

"Thanks, Stevie. It’s going to be great working with you."

She nodded, not even listening anymore as Janet stepped out of the room, leaving her with the equipment. She walked over the soundboard and ran her hand down the knobs and the bars. She looked around the room and smiled. Her own studio… her own album…

"Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was in here." A male voice spoke up behind her.

She turned around and saw that it was the guy that she had almost run into in the hallway upstairs. "No problem… I was just getting acquainted with the equipment. Are you one of the technician’s?"

He raised an eyebrow at her before shaking his head. "Nope, but I do work in here." He eyed her out of the corner of his eye as he walked across the room and picked up his music folder. He turned and found her bent over at the waist as she moved some things around on the soundboard, apparently to her satisfaction because she stood up with a huge grin on her face and turned to him.

His eyes widened in shock and he took a step back away from her, shaking his head slowly.

Her brow furrowed in confusion. "Well, that’s not the kind of reaction I usually get when I meet someone. Are you okay?"

He grabbed the counter for stability as he just stared at her. Not again… "You…."

She raised an eyebrow at him this time. "Me? Yes this is me… are you sure you’re okay?"

"No… what are you doing here?"

"I was just hired." She said slowly. "I’m working with this group called NSYNC as their new recording engineer."

She watched his face turn even whiter than it already was before. "Are you sure you’re alright? I could go get someone…"

"No… I can’t… it’s you, isn’t it?"

"My name is Stephanie Kingsley but I go by…"

"Stevie."

"How did you…" Her eyes widened as she finally placed him. "Stuffy Boy! It’s really you!"

"Will you stop with that name?"

Josh Chasez shouldered his backpack as he waved goodbye to his parents then turned and walked onto the airplane. They were supposed to meet him down in Florida when they got everything settled but in the meantime he was going to live with a few of the cast members that he was going to be working with. He knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime being able to sing and dance on television but he was still going to miss being here at home.

He boarded the plane and looked above the seats for his seat number. He found it towards the back and placed the backpack down beneath the seat in front of him before sitting down by the window. He looked out towards the wing and sighed. How was he going to get through leaving his family and friends? Taking a deep breath, he decided this was for the best and that he’d be fine.

"Lady… I’m fine. I can take care of myself."

"Miss… I was told by your parents to make sure you were seated and that everything was take care of."

Josh looked up to see a girl his age being walked down the aisle of the plane towards him. She was tall, thin as a rail with hair that went everywhere. It was a dark brown, but untamed, going every which way and covered most of her face.

"Lady… they worry… they’re parents… I’m 13. Give me a break. If I give you a twenty will you leave me alone?"

He watched the stewardess give her a nasty look before pointing to her seat, which was next to him, and walking off towards the back of the plane.

The girl plopped down beside him, stretching out her legs into the aisle before turning to him with a huge grin. "Works every time."

"What does?"

"Bribing people."

Josh just looked at her like she was nuts. "You bribe people to leave you alone?"

She shrugged. "Sure. It’s not like I don’t have the money…"

He frowned before turning towards the window again. "Why do rich people always have to throw their money around?"

"Hey… if you’ve got it, why not?"

"Well for those of us that don’t…"

"Well, aren’t we the stuffy one…"

"No."

"Yes, you are… and I thought my dad was bad. You’re just like him. I see no problems…"

The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. "We’re now moving to the runway and will be arriving in Orlando in a few hours. In the meantime, please focus your attention to the front where we’ll be going over the safety measures if anything should happen on our way…"

The girl slouched in her seat, closing her eyes, ignoring the pilot and the flight attendant.

Josh looked over at her then up front then back to her before nudging her. "You really should pay attention, it’s the polite thing to do."

She shrugged, her eyes still closed. "I’ve heard it a billion times. It never changes."

"Do you care about anything?"

She opened an eye and peered at him. "Of course, I do. I care about a lot of things. But for your information, stuffy boy… I could care less about the safety features of this flight and I’m tired. I was up late last night taking care of my horse who just gave birth for the first time to a brand new filly."

"Oh… and don’t call me stuffy boy." He muttered, feeling guilty for attacking her.

She sat up, turning towards him eagerly. "I like that nickname, it fits."

"It does not." He muttered again, frowning.

"Does too…" She grinned.

"Leave me alone."

"No, you’re the only I have to talk to and I like to talk."

"I thought you were tired."

"Not anymore."

"Great."

"So…"

"So…" He mimicked.

"What are you going to Florida for?"

He didn’t answer, hoping she would go away.

"Hello… I’m talking to you."

"I’m going down to be on a TV show."

"REALLY? Which one?"

"The Mickey Mouse Club."

"Cool… I like that show… it’s simple, but cute."

He turned around and glared at her. "Let me guess… so am I."

"I wouldn’t say simple but definitely cute." She smiled and had to bite her cheek so that she didn’t laugh.

He rolled his eyes and turned away again.

"Stuffy boy… you might as well talk to me cause we still have hours together…"

"I said to quit calling me that. My name is Josh." He said through clenched teeth.

"But its sooooooo fitting… I'm Stevie by the way."

"What kind of name is Stevie for a girl?"

"Well, my real name is Stephanie but I go by Stevie, got a problem with that?"

He shook his head. "No, you can go by whatever you want."

"Thanks." She smiled brightly. "So anyway…"

He groaned inwardly, thinking about how long the trip to Florida was going to last.

"Imagine running into you again after all this time." She laughed.

"Not long enough." He groaned softly, so that she couldn't hear. "Yeah… and to think… we'll be working together as well… seeing each other every day…." Running away from each other every day… trying not to kill the other every day…

"So what do you do?" She asked, propping a hip up along the soundboard.

He glared at where she was touching his equipment before mentally berating himself because it was technically hers.

"I write music, help produce it and sing as well." He mumbled.

"Cool, so we will be working together."

He nodded slowly. She eyed him closely before her eyes widened again. "You're in my group! You look different from your picture."

"I grew facial hair." He mumbled again, playing with the music folder, before running a hand over his goatee.

"Oh… so…."

"Yeah…."

Stevie walked in to the studio with her grandparents and parents. "Why do we have to come here?" She whined, feeling that seventeen was too old to be at a kid's show.

"Because, it'll be fun." Her mother patted her hand.

Stevie rolled her eyes. "Fine… but you owe me."

"Stephanie! I don't owe you a thing." Her mother reprimanded her.

She sighed, shifting in her chair, pushing her hair out of her face for the millionth time that day. "I think I'm going to cut my hair."


"No, you're not. A proper young lady has long hair." Her mother told her.

"Mom… I didn't say I was going to chop it, just cut it."

"Well…"

"Hush, you two." Her grandmother said. "They're starting."

Stevie settled back in her chair and listened to the theme song as a bunch of kinds bounced and jumped around on stage singing and dancing as they filmed. Her eyes were drawn to an older boy, looked to be about her age, with dark brown hair that they called JC. She smirked as she watched him sing before running back stage. "He's really cute." She said to herself.

"Who dear?" Her grandmother asked.

"No one, Nana." She said, hoping that he would come back out.

In between takes, she kept trying to catch a glimpse but he wasn't anywhere to be found. She leaned back in her chair, arms folded across her chest, sulking. Where is he…

She noticed the crew setting up a work table, wood pieces and chairs out in front and waited for the kid actors to make their appearance for the taping of the next skit. A bunch of younger kids made their way out to sit, all laughing and joking with each other before another older kid came out to take his spot. She sat up straight in her chair as she realized it was the kid… the cute kid. She relaxed with a small smile and focused on the skit as soon as the director cued them and the cameras began to tape.

"Okay woodchucks, listen up. I'm Woody, a first-degree woodchuck and today I'm going to be helping you get your beaver badge in woodworking. Now… the first thing you need to do is…" Stevie held her breath as he tripped over one of the sawhorses and fell face first into the floor. "Pushups." He quickly did a few before jumping up.

"I always start with a couple of pushups to loosen up. You know you have to stay fit for those…power…tools." She laughed when he emphasized power and tools as he flexed.

"Now, today we are going to be building a birdhouse." He held up the already done one and showed it to the kids. "Cute, isn't it? I mean can't you imagine a whippoorwill in there, sitting in his e-z chair, watching a few woody woodpecker cartoons, and scarfing down a few worms. I mean sounds good, huh Grossman?"

One of the kids perked up when he spoke to them. "I'm not too fond of those woody woodpecker cartoons but those worms sure sound good."

"What do you say we build a birdhouse huh!" He said snottily to the kid.

"Okay… now I've precut all the pieces so we don't have to mess around with ant of those dangerous power tools. Whoops." He dropped a piece of wood, bent to pick it up and slammed his head into the table, falling to the ground.

Stevie winced when he picked himself up, holding his head. It looked like he really had hit it.

"Did you move the table Rogers?"

"Not me, I just got back ceramics class."

"Oh ceramics, oh that’s really important. You never know when you'll be stranded on an island and you'll have to make your own plate!" She jumped when he yelled the last word and slammed his hand down on the table.

"Now, first thing we'll need is a couple of nails…" He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a handful of glue with the nails, the top had come off the glue. "As you can see, I've already pre-glued the nails so I can glue and nail at the same time. So now all we have to do is put the pieces together. Woodchucks, when something like this happens you have to use your woodchuck ingenuity. Now watch me closely and do everything that I do."

She had to bit her tongue not to laugh as he slammed the hammer into his hand and started to groan. One of the kids began to copy him, catching his attention. "What is it, Wilson?"

"You said to do everything that you do."

"Very funny, Wilson. Don't do it again." He eyed the kid. "Now we are going to skip the nails and go straight to the glue." She watched him slap a bunch of glue from his hand and his pocket onto the pieces then try to stick it together. She had to laugh cause he held it up in pieces when he was done with such a proud expression.

"There you have it. A woodchuck whippoorwill house. Now when…" He waved his hand around a piece of wood stuck to it. "A problem… when this happens, you simply go like this."

He waved his hand around, trying to get the piece off. All the kids stood and copied him until he glared at them. "Sit down!" He waved his hand around some more and finally fell through the wood that was lying on the sawhorses backwards causing the entire audience to roar.

He jumped up with a grin. "Well, that’s how you build a bird house, but we're out of time and we have to go to our next project." He pulled out a bow and arrow. "Archery!"

All the kids screamed and ran off with him on their heels yelling, "No, I'm really good at this. WAIT!"

Stevie rolled around in her seat, she was laughing so hard. He was so cute! She convinced her grandparents and parents after the taping to stick around afterwards so that she could meet him and headed down to the floor when the cast members were strolling around, chatting with friends and fans.

She walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me…I wanted…"

He turned around, his eyes widening. "What do you want?"

"Umm excuse me?" She asked, confused.

"Didn't you torture me enough LAST TIME we were around each other?" He asked, his face crinkled up in distaste.

She took a step back. "Have we met?"

"Don't you remember flying to Florida to visit your…"

Her eyes widened and her smile grew brighter as she took in the blue eyes that were too big for his face as she remembered them flying down together. "Stuffy boy!"

He growled something under his breath before turning away from her. "I hate that name."

Stevie watched him fold and unfold the folder and grimaced as the tension in the room heightened. "Look, Stuffy Boy…."

His head jerked up to glare at her. "My name is JC."

"Josh, JC…Stuffy Boy…whatever, anyway…"

"The name is JC." He said, even more quietly as he pointedly stared at her. "I hate that name and would prefer it if you called me by my name."

She shrugged, trying not to laugh at his sullen expression. "It's just a nickname."

"One given by you…"

She smiled. "Exactly."

He groaned, slapping the music against his hand. "Look…"

"Chris… I am not buying that."

"JC, you really need to loosen up. I think his plaid shirt and polka dot tie go perfect together and would fabulous on you darling…"

JC rolled his eyes. "I do like the shirt but not with the tie. I'm sure we can find something else to go with….damn…. her again?" He muttered as he watched a dark haired girl come bouncing into the store, carrying a few bags and a bright smile.

Chris looked up from the rack and followed his gaze. "She's cute… what's your problem?"

"She annoys me. Hide me."

Chris shook his head. "I don't think so buddy. She can't be that bad."

"Believe me, she is."

"Right…" Chris looked over at the girl than back at JC and grinned.

"Chris… I'm warning you…"

"What, JC? You can't kill me. You need me in Europe."

"We'll find someone else to sing the high notes real quickly in time… don't."

Chris smiled before turning away. "Miss…., Hey… yeah you!" He called out as the girl turned.

JC groaned, trying to hide behind the clothing racks. He watched her walk over, her green eyes twinkling as if she was about to tell a joke. "Yes…"

"I think you know my friend over there hiding behind the clothes. He was too shy to say Hi so I thought I'd help him out." Chris told her, acting as if it was some great secret as he leaned down to speak in her ear, pointing JC out.

"Your friend…" He watched her eyes light around the store before settling on him questioningly. He could tell she didn't remember him first off but he could almost see the light bulb go off.

"Stuffy Boy?"

He wanted to sink through the floor. Why doesn't she ever remember my name, just that stupid, hideous nickname? He stepped out from the clothes with a grimace that turned deeper as Chris began to chuckle.

"Stuffy Boy?" He choked out between fits of laughter.

Stevie turned to him with a smile. "The first time we met, he looked like he should be dressed in starched shirts and dress slacks with a planner in one hand and a stick up his ass."

JC just shook his head, fighting the urge to throttle her.

"He still has a stick up his ass, but we're loosening him up." Chris told her, his eyes promising JC that this was not going to blow over.

"That's good to hear. So what are you guys doing?"

"Shopping." JC spit out.

"Oh… for what?"

"Clothes, what does it look like?"

Her eyes widened at his tone, but she ignored it, not commenting on what was his problem. "Anything specific?"

JC shook his head, wanting her to go away and to leave him alone but Chris has to open his mouth.

"We're shopping for touring clothes for our big break in Europe."

"Big break?"

"Yeah, we're in a group called NSYNC and we're just about to leave to tour."

"Cool, I'm studying music in school right now."

"Really? Where at?"

JC rolled his eyes and went back to the clothes, not listening to anything they said as his worst nightmare came true, the monster was befriending his friends.

"You don't want to buy that, Stuffy…" Her voice broke through his reverie.

"Maybe I do…" He bit out, not even knowing what he was holding.

"Nah, it's not your color. You should wear green, not orange."

"Orange just happens to be my favorite color." He said spitefully, even though he couldn't stand the color and really liked blue instead.

"If that's the way you feel…" She shrugged as if to say he didn’t know what he was talking about.

He ground his teeth together before grabbing Chris and hauling him out of the store with her laughter and Chris' following him.

"In a hurry, Stuffy Boy?" Chris asked him as they made it to the food court.

"Shove it, Chris."

"If that's how you feel…" She told him.

"It is."

She nodded; reaching over and running her hand down the soundboard as a million and one thoughts ran through her head. "We still have to work together though…"

"I know. I'll live but…My name is JC."

"Okay, Josh. I understand."

He ground his teeth together as he tried to keep his temper under wraps. His usual reaction to her. "Why can't you be like everyone else and call me by my name?"

She looked over at him curiously. "Josh is your name, isn't it?"

"Yes but… nevermind." He slapped the music against his thigh before heading to the door. "I have another meeting that I have to go to right now."

"Well have fun, Janet wants us to sit down and talk tomorrow and I need a copy of all the songs that are going to be on the album as well."

"I'll get those to you. What time?"

"Say twoish for the meeting and if I could have the music in my hands by one, that would be great."

He rolled his eyes. "I'll do that."

She watched him stomp out the door and sighed. He was still cute and boy did he have a temper… she was just going to have to watch herself and make sure he didn't push her buttons.

Stevie turned around and sat down on the stool, turning on the power as she acquainted herself with the equipment. This was sure going to be interesting…she thought as she grabbed a reel of music that was laying beside the box and began to mess around before she decided to head home to her roommate.

Chapter 2

Stevie carried her box of things for her office through the door and set it on her desk. The company had supplied her with a phone, fax machine, computer and her cell and pager lay on the desk in front of her. She quickly set the box on the chair in front of her desk and hurried to look out the window. The view of downtown New York was breathtaking as people scurried about, trying to get to work on time, cars honked at each other as they were backed up for blocks, and across the street another executive was bustling about her office trying to get things taken care of just as she was.

She snickered softly to herself, before wrapping her arms around herself in a hug, twirling about in a circle. "You made it, kid." She told herself softly, before moving to get things settled and her office to look like it was lived in. For the next hour and a half, she moved and arranged, turning her computer and fax on to get them working, putting pictures of her family up, and opening one desk drawer to dump a folder of music in that she immediately locked up for no one to see. Her private drawer.

After everything was settled to perfection, she sat down and stared at the computer screen, not knowing what to do first.

"Usually, when it's turned on, you enter your password and get to work." A voice said, dryly from the doorway.

She turned her chair around to face the newcomer and found Janet grinning at her. "I know, but since I don't have much to do yet…"

"You didn't know where to start?"

Stevie nodded. "Yup, what can I do for you?"

Janet walked in handing her a stack of papers. "This is the office phone number and pager list, plus a list of the companies and artists and how to get a hold of them. Thought you might like to know that stuff. Also, your own information is listed as well so you can give those out at your own discretion. The guys should have them if they need to get a hold of you and… that's about it that I can think of. How’s the first day going?"

"Thanks, Janet. It’s going all right. Got my stuff settled, worked in the studio last night…"

Janet nodded, not really listening. "No thanks is needed." She checked her watch. "I’ve got a meeting to go to, but I wanted to check and make sure you were doing all right. I'll be upstairs if you need me."

Stevie nodded. "Sure thing…" She smiled as Janet left before turning back to her computer and grabbing a few CDs out of her bag. She plugged one in and pulled out her earbuds, putting them in as the sound of Matchbox 20 filled her ears, silencing out the rest of the world.

JC stalked down the hallway towards her office, the sheet music in one hand, the other clenching and unclenching into a fist. He couldn't believe that he had to answer to her… to her of all people. The very thought of her sent his blood boiling and he didn't know how to handle it. There was just something about her that immediately set him on edge.

Her door was open and he could see her sitting at her desk, staring at the computer as she typed something out. He knocked but when she didn't turn around, figured that she had heard him and entered, walking up to her desk. He had to hand it to her, she had moved in well, making the little office feel like home with the pictures and plants on the windowsill and more pictures on her desk.

"Stephanie?" He asked politely, trying to get her attention.

When she didn't answer, he took a deep breath, assuming that she was still a little upset about the way he had reacted to having to work with her. He didn't like it but there wasn't anything that he could really do and he was going to have to live with it. He was supposed to be a professional and he was going to be one if it killed him so he might as well suck it up and try to be civil.

"Stevie… I wanted to bring the music to you before the meeting." He continued, hoping she would turn around and at least let him know that she knew he was there.

She still hadn't turned around, just typing away. The constant click of the keyboard set his nerves on edge again, as if they weren't enough already just by being in her presence. "Stevie…" He began again. "Look. I know that we don't get along. Working with you, wasn't exactly what I had been expecting or even wanting after all our other random meetings in the past but I came here today, hoping that we could put that behind us and maybe act like two professionals and be able to get through this album without killing each other."

Click click click

"Are you even listening to me? I said that I'd like to at least try to get along."

The silence in the room grew louder except for the constant clicking of the keyboard.

He gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. She's female… maybe a little ticked after yesterday… but that doesn't excuse…"STEVIE! Are you listening to me?"

Nothing. "Fine… if this is the way you want to play it… I can oblige you no problem, sweetheart." His hand clenched on the music and he brought it up to slam it down on her desk, just as she whirled around in her chair.

"Stuffy Boy! What can I do ya for?" She smiled brightly, pulling the earbuds out of her ear and laying them around her neck.

She had been listening to music! He slammed the music on her desk. "Just thought you’d like to have this before the meeting…" He ground out between clenched teeth.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Having a bad day are we?"

He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and counted to ten but that did nothing to stop his blood pressure from rising and envisioning his hands wrapped around her neck. "No, I was fine until I stepped into your office, actually." He said sneeringly.

Her lips twitched in suppressed mirth. "Oh, I highly doubt that with the stick that’s wedged so high up your…"

"I don't think where my stick is concerns you."

"Oh I wouldn't say that…" Her eyes twinkled up at him.

"Anyway…" He started but stopped as she began to spin around in her chair. "What are you doing?"

"Spinning, what does it look like?"

"Like you're not paying attention to anything that I have to say."

"I'm paying attention… you started with anyway… please continue…"

"Anyway, I just wanted…" His eyes followed her as she began to spin faster, laughing in delight as her hair fanned out from the air lifting it up. "I can't concentrate when you do that." He griped.

She stopped just as she completed the turn, facing him. "Is this better?" She asked, raising her eyebrows as she folded her hands in front of her, eyes directly on him.

He growled an expletive under his breath, his eyes looking anywhere but at her, before finally getting his temper under control and was able to speak. "I wanted to give you the music before the meeting, that was it."

Stevie tried hard not to laugh at him. He looked like he was about to explode. His face kept getting redder and redder… "Have you been to the doctor lately? You might want a doctor to look at you… you might have high blood pressure from stress…where are you going?" She couldn't help herself at that point and started to laugh as he stalked out the door.

"Away from you." Was the mumbled reply, which only made her laugh harder until she fell out of the chair backwards onto the floor.

***********************************************************************

JC rode the elevator down to the conference rooms and stalked out towards the room where the meeting would be held. "Who does she think she is?" He mumbled to himself, scratching the back of his neck as it itched from agitation.

"Dude! Hold up! Where's the fire?"

JC slowed down and turned around to find Chris and Justin hurrying after him. "No where… just working off some steam, I guess."

"What crawled up your butt and died?" Justin looked at him curiously.

JC sighed. "Man… this girl…"

Chris and Justin looked at each other and grinned. "Why does every good story start with there was this girl?" Chris asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"I don't know…" Justin started. "Because they make life interesting?"

"Could be… or it could be just that they make our lives hell and everything that…"

"CHRIS!" JC growled out.

Chris grinned at him. "What? You were saying…"

Justin snickered, but wisely didn't say anything else, waiting for JC to continue.

"Anyway…" They made their way into the conference room and Justin plopped down into the first seat, his feet raised on the table as he crossed one leg over the other at the ankles, his hands folded behind his head as he watched his two groupmates.

JC settled into one of the plush chairs and placed his head on the table, trying to quiet the headache he could feel coming on.

"It must be bad, if he's not even talking now." Chris commented to Justin in a stage whisper, who just nodded.

JC just nodded his head, knocking his head on the table in the process. Chris looked at Justin before turning back to JC. "Come on… tell Dr. Chris all about it…"

JC raised his head and glared at the older man. He swallowed, trying to think of the words to describe what was going through his head. "This girl… there's something about her…drives me…"

"Talking about me again, Stuffy Boy?" A female voice asked as she stepped into the room, studying the males sitting at the table. Josh was seated across from the other two, his head in his hands while the other two across from him, tried not to laugh at his expense. The younger one, she noticed was dressed causally, jeans and a plaid short sleeved shirt with his curls still damp from the shower, the older of the two was dressed in khakis and a white t-shirt with his dark brown hair sticking every which way as if he had just ran his hand through it. Chris and Justin, she thought with a smile.

Three male heads turned to stare at the woman that was standing in the doorway, smiling. She crossed the room and stopped in front of Justin and Chris and held out her hand. "Stevie… your new recording engineer and looks like producer as well, since I just got off the phone with Janet who asked if I wanted to take that on as well. You must be Chris and Justin?"

Chris looked between the two as Justin shook her hand, nodding. "That would be us. Nice to meet you, Stevie. We don’t get many females working with us so this is a pleasure."

Chris grinned at JC before shaking her hand as well. "It’s been awhile. Nice to see you again."

She cocked her head to the side studying him before throwing her head back and laughing. "It’s you… I didn’t recognize you. How’s it going? I see you guys did manage to make it in the music business then."

He nodded as he bounced in the chair. "Yeah… it’s such a rush. We’ve been doing this for six years now and I still can’t get over the fact that…"

JC cleared his throat. "Don’t we have a meeting to start soon?"

Chris looked over at him grinned. "Stuffy Boy, hush…"

JC’s eyes widened before narrowing on his friend, promising retribution.

Stevie walked over to the seat at the head of the conference table so that she could see everyone. She looked around the room puzzled as she sat down. "Isn’t there five of you?"

"Yeah, Lance and Joe are running late as usual and should be here…"

Two guys burst through the door laughing and pushing each other. "Dude, she so wanted me!"

"What are you talking about? She practically ran by you to get to me."

"Whatever… you are living in your little delusional world there. Why would she bypass the loving of the Stallion for a piece of the albino?"

"Because with me she gets… the voice." He laughed as he deepened his bass voice for effect.

Stevie turned to watch them, trying not to giggle as the taller of the two tried to look offended. "Excuse me…. I don’t think so."

She cleared her throat, eyebrows raised, indicating the chairs around her. They both had the grace to flush and hurry to their seats, giving her a chance to study them as well.

The taller of the two was dressed as if he had picked up two random pieces of clothing off the floor, wearing a pair of striped pants with a plaid shirt, he had cut his hair and dyed it back to normal instead of the clown red it had been for the promotional poster. He had also lost a bunch of weight she noticed which made his face look leaner and less teddy bearish.

The other one was dressed in his usual jeans and a t-shirt, hair spiked up, with sparkling green eyes that hinted that there was more to him than the shy lost little boy image that he portrayed. He winked at her when he sat down and she shook her head. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, that one is.

Once they were seated, she looked around the room and immediately drew a blank as she met the stares of four interested gazes and one that was telling her to pack up and take a quick trip to hell. "Well…" She started, beginning to panic because she really didn’t know where to start.

Lance leaned back in his chair, watching her with a half smile on his face. He loved watching executives squirm, but for some reason he felt bad when it was their first day, it was better when they had been working longer and were more settled in their roles. "Why don’t you tell us about yourself? Introduce yourself maybe?"

"Oh right… sorry, I did that when I first walked in but…" Her mouth twisted as she mentally chastised herself. "My name is Stephanie Kingsley, but you all can call me Stevie. It’s what I prefer. I graduated last year from University of Miami with a music engineering degree and a minor in electrical engineering. I’ve interned around the nation for small start up studios, never lasting longer than a month or two, but I did stay in Nashville for four."

"Mommy and Daddy helping you out huh and that’s why you don’t need to work?" JC sneered.

The other four stared at him like he had lost his marbles but wisely didn’t say anything.

Stevie took a deep breath, before looking at him. Her own eyes narrowed. She was always touchy about her parent’s money but he didn’t need to know that. "Actually… no. I pay my own way."

He snorted, before slumping back in his chair.

She shook her head before continuing on. "My main position was to get their starting artists on the right track and to train their engineers on what to do."

"And you were how old?"

"21 when they started calling." She smirked.

Lance sat up straighter in his chair, always the businessman at heart. "Why you?"

"Well when you graduate magna cum laude, you tend to get a lot of job offers." She laughed. "Me… I took them all…. Wanted as much experience around as I could get."

He nodded. "But then…"

She grew serious. "But then JIVE called… I snatched it up. Who wouldn’t have in my field?"

He nodded again. "Yeah… it’s a respectable position and…"

"And can we please move on with this… I do have things to do." JC said, still slumped down.

Stevie turned to face him, and pointedly expressed her opinion of how he was treating her in her look. "If you’ve got a problem with this meeting, you can leave and we’ll continue from here on how to make your album without you."

All the guys’ eyes widened as they turned to look at how JC was going to take that. Their albums were his babies and he didn’t let anyone keep him from them.

He sat up. "You’re kicking me out?"

"If you can’t be professional…" She trailed off, her arms crossed over her chest.

He couldn’t believe that he was the one getting this lecture. Him… the serious one. Usually it was Joey or Chris that was asked to quiet down and pay attention, but never him. What was she turning him into? "I’m not being professional?" He asked incredulously.

Justin and Chris both snorted in unison. "Ummm, JC…"

His head whirled around as he glared at them. "I don’t want to hear it from you, two."

Chris held up his hands in surrender. "Man, calm down… what is your problem?"

He leaned back in his chair. "Not now…" He mumbled.

Stevie shot him a look to be quiet, before addressing her group again. "I’m young, but I know what I’m doing. I’ve got the experience for me to do a good job on your album with your input of course, otherwise JIVE wouldn’t let me through the door. All I need is your trust. I like to have fun, I’m hardly ever serious, and… I think we’ll work together well from what I’ve seen."

JC snorted again but this time Joey leaned over and slapped him upside the head. "Dude! We don’t know what your problem is but shut up."

He just shook his head, before directing his gaze to the table.

She leaned over and picked up the folder of music that JC had graciously dropped off earlier and placed on the table in front of her. "Now, I’ve come up with a few ideas and I think we should do the more vocal strenuous songs first, then the easier ones should be a breeze after. I’ll need to know what your public relations schedule and dance lessons are first and then we can focus recording and practice time around that. Any questions so far?"

Four heads said no, while one remained sullen. "Josh?" She asked him politely.

He glanced up at her, repentant like a little boy who had been chastised. "Oh now I can speak?"

She rolled her eyes with a half smirk on her face. "Yes."

"Sounds fine… the sooner we get this over with, the sooner I’m done with you."

Stevie sat there, her face neutral, stunned that he had brought that attitude into the meeting. She didn’t mind that he had a problem with her, but she did mind when he vocalized it when doing business. That should be kept out of the studio or when they were in private. She could tell that he wasn’t happy, but once again she had misread him, hoping that he would relax and let it go. "I see."

Justin’s mouth fell open. "JC!"

He shook his head. "Leave it alone, J."

"No. Apologize!"

JC stood up, the chair behind his rolling away, as his hands flattened out on the table in front of him. "Like hell, I will!"

Joey reached up and yanked him back down. "You’re really giving her a bad impression about us. Sit down and behave."

Chris snickered. "I can’t believe that just came out of your mouth."

Joey rolled his eyes with a grin, before turning back to Stevie. "You can continue now."

She shook her head, standing. "Actually, we’re done for now. I’d like to start some studio time next week if that’s all right with you… in the meantime, start prepping the album the rest of this week. Don’t worry, this initial meeting was because I just wanted to get acquainted, reassure you all that I’ll be as good if not better than your last technician. Tomorrow, however… then we start getting down and dirty, see ya all then. Meeting is adjourned." She smiled and waved as she quickly walked out of the conference room, away from the five males that were all gawking, except one, at how the meeting had went.

The minute she was through the door and out of earshot, JC slammed his head back down on the table, berating himself for once again losing his temper in her presence and this time in a professional setting.

"Okay, she’s gone… spill it." Chris leaned forward, eagerly. "Why didn’t you tell us that she was going to be the one working with us?"

"Dude, how do you know her?" Justin asked.

"JC and I ran into her a few years back before we left for Europe. She’s cool, but gets to JC like poison ivy. She ties him up in knots for some reason."

"If she called you Stuffy boy… you wouldn’t like her either." He muttered, staring at the table.

Lance and Joe’s mouths dropped open. "Stuffy Boy? Oh man, that so fits you." Joe chortled.

JC reached over and hit him in the arm. "I don’t want to hear it."

Lance tried hard not to laugh but didn’t succeed. He quickly stifled it though when JC shot him a look. "Sorry, but… come on… she doesn’t seem that bad. And if it was just from that one run in…"

He shook his head. "Not just one… I always run into her at the oddest times. It’s like just when I start to think that it won’t bother me anymore or enough time has passed, she shows up again and…" He shook his head again. "And annoys the hell out of me. I don’t know what it is… she drives me insane."

"Sounds like someone likes someone." Joe mocked.

JC’s head whirled around and smacked him again. "That is so far from the truth… I would love it if I found her head on a stick or saw her swinging from some…"

"JC!" Justin choked out.

JC leaned back in his chair again, his arms cross over his chest. "Sorry… it’s just… I don’t know… its like ever since she first opened her mouth, I’ve wanted to throttle her."

"She does have a lot of energy." Lance commented. "Maybe that’s what bugs you…"

He shook his head. "Nah, Chris has a lot of energy but he’s still around…"

"Hey!"

JC grinned. "Sorry, man… but… it’s the truth."

Chris shrugged. "So… didn’t have to bring it up."

"True…anyway…"

Lance stood up and stretched. "Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m heading out. If we’re supposed to be here tomorrow for prep work, I’m definitely going to enjoy my last day of freedom."

Joey stood too. "I’m with you. Who’s all up for the beach?"

Justin shook his head. "Nah, I think I’m going to head to back to the hotel. I want to call Dad and Jon… it’s been a while since I last talked to them and… plus I want to see how Steven is doing."

"I’m in…" Chris said, jumping up. "I gotta stop by my the hotel real quick and grab some stuff. Which one and I’ll meet you in the parking lot?"

Joe thought about it. "Why don’t I just follow you over and we can go together?"

"Sounds like a plan. Jace, you want to come?"

He looked up at his friends, his eyes downcast as he resigned himself that she wasn’t going to go away. "Shoot me now."

Joe grabbed him underneath his arms and picked up out of the chair. "Dude, you’re coming with us. We’ll get your mind off of Poison Ivy and find you a nice sweet girl in a string bikini to take all your sorrows away. And if we don’t… well Lance and I will find ourselves one."

JC sighed. "Yeah, maybe I should get out of here for awhile… hey wait, guys we’re in New York remember… what beach are we going to?"

They shrugged. "Does it matter?"

He shook his head. "It’s going to be so cold…"

Joe slung his arm around him. "If it is… then we’ll go do something else. All for one and one for all, we’re going to do something fun before we end up stranded here for the next few weeks before we head back to Orlando and the land of sun."

"Let me get my coat…" He said, before walking out of the room.

Chris watched him walk off and began to laugh. "Oh, this is going to be so much fun."

Justin shrugged on his windbreaker and looked over at him, one arm in, one arm out. "What?

"Watching those two."

"Which two?"

"Stevie and Jace."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Why?" Justin said, shrugging it on all the way.

"They want each other bad." Chris laughed.

Joe and Lance both snorted. "What are you on old man?" Lance asked, walking to the door and holding it open for the rest of the guys.

"Nothing."

Joe shook his head. "Those two are going to kill each other before liking each other."

Chris smirked. "I don’t think so."

"I’ll see you guys tomorrow." Justin called out, heading to the back where his car was parked.

The rest headed down to the front lobby to wait for JC. "No really, I’m telling you…"

"Ain’t gonna happen." Joe said slowly, enunciating each word carefully.

"But, you could feel the heat…"

Lance shook his head. "Drop it. We’ll be lucky to not have any blood shed happen during the making of this album."

"I…" Chris shut his mouth as soon as JC walked in. "Ready?"

He nodded, not saying a word, still thinking about the plan that he’d come up with in the hallway.

"Bye guys." Renee called out as they left, the three waving absentmindedly without even turning around to look. She sighed. So much for being important…

************************************************************************

Stevie sat down at her desk and sighed. This was getting out of hand. At first, his dislike and constant sniping was all right. She knew she was getting to him and loved it. People that uptight needed some shaking up. But now he was getting personal, bringing up her parents had given her a jolt but she thought she had handled it well.

People automatically assumed because her family came from money that she was just some rich snob. She had worked for every penny she had though, had never touched her trust fund and never would if she could help it.

College had been paid for through summer jobs and scholarships, all the while with mommy and daddy whining in the background about how they could help and she shouldn’t have to work.

She gritted her teeth, remembering the fights and arguments that had ensued when she had wanted to pay her own way. They couldn’t fathom that idea… it was foreign to them not to automatically pay for everything she did.

She laughed, remembering growing up. Oh how she had thrown that money and status around to bug them. In fact that’s how… She sat up straight, remembering her bribing the flight attendant and Josh sitting next to her.

Stevie giggled as she swung around in her chair. "Whoops… bet that was a good first impression. Forgot about that… Oh well… still…"

She stood up walking to the window and staring out, as people bustled about, most having just got off work.

She saw the four guys walk out the front door, then wait as the parking attendant went to get their cars. The wind picked up blowing their hair around and Stevie was mesmerized as his hair went back and forth, front and back. One hand came up to comb through and she stopped, watching. "Oh boy…" She said, stopping herself before she began to drool. "Not a smart idea right now, girl." She turned away from the window and walked back to her desk, grabbing the music and heading downstairs to the studio. If nothing else, she’d get some work done while trying to get her mind off other matters.

************************************************************************

"Think we should wake her up?"

"Was she here all night?"

"Man, she’s worse than he is."

"Well, at least we know she’s dedicated."

"But still… this is going overboard."

"Nah… but we should probably wake her."

"Yeah, especially before he gets here cause he’ll have a field day."

"True… did he shut up once about her yesterday?"

"Yeah, once we shoved him into the water he did."

"Good. I couldn’t believe him yesterday in the meeting."

"She ticks him off… you know how he gets."

"But that’s bad even for him you have to admit."

"Yeah, but I think he finally has come to terms."

"I hope so… I don’t want this to turn into a battlefield because of his ego."

"I don’t think it’s his ego so much as his… Good morning."

Stevie squinted up as two figures laughed at her, her eyes blinking owlishly as she tried to focus. "What?"

"Morning sunshine." Another voice told her.

She couldn’t quite make out the two figured yet as she awakened but as her eyes focused, one of them stuck his face into hers. "I said… Good Morning."

"Ack!" She screamed, scooting back into the chair.

They laughed then began pulling up chairs as she reoriented herself. "Next time Chris… warn me." She muttered.

"Sorry… but I couldn’t help myself." He grinned.

"Thanks…"

"Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, Justin… I did…" She looked around the room as if she just realized where she was. "Damn… I must’ve fallen asleep." She said amazed.

"Yup, I think you did." He grinned, leaning back in the chair.

"Oh man… Kacey is going to be pissed. I didn’t call again." She grabbed her phone and quickly dialed a number. "Kace?"

Chris nudged Justin. "Casey?"

Justin mouthed back. "Probably boyfriend."

Chris frowned. "She can’t have a boyfriend."


"Why not?"

"Cause then that would ruin everything!"

Justin narrowed his eyes at the other man. "Don’t go playing matchmaker, Chris."

Chris shrugged, turning back to her as she sighed in relief as she hung up. "Everything all right?"

She nodded. "Yeah… second night that I’ve either come home late or not at all. Kacey doesn’t like that."

"Really?" Chris said interested.

"Yeah but enough about my roommate. Where is everyone else and when do you want to start?"

"Stevie… you just woke up?" Justin told her gently. "It’s okay if you want to go and get cleaned up or whatever before. Plenty of time."

She nodded, thinking about it. "Give me five minutes." She said, before racing out of the room and up the stairs.

"Rommate huh…" Chris said, still thinking back to the phone call. "So that’s what they’re calling it nowadays."

Justin shook his head. "Dude… drop it. It’s not going to happen."

"But maybe…"

"So, what… Poison Ivy isn’t here yet?"

Justin rolled his eyes. "Joe, stop calling her that."

"Why it kinda fits…"

"No."

Joe just grinned as he plopped into a chair. "Lance and Jace should be on their way."

"Or just Jace is on his way…" Lance said as he walked into the room, falling face first onto the couch.

"Late night?" Justin asked.

Lance’s head moved up and down. "Man… those girls tired me out."

"Girls?" Justin’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, they raised so high.

Lance looked over at him. "It’s not what you think… we went out dancing. Probably why JC isn’t here yet… he drank to excess last night…"

Joe grinned. "I told him that wasn’t going to let him forget Ivy but he didn’t listen."

Justin groaned. "Great, so not only is he going to be irritable being in her presence but we have to deal with him and a hangover? I’m out of here. I don’t care when our album comes out. I’ll be back tomorrow."

Chris laid a hand on his arm as he moved to get up. "Sit down. It’ll be fine. He’ll be so tired that he'll keep to himself and might actually behave."

Joe snorted. "Yeah right…"

Chris shot him a look. "Listen… either he's going to behave or we make him. Got it guys?"

They all nodded reluctantly, none of them wanting the album delayed and with JC's mood, it might end up happening.

"Hey, why the long faces?" She asked as she stepped into the room, carrying a thermos full of coffee from upstairs, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, face freshly scrubbed.

Chris shot them all a look before standing up and walking over to her, slinging an arm around her as he moved her toward the soundboard. "We're all just tired from being out partying last night since it was our last night out. Don't mind us."

She nodded, eyeing each of them as none of them made eye contact. "Mmmkay. So… wait, where's JC?"

All of them looked at the floor. "We don't know." Lance told her quietly.

"What do you mean you don't know?" She asked.

They all shrugged. "He hasn't shown up yet."

"Great. So we now have to wait for his highness… wonderful." She plopped into the chair and put her head down on the mixing board.

"Stevie… he'll be here…"

"Am I that bad?" She looked up at them, tears starting to fill up.

Chris' eyes widened as he looked around frantically at the guys. He couldn't handle women's tears. "No, no…"

Justin stood up and walked over to her, placing a hand on her back as he bent down to look her in the face. "It's not you. Look, JC gets like this sometimes… you just have to wait out the storm. None of us know what his problem is but…"

"My problem is her and I don't appreciate you talking about me behind my back." He spat out as he stalked into the room, his face was pale and dark sunglasses covered his eyes.

Justin stood up and stared down the older man. "Late night last night?"

"You could say that." He mumbled as he grabbed a chair to join the group.

Stevie straightened up, blinking away the tears as she tried to get herself under control and not let him get to her. The boy came in a pretty package but as far as she was concerned, that’s all he was. "Let's get to work… the sooner were through with this, the sooner the fun can begin."


Someone snorted as she turned to the board to get her noted and when she turned around again, everyone was looking at the floor, some with guilty expressions and one with the same sullen look that she was growing accustomed to seeing on his face. A girl could only take so much and she was not going to have it in her studio for a moment longer.

"Get out."

Chapter 3

JC blinked a few times at her as her words sunk in. The smirk that was gracing his face began to slide away being replaced as his mouth dropped open shaping the word 'oh'. He was leaning back in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, his hands behind his head, watching her as she was describing a few of the things that she wanted to do with the album before she had turned to him, glaring, telling him to get out. The front chair legs fell back to the floor as he leaned forward, the chair falling with a thud. "Excuse me?"

Her eyes narrowed on him. "You heard me. I'm sick of the attitude, Josh. Go cool your heels elsewhere while you get over your hangover or whatever put you in a bad mood. When you can work professionally, you can come back." She pointed to the door. "In the meantime, get out of my studio." She turned around, going back to her notes.

JC looked at the other guys, incredulously. What…

They shrugged, not knowing what had happened either.

He looked at her, her back turned, ramrod straight. She was mouthing the words as she flipped through pages, then he watched one hand reach up to her hair and push a strand behind her ear. He knew his mouth was wide open but he didn't know what else to do, what to say.

She turned around again and he felt a jolt to his system when their eyes connected. "Did I not tell you…"

He jumped to his feet. "You can't kick me out."

"I thought I just did. If you're going to make rude noises, look sullen, and overall just not want to be here… well you don't have to be."

"But… " He looked at his friends, hoping for some help here. This was his place, his studio, his baby… his work. This was his life and she was getting rid of him, taking it all away from him.

She shook her head. "Come back tomorrow, when you're in a better mood."

He swallowed, before his temper began to bubble. Who did she think she was? "You can't kick me out!"

"I just did!" She said softly, walking over to him and poking a finger into his chest. "I hardly got any sleep last night, I've been working on this for over 48 hours, and I've had it up to here." She held a hand above her head. "With your attitude. You don't like me… FINE! Get out!"

He stuck his face into hers so that they were almost nose to nose. "You can't kick me out."

"I just did, Stuffy Boy. This is my studio. Not yours, no matter how much you may think it is."

"We'll see about that." He said to her.

"No we won't. You get paid to sing, I get paid to make you sound good. Until then, adios, Josh…" She waved a hand at him, before turning back.

He said red, reaching out and grabbing her arm, yanking her around to face him. "I want you to understand something, missy…"

Chris laid a hand on his arm. "Jace… go cool off…"

He looked over at his friend, who's face was dead serious. He looked down at where his hand held her arm, his grip so tight that there were white marks underneath his finger tips. He let go guiltily before sending everyone one last glance before stomping out the door.

"Well… that was fun…" Stevie said shakily before sitting down, pulling out the first piece of music. "I was thinking how about this one first… it's catchy… uptempo…"

**********************************************************************

JC stomped out to his car, jumping into the front seat without even bothering to open the door as the top was down and jammed the key into the ignition, peeling out of the parking lot. He didn't know where he was going, but he knew he had to just drive. The girl had kicked him out!

He took a left, no longer caring as he got on some of the back roads out of the city. He pushed his new car into fourth, revving it high before he laid off the gas and cruised at the speed limit awhile before his thoughts drifted back to the argument in the studio.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. I'm sick of the attitude, Josh. Go cool your heels elsewhere while you get over your hangover or whatever put you in a bad mood. When you can work professionally, you can come back. In the meantime, get out of my studio."

Pause "Did I not tell you…"

"You can't kick me out."

"I thought I just did. If you're going to make rude noise, look sullen, and overall just not want to be here… well you don't have to be."

"But… "

"Come back tomorrow, when you're in a better mood."

"You can't kick me out!"

"I just did! I hardly got any sleep last night, I've been working on this for over 48 hours, and I've had it up to here with your attitude. You don't like me… FINE! Get out!"

"You can't kick me out."

"I just did, Stuffy Boy. This is my studio. Not yours, no matter how much you may think it is."

"We'll see about that."

"No we won't. You get paid to sing, I get paid to make you sound good. Until then, adios, Josh…"

He gritted his teeth, his jaw clenched as he revved the engine and sped around a corner a little faster than he should've but he managed to stay in his lane and kept going, faster… faster.

She has no right… that's my studio… my music she's playing around with… my equipment…

Another corner came up and he took it faster than the last one, the movement of the car doing nothing for his temper.

I'll show her… she can't control me… Janet… I'll talk to Janet… and tell her what… oh yeah, this girl gets to me… get rid of her… why?… oh because I don't like… why?… I could really tell you… history… we have a history that we shouldn't mix… yes I can be professional… but she…

He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel. "DAMMIT!" He yelled, swerving as he took another turn too fast. The car that was driving the other way shot him a dirty look and he let off the gas to slow down and took the next turn into town. He needed to get back into a controlled setting otherwise he was going to kill himself.

He stopped at a stop sign, taking a random right, heading who knows where. He didn't care, he just had to drive and clear out his thoughts. A red light was up ahead and he stopped.

"Who does she think she is? She has no control over me or my music. If I want to snort at her attempts to read our music, I will." He said more calmly to himself. He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel again. "If I want to get up and dance a jog in the middle of the studio, I will cause I can. She has no control. We control her. She's supposed to answer to us, not the other way around."

He leaned over and cranked the music up. He had no idea what station it was or what music was coming out of it, but the background noise managed to soothe some of his wounded and frayed nerves.

A movement of blue caught his eyes next to him. A girl of about sixteen was staring at him, eyes wide. She nudged her friend beside her, both of them now openly staring as they recognized him. He looked away, rolling his eyes. He wasn't in the mood for starstruck fans. He hit the button and rolled the window up even though the top was still down. He grabbed his sunglasses out of the glove compartment, pushed onto his face, before hitting the gas and taking off before they could ask if he was really JC of NSYNC.

"Tomorrow I'm going to tell her that's my studio and that's it. We do things my way from here on out. She's there for technical reasons and even those I can do myself. She's not needed but management says that we need some with the expertise while we're inside singing just in case something goes wrong."

He took a left and kept driving. His thoughts to what he was going to do to her the next day and how he was going to bring her down. He thought she was just to cocky for her own good and that knack she had for pushing him to the outer limits of his temper had to go… he was tired of being on a different level than her. It was time to bring her down.

He started to laugh as another plan emerged in his head. This one different from the last. Instead of being sullen and uncommunicative, cause that hadn't seemed to work, this time he would blow her out of the water and…

He caught another movement out of his eye and turned finding an older lady staring at him like he had lost all his marbles. Sure, he must look kinda silly sitting at a traffic light, laughing like a buffoon, but he couldn't help it. He had come up with the ultimate plan to get Stevie to quit and off his back.

When the light turned green, he went straight and for the first time since he had left the studio, became aware of his surroundings and as he gawked at the buildings and unfamiliar surroundings, realized that he was lost, good and truly lost. His eyes widened, hoping to find a familiar sign, a familiar building but nothing. He didn't know where the hell he was!

He pulled over to the side and got out. DAMMIT! He yelled at himself mentally. You had to go and get yourself lost, didn't you… while you were thinking of her… you got lost. He kicked the tire for good measure, hoping that would help his temper some, but a teenager walked by, giving him a wide-eyed stare, so he quickly hopped back into his car, grabbing his cell phone. If anyone would know where he was and how to get him back on the freeway, it would be Joey… but that meant calling the studio… and she would be there for his full humiliation.

He tossed the phone on the seat beside him, shaking his head. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of knowing that he had gotten lost. In fact… this was her fault! If she hadn't kicked him out, he would have been in the studio… working on his album… wanting to kill her there, instead of out on the road wanting to kill her here.

He drove a ways, hoping that something would get familiar. He'd been to New York many times, he should know his way around. Shouldn't he?

An hour later, he was still lost, and probably worse off then he had been before. He knew he wasn't going to find anything remotely familiar and that he should just suck it up and call but he wanted to be stubborn. He wanted to be able to get himself out of this jam and not have to be humiliated.

He saw a man waving on the side of the road and pulled over. The older gentleman walked over, his thumbs in his pockets as he looked over the car. He rolled down the window, puzzled as to what the man wanted.

"Lost are you?" He asked good naturedly.

"Umm… well… maybe…" He said, not knowing how he had been found out.

"Just curious, cause you've circled this block five times now."

JC gritted his teeth. He hadn't even realized. "Thanks… do you know how…"

"Head that way." The man pointed in the direction JC was headed. "You'll find something." He laughed and walked away.

JC drove off, mentally yelling expletives, planning the man's death. How dare he make fun of him! He shook his head and sighed. It was time to call Joey, no matter how much he didn't want to…

*********************************************************************

Stevie stood up and stretched her arms over her head, pulling her back straight as she yawned widely. "Well… I think that's about it for today." She looked over at the four remaining members of NSYNC who were sacked out all over the room and she had to grin.

Lance was asleep on the couch, he hadn't moved since he'd walked in. Justin was half awake, nodding at her that it was time to go. Chris was leaned back in a chair, his head back against the wall, asleep as well. Joe was the only one wide-awake as he grinned over at her from the table.

"Sounds good to me." He said, standing up to stretch as well. "I think we got a lot done today."

She smiled. "Yeah, you guys might get a day or two off this week at this rate."

Joe laughed. "I think we could handle that."

She nodded. "I didn't think you'd complain too much." She began to gather up the remaining music and notes that she had made to take upstairs. She was planning on staying after hours again to get everything ready for the next day, even though she was dead on her feet.

"Look…" Joe walked over to her. "I…uh… wanted to…"

She waved him off, finally laying a hand on his shoulder. "Don't apologize for him. It's fine. In fact… I'm over it. You're going to find out that I have a quick temper but I don't hold grudges eventually, so I'll just spell it out for you." She flashed him a quick grin before turning back to the papers. "He can come back tomorrow."

Joe shook his head. "It's uncanny how you can read minds…"

"It's easy when people allow you to read them like a book."

He opened his mouth to ask who she was talking about but the sound of a cell phone ringing had him grabbing for his phone as everyone sat up quickly reaching for theirs as well.

"It's mine, guys." Joe said, before holding it up to his ear. "Hello."

Everyone nodded and either went back to playing with papers or sleeping, but when he said, Hey Jace, everyone turned their ears to the conversation.

"What's that you say?"

"I'm lost." JC mumbled into the phone, knowing the upcoming reaction.

"You're what?" Joey started to laugh.

"Yeah, laugh it up, buddy. Help me. I can't find the freeway back to the city."

"Well, where are you exactly."

"I don't know."

"Describe it."

JC looked around. "There's a small grocery store called Lowell's on the corner and across from it is a gas station called Brooklyn Falls and…"

"You're in my old neighborhood."

"I am?"

Joey nodded. "Yup. How in the hell did you get all the way out there?"

"I don't know. I just started driving and ended up out here."

"Oh… well…." Joey snickered. "I take it you've calmed down now huh."

JC pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it. Here he was trying to get directions back and his friend was laughing at him and asking him if he was calm… no he wasn't calm, he was lost and it was all her fault. Before he could stop himself, he pushed the end call button and threw it into the other seat.

Joe looked at the phone before ending the call the minute the dial tone sounded. "He hung up on me…"

"Guess he wasn't calm huh…" Lance muttered, before turning over on the couch.

"Guess not." Joe snickered. He pushed the button and automatically dialed JC's number.

"What?"


"I'll take that as a no." Joe grinned.

"Joe… When I get my hands on you…" JC growled into the phone.

"Look… My aunt invited us all over to dinner tonight. I was going to ask, but uh… there wasn't time."

"Right…" He muttered.

"But, you're only a few blocks away from her place. Let me give you directions and we'll meet you there since we're done here."

"Fine. What are they?"

"Well…" Joe's mind went blank. "I don't exactly know street names but I can get there driving."

"Excuse me…"

"Yeah drive a ways and describe the way and I'll tell you when to turn."

"If you get me lost…"

"You're already lost, what harm can this cause…"

JC sighed. "You are so getting a beat down when you get here. Okay, I'm driving by the gas station…"

"Take a right in a block."

He took a right and kept going along with Joey's directions.

Stevie ran upstairs to drop off her stuff then came back down just as Joe was finishing up his conversation. She had left when he had first called and hadn't wanted to find out the awful stuff that he thought of her.

She walked into the room and found them all awake and ready to go, talking about dinner plans and who was driving.

"I want to drive." Justin said.

"You'll kill us." Lance said flatly. "Let Joe take us and then…"

"But he's staying there, how would we get back?"

Joe looked over at Stevie when she walked in and grinned. He walked over to her and slung an arm around her shoulder. "What kind of car do you drive?"

"I've got a four runner why?"

"You’re coming to dinner."

"No, I couldn't impose…" She shook her head. "Plus… I've… uh… got plans."

"That didn't sound convincing."

She rolled her eyes. "I can't… too much stuff to do."

"Are you going to stay here and work?" Chris asked her.

She nodded. "Yeah there's this one part…"

He shook his head. "Nope, you work too hard. Dinner it is. Lance and I will ride with her and Justin can ride with you Joe."

She shook her head no, as they all began walking to the parking lot. "Guys…"

Justin wrapped an arm around her waist. "Come on girl… this is good old fashioned bonding time. It's not often you'll get uncensored time with us."

"Why do I get the feeling that's not exactly a good thing?"

"I don't know… why?"

She groaned. "Fine, but I'm working you guys to the bone tomorrow when we run through this in practice."

"Like you haven't already…" He laughed, pushing open the door.

************************************************************************

Stevie pulled in behind Joe's car, shutting off the engine. She saw a silver Dodge Viper parked in the driveway behind what she assumed was Joe's Aunt's Plymouth Mini-van. She winced with the intuition knowing that was Josh's car and had to force herself to put one foot in front of the other as they walked up the driveway towards the front door. "Ummm maybe I should go back… I don't think this is a good idea." She mumbled.

Justin grabbed her hand and smiled. "It's a great idea." He tucked her hand into his arm so she couldn't run away. "You two are going to be working together and have to get along sometime. This is a good time as any."

"And if we don't get along…"

Justin opened his mouth to reply but shut it when he couldn't think of anything and just shrugged as they entered into the kitchen through the side door.

"Joseph!"

"Aunt May… thanks for letting us come to dinner." Joe smiled enveloping his aunt into his arms, for a warm hug.

"Your friend is already eating. He was so skinny… I made him immediately sit and start to eat. He's working on his second plate. He declined seconds but I told him he needed it."

Justin snickered. "Oh this is good."

She turned her brown eyes to him. "You young man need to eat too." She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him through the kitchen into the dining room where JC was causing the rest of the group to laugh.

Chris shook his head. "Note to self, never laugh about food to an Italian woman."

They followed the protesting Justin into the dining room where he had been pushed into a seat, a plate already in front of him. JC was watching with an amused smile on his face as he picked at his plate.

He looked over as the rest of his group entered the room. He smiled over at them, picking up his plate and showing them what a good boy he was. "It's about time. Were you expecting me to eat all this? Cause Aunt May was if you guys didn't show up and that would sure look good on stage, don’t you think… all of you guys dancing while I flop around like a beached whale?"

Chris chuckled. "Maybe then I could take your place as the cute one."

Justin looked up from shoveling food into his mouth. "I fot dat wuff me."

Stevie watched him eat wide-eyed, the boy inhaled. Lance caught her expression and laughed. "He always eats like that."

"Is it healthy?"

He shrugged. "It works for him."

JC froze when he heard her voice. He craned his neck around until he saw her standing and talking quietly to Lance. He jerked a thumb at her as he looked at Chris and Joe. "What is she doing here?"

She stiffened when she heard herself being mentioned. "I was invited thanks."

He sneered. "So much for a night where I can be away from the likes of you, Miss Thang."

"You don't have to talk to me…"

"Well I can't ignore you now can I? Cause that would be rude and I might end up getting kicked out again."

Aunt May walked in and saw the mean expression on his face. "If you keep that up, you might, eat boy… you're too thin."

He had the grace to flush before pushing another spaghetti covered fork into his mouth to stop the rush of words that were going to flow out in Stevie's direction.

They all sat down to eat, JC and Stevie not look at each other directly, but both throughout the evening snuck glances while the other wasn’t looking, wondering what it was about the other that got to them, made them want to tear the other limb from limb.

Aunt May pushed them into the living room, telling them to relax, have fun and to not worry about the dishes. "Let me help." Joey told her before she shoved him towards his friends who were already leaving the dining room.

"I don't want to hear it Joseph. I invited you here, now go… not another peep. Go entertain our guests."

He whirled around grabbing her into a hug and kissing her cheek, before letting go just as quickly. "I love you, Aunt May. Thanks for dinner."

"You charming boy." She blushed. "Get out of my kitchen."

He walked into the living room and found Chris and Justin dancing in the middle of the room while JC sat on one of the couch pouting and Stevie on the other end, staring off into space. Lance had taken one of the chairs and was laughing at the two idiots in the middle of the room, walking around now as chickens.

"What are you guys doing?"

Justin looked up and flashed a smile at him. "We're playing around, trying to get Stevie and JC to smile."

"Doesn't look like its working."

"If you were in a room with that monster, you wouldn't either." He mumbled, motioning with a hand towards her.

She opened her mouth to rebute that but Joe cut her off. "Hey, don't talk that way about Ivy."

"Ivy?" She raised an eyebrow.

Joe flushed. "Well… you got referred to as Poison Ivy and well… it just sorta stuck."

She laughed, "That’s okay. I've been thinking up nicknames for you guys too…"

"You have…" Justin smiled and moved so that he was sitting beside her. "What's mine?"

"Jellybean."

"What?" His mouth dropped open.

"Jellybean because you're always bouncing and in a good mood, its as if you're on a constant sugar high, plus I love jellybeans and well…" She pinched his cheek. "I love you too."

"Ahhhhh." He smiled and patted her head. "I wuv ya to, Stevie girl."

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly while JC snorted. "The love in this room is overwhelming. I think I'm going to head back to the hotel." He stood up, brushing off his pants. "I'll see you tomorrow that is, if I'm allowed to come back."

She shrugged. "You can do what you want… but then again…" She smirked. "If I don't like what you're doing you may or may not get kicked out again… so rethink what you might be planning for the next week…"

JC just stared at her, his eyes narrowed to slits, where she couldn't even see the blue anymore.

Chris chuckled. "I call dibs on his solos."

Justin pushed him. "No way… I get them, then I can be the lead singer and ya'll are my back ups.

"Doesn't work that way."

"Hey, I want a few…" Joe broke in. "I can sing them."

"No, you can't." Chris told him, walking up to stand in front of him. "They're mine."

"Nope. Watch…" Joe moved them all out of the way and got in the middle of the room.

He began to hum, slightly doing some of the dance moves until he got to the right spot in the song that he wanted. He raised his voice up to JC's range and began to dance, moving slowly towards Stevie with a slight grin.

I lose my mind just when you're speaking

I see you on the screen I get to freakin'

So get down babe

And I'll get down for you

I get so excited when I'm watchin' girl

I can't wait to see you touch your body, Girl

It's just me and you

So we can do what we need to do

He made his way over to her and started dancing with her. When he sang, touch your body girl, he ran his hands down her body, not touching her, just outlining her with the span of his hands, causing everyone except one to laugh.

Stevie took a step back. "Very nice… maybe we should give you a few solos."

"Hey!" Lance said, sitting up. "We're auditioning for JC's solos? My turn."

Justin looked over at JC who was standing there shell shocked. She was giving his music away and didn't even know it and Justin knew he was going to blow when the feeling returned to his brain.

Lance got into the middle of the room and cleared his throat. "Hmmmmm…."

Stevie laughed at the determination on his face and sat down on the arm of the couch as he smiled, nodding in her direction. "Okay… I've got it."

Girl I know that we broke up

But that doesn't mean you should give the cold shoulder

'cause you know that I

truly do adore ya

and that other guy can't do nothin' for ya

uh- see

I can tell you don't really love that guy

So there's no need for you to go and waste your time

I think you know I love you more

Girl you gotta let him go

I want you so just

Give him the boot

Lance nailed the choreography, ending it on bended knee for a little flouish.

Chris clapped. "PooFoo's been practicing…come on girl… give the albino some loving…"

Stevie threw her head back and laughed. "Nice, very nice… I'll see what I can do. I take it this from your other album?"

They all nodded before Chris pushed his way up front. "My turn… ahem…" He cleared this throat before grinning over at JC, who was slowly starting to get steam pouring from his ears.

Chris smirked over at Justin who was by this point in time on the floor, clutching his stomach as he snickered, trying so hard not to laugh out loud cause he knew what was coming…wished he didn't but he knew…

I've loved you forever,

And lifetimes before

And I promise you never,

Will you hurt anymore

I give you my word

I give you my heart

This is a battle we've won

And with this vow,

Forever has now begun...

Joey and Lance both fell to the floor laughing as he nailed the beats with his arms just the same as JC, however Chris kept singing, so Joe and Lance wiped their eyes and joined in.

Just close your eyes

Each loving day

And I know this feeling won't go away

Till the day my life is through

This I promise you

Over and over I fall

(over and over I fall)

When I hear you call

Without you in my life, Baby

I just wouldn't be living at all

When the last note of the bridge died away, Chris looked up with the most pleased expression on his face. Stevie sat there floored. She had no idea the guys could sound like that, but she had to admit with a chuckle for it not being Chris' part, it was still really good. That made her wonder what Josh sounded like…

She shook the thought away and stood up clapping. "BRAVO! You get them all Chris…"

He pretended to wipe away a single tear. "My mom would be so proud."

Justin's eyes widened as he stood up. "Hold it! All of them?"

Stevie eyed him, from her spot on the arm of the couch where she had sat back down. "Well, why not… that voice… the inflection… could you do better, Jellybean?"

"Could I do better?" He looked at her like she had just gotten out of rehab.

Chris snickered. "Uht oh… she insulted the voice… we're all goners."

Justin strode to the middle of the room and held out his arms in a flourish. "This calls for extreme silence from all members of the peanut gallery. That does include you Chris."

"I am not sticking around for this…" JC muttered.

Justin shot him a dirty look that said, hold it right there, you know we're only joking, before smiling and pointing to the couch. "I said no comments from the peanut gallery, plus you have to follow us back because you got lost earlier and don't know where you are." He finished with a smirk before humming a few bars then smiled over at Stevie. "Ready for me to show you why these guys don't get lead?" He raised an eyebrow at her while thumbing over at the others.

"Show me, you studmuffin, you…" She laughed.

Justin grinned, before turning around, then whirling around and starting right at JC's part with the little hip shimmy.

You've got no choice, babe

But to move on, and you know

There ain't no time to waste

So just do right, do see

But in the end, ya know it's gonna be me

You can't deny

So just tell me why

Every little thing I do

Never seems enough for you

You don't wanna lose it again

But I'm not like them

Baby, when you finally

Get to love somebody (somebody)

Guess what (guess what)

It's gonna be me

"It's gonna be me." He sang, just as he walked up to her, grabbing her around the waist then twirling her into a dip away from the couch.

Chris waited until Justin stood up with a smirk before glaring at him in jest. "Show off."

"You know it." Justin said, hooking his thumbs in his pockets as he cocked a hip at Chris, grinning.

Stevie shook her head. "I've never heard you guys live. I'm really impressed. I can see now why all the fans love you."

She glanced over at JC who was pouting from his position on the couch. "Are you four through making fun of me yet?"

"Through? Have we started yet?" Chris asked.

JC glared at him before standing. "I'd show you all why I have the solos that I have but I don't want to put you all to shame."

Justin laughed, before he could help himself. "Jace… come on man… we're kidding…"

"Am I laughing?"

"Well… no…. but…"

"You guys want to do this without me… fine…. You can…"

"JC! That's not what we're saying at all…" Chris tried to explain.

"I don't want to hear it." He walked over to the chair where he had placed his coat and shrugged it on.

Stevie quickly walked over to him and grabbed his arm. "Where is this attitude coming from? These are your friends! You can treat me as badly as you want, but I won't stand for you to treat them like this."

"You won't stand for it huh…"

"No, I won't."

"Well, I don't think you have much of a say now… do you?"

"Maybe we should take this outside…" She said softly.

"No way…" He shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere with you…"

"Fine, you want to have it out here… we will. What's your problem with me?"

He opened his mouth to tell her just what he though of her, but his mind went blank. He couldn't think of a single real reason. He looked over at his friends who were waiting for his answer and when he turned and looked back into her face, he began to panic. Along with the panic came the anger at himself, the situation and at her. He sneered down at her, then leaned over and whispered something to her before slamming out of the house, leaving everyone with mouths wide open that he would say something like that and Stevie shocked to the core.

"My problem with you is that you are a power hungry, equipment hogging, spoiled little rich, bitch who can't figure a way to buy her way out of this one and I'm not going to sit and watch you mess up everything I've worked so hard to achieve while you're gallivating around trying to figure out what you want to do with your life."

Chapter 4

JC walked into the elevator and pushed the button to head down to the studios. He sighed and mentally began to hum his lines for the song that they'd be working on today but grew frustrated with himself because he wasn't as prepared as he should be, wasn't as excited as he should be. Usually when it was the first day of recording, he was bouncing and smiling, ready to get his hands on the equipment and make music, ready to sing his heart out. Today however was different. It wasn't his studio… it wasn't his preparation… it wasn't his ideas anymore… it was hers.

He stepped off the elevator as soon as it dinged, leaning back against the wall, his finger pinching the bridge of his nose. He felt bad for the way he had treated her at Joe's Aunt's. There was no excuse for his behavior but he couldn't explain what coursed through him every time she was near. It was like his blood immediately heated whenever he was in her vicinity and he had to lash out or… His eyes shot open. There was no way in hell he was going to complete that thought.

The past week had been tenuous between them. They had an unspoken agreement to steer clear of the other and that’s what they had done, only speaking to one another if they had to and pretty much using the rest of the group as relays. Today would be different. She would have to speak directly to him and him to her. They would have to work as a team to get the music to sound right, to sound perfectly and he didn't know if he could do that. She drove him insane and as he was finding out, he had no way to put a chokehold on his temper around her. Today would be a bloodbath if he couldn't be kept in check. He just prayed that she would work his solos last so that he could find a way to be professional with her, to not allow her to push his buttons.

He pushed himself away from the wall and headed in the direction of the studios. He was going to get through this… he would get through this… I will get through this…

He kept the mantra going in his head just as he turned the corner, a half smile on his face because the more he repeated the words, the better he felt. I will get through this…

I will…His eyes widened in disbelief at the sight before him. He tried to step aside but the chair was moving too fast and…

"Jace! Look out!" He heard a voice as if from far away but he was too much like a deer caught in someone's headlights. Before he could react, the chair hit him square in the middle sending him careening backwards, the rider falling on top of him as the chair landed on them both.

"Oomph."

"Ouch…" Stevie groaned before pushing the chair off of them.

Their eyes met and both became aware of the other. His eyes softened as he took in her flushed cheeks, sparkling green eyes, the little spray of freckles that dotted the bridge of her nose, the… "Get off me." He growled.

She scurried to her feet, looking back to where Joe stood, his mouth gaping open before turning back to JC. "Josh… we're uh… sorry… didn't think anyone would be…"

"You get after me about being professional and here you are, riding a chair down the hallway?" His voice raised as he brushed himself off.

"Well… we were waiting and…"

"Is it my turn yet?" Justin asked, stepping out of the room. He took one look at the overturned chair, Stevie's flushed face, Joey's nervous grin, and JC's pissed off expression and turned immediately around. "I'll take that as a no."

"Can we get this day over with?" He looked down his nose at her before pushing her aside and heading to the studio, angrily slapping the music against his thigh as he walked.

She looked at Joey, threw her hands in the air, and turned to the chair, picking it up off the floor and began to wheel it back to the room.

"Dude, look… we all got here early and you know how much energy we all get pumped up with when the first day of recording hits. We were just screwing around and convinced Steve to take a ride and…"

He whirled around, an eyebrow cocked up at Joe. "Steve?"

"Well… uh… "

"Are you now turning against me too? You like her as well? What about ‘Ivy’?""

"Jace, I was never against you or with you… I reserved judgment and…"

"I work with morons." He muttered before entering the room and taking his seat at the board, cueing up the music. "Justin, you should go first since you sing the most of the vocals and then we can work the harmonies in."

"Actually, Stevie was talking about…"

JC slowly turned to the younger man, seeing her enter the room seconds later out of the corner of his eye as he stared dimwittedly at Justin. "What?"

"We decided it would be easier…"

JC shot her a disgusted look. "What school did you say you went to again? Excuse me, what first? I don't think so."

"Look…"

"No, you look. You haven't worked with five part harmonies before so you listen to me and you listen good… you may know your way around the equipment but you don't know a damn thing about my music."

"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning." Lance whispered, nudging Joey who shushed him.

"Your music…" Stevie echoed.

"Yes, my music. I wrote this and I'll be the one to decide what goes first and where."

She lifted her chin, meeting his eyes, keeping her back straight against the onslaught, no matter how much she wanted to run from the shards of ice that were his eyes. "I see."

"No you don't… you don't see shit…" He muttered, before turning back to the board. "Justin, you’re up."

She watched Justin look between the two, before slowly standing up from the chair he was sitting in and headed towards the booth. He stopped when he got to the door, his hand resting on the knob. "JC…"

"JUSTIN!"

Justin shook his head, glancing back at Stevie before opening the door and heading inside, where he grabbed a stool and adjusted the mic for his height, before slipping the headphones around his neck till JC cued him.

JC ignored the woman who stood uncertainly in the middle of the room, although for the first time, a niggle of guilt began to creep into his subconscious but he mentally shoved it back into the corner of his mind and met Justin's eyes through the glass. He nodded, letting him know that he was starting the music and hit the switch just as Justin raised the headphones, closing his eyes as the music slid through him.

Stevie took a deep breath. She had underestimated him. Underestimated all of them. Janet had tried to tell her how involved they got in the process but she had been so anxious for something to be hers that she had grabbed the bull by the horns. She hadn't realized that she would actually be an accessory, someone they would only need when they had a few questions. She swallowed hard, fighting back the tears. Just as her parents had predicted…

She tried to shake off the weight that was pulling at her chest but it wouldn't go away. She just stood and watched JC push buttons, nod at Justin, tell him through the mic to put more into it, shake his head then tell him to start at the top again.

She could feel the stares from the other three men but couldn't look at them. Instead, she turned, mumbled something about forgetting something in her office and left in a rush, before anyone could stop her.

"Good one, JC." Chris mumbled before leaning back on the couch, waiting, closing his eyes before he grabbed JC by the throat and throttled him.

"What?" He asked, not even looking up.

"You take her chair, tell her she's not needed, shoot all her ideas down, then force her to leave when this is her project… what else are you planning to do today? Kill her cat?"

"She has a cat?" Joe asked, opening his eyes from where he had been dozing against the wall.

"It was a metaphor, Joe." Lance told him, as he thumbed through the new edition of Rolling Stone.

"Oh."

JC looked over. "What?" He repeated.

Chris stood up and looked at him disgustedly. "You drove her off. Are you happy now?"

"I'm working, Chris. We'll talk about this later."

Chris stalked over and shoved all the switches to the top, forcing Justin to take off the headphones as the music turned too high pitched for him, finally becoming aware of the commotion outside the booth.

"We'll talk about this now."


"What do you want me to say?"

"I want you to go find her and apologize and bring her back."

"No way."

"Why not?"

"We don't need her. She's a greenhorn who thinks she knows what she’s doing, but she doesn't. Her parents got her this job and she's just milking it." JC told them as he turned back to the board.

"That's what you think…" Lance told him informatively. "Didn't you listen to anything she had to say?"

"Why would I?"

"Then you'd know that everything she's done has been without her parent's approval or their money."

"She's sure got you warped doesn't she? Another pretty skirt, Lancesten?"

Lance just shook his head and went back to the magazine, but only after directing a dirty look in JC's general direction.

Chris shook his head. "She doesn’t toss money around."

"Like hell she doesn't!"

"She doesn't."

Justin opened the door to the booth. "What's going on…"

"Stuffy boy here, drove off Stevie… told her she didn't know what she was doing and she left…"

"Jace…"

"I don't want to hear it Justin. We need to get as much done of this as we can today… and Chris do NOT call me Stuffy boy."

Justin shook his head. "No, I'm going to go find her."

"No, you're not." JC turned to look at Justin.

Justin glared at his friend. "Unlike you, I actually like her and care what happens to her. I'm worried; usually she fights back to you. I want to know what's wrong."

"She went to powder her nose or something… get back in there."

Justin shook his head and walked out of the room.

"Justin!" JC yelled, but his group mate didn't come back. He threw himself back into the chair. "Great now what…"

"Stevie…" Justin asked, poking his head through the door. He had been wandering the halls of JIVE for almost an hour now, having forgotten where her office specifically was.

Her back was turned to him as she stared out the window of her office, all curled up in a ball.

He softly walked in, not knowing if she was awake or if she just wanted to be alone. "Ummm… about what happened…"

She turned her chair around and held up a hand for him to be quiet for a minute. "Yes mom…"

He grabbed a chair and sat down, waiting for her to finish her phone call. He looked at her desk and saw a few scattered pictures and picked one of them up. It looked like it had taken place at either her high school or college graduation. He narrowed his eyes on her face and figured college, cause her face wasn't that much different from now. She was dressed in a cap and gown with an older woman and man, he figured her parents, standing by her side although they weren't touching at all.

He set that one down and picked up the other one. This one showed another girl, thin, blonde, blue eyes with her arms wrapped around a golden retriever, smiling up at the camera in front of a park. In fact, when he looked closer it looked like the park close to his home in Orlando. He set it back down since he had no idea who it was, but the girl and dog must be important for Stevie to have her picture up.

"Look… I don't need help. I can handle this."

His ears perked up when she started talking again; he looked over at her and saw her expression set stubbornly.

"No. I don't want you calling anyone. No, then he'd be right."

Justin's face paled when the mention of a phone call filtered through. They were talking about JC and if the President or whoever got a call, JC would be history or in deep trouble.

"I know you want to help, but this is my battle, mom. No worries, okay. I love you…"

"Uh huh. Okay. I'll call you soon."

"Yes I will tell Kacey Hi for you, we'll be over for dinner next week. How's that?"

She laughed. "Got it and I'll give Buttercup a hug and kiss for you too." She clicked the phone off and sighed, finally looking over at Justin. "Jellybean, what can I do for you?"

"I… uh…"

"Spit it out."

"I just wanted to make sure that you were okay."

She smiled softly before standing up and walking over to him. "Don't worry about me. I'm sturdy. I just had to get out of there for a few minutes."

"So, you're coming back down?"

She ruffled his hair, before reaching down for his hands and pulling him to his feet. "Yeah, I was just about to head back down…"

"Was that…"

"My mom." She nodded. "Like I said, no worries…" She turned to head out of her office, Justin on her heels.

"But…"

Stevie grabbed him by the arms, turning to face him. "I said, no worries, understood. They will not interfere unless I ask them to. So your precious JC is fine for now… only your group and I know what's going on in that studio, plus my parents but they won't say anything."

"It would ruin his career."

"I know that. That's why I'm going to handle his attitude my way and not the way my parents think to handle things."

"Is he going to be even worse?" Justin whined, as he wrapped an arm around her waist, comforted knowing their problems weren't going to be aired.

"Probably, but we'll live…"

"I hope so."

"Me too, Jellybean. Me too."

************************************************************************

Justin walked ahead of her into the room, while she just leaned against the doorjamb watching the guys interact and work. She noticed that Josh worried his lip when he was concentrating on something but would flash a quick smile for whoever he was working with for encouragement. Chris was always up for a quick laugh to break the tension and Joe sat and watched everyone, only speaking when it he could find an opening. Lance was sacked out on the couch, still flipping through magazines, occasionally speaking up when necessary, usually when it had something to do with girls, girls… or girls.

As soon as Justin entered the room, the guys were on him like flies to honey.

"Is she okay?"

"Are we ready to work?"

"Did you get lost?"

"Can we hurry up now?"

Justin laughed and held up his hands. "Guys… chill… she's fine, we're fine. I'm ready to work and we'll be done when we're done like always…"

JC just shook his head and turned back to the board. "Ready to finish, J?" He asked, light heartedly. Just hanging out for the past hour had relieved a lot of his tension and now he was ready to work.

"Yeah, but first…" He turned and smiled at Stevie, who smiled back. Her arms were crossed over her chest, the same as her legs as she slouched, still watching.

She stood up, making her presence known. "He wants my input on the track."

JC whirled around and his jaw dropped. He had thought for sure that she was gone. "You’re back?" He stuttered, unable to come up with anything else.

She smirked as she walked over to the board and rolled his chair aside. His eyes widened at her audacity. "Excuse me?"

"What?" She smiled. "I’m working here."

He stood up. "No, you’re not. I was."

"We sure are being a little baby about this aren’t we?" She raised an eyebrow at him in question.

"Lady, if you don’t get your hand off of my f…"

"Jace… I’m going in." Justin cut him off.

JC looked up at Justin in surprise, but lost his advantage as Stevie shoved him aside, grabbing a chair and sitting in his spot. She smiled at Justin and motioned him in. "Go for it."

Justin shook his head and tried not to comment as JCs mouth fell open at how easily he’d been manipulated, but he couldn’t help it. Just as he was about to close the door, he grinned over at the two by the board. "Better shut your trap there JC, you might catch flies." He quickly shut the door before JC could throw anything at him.

JC quickly shut his mouth, before glaring at the laughing young man in the booth, who sitting down. He tried to ignore the girl sitting beside him, but the scent of vanilla kept drifting over near him. He groaned and took a step back, away from her. What was happening to him?

She heard him groan and turned around to make sure he was all right and saw that he had a pensive look on his face and was staring at her in disgust. "You okay?"

He shook himself and stared at her. "Fine." He said curtly before stalking from the room. "I’m going to go and get something to drink."

Stevie watched him walk away, wide-eyed as she tried not to laugh. The other guys didn’t have that same problem though.

Joey fell out of his chair, he was laughing so hard. "Did you see his face… he looked like a truck hit him."

"Yeah…good lord Stevie… talk about putting him in place without saying a word…" Lance sputtered out, from his position on the couch.

Chris just snickered. "Serves him right… it’s not right I tell ya, the way he’s treating you."

She looked over at them. "Do you know why he’s acting the way that he is?"

They all looked at one another and shrugged. "I really couldn’t tell ya." Chris said. "We tried asking but he just sputters on and on and goes off on a tangent about something and then whines and all we really want to do is slap him at this point but we don’t so instead we just tune him out."

Joe and Lance stared at Chris as he rambled before turning back to Stevie. "So in essence, no." Joe told her.

"Hmmm, thanks anyway…"

She turned back to Justin and adjusted the pitch. "Go for it, Jellybean."

He gave her a thumbs up, closing his eyes as he listened to the music before taking a deep breath to start his verse.

"Good, try it again and this time give it more from the gut and you might actually nail it."

"Such encouragement…" He grinned.

"If you’re not liking what I’m giving you, we can just let you sing until you get it right… although…" She looked at her watch. "I do have dinner plans tonight so we need to be done by five so I can go change."

Justin’s grin widened. "Dinner plans?"

The other guys echoed him, leaning forward. "What’s this?"

She rolled her eyes. "None of your concern. I have plans and that’s it."

Justin shook his head, speaking into the mic. "You can’t get off that easily. Tell us all, come on, we have no lives being trapped in hotels and families homes. We have to live through you. Now spill!"

She sighed, rolling her eyes as she leaned back. "And what do I get out of it, if I tell you."

"Ummm…."

"A night out." Joe spoke up from his chair. "We’ll take you out, drinks and everything on us."

"Really…." She smiled. "When I go out, I tend to like to have a good time…"

Joe wiggled his eyebrows at her. "Oh yeah… me too."

She shook her head. "I don’t think our definitions of a good time are the same."

"They could be if you really… really… wanted them to."

Chris, Justin and Lance all snickered as Stevie walked over to him, laying one finger on his cheek. "If I wanted them to huh…"

He nodded. "Come on Ivy… take a chance…"

"I get to choose my night out…" She looked around at all of them, wanting everyone’s nod of approval.

"Yes… now spill girl…" Chris said, excitedly. "I love gossip."

"What are you doing! I thought we were supposed to be working, not "working" the floor." JC spit out as he walked in carrying a soda, to see Stevie smiling down at Joe, her hand on his face.

She looked up, her hand dropping from his face. "It’s not what you think."

"Sure its not." He said, moving back to the board. There was a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, he didn’t know what it was, but he kept telling himself it wasn’t jealousy, it couldn’t be, he didn’t like her. It was pure disgust.

"It’s not…"

Chris waved JC off. "Forget him, Stevie… tell… we promised, you promised now spill…"

"Spill what?" JC asked.

"She was going to tell us about her plans for this evening." Justin said through the mic.

"I thought we were supposed to be working, not gossiping."

"Shove it, Stuffy boy, I want to hear."

"Chris…."

"Anyway…" Chris asked, cutting him off.

"Fine… I have dinner plans with my roommate tonight. Kacey and I are grabbing a bite to eat then going to a movie. We wanted to spend some quality time together, since we haven’t seen each other in about a week even though we live together… we both sleep there but well you guys know how it is. That’s it. That’s the scoop, you were all dying to hear." She laughed, settling back down in the chair.

"So… who’s Kacey?" Lance asked grinning.

She looked over frowning. "My roommate."

"Uh huh…" He asked leaning forward.

"That’s all you’re getting from me. Conversation has ended, back to work."

"Why don’t you want to tell us about Kacey?"

"Because I don’t think you guys need to know… it’s my private life and that’s where it will stay. This is work… that’s private."

"But… wait… so you consider us work?" Justin asked.

She sighed. "Jellybean… it’s not like that…"

"Then how is it? We consider you a friend."

"And I consider you all one too… but… Kacey is private and I want it to remain that way. Got it?"

"Yeah… but…"

"No buts."

"Fine…"

"EXCUSE ME!" JC yelled. "Music people… that’s why we’re here…"

"Put a cork in it, Jace… we’re getting there." Chris muttered.

Stevie rolled her eyes. "One more time, Justin…"

A few hours later, they had got the major portion of the track done but still had a lot of background harmonies and tweeking to do. "Thanks guys… we got a lot done today. Good job." She said, standing up and stretching. The time had flown by and she had actually had fun, when Josh wasn’t shooting her death glares from across the room, or pushing her aside when he wanted something to sounds perfect. He was worse than her.

Chris was humming the song they had just laid down and started dancing over to her, grabbing her hands and spinning her around. "All because of you Ivy…"

She shook her head. "Is that my new name?"

"I think bitch is more tolerable to me…" She heard muttered behind her.

"What did you say…"

JC raised his head and looked at her innocently. "I didn’t say a word… see you tomorrow." He said, grabbing his bag and stalking from the room.

She unclenched her fists, taking a deep breath. "I’m going to kill him."

"He doesn’t really mean it."

"He does so and you know it. No one calls me a bitch."

"Calm down."

She whirled around. "I will only take so much… I’m not a bitch, I may have tendencies, but I’m not. Got it… you can call me whatever you want, but NOT THAT!"

"Okay…. Calm yourself…" Chris tried to soothe her, but she shrugged his hands off, walking over to Justin.

"Jellybean…" She started.

"Shhh." He said, rubbing a hand down her hair.

"Can I kill him?"

"Nope…" He looked around at the rest of the guys and Chris pointed to him and Lance, before grabbing Lance’s arm and dragging him from the room.

"What?" Lance cried out.

"We’re going to find him and figure out what exactly crawled up his butt and died, leaving that shell of a man behind."

"Oh… do I get to be good cop or bad cop this time?"

"How about we both be bad cop…"

"Oh…I like… do I get to smack him around this time?"

"Whatever you want Lancesten…" Chris laughed, hurrying out to his car, pulling Lance so they could catch him at the hotel lobby before he closeted himself into his room.

 

Stevie unlocked the door to her two bedroom apartment and immediately heard the noise of her puppy barking. She shoved the door open and was knocked over onto her butt as Buttercup, began to lick her face. "Sorry, girl, I know I haven’t exactly been around but, work called. I promise to be home more." She laughed, trying to get the slobbering tongue away from her. "Stop…"

"Well, look what the cat dragged in."

"Don’t you mean dog?" Stevie smiled up at her roommate.

"Sure… I guess… well, we don’t exactly have a cat so… yeah…the dog." Kacey immediately began to giggle. "Man, I sure can’t talk today."

"Sorry, I’m late."

"I figured… you ready?"

"Can I change first?"

Kacey looked her up and down, her clothes were rumpled, her hair was falling out of her pony-tail has usual and her eyes had a shadow lurking behind them that hadn’t been there that morning. "What happened?"

She shook her head. "Don’t ask."

"What’d he do now!"

"Nothing…"

"He did something… do I have to go down there and take a bite out of him like he’s doing to you?"

"Kace… drop it." She walked into her bedroom, opening up her closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and a green sweater.

Her roommate walked in and sat on the bed, watching as she dressed. "I’m not going to drop it… you come home late every night and all I get from you is I’m fine and I know you’re not… we’ve known each other too long. What did the jackass do?"

"He didn’t do anything. It was a long day."

"Don’t give me that!"

Stevie sighed as she changed. "I really don’t want to talk about it… can we maybe later? I’m hungry… I really want to see that movie, The Patriot and just have a nice evening out…"

"Okay… but it’s only getting put on the back burner for now. We’ll talk when we get home."

Stevie shoved her feet into her tennis shoes and looked up with a smile. "Yes…mom."

Kacey laughed, all her protectiveness deflating with that grin. "I can’t refuse that smile, I’ve known you too long."

"I know." She watched her roommate stand up in a huff before walking over to the mirror, pushing the blonde hair from her face to behind her ears as her blue eyes twinkled, watching Stevie in the mirror.

"I should beat you."

Stevie snorted. "Right… like last time…"

"I may be short and you tall… but I’ve been practicing." She turned around and held up her fists, boxer style and bounced around the room for good measure.

She shook her head. "I’m not even going there…"

"Come on baby! Lets go, right here and now…"

She fell backwards onto the bed, laughing. "I…can’t…breathe…"

Kacey stopped and stared at her. "You’re dead already? No way! I didn’t even get one punch in."

Stevie shook her head, still chuckling. "Hungry?"

"Am I ever? Do you know what I’ve been doing waiting for you to get home… NOTHING! I sit and watch TV that’s what… lets go before I waste away…" She ran to the door and threw it open. "You know some of us work decent hours…"

"7-3 is decent?"

"Uh huh… but then again…"

"What?"

"Not all of us get to work with the young studs like you…"

"Oh lord…" She pushed her out the door. "Food… no mention of studs… just food…"

Chapter 5

Stevie walked into the studio and eyed the young men that were all sitting in chairs waiting for her, since she was late for their appointment in the studio. She slowly walked into the room, her footsteps silently falling on the carpet as she made her way to the board and set her things on it next to the folder that was already sitting there, waiting for the person that it belonged to, to come and get it as he began the work process.

She folded her tired body into the chair, as she fiddled with the knobs and bars, trying to clear her head. The silence and tension in the room grew at a deafening rate as everyone was thinking about yesterday and the way it had been left unresolved between all partners. After taking in a huge breath, she spun the chair to face them, her hands resting on her knees, as her body leaned forward.

"So… ready to get to work?"

Chris nudged JC, who glowered at him before turning back to her. "I think I have something to say that can’t wait until after work, so before we begin…"

She shook her head, turning back to the board, rubbing the bridge of her nose, before blinking a few times to clear the fuzziness of her brain. "Can’t it wait?"

"Well…" Lance nudged him this time. "No, it can’t." He bit out.

She turned back. "Fine… go ahead…"

"I wanted to…" He swallowed, before glancing at the floor. "Apologize for my actions and what I said yesterday…. I’m sorry." Like I’m sorry about squashing a fly…

He watched her eyes widen in shock as she sat up straighter in her chair, clearly taken aback by the turn of events. "Well then… Josh… your apology is… well accepted… thanks… and … I…uh…hope that things can work smoothly between us from now on."

"Oh…me too…." He plastered a smile on his face that he thought would crack with the amount of force that he was putting into it, but inwardly wanted to run out into the hall and jump for joy at how easy it was going to be to fool her. Oh I hope things go smoothly also…

"Justin… why don’t we run through your section one more time and then Josh will be up next…"

JC leaned back against the couch, with a slight smirk alighting his face until she looked over at him questioningly and he quickly changed his smirk to a full fledged grin causing her to frown before slightly smiling at him and turning back to the board where she gave Justin a few directions before he walked into the booth. Chris and Lance have no idea what they actually have put into effect…

"Do you see him?"

"Nope… maybe he’s already up in his room… we did hit traffic after all…"

"True… but then again, when he’s that worked up…"

"Chris… What are you thinking?"

"The pool."

The two walked over to the gym area and peeked into the workout room that was empty on a Monday night. "Not here…"

They moved on to the pool area, walking in to find him soaking in the hot tub, his head thrown back against the side, eyes closed as the warm water took away all his aches and pains, and soothed the turbulent emotions that were coursing through his mind at that moment.

Chris walked around one side, while Lance took the other, both hunching down beside him. "Hey buddy…"

JC opened one eye and looked up to see Chris leaning over him. He sat up, noticing Lance on the other side. "Hey, guys…Look…"

Chris reached out quickly, taking JC by the head and pushing him down beneath the water. He let him up just as quickly as he sputtered, pushing the water from his eyes.

"What was that for?"

Lance reached out and copied Chris’ actions for a second dunking and let him up just as quick.

"Look…."

"JC… you look… whatever problems you have with Stevie, you leave them out of the studio."

JC’s blue eyes glowered up at the older man. Are you saying I‘m not acting professional and can’t leave my personal life at the door?"

"That’s exactly what we are saying… I don’t know what your problem with Stevie is, personally I don’t think you even have a valid one, but then again. I don’t know your history. But, you’re harming the album and we all want you to get over it and move on…"

"I’m fine…"

Lance snorted, before pushing him under again. When JC sat bak up, spitting water, he shook his head. "She’s not a bad person… she’s trying hard and she knows her stuff. If we want this album to be better than the others, we have to have the best and JIVE knows it… she’s it."

"We could do better with our thumbs up our as…"

Chris moved to sunk him, but JC quickly moved to the other side so that now he was looking at them. Chris sighed, "Jace… what is your problem with her exactly?"

"She can’t do the job."

"She can… next reason."

"She’s not serious about it. This is a whim for her that her parents are pulling strings about. I bet she knows someone in the company and that’s why she got hired."

"If it is a whim, she’ll still get the project done."

"But it wont be quality…."

"That’s what your job is…to fix the loose strings…" Lance interjected.

"I know…but…"

"Look… we just want to be in and out of here before going back to Orlando to finish up the tracks. You’ll feel better when we’re at home."

He ran a hand over his face, water coming off it onto his hand. "I know…I can’t do it though…"

"You’re going to have to try and get along, JC, or we’re going to make you…"

"You guys couldn’t…"

Lance eyed him. "Watch us."

"Fine, I’ll play nice."

Chris and Lance both smiled. "That’s all we wanted." Lance said, as they stood up.

JC’s head leaned back against the side as they walked off. "I’ll play nice… When they’re around… But the minute they turn their backs and have nothing to harp on me about… then we’ll see who’s mister nice guy then…" He smiled as he sank lower into the water, the heat relaxing his tense shoulders and bringing a smile that would have chilled Lance and Chris to the bones if they had seen it.

"Josh?"

"Huh?" He sat up straight in the seat, shaking his head, trying to clear the memory of the night before out.

"Your turn?" She smiled at him brightly, before reaching over and grabbing her cup of coffee and taking a deep sip. She closed her eyes and sighed as the warmth filled her stomach. "Thank god for coffee."

Joe laughed at her expression. "That good huh..."

She opened one eye at him. "This is the liquor of life, don’t knock it."

He nodded, agreeing with her. "Don’t get me wrong, I agree... but I’m not co-dependant on it or anything..."

Lance smirked at him. "Wanna bet! I’ve see you in the morning when you haven’t had a drop and I thought for sure those 11 year old fans were going to bite the big one after you were done..."

"Shut it, Lance." Joe eyed him from his corner of the couch.

"Guys..." Chris looked up from the music. "Must you argue so early in the morning?"

"But..." They both started, then looked at one another. "He started it." They then said pointing at the other.

Chris looked over at the two and shook his head before looking up at Stevie who was trying to cover her laughter with the back of her hand. "See what I have to put up with..."

"I feel your pain." She told him, before moving a switch to change tapes. "Josh...lets take it from the top and then.... just through when Justin takes over the second verse. Hopefully this won’t take all day..." She muttered, before turning on the tape and smiling at him. "When you’re ready..."

He smiled brightly before heading into the booth and picking up the headphones as he settled his body on the stool, readying himself for recording. He knew she couldn’t hear him inside until he cued her to turn the mic on which gave a few minutes of quiet time and a chance to take a few deep breaths. Recording always made him nervous cause it had to be dead on... granted it took a bit of time to get there but....

He looked up and caught her eye, seeing the eagerness to succeed and the willingness to do whatever it took to get it right, all in her expression as she urged him to ready for take one.

Slipping the headphones on, while humming to warm up his voice gave him an idea... an idea he knew would get her, but was he really willing to do it?

Looking up at her face, he smiled. Raising an arm to cue her, he ducked his head, hoping she hadn’t seen the gleam in his eye. They were all going to kill him if he was ever found out, but he’d fix it, even if it took him every night up until the album was to be released to do it. Just as long as he got to her... as she got to him.

**********************************************************************

Four hours later, they were still sitting in the same spots as she watched Josh take it from the top for the millionth time. "Try it one more time..." She sighed into the microphone, before switching the tape they’d been working on for the second time. She couldn’t believe they’d filled two tapes of just his voice, and from what she could tell it wasn’t even that great a voice.

She watched him take a deep breath before singing three lines and then his voice broke. One of the many times it had either broke, coughed, cracked, failed to hit the right note, didn't have enough support or he missed a breath and ran out of air.

"What is he doing?" Justin asked from his perch on the couch, where he was playing cards with Lance, Chris and Joe.

"Having an off day?"

"I guess…" Justin shook his head. "He sounds horrible. I don't think I've heard him that bad in a long time, if ever."

Joe nodded, before laying down a five. "I think Stevie is getting upset too."

Chris shook his head, before glaring over at Joe, then picking up the five to lay down a three. "Yeah... but just think if Stevie is pissed, Jace has to be like ten fold cause he hates it when he has this bad of a day. I'm surprised he hasn't come storming out yet, tossing furniture."

"Yeah…." Justin looked up curiously. "Me too."

"What's that look youngen…"

"You don't think…" Justin looked over at Stevie, who was biting her lip, to JC who was sitting on the stool, his hands folded in his lap. "Nah… even he wouldn't go to that length."

"Length?" Lance looked over at him, before folding his cards. "I quit."

"You can't quit…" Justin grinned. "Anyway… I was thinking that maybe he was… doing this on purpose, but the man wouldn't do that to us."

Chris' eyes widened in shock. "No way… he'd never do it. The album means too much."

Justin nodded, before laying down his cards. "Yeah… I'm just being suspicious cause well… he's never this bad and… "

Joe nodded. "You need an excuse to not be sitting and doing nothing, bored out of your mind."

"Exactly. I want to be working and as long as he’s in the fooling around, we’re not getting anything accomplished and…"

Stevie ran a hand through her hair that was already half falling out of the ponytail that she had thrown it into that morning. "Give it a rest, JC."

"Huh?"

She motioned for him to come out. "Give it a rest. We'll try again tomorrow. Chris you're next."

He looked up. "Maybe we should stop for the day….

She wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. This wasn't going the way that she had planned since day one and she didn't know how to get control again. She had to find a way to find direction and to get this task accomplished. Lord, knows she didn't want to hear the 'I told you sos' that would be coming from her parents if she failed.

She took a deep breath before standing. "I'll compromise. How about a two hour lunch break then everyone meet back here and we'll try again for a few more hours then call it quits tonight?"

Chris rubbed his chin, looking around at the rest of the guys, before looking back at her. "I think we can do that… everyone up for it?"

They all nodded, JC included, before grabbing their stuff and heading out the door. Stevie lingered behind, running her hand over the board lightly, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.

"Ivy…. Go eat something to eat before you waste away…"

She turned around and saw Joe standing in the doorway. "I will… I just wanted to…"

He strolled over, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Come on… lunch will be on me."

"Well… I can't exactly turn that down, now can I?" She grinned, pinching him in the side.

"No, you can't… plus I want to know all about last night…" He smirked down at her.

"Last night?"

"Your date… remember…"

"Oh yeah…" Stevie laughed. "I forgot you guys were interested in my private life."

He steered her out the door and down the hall. "Of course we are. Come on… if I'm paying for an evening out… I want all the details… did you get flowers?"

He watched them laugh their way down the hall, the strain of the past few hours leaving her back as she leaned against his friend, as they went to get food.

He turned away before he vomited up the water that he had just drank and made his way through the door and back into the studio. Walking over to the board, he sat down, flicking on the reel, the music, and his voice. Listening to the numerous takes they had done, he cringed. He sounded horrible.

After erasing the first reel, leaving the second reel for her, he re-wound it and started over. He walked into the booth and set his watch for an hour. He could get the take done in a few times but he gave himself enough time where if he did mess up, he could fix it before everyone got back. And the best part, he grinned to himself, was that she'd never know what he had done. Her expression and frustration through this all would make the extra hours worth it all and he'd be able to take care of everything in Orlando without her knowledge after they were all done.

************************************************************************

After they had ordered, Joe leaned back in his seat, looking at her intently. "So…."

She folded her hands on the table in front of her and smiled. "So…"

He rolled his eyes, before scratching his chin. "Sorry, my mind just went blank."

"Not a problem… tell me about yourself…"

His eyes widened. There weren't very many people that asked about him, mainly everyone wanted to know about JC and Justin, with Lance coming up on their heels. He was always the invisible member. "What do you want to know?"

"Whatever you want to tell me… I mean I know you're Italian, you're a great singer and a ham but there has to be more behind the man."

He shook his head in amazement. "You forgot the flirt part too…"

She laughed. "No, I didn't."

"Oh…"

"But speaking of that… since you're so interested in my personal life… do you have a girl?" Stevie leaned forward, her arms now resting on the table as she lifted her eyes to meet his.

"Actually…" He paused to inspect his nails. "I do…"

Stevie smiled genuinely. "Really, what's her name?"

"Jenn."

"What's she like?" Stevie asked, crossing one leg over the other as she listened to him begin to talk.

"What's she like? Oh she's great… funny… sarcastic…"

She leaned back in the chair, listening as he went on about the one girl that had captured his heart in such a short period of time but wasn't sure how to go about it, due to his reputation. He didn't want to blow it by going too slow and making her think that he wasn't interested, but then again he didn't want to go too fast because then she might feel like she was just a conquest.

"I don't know what to tell you…"

The waiter brought their food out and set it in front of them. Joe grinned at her. "You don't have to say anything. Thanks for listening. I don't get a chance to talk about this sort of thing with a girl so it was nice. There are things you can't discuss with guys so… yeah."

She nodded in understanding. "I'm glad you trusted me enough to talk about what was on your mind."

"But…"

She shook her head. "I won't talk about my stuff… I'm sorry… It's nothing against you."

"I know. But still… if I need to again…"

"I'm always here for you."

"You're not as bad as he makes you out to be."

He watched her eyes cloud over before they became clear again. "That's good to hear."

She focused down on her food, bringing a fork full of salad up to her mouth to take a bite.

"He was better today…"

She nodded, not wanting to talk about him. "We'll see how long it lasts…"

"Yeah…"

The both ate in silence till Joe opened his mouth again. "Do you think…"

She set her fork down and leveled her hurt eyes at him. "I don't want to talk about Josh. Please…"

Joe watched her for a brief period before lifting his hamburger up to his mouth, understanding finally dawning. She might come off as an independent, no nonsense type of person, but underneath, she craves admiration just as much as the next person… especially from people she admires and respects. She respects JC and he crushed her…

"I'm sorry…"

"Next topic…"

*********************************************************************

"No, Joey… I'm not telling you." Stevie cried out as he chased her back into the building.

"Come on…."

"NO…" She screamed, as he wrapped his arms around her waist and carried her down the hall, over his shoulder into the studio.

"Ivy…"

"I’m not telling you."

"But why…"

"Cause…"

"That's not a reason."

She crossed her arms over her chest as she was carried as best as she could. "I think it's a perfectly good reason."

He reached up and pressed a finger on her nose. Beep He sounded the noise. "Wrong answer, try again…"

"Fine…" She sighed. "You really want to know?"

He nodded, tossing her on the couch as everyone stared at her. "Oh great, ya'll are here as well…" She groaned out.

"Spill it Stevie…" Chris leaned forward.

"You don't even know what its about." She laughed.

"So… if its anything about you… its gotta be good."

"I guess." She sighed, then winked at him.

"So…" Joe said.

"Okay… you want the story?" She looked over at him.

"Yes…"

"Okay… here's the scoop… " She took a deep breath before opening her mouth, which she immediately shut again. "I can't do this!"

Joe laughed. "Yes you can… how hard is it to tell me who your first kiss was… I told you…"

"So…"

Chris, Justin, and Lances eyes widened. "You're trying to…"

Joe waved them off. "Yes. Come on Ivy…"

She gritted her teeth, giving him a mock glare. "Fine… Brian Littrell."

"WHAT!" Four voices cried out in unison.

She laughed and nodded. "Yeah… see why I didn’t want to tell you."

"How?"

"Well… My grandparents live in Florida so I was always down there visiting and… I kinda met this kid before he made it big over in Europe, we dated for awhile and… of course when you date, you kiss every now and then… and…" She blushed. "He was my first kiss."

"That's just… crazy." Joe breathed out. "I mean…we know the guy… you aren't supposed to know people's first kisses."

She shrugged, before standing up and heading over to the board. "You wanted to know…"

"I know…but…oh Hey Jace…" He said, looking up as the older man walked into the room.

"Sorry, I'm late." He growled out, before remembering he was supposed to be nice and plastered a huge grin on his face.

Stevie eyed him, before shrugging. "It's fine. Let's do a few more takes and then we'll move on and try to just work out something with what we've got."

He nodded. "Sounds good."

She moved her chair over and went to push play on the tape, but noticed that the reel was gone. She looked confused before glancing over at the guys. "Did any of you move the tapes?"

"Nope…"

"Not me…"

"I left before you."

"I wouldn't touch the thing with a ten foot pole."

"I did." JC said quietly.

"Oh…" She looked up at him, from where he was standing in front of her, his hands in his back pockets.

"I… uh… just moved it so I could listen and see if I could correct what was wrong."

"No problem, where is it?"

"Here." He picked a tape up off the table and handed it to her. "I must've forgotten to put it back in."

She smiled. "Not a problem. Just remember next time."

He smiled through clenched teeth. "I'll try."

Chris walked up behind and massaged his shoulders before pushing him towards the studio door, he on his heels. "Come on champ, let's try this together so we don’t leave you flapping in the breeze any longer."

"Fine… it's not like this day is going to get any better…" He muttered to himself.

"It won't with that attitude mister, now march." Chris slapped him upside the head, before moving him into the booth.

JC tried to turn around and look at him, but Chris pushed him into the booth with a sigh. "The boy will never learn."

Stevie hid a smile as the door closed, although began to laugh as everyone else in the room did as well.

She flicked a few switches, setting the reel and tape as Chris and JC settled themselves on their stools, bringing the headphones around their necks. She moved another dial, then looked up meeting JC's eyes. Her breath caught in her throat at the look of pure disgust on his face that quickly changed into a smile when Chris looked at him. She frowned at the rapid change of expression and chalked it up to lack of sleep. He had apologized, things were changing.

"Ivy, when we going out?" Joe asked out of the blue, from his perch on the couch, where Lance, he and Justin had resumed their game of cards.

"When do you want to go?" She asked, listening as Josh and Chris began to sing the opening. The sound was a huge change over everything that she had listened to earlier. She couldn't get the blend of voices out of her head. Why hadn't he sang like that earlier? His voice was…

"Tonight."

Her head swung around as her eyes widened. "Tonight?"

Joe cracked a smile. "Yeah why not? Got plans again?"

She shook her head no. "No, but…"

"But what?"

"Nothing."

"Come on, Stevie. Let's go play. I haven't been out in ages." Justin told her, trying to charm her.

"Fine… "

"Great, where we going?" Joe leaned back into the couch, frowning at his hand.

"I'll pick you up." She grinned, a plan already forming in her head.

"What?" Three heads popped up to look at her.

"But, its our treat." Lance told her. "We promised."

"I know and I got to pick, and since I want it all to be a surprise…. I'll pick you guys up at the hotel. Which one are you at again?"

"The Hampton." Lance said as he laid out his hand right side up with a grin. "Full house."

"Damn…" Justin threw his cards down. "I hate poker."

"How about a hint?" Joe asked, reshuffling the cards.

"Nope… but I'm going to ask Kacey to come, if that's alright with you guys?" She looked over, changing the pitch automatically.

Justin grinned. "Oh yeah… this will give us a chance to check him out and make sure he's worthy of you."

Stevie frowned at him, not quite understanding what he was saying. "Him?"

"Yeah… Kacey?"

"Oh…" Stevie's eyes widened as she comprehended what they were all thinking. "Oh yeah…right…" She snickered into her hand before shaking her head. "Sure… whatever you guys want…"

Justin shook his head, not wanting to get involved in the next round of cards and sat back, watching Stevie as she took off her shoes and ran her feet along the carpet. He grinned, looking at her haphazardly frizzy hair and ran a hand over his own curls before walking over to her, dragging his feet. As he stepped up behind her and went to touch her neck and shock her, she moved her head at the last minute. "Don't even think about it…"

"How…"

"Just don't." She turned around and grinned at him, before rubbing her feet on the carpet again and reaching out and touching his arm.

"OUCH!" He shot up into the air, rubbing his arm. "That hurt! You shocked me!"

"Paybacks… plus you were going to do that to me anyway, I just caught you first." She laughed, before turning back to the board.

"I know all about paybacks, Stevie." He laughed, before grabbing her around the waist, tossing her over his shoulder and taking off out the door with her.

"Put me down." She yelled, trying not to laugh.

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Yes."

"No."

"Jellybean!!!!!"

"Nope." He shook his head as he punched the button on the elevator.

Joe and Lance shook their heads as they listened to the two bicker down the hall till they couldn’t here them anymore. "So much for recording this afternoon… ready to call it a day?"

Lance nodded before getting up and walking over to the mic. "Hey guys… Justin just took off with our technician. I think Joe and I are going to call it a day."

Chris nodded. "Okay… what’s the plan for tonight?"

"We’re taking Stevie out. Remember we promised…"

"Oh yeah… where?"

Lance shrugged. "She’s picking us up at the hotel. Won’t tell us where."

Chris groaned. "A woman after my own heart. We’re dead, you realize."

"She’s not like you, Chris. It’ll be dinner and drinks."

"Think what you want Lancesten, we’re dead, I tell ya. DEAD!" Chris cried out, holding a hand over his heart in agony.

JC shut off his mic. "I thought we were going to work."

Chris pushed him off the stool. "Hey, we don’t want to hear anything out of you, mister ‘I can’t sing for four hours’. We’d have been a lot farther without you, playing around in here."

"I couldn’t sing, it’s not my fault." He muttered, grabbing his coat.

"You coming with us tonight?" Joe asked him.

"Why would I?"

"Well… cause you’re our friend… and it’d be good bonding time for you and Stevie and… because we want you to… and…"

"I’ve got plans."

"Right…."

"Whatever, I’m outta here…"

They watched him walk down the hall and shook their heads. "That guy needs to loosen up…" Lance said.

"No kidding." Chris smirked. "So, kidnapping tonight?"

"You mean JC napping tonight?" Joe grinned.

"Oh yeah, count me in." Lance said.

"Okay, here’s the plan…" Chris said, shutting the door behind them as they made their way to the elevator.

Chapter 6

Stevie looked in her rearview mirror at the five occupants of her car and tried not to laugh. She was going to have so much fun with them. Josh and Chris sat in the back, Chris staring out the window, obviously fascinated with the scenery of downtown New York City and Josh with his arms folded across his chest, looking like he didn’t want to be there. Why did he come if he didn’t want to?

Lance and Joe were in the middle debating about which one was going to score the most dates and phone numbers that night, which caused Stevie to have to cough because of the place that she had picked. We’ll see if you get the dates that you want, boys…

That left Justin upfront with her. He was slouched down in his chair, hat pulled low over his face so that people that would pull up beside them couldn’t see his face. Luckily for the rest of them, she had her back windows tinted pretty dark.

"Where are we going?" Justin asked, turning to face her as she turned right at an intersection.

"Somewhere."

"Come on, we’re almost there. Can’t you tell us what we’ll be doing…"

She smirked. "I guess… so guys, I know you can dance, but can you skate?"

"What?" Joe asked, leaning forward in between the seats, making Justin push him back.

"Out of my face, hairball. Skating?"

"How long has it been since you boys went roller skating?"

"You’re taking us roller skating?" Chris called out from the back.

"Yes."

"I didn’t know there was a rink in New York?"

"It’s pretty low key, Lance. But, I’m sure you’ll have a good time."

JC just grunted, still humiliated about the way he had been conned into coming.

He unlocked the door to his hotel room, tossing his coat over one shoulder as he used his other hand to push the door open. He walked straight to the mini-bar, pulling it open and grabbing a bottled water for his throat. After singing all day, horribly on purpose at that, his throat was scratchy and sore and all he wanted to do was sleep, to lay down on the bed and rest, not thinking of anything that had to do with music, know-it-all engineers, or band mates who thought they were helping but in reality were just making it worse.

He took a long drink of the bottle, the muscles in his throat working as he drained half the bottle, before he set it on the table, then proceeded to take off his shirt and pants, changing into flannel pajama pants and a t-shirt. He settled onto the bed, propping the pillows behind his head, as he reached over to grab the remote. Flipping channels became mindless and all he wanted to do was rest, so he closed his eyes, slipping down into the bed to sleep, to forget.

He sat up straight as a sudden pounding invaded his dreams. Groaning at his sleep violation, he rolled over and padded across the carpet to rip the door open. "What?"

Chris smiled at him. "Hey sleepy head, did you get a nice nap?"

JC grunted before stalking back into the room and climbing back onto the bed. The TV was still going he realized and was now tuned into the Real World, he had stopped flipping on MTV.

"I’ll take that as a no." Chris laughed, before pulling out the chair to the desk, turning to face his young friend.

"What can I do for you, Chris? If you’re just here to bug me cause you knew I was sleeping, there’s the door and I’ll see you tomorrow."

"JC… Can’t a friend come to visit another friend?"

"When its you? No."


Chris sighed. "I’m crushed. I really am."

"Chris…"

"Okay… look… here’s the deal…"

"If it’s about tonight, I’m not going."


"JC, you don’t understand…"

"What don’t I understand… you guys are going out with her and I’m not going cause I don’t want to be in the same vicinity with her unless I have to."

"I figured you'd be stubborn."

"What’s that supposed to mean…"

Chris got up and walked over to the door admitting two people, dressed in black, with ski masks and water guns in hand. "These guys are here to convince you otherwise."

"Joe… Lance… I’m not going." JC looked over at the two people.

"Chris, I told you this wouldn’t work." Lance cried, taking the mask off.

"Well… it was better than what you came up with wasn’t it?"

"So…"

"And you gave up to easily."

"I did not, look at him… he won’t go… he wouldn’t go even if he knew that she had been crying on the phone to her parents about how she was a failure."

JC’s face split into a grin. "She went crying home to mom?"

"No, it was hypothetical." Joe told him.

"Oh…damn… thought maybe she’d quit then."

"Not a chance."

Lance continued where he left off. "Plus, he wouldn’t go even if she had said she didn’t want him there, didn’t want to see him at all, and would love it if he didn’t show up because then she could breathe easier, not wanting to see his ugly face and no account talent…."

JC saw red. "She said what?"

"Nothing… she didn’t say anything…RIGHT LANCE…" Chris looked at him sternly.

"Oh…right…" Lance said, looking guilty.

Joe looked at JC. "She didn’t mean it, man…"

"Right…" He gritted his teeth, yanking his bag down out of the closet, grabbing clothes. "When will she be here?"

"Half hour."

"I’ll be ready." He slammed the bathroom door behind him, running the shower. He didn’t stay long to watch as Chris, Lance and Joe’s expressions changed to ear to ear grins.

"The boy is TOO predictable." Joe laughed as they made their way out of his room to their own to get ready.

"I still can’t believe you conned me." He muttered, just loud enough for Chris to hear.

"Man, it was too easy."

"Shut up."

"Well, it was."

"Where is she taking us? We can’t go roller skating."

"Have you ever been?"

"Of course…"

"Well, then enjoy it and wipe that expression off your face. You never know, you might just have a good time."

"Yeah right…" He mumbled, turning back to the window.

Stevie pulled into the parking lot, parking beside a green Jeep Cherokee. "Kacey's here." She laughed, wanting them to meet her. The girl was a total crack up and she could just see them getting along… plus now that she knew exactly what they thought of "her and Kacey", she was going to have fun tonight.

Justin wiggled his eyebrows at her, before opening the door. "What… he decided to come and let us check him out?"

Stevie smirked. "Something like that."

The guys all donned on different kinds of hats to try and keep a low profile, which caused Stevie to laugh out loud, gaining weird looks from the guys. She knew they had nothing to worry about inside, unless….

"Stevie!"

She turned to the right and laughed as a tall dark haired gentleman came barreling towards her, grabbing her in a hug and swinging her around. "We haven't seen you in forever!"

"I know… Kace and I got busy."

"Well that girl needs to start coming around here more. We all miss her company."

"Oh I'm sure…" Stevie laughed again, hugging him once more.

"So…" He looked over at the five young men standing awkwardly in the doorway. "Who have you brought to me now?"

Stevie turned and smiled at them. "Boys…"

Chris leaned over to Joe as they made their way towards her. "Dead I tell ya…"

Stevie smiled broadly, pulling the guy close to her. "I'd like you to meet…"

Justin walked up to him. "Nice to meet you Casey, I'm Justin."

Stevie shook her head no, while the guy began to laugh loudly. "No… no… this isn't Kacey, this is Darren. He owns the rink."

"Oh… well… sorry, it's nice to meet you anyway."

"Likewise." Justin grew uncomfortable as the guy winked at him before turning to the other guys. "And you are…"

"Chris."

"Lance."

"Joe."


"JC."

"Nice to meet you." He turned to Stevie. "She's inside if you were wondering where she was."

"Thanks… you gonna get us some skates or are we going to fend for ourselves?"

"You know where the equipment is… get it yourself, plus its on the house tonight."

"Thanks, Dar… see ya inside later?"

"Oh I wouldn't miss this for the world, doll." He said before looking at Justin and winking again.

She headed over to the booth and climbed over the counter, grabbing herself a pair of skates. "What size are you guys?"

"Come here often, Ivy?" Joe asked, leaning his elbows on the counter.

"Kace and I hang out here a lot. It's a place where we can get away from everything."

"Mmmkay."

She handed them each a pair of skates then climbed back over, hunching down and slipping hers on immediately. "See ya inside, guys." She called over her shoulder and was gone with a stream of hair behind her.

JC couldn't help watching her backside as she left, before shaking himself out of the trance and bending down to put his own skates on.

"Do you get the feeling that she's not telling us everything?"

"Why do you say that, JC?" Justin asked.

"I don't know… it's just… this place… and that guy…"

Justin winced. "I know, he kept winking at me."

"You were imagining things, J." Chris told him as they finally got their skates on and shakily followed where Stevie had went.

"Dude… look at the girls…" Joey cried out as they went, gaining them some really weird looks from some people who they skated past.

Another guy skated by them towards the rink, he looked Lance up and down then whistled before pushing off into the rink, grabbing another guys around the waist as they began to skate together.

Justin and Lance turned and looked at each other, both shaking their heads. "NO way…. She wouldn't dare…"

"Man, I'm thinking a corner for the rest of the night." Lance muttered, pushing away from the group.

Justin grabbed his arm. "No… you can't leave me… you…"

"What J…"

"You have to be my date… they'll hit on us… you know they will…"

"Oh no… why me?"


"Cause you were Ellen, and everyone already thinks it about you and…"

Lance pushed over till he was almost nose to nose with him. "Don't even…"

Justin grabbed both of his arms. "YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME!"

Lance lips began to twitch at the absurdity of the situation. "Okay… okay… you cover my back and I'll…. Nevermind that just sounds wrong in this situation… "

"Thanks, Lance."

While Lance and Justin were arguing and making a pact of never leaving the other, JC made his way over to a bench and sat down. He had to admit this was good. This was a prank worthy of Chris and he had to admire that in her. Taking five straight guys to a gay roller rink was pretty humorous. Now if he could just make himself inconspicuous and not get hit on…

"Do you see her?"

"No."

"I can't believe she ditched us."

"I don't mind, look at the girls…" Joe told Chris as his eyes scanned the crowd.

Chris shot him a dirty look before his eyes found two girls on the other side of the rink talking, one with dark hair pulled up in a ponytail and one with blonde hair that fell to her shoulders. "I see her."

"Okay… is she with Casey?"

"Nah, she's with a girl… I'm gonna go say Hi."

"Okay… I'm coming with you."

They made their way through the throng of people and skated right up behind her. Joe wrapped his arms around her waist spinning her around till she laughed and said to put her down. "Girl, you ditched us!"

"Ah, Chris… I just wanted to let you guys get a feel for the place without me."

"Oh gee, thanks."

"What do you think?"

Joe looked around. "I think I'm in heaven."

"Only if you can find someone who swings both ways." The blonde next to Stevie said.

"I don't believe we've met." Joe said, taking her hand in his and bringing it up to his lips.

"No we haven't." She said. "I'm Kacey."

"You can't be Kacey…. Kacey's a guy!" Chris told her.

"Nope, Stevie and I have been best friends since grade school. I'm her Kacey."

"But we thought you two were… uh…"

"Going out?" Kacey smiled widely, wrapping an arm around Stevie's shoulders. "And why couldn't we still…"

Joe and Chris' eyes widened even more then they already were. "Uh…cause…Ummmm are you?"

Kacey winked at them. "Guess you'll never know will you…"

Joe's mouth dropped open. "But… that's just… " He looked between Stevie and Kacey. "What a waste…"

The girls looked at one another and laughed. "Oh Joe… you never disappoint me." Stevie cried out, linking her arm through his and pulling him out to skate. "Come on… I want to see your moves."

Chris leaned back against the side, standing next to Kacey. "You're not together."

She shook her head. "Nope, but we're so close, a lot of people assume, so we usually just let people think what they want."

"Feed the stupidity."

"Exactly."

"So…"

"What…"

"Is she usually like this?"

"Funky… random… off the wall…"

"Yeah…"

Kacey smiled before shoving off the side. "Of course… she wouldn't be Stevie without it."

Chris watched her skate up next to Joe and Stevie with a huge smile on her face as she skated between the two, linking arms with them. He watched them with a smile before moving to join them.

JC leaned back against the bench watching his friends skate. Lance and Justin hadn't separated an inch from the other since they had figured out where Stevie had taken them and Chris and Joe, he noticed were having a blast on the rink, racing, dancing, and falling on their butts as Stevie and her blonde friend looked on and laughed.

He looked down at his hands and sighed. He was having a hard time keeping his anger towards her flared up. There just wasn't anything mean about her. She was genuine and that's what frustrated him the most. He really wanted to despise her and think that she was as bad as he wanted her to be but everything kept telling him differently… and now what he'd done to her in the studio.

He swallowed hard, knowing that what he was tasting was guilt, something he wasn't used to feeling at all.

He knew he should say something… maybe try and get along… not the fake kind he had been doing but maybe actually start showing her who he really was instead of the…

"JC…. Help…" Justin skated over, interrupting JC's thoughts.

"What?"

"That guy was…" Justin shuddered.

"What did the guy do, J?"

"He touched my…" Justin cut off his words and pointed to his butt.

"Huh?" JC turned and looked at him fully.

"I was standing in line at the snack bar and this guy came up behind me and grabbed me. Said something about how he's always wanted to touch a pop star's…well you know…"

JC laughed. He couldn't help it. The entire situation was just too much for him. He laughed so hard that he feel backwards off the bench, his skates standing straight up in the air.

"I'm glad you find this so funny, JC. Cause I don't…"

"Well what'd ya expect?"

"I don't know but not this! Where's Lance? He's supposed to be my cover!"

JC looked around and found him sitting down nest to a few girls, talking. All of a sudden Lance's face turned bright red as he began to sputter and he slowly got up, leaving the table of now laughing girls and made his way over to his friends.

"Got shot down?" JC choked out between fits of laughter.

"Shut it."

"Well what did you expect… I mean look where we are and…"

"JC, shut it!" Lance growled before grabbing Justin's arm. "We're skating. I'm sick of sitting around and doing nothing."

"Ummmm okay… Jace come with us."

JC shrugged, his eyes going to where Stevie and the rest of his friends were, before nodding slowly and getting to his feet. "Okay, why not. I haven't skated all night."

They made their way out on the floor and at first JC was a little shaky, having not skated since he was little but as he got into the music and relaxed, making his way around the rink a few times, he slowly got the hang of it.

"Not bad, stuffy boy." He heard her say behind him, causing his back to instantly stiffen and to lose his balance. His feet skidded out from under him and he landed hard on his butt and sliding a few feet before he stopped, groaning and swearing under his breath.

She stopped beside him and hunched down. "You okay?"

"Fine." He growled.

"Need a hand?" She asked, ignoring his curt response. She was having too good a time to let him ruin it.

He put a hand underneath him to help push up, but the wheels wouldn't stay and he kept sliding back down. He looked at her hand, before sighing and placing his in hers.

She pulled him up, grabbing his other one when his feet began to slide out from under him again. "Maybe you should stick to the side till your comfortable."

"I was fine till you talked to me."

"Oh so now its my voice that caused your feet to go every which way? I don't think so."

"No, its just you in particular."

"Well next time I'll be sure to leave you on the ground so that everyone can run right over you."

"Hey girl, is this guy giving you problems?" Kacey asked, skating up behind her, resting a hand on her back for balance, although it looked too comfortable in JC's opinion.

"Nah, I'm fine. Kace, I want you to meet JC. This is the last member of NSYNC that you haven't met."

"Oh…" Kacey turned to him, eyes narrowed. "You're the one that…"

"Kace!" Stevie interrupted. "It's fine."

"But he…"

"KACE!"

"Fine…" She glared at him, before taking off around the two of them, away before she could say anything.

"Don't mind her." Stevie told him.

"What did she mean by I'm the one that…"

"She didn't mean anything…"

"Okay…."

"Just forget it…."

"I said okay…"

"Great…"

His eyes narrowed. "What's your problem?"

"Mine?" Her eyes widened. "I don't have a problem… you do!"

"No… you do."

She threw her hands in the air. "Buddy… you are so the one that has the problem."

He stuck a finger in her face. "If I had a problem, which I don't, it would be because of your attitude and know it all behavior and how… ugh."

He hit the ground hard again, just in time to see Kacey smile and wave as she skated by. "Whoops, didn't mean to trip you there…" She called out sweetly.

He glared at her before looking up at Stevie who was watching her best friend. He felt really vindictive at that point and shot a skate out between hers to make her fall as well, except it backfired on him and she ended up landing right on him.

"Ouch." They both groaned.

"Get off me."

"Well don't trip me!"

"I didn't… or I wouldn't have… if your friend hadn't tripped me first."

"SO trip her!"

"Steve, you okay?"

"Fine, Kace."

"Here let me help you up…"

"Thanks."

"Later, Stuffy Boy." Kacey smiled, wiggling her fingers goodbye as she latched onto Stevie and dragged her away.

"Girl… stay away from him… he's trouble…."

"I know, but…"

"But you feel sorry for him, think he's cute and want to get to know him better…"

Stevie shook her head. "How you know me so well is honestly terrifying sometimes."

"I know, it's a gift."

JC watched them from his position on the floor and pushed himself up, holding onto the wall.

"Oh did poor Jacey Wacey fall down and go boom?"

"I don't want to hear it Chris."

"Sorry…just commenting."

"Well don't…"

"Okay, later." He called out, moving past him.

"Great… everyone here is doing better than me."

"Need some help?"

JC looked over and saw a tall blonde built guy standing beside him, holding out a hand. "Ummmm…. I think I can manage."

"Are you sure?" The guy grinned, leaning closer.

"Very…" JC managed to get out, his face flaming up. "I think I'll…"

"If you're not interested, just say so."

"I'm…. not interested."

"Too bad. You… have… one…nice…"

"I'm straight. Thanks anyway." JC cut him off quickly, moving away from him as he got his bearings and managed to stay upright again as he moved around the rink."

He caught up quickly to Lance and Justin who were arguing as they skated. " We are the ONLY straight people in here."

"No, there's gotta be one girl…" Lance told him.

"NO, well Stevie but…"

"Are you sure…"

"Well no cause…"

"She's straight." JC told them.

"How do you know?" Justin asked him, grabbing Lance's arm just as he was about to go down but managed to stay upright.

"She just is…"

"I don't know, her and Kace…"

"Are just friends."

"JC, I don't know either…" Lance said.

"They are, just look at all the other couples then watch the two of them."

Justin eyed the older man. "And what were you doing watching the two of them?"

JC flushed. "Nothing." He quickly shot ahead before either of them could say anything else.

He finally got the hang of it and allowed himself to relax. They were playing dance music over the speakers and he had to shake his head at what was playing. Macho Man should have been taken out of the disc player a long time ago.

"I finally have you alone…" He heard beside him.

Jumping a foot in the air, he swiveled his head to the side and almost fell again at the sudden movement. "JOEY!"

He laughed. "Sorry, Jace, couldn’t help myself after watching that guy hit on you."

"Shut up."

"Having fun?"

"Actually… yes… I haven’t been roller skating in ages and…"

Joe nodded. "Yeah, I feel the same way… it’s like going back to when we were kids and getting to goof off again. She picked a good spot."

"Yeah, I’ve got to hand it to her, she did, even if it isn’t you conventional place." He said, his eyes drawn to where she was standing to the side talking with Kacey, Justin and Lance. "What do you think of the girl?"

"The girl? Oh Kacey?"

"Yeah… she’s… interesting, very protective, doesn’t want to see Stevie get hurt."

"I noticed."

"Oh yeah I saw that too. Nice fall."

"Shut up Joe."

"Feeling any less antagonistic to Stevie now?"

Chris skated by quickly, singing along with the music. "Macho Macho Man…."

"That’s one ugly picture right there." Joe laughed at Chris, his attention distracted from JC’s answer..

JC shook his head with a grin. "He is so not macho with that voice." Yeah, maybe I am a little…His eyes going towards her again.

"No kidding, where’s Lance when you need him."

"Guys…." They heard Stevie call out.

"Yeah Ivy?" Joe yelled back.

"We’re heading out."

"Okay…."

They checked their skates in and Darren hugged and kissed each one, including the guys goodbye. "Come back soon." He told them before going and checking on the next customer.

"So did you guys have fun?" Stevie asked, pulling out, Kacey following her home.

"Yeah… all except for that whole hitting on me thing…" Justin grumbled.

Stevie looked over at him before switching lanes. "I told you… paybacks."

Justin’s eyes widened. "Just because I…"

She nodded. "Next time, don’t mess with the master." She grinned at him then winked.

"What exactly did you do to her earlier, J?" Lance asked, leaning forward.

"Nothing…"

Stevie coughed. "Bull…"

"Okay, so maybe I took her up to the top of the building and acted like I would throw her off the top if she didn’t get down and pledge her undying devotion to the king, the almighty, Justin Timberlake."

Everyone in the car snorted. "No, really…" Joe asked.

"Ummmm, I dragged my feet down the entire hallway and shocked her several times until she yelled uncle."

Stevie leaned over and smacked him in the arm. "And that’s what you get for doing that… you’ll never win. Kacey still hasn’t and she continually tries."

"Yeah well…. Just wait…"

"I’m shaking in my boots, Jellybean."

"Hey…" Joe leaned forward.

"Yes Pop."

"What?"

"Nothing…"

"How did you…"

"You’re too predictable Joe."

"You knew I was going to…"

"Yup and it’s Pop. Lance is Snap, Chris is Crackle and you’re Pop. Snap, Crackle and Pop."

"Ivy…."

"Yes, Joe."

"Quick…read my mind again…"

"No, that’s disgusting."

"I knew it! You can read minds."

"Nope… just know you too well."

"Oh."

They pulled up in front of the hotel and everyone piled out, but JC dragged behind as Stevie closed the passenger door before walking back around towards the driver side door.

"Hey…. Stevie…"

She turned around and rolled her eyes. "Yes… what do you want Stuffy Boy…"

He gritted his teeth, knowing that she was just trying to get to him and that it was working. "I uh…"

She held up a hand. "No more apologies. I got it. Why say them when you don’t mean them?"

"Cause…"

"I’m through, Josh. No more nice person…"

"But…"

"NO. You want to play hardball, you’ve got it." She looked down her nose at him, before yanking the door open and climbing in.

"But…"

"Bye Josh…" She slammed the door, leaving him standing there with his mouth wide open as she tore out of the parking lot, Kacey waving at him smugly as she followed.

"I just wanted to say thanks… I had a really good time for a change…" He sighed, before stuffing his hands into his pockets, head bent as he followed the rest of the guys inside since they had to get up early in the morning the next day.

Chapter 7

He rolled over, blinking as the white light penetrated through the blinds waking him up from his deep sleep. He didn't look over at the clock or notice the time. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he ran a hand through his brown hair before pushing himself up off the bed and heading to the bathroom to shower and get ready for the day.

Standing underneath the warm spray in the shower, he lifted his face and smiled. He couldn't remember when he had last had so much as he had the night before. Granted, being hit on by a guy hadn't been high on the list but it had been different. Another thing he had fun watching was Justin and Lance trying to not look conspicuous and hide behind one another. Those two… He shook his head and ducked out of the shower, running the towel up and down the length of his body as he dried off. He quickly ran it over his head a few times as well before wrapping it around his waist and walking over to the mirror.

He swiped a bunch of shaving cream on his jaw, before picking up the razor and holding it to his cheeks as he gently scraped the area in his cheeks and around his chin, leaving his goatee and small mustache. He rinsed his face, patting it dry and stared at his reflection. The fans were having a mixed reaction to his facial hair, some thought it was sexy, others hated it. He didn't care; it was different. He knew he was in a rut and this was something to do.

He stuck his toothbrush in, swishing it around as he padded into his room in search of clothing. He pulled a pair of pants out of his duffel and a clean shirt and turned to go back to the bathroom to spit when his gaze landed on the clock. The face read noon and as the toothbrush fell out of his mouth and landed on the floor, he was already in the bathroom racing to finish and get over to the studio, he was already four hours late.

Once again, JC had slept through his wake up call.

***********************************************************************

"Try it again, Joey. Justin, sing yours with him. I think we've got it and then we're done and we can move on to harmonies."

"Stevie… I don't know about this…" Chris started from his spot on the couch.

She turned and glared at him. "Look, Kirkpatrick, I'm really not in the mood right now. We're behind schedule and if things need to be changed to meet schedule, I'll do it."

He held up his hands at the fire in her eyes. She had been snippy all morning and he didn't want to do anything to start another fight with her. She had already kicked Lance out of the studio for making comments underneath his breath and he had yet to return from what she had termed his "time-out till he could behave himself". "Okay…. Do what you want…"

"Start from the top…"

"I'm staring at your picture every night

The scent of you still linger in my mind

I wonder if you're lonely, feel alright

And the sun has come out of the clouds

And sometimes when I listen to our song

The night seems so cold and far too long

I wanna call you up cause in the end

I keep writing letters to my garbage can

Lately, feels like I'm going crazy

And baby, come and lay down beside me…"

He stopped in the doorway and stared as his music poured through the speakers and his words, his music…. It wasn't him singing it.

He shook his head, trying to clear it and kept telling himself he was dreaming. This wasn't happening. Not to him… she wouldn't have done that. Would she?

Chris looked up when he heard someone choking and coughed himself when he saw JC standing there. His eyes looked like they were going to fall out of his head when he saw Joey and Justin in the booth together.

JC looked over at him and Chris flinched at the naked frustration and anger that was permeating from him.

"Hey Jace…."

Stevie whirled around in her chair to face him when she heard Chris' softly uttered words. "So glad you could provide us with your presence. Where the hell have you been?"

Chris sucked in a breath as he saw JC's back go rigid with anger at her challenge. "I slept through my wake up call."

"Well because you were late we couldn't continue work so Joey will be singing lead on this song." She nodded to him before turning back to the guys in the booth as they finished up.

"Somewhere, in the back of my mind

I know that you will be mine

Somehow, wish I could rewind

And leave all the worries behind

If I'm not the one you want

I'll be the one you need

Take the time to figure out

I'll be the one you need"

JC's mouth dropped open in shock. Joey was singing his song. HIS SONG!

Chris looked between the two and tried to disappear into the couch. He knew that there was going to be a blow up and he didn't really want to watch but, then again, maybe they needed it. There was too much tension in the room and he didn't know what to do. "I think I'm going to… uh… go find Lance." He muttered before standing finally and high stepping it out the door as fast as he could, brushing past JC who still stood in the doorway, staring at Stevie.

"If I'm not the one you want

I'll be the one you need

Take the time to figure out

I'll be the one you need

I'll be the one you need"

~If I'm Not The One, NSYNC~

As soon as the last note receded into the air, Stevie flicked the mic. "Good take. But…"

Justin groaned. "Again?"

"Just once and then we'll get lunch. I promise."

"You promised us lunch a half hour ago."

"I know, Jellybean. We'll get it done right this time."

"Okay…. But if we don't…"

"We'll still get lunch."

"Okay, I think we can do it once more. Right, Joe?"

Joe nodded, rolling his shoulders, before leaning back to stretch his back before sitting back on the stool then winking at Stevie. "Let's do it."

"Thanks Pop…. I knew I could count on you."

She ran the music threw their headphones and listened as their voices filled the mics. She had forgotten JC was still standing before her and jumped a foot into the air when he spoke quietly, his temper held back tightly.

"What is going on here?"

She swiveled the chair around to face him. "What is going on here 'Mister Ego who thinks he's God' is what happens when you can't cut it. You messed up all day yesterday, couldn't hack the solo, then you were late today, by four hours…we didn't get anything done till about an hour ago so you lose, buddy. Joe now has the solo."

"That’s not the way it works…"

"It is in this studio." She said standing up.

"I'll go over your head." He snarled, marching up to stare her straight in the eye.

She pushed him away from her. "Go for it and see how far you get."

"Maybe I will…"

"And then I'll take it to the same person and tell them exactly how you're acting like every other temperamental artist out there who is whining because he's not getting what he considers his fair share of leads and they'll laugh because they'll know you get more than your fair share already. So try it! I dare you."

"You can't…"

"I already have, Josh." She gave him a scathing look before running a hand through her hair and turning back to Justin and Joe, listening as they finished up again.

"You are not taking away my solos." He growled behind her, his entire body shaking as he tried to keep his voice in control and to keep from yelling.

She looked over her shoulder at him before shaking her head. "Like I said… I already have and it's done. You can argue till your blue in the face and it's not going to change things. I have and you won't be singing lead on If I'm Not The One any longer. Things change, get over it."

He snarled an expletive, reaching over and grabbed a chair, tossing it across the floor.

Her eyes widened as she turned back around, Joe and Justin glancing through the glass at him as the sound had penetrated the booth.

"Was that necessary?" Stevie asked him calmly but shakily.

"Yes."

"Fine, now that you feel better, go get Chris and Lance so we can figure out lunch then start work on the harmonies." She told him, dismissing him as she would any gopher.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, they're probably out in the hall waiting for us to stop fighting so…" She waved a hand towards him, motioning to the door before waving Joe and Justin out of the booth.

He imagined his hands wrapping around her thin neck and squeezing all the life out of her body. He would gladly stand there and laugh as she fell to the floor in pain. He could see her eyes rolling back into her head as all the blood drained from her face giving her a white pasty color and…

"Josh?"

He shook himself out of his daze, his body still shaking.

"Could you?" She motioned to the door.

He glared at her before turning and stalking from the room, slamming the door behind him.

"Is it safe to come out yet?" Justin asked peeking out of the booth.

"Yeah…." She sighed, running a hand over her face.

"Look Stevie… maybe we should…"

"No, Joe, you're singing and that's final."

"But…"

She stood up, stretching her arms above her head, returning all feeling back to them. "I'm not arguing about this, especially now."

"Okay, but still…"

"JOE!"

"Sorry…"

"Listen, Stevie, he's right though…. Jace should sing and…"

"Jellybean, if I have to repeat myself one more time, I'm going to snap. I haven' t had my coffee yet today, I'm hungry and I'm about this close to snapping and the next person who manages to make me mad will be the recipient of it. Got it?"

They both nodded, unable to say another word to the girl that was near the edge of losing her own temper.

Chris and Lance came in shortly thereafter with JC on their heels.

"Am I allowed back in?" Lance asked, walking over to where she stood, bending down so that he was eye level with her, giving her his best rendition of the puppy dog eyes.

She eyed him closely. "Ready to work…"

"Only if you feed me…"

She groaned just as her stomach growled. "I think I can handle that."

Chris walked over to the drawers of the desk that was near the far wall and pulled out some take out food menus. "What do we want… we've got sub sandwiches, burritos, pizza, burgers, chinese…."

"Chinese…" JC and Stevie both said at the same time.

"Ummmm…." Chris raised an eyebrow at the two of them.

"Nevermind…." JC said, "sandwiches sound fine." He turned and walked over to the couch and sat down.

"No, I want burritos." Stevie said, flopping back into her chair, arms crossed over her chest as she glared at the spot JC had been standing in.

Justin, Chris and Lance all looked at each other and shrugged. "I'm kinda partial to Chinese myself." Lance said. "Spring rolls, yum."

Chris and Justin both nodded, then Chris tossed JC the menu. "Order whatever, you know the stuff best."

He rolled his eyes. "And how did I get elected?"

"You were late?" Lance shrugged before walking over to the couch and folding his body onto it, just as JC stood to leave.

"Wasn't I already punished enough?" He eyed him as he stared down at the stretched out body of his friend.

Lance looked up from his position, eyes wide. "I don't want to hear it. She gave me a time out in her office!" He looked over, pointing at her. "And by the way… why is that bottom drawer locked?"

"Because then it keeps sneaky people like you out."

"Oh…"

Justin's teeth gleamed as he smiled broadly. "I…uh….I'll be back." He ran out the door, and they could hear him giggling and talking to himself, although they couldn't hear the words.

"What is he up to?" Joe asked.

Stevie shook her head. "We don't want to know."

"True."

JC stared down at the menu, envisioning Stevie's demise yet again but was snapped out of it by someone's fingers snapping. "Food…. Go get food…" Chris told him.

"Fine…I'm going…." He left the room, slamming the door yet again, heading down the hall to the office that held the only phone on the floor. He could see Justin ahead of him waiting for the elevator, bouncing on the balls of his feet, grinning, but shook his head dismissing the kid. He really didn't want to know.

"Oh Josh?"

"Yes…" He rolled his eyes as he turned around.

"Nothing with mushrooms please."

"Fine…any reason why?"

She shook her head. "Ummm, no… just… yeah."

"All right, your highness." He said sarcastically before walking back down the hall.

"No mushrooms… Joey has the solo now… Josh bend over will ya and take it up the as…" He pushed the door open so hard as he muttered under his breath that it bounced off the wall.

He dialed the number of the place and waited as he was put on hold, glancing over the dishes and figuring out what to order. "Yes…I'd like to order…. Uh huh… oh and could we get extra diced mushrooms in that, please. Thanks."

He hung up grinning. He slapped the menu against his leg before walking outside to his Jeep. "Doesn't like mushrooms… everyone needs a healthy dose of protein in their diet. She just won't know it till the end, when I tell her." He laughed loudly as he started the jeep.

Justin peeked his head into her office and grinned. "Oh this is too good. She's going to kill me, but she won't be able to top it." He waltzed in and perused the place. "The chair…. Oh and definitely the desk…" He muttered, reaching out to move the chair back so that he could get to the desk.

He brushed his hands against his pants as he stared at his handy work. "You are good, Timberlake." He laughed softly. For the last final touch, he pushed her desk chair back into place and ended up bumping his knee against the corner. "OUCH!"

He rubbed the abused portion of his body, glancing down at it. He yanked up his pant leg, muttering about how it was going to bruise before letting it slide back down to rest above his sneakers. He looked over at the bottom drawer that he was almost eye level with and remembered Lance mentioning that it was locked. He yanked on the handle, trying to get it to budge but it wouldn’t.

"There has to be a key around here." He yanked open every drawer looking for anything that resembled a small key. Finding nothing, he dug through the top drawer underneath her keyboard before jumping a foot into the air as the phone rang. He glanced around the room, before tentatively reaching for it, bringing it up to his ear.

"Hello?"

"Justin… get your butt down and quit rearranging my office. Lunch is here." Stevie laughed into the phone.

"How…" He stuttered.

"Nevermind that… oh and you won’t find the key… it's on my key ring." She told him before hanging up the phone.

He stared at the receiver, his mouth hanging out as he gently put the handle back down onto the phone. He shook his head, still in shock as he stood up to leave. He walked out the door and down the hall before stopped, shaking himself out of his stupor. "That was SO not fair!" He said aloud before going to the elevator.

He arrived down at the studio and found bags and plates filled with different kinds of Chinese food. Everyone was seated on various forms of seating creations from couches to chairs to the floor. He grabbed a styrofoam plate and began dishing up noodles, spring rolls, and chow mein. He plopped down beside the chair Stevie was sitting and started to shovel the food into his mouth. "How did you know?" He asked in between bites.

She smiled down at him. "I'm not stupid, Jellybean."

"But still…."

"It doesn't take a creative genius to know you were in my office, but as to what you did… guess I'll find out soon enough."

He eyed her. "So you still don't know what I did…"

She smiled. "That's for me to know and you to find out…"

He groaned. "I'm never going to pull one over on you am I?"

She shrugged. "Maybe….maybe not…" She grinned. "We'll see won't we…"

He smirked at her. "You're handing me a challenge you know…."

"I know…"

She finished up the last bite, grabbing her plate to toss into the garbage can. Wandering over to the soundboard, she raised a hand to stomach as it began to roll, as she started to feel a little queasy. She reached over, steadying herself against the chair, blinking a few times.

Joey looked up with his mouth full, a frown creasing his forehead as he watched her try and keep upright. "You okay, Ivy?"

She looked over at him with a half grin. "Yeah, fine… just got a little dizzy there for a sec."

"You sure?"

She nodded. "Fine, fine… no worries." She pulled the chair out and sat down, looking over the music and her plans for the rest of the day as the rest of the guys finished up eating. As soon as she heard the fifth plate get dumped into the garbage can, she looked over. "Ready?"

They all nodded and trudged into the booth, each grabbing a set of headphones and mic as they situated themselves. "Let's take it from the top." She said into her own mic before cueing the music.

As they began to sing, she tuned them out, rubbing her stomach absentmindedly. She couldn't figure out what was wrong, just that she was starting to feel extremely nauseous and sick. "Guess lunch didn't sit very well…" She said softly, before trying to concentrate on their voices.

JC watched her from inside the booth, his own face and hands starting to feel clammy in response to the paleness of her cheeks. She didn't look good at all and now he felt guilty for putting the mushrooms in. Who knew that she would react this way?

Stevie absently began to rub the back of her neck that had begun to itch, not giving it a single thought. "Guys…. Stop…. Try it this way…" She instructed them, asking for a more rounded sound through the chorus, while blending the richness of their voices through the harmonies.

She stood up to go and switch tapes and almost fell flat on her face as another wave of dizziness ran over her. She brushed her hair out of her face, smiling at the guys as they all wore similar expressions of concern. "I'm okay….just uh…tripped over the chair here."

"Stevie… you sure… you don't look too good." Chris told her through the microphone.

"Fine…fine…" She said absently, making her way over and switching tapes. She went back to her chair, pulling it out and missed it completely. She looked at it confused before sitting in it and pulling herself up to the board. She reached out to move a bar up and looked down at her arm that had red lines and spots moving down it.

"What in the world…." She frowned, before her stomach flipped over completely and she covered her mouth quickly before diving for the garbage can nearest to her.

"Stevie…" Justin asked loudly over her retching. "Do you need…."

She waved a hand in the air as she looked up completely white faced except for spots that were now starting to appear on her face. "I'm fine." She said weakly.

"No, you're not." Chris said, opening the door and moving closer to her. "You have hives."

"No, I don't. I can't."

"Why not?" Joe asked her, coming out behind Chris as he helped her into her chair, placing her head between her knees.

"Because, I only get this way with mushrooms and I didn't eat any…. So I don't….know what it could be…." She said, before pushing Chris aside and grabbing the garbage can again.

Lance and Justin looked at JC in the booth, who was trying to shrink back into the wall and disappear. "Jace…" Lance asked him.

"What?" He said defensively.

"Tell us you didn't." Justin said just as softly so that the ones outside the booth couldn't hear them.

"I didn't."

"How could you!"

"I…I don't know. I just didn't think she liked them." He heard her retching again and flinched.

"Dude, you are going to tell her." Justin said.

"Like hell." He told them.

Chris poked his head in. "I think I'm going to take her to the hospital. We don't know what's wrong and she doesn't look good."

Lance poked JC. "Tell him, so they can help her."

JC shook his head no. There was no way he'd admit to doing what he had.

"What'd ya do?" Chris narrowed his eyes at him, warning the young man of retribution.

"Nothing."

"He ordered mushrooms." Lance said, staring at JC, challenging him to deny it.

"You did what?" Chris asked him.

"NOTHING!"

"Have you seen her?"

"No."

"Go out there and look at her, then congratulate yourself for finally topping anything she could do or say to you." Chris said disgustedly before turning on his heel and going out to get his stuff to drive her to the doctor.

JC looked at Justin and Lance before slouching on his seat, fully ashamed of what he had done. But how was I supposed to know…

Justin shook his head before leaving, not saying a word.

"Go apologize." Lance said quietly before leaving the small booth after Justin.

JC sat there, staring at his hands that held the headphones in them. His own stomach rolled every time hers did in sympathy until he himself was feeling sick and nauseous. He didn't want to get up and got to her, but his body had a mind of its own and before he could stop himself, he was standing at the doorway between the two rooms and saw her all curled up on the couch. Joey was sitting next to her, waiting for Chris to get back so that they could take her to the hospital.

He looked over at JC. Justin and Lance had already left; planning on meeting up with them later when they heard what was going on and of she'd be all right. Both had insane fears of the hospital and usually preferred to be anywhere but there and could be found at one or the other's house, patiently waiting by the phone for news. "She's gone…"

"What do you mean gone?" JC panicked, thinking he'd killed her.

"She's out cold. Passed out. Chris went to pull his car up to the side and then I'm going to carry her out there. Want to come?" He shot him a nasty look, Justin and Lance explaining what had happened.

"How was I supposed to know?" He shot out. "It was supposed to be a harmless prank!" He met Joey’s eyes and flinched in response. "Okay, so it wasn’t the best move of the year… she said she didn’t like them… I didn’t know she was allergic…"

Joey just shook his head. "I don’t even want to know what put it into your head to do this but…"

JC sighed before finally working up the courage to look down and blanched. Her face was almost as white as the shirt she was wearing, except for the red splotches that had begun to appear on her face and neck. "Hives?"

Joe nodded, before picking her up just as Chris walked in, keys spinning on his finger. "Yeah, she’ll be okay, just a bad reaction. We hope."

"Do you…"

"I think you’ve done enough, Jace." Chris said, before turning on his heel to show Joe where he had parked the car.

JC watched them walk out before falling down on the couch, sprawled. He felt horrible. How could he have known? But then again… why would she tell him that she gets violently ill when she eats mushrooms anyway. Probably thought he’d do this exact same thing to get her out of the studio.

He stood up and began to pace, kicking aside chairs in frustration every now and again as he tried to work through his thoughts. He had to do something. This was his fault. Although…. He couldn’t apologize cause then she’d know that he had been the one but then again he had ordered it and…

"ARGH!" He yelled out in frustration, running his fingers through his hair.

"Problems?"

He whirled around and saw Janet standing in the doorway, holding a folder. "No, why would there be?"

She looked around the studio exaggeratedly. "Cause this place is empty and I thought you guys were scheduled to record today?"

"Ummmm…. We were…. But…"

"But what?"

"Nothing." He sighed, falling into the nearest chair.

"What’s wrong?"

"Nothing…. Everything…"

"Come on, kid. Talk to me." She pulled up a chair beside him. She waved the folder in her hand at him. "Oh and before I forget, here’s the music you brought up to me, was it last week?"

He nodded.

"Right… I was going to get in touch with you but I got busy and this was the first chance I’ve had to sit down and look at it."

"Its fine…" He sighed. "I had actually forgotten all about it to be honest."

"It’s good. I think you should put Could It Be You on the album."

"Really?" He perked up. "I don’t know."

"Stevie will love it."

His face paled as he remembered what he had done, all the things he had said and… "I don’t think she’ll want anything that has to do with me on the album or… yeah…."

"Why?"

"Don’t ask."

"If you want, I’ll talk to her… I mean I know she’s pretty straightforward and she’ll do what’s best for the album but… if you’re having problems with her, we can find someone else, Josh. I trust your judgment."

The opening he had wanted. The opening to get Stevie off the project and away from him. And he was going to turn it down. "Things are fine, Janet. She just gave everyone a break for the day and we’re going to finish up the track either Monday or Tuesday, I think. Today is Friday, isn’t it?" He looked up confused from where he was staring at his hands splayed on his knees.

She nodded. "You technicians and musicians… get you in a studio and forget what day it is. Yup, it’s Friday. Have a good weekend if Stevie gave you the time off. See ya Monday, kid." She stood up and started to walk away, before turning back around. "Are you sure you’re okay?"

"Fine, see ya later Janet."

She smiled and waved before starting down the corridor.

JC stood up and walked over to the board. Stevie wouldn’t be back until Monday, giving him free reign all weekend. He had to do something… something to make it up to her. No one deserved what he had done. Not even his worst enemy.

He pulled out the tape that he had sang on earlier and plugged it in with all the other takes that they had done that day and previously. He was going to have this single ready by Monday if it killed him.

************************************************************************

Stevie batted away Joey’s hands. "I’m fine." She snarled, feeling very run down and all she wanted to do was go home.

"Let me help you."

"I said…. I’m fine."

"You were unconscious not even three hours ago. You’re face still looks like you had a run in with a hoard of bees and you can’t walk straight. Admit it… you need help." Chris told her, practically yanking her into the wheelchair.

She growled at him before finally resting in the seat. "I don't want to be here."

"You're going home." Joe told her, stepping up behind the chair to wheel her out to the car.

"Has anyone ever told you that you're a horrible patient?"

She looked at Chris. "Now, why would you ask that…"

"No reason."

She smirked. "Okay… okay… I can take a hint. I'll be good."

"Good, we called Kacey and she went to get your car at the studio so we'll drop you off at home."

"Thanks, Joe. You guys are great. I don't know how this could have happened. They must've accidentally slipped them in despite Josh asking them not to, but that's okay. No harm done."

Joe and Chris looked at each other over her head and wisely kept their mouths shut.

"Cause he wouldn't have done that…. Would he?" She looked up. Both shook their heads no and she leaned back with a sigh. "I didn't think he was that bad really… he

s just…moody…. And I bring out the worst in him…."

"Stevie?" Chris looked at her.

"And I really don't know what to do…" She continued on like she hadn't heard him. "I want to get along, really, I do, but… I don't think it will ever happen so I've resigned myself."

"To what?"

"To that we'll never be friends." She said sadly.

"You don't know that…"

She nodded. "Yes I do. It's a shame really cause…. Well, nothing. I'm not going to push anymore."

"Maybe you shouldn't jump to conclusions…." Chris said, looking at Joe wide-eyed.

"NO. Josh and I will never get along and that's the way it'll be… We can't be in the same room without fighting or sniping at one another so…"

"What?"

"We won't be friends and I'm not even going to try anymore. He's not worth it. All he is, is a halfway decent musician with a huge chip on his shoulder and an ego to match. I don't need people like that in my life nor do I want them. He's on his own and he's only allowed in the studio when I need him or he's singing. That's it. I can't work like that…."

"Did some thinking?"

"I had plenty of time to think while that doctor was prodding and poking at me."

"I don't know about this, Stevie." Chris said, opening the car door for her as Joe lifted her in.

"Too bad, it's my decision."

"He might just surprise you, you know." Joe said, thinking about the way JC had looked when they left.

"Nothing surprises me. Home James." She smiled, settling back into the chair as Chris started the car.

************************************************************************

The third time that his forehead hit the board, he decided to call it quits. It was almost four in the morning and he still wasn't close to finishing the track. He'd have to see about getting the room for the next afternoon and come in and finish up. He had been hoping to get it done but there was still so much work to do and…. He didn't want to admit that maybe he should call the guys and see about getting one last track laid down before he did what he was going to do so that he could get it perfect but… he didn't want their help. He had to do this on his own.

Maybe he didn't have to go home… he could rest and then start work when he woke up. One last time…. Then sleep.

He ran the track through one more time, hoping that he could catch what he was missing. He couldn't figure out what it was lacking, something was niggling at the corner of his mind. What….

He flicked a bar here and a switch there absently, trying to understand what Stevie had done to the music to get the sound and quality. He couldn't reproduce but to make it up to her, he had to. He had to do this, if he died trying….

He looked down at his watch, rubbing his chin and cheeks with the palm of one hand, as he flipped through more switches before listening then changing something else. It was five in the morning. Everyone was asleep except him. Even the building he was in was empty as everyone had gone home for the weekend and wouldn't be back till Monday morning.

He sighed, as his eyelids closed one last time and the only thought that ran through his head at that point was of perfection for her. He owed her. His head hit the sound board one last time and didn't lift again as he was in a deep sleep.

Chapter 8

Stevie pulled up in front of her parent’s two story, split-level house. It was a muted cream with brown trim on the shutters, nothing fancy, looked like any home on the block with their mowed lawn and shrubs and flowers in the flower beds surrounding the house. That was until you stepped inside.

She turned off the ignition, absently pushing Buttercup’s nose out of her face as she reached down for her purse. "Ready for dinner, girl?" She asked, smiling slightly at the dog.

"When isn’t she?" Kacey asked as she opened the door to the Toyota Four-runner and stepped out. "That dog eats more than you and I combined."

"She does not."

Kacey turned and watched as the dog jumped out of the back door that she had just opened onto the sidewalk and grinned when her stomach waved back and forth as she jogged towards the front door. "Right."

"Oh just…"

Kacey laughed. "Come on Stevie, you can do better than that."

"Shut it."

"Now you’re starting to sound like those boys of yours."

"Well… at least they sound good."

"What are you talking about?" She asked as they followed Buttercup up the walkway.

"Their voices, absolutely amazing."

Kacey sighed. "I guess…"

"Until you hear them, no comments from the peanut gallery."

"Yes, mother." Kacey grinned, tongue in cheek.

"Lord…. How long am I going to have to put up with this?" Stevie asked, looking up towards the sky.

"Till you die, girl." She told her, pushing her almost into the door just as it opened.

"STEPHANIE!" An older woman, with white hair and sparkling blue eyes that matched her granddaughter’s, stepped through the door to envelope her into her arms, squeezing tightly, even though she only reached up to her shoulder.

"Grandma… what are you doing here?" Stevie asked bewildered as she shot Kacey a look, who just shrugged, while smiling innocently.

"Your mother invited me to dinner after telling me that you would be coming to visit. I don’t see you often at all anymore even though you live in the same state… and speaking of that, why don’t you come to visit me ever?" She pulled back, looking up into her face, while her hands gripped Stevie’s arms.

"I….ummmm" She looked wide-eyed at Kacey again, who just shrugged and walked inside, following Buttercup.

Her mother’s parents lived in upstate New York and prided themselves on their image and money. They had never been able to understand why their only granddaughter wouldn’t take advantage of their prestige and identity to further herself. Time and time again, fights and arguments had ensued in her parent’s house when they had been visiting and she had been home from college about her unused trust fund and what she wanted to do with her life. They just couldn’t understand that she wanted to do things on her own. It was bad enough that she heard this almost day in and day out from her own parent’s but to have to put up with it from grandma and grandpa…. For them to be here, meant that tonight was not going to go well. Something was up…

"Mother, let her breathe before attacking her." Stevie looked over and smiled appreciatively at her mother who stood smiling in the doorway.

"I have, dear, I just missed her."

Stevie patted her grandmother’s arm. "I miss you too, Grandma."

"Come here, honey." Her mother opened her arms up as Stevie walked over to her to get enveloped into a hug. "How have you been?"

"Good, things are going well…"

"Better than the last time that we talked?" her mother leaned back to look her in the eye.

She nodded. She didn’t want to tell her about her recent trip to the hospital cause then she’d worry nor about the going ons at the office. She could handle it without mommy and daddy trying to interfere with what they though was "best for her". "Very, Josh and I are getting along now and… the album is really coming together."

"Good… good…." Her mother pasted on a grin, before turning to walk in.

"Why you want to work in the entertainment business is beyond me…" Her grandmother muttered before following her mother in, and she didn’t even catch the entire statement, although she could figure out that it probably ended with when you could be so much more and do so much more.

She shook her head, not even in the entryway yet, standing on the porch. "This is going to be a long night…" She said aloud before walking through the door and into the trap that she knew was already laid for her.

**********************************************************************

He groaned as he rolled over, his eyes gritty from lack of sleep, throat hoarse from recording and his back aching from taking cat naps on the uncomfortable couch in the studio recording area.

Rubbing his eyes and getting the sleep out of them, he sat up slowly grimacing as the dull ache in his back flared into full out pain. He groaned audibly before getting to his as slowly as possible to make his way over to the mirror that was on the wall.

He grimaced at his profile, running a hand through his short hair to try and make it not stand up completely on end, before shaking his head at his lame attempt at normalcy. He could see the dark circles under his eyes and the red lines that ran across the irises and white of them. Thinking back on the weekend, he tried to count how many actual hours of sleep he had gotten and came to the conclusion that if he was too tired to even get to the number ten then he hadn’t gotten enough.

The paleness of his face belied the fact that all he had lived on was caffeine and no real food as his stomach managed to also tell him by growling at that moment in time. He shoved back food and sleep to the back of his mind as he made his way over to the board where he sat a tape on the end of the counter.

He grabbed it and plugged it into the tape deck, turning up the volume as loud as he could stand, before sitting down in the chair, closing his eyes and his voice and his groupmates filled the room.

He nodded along with the words, while his fingers drummed on the arms of the chair and his feet tapped out the rhythm. A small smile crossed his face as what he was listening to penetrated his sleep exhausted mind. He had done it. He had lost one entire weekend but he had finished the tract.

************************************************************************

"Kacey, wait up!"

"Catch me if you can, Stevie!"

"Wanna play up in the treehouse?"

"Will your mom let us?"

"Who cares?"

"But she’ll get mad at you!"

"Isn’t she always?"

"Well…"

"I can never do anything right…."

"It can’t be that bad, Stevie."

"Kacey, your parents love you…. "

"So do yours."

"But they don’t try to mold you into what they want you to be… they support you in anything and everything."

"It’s different."

"No… they want me to be little miniature thems… they don’t want me to be."

"What do you want to be, Stevie?"

The little girl shrugged as she took off running for the tree. "I don’t know, but when I do, I’ll let you know."

"Stevie! No fair! You took off without me."

Stevie walked across the field in the back of the house, Buttercup trailing behind her as she made her way to the old tree house that her dad had built for her when she was young and that her mother had forbade her to climb, as climbing was "for little boys, not little girls." She could hear her and Kacey at the age of seven scampering along the field, thinking themselves rebels because her mother would never know what they were up to. What they hadn’t known was that everytime they climbed, their clothes got bark on them and she would still get a beating when she walked in the door. She was to stay away from that tree.

But now, she was her own person and even the whispers of past arguments and yelling didn’t keep from her tree. The symbol of her freedom. She stopped in front of the large maple tree, branches extending out perfectly in every which way to form a cup in the middle. The tree house sat at the base of the branches, a ladder built up the side towards the hole in the floor that served as the door. Looking down at Buttercup, she signaled her to lay down and stay and climbed up. The door was a tighter squeeze than she remembered but she managed to slide through without too much of a problem and immediately went to the far left corner that had always been her spot.

In the opposite corner sat a box that she had brought up to store her treasures and anything she didn’t want her parents to know about. She pulled it closer to her and opened it, smiling at the friendship bracelets that she and Kacey had made as children, books, dried flowers, wreaths that they had made from grass, jewelry, but Stevie bypassed it all to get to get to the bottom.

She pulled out a worn book, the stiff fabric covering it peeling off the cover, the pages yellow with age and moisture. She scooted back to her spot and opened the book, one finger running over the pages as she read through her journal/poetry book and began to read. Everything in the book held a memory, a feeling from her childhood up through the time that she had left the house to move to Florida and go to school. She hadn’t been up here to get it since she had left five years ago.

She flipped through the pages until she came to the spot that she knew by heart, the day she had decided to go into the entertainment business, the day her beloved grandfather had mailed up a keyboard for her sixteenth birthday. She had already known how to play guitar and piano but…

"Stephanie!"

She came running through the halls, hair streaming behind her as she hurried down the stairs, already haven heard the UPS man pull up and away. "Did it come?"

"Did what come?"

"My package from grams and gramps."

"Yes…" Her mother rolled her eyes, knowing that her husband’s parents had mailed another extravagant gift to their only granddaughter even though they probably couldn’t afford it.

She skidded around the corner, her eyes going wide as she took in the enormous package laying in the hallway. "That’s… for… me?"

"Yes. Now open it quickly before the guests start arriving, cause you still need to change."

Stevie rolled her eyes. "I know mom."

"Well…" She motioned towards the box laying on the floor, her own curiousity starting to emerge.

She sat on the floor and ripped the brown paper off, sliding it off the box to pull out the gift. The box didn’t have any writing on it, so with a frown, she broke the seal on the top and lifted the cover. Inside laid a black soft material case that she lifted out of the box and laid on her lap. She unzipped it, pulling out a long keyboard, at the top were bars for background sounds, different instrument sounds, a metronome to keep the beat, all sorts of toys for her to write and play her music.

"Mom…" Stevie whispered in disbelief.

"I see, Stephanie. What were they thinking?"

"It’s what I’ve always wanted and…"

"But not practical… what are you going to do with it?"

"Play it." She whispered again, her fingers drifting over it.

Her mother rolled her eyes and walked over, plucking it off her lap to put back in the box. "I don’t know why they bother encouraging you with this music business, it’s not what you’re going to do for a living." She moved the box into one of the closets, missing the sadness that passed over her daughter’s face at that last statement.

"But, what if I did…"

Her mother turned around and stared at her. "Honey, you know you’re going to work for Daddy’s firm. You’re going to be a lawyer."

"What if I didn’t want to…"

"Now why would you say a thing like that. You know you want to. Now, hurry upstairs and change, Kacey and all your little friends should be here soon."

Stevie rolled her eyes as she drifted upstairs listlessly. She never listened. She didn’t ever hear what Stevie was saying, just believed that she would fall into line and do what she was told, never questioning. She pictured the keyboard in her mind and knew that she wanted to do music, but her parents would never let her.

"I’m going to do music if it kills me." She whispered, running up the stairs to her room to change before her sixteenth birthday party got underway.

Stevie leaned back against the wall with a grin. She had accomplished her goal. When she had moved away to school, her parents believed that she would be studying pre-law. Little did they know that upon arriving, instead of going straight to the political science department, she headed straight to the music department and signed up as a major. After taking a few classes and one general class about the mechanics of being in the studio to record, she fell in love with the behind the scenes just as much as she had with the actually performing and playing of it. Her advisor asked if she had thought about working in the studio and ever since, that was where she wanted to be.

Her parents had blown a fuse and then some when they found out. There wasn’t any money in the business, they had told her. I don’t need a lot of money to get by, she had told them. Then she remembered her mother looking at her father and smiling, well at least she has her trust fund if she needs help. Stevie had seen red. They didn’t trust her to get anywhere, money was the only thing they could understand or live by.

"I’ll never touch my trust fund if it’s the last thing I do. Even if I’m desperate and dying and broke. I’ll never touch a penny of it. I don’t need it."

"Honey…" Her mother started.

"I’m sick and tired of having to live by money." She had screamed, throwing her hands in the air.

Her father’s eyes had narrowed. "If it hadn’t been for that money that you so despise, you would have loans out your ears for school and wouldn’t be able to live right now in that nice plush apartment."

She clenched her jaw, not believing her ears. To think that he thought he had paid for it all. "I didn’t touch my trust fund at all for school, I worked my fingers to the bone so that I wouldn’t be in debt and that apartment is mine. It’s a rental but it’s still paid for. By the profession that you both keep telling me there’s no money in… there might not be a lot but at least I can get by. At least, I’m able to still pay for school and I will till I graduate and…"

Her eyes locked with her father’s, both not wanting to give an inch. Finally her mother broke the silence. "Stephanie… dear… calm down…"

She shook her head. "When are you going to accept me for who I am? Not for what you want me to be?" She had grabbed her purse and stomped out the door, not looking back once, but, her mother had called later that day and apologized, not her father, but her mother. Everything had gone back to normal, or at least on the surface.

She closed the book and her eyes, lulling herself to sleep, away from the memories and the pain. The pain of knowing that she would never be accepted or understood.

"Stevie? You up there?"

She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and took a deep breath before answering. "Yeah, Kacey, I’m up here."

She waited for Kacey to pull herself up and settle herself into her spot which was the opposite corner from her. "How come you took off?"

"Couldn’t stand it any longer."

Kacey nodded, before answering. "I’m sorry. Things never go well, do they?"

She shook her head. "Are you kidding? They always act on the surface as if we’re the perfect family but then… they always have to nitpick don’t they."

"Are you maybe just being a little sensitive about it? I don’t think she meant anything by it."

"Kace…. Come on. You’ve known my family now since we were six and you moved in next door. Have they changed at all?"

"Well, no…. but…"

"But, you’re everything they wanted in a daughter… I’m not, so you don’t see it." She muttered.

"That’s not true."

"Yes, it is."

"Steve…"

"Just drop it." She turned her face away, eyes closed.

"Why do you keep coming back here? Every time we come to visit, you close off for days."

"I don’t know."

"It’s cause you love them."

"They’re my family. Of course I do…. I just keep hoping…"

"They’ll come around."

"Maybe with this album… maybe I can finally show them…"

"So prove to them that you’re good."

She lifted her head up, eyes gleaming. "I think you’ve finally hit it on the head, girl. I think you just found a way to get them to accept me."

Kacey’s eyes softened. "Hon, they accept you and love you, they just don’t understand you."

"I know…" She slumped again.

"The single is almost done, isn’t it?"

Stevie grimaced. "No. It’s not coming together at all, and I can’t figure out… yes I can… that stupid…" She sat upright and glared at Kacey. "He hasn’t even given me a chance. I don’t know what I did and…"

"He’s not making it easy, is he?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Any way to work around him?" Kacey asked, thinking.

She shook her head again. "No, I tried by changing a solo to get it moving faster but…"

"Girl…" She leaned forward. "It’s time for you to go in there, grab him by the end of his nose, twist, pull him forward till his watery eyes are in direct line of your sight and tell him, play time is over, time to get down to business and if he can’t be a professional to get the hell out of your studio. You put up with too much crap as it is, you don’t need it at work too."

Stevie laughed softly. "I love you, you know."

"I know. You couldn’t survive without my biting humor and wonderful personality, not to mention the outside covering isn’t bad for attracting guys like flies to honey."

Stevie shook her head, with a small smile. "Yeah… that’s it right there."

Kacey smiled broadly. "What else could it be?"

Stevie threw her book at her before moving to the hole to climb down. "I have no idea."

***********************************************************************

Justin bounced down the hallway of the hotel, having just gotten up after a late night at the clubs. He, Joey and Lance had gone to Klub Wild the night before and he wanted to tell JC about the girl that he’d met. She was entertaining, attractive, insane but fun, and had a quality about her that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He’d gotten her phone number but she was only in town for a few days and then she was back to California where she was attending school.

He rapped his knuckles on the door and waited for JC to answer. When no answer was forthcoming, he shrugged and headed back to his room before stopping mid step and slapping his forehead. He’s probably at the studio.

He punched the elevator’s button and jumped in. He wanted to talk to JC and he was going to talk to JC.

**********************************************************************

He listened to it a few more times, tweeking a spot here, changing a decibel level there and was actually happy with the work that he had accomplished. He had to hand it to her, she did know what she was doing; the track was going to be great. She had turned his music in something the world would appreciate. Granted, if he hadn’t screwed up that first day on purpose, she could have had it done in no time and he wouldn’t have been here all weekend but that was inconsequential.

He re-wound the reel, pulling it off the deck and placed it on the counter, labeling it so she’d find it when she came in the next morning.

Covering his mouth with his hand as he yawned, he shrugged into his jacket and blinked a few times to orient himself. He was so tired that he all he wanted to do was go back to the hotel and sleep for days but he couldn’t. Had to report back here early the next morning to work on who knows what. The last thing he wanted to do was come back but… duty called.

JC shook his head and walked out the door, only to stop just as Justin barreled into him as he ran down the hall, not paying attention as he kept jumping up and hitting the ceiling every now and again when the mood struck him.

"Watch it, kid." JC told him, before yawning again.

"How long have you been here?" Justin asked, looking over his rumpled appearance and unshaven face.

"I never left."

"What?"

"You heard me." He moved him aside and began to walk slowly down the hallway. It hurt every part of his body to move and he could feel a headache begin to come on.

"Dude… wait."

"J, all I want to do is go to the hotel and sleep."

"Why were you here all weekend?"

"I was trying to make amends."

"Amends…" Justin frowned. He laid a hand on JC's arm. "You didn't do anything."

"I've done more than you think." He said softly, before shrugging off his arm and hitting the button on the elevator.

"But…"

"Look…. Can we talk later? After I've gotten some sleep?"

"Yeah… I guess… but…"

JC closed his eyes and sighed. "Please…. Not now."

Justin nodded, releasing his arm as he watched the older man practically stumble into the elevator and hit the up button. After the doors closed in front of him, he shook his head and walked back to the studio to peek in. "He always leaves it…." Justin mumbled. "There."

He walked over and picked up the reel. Plugging it in, he popped on the power and settled into the chair that JC had just vacated moment earlier. He grabbed a set of headphones and put them over his ears as he began to listen. The voices coming through the system sounded familiar but the second verse… that wasn't what they had recorded. He knew JC hadn't recorded anything like that with Stevie manning the board, he'd listened to the tapes and had been there while he'd been singing for hours. Where had the music and the voice come from? "So that's what…. He… oh man… and on top of the mushrooms…" Justin muttered through the music, his fingers tapping along with the beat, despite the thoughts that were running in his mind.

When the music stopped, he hit the stop button then power and sat thinking in the dark. Joey and Chris had told him and Lance what she had said coming out of the hospital. She was giving up on anything that could have been there. Justin had thought that JC had given up as well but this…. This proved that there was something there that neither knew about and… and he was going to make them be friends if it killed him. "And it might…" He laughed softly, before standing up and leaving the room. Thoughts no longer on the girl but on the week ahead.

************************************************************************

Stevie unlocked the door to her office and stumbled in, her mind on one goal, to get coffee. She didn't even bother turning the lights on, just wanted to get to the file cabinet that was on the right side of the room and start a pot and then immediately drink it straight into her veins. It didn't matter that she probably had a pile of paperwork standing on the corner of her desk or that she was supposed to be down in the studio in an hour. She wanted her coffee now and she wanted it sweet and she wanted it hot.

She crossed the room, not realizing that it wasn't the way that she had left it and immediately fell over a chair, hit the desk then fell onto the floor. Her eyes shot open as a sharp pain went through the leg that she had hit and groaned. "I'm going to kill him." She breathed out between gasps of pain. "He isn't going to be able to walk, sing, dance, or even beatbox his way anywhere when I'm done with him."

She gripped the side of the chair and pulled herself up and took a good look around. The brat had reorganized her office to look like a mirror image of what she had done with it when she moved in. Her desk was turned around as was everything else. The pictures that were on the left side of the room were now on the right. The coffeepot was now on the left side of the room on the file cabinet and her desk now faced the view out the window instead of having her back to it. Everything was moved.

She shook her head with a grin as she made her way over to the coffeepot and began to make some. "Got to hand it to him…. This was good. I thought he was just trying to break into my desk."

When it was done perking and filled the pitcher, she grabbed her mug and filled it up to the brim then after pouring in three spoonfuls of sugar, she took a long sip and sighed as she felt the warmth fill her body and the caffeine start to take effect. She began to laugh as her knee throbbed. "But… he certainly won't be getting away with it." She said as she took another drink and sat down at her desk to fill out that morning's paperwork before heading down to the studio.

*********************************************************************

"Do we have to be here?" Lance groaned as he and Joe walked into the studio. "Why can't we go back to the hotel and sleep it off, everyone will be so much the better for it."

Joe grinned and nudged him. "Is Lancey-poo feeling a bit under the weather?"

"I'm surprised you're not with the amount that you consumed last night."

"Maybe I can just hold my liquor better than you."

"Or maybe it’s a sign that you need to stop going out all the time."

"Well… Jenn was in town and… "

"You wanted to take her out and show her a good time."

"Exactly." Joe pulled up a chair, turning it around and straddled it. "You would to if you had a girl."

"Nah, no thanks. I like being single. No strings attached if you get my drift. When does she head back home?"

"That was SO bad, Lance." Justin groaned, stumbling in, holding his own head in agony.

"I know but…" He sat on the couch, leaning back with his hands behind his head. "I couldn't help myself."

"She's going back today. It sucks cause I have to be here all day and… Does anyone know what we're doing today cause maybe I could…. You know skip out if there wasn't anything for me and…" Joe asked, looking almost pointedly at Lance.

He shook his head. "Not a clue, Joe."

Justin frowned. "That's right…. Anyone know how Stevie is?"

"Stevie is just fine. Well, will be as soon as she gets another pot of coffee into her system." She said as she walked through the door, arms laden with music and reports that she hadn't finished looking over that morning. She wanted to get caught up and figured one of the guys was capable of punching buttons while she finished this. And if not, well, she knew someone who was and….

"You shouldn't be carrying those things, Ivy?" Joe said, jumping up to grab the paperwork. "Last time I saw you, I was wheeling you out of the hospital. Did you get ANY rest this weekend?"

She rolled her eyes, handing over the paperwork and pulling up a chair before he insisted on that as well. "Yes, I got some rest and it was just an allergic reaction. I'm fine now."

"You sure?" Justin asked her, his eyes showing concern.

"Yes, Jellybean, I'm fine." He sat back as her eyes began to gleam. "Well, till this morning…. "

He frowned. "This morning… what happened this morning…"

"Someone rearranged my office."

"Oh….that…" Justin leaned back in his chair with a smirk. "And…"

"Nice job, but… "

"But what?"

She shrugged. "It was expected. You need to get really devious kid." She almost laughed aloud at his expression but refrained.

He grunted and folded his arms over his chest. "I'll find a way."

She just smiled before looking at the counter and the reel that lay there. "What's this?"

Everyone shrugged, not knowing, except Justin. "It's our single."

"Single?" She looked up, lines creasing her forehead as she frowned at him. "I didn't finish it and…" She trailed off confused.

Justin rolled his shoulders. "Couldn't tell ya anything except that JC was here all weekend working on it and it's good."

"Really…" She shook her head, reaching for it to pop it into the tape deck.

"If it's done, does that mean we can leave till we decide to work on the next song?" Joe asked hopefully.

Stevie shot him a dirty look. "No, Joe. It hasn't been okayed by me yet and there might be some minor changes which means your butt needs to be in that seat at all times if need be."

"Oooh someone needs her coffee." Lance smirked from his spot on the couch.

"Lance…" She eyed him as her lips began to twitch. She ended up laughing before quieting herself as she looked at the threesome in her studio. "Let me listen and then you might get a day off. We'll see cause if it's done…." She frowned as she stared at the reel. "That would put us ahead of schedule and… would be a big favor to me." The last part trailing off as she pushed play.

"What we doing?" Chris asked as he bounced into the room.

"Listening to our first song on the album." Joe told him.

"Huh? Wha?" Chris asked, turning to look at everyone.

"Don't ask. Just sit." Justin pointed to the nearest chair, waiting to get everyone's reaction to JC's song. He knew it was good and that there was practically nothing left to do except maybe a tweek here and there but he wanted Stevie's expression and wondered what she'd do with the gift that JC had just laid in her lap.

"Yes sir." Chris saluted grabbing the chair and sitting.

Stevie shook her head at the lot of them and unpaused the song, letting the music flow into the studio.

If I'm not the one you want
Take your time to figure out

Hey yeah

I'm staring at your picture every night
The scent of you still lingers in my mind
I wonder if you're alone and feel all right
And the sun has come out of the clouds

And sometimes when I listen to our song (To our song)
The nights seem so cold and far too long
I wanna call you up 'cause in the end
I keep writing letters to my garbage can

He arrived late on purpose this time, knowing that they'd be listening to it by the time that he had arrived. He didn't know what to do, what to say, except to keep his fingers crossed that this did everything to make things at least livable between them. He couldn't shake the feeling of nervousness that he had in the pit of his stomach. The feeling to please her. "Where had that come from?" He whispered, before going back to listening to the group and her as they continued on with the song.

Lately, Feels like I'm going crazy
And baby, Come and lay down beside me

If I'm not the one you want, Then who's he
Take your time to figure out, And you'll see
If I'm not the one you want, Then maybe
I'll be the one you need

I feel like it's on you I can depend
Wish I could turn back the hands of time (Hands of time)
Enough of building castles in the sand
Why can't we be forever

Lately, Feels like I'm going crazy
And baby, Come and lay down beside me

If I'm not the one you want, Then who's he
Take your time to figure out, And you'll see
If I'm not the one you want, Then maybe
I'll be the one you need, (I'll be the one you need)

If I'm not the one you want, Then who's he
Take your time to figure out, And you'll see
If I'm not the one you want, Then maybe
I'll be the one you need

Somewhere in the back of my mind (Back of my mind)
I know that you will be mine (You will be mine)
And somehow wish I could rewind (I could rewind)
Leave all the worries behind

Stevie's eyes widened as the voice along side Justin's penetrated her mind, as she realized that it wasn't Joey singing, this wasn't anything that she had recorded but something that he had come in after hours to do. "Why?" She whispered, her fingers tapping along with the song. "Why would he do this?"

Justin glanced over at her out of the corner of her eye and smiled as she frowned as she figured out exactly the time that he had put into this recording. "Maybe, Chris had something all along about getting the two of them together…"

He jerked upright when something hit the back of his head. He whirled around to face Lance who sat with there with a smirk before mouthing. "Don't even think about it."

Justin wrinkled his nose at him before turning back. "Okay, so maybe he didn't but… still… those two are…" He continued to watch Stevie, trying to think of a way for everyone to get along.

If I'm not the one you want
Then I'll be the one you need

(I'll be the one you need)
Take your time to figure out
I'll be the one you need
(I'll be the one you need)

If I'm not the one you want, Then who's he
Take your time to figure out, And you'll see
If I'm not the one you want, Then maybe
I'll be the one you need (I'll be the one you need)

I'll be the one you need

~If I'm Not The One, NSYNC

Everyone in the room sat silently as the last note lingered in the air. Nobody in the room moved until the reel began clicking, signaling that the tape was over, then everyone moved and began to talk at once.

Stevie reached over and clicked it off just as Chris and Joe jumped up from their seats, waving their arms and discussing the sound.

"That was fantastic." Joe said.

"Maybe add a few more harmony sections or…" Chris reached up and stroked his goatee as he thought about how to get his ideas across that he had come up with while listening.

"What about…."

"Or…."

"We could…"

"I'm thinking…."

Joe and Chris were so excited that they were talking over the other, trying to convince the other of their ideas and as Stevie sat back and listened, she realized the guys were saying the same thing and in fact were on the same wavelength as she was.

She shook her head, catching Justin and Lance's eyes as they all watched Chris and Joe. She smiled before reaching up with two fingers, only to place them in her mouth as she blew over them, whistling shrilly into the air.

Joe and Chris both jumped about a foot, before looking over at her, where she stood calmly against the board, waving. "So nice of you two to join the land of the living again… anyway, all of those are good ideas. My next question is…."

She looked up just as he strolled in. His hands buried in his pockets, hair windswept or pushed back from his fingers, she couldn't tell. He looked nervous and excited at the same time, but acted as if he didn't know what to say.

Justin nodded at his friend, indicating that the chair next to him was. "Hey Jace, was wondering when you were going to come in. You didn't have to stand in the hallway all this time."

JC glanced at him before shrugging. His eyes returning to hers, trying to convey how badly he felt over everything.

Stevie watched him, trying to read whatever it was that he was trying to tell her. She could see guilt, relief, and sadness but didn't know why they were all there for her to see in his eyes. She shrugged mentally to herself, moving forth with what she had promised to herself since she had left the hospital. Nothing… he wasn't going to get to her and she wasn't going to do anything to provoke him. Nothing.

She turned away from him to address the rest of the group. "Anyway, my next question for you all is this… what do you want the next step to be?"

"What do we have to do?" Justin asked her.

"Well…" She looked at JC. "The song is almost finished. Just a few things here and there, record the back track of it once more to get a more finished sound and stick in there and you've got a finished track." She turned back away from him. "So…."

"So we could finish that today or…." Lance started

"Get a day off?" Joe grinned at her.

"Or you could have the rest of the day off." She said. "And we'll finish this up tomorrow."

"I vote day off." Joe said.

"We all know why too." Lance muttered.

Joe smacked him in the arm. "You're just jealous."

"Jenn in town?" Stevie asked.

"Yup." Joe grinned.

"Go… all of you go…" She waved, turning back to her paperwork and sitting down.

"You sure?" Justin asked, already reaching for his cell to call someone.

"Yes. See ya tomorrow."

"Whoohoo." Joe cried out, already out the door with Chris on his heels.

She could hear Lance and Justin talking as they walked out too. "Calling that girl from the club? What was her name? Brenda?"

"Brande. And yes its her. She's only in town for one more night too and…" His voice trailed off as they walked farther down the hall.

She sighed, grabbing a pen and filling out the remainder of the form she had been working on upstairs. She scribbled her name at the bottom and moved on to the next one, reading as she reviewed it. She didn't know that JC was still in the room until he cleared his throat causing he to jump a foot in the air.

"Sorry." He said softly as she regained control of her breathing.

"What do you want Josh?" She asked, focusing back on the paperwork.

"I wanted to apologize."

"For what?"

"For…" She looked up in time to see him shuffle his feet and glance to the floor. "For, the mushrooms. I didn't know."

She smiled. "No worries."

"No, seriously…." He looked her straight in the eye. "I didn't know otherwise I wouldn't have done it."

"Done… what…" She asked slowly.

"Put mushrooms in the food."

She nodded. "Thanks for telling me." She said softly, not knowing how to respond as her mind reeled with the news.

"I…."

"Josh, I think its best if you just go now. You're forgiven."

"But…" He walked over to her and laid a hand on her arm to which she flinched and removed.

"What do you want me to say?"

"I don't know."

"Well then…" She pointed to the door. "See ya tomorrow."

"Stevie…" He made it to the door before turning around again.

She sighed. "Yes…"

"I'm…"

"Why, Josh…." She whirled around in the chair interrupting him. "Why are you doing this to me, yourself and the group? What could you possibly have against me?

Chapter 9

"Why, Josh…Why are you doing this to me, yourself and the group? What could you possibly have against me?

JC's breath stopped in his throat at her words. All his breathing power was gone. It felt like someone had thrown a punch into the pit of his stomach causing everything vital to constrict.

She peered at him from her seat, before leaning back in the chair, waiting for his reaction. She casually crossed her legs so that one knee was over the other and slung an arm behind the back of her chair. She arched an eyebrow at him before cocking her head slightly to the side, her mouth beginning to twist into a smirk.

He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts that were now running rampant through his brain, also while trying to think of something to say.

"You don't have a thing on me do you?" She asked quietly, pushing to her feet.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Something about me pissed you off and you couldn't stand that someone got to you and now you're being an ass for the sake of being an ass."

He could feel his blood pressure rising again and his eyes narrowed on her as his head jerked upright from where he had been studying the floor intently. "I'm not an ass."

"That's debatable."

"Look, how did this get turned on me? I came in here to apologize and…"

"And I want to know why? You never apologize about anything so why start now."

"I feel bad about…"

"The mushrooms? Why?"

"Cause I'm the one who ordered them."

"Well, it was an accident wasn't it?"

"NO." He said softly. "But yeah cause I didn't know and…"

"So when I asked you not to order them, you did anyway."

"Yes."

"So then you felt bad and went to all this trouble of getting a track done for me, why?" By this time, she had placed her hands on her hips as she stared at him, trying to figure out what was going on.

"I don't know." He ran a hand through his hair, starting to chew on his bottom lip. He felt cornered and didn't know how to get out of it. She was starting to go for blood and there wasn't anything he could do.

"Why don't you know, Josh? You know everything else it seems."

"I…"

"Tell me."

"Tell you WHAT?" He finally yelled out frustratedly, tossing his hands into the air.

"Now we’re getting somewhere." She leaned back against the soundboard, her arms crossed against her chest.

"Getting where?" He glared at her.

"What problem do you have with me?"

"I don't like you."

She rolled her eyes. "That's been established already, I want to know why."

His eyes went over her relaxed stance before climbing back up to find the fierce determination in her eyes as well as a mild disgust for him. He flicked a hand at her. "Because of that…"

She looked down at herself before her eyes lifted to meet him, incredulously. "My clothes?"

"No." He growled out. "Just… you…."

She gritted her teeth. He began to turn to leave and she hurried, reaching out to grab him by the arm and pull him back to face her. "Oh no, you don't. We’re having this out here and now."

His eyes shot blue sparks at her. "Why?"

"Because I'm sick of stepping on egg shells around you and so are the rest of the guys. This album does not cater to you, no matter how much you like to think so. You have a professional problem with me, I'll leave, but if it's personal, I want to know why."

He took a step back. "What do you mean this album doesn't cater to me? I never thought it did."

"It's always about you. How you want it? Where you want it? What goes on it? Have you ever asked the other guys what they wanted?"

True, with this album he had been pretty blind and focused on doing everything his way to show her that she didn't have any control, but the guys knew him. They knew that he wanted their input, the other albums had always been about them and how they worked together as a group. "They know this is a team effort."

"Are you sure they do or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?"

"I don't need this." He shot her a dirty look before turning around to leave.

She reached a hand out and slammed the door shut, the lock clicking in the frame in his face. "You aren't going anywhere until we have this cleared up because I can't work like this anymore, I thought I told you that."

"You can't make me stay here."

"I am and I already have." She said smugly.

"Girl…" He started before shaking his head and biting his tongue from saying anything else that could be turned on him.

"What, Stuffy Boy… tell me what you think and what's going on in that pea sized brain of yours?"

He saw red. "Excuse me?"

She walked back over to the board away from him. Her back was turned to him. "You heard me."

He stalked over to her, whipping her around to face him. "You want to know what I'm thinking?"


He had pulled her incredibly close so that when she looked up into his face she could see the grey flecks in his eyes dancing in anger down at her. Her eyes flickered down to his mouth before quickly looking back up to his eyes. Both of his hands now gripped her arms and he shook her once. "Yes, Josh. I do for once."

"You are the most conniving, power hungry, mama's girl, wannabe technician that can't handle the pressure that I have ever seen. All you do is…." He started before she interrupted him.

"I don't want your opinions." She narrowed her eyes at him, this time her temper getting the best of her. "I want to know what I did."

"I…" He tried to think of something but there really wasn't anything that he could think of.

"Exactly. You have a clouded view of me that is affecting your work performance, get over it."

He pulled her closer again so that they were almost nose to nose. "Are you telling me that I'm being unprofessional?"

"I've said it once and I'll say it again. YES!"

"I'm always a professional."

"Yeah, well, that's laughable. All I see is a spoiled little musician who throws a tantrum every time he doesn't get his way or enough solos."

He tossed her into the chair and moved to leave. "I don't have to listen to this."

"Fine, leave. But if you do, you won't do anything else for this album except sing your beautiful butt off. Those hands won't touch a knob."

"You can't do that."

"Watch me. Now talk, Chasez, cause I'm getting bored."

"What do you want to know?"

"What your problem with me is exactly? Maybe we can move past this little attitude problem you have and make a decent album?"

"Is that all you care about?"

"Care about what?" She asked, thoroughly confused.

"This album. Finishing it so that you can further your career?" He smirked at her, knowing he now had the upper hand.

"It's my job. It has nothing to do with "furthering my career" as you call it."

He laughed. "Right. A nobody like you getting your hands on the most looked forward to album in the industry and you're not even thinking a little bit about the doors this will open if it's sensational?"


"It might have crossed my mind in the beginning but it's a project and that doesn't influence anything that I've done or said."

"What a little liar you are." He sneered.

"EXCUSE ME!" She stood up straight, practically jumping out of the chair and stared at him. "You're calling me a liar? The guy who can't even think of a good reason for why he doesn't like me except to say that he doesn't?"

"Shut up." He growled at her, starting to lose the tight reign he had on his own temper.

"No, I won't. I'm sick of this sanctimonious BULLSHIT!"

He watched her as she stalked over to him and began to poke a finger into his chest. "You have a real problem that you need to get over. That chip on your shoulder is weighing you down so much that you can't see straight. Get over whatever it is!"

"I don't like you!" He yelled into her face. "Just take that and leave it."

They were back to being nose to nose and this time he could see the gold flecks in her green eyes and the way her lashes were actually gold on the ends. She didn't wear any make-up either except for a light dusting of powder on her cheeks and lip gloss. Get a grip, Chasez!

She gritted her teeth, trying to get her own handle on her temper before tossing the reigns, leads and saddle out the window. She reached a hand up and grabbed the hair on his chin and yanked his face down the rest of the way. "I'm not taking anything and leaving it. You don't like me, fine! I don't like you either much at this point."

Her tried to jerk his chin out of her grip, but she only tightened her fingers. The motion brought tears to his eyes. "Let go!"

"No. You need to grow up and get over this. I'm not leaving and if you don't like me fine, but at least act like it while we're in the office and we'll get along fine. On your own time, you can say and do whatever you want to but in here, you're on my time and…"

"Stevie… let go." He whispered, his eyes closed, against the pain.

Her eyes widened and her grip, slipped. "I'm…."

He opened his eyes and she could see the pain radiating there but she could also see his anger. "What the hell…" He started. "You just grabbed…."

She shook herself out of the guilt she was feeling, rearing back up to fight. She remembered what Kacey had told her.

"He’s not making it easy, is he?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Any way to work around him?" Kacey asked, thinking.

She shook her head again. "No, I tried by changing a solo to get it moving faster but…"

"Girl…" She leaned forward. "It’s time for you to go in there, grab him by the end of his nose, twist, pull him forward till his watery eyes are in direct line of your sight and tell him, play time is over, time to get down to business and if he can’t be a professional to get the hell out of your studio. You put up with too much crap as it is, you don’t need it at work too."

"I'm giving you a choice, Josh."

"What? You can't issue me ultimatums!" He almost shouted.

"Either you act like a professional or you get the hell out of my studio and you can tell Janet why you need a new technician and that it had nothing to do with me."

"But it has EVERYTHING to do with you."

"It has everything to do with you, Stuffy Boy." She said softly, with a smirk.

That was it. He couldn't stand it any longer, he had to shut her up. But…

She walked up slowly to him and peered into his face. She reached a hand up to his chin and flicked a finger against it. "What's it going to be?"

He grabbed her arms and pulled her against him, crushing his lips down on hers. He felt her stiffen in his arms as she allowed the onslaught to continue but didn't respond. What the hell am I doing?

Stevie just stood there shocked as she felt his lips move over hers. What is he doing?

JC pulled back to stare down at her. Both were shocked by his actions. "I…"

"Ummm…." She looked up owlishly at him. Sensations coursing through her body that she couldn't identify. "I…"

He swallowed before opening his mouth again to try and apologize. That had been out of line, even for him. "I'm…"

She met his gaze at that exact moment and once again he didn't have any power over his actions and pulled her to him again and this time she began to respond, causing him to deepen the kiss.

Stevie's shocked senses went into overdrive and she went with what was happening, leaning into him, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. His hands slid down her arms slowly to wrap around her waist, tightening his hold as his flexed, trying not to move anywhere else except to stay put where they were.

Neither one realized that they were moving until her back bumped against the soundboard. Her eyes shot open, but immediately closed again when she saw that his still were. He leaned farther against her until she was almost laying on it.

She didn't want to stop because of the way that he made her feel and he didn't want to for reasons that were unfamiliar to him. Both were getting in way over their heads and knew that they should stop but to stop would mean going back to the way they had been acting, to maintain the act that they hated each other. Cause they did, didn't they?

Stevie could feel a few bars behind her moving but the thought emptied out of her mind just as soon as it had entered. His hands began to move up her sides and her fingers were now entangled in his hair as the kiss went on and on.

All of a sudden a loud high-pitched song entered into the studio, that sounded reminiscent to the chipmunks. They broke apart both staring as the song went on and filtered into their kiss hazed minds.

"The single!" Stevie cried out before turning around to the board, pushing buttons, trying to save the track before the reel ate it.

JC stared at her back, trying to fight the wave of desire that was coursing through his body. He watched her fingers moving over the board, making sure the tape was fine and that they hadn't done anything to wreck it. He remembered those same fingers moving through his hair and stared down at his hands and remembered where they had been.

He blanched at what he had done and whirled around before she could see him leave and quietly opened the door and closed it behind him as he high-tailed it out of that studio as fast as he could and away from her.

************************************************************************

"I think I saved it…. Well not really saved it but managed to turn it off before something broke. We only bumped some of the frequencies and then turned it on so when it played back to us it sounded weird." Stevie rambled on before turning around.

Her eye widened at the empty recording studio. "And now I'm standing here talking to myself."

She lifted a hand to her mouth, she could feel that her lips were still swollen and she sighed. "What am I doing?" She asked herself softly.

She shook her head, thoughts drifting back to her and Josh's kiss. She sat down on the couch, putting her head in her hands. "What was that!" She finally yelled into the room.

She was more confused now then ever. She thought everything had been tidied up into a neat little ball. He hated her, she couldn't stand his attitude. He wanted her gone, she wanted to work professionally. He wanted to find an out for her, she wanted him out of her studio. There wasn't a happy medium for them, they couldn't get along. Yet they had on a different level.

She threw herself back along the couch, her hands covering her face. "I don't know what to do with him anymore…."

**********************************************************************

He threw open the door to his hotel room, causing it to bounce off the rubber stop against the wall and fly smack dab back into his face. He blinked a few times before groaning and rubbing the palm of his hand up and down his face before continuing into the room. He threw his jacket onto the seat of a chair and headed straight for the bed and laid down.

He stretched the length of himself out on the comforter, tucking his hands behind his head as he stared at the ceiling. Thoughts kept swirling around in his head, thoughts of their argument, thoughts of him losing control of his temper yet again, and thoughts of… no he didn't want to think about how she had felt, how she had tasted and how right she had felt in his…

JC lifted his hand and smacked his forehead. "Get it together, Chasez. That was an accident and one that shouldn't be repeated."

But you liked it…

"So what if I liked it. I've kissed other girls and liked it but that doesn't mean I have to do anything about it."

She's different.

"She's definitely different. But that’s still beside the point!"

You feel badly for how you've treated her… you know you were wrong.

"Yeah well… that would mean saying I'm sorry, and…. I don't know if I am."

Of course you are, you idiot. You just can't get the words past your throat.

"Why am I talking to you again?"

Because you know I'm right.

"You are not."

I am so… she's different from anyone else you've been with or around and that intrigues you.

"No, she drives me insane, there's a huge difference between… and I'm not going to be with her, we'd kill each other… and that's not even an option."

No difference, you're just throwing a fit cause she's gotten under your skin.

"That's it, Chasez, you've finally lost it, talking to yourself but not only talking but arguing!" He sat up, growling as he ran his hands through his hair and tugged slightly, before jumping off the bed. "I need to do something."

"Jace, you okay, man?" Chris stuck his head through the connecting door. "I thought I heard you talking to someone and…"

"I'm fine, Chris. Just talking to myself."

"Okay…" He came all the way through the door and walked across the room to settle on the bed that JC had just gotten up from.

"Make yourself comfortable why don't you?" JC grinned at the older man.

"Oh, thanks for the hospitality." Chris laughed, laying down in the exact same way that JC had done earlier.

He shook his head before grabbing the chair and sitting down. "What's up?"

"Why don't you tell me?" Chris said, sitting up and giving JC a look that would have weaker men spilling their guts. For all of Chris' antics, he could still manage to act his age every now and again, setting people on the right track, but JC didn't feel like talking. He didn't know how to explain.

"Nothing big, just frustrated."

"About what?"

"I said nothing." JC mumbled, staring down at his hands.

"Okay, so what took you so long at the studio, everyone but me has taken off."

He looked up and stared at Chris, before slumping back in his chair. "I give up. You'll pry it out of me eventually. I know you will. I messed up."

"Huh, messed up how?" Chris asked, sitting up on the bed.

"I…"

"Come on Jace, spit it out."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"Cause…"

"JC…"

"Chris, you're going to smack me."

"Now, why would I do a thing like that?"

"Cause this was so stupid."

"How was whatever this is stupid?"

"It just was."

"Man, kid, I'm going to hurt you just for you giving me this runaround. Tell me what you did so that I can help."

"I kissed her."

Chris blinked a few times, his mouth opening and closing as he swallowed before he managed to try and speak. "You did what?"

"I kissed her." JC mumbled again.

"Kissed…. Who…."

"Stevie."

"Why?" Chris asked, still digesting the information.

"I don't know." JC said, getting up and beginning to pace the room.

"Okay… start at the beginning."

***********************************************************************

Stevie rode the elevator up to her office, her thoughts fixated on the man that had vanished into thin air after shaking her world off its axis. She walked down the hallway in a daze, not even seeing her co-workers that smiled and poked each other in the sides as they watched her. She just kept going, lost in her own world with a slight smile on her face.

She unlocked her door and made her way into her office, shutting the door behind her. She dug into her pocket, pulling out her keys, finding the right one then sat down at her desk, reaching down and unlocking the bottom drawer.

She pulled out the folder of music that rested there and set it on her desk. She opened and began to leaf through it, trying to find the song that she was looking for. She didn't know what she was looking for exactly but she'd know. She pulled out a sheet of paper and began to read.

I touch your lips and all at once the sparks go flying
Those devil lips that know so well the art of lying
And though I see the danger, still the flame grows higher
I know I must surrender to your kiss of fire

Just like a torch, you set the soul within me burning
I must go on, I'm on this road of no returning
And though it burns me and it turns me into ashes
My whole world crashes without your kiss of fire

I can't resist you, what good is there in trying?
What good is there denying you're all that I desire?

Georgia Gibbs~ Kiss of Fire

Stevie blushed and tossed the piece of paper across the room. "Why did I have to pick that one? That's not it. It's NOT it."

She flipped a few more pages, her thoughts still on those lyrics. "Get your mind away from that kiss, you're supposed to be looking for distractions, girl."

Last night we had a quarrel
And I lost my head
How silly of me to say
The things I said

Let's kiss and make up
Why should we break up
Say it's not too late yet
To forgive and forget

Funny but it doesn't matter now
Who was wrong or right
Darling all that matters now
Is that I miss you tonight

Bobbie Vinton ~ Let's Kiss and Make Up

"We aren't even ANYTHING!" Stevie growled out. She put her head in her hands and shook it forcefully. "GET OUT OF MY HEAD!"

She thrust herself back in the chair and stared sulkingly at the pile of music on her desk. "He's nothing to me. Sure that kiss… but…. NOTHING. I can't stand him!"

"Why am I going insane over this?" She asked herself. She stood up and began to pace around the room. "It was just a kiss. Nothing big. Nothing at all."

Her hand lifted of its own volition and settled on her lips again. "Stop thinking about it, Stevie!"

She reached over her desk and grabbed the first few songs off the top of the stack and left her office, heading back down to the studios.

She found the piano studio and glanced in. Finding no one in there, she hurried over to the board and flicked the switches turning on the speakers, microphones and everything else that she figured that she'd need for a few hours of getting an annoying pest out of her head.

She wrote her names on the book so that no one would kick her out for the next hour at least then moved into the booth and closed the door behind her. She sat down behind the keyboard, running a hand along the keys before flicking up the stand and settling the music on it.

Stevie looked around the top before finally finding the power switch and turning it on. She flew through a few scales, warming up her fingers before making her way through the arpeggios and other warm up techniques that she always played before getting down to business. The music was beginning to calm her so she stood up, grabbing the mic and moved it down to her level so that she could sing along with the music.

She glanced at the first few bars, before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, began to play.

Know all about
About your reputation
And how it's bound to be a heartbreak situation
But I can't help it if I'm helpless
Every time that I'm where you are

You walk in and my strength walks out the door
Say my name and I can't fight it anymore
Oh I know, I should go
But I need your touch just too damn much

Loving you isn't really something I should do
Shouldn't wanna spend my time with you
That I should try to be strong
But baby you're the right kind of wrong
Yeah baby you're the right kind of wrong

Might be a mistake
A mistake I'm making
But what you're giving I am happy to be taking
Cause no one's ever made me feel
The way I feel when I'm in your arms

They say you're something I should do without
They don't know what goes on
When the lights go out
There's no way to explain
All the pleasure is worth all the pain

Loving you isn't really something I should do
Shouldn't wanna spend my time with you
That I should try to be strong
But baby you're the right kind of wrong
Yeah baby you're the right kind of wrong

I should try to run
But I just can't seem to
Cause everything I run you're the one I run to
Can't do without, what you do to me
I don't care if I'm in too deep

Know all about
About your reputation
And how its' bound to be a heartbreak situation
But I can't help it if I'm helpless
Every time that I'm where you are

You walk in and my strength walks out the door
Say my name and I can't fight it anymore
Oh I know, I should go
But I need your touch just too damn much

Oh I know I should go
But I need your touch just too damn much
Loving you isn't really something I should do
Shouldn't wanna spend my time with you
That I should try to be strong

But baby you're the right kind of wrong
Yeah baby you're the right kind of wrong

Leann Rimes ~ Right Kind of Wrong

The last note of the song faded into the walls of the studio, then a big resounding horrible chord sounded in the room as Stevie's head went crashing down on the keyboard. "That'll teach me to at least read the music or the title at the very least before I come down to get away from something." She mumbled into the keys.

************************************************************************

Chris stared at the younger man who watched him miserably as he digested the information that he had just given him. He muddled through the story before coming to the conclusion that he didn't know what to say. "So you kissed her?"

JC nodded miserably.

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. She was talking and all I wanted to do was shut her up and the next thing I knew I was kissing her."

"So you kissed her to shut her up?" Chris raised his eyebrows at him. "And that was the only reason…"

"Why else would I?" JC asked him.

"You tell me."

"I don't like her Chris."

"Are you sure?"

"I'd kill her and I don't like her. At all."

Chris just continues to watch him.

"CHRIS! I don't like her. You all know that."

"Chris!"

"CHRIS!"

"JC, who are you trying to convince here, me or yourself."

He stood up and began pacing again. "I don't need this. It was a mistake. I just wanted her to shut up and for no other reason."

"I think you like her but don't want to admit it."

"Well I think you're on crack." JC remarked to him.

Chris watched him pace before a smile began to form across his face. He leaned back against the headboard of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest. "You're scared."

JC turned to face him. "Why would I be scared?"

"Because…."

"Why?"

"Because you've finally met your match and she's gotten so face underneath your skin, you don't know what to do about it."

"That's not true." But JC wasn't so sure himself.

"You like her and are even starting to respect her and that frightens the hell out of you cause then everything you have said or done would be a lie about her. You'd have to admit you were wrong."

"I don’t like her."

"Yes you do, by god you do." Chris said sitting up straight. "I called it!"

"You called what?"

"Nothing."

"Chris…"

"Nothing and that's beside the point anyway…"

"No it's not."

"What are you going to do about this?"

"Nothing. It didn’t happen."

"You're going to act like it didn't happen? How can you do that? What'd she say afterwards?"

"I left after…I…kissed her."

"Oh boy…."

"Shut up Chris."

"Well here's what I think you should do…"

"I'm not doing anything."

"You have to say something."

"I don't have to do anything."

"Yes you do."

"No I don't."

"She's a nice girl."

"She's evil."

"JC…"

His shoulders slumped. "What…."

"You have to do something."

"I know, I just don't know what."

Chapter 10

JC pulled into the parking lot of the studio the next morning, and parked his car in the nearest spot to the door. He sat there, watching as technicians and executives alike, wandered in before their days started at eight. He occasionally noticed artists hurrying inside, dressed in hats and glasses as not to be recognized by any onlookers.

He reached over into the passenger seat of his own car, grabbing a baseball hat and dark brown sunglasses to shield his well-known face. His hand stayed just as he went to grab them before heading up to his face to pinch the bridge of his nose. "What am I going to say to her?" He asked himself aloud.

His head snapped back, slamming into the headrest behind his head. "What was I thinking?"

"It was a mistake." He said, grabbing the hat and glasses and slamming them on. "It shouldn’t have happened and I’ll tell her I’m sorry." He almost gagged on those last two words but they did manage to get out of his throat in some semblance of order.

He reached behind the seat, grabbing his leather folder, then reached over and hit the automatic lock button on the car before heading inside the studio. He opened the door and walked inside the building, noticing the plants at the entranceway for the first time as one slammed into his face because it hadn’t been trimmed. "Ugh."

"This is going to be a great day already." He muttered, walking toward the elevator.

"Have a good day, JC." He heard come from behind the counter as he walked past the receptionist’s desk.

"You too." He smiled down at the mousy brown haired girl, who looked stunned as he walked past.

"I…"

Taking a deep breath, while stalling for time before he headed down to see the witch, he stopped at her desk. "Are you new? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before."

"Ummm…" She simply stared up at him, not knowing what to say.

Being used to girls that were star struck, he waited her out. "What’s your name?"

"Renee."

"Nice to meet you, Renee."

"Same here. I… No, to answer your question. I’m not new."

"Oh…" His eyes widened in shock. He thought he knew everyone’s face around this building.

"Don’t feel bad." She hurried out, knowing how he was feeling. "I tend to blend in."

"Well… " He swallowed hard. "I…" Good going JC, play up to the image of the self-absorbed artist by not even knowing the recepttionist.

She smiled, before turning back to her paperwork, with a small smile on her face. "Honestly, it’s no bother. I’m just glad you came out of your fog long enough to say Hi."

"Renee, I’m sorry." He said sincerely, for the first being able to say the words without choking.

She looked up and saw that he meant it. "You’re forgiven."

He smiled before rushing off to the elevator. If he could apologize to a complete stranger, he could certainly apologize to the woman who held his career in her hands.

JC walked into the studio to find Justin and Lance crashed out on the couch and Chris and Joey, looking over some music. "Hey." He said, grabbing a chair, turning it around and sat down backwards in it.

Chris looked up, raising an eyebrow in question at the younger man. JC shot him a dirty look back, silencing him, which caused Chris’ eyes to twinkle in suppressed mirth. "Good morning, JC." Chris told him, before turning back to the music.

"What’s up?" He asked looking around in puzzlement. Usually she was here on time, but he didn’t see her anywhere.

Joe mumbled something before pointing to the music. "There. That should be the dance break and then we could enter back…." He ran his finger down the music. "There."

"She’s upstairs in a meeting, in case you were wondering." Chris informed him, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. "That works, Joe. I think you might have some music talent in you yet." He reached out and ruffled his hair.

Joe looked up and grinned. "Thanks, Chris. That’s quite the compliment coming from you since we all know you don’t have any."

His mouth dropped open in shock. "Joe… Wow… I’m…."

"Speechless?" He grinned.

"Yes. I like her, bring her in to meet us. She’s a good influence on you."

"Who?" Joe looked up from the music, puzzled.

Chris rolled his eyes. "Jenn. For you to be this punchy in the morning, it must be all her."

"Whatever." Joe told him, before shoving him off his chair where he landed on the floor in a big heap.

Justin groaned as the loud voices penetrated his sleep filled mind. "Do you guys mind?"

Chris looked up from the floor before standing and walking over to Justin. "Not at all." He replied, flopping into the younger man’s lap.

"Oomph." Justin groaned, opening his eyes fully. "I’m going to kill you, Chris."

Chris reached out and pinched Justin’s cheek. "I love you too, Kid." He said cheekily before jumping off his lap and going back over to the music.

Lance continued to sleep through the entire exchange, having been out late the night before with Justin and his new girl.

JC shook his head at his friends, before his curiosity got the better of him. "What is that you’re looking at?" He asked Joe and Chris.

"Our new single, apparently, or we hope." Joe told him bluntly.

"But I thought…" He trailed off, his mind beginning to think about all the upcoming work, recording time, more in house sessions, extra time, stress….

"JIVE didn’t want to send out something sappy as our first single off our third album, they said." Joe told him, interrupting.

"Sappy?" He said, sitting up straight, ready to do battle over his song. "They picked it!"

"We know…" Chris sighed, swiveling the chair around to face him. "But you know how it works…"

"What happened?" He sighed.

"Stevie finished the single and sent it upstairs for them to listen to. But it seems…" Chris looked up to the ceiling and counted to ten before continuing. "It’s nice for the album but not what they want the listeners to hear first thing."

"They want another hit like Bye Bye Bye and don’t think If I’m Not The One will bring in the audience."

They heard a huge yawn behind them as Lance sat up, from where he had been drooling on the couch. "How can they know what that song will bring in?" He asked sleepily, while wiping his mouth.

"Welcome back to the world of the living, Lancesten." Justin told him.

"Shup." Lance said, measuring if he could take him out in one sitting.

"Don’t even think about it."

"So…" JC asked, trying to get the conversation back on track.

Chris ran a hand through his short dark hair. "So, Stevie got a memo this morning saying all of this. They want a different song and they want it now."

"Now?" JC asked, rising to his feet. "We can’t…"

"We know. But the big wigs demand it."

Joe shook his head. "Chris and I got here early and were trying to come up with a song that could, in theory, hit the audiences as widely as Bye Bye Bye did, but… I don’t know, Jace. All this material is…. It’s different than what we put out beforehand and… who knows how our third album will be received."

He stood up and began to pace. "So where is Miss Gung Ho again this morning while we’re sitting here trying to figure out our future."

"Upstairs fighting for it." Justin told him quietly. "She went upstairs and told us she’d be back and that’s why we’re sitting here waiting with our thumbs up our asses."

That took all the steam out of his sails. "Oh…" He sank back down into the chair, putting his forehead down on the back of it. "What’s our deadline, do we know?"

He didn’t hear any response, so he looked up and made eye contact with each member of his group. "What? Tell me."

"Next week."

"Nest week?" He said, his voice rising in agitation. "Next week as in Monday or next week as in Friday?"

"Next week as in Monday." Justin said again, answering his question.

He shook his head, both hands, raising to grip his hair. "It’s impossible." He said quietly.

"No its not." Chris said.

"How do you figure?"

"If we work really hard, and together, we can get it done. The key word being together."

"I just don’t see how…" He began, before he was interrupted.

"Don’t be so pessimistic." Joe told him.

"We don’t even know which song!" He cried out in frustration.

"We have a bunch that we were throwing together for the album, why can’t we get one of those?" Justin asked.

"Cause we haven’t sang them, worked on them, know what they sound like…" He began, getting up to pace the room.

"You’re making me dizzy, JC." Chris told him, moments later as they all watched him walk around the room, muttering to himself as he tried to sort things out.

"Where is she?" He asked, stopping suddenly in the middle of the room.

"We told you, upstairs."

"She needs to be in this discussion." He told them, before walking over to where the music lay and pawing through it.

"Since when did you start getting all antsy about her being included?" Lance asked. "We thought you would’ve been ecstatic about her being called upstairs to talk about whether she should keep her posi…"

Lance stopped talking as soon as Justin’s arm shot out, his hand clamping over his mouth to silence him.

JC turned around to face the two younger men, slowly. "What?"

***********************************************************************

She sat there staring straight ahead in the conference room as Mr. Stevens, CEO of JIVE and Janet sat around the table with her. She took in each of the pictures, the gold and platinum albums, and the autographs that littered the walls, wondering if this would be the last time she'd ever be near anything like them, wondering if she'd ever have her name on something that would be remembered across time.

"Ms. Kingsley? Are you even listening to us?" Mr. Stevens asked her.

"Sir, how can I not? You're discussing my future." She tore her gaze away from the wall to look him straight in the eye.

"Now, Stevie… that's not why we asked you to come up here." Janet began.

"It's not?" She raised her eyebrows at them. "I could've sworn this was a "call Stevie on the carpet for poor performance" session."

"Ms. Kingley, JIVE is very happy with your performance. You've been a hard dedicated worker since you started a few weeks ago. It's just that this album is highly anticipated by the public and…"

"And you don't think I can handle it." She said softly.

"We're not saying that…" Janet started again.

She planted her palms on the desk as she partially stood. "Then just what are you saying?"

"We've been talking that maybe you should be placed with another group, someone that you could take your time with and get a feeling for the way that a high paced recording studio works."

"You don't think I can hack it." She said, folding her arms across her chest as she leaned back, trying to reign her temper in.

"Stevie, we just think that three weeks for one single song is… well… a bit much, granted it was excellent, it'll be great for the album, but we can't afford that much time on one song. We need to get this out soon, the slated release is a few months off, but we need their lyrics laid down and then we can put the finishing touches on it and get it out. A few months doesn't equal three weeks for each song."

"I understand, but you tossed me into a close knit group and I'm still feeling my way through. We're slowly being able to work together and I think we can finish by your deadline."

"Another thing is that we want to put out a single soon…"

"I understand, but what I don't understand is why you can't put out If I'm Not The One?"

"It won't reach as wide an audience as we need it to."

"What is the deal with the audience?" She cried out. "This is their third album, their audience and fan base is established. They'll like whatever they put out."

"Maybe, maybe not… Boybands don't have a long shelf life, they could be a hit one day and on the skids the next." Janet explained.

"These guys have talent, they can sing, the fans know this."

"But still… "

"There are no buts!"

"Watch your tone, Ms. Kingsley." Mr. Stevens warned her. "I don't want to have to talk to your father and…"

"My father?"

"Ms. Kingsley…."

"Stevie…"

"You hired me because of my father, not because of my merit!"

"Now that's not true…"

"It is. How much did he pay you?"

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing." She seethed inside. "Listen, what do you want from me right now? I'm not giving up this project, if I have to work against your judgement. I'm staying with them through the end, no matter what it does to my career."

********************************************************************

"Lance… what is going on? Guys?" JC asked, whirling around, trying to get one of them to speak up.

"Nothing is going on, JC. Let's just wait for Stevie to get back and then see where to go from here." Chris told him, before turning back to the folder of music that they had. "What about this?"

"What aren't you telling me!" He cried out, rubbing his hands down his face.

"Look…" Justin started. "We didn't want to tell you cause we weren't sure how'd you react…"

"React to what?" He asked.

"She wasn't sure if she'd still be on the project when she came down. She said, usually when this happens… the technician gets fired."

"They can't fire her…" JC said, before he could stop the words. "I mean…"

"No they can't, JC, you're right. We just weren't sure you'd agree with us." Joe told him quietly.

"I know I've been an ass… but…" He shook his head. "This wasn't her fault, it was mine."

Justin shrugged. "Well, it's a little late now. She's being called on her actions and you know she won't say a word about how difficult we were. She's too loyal for that."

"Yeah…" He breathed out, thinking. "What if we…"

"Got an idea?" Lance asked him.

"I don't know if it would work, but they're looking for another Bye Bye Bye huh…"

They all nodded. "Of course, that was our money song."

"What if we did something that wasn't us?" He asked, his mind working through the particulars.

Lance sat up. "You mean… I think…"

JC and Lance looked at each other and nodded. "We've got several we could do…"

"I don't know, Jace." Justin said. "We're known for dancing."

"But if we…"

"Listen…" Chris told him. "I know what you're getting at, but they won't go for it."

"We could convince them."

"What song?"

He rushed over to the folder and began to dig. "We've got a few that would work…"

"Let me see." Lance told him.

The two began to pick through the music, murmuring comments here and there, singing lines, before finally picking out two. Chris and Justin chatted about doing mixes, while Joe watched, a puzzled look on his face. "I don't understand…"

All four heads turned to him and started to laugh, breaking the tension in the room. "Come on, Joe, we'll explain…" Chris told him, before pushing him into a chair.

************************************************************************

She slumped back in her chair, her hands fisted in her hair. "We can't get a single done by next week, there is no possible way."

"Stevie, if you can't do it…" Janet told her.

"It's not that I can't… it's virtually impossible. The music hasn't been laid down, the guys don't even know the song and…"

"Excuse me?"

The three heads in the conference room turned to the new voice. JC stuck his head in and grinned. "Sorry to interrupt…"

Stevie's eyes widened at his presence. Oh no, I'm doomed. He's going to help take me down without any effort at all. Why is he here? He's so getting me fired.

"JC?" Mr. Stevens looked at him puzzled. "Is there something you need?"

"JC, why are you here?" Janet asked.

Stevie slumped down farther into her chair. She knew why he was there.

He tried to meet her eyes but she wouldn't look at him, just sat there, staring at the wall. He quickly pulled his gaze back to the people who were in charge. "I thought I should be in this conversation."

"And why is that…" Mr. Stevens asked him, his eyes narrowing.

"Because, it's not Stevie's fault we were behind, it was mine."

"Oh really…" Janet said, her eyes rolling, voicing her opinion that she didn't believe that one for a second.

"Well, it is. I've been having problems singing, a really bad cold, and Stevie took the flack for me, being sick saying it was her fault. Well, it wasn't. We tried to work through it, but everything just came out garbled, but we did finish as soon as we could once I got well."

"Well…" Janet started, looking at Stevie who sat there stone faced, who in reality was sitting in shock at the possibility that he was actually defending her.

"Thanks for sharing, JC, but that still doesn't help us with the next single. This song wont cut it."

"I wrote that, sir." He said, his jaw clenching.

"I understand that, but the fans…"

"The fans will like whatever we put out and you know it."

Janet motioned for him to sit. "JC, you know the business and how fickle trends and image is…"

"What I know is that most of our fans have stayed with us from the beginning and will throughout our career as long as we decide to stay together."

Mr. Stevens sighed. "That's not what our polls and public relations people say."

"Well they can go hang themselves. I'm out there living it and can tell you…"

"JC…" Stevie suddenly spoke up.

He turned to look at her. "What?"

"Is there a reason you're here?"

"I…"

"Arguing isn't going to help. I've already been over this with them. If you have a point, please say it, otherwise…" She sighed, turning back to the two executives. "Let them continue and finally make their point."

"Did you tell them about our alternative single?"

"HUH?" She threw out shocked.

"Remember… we talked about it when you first came in…" He winked at her, trying to get her to go along with it.

"Uh…right… the alternative single."

When he knew that she'd go along with him, he turned back to the executives. "When we first started working together, we came up with the idea about doing the opposite than what people would expect from NSYNC."

"And what would that be…" Janet asked him.

"Starting out with a ballad as the first single."

"Now, JC, you know…"

"Let me finish."

"Alright…"

"Okay, now this was our idea… we didn't think you'd go for it, but it was a thought and since now we're talking about a different single…" He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt to toss it out on the table."

"JC, get on with it." Mr. Stevens told him.

"Okay…" He began to pace the room. "What about giving the fans a taste of something new? Show them our vocals if you will? They already know we can dance and sing, but let's show them what we can do really as a group. A wide ranged ballad that will turn the hearts of every human being on the planet."

"But… what if they don't want the slow stuff… like you said you're known for dancing…"

"Well we could release a dance version along with the single, market the ballad, but release the dance version for the clubs and such. That way, we can hit all the markets at once."

"Dance versions of ballads never sell." Janet told him, her arms crossed over her chest as she contemplated the idea.

"It will if we do it right… and that's where we need Stevie." He lookeda t her and grinned, knowing he had them.

Mr. Stevens thought about it, scratching his chin the whole time. "What song?"

"Are You Gonna Be There. We were thinking about putting it on the album initially but it fell past to the other dance songs. I think it would work."

Janet frowned. "I don't know."

Stevie shook her head. She didn't know what he was trying to do but this just wasn't going to work. "This is a bad idea…"

"Here let me sing a but of it… and I'll show you what we were thinking." He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding it, before placing it on the table. He mentally ran through the music in his mind, before taking a deep breath.

But in my world
If it should all fall down
Will you be there
Be there to turn it around
Will you still care
Can I depend on you to see me through this life

And if it all goes wrong
Will you still make it right
It’s easy to be there through the good times
But when the times get hard
Will you still be on my side

Are you gonna be there when the rain comes
Are you gonna be there with a warm touch
Can you swear you'll be there with a real love
Are you gonna be there
Will you stand by my side through the bad times
Through whatever will be, will you still be mine
Will you stay in my life for a lifetime
Are you gonna be there

~Excerpt from NSYNC, Are You Gonna Be There~

She listened to him sing and could feel the butterflies start up again in her stomach. She couldn't figure out why now she was feeling like this. She looked him up and down as he sang, the way his throat moved with each note, the way his eyes closed when he got into the upper range of the scale, the way his hand subconsciously moved keeping time with the tempo in his head. Her eyes fell down to her lips and she could feel her face start to heat as she remembered what they could do besides sing.

When he finished both of them turned to look at Mr. Stevens and Janet. "Well…" He said, nervous for the first time since he had come in.

They turned to look at each other before nodding. "It works, JC, like always you're ideas sell. Go for it. You have our permission."

He turned to grin at Stevie, but she was still watching the executives. "Well then, I guess…"

"I'll catch you down in the studio. We still have things to discuss." She told him, eyeing Mr. Stevens.

"Ummm…" He looked confused before shrugging and getting up to leave.

"Actually… could you wait for me outside please?" She asked, turning to him.

He was stunned at the emotion that was playing in her eyes and had to swallow hard before nodding. "Yeah, I'll just be… right outside."

"Thanks."

He closed the door just as he heard her begin to talk. "Now that that's settled, I wanted to talk to you about my fath…"

***********************************************************************

He watched Janet and Mr. Stevens leave, discussing ideas for marketing and as soon as they left, she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

"You okay?"

She rolled her shoulders before turning to face him. "Yeah….But…"

"But?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"I really wish you hadn't done that."

"Excuse me?" He asked her, incredulously. "I just saved your hide."

"And you didn't need to."

"Are you so sure about that?"

"Yes." She said her voice rising. Her nerves were frayed enough as it was and the last thing she needed was him going off on her, or her to even be in his presence.

"Well, I'm not."

"Well, you're not god, and don't know everything that was going on in there."

"You were this close to being fired." He held up his forefinger and his thumb. "I heard most of it outside."

"So."

"So, I saved your butt."

"Why?"

"Cause of what I said… it was my fault and you…didn't deserve it."

"What's this? Josh admitting he's wrong?"

"Look, about…"

She waved a hand around. "Forget it. It was nothing."

"I know that… but…"

"But what?"

"But I wanted to say…"

"No need." She dismissed him, shifting her purse back onto her shoulder from where it had fallen.

"Stevie…"

"What, Josh?"

"I…look yesterday was a mistake and…"

Her mouth creased into a line. "I know… isn't that what I just said."

"Uh…"

"I'm really tired, Josh."

"I…"

She shook her head. "I'll talk to you tomorrow. Thanks for the white knight routine." She started to walk away but he grabbed her arm, stopping her as she went by.

"What do you want, Josh?"

He looked deep into her eyes and wondered where these sensations in the pit of his stomach were coming from. "I don't know." He breathed out.

She smiled, reaching up to pat his cheek. "Thanks again, even though…yeah…" She reached up and impulsively slid her lips to his cheek, slowly letting them linger before pulling back.

Both of their eyes were wide, when she finally looked up at him. The electricity in the air could have fried an egg. "I…"

"See you tomorrow." She said hurriedly before practically sprinting down the hall.

He stood there shocked down to his toes. "For a mistake, that sure felt good…" He said aloud, before leaning back against the wall, smacking his head. "Oh Chasez… what are you thinking?"

He remembered the feel of her lips against his skin and could feel his face flushing. "I know what I'm thinking and that isn't good…" He groaned.

He pulled himself away from the hall and headed back down to the studio. He knew he had to tell the guys the outcome and that this next week was going to be hell for all of them.

"He's been gone a long time…"

"He'll be back and then we'll…"

"JACE! How'd it go?"

"We got the okay." He said softly, sitting down in the first chair that he came to.

"Good, so where's…"

"She went home."

"Probably dead on her feet after dealing with that but she's still…"

"Yes, she still has her job."

"Looks like she got something else… or JC did." Justin said grinning, looking at his cheek.

"What?" He asked puzzled.

Justin reached over and wiped off the lipstick before showing him on his thumb. "Got some did we?"

"I…" His eyes widened as he looked around the room.

"What's going on JC?"

"Nothing."

"That's not…"

"Shut up Chris."

"So something did…." Justin grinned.

"No."

"JC…"

"We have to be here early tomorrow."

"JC and Stevie sitting in a tree…" Chris began to sing.

"CHRIS…" He warned the older man.

"What?" He asked innocently.

"Nothing… I'm heading back, anyone need a ride?"

"Nope."

"Okay…. See ya." He stomped out of the room, before about halfway down the hall, his hand lifted to caress his cheek before furiously wiping off the lipstick.

After he left, everyone turned to Chris. "Okay, spill, what's going on…"

"Well, you see…" He grinned. "It all started innocently after we left yesterday…"

Chapter 11

Stevie rolled over, blinking as the offensive sun streamed in through the blinds on her window. She sighed, yanking the covers over her head, trying not to think that it was morning. Morning meant that she wouldn't be home for days due to the recording and the time that was needed to put into making an all new single for the company to be able to put out as soon as possible.

She shoved the covers off as she swung her legs over the side, resting her head in her hands as she thought of the days to come. She was going to have to work her butt off, harder than she had already, all the while dealing with… him.

"Oh Stevie…." She muttered. "Are you going to be able to handle being in close quarters with him for hours, days, on end without either jumping him or killing him?"

Taking a deep breath, she stood up and headed to her closet to get dressed and start the day. "I'm not going to let him get to me. I will be professional, civil, cool, calm, and will not let my temper take control. I will…"

"Who are you talking to?"

Stevie screamed, dropping the shirt that she was holding as both hands went to her chest hoping to calm her racing heart. "Kacey, if you do that one more time…"

Kacey threw her head back laughing, before placing her hands on her hips as she looked her roommate over. "What are you going to do? Brain me with a shoe?"

"I'll…" She looked down then around her room, before looking back at her. "I don't know what I'll do but it'll be bad."

"Uh huh right. Anyway…"

"What?"

"Who were you talking to?"

She rolled her eyes, before glancing around the room. "Who do you think? Do you see anyone else in here but me?"

"Well, maybe a blue eyed, dark haired, tall individual snuck in last night to have his wicked way with you before tearing another strip off your back down at the studio…" She choked on the last of the sentence as her face was suddenly filled with a mouthful of cotton. She yanked the shirt off her face before glaring playfully at Stevie. "Was it something I said?"

"Kacey, you need to learn to keep your big mouth shut. I told you that in the strictest of confidence and… and…"

"And what…" She said, crossing the room to sit down on the unmade bed. "Talk to me." She looked up at her, letting her know that she was being serious and was willing to listen.

Stevie could feel herself begin to crumple. Only Kacey was ever able to get her to talk about what was going on inside of herself. "I don't know." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't know what’s going on and I'm so confused."

"Well, it's not like he hasn't given you ample reason to not be confused."

"I know… it's just…" She sighed, not knowing how to phrase it.

"Just what?"

"It's just that…. Everytime I've met him, there has been this spark between us, but I always thought it was anger or annoyance or something… then while working with him, I honestly thought that it was hate and… and then, he kissed me. When he kissed me, Kace… I swear I saw fireworks….and now… now everything is back to normal and…"

"And you're so confused you can't see straight and you don't know how to act around him or yourself even."

She nodded. "Yeah…."

Kacey watched her as she stared off into space thinking about the next few days. "So…" She leaned back onto the bed, getting comfortable. "What are you going to do?"

Stevie shrugged, before turning back tot he closet and perusing her clothing. She yanked out a red blouse and a pair of gray slacks and proceeded to get them on. "I'll do what I've been doing. Act like nothing happened and move on."

"Is that what you want to do?"

She buttoned up the last few buttons then grabbed a hair clip and clipped her hair back. "No, but what can I do?"

"See if there's something there besides anger?"

She sighed, hanging her head. "I can tell you right now that there isn't anything. He hates me and that's that. I can't change his mind, even if I wanted to. Which I don't." She looked up quickly to meet Kacey's gaze.

Kacey shook her head before getting up to leave the room. "Liar." She whispered as she walked past the girl back out into the hall. "Just admit you want it… things will become far easier once you quit denying your feelings."

Stevie watched Kacey walk out of the room before releasing the breath that she had been holding. "Of course I want him… who wouldn't want a talented, passionate, firey individual like him… but the question of whether he could want me for anything other than a venting post is another story."

She glanced over at the clock, the red numbers on the face of it registering in her brain. She was supposed to be at the studio right then. She reached over, grabbing her bag off her desk before jetting out the door to her car, tossing out a hurried goodbye to Kacey who was sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of Apple Jacks in front of her.

************************************************************************

"Lay off." He mumbled as they climbed into the car.

"What?" They replied in unison, all innocently.

"That's what." He growled out, rolling his eyes as his arms crossed over his chest. He slumped down in the corner of the backseat, hoping that the car ride would take less time than it usually. He couldn't remember a time when he had wanted to be at the studio more than he did at this moment in time.

Justin looked over at Lance who was sitting between him and JC and grinned. "So…"

"I said I don't want to hear it."

"You haven't answered the question yet."

"And I don't plan on it."

"JC…"

JC leaned forward and smacked Chris upside the head where he was sitting in the passenger seat as Joe drove, knowing the streets better, although they were coming to know it as well as he did.

"Hey, what was that for!" Chris yelled out, rubbing the back of his head.

"For opening your big mouth." JC grumbled before slumping back into his original position.

"They asked." He turned around to look at the three in the backseat. "Who was I to not answer truthfully?"

JC narrowed his eyes. "Just remember that I know where you sleep at night."

Chris laughed. "I'm shaking in my sneakers."

He shook his head before turning to face the window, blocking their chatter out of his mind. He watched the buildings pass by and started to recognize some of the structures as they neared JIVE studios.

Justin couldn't stand it a moment longer. He had to know. He reached over and smacked JC, getting him to turn around and look at him finally. "Well…"

"What?" He growled out, not wanting to discuss this a moment longer.

"Was she any good?" He grinned slyly.

JC shook his head, not being able to believe that the kid had actually said that. "I can't believe you…"

Lance looked between the two and kept imagining bloodshed at any moment. "Uh guys… can you…"

"JC…" Justin whined.

"Why do you want to know, Justin… want to get a piece of Stevie as well?" JC mumbled snidely.

"JC!" The entire car growled out in amazement and shock.

"Sorry." He said, slumping farther into his seat. "I didn't mean it."

"You really need to work on that mouth and temper of yours, Jace… its going to bite you in the butt one day." Lance told him.

"I know…" He sighed. "It's just… I don't think clearly when I'm around her."

"Really…" Justin looked over at him. "Now this is getting interesting."

"It's not what you think, J."

"Well what else is it when you say you can't think clearly around her, just your brain fuzzing out, or does someone have a case of "I like Stevie but won't admit it" virus?"

He gritted his teeth watching the people walk along the sidewalk, the opposite direction that they were headed in. They pulled into the parking lot and he had to restrain himself from jumping out of the car. Taking a deep breath, he thought about how to answer Justin cause he knew everyone was waiting for his response. "I don't know…. I just don't know guys… it's like a hurricane is going through my brain right now and… there isn't one clear answer. I wish I could say which way I leaned… but I can't."

He opened the door and stepped out of the car, leaving them all sitting there thinking about his response and made his way towards the building.

"He's got it bad." Lance said with a smirk.

"Ya think?" Justin laughed. "He's so tied up in knots that he doesn't know which way is up and which way is down."

They climbed out of the car to follow him in. All four laughing at the misfortune that their friend was going to go through within the next few days.

"He's not going to know what hit him when he finally figured out that he's gaga over the girl that he thought that he hated." Joe said. "And believe me when I say that I want to be there when Ivy has to pick him up off the floor."

"Oh yeah, she'll pick him up, dust him, up, knock him down again, then kiss him to make it all better." Chris joked.

"Only after making his life hell once she has something on him for making hers hell the past few weeks." Justin said, opening the door for them.

"I don't think she would, she's too nice." Lance said.

Chris rubbed his chin in contemplation. "I don't know… Stevie can be pretty vicious, but then again depending on her feelings… I think we'll just have to wait and see."

JC looked behind him when he reached the lobby, waiting for the others to catch up. "Are you guys going to hurry up or just take forever and a day?"

"Forever and a day, Jace… just like always." Chris called out.

He sighed, turning to look around the lobby. He noticed a young woman bending over the counter talking to the receptionist but paid her no mind. He began to think about Stevie and the next few days and wondered if he would be able to handle it without either killing her or kissing her again and the more he thought about it, the more neither of the prospects did he find promising, in fact, killing her made him feel nausous and the thought of kissing her absolutely terrified him.

"JC?"

He blinked a few times coming out of his daze to find Lance watching him, while waving a hand in front of his face. "What?"

"Just wondering if you were going to come back to this planet at any time. What were you thinking about?"

He shook his head. "Nothing, just spacing out."

"Okay…" He eyed the older man once more before hurrying up to the group.

JC followed closely behind, his thoughts still on Stevie. He knew he was beginning to like her, hell he already did, but… wait, he didn't like her, he respected her and her work ethic, but he didn't like her. Not at all.

"Oh hello…" He heard from up in front of him.

"Man, I'd like to get me a piece of that and then some."

"Shut up dude, she wouldn't look twice at you, she'd be all over the Timberlake before she'd even could think about getting a piece of Fatone."

"You're living in your teenage dreams again, kid. Think again. She'd walk right by adolescence just to get to a real man."

"And she'd bypass all of ya to get to the bootay." Lance cried out, laughing heartily.

"You guys are pigs." JC muttered under his breath, not knowing what they were talking about.

Chris clapped an arm around his shoulders, having heard the younger man. "Yeah well, can't help it, we're men after all and have to live up to the reputation and if you turned your head just this much…" He twisted his head so that he was staring full on at the woman, bending over the desk. "You'll see that this view needs to be appreciated."

"Yeah… well…" His eyes widened as he got a good look at the woman's body and gulped audibly. "It's nice and uh… damn…" He finally breathed out.

Chris laughed. "Exactly."

"Thanks boys. I'm so glad that you can appreciate a woman's body to that extent. But just remember, you do work with me after all and hands should be kept inside at all times during the ride for fear of them being ripped off if they should happen any place they shouldn't be." Stevie said, straightening up from Renee's desk, giving the guys a good once over.

They all stopped and swallowed hard. "Ummm, Stevie…" Justin started.

"We uh…" Lance continued.


"Didn't know it…." Joe took over.

"Was you…" Chris finished.

She looked back at Renee, who was grinning. "Guess I can't fault them for giving me a compliment, can I?" She asked.

The younger woman sat there with a silly grin before shaking her head no.

"That's what I thought." Stevie said, before walking by them. When she got to JC, she smiled broadly because he was the only one that hadn't been able to say a word, his mouth still hanging wide open since he had realized that the female body he had been admiring was her. She chucked him under the chin, closing his mouth before grinning.

She grabbed him by the shoulders then spun him around so that she had a full view of his backside. "Very nice as well…" She patted it gently before walking down the hallway. "You guys planning on working today at all or are you just going to hang out in the lobby?" She punched the button on the elevator then entered it, the doors closing behind her.

JC stood there shocked to the core. She had grabbed him and blatantly checked out his ass. "Guys…did she….just…"

Justin laughed, before leaning back to check JC out. "Dude… I don’t know… it's nice and all but…" He glanced over at Lance. "Lance's is just so much nicer in my opinion."

"Oh yeah…." Chris laughed, reaching out to grab Lance. "After seeing this, I don't know how anyone could go back to JC."

Lance turned around and looked at Chris. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Ummm…." Chris grinned and patted Lance's butt. "Checking out the merchandise."

Lance raised an eyebrow at him. "Merchandise?"

"Do you know how much money we could make if we marketed this? The Lance booty… every teenage girl's dream." Chris said, looking down, cocking his head to the side as he checked Lance out.

Everyone laughed as JC rubbed his forehead, trying not to think about the ongoing conversation around him. "How do I get myself into these situations?"

"Talent." Joe told him, before punching the button for the elevator.

"I guess…." He shook his head.

************************************************************************

Stevie took the elevator up to her office to check her messages before heading down to the studio to get to work. She knew that she was stalling, but she couldn't help it. The moment her eyes had met his… She shook her head to erase the mental image from her mind before reaching her door. She dug into her purse, pulling out her key ring and proceeded to unlock the door. The pictures, flowers, and overall untidyness gave the office a lived in feel which brought a smile to her face, that quickly disappeared as the a fleeting thought that her father had gotten this for her filled her mind.

Gritting her teeth, she walked over to her desk and sat down, picking up the receiver to check her voice mail. She punched in the code and listened as the automated voice came over the line telling her that she had two new messages.

Stevie, dear… this is your mother and father. We just tried you at home but Kacey said that you were at the office already. We haven't heard from you in days and just wanted to check and make sure you were okay. Is everything okay, sweetie? How come you haven't called? Well, we're on our way out the door… another charity weekend in Barbados, so I'll try again when we get back. If you get this message sometime this weekend, call us on the cell phone. We're worried about you, honey. Love you…

She rolled her eyes, grimacing as soon as the voice came over the line. She hadn't talked to her parents in days, mainly because she had been trying to get that single finished and up for the executives to listen to but then when the comment of her father being associated in any way to her job position… she had closed off, not wanting anything to do with them until she could figure out what she wanted to say and go about this. It wasn't like she couldn't find another job, she could in a heartbeat, but she really liked the people here and the work atmosphere.

She wasn't going to let him get to her, wasn't going to let either of her parent's get to her. But, the thought kept niggling in the back of her mind that if her father hadn't interfered, would she still have been hired in the first place and if she had, would she have been fired the day before. She pressed her knuckles into her eyes, hoping to stop the tears that she could feel rising behind her eyelids. She had done this on her own, she must've cause the alternative would mean….

Stevie! I know, I know… I've been calling you nonstop for like the past week but I can't help myself. What'd ya think? Did you like? Do you think we could get it published, copyrighted and all that as soon as possible? I'm really sorry to be pushy and everything but… I kinda need the money. It's just… rent is due… I'm eating Top Ramen like there's no tomorrow and… well… last time we talked, you said it was golden. sigh I'm really sorry to bother you. I know you're busy and you're doing what you can. I'm a starving songwriter is all. Call me, babe. I need to hear from you. Thanks. Oh and this is Sandy by the way. Man, I'm sure you can recognize my voice by now… Okay I'm going now. Call me.

Stevie shook her head as the other voice came over the line. She'd meant to call her but things had just gotten so out of focus and she hadn't heard back from the agency yet about the song and… Stevie sighed. She'd make sure and get on that this afternoon, the first break they had.

She put the phone back on the receiver and stood, stretching her back before leaning down to grab her briefcase and planner to head back downstairs. In her haste, she knocked her mug full of pens onto the floor and had to bend down and pick them up.

"Trying to ditch us?"

She looked over from behind the desk to see a pair of white Nikes, attached to a pair of legs covered in khakis. Her line of site kept going up to reveal a white t-shirt and a pair of blue eyes that were narrowed on her.

"No… just had to come up and check messages."

"And that took a half hour?"

"I've been up here for a half hour?" She said incredulously, glancing over to check the clock.

He nodded. "Yeah…" JC folded his arms across his chest as he leaned against the doorjamb.

"I'm sorry…. I honestly…" She started, biting her bottom lip, as she stared up at him still sitting on floor.

He held up a hand to stop her. "It's fine. We just got to talking and wondered if you were ever going to come down and I picked the short straw to come up here. So… I'm here to get you and remind you of our time limit." He raised his eyebrows at the end of the statement, while pointing to his watch.

Stevie stared up at him. "You guys drew straws…."

JC looked down at her wide eyes and tried to hide his grin, behind his smirk. "Yeah well… we were all pretty comfortable and hated to move from our spots on the couches and floor so…" He shrugged. "We drew straws."

She stood up, eyes narrowed as she crossed the room. "You drew straws…."

He nodded, still leaning. "Oh yeah… no one wanted to come up here."

She was holding her briefcase and planner and was almost nose to nose with him. She lifted up a hand and poked him in the chest. "YOU DREW STRAWS…."

"What's the big deal…" He frowned down at her.

"Do you know how demeaning that is?" She told him incredulously.

"How is it demeaning?" He asked her.

"It just is, Stuffy Boy." She told him, trying to look down her nose at him even though he was taller.

"Now wait a minute…." He said, grabbing her arm as she tried to move past him in the doorway. "While we're on the topic of demeaning…"

She looked down at her arm then up at him. "Demeaning? I have no idea what you're talking about."

"What's with this Stuffy Boy business? I thought we'd move past that… at least to the point of where you didn't call me that anymore and I don’t try to take your head off for saying it."

She shook her head, a small grin lighting up her face. "Oh Josh… Josh… will you never learn…"

"Learn what?"

"I give nicknames to those that I care about. Take for instance Jellybean…."

"What about Justin?"

"Don't you think that he has a problem with the nickname Jellybean as well? I mean a huge popstar like him is called a sugar coated candy… but when you think about it… it fits… then there's you… Stuffy Boy…"

He glared down at her, his hand tightening on her arm. "I don't like it."

She turned her face up so that she could look directly into his eyes. "Well, too bad. You're stuck with it." She reached up and flicked his nose before extricating herself from his grasp and turned down the hallway.

"Hey!" He called out. "We're not done yet."

"Yes we are." She called over her shoulder, punching the button for the elevator. "We have work to do, this can be taken care of on our personal time."

He hurried up to catch the same elevator down. "We're not done with this in the slightest."

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye and tried not to grin. He was just too cute for his own good when he was mad, the way his mouth curved into a pout and his blue eyes darkened as he stared at the wall, his shoulders tense and his hands balling into fists then unclenching. She shook her head, trying to ward away the thoughts she had but they just wouldn't go away. Stevie… get a grip.

They both watched the numbers descend as the elevator began to move down to the bottom floor where the studios were located. The tension in the car kept climbing as both wanted to say something but didn't want to ruin the silence or manage to make the other angry again, even though both were feeling a little slighted after their last exchange.

JC couldn't take it anymore. He had to say this and had to say it now. His hand shot out and he pushed the stop button on the elevator, stopping the car abruptly. "We need to have this out now." He told her, turning to face her.

"Have what out?" She asked, raising an eyebrow at him as she leaned back against the wall.

He pushed both hands through his hair as he tried to sort through his thoughts. He looked up and felt all the air he had been holding in his lungs push out in one huge rush as his blue eyes met her green sparkling ones. "I…." He started, not knowing what to say.

"Well…." She said.

"I…" His entire brain had fried just by her giving him one look. "I…"

She shook her head. "When you can remember, get back to me." She pushed the button to start the car again but just as her finger released the button, found herself pressed up against the wall, his lips covering hers.

"Oh…" She breathed out, her hands raising tentatively to his shoulders before, wrapping themselves around his neck to bring him closer.

Both pulled back to look at the other, breathing heavily as feelings that they couldn't begin to understand or want coursed through their bodies at a tremendous rate.

JC tightened his hands on her waist, as he searched her eyes for surrender and when he found what he was looking for, leaned down for another kiss.

Neither one was aware when the elevator came to a complete stop and the doors opened. They continued to kiss, each one not wanting to let go of the other for fear of losing whatever connection that they were having and to go back to what they were… whatever they were at this point in their lives.

"Where's JC? Shouldn't he be… Oh….man… Come take a look at this!" Joe cried out in the hallway as he walked out of the room.

"Joe, what are you yelling about? We need to find out what the hold up is with Jace and….oh… now….damn…" Justin said as he walked out of the studio.

"Would you two clowns quit your hollering and… LANCE GET OUT HERE!" Chris said as he bumped into Justin's back, staring at the two who were still locked in their embrace in the elevator.

"Could we please try to act like professionals while we're here…." Lance said as he came out into the hallway. "Oh…" He started, his eyes widening. "I get it now."

"Shouldn't we say something?"

"Nah… I think we should just let them go at it."

"Why?" Chris asked Justin.

"More ammunition." Justin grinned, his hands rubbing lightly together.

"You're evil… you do know that." Chris told him.

Justin nodded, his blue eyes twinkling.

"I like." Chris said, clapping a hand on his back, turning his attention back to the couple.

"I don't feel right about this. I think we should at least say something…" Joe said.

"For heavens sake why?" Justin asked, frowning.

"Because…" Joe grinned. "I want to see their reactions."

"Hmmm… you have a point." Justin smirked.

"Okay on the count of three…" Lance said. "1…2…3…"

All four guys yelled out, "Yo JC!" at the top of their lungs and tried to hold in their laughter as they saw the two break apart.

Stevie and JC turned and looked, seeing the four guys, hands covering their mouths as they tried to look innocent while not laughing.

"Are they really…"

"Uh huh…" JC said, turning back to her, his forehead resting against hers as he tried to get control of his breathing. "They’ll go away if we ignore them."

"Hey JC!" Justin called out. "You going to use those vocal chords any time today to sing or…."

"Honestly, ignoring them is the best case scenario." He whispered, hoping it would be true this time.

"Or are you going to play tonsil hockey with our technician for the rest of the day?" Chris yelled out loudly in his high pitched voice.

Stevie's eyes widened as she shoved JC away from her to stare down the hallway at the four guys, her mouth dropping open in shock. She watched Justin and Chris give each other high fives before Justin started towards them down the hall, a huge grin splitting his face. "Hey JC…"

"What…" She heard from beside her, in a low groan.

"I do believe its now my turn… you did say I could have a piece of her in the car this morning didn't you?" Justin asked, pure innocence playing across his features as he kept walking towards them.

Stevie whirled around to look at JC, who she could tell was now trying to crawl into the wall of the elevator. Her face drained of all color and before she could think, one hand lifted and proceeded to slap him full across the face before tearing down the hall, pushing Justin out of the way as she ran for the nearest bathroom.

Everyone stopped as they watched her run, no one knowing what to say or do except stare. She disappeared around the corner towards the woman's bathroom and when she was gone, only then did they react.

"Ummm…. Oh boy." Joe said, his eyes wide.

Chris and Lance watched the two that were at the end of the hallway. Neither one wanted to attract the attention of their two blue eyed band members as they both watched the other.

Justin stopped in the hallway as soon as Stevie ran by him, knowing he had gone too far with his teasing. "Jace… man…I'm sorry."

JC took a deep breath, one hand rising to his cheek as he rubbed the force of her slap away. He exited the elevator, chewing on the corner of his bottom lip before taking another breath just as he stopped in front of Justin. He looked down at the floor, thinking about what he wanted to say before raising his eyes up to meet the younger ones.

"What the HELL were you thinking?" He finally yelled out.

"Me? What about you?" Justin asked him.

"Guys…" Chris forced out. "Shouldn't someone go check on Stevie?"

"What about me?" JC asked him.

"What do you think you're doing? First you act like you hate her, then you kiss her, then you try to be all I don't care what we do, then you save her job and now you're kissing her again after telling her it was a mistake? Does something not seem right here to you?"

"Stay out of it, Justin." JC told him quietly.

"I think you need to get your thoughts back into your head and out of your pants."

"I'm warning you kid…" JC told him, his eyes narrowing.

"Back off." Lance said, walking up to the two. "Joe just went to check on Stevie and I think you two need to go get a drink of water or something."

JC turned to Lance and pushed him away. "The kid here needs a lesson in manners."

"And you're not one to give it to him. BACK OFF."

JC shook his head, taking a step back. "I'm going into the studio. Tell me when we're all ready to actually work around here." He stomped off into the room, slamming the door behind him before leaning back against it, one hand lifting to rub his forehead. "What am I doing?" He whispered.

************************************************************************

Stevie sat down in the stall, locking herself in, while she sat down on the toilet, arms wrapped around herself as she willed herself not to cry but knowing it was hopeless. Teas began to slide down her cheeks and she sniffed, one hand raising to wipe the offensive moisture away. "What is going on?" She whispered.

Joe cautiously opened the door to the women's bathroom and his eyes widened as he took in the powder/lounge portion of their bathroom. The walls were a light dusky pink with a flower border and there were large light blue chairs that matched the border arranged carefully around small tables with a full length mirror adorning one wall.

He stepped fully into the room, placing his hands on his hips, swinging his head around to get a good look at the room. "Well, this isn't fair. We don't have anything like this in our bathroom."

When he didn’t see Stevie curled up in any of the furniture, he hesitantly moved towards the back area where the stalls and sinks were. As he got closer, he could hear sniffling and the sounds of someone crying and took a deep breath. "I don't deal well with tears. I don't like tears. Why tears… I could handle anger, just not tears." He kept mumbling to himself as he moved into the room fully.

"Would you take a look at this place!" He said loudly as he moved into the room. "This just isn't fair. I'm going to have to take this up with management and see about getting a lounge put into out bathroom as well."

"Joe, not now… I'll be… ready to work in a few minutes. Just give me a few minutes." He heard softly from one of the stalls. He looked under each one but couldn't tell where she was since her feet must've been pulled up to her chest.

"Hey, it's okay… take as long as you need. I'm just… uh… checking out the joint. Your sinks are even clean!" He said moving towards the sink and mirror. "I can't believe this… you girls get everything in here while all we get are sinks and urina… I mean stalls and everything."

He heard her sniffle again but not as hard as she had been before. "Stevie, Ivy, hon… come out…." He said, turning back to the stalls.

"What's you do, draw the short straw again?" She bit out, between clenched teeth.

"Uh…" Joe ran a hand through his hair. "You heard about that huh."

"Yeah, you could say that was one of the highlights of my day today."

"Would the other one be when JC kissed you or Justin's comment?" Joe asked her, leaning back against the wall hoping that would draw her out.

"I don't want to talk about it, Joe, could you please leave me be."

He saw one foot get put down and moved towards that stall. "No can do, Ivy. Love ya too much, girl, to leave you alone. Now come out." He pushed gently on the door, to let her know that he knew where she was.

"Fine…" She sighed, opening up the door.

He held out a hand to her and pulled her out of the bathroom. He raised a hand up to her cheek to wipe away the tears. "It's okay, sweetie. We were just teasing."

"I know… but…" Her face crumpled a she began to cry again. "I don't know what's happening and I have so much on my mind and usually I can control this but now with my dad and then the agency and now the single and everything… What am I DOING?" She yelled out, bringing both hands up to clench her hair as she slid down onto the floor.

Joe bent down so that he could see her face. "I… This isn't just about JC is it?"

"You get a cookie, Einstein." She said sarcastically.

"What's going on?"

"Nothing…" She said, softly. "Nothing, that I can't handle."

"You're not handling it very well, now." He told her.

"I'll get my bearings. I always do." She said, wiping her face with the back of her hand before grinning up at him slightly. "See, I'm already doing better."

"Who are you trying to convince… me or yourself?"

She took a deep breath. "I will be fine. I always am. I just need… I need to get this single done." She said standing up. "First things first… let's go record."

"You're not in any condition to be working today… especially with two males who are about ready to tear each other apart."

She shrugged. "Too bad, guess they'll need to get over it and move on. We're on a deadline and can't afford to push anything back."

"Stevie…" Joe said, watching her. He was amazed at the skill with which she was able to push everything inside and appear normal after crying for who knows how long.

"Joe… We need to get this done."

"But what about when it's over with…" He asked softly, watching as she walked towards the door. He noticed the pause in her stride and the way her hand stopped right above the door.

"I don't know…" She told him.

"Will you still be working with us?"

"Most likely not." She said, even softer, before walking out the door and into the hallway.

************************************************************************

"Could you sing it again, Justin. Your voice wobbled a bit. Take it from the top." Stevie told him, not looking up from the board or her notebook where she would flick a switch then take a few notes.

"Are you sure? I thought I had it nailed that time." Justin told her from inside the booth. They had been working on the first chorus for hours and nothing was going right, it seemed.

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't think we needed another take, Justin. Now quit whining, take a drink of water, and move on."

Justin looked through the window at the other guys, trying to get someone to be on his side but no one really wanted to cross her today. His eyes met JC's and he grimaced at the pain that he saw in the older man's eyes. "JC…" He started.

JC walked over to the microphone and flicked the switch on so that he could speak into the booth. "She's right J, do it again."

Her head shot up at his words, her eyes meeting his in shock, before she quickly ducked her head back down.

"Fine… but if I get laryngitis from singing all day long while everyone else sleeps the day away, don't come complaining to me when you need me." Justin grumbled, before placing the headphones back onto his head, nodding to Stevie when he was ready.

"If I was down, would your arms lift me up to higher ground, with just the strength of your love, if I was lost would I find something in your eyes to lead me home, and if it all went wrong, would you be there to hold, it’s easy to be there through the good times, but when the times get hard, would you stay or walk away…" Justin sang into the microphone. He closed his eyes, his throat working to hit the upper octave.

"Take a deeper breath right before the last line, J." Stevie told him. "You'll get it then."

"Who wrote that note and when can I kill them?"

She laughed softly. The guy's ears picked up the sound and everyone looked over at her where she was sitting and saw the small smile that played across her lips. "You're doing fine. It's a hard line. One more time."

"Okay, Stevie… just for you." Justin sighed. He took a few deep, calming breaths before nodding that he was ready. She flicked the record switch and listened as his voice filled the studio for the hundredth time that day but this time was different, she could tell. He was determined to hit it this time and she could almost feel the emotion coursing through her with which he sang.

When the last note died away in the room, she looked at him through the window for the first time and smiled. "You got it. Good job kid."

Justin rubbed the back of his neck, stretching as he stood from the stool. "Thanks."

"No problem. It’s what I'm here for, coaching. Now just think… we got the first verse done, only several choruses and verses to go."

She turned her head to the side to stare at the rest of them when she heard multiple groans that didn't come from Justin. "What?" She asked.

"Only the first chorus and it's almost five already." Chris groaned, placing a hand to his forehead dramatically.

She shook her head. "We can call it a day if you want to, but we still have a LOT to do in the next few days. We have to have this done by Friday and it's already Wednesday and I don't want to be here working on this all night tomorrow night so…"

Joe smiled reassuringly at her when he cut her off in midsentence. "Ivy, it's fine. We're used to working late hours. However…." He stood up and walked towards her. "We're not used to doing this without a break." He reached down to take her hands, lifting her to her feet. "We need food. We need a break from here. What do you say about dinner?"

Her eyes glanced around at them. Justin had come out of the booth by that time and now everyone was staring at her, all with eyes that demanded food. All of a sudden, someone's stomach growled rather loudly.

Lance clamped a hand down on his midsection before his face began to turn a light shade of red. "Can we please go get food? I think I've waited long enough."

She sighed. "Go, go get food. How about everyone meets back here in an hour or so. That should give everyone a chance to find something that they like and to clear their heads and to be ready to work again."

They all got renewed energy, especially Justin, at the mention of food, and rushed to grab keys and coats on their way out. She sat down at the board and began to make notes in her planner about what she still needed to do and work on for later so that she wouldn't forget.

They stopped in the doorway and looked at each other, before turning back to her where she sat, not even paying attention to them anymore. "You coming Ivy?" Joe asked, having been elected early on to be the only one to talk to her for fear of her ripping off any parts of their bodies in anger for earlier.

"Nah, I think I'm going to stay here. I'll get something to eat upstairs." She said, still not lifting her head to look at them.

"You sure?"

She waved a hand, dismissing them. "GO!"

She didn't need to tell them twice as they all filed out of the room. She leaned back in the chair as soon as she heard the door shut and lifted both hands to her face, rubbing it tiredly. It had taken everything out of her just to be able to act normal and get the job done, but she was doing it and succeeding. So far, the music and voices were sounding incredible and she knew that the single was going to be a top hit.

She heard her cell vibrating on the table next to her. She grabbed it and lifted it to her ear, turning it on.

"Hello?"

She sat straight up in the chair as soon as she heard her father's voice. "What?"

"You can't be serious!"

"No, I've talked to Mr. Stevens, dad. He told me everything. How could you?!"

"What? You didn't trust me?"

"I'm a college graduate who has been working in this field for four years since I started college and you didn't think I could get a job without your help? What crack cocaine have you smoking recently?"

"I'm sorry. Yes, that was uncalled for."

"But…"

"I said I was sorry!"

"Whatever… my behavior is being reputable but what about your behavior…."

"You think it was fine!"

"I got hired because of your money and you KNOW it!"

"I should be thanking you? I don't think so."

"Look… I'm busy… I have to finish this single and then I'm looking for a new job."

"What company? I'm not telling you. Far away from any favors that's owed you, that's for sure."

"I'm being ungrateful… well, then I'm ungrateful. I told you I didn't want anything to do with you or your money, yet you still shove it in my face."

"I'm going… good night. Tell mom Hi and that I love her."

"What about you… right now I'm not feeling very loving at all. Good night!" She hung up then tossed the phone across the room as her entire body broke down in sobs. She couldn't believe him. "How could he do this to me?" She sobbed, wrapping her arms around her for the hundredth time that day it seemed.

JC stood in the doorway, having overheard her argument with her father. He stood there stunned not knowing what to do or say. He had always thought that she had a warm, loving, support filled family like his own but he had been wrong and had used that against her and she hadn't said a word to correct his thinking.

He felt horrible, in fact, he was beginning to think that everything that he had ever thought about her had been wrong but didn't know how to go about it correcting it or changing things.

He watched her lean into the board, put her hand on her crossed arms as she leaned her head down onto them, still crying softly. He couldn't begin to imagine the stress that she had to be going through what with the single, her father, and everything that was going on between the two of them and his group.

She sniffled into her arms, her eyes closed as if that would ward away any unwanted thoughts or actions. One hand lifted up to rub a shoulder, before dropping back to where it laid on the soundboard.

He finally stopped arguing with himself and crossed the room to where she sat, both hands lifting to her shoulders as he began to kneed them softly, getting a feel for how tense she was and how much pressure she could take before increasing it.

Neither one said a word as he worked on the knots in her shoulders. Joe had poked his head in to ask if JC had found his sunglasses only to be waved out the door and told that he would get something to eat later and for them to go ahead without him. Joe had nodded, knowing that the two needed to talk and that this was probably one of the few times that they would be alone in the few days to talk.

She had stopped sniffling awhile ago but his hands didn't stop. He didn't lift his hands until he could feel her moving beneath them as she raised her head to look at him, the first time in almost an hour since he walked into the room to lend her his strength and comfort.

"Why?" She asked him, her eyes searching his.

Chapter 12

JC took a deep breath, releasing her shoulders as he walked around to pull up a chair beside her. The soft word that she had uttered, "Why", kept reverberating in his brain as he tried to come up with an answer. He knew he didn't have a complete answer to give her since he didn't really know why he had done what he did. There wasn't a sound explanation that he could give and for the first time in his twenty-four years, he didn't know what to do.

"I don't know."

She lifted her head to look at him. Shock was written all over her face as she tried to read his eyes to see what game he was playing this time. She couldn't see anything but complete honesty in his blue eyes, and that comforted her for some reason. The knowledge that he was just as confused as she made her heart lift, she wasn't the only screwed up one here.

"I think that's the first honest thing you've said to me since I first met you." She said, smiling shyly.

The corner of his mouth lifted and he laughed softly. She could see a sparkle emerge in his eyes as he leaned back in the chair, studying her face.

"I think it is too."

She sighed, resting her head back down on the board, but kept her eyes open so that she could see his face. "What's going on, Josh?"

JC sighed with immense frustration because he had known that she would get to the heart of the problem between them before she'd talk about anything else, anything that he could help with. "Stephanie… I… " He rubbed his hands over his face as he tried to get his thoughts into some semblance of order.

"You don't know." She told him with a grin.

He looked at her through his fingers and couldn't help but smile in return. "Yeah…"

"Glad to know, I'm not the only one." She muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing… please continue."

He raised an eyebrow at her but didn't say anything about her under the breath comment. "I was saying something?" He responded instead.

She nodded. "You were talking about your confusion and I was listening."

He rolled his eye. "I don't remember that being the topic really at hand."

"Oh I do." Her eyes widened in complete innocence. "I want to hear this."

"Fine…" He shoved both hands into his hair as he rested his elbows on his knees. "Look…"

"I'm listening…" She told him.

He looked up at her and his eyes met hers, causing a jolt to go through his body. "I… Man, I don't know how to put this…"

"Just tell me what's on your mind and help me to understand why you're a complete prick one minute and the next kissing my pants off, cause I'm really confused with the mixed signals and don't really know how to act. Just tell me what's going on so that I can at least get my job done without being on edge constantly." She told him, bluntly, wanting to get the pain of rejection over with as soon as possible.

"Okay…" He took another deep breath. "Obviously, I'm attracted to you… if its not, you're blind as a bat…" He muttered to himself.

She grinned, but didn't say anything, wanting him to continue. "But…"

"But… but…" He tried to think of a but. "But… there isn't a but…" He said out loud to himself.

Stevie's eyes widened when he said that, but once again kept silent.

"I don't know what's going on inside of me anymore." He told her, standing up so that he could pace the room. "I wanted to hate you… I had convinced myself that you were this little, spoiled rich girl who wanted to dabble in music for a few months before she returned to whatever society function called her away."

She winced at the way he had viewed her for years, when all she had tried to do was get to know him.

"You annoyed the hell out of me yet I couldn't get you out of my head. Every time I ran into you, I thought of you constantly for months afterwards… your green eyes, your hair, your… everything… it was like a rash that had gotten onto my skin and I couldn't get rid of it."

He growled something before walking over to the door and kicking it. He put one hand up to it, and brought his forehead down to rest against the door. He didn't want to continue because he was afraid of what would come out of his mouth but he knew he had to, otherwise he'd lose her… lose what, he didn't know, but he knew he'd lose whatever this was that they had.

"Josh…" She started, her head coming off the board so that she could speak.

"I'm not finished." JC held up a hand, his head still bent against the door. He took another deep breath then turned to her. "You walked into the board room of JIVE and turned my world upside down. I wanted to hate you, but everything you did and said, contradicted what my head was telling me you were. You truly care about your work and want to succeed just as much as I want to. I can't hold that against you because if I did… I'd have to hold everything that I value and strive for against myself. You and I are too similar and I think that's why I wanted to hate you. I saw myself when I looked at you and it scared me."

He scratched his head, pulling slightly on one clump before walking over to where she sat, to sit in the chair that he had given up. He reached a hand out for her to take which she did. His fingers closed over hers as he squeezed gently. JC swallowed hard before continuing, he had to say what was crawling up inside of him or he'd choke. "I'm not saying that I know what's happening right now… nor can I even try to comprehend it. But, I'd like to at least try to…"

She looked at him, confusion written all over her face. "I don't understand."

"I don't know what's going on but I'd like to at least call a cease fire and see if we can figure it out ourselves." He said, one head cocked to the right so that he could gauge her reaction.

She pulled her hand back because the feelings that were racing along her nerve endings because of his touch was not allowing her to think straight. "You're asking if we can be friends?" She asked, standing up to put some space between them.

He watched her separate herself from him and knew that he was going to be rejected. There was too much hurt and pain between them already. "I don't know what I'm asking anymore…" He mumbled tiredly.

She looked down at his dejected face then looked over at the board and all of the switches and bars, wondering if they could do this. "Do you think we can? After everything?"

"I don't know." He said truthfully.

She nodded, flipping a switch absently. "Me either…"

"Well…" He stood up. "Maybe that's our answer then. We can't."

He turned to leave the room, not wanting to see the elation on her face, but her voice stopped him.

"Wait…"

JC turned around slowly. "What? I thought we had come to a conclusion that anything between us just doesn't work."

"I didn't say that I didn't want to try, did I?" She said softly.

"No…" He drew the word out, as the shock that passed through him at her words stopped him from being able to breathe in.

"Well I would." She nodded her head firmly. "I'm sick of pussy footing around each other, walking on egg shells, being civil when all we really want to do is tear each other's heads off, or whatever it is that we do. We obviously…" She stopped, trying to think of the words. "Have something between us…"

He nodded, his mouth dropping open slightly, as he tried to figure out now what she was saying.

"But…" She continued on, not even looking at him but at the wall behind his head. "We… should maybe…"

"Be friends first?" He asked.

She nodded. "Yeah…that…"

************************************************************************

"Do you think its safe to go back yet?" Justin asked from where he sat. He, Chris, Joey and Lance were all waiting patiently outside the back door to JIVE studios, having sat down on the steps leading up to eat their dinner and figure out if it was all right to head back in.

"I don't know… I mean I haven't heard any screaming or yelling, but then again we are a few floors up from them. We probably wouldn't hear them if they were killing each other." Chris said, pondering the situation.

Lance looked over him, his mouth full of hamburger. He swallowed before speaking. "You scare me sometimes, you do know that right?"

Chris shrugged. "Sorry, every angle has to be looked at."

Joey laughed, leaning against the step behind him. "They looked pretty cozy when I stuck my head in. The one who I think should be fearing for his life would be the big mouth kid that's sitting next to me."

Justin stopped with the hamburger halfway to his mouth. "Huh?"

"True…" Lance said, eyeing him. "You were the one that set everything into motion. She's going to have your hide by the time this night is over, I'd say."

Justin looked around at each of his friends, eyes wide. "I was joking. She knew I was joking. You don't think she'd really… nah, she loves me."

Chris raised his eyebrows and sighed before taking another bite. "I don't know… I just don't know if I would bet the bank on that if I were you…" He looked at Joe. "Do you think we could still perform as SYNC?"

"Oh yeah… but I'm thinking if we marketed ourselves as CYSN… we'd get a lot more followers. I mean what girl wouldn't buy an album titled Kissin'…. Come on… think about it…"

Lance and Chris looked at each other and laughed. "Oh Joe, never change…" Lance laughed.

"It's a viable option."

"We can't change the name, Joe, it'd be like starting all over." Chris explained.

"Oh… damn… well there goes all my other plans… but we can still be SYNC without Justin." He glanced over to the younger man and grinned. "Have you decided what you're going to do for your last few hours on earth?"

"This isn't funny." Justin said, jumping up to dispose of his half-eaten burger and fries. "I'm not hungry anymore and I'm going to head in."

"Walking straight to his death. You have to admire that in someone so young." Chris sighed, wiping away an imaginary tear.

"Chris!" Justin shouted before stomping into the studio, the door slamming behind him.

Lance, Joe and Chris all gave each other high fives. "Gotta love playing with a mind that gullible." Chris said, with a grin.

"Too easy…" Lance said, shaking his head. "We have to find someone that’s harder to torment… we need a challenge."

Joe lifted a hand to his chin and rubbed as he tried to think of someone else. "Hmmm…. I don't know… Justin is just so much fun and then there's JC… I think I like leaning to the more gullible people, at least then you know it’s a guaranteed laugh."

"True." Lance and Chris said at the same before all three dissolved into laughter.

************************************************************************

Justin trudged down the stairs to studio, wanting to take his time and think, plus give the two that were still in the room an extra chance to talk if they needed it. He couldn't believe that had popped out of his mouth and he felt horrible. Sure, it had all been in the spirit of teasing and everything, but even he knew that the line had been crossed when the words had come out of his mouth. Anything that Stevie did to him right now, he deserved and then some.

Finally reaching the level of the studios, he creaked open the door to make sure no body parts or blood spattered the walls. When he saw that everything was clear, he slowly made his way down the hall, cautiously, so that if people were yelling, he could make a fast get away.

His ears didn't pick anything up, so he picked up his pace, his mouth beginning to form a grin because, maybe, just maybe everything had finally been worked out. He knew it probably hadn't but… He crossed his fingers. At least let them have called a truce or something.

Voices began to filter out the door as he neared it so he slowed his step, not wanting to interrupt anything that might be even the slightest personal. He couldn't make out what they were saying until he was almost to the door and the first words that became clear stopped him in his tracks.

"That kid… I don't know JC. What he did… even he went too far."

"I know, but… can't you let it go. Just this once."

Justin's eyes widened and he pressed himself against the wall so that he wouldn't be seen. Maybe Chris was right about Stevie. His eyes widened when he heard something thrown, smashed against the wall. He gulped audibly, hoping she wasn't imagining that to be his head.

"Let it go?" She laughed sarcastically. "After everything that I've gone through since being put on your guys' album, not just from you but from everyone. No, I think it's about time that I made an example out of someone and let people know that they can't walk all over me, even if it was just a joke."

"Now calm down… the kid didn't know the stress you were under or that his comment would hit you this badly. Think before you do anything that could harm him...physically…"

Justin began to quickly look for an escape. Chris was right. She was going to kill him. He slowly began to ease his way down the hall along the wall. Maybe if he could just get back to the stairs, he could run outside and call a cab. Maybe make it to the airport tonight and the first flight back to Orlando, he'd take.

"Think? Why would I want to think? I know what I'm going to do to the kid." Stevie almost shouted in the small studio.

Justin could hear JC trying to calm her down but their voices were growing louder. They were moving into the hallway.

"Stevie…" JC said.

"I don't want to hear it. When I get my hands on that kid, I'm going to….Oh Hello, Justin…" Stevie grinned from ear to ear when she saw him standing back up against the wall, a couple feet down from the door to the studio. "How was dinner?"

"D…D…Dinner?" He stuttered, his eyes moving rapidly, trying to find a quick escape.

"Yeah…." She folded her arms over her chest as she watched him closely. "What'd ya have?"

"Uh…." He inched slowly down the hallway still. "We just grabbed some hamburgers and shakes."

"What kind of shake did you get?" She asked.

Justin began to panic as he saw her moving towards him steadily, her eyes watching him the entire time. "Uh… Strawberry? No… Vanilla."

"Don't remember?"

"Uh… no, it was Vanilla. Joey got Strawberry."

She nodded, a small smile on her face. "Okay… Where you going kid? We have work to do you know."

"I… " He looked quickly down the hall to see if he could make a run for it, but the door was still too far away. "I…" He looked back at her and saw that she was almost to him now.

"Justin…" She grinned fully at him. "There's something I think we need to talk about before everyone gets here…"

His eyes widened even more, causing Stevie to think that they were going to pop out of his head. "You okay? You're looking a little flushed there."

"I… We don't have anything to talk about."

"Oh, I think we do."

She had almost reached him and she lifted up a hand to lay on his arm. Justin looked down at her, then up to her face and when he saw the evil gleam in her eye, he couldn't take it anymore. Yelling the word no, he took off down the hall towards the stairs and didn't stop until he ran into something. The something being Lance as he, Chris and Joe all came out of the stairwell at the same time that he had been going in.

Justin looked up from the floor where he had been fallen, his face pale, his eyes panic stricken. He grabbed Lance's pant leg and stared up at him. "You have to help me… you guys were right, she is going to kill me. Don't let her get me."

Lance patted his head. "She's not going to kill you, buddy."

Justin gripped his pant leg even tighter. "No, you don't understand. I heard her in the studio. She's going to make me pay for what I said. I can't die, I'm only nineteen!"

"Oh, Justin…." He heard her say lightly behind him. "When you're done talking to them, can I see you in my office?"

Justin looked up at Chris, Joe and Lance. "See… she'll kill me there. Don't let me go. I can't go. I don't want to die." He wrapped his arms around Lance's leg, not wanting to let go of something solid for fear that she was going to snatch him away.

Everyone who was standing in the hallway couldn't take it anymore. Watching a nineteen-year-old pop star reduced to begging and holding on to a friend's leg was too ridiculous and everyone began to laugh.

Justin looked around wildly. "What's so funny? My death is not funny!" He jumped to his feet, hands clenched at his side, his feet still itching to run for his life.

Chris patted his back as he walked down the hall. "I told you she was vicious, but even this... man, she's better than me." He shook his head, still laughing as he made his way into the studio.

Stevie leaned back against the wall, trying not to laugh at his shocked face. Joe looked up and met her eyes and lost it. He bent down at the waist, causing Lance to laugh and the two had to hold each other up as they slowly made their way to the studio from the stairwell. "Ivy… you're evil." Joe told her, shaking his head.

"He deserved it."

"Oh we know… but… that was evil."

"Well, you did say that the gullible were the most fun to play with didn't you?" She grinned.

Lance laughed. "You're a girl after my own heart."

She patted his cheek. "Thanks, sweetie."

Justin sank back down onto the floor of the hallway, staring at JC and Stevie in shock who were now watching him. "What is going on?" He asked, slowly, not sure if he really wanted the answer or not.

JC shook his head and turned to go into the studio after the others, but before he entered he settled one hand on her shoulder. "You were right… paybacks are better than just talking."

She patted his hand before pushing him towards the door. "Go, me and the kid have some unfinished business."

Stevie walked down the hall to where he sat and hunched down in front of him, a grin still plastered on her face. "You look a little peaked, Jellybean."

"I don't like you much right now." He grumbled, picking at some lint on his jeans.

She laughed. "Justin… haven't you figured out what's going on yet?"

"No…"

"I owed you."

His eyes widened. "For what?"

She cocked her head to the side, studying him. "Would you like the list?"

"I haven't done anything… well the comment but…"

"Are we forgetting my office?"

"Your…" He raised his eyes to meet hers. "This was about your office?"

She nodded then began to laugh. "I told ya kid… no one tops me." She stood up, then ruffled his curls. "You should have seen your face… PRICELESS!" She giggled all the way down the hall. She stopped right before the door then turned around again. "Did you really think I'd be that mad about the comment, come on kid… I've said and done worse, you just caught me by surprise."

Justin watched her go in and could hear them all laughing and discussing what they need to accomplish for the rest of the session that night. He hit his fist on his thigh before standing to brush his butt and pants off. After making sure he was clean, he headed back to the studio, grumbling the entire way about evil technicians that hold grudges and her four little cohorts.

***********************************************************************

"In my world, if it should all fall down, will you be there, be there to turn it around, will you still care, can I depend on you to see me through this life, and if it all goes wrong, will you still make it right, its easy to be there through the good times, well when the times get hard, will you still be on my side…" JC closed his eyes as he sang the last line of his solo, trying to hit the high note.

Stevie shook her head. "No, no… you sound strained. Open your throat more and let the sounds come out naturally instead of trying to force it."

JC scratched his neck, listening to her instruction before nodding. "Okay… so what you're saying is that you want me to loosen up."

She smiled. "Exactly, you're too serious. If you try to force the sound, it doesn't sound right. You know you can hit the note, but you're anticipating it. Just sing."

He took a deep breath, before cueing her that he was ready to try it again.

Justin sat slumped against the couch, watching Stevie and JC try to get his solo down while Lance, Chris and Joey kept watching him sulk and snickering. He finally couldn't take it anymore and glared at them over his shoulder. "What?"

"Nothing." Chris said, before covering his mouth with the palm of his hand.

"WHAT?"

"J, you need to get over this pout thing you're in." Lance told him, grabbing a magazine off the table next to him.

"I just don't get it." Justin mumbled.

"Get what?"

"How she did it…" He crossed his arms over his chest.

"I can answer that one." Joe told him, leaning back and pointing to Chris behind his back.

Justin's eyes widened. "Huh?"

"Someone must have called her to let her know that someone was coming down the stairs. Tipped her off, if you know what I mean." Joe said, winking, while still pointing at Chris.

Justin's eyes narrowed onto Chris who was humming along with JC as he sang, not paying attention to them anymore. "Chris… you're dead."

"Huh…what?" He said, glancing up but not in enough time to get away from Justin, who leapt onto him from across the couch.

"Fight!" Joe laughed, as the two began to wrestle across the floor.

"Get off me, kid." Chris grunted as Justin tried to put him in a chokehold.

"I can't believe you helped do that to me. You're going to pay."

"Calm down."

"No."

"JC… put a little more feeling into the end, take a deeper breath and you've got it." Stevie told him through the microphone.

JC nodded, his eyes fixated on her through the glass but the sudden movement behind her, made his eyes widen and his mouth drop open in shock. "Stevie?"

"What?"

"You might want to watch…" He winced as his words came too late and she went down under the mass of bodies. "Out."

Chris and Justin hadn't been watching where they were going through the fight and ended up landing on her, taking her off the chair and onto the floor.

"Get off me." She groaned deep in her chest as two male bodies landed on top of her.

Both stopped in their tracks as the new voice penetrated through their battle of wills. "Oh man…" Justin murmured as he looked down into her face. "Stevie…"

Chris jumped up off of them. "I'm so sorry…" He said softly as he looked down at her pain filled expression, her eyes closed as she tried to will the pain away.

Lance and Joe looked at each other and started to laugh at the shocked expressions on everyone's faces. JC came out of the sound booth and stood in the doorway, trying to gauge whether she would jump back into the fight or just kick them all out and call it a night. He'd lay bets on the latter but after everything that had happened, he wasn't about to count out the former either.

She rolled over onto her hands and knees as soon as Justin had adjusted his large frame away from her. One hand came up to test her back and make sure nothing was sticking out or had shifted while her other hand stayed flat on the floor, holding her up. She finally leaned back on her heels as both hands came up to her face, rubbing her temples slightly as the shock of getting pile drived onto the floor wore off.

When her breathing was under control, she raised her head to look at the two males sitting on the floor near her, siting as still as stone awaiting her reaction. "What was that?" She asked, shoving a huge lock of hair out of her face.

"Uh…" Justin's face colored, not knowing what to say.

Chris on the other hand had no problem answering. "He started it." He said, pointing to Justin.

Justin's eyes widened. "Oh that's so mature, Chris and you know that you started it with that phone call to Stevie, telling her how to get me back."

"I did no such thing!"

"You did too!"

"Guys…" She said patiently.

"Did not!"

"TOO!"

"NOT!"

"TOO!"

"Boys!!!!" She said a little bit louder, trying to get their attention.

"Joe told me you set it all up and I know this situation has Chris written all over it!" Justin practically shouted.

"I didn't do a thing!"

"Then who did…"

By this time, Joe was slowly inching his way out the door, a small grin alight on his face, but he wasn't fast enough. His sudden movement caught both Chris and Justin's gaze and they turned to watch him.

"Joe?" Justin asked warningly.

"Hey, J… what'd ya know… guess it wasn't Chris after all." Joe grinned before tearing down the hall.

"I'm going to kill you!"

"You little punk, what do you mean setting me up like that?" Chris shouted, chasing after Justin and Joe who were already sprinting down the hall.

Stevie sat on the floor and shook her head. "Can anyone tell that it's close to midnight yet?" She said jokingly, causing Lance and JC who were still in the room to laugh.

Lance shrugged, before standing, stretching his back before looking down at her. "Midnight is when the crazies come out, didn't you know that?"

She smiled. "And let me guess… you feel the need to join them?"

"Be back soon." He said and then after them, calling out for them to wait up, he wanted to have some fun too.

She scratched her neck, wincing at the soreness before standing up, pulling the chair out so that she could sit back down. "Are they always like this?"

JC leaned against the door, watching her. "Yeah and really what can you expect? Something was bound to happen sooner or later with those four cooped up in the same room all day and night."

"True… how come you didn't turn into a crazed maniac with them?"

"The leading lady saved me with her kiss."

Stevie rolled her eyes, before looking up at him. "And who would this leading lady be?"

"Why you mademoiselle…" He grinned, reaching out to bring her hand up to his mouth so that he could kiss the back of it.

"Chasez… you're so full of it." She laughed anyway, at the absurdness of the situation.

He shrugged. "Maybe the late hour is affecting my brain after all."

"I think so. Maybe you should go take a run with the boys and get it out of your system."

He looked out the door, checking to see who was around, before moving closer to her. "Or maybe I can think of something more productive to do…" He whispered, leaning down to close the distance between them.

She raised both hands and pushed him away. "Now I know you're feeling the moonlight madness."

"Hey… all I wanted was to…"

"Josh, I know what you wanted but I thought…" She licked her lips, trying to think of how to phrase what she wanted to say. "I thought we were going to try to be friends…"

"Can't we be friends with "privileges"?"

"That doesn't work." She mumbled, trying to put distance between them.

"Stevie…"

"Look, Josh… I like you… a lot… but…." She looked up, meeting his eyes and almost fainted at the fire she saw in his eyes just for her.

"But?" He inched closer.

"But… " She swallowed, losing her train of thought.

He grinned slyly, knowing he had her. "There isn't a but now is there…"

"I…" She saw his face getting closer and closer and instinctively closed her eyes, allowing for his kiss.

"I can't not kiss you, Stephanie… you're getting under my skin and I can't get you out." He mumbled, his mouth half a space away from hers.

"JC! Come on man… you're missing all the fun… Stevie… you too! Come on… outside with you both." Chris yelled from down the hall, causing them to break apart.

"Your friends are calling…" She said, pushing him gently away.

"Guess its break time."

"Guess so."

"Want to go run with the wolves?" He asked.

"Honey… wolves are too wild for you guys, you're more of a pack of dogs."

"Excuse me?" His mouth dropped open.

"Dogs, ya'll are dogs!" She laughed, moving away from him when he went to grab her around the waist.

"I'll show you a dog." He yelled at her, chasing after her.

She screamed when she heard his footsteps behind her as she ran down the hall towards the stairwell. Chris' eyes widened when he saw the two of them beating path down the hall and turned to run, before he got trampled on. "They're coming." He yelled as all of them ran up the stairwell and outside to go play before getting back down to business.

***********************************************************************

Stevie rolled over with a groan, wondering why her bed suddenly felt so hard. She flung one arm out, trying to ward out the sunlight that was coming in through her window but that arm was cut short when it hit something hard next to her.

One eye popped open and she found herself nose to nose with a very sound asleep male face, who happened to be snoring very loudly. Her nose wrinkled from the sound and the smell of morning breath that was coming out along with the loud noise. By this time, both eyes were open and she groaned, her head pounding from lack of sleep and the sleep that she had gotten hadn't been restful at all.

Turning her head, she found her backside pressed up against another male body. She shook her head, and pushed herself into an upright position and almost laughed as her brain finally registered where she was.

They must have fallen asleep on the floor of the studio when they had gotten back from playing tag outside, she remembered. After JC had caught her, only after Justin had snatched her out of the air and held her as JC tickled her, did they decide that they hadn't played a game of tag in years and that it was time. She couldn't remember a better time that she had ever had really. Chris had wanted to play freeze tag, Joey had wanted to play tunnel tag, but only because he really wanted to be able to crawl through Stevie's legs, Lance had seconded the motion but Justin, JC and Stevie had all vetoed that decision. They finally agreed to cartoon tag just for the fond memories that it conjured up for all of them as they began to recount all the cartoons that had come out over the years.

They had ran all around the lawn and parking lot of the studio until three in the morning until one of the security guards had come outside to find out what all the yelling, screaming and laughing had been about. That had calmed them down considerably, even though they had offered to let the guard play as well, but he had turned them down in favor of not getting fired that night from his job. They had all trudged back in to try and do some more recording but had fallen asleep on the floor instead when they had all collapsed as soon as they walked in.

She pushed the male shoulder in front of her aside so that she could get up, but another arm snaked out from behind her, wrapping around her waist to pull her back to the body that lay beside her.

Her eyes widened at the sudden contact but as soon as she realized who it was, she relaxed somewhat.

"Josh…" She whispered.

"Go back to sleep." He murmured.

"I need to get up, let go."

He groaned something that she interpreted as a no and instead reached down to try and pry his hand from her stomach, which only caused him to tighten his hold. "Don’t." He groaned.

"Josh… let go."

Justin stopped snoring by her ear by that point, the sound of voices waking him up. "Will you shut up and let me sleep please." He said, before rolling over to fall back asleep.

She almost laughed at the sour expression that had crossed his features before it had disappeared under his elbow and then turned back to trying to free herself. "It's time to get up." She said, patting his hand.

"Don't want to."

"Too bad."

"Go back to sleep."

"Can't."

"Fine." He groaned, acquiescing by taking his hand off her stomach to roll over.

She suddenly felt very alone but didn't want to analyze that sudden empty feeling quite yet hat early in the morning. She quickly shoved it back down into the pit of her stomach and sat up, running a hand through her hair. She laughed as she got a good look at the sprawled bodies all over the floor, but clamped a hand over her mouth, deciding to let them sleep for a little but longer. Recording could wait until she'd gotten her cup of coffee and the boys woke up. They still had a lot to do before they were even close to being done.

Chapter 13

Stevie walked up to her office, opening the door slowly as she made her way across the room to the coffee pot. After putting in so many scoops and filling the tank with water, she turned it on and inhaled deeply as the smell of coffee permeated throughout the office. She moved over to her desk, putting remnants of the night before away, before moving back to the coffee pot to fill her cup.

She turned around when she heard someone clearing their throat and smiled slightly when she saw Janet standing there. "Morning." She said, grabbing her mug when the coffee stopped perking to pour herself a cup. "Would you like some?" She motioned to the coffee.

The other woman shook her head as she entered the office. "No, thank you. Mind if I sit?" She gestured to the chair in front of her desk, her voice devoid of any emotion.

"No, go ahead." Stevie told her, moving to sit in her chair and listen to what the woman had to say.

"I got a call last night from one of the security guards that some of our employees were out running around." She began, folding her hands on her knee.

Stevie flushed slightly, remembering the fun that they had running around on the lawn, tackling each other. Her gaze caught sight of the ruined nylons that were peeking out from her garbage can where she had dumped them when she had first come in and grimaced. "We were taking a break from the single."

Janet nodded. "I figured. Those guys are sure balls of energy aren't they?"

She nodded. "They couldn't sit still, so I let them go. Didn't see the harm in it at three in the morning."

She watched Janet purse her lips before she spoke again. "There wasn't any harm done, but they are high profile stars of this company and we have to watch their image at all times. I just wanted to tell you to watch what you do, both of you are a reflection of this company at all times and should act accordingly."

Stevie took a deep breath, hoping that would cause her rapidly rising temper to be taken under control. "I understand."

Janet's eyes sharpened on the younger woman. "Do you really?"

Stevie narrowed her eyes. "I understand fully. Especially after our last talk."

"Good. I was hoping things were becoming clearer to you. Are you finishing it up today?"

"As much as we can. Hopefully by Friday it should be finished."

"Excellent." Janet smiled, pushing herself to a standing position. "Well, I'll let you get back to work then. Have a good day."

"Thanks… you too." Stevie mumbled, watching her walk out of her office. She gritted her teeth, restraining herself from throwing her mug against the wall. "A reflection of this company… go to hell, Janet and take JIVE with you."

That talk just reinforced her desire to make a decision about her job. She knew walking out in the middle of recording would be detrimental to her career, but at least the single would have her name on it. The company was drowning her slowly and she couldn't do it anymore. No matter how much she wanted to stay and work with the guys, with NSYNC, with JC. This wasn't the place for her and she'd hand in her resignation as soon as they accepted the single for release. She just wasn’t able to deal with sanctimonious bullshit anymore. She was who she was and no one could take that away from her, not this company, not her parents, no one.

Stevie collected the paperwork that she'd need that day, her thermos of coffee, and her briefcase and headed back down to the sleeping group of musicians.

Opening the door, she glanced down at her watch and noticed that she'd been gone for an hour. Hopefully, they'd be up, but knowing them and their energy levels from last night, that would be a long shot.

She couldn't believe Janet. Stevie started to fume again as soon as the older lady entered her mind. She was so caught up in her thoughts and what she wanted to tell the lady that she didn't notice that the guys were up and staring sleepily at her when she entered the studio noisily, muttering under her breath. She stomped to the sound board, slamming her thermos and mug down on the table next to it, while throwing her bag against the wall.

"Someone didn't wake up happy?" Chris whispered to Joe. "I could have sworn she'd be pleased as punch to have slept in JC's arms all night."

Joe nudged Chris, telling him silently to shut up, but it was too late. Stevie had heard him and he was as good as any to snap at. "Chris… if you don't shut your trap today, I will remove it for you. This has nothing to do with me waking up on the wrong side of the couch, bed, floor or whatever. One more word and you're out of here today." She ran a hand through her hair, finding it to be already pulled back in a ponytail, and cursed, yanking the rubber band out so that she could shove both hands into the mess and vent some more under her breath.

The guys all opened their mouths to say something but thought better about it and instead, silently communicated the need for silence and started to move around and wake up, letting her get what she needed out and then they could get down to work.

She reached over for the reel that was sitting on the table to plug it in, not even thinking about what she was doing and grabbed it wrong, sending tape flying everywhere. Her mouth dropped open and she stared, all of their hard work and hers had just fallen onto the floor. "Oh no." She whispered, her eyes welling up with tears. This just wasn’t going to be her day.

Each of the guys heads lifted as soon as they heard her whispered words. Each had the same delayed reaction of staring as the tape fell through her fingers, pooling onto the floor before five hands and bodies dived for the tape, hoping to save some of it.

Stevie stared down at the rapidly piling tape and sat, all her anger and frustration spilling out of her just as the tape was spilling out of the reel. "I’m so sorry…" She said softly. "I wasn’t thinking and…"

Justin lifted his head and stared at her hard. He was still hurting over the joke that they had pulled the night before and couldn’t stop the words from leaving his mouth. "You weren’t thinking obviously… Jesus Stevie! Do you realize how far this puts us behind and how hard we’re going to have to work and all you can think about is yourself?"

"I…. Other things were on my mind and I… grabbed it…. Oh kid…. And…" She began to stutter, her whole body shaking. She wasn’t going to have to quit now because Janet would fire her when she found out about this and she was sure the guys wouldn’t hesitate to help her pack. 24 hours of hard work sat on the floor and it was her fault.

Joey let the tape drift through his fingers. "This could have happened to anyone. She was tired and…"

"I wasn’t tired." She whispered.

"Ivy…" Joe looked up, wincing at the pain that crossed her face as she stared at the floor.

"Don’t make excuses for me, Joe."

"Look, Stevie…" Chris moved over so that he sat in front of her. "We can re-do it. It’s not a problem. We know the song, we know how it sounded last night, we can do this."

"It’s over."

"It’s not over. It’s just a set back." Lance said from across the room where he had moved to the couch to sit, still stunned by what had happened.

Justin mumbled something about incompetence which set Chris and Joe off and everyone in the room began to argue. Lack of sleep, food, and sharpness of the minds allowed everyone’s tempers to be short and before long everyone in the room but JC and Stevie were fighting.

"Look what she did!" Justin cried out. "We could have had this done sooner without her. Maybe JC was right…" He yelled out, stopping everyone in silence.

She looked up, watched the kid’s face turn pale as he realized what he had said and that was it for her. She stood up, running a hand over her face before looking his straight in the eye. "Is that how you really feel?"

"Stevie…" Justin started, feeling bad about what he had said. His temper always got him into trouble, always mouthing off before he could think about the consequences.

She nodded. "If that’s how you feel…" She shook her head. "I was going to wait and tell you after the single because I thought we were… friends but…"

JC stared at the tape that he held in his hands, he pulled the reel into his lap, not listening as she talked about company policy and JIVE and how when she got hired on, she had stars in her eyes. He began to weave the tape back onto it, hypnotized by the circling motion. A piece of tape caught his eye on the outside and as his mind comprehended the words on it, his mouth curved into a grin and before he could stop himself he began to laugh. No one paid him any attention as they were listening to Stevie talk.

He reached over and grabbed the nearest leg to him, yanking him down. Chris looked at JC like he had lost his mind, but JC held his finger to his lips, showing the cover to the reel. Chris shook his head, trying to cover his own laughter. You could definitely tell that they were all running on lack of sleep.

Chris grabbed Joey and showed him the cover, who in turn grabbed Lance, who grabbed Justin. By then the only person listening to Stevie as the guys covered their laughter was herself up until her last statement when she paused to take a deep breath and finally tell them her decision.

"Stevie…" JC tried to catch her attention, his mind beginning to be distracted from his goal when he saw her face and how it was about to crumple at any moment. "Stevie?"

"What I’m getting at…" She started.

"The tape isn’t…"

"I’m quitting when the single is finished."

"Ours." JC said at the same time as she.

"What?" Both said at the same time, staring at each other.

"What do you mean, its not ours?" She yelled out incredulously.

"What do you mean you’re quitting?" He shouted just as loudly as she had.

She shook her head, not wanting to talk about this now. "This isn't the time. If that wasn't our tape, then we need to get to work." She said firmly, kicking herself for being emotional and not realizing the mistake. This day just kept getting worse and worse and she just wished it would end.

"No, Stevie…" JC looked her straight in the eye. "What's going on?"

"What's going on?" She whirled around to face him. "What's going on is that I can't do this anymore. I can't handle the stress, I can't handle the demands, I can't handle the fact that I didn't get this job on my own, but because my father pulled in favor, I can't handle the fact that nothing I do goes right, and I certainly can't handle the fact that one moment one of the artists I work with hates, then does a complete turn around and confuses me to the point of exhaustion."

"Stevie…" JC started but she interrupted him.

"I'm through as soon as this single is done. At least then I'll have my name on something and can finally have something to show for all my hard work these past few years."

"Where will you go?" Lance asked.

She tossed her hands in the air. "I don't know. It doesn't matter at this point."

"Who will work on the rest of the album with us?" Chris asked her.

"JIVE will assign you someone. Someone much more competent and less controversial. They don't like the way I work and keep trying to force me to do things their way. Well, I don't work that way!" She shouted the last sentence. Both hands came up to her face and began to rub.

JC just stood there in shock, knowing that this was her decision to make but all he could think of was what would he do without her. She had gotten under his skin and knowing that she wouldn't be around the Monday after this weekend was a shock to his system and ade him sit up and take stock of what he was thinking and feeling. He couldn't lose her, not when he was just beginning to understand what it was that he was going through, what he was beginning to feel for her, beginning to understand that he was falling head over heels for her.

She stopped rubbing her face and looked at each member for a moment. "This will only provide a better album for you. I would've screwed things up in the long run."

"That's not true, Ivy." Joe said crossing the room and taking her into his arms.

"Yes it is."

"Look at all that you've done already."

"I haven't done anything." She said brokenly.

"Not true. The first song we did was amazing. And that was all because of you. You took all our ideas and made them into something that we could all be proud of, you took out music and took it to the next level. That was you, m'dear. Not us. We just took your direction and vocalized it."

She sighed, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "I did my job and that was it."

"A job that none of us could do, a job that no one else in the company could do." Justin said firmly.

She smiled over at him. "Not true kid. Not true. There are a lot of engineers in this company that could have done a hell of a better job than I. I've worked with most of them before."

"They wouldn't have let us do what we wanted to do." He countered.

"Maybe, maybe not. You don't know that any better than I do."

JC just sat back stunned as he realized that he was going to lose her and there wasn't anything he could do.

She extricated herself from Joey's hug and walked toward the soundboard, switching it on before turning back to them. "Look, I've made my decision and nothing you can say or do is going to change it. I can't work here any longer and I hope you can all understand and support me." She said softly.

"Stevie…" Lance looked around the room. "As a manager, I have to pick and choose recording studios, engineers, songs and the like for my artists. I know how hard it is to find a place for people in this business and to make a name for yourself. I also know that companies aren't easy to get along with and can ostracize employees that don't, how do you say, walk the straight and narrow. If this is how you feel… and I don't think you're giving us the full story about what's been going on… I support you."

Her eyes began to well up with tears at this young man's simple statement. He didn't know her that well, not as well as Justin and Joey did, yet he stood by her, stood by her without knowing the background and anything really about the situation. He was able to put aside any misgivings about changing sound engineers in the middle of recording to place his trust and friendship in someone. "Thank you."

"What now?" JC asked her from the wall, where he had gone to take himself out of the talking, out of the situation so that he could think. He had spoken without thinking, and as her gaze met his he knew he had to somehow get himself out of this mess before it was too late. It is too late. Something in the back of his mind whispered.

"What do you mean what now?" Stevie questioned, swallowing the breath she had been holding in.

"You’re just going to quit? Convenient how people will sympathize and you still run away with your tail between your legs. And all the while, someone else is to blame. It’s never your fault is it Stevie? You’re the victim. You’re the innocent one. Let me tell you something…you’re not. What you are is selfish." JC’s eyes narrowed into angry slits, however he regretted his words as soon as he saw the expression on her face. Why he didn’t say anything to right the situation was beyond his comprehension.

It took her a moment to regain her composure and every ounce of will she had not to cry right then and there. Just finish this single and I’ll be out of here. It would have never worked out anyway. At least it stopped before it got too far. He doesn’t love you the way—stop right there. It wasn’t love. What if it was? It wasn’t. It was. Stevie shook her head to clear her battling thoughts and opened her mouth to speak. JC’s determined and infuriated expression was almost enough to send her running for cover. "I…we should get to work." She stated solemnly, her voice barely coming out in a whisper.

Within minutes they were all piling into the recording booth. "What the hell was that about JC? What were you thinking?" Joey demanded, taking a place behind his microphone.

What was I thinking? "I know what I’m doing." He replied gruffly, slipping his headphones on and fixating his attention on the lyrics of the song as the music filtered through the booth.

"In my world

If it should all fall down

Will you be there?

Be there to turn it around

Will you still care?

Can I depend on you to see me through this life?"

His attention was solely directed towards her and he could see that whatever hope or strength she had possessed had been crushed by what he had told her. He desperately wanted to be able to fix things, but the ultimate truth was that he was afraid. In fact, he was terrified. He was terrified that for the first time in his life, he didn’t have the answers. For the first time, he didn’t know what to do about the situation, and while that thought was exciting, at the same time it was also quite petrifying. The thought of being in love with someone, truly being in love with someone scared him and he was coming to the realization that it was exactly what had happened with Stephanie. But what he feared the most was the thought of losing that love without ever knowing what it might have been like to have her love him back.

And if it all goes wrong

Will you still make it right?

It’s easy to be there through the good times

Well when the times get hard

Will you still be on my side?

Stevie’s eyes were locked on his and she could feel the tears streaming down her cheeks. She immediately stopped the music. "I need to go to the bathroom…five minute break," were her mumbled words before she rushed out of the room.

All eyes landed on JC as he warily muttered obscenities under his breath, removing the headphones and carelessly tossing them aside. "WHAT?" He snapped, raking a hand through his hair.

"Well JC, you said you knew what you were doing. Care to expand?" Chris raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"Not particularly Chris, no." came the flat reply.

"Too damn bad. Talk. Now."

"I don’t know. What the hell do you want me to say?"

"Well I for one am sick of the both of you chasing each other in circles and then running the opposite way because you’re scared." Justin piped up.

"I’m not scared of anything. If there were even anything to be scared of in the first place." JC folded his arms across his chest defiantly, slightly shocked that the younger man had managed to pinpoint the exact problem

"Liar."

"Tell me JC do you like seeing her upset? Because I guarantee what you said to her hurt far worse than anything Justin or any of us could have said." Lance noted, taking the excused time to sort through some business papers.

He glared at the blonde standing a few paces away from him and imagined his body flung against the wall as his fists did some damage on his frame. "No I don't like he seeing her upset." He said through gritted teeth. "Why are we talking about this anyway? I said I have it under control."

"What is control to you?" Justin asked, eyebrows raised as he crossed his arms across his chest, taking a casual stance.

"What do you mean control to me?" JC asked, his voice raising, indicating that the control that he was talking about was really in lacking.

"That control." Joey said tightly, mouth thin as he tried to control his own rapidly rising temper. The easy one of the bunch was about to lose it.

JC looked over at Joe. "I wouldn't say anything that you might regret later, Joey."

"Say anything that I might regret?" Joe said as loudly as he could without yelling. "That's a really good one coming from you, JC. Should I take your advice or just follow in your footsteps, meaning that when I don't get my own way or see things going the way that they should, I should just say whatever comes to mind, hurting the one who I'm speaking to."

"I'm warning you, Joe. Back off. I know what I'm doing." JC said.

Joey walked over to his groupmate and stared him down. He reached up one hand and gently set it against JC's chest. "I'm not going to back off. That girl out there has worked her ass of for us and for you to say what you did… " Joey pushed him so that he stumbled backwards. "You don't know shit. You have used her in more ways than one and now… now when you know nothing of what she's going through… Maybe you're the one that needs to back off, JC."

JC righted himself against the gentle shove. "You don't know anything about what happened."

"I know more than you think." Joey told him through clinched jaw, his mouth tight as he fought back against his feelings of wanting to shove JC's holier than thou attitude down his throat. "Who do you think she comes to when you go hot and cold with her? Who do you think she runs to when it gets to be too hard for her or she thinks she can't cut it? WHO? It's me. I'm the one that has to try and bring her back up to the confidant person she was when she first came to work for us and this company. Everything she knows is being undermined in one way or another by JIVE, the people who work for this company and by us. She doesn't think she can cut it. Doesn't think that she got this job on her own merits and I honestly applaud her decision to get out because I know how badly she's being affected by everything."

"Joe?" Chris cut in, a little worried by how close the two of them were getting to one another.

"Not now Chris." Joey told him with a wave of his hand.

"But…"

Joey whirled around. "I said NOT NOW." He yelled this time, eyes flashing. "This has been a long time in coming and it's about time that JC knows exactly how much of an ass he is… to her and to us lately. All because he can't seem to coordinate both of his heads to think in the same direction."

Chris held up his hands in surrender as Lance and Justin both backed off, heading to the other side of the booth, not wanting to get involved. It wasn't often when Joey lost his temper, but when he did, it was just as nasty as when either JC or Justin blew up. "I just wanted to let you know that Stevie will shoot all of us if you get blood in her booth." Chris told him, relinquishing any feelings he had had of getting involved and keeping the two separated.

"I'm being as ass?" JC asked, eyebrows raised. "What do you call a spoiled little rich girl who can't seem to finish any project and at the first sign of trouble runs home to Daddy?"

"You don't know what you’re talking about." Stevie interrupted the argument from outside. She had returned from the bathroom and listened to most of the argument.

JC whirled around with a sneer and opened his mouth for a rebuttal, but she turned the microphone into the booth off, not wanting to hear another word. Her heart breaking at his words. He hadn't changed. Hadn't wanted to get to know her, he was just using her. For what, she didn't know, but after everything… he still deep down felt the same way about her as he had done before. He had lied to her.

JC's eyes drank in the sight of her, her head bowed down over the soundboard and her notepad as she made notes, waiting for the argument in the booth to be over with so that they could get this done. He wanted to apologize, tell her he hadn't meant anything that he had just said but he kept coming back to the fact that she had lied about finishing the album and her dedication to the group. She had lied to him and everything that she stood for. He had been right about her all along and it was eating him inside and out. Everything had been a lie in his eyes.

Joe looked back and forth between them and shook his head, the fight going out of him. He walked over to JC and sneered. "You're not worth it." He told him, before walking over to the window and pounding on it to let Stevie know that they were ready to work. She looked up and Joe's heart broke at the pain he saw in her stance and eyes. He mouthed, "It's going to be okay," before smiling then walking back to his place.

She nodded before taking a deep breath and flicked the microphone back on. "Ready?" She asked hoarsely as all five members nodded, all wanting to be done with this day and for it to be over.

The next few hours passed in a blur as they sang passages over and over again, wanting the sound to be perfect. Stevie's fingers flew across the board, changing sounds and the sound quality to match what she could hear in her head. They'd finish, looking expectantly at her as she listened to see if it was what she wanted and with either a shake or a nod from her, would either make the men in the booth smile or moan, knowing they would have to do it over.

Finally, when no one thought they could on, no one could sing another note, or move a muscle to even open their mouths again, Stevie looked up with a small grin. She knew this would be the last time she'd ever be in this room with these talented voices, but it was nice to have completed something with them, even though it was the end. "That's a wrap." She said softly into the mic, shutting everything down.

"Did she say what I think I heard?" Justin asked excitedly, showing more energy now than he had in the past few hours.

Lance nodded, stretching out his back, before removing his headphones. "Yup, we’re done. Time to head back to the hotel and get some sleep."

"Yes." Justin whispered, tearing off his own headphones, running to where his bag lay and slinging it over his shoulder. "I'm out of here."

Lance laughed at his enthusiasm and picked up his pace to walk out with him. The two moved faster than the other three, them not really focusing on the other or their surroundings, and walked out of the room, only to see Stevie sitting at the soundboard running a hand over it as she stared at it with tears building up in her eyes.

"Ummm… Stevie?" Justin asked uncertainly, the whole day flashing back to him. He didn't know what to do or say to her at that moment.

She looked up and smiled. "Hey kid."

"Do you want to, maybe go get some food?" He asked her, crossing the room, dropping his bag, trying to let her know there wasn't any hard feelings between them.

She shook her head, her hair flying as it had fallen down hours ago out of her topknot. "Nope. I have some things to do before I get out of here, but… thanks." She grinned slightly, before turning away from him, hating goodbyes.

"Ummm… okay…" Justin glanced back at Lance who didn't know what to say either.

"Stevie? Do you need anything?" Lance asked finally, the silence overwhelming him.

She took a deep breath before looking up at the two youngest members. "I'm fine. I don't need any help. I just need to drop this stuff upstairs and…" She swallowed. "Clean out my desk." She said softly. "That’s it. Then I'll head home and eat with Kacey, who should be home from work by now."

"If you ever need anything…" Justin told her.

"I'll call you, kid."

"Well…" Lance started, looking at Justin then back at Stevie. "I guess this is it."

"Guess so." She whispered.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Justin asked her to make sure.

"Yes. Both of you… get out of here. We'll see each other again. Good luck." She said, turning her back, waiting to hear their footsteps as they left, but instead of hearing them walk away, she felt two arms enfold her from behind.

"Yes we will, Ivy. I owe you for that last prank." Justin whispered in her ear before turning and leaving, following Lance out who waved slowly to her.

She wiped her eyes as the tears began to build again but knew that she had to get a hold of herself, hearing the other three moving about as they made their way out of the room, having come to a decision about how to act.

Chris crossed the room and pulled her into a hug. "I hope our next technician is as good as you."

"You'll get lucky and find one better than me." She told him.

"No one is better than you, girl." Chris told her before letting go, grabbing his bag and leaving the room. He was never good at goodbyes and usually took the route of not saying anything more than was necessary. They worked in the same business. They'd see each other again.

Joey looked between the two most obstinate people he had ever met and shook his head. He didn't agree with everything that had happened nor did he necessarily agree totally with either side. Both had made mistakes and both had said things that had hurt. But in the end… only they could remedy anything or try to work things out if that was what they wanted. Losing his temper or interfering wasn't going to help anything. He could only be a friend in the end.

He crossed the room and took Stevie's hand, bringing it to his lips. "I'm going to miss you, Ivy."

"I'll miss you too." She whispered, not wanting to meet his eyes.

"This isn't goodbye."

"I know."

"Okay, just so you know. I have your number and we're going to get lunch once a week if we're in the same town. Got it? I mean who else is going to help me out next I screw things up with Jenn. It's because of you that she's still with me."

"I still have to meet his girl." Stevie told him quietly.

"Next time you're in Orlando, we'll go out." Joey smiled at her. He reached out and brought her chin up so that he met her eyes. "I meant what I said. I applaud this decision."

"I… Are you sure?"

"It's your decision to make whether it’s a mistake or not. I won't tell you what to do either way. I just know…"

She nodded. "Yes you do."

"I'll talk to you soon." He said, before leaning down and kissing her cheek gently.

"Bye." She whispered, before turning her back so that he couldn't see her cry. She heard him leave and began to pick up everything, the tape and everything that belonged to her.

"Aren't you going to edit it before turning it in?" She heard spoken from behind.

Her back stiffened and her movements became jerkier. "I figured if the rough cut didn't satisfy them, then you could finish it to your guys' satisfaction."

"That's so kind of you." He said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

She turned around, her arms laden down with items and the tape. "You know what?" She told him. "I don't care anymore." She started out of the room but was stopped when he laid his hand down on her arm.

"It doesn’t have to be like this." He said softly.

She could hear the pain that was mirroring her own right then and sighed. "Yes it does. There's no other alternative." She gently extricated her arm from his grasp and walked away, leaving him standing in the doorway to the studio alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She opened the door to her apartment, setting down one of the boxes that was out in her car that held stuff from her office. She had left her resignation in Janet's ingoing box on her desk and had walked away without a backward glance. She had left her beeper and phone on her desk, along with most of the electronics that had been for her use.

"You're home earlier than I thought." Kacey smiled up at her from the couch, one arm wrapped around Buttercup, the very much asleep dog, the other holding the television remote as she casually flipped channels.

Stevie shrugged. "Yeah well… when you finish your project then quit work, it makes for an early night."

Kacey's head shot up. "Quit work? What happened?"

She held up one finger indicating that she'd be right back and walked back out the door to get her remaining boxes. She dropped them in the entryway before walking back into the living room and shoving her dog off the couch so that she could climb up next to Kacey. Buttercup lifted her head up from the spot where she had fallen on the floor before shrugging the only way a dog could and flopping her head back onto the floor and going back to sleep.

Stevie crawled up next to Kacey and laid her head in her lap, watching the TV. Another re-run of Friends was on and she saw that it was the one where Ross had a huge dinner to go to and Chandler and Joey were fighting over clothing, Chandler had hidden all of Joey's so Joey was wearing all of Chandler's. She smiled thinking that was something that Justin and Joey would do, but the smile quickly disappeared when she thought of them. She'd never see them again.

Kacey ran a hand over Stevie's hair before moving her head so that she could stand up. Stevie's head shot up at the movement, her eyes widening. "Where are you going?"

She sighed. "Where do you think? I'm getting the two of us ice cream because I have a feeling that this is going to be a long night."

Stevie smiled, still stunned that the girl knew her as well as she did. "Might want to make some coffee too."

Kacey shook her head, muttering as she made her way into the kitchen. "What I do for that girl…"

After they were situated, Kacey munching on Chocolate Chip Mint and Stevie on Chocolate Brownie ice cream, Kacey finally asked what she had been thinking since the other girl had walked into the room. "What happened?"

Stevie sighed, not knowing where to start. "Well… "

"What did he do this time? It must've been bad for you to quit. That's it. I'm going down there tomorrow early and kicking the crap out of him and don't even try to stop me this time." Kacey said adamantly, interrupting her before she could even begin.

Stevie laughed, shaking her head. "It wasn't that."

"Then what was it honey?" Kacey said, looking over at her, her face filled with sympathy.

"Everything." She mumbled, staring down at the half-empty container of ice cream in front of her. She stuck her spoon in and began to stir it slowly around in circles as she tried to come up with what she wanted to say.

"Stevie…" Kacey started.

She looked up and grinned half-heartedly. "Did I tell you I got my job because of my father?" She interrupted.

Kacey sat there stunned. Schedules had kept the two from talking for weeks because either Kacey was at work when Stevie was home or when the other girl returned, Stevie was at the studio trying to crank out the new single. "Sweetie…"

She shook her head. "I don't want to hear it. You're just going to tell me that I'm wrong but I know I'm not. I told you about that meeting with Janet and Clive with them mentioning him… Janet came to see me early this morning and the way she was talking… it was like talking to him about everything. I can't believe it. I even looked into it some… He's a trustee of JIVE."

Stevie stopped talking with the bombshell she'd been holding in for weeks, her father was a shareholder and trustee of JIVE records. "His position got me my job, not my merit or my grade or anything that I've done in the past few years. None of that counted when they looked at my application or when I told my father I was applying there. Why didn't he tell me that he gave them money?" She growled, slamming the lid back on the container before tossing it onto the coffee table. She put her head in her hands and slowly began to shake her head back and forth as Kacey just sat there shocked to the core. She would never have even guessed that this had happened.

"Steve… look… maybe you're wrong and…"

Stevie raised her head and looked at her best friend of years. "Think hard about this Kacey, cause I have. He's been wanting to get me into a job where he could control my actions and make me what he wanted me to be since I first started making plans for my future. He wanted me to be the societal little belle for all his friends, marry the right person, find the right job, have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence while making tons of money or at least using his money and watching it grow."

"But, music is what you've always wanted to do… why would he give you your dream?"

"Because he knew that was the only way he could keep his claws in me after our last few fights and when I managed to put myself through college without his money… he was hurt and a little angry… "

"So…"

"So this way he could still control me while making it seem as if I was doing what I wanted to do." Stevie sneered. "Believe me, I've thought about this and…" She stopped, staring off into space, before looking back to Kacey. "And… it makes sense… why else would they have called me two days after I sent my resume in. I got the job a week after I applied, Kace. There's really no other way."

Kacet reached out and hugged the other girl as her strong front began to crack. "It's going to be okay."

Stevie clung to the other girl as if her life depended on it. She cried for losing her job, losing friends she had just made, losing the one thing that she had ever wanted… to make music. "I've lost everything, Kacey. I don't know what to do." She whispered against the girl's shoulder.

Kacey pulled back, lifting a hand to wipe the tears away. "What do you want to?"

Stevie shook her head. "I don't know."

Kacey stared at her hard, her gaze unrelenting as she watched her. "Yes you do. What have you always wanted to do?"

"I want to make music." Stevie whispered.

"So do it." Kacey said, her face softening, as she felt her friend's pain.

"How?" She flung herself back against the couch, one arm over her face as she sighed. "The only way how I managed to toss out the door because by quitting in the middle of this album not even with two weeks notice, no other recording company is going to hire me, not without a reference and… my career is over."

Kacey reached out and grabbed the girl's arm and pulled her back into a sitting position. "Now you listen to me… your career is not over. So you can't get a job with a recording studio. Make your own name." Kacey grinned, the idea coming to mind quickly and taking form. "Yeah, you could make your own label and… you could still do your copyrighting and…"

Stevie eyes grew huge as she started shaking her head. "No, no… I couldn't."

Kacey jumped up and started pacing the room, one hand going through her hair as she thought and paced. "Sure, start small. Keep copyrighting the writer's work… buy a small studio… you have artist's around the nation that already call you when they're looking for a song or something specific… and then…"

Stevie just watched the girl as she began to come up with Stevie's future in minutes. "But…"

"Hey!" Kacey grinned at her. And you've already got a receptionist and assistant, so one less employee to hire."

"Kacey, no. This isn't going to work." Stevie said, shaking her head adamantly.

She put her hands on her hips as she stopped and looked down at the other girl. "And why not?"

"For one, I don't have nearly enough money to pay for equipment, employees, copyrighting or even a studio itself. I'd have to work and save for years."

"Use your trust fund." Kacey said nonchalantly, wiggling her eyebrows up and down. "Come on… get back at Daddy dearest."

Stevie's eyes widened as the idea began to take form. "Take my trust fund money and build my own studio?"

"Sure… easy as pie. Next paranoid question?"

"Second… I don't know what to do, how to start it…"

"Stevie… you have HOW many friends in the business who would back you in a heartbeat? Plus you were always the one that helped start small studios… this could work…"

"I don't know…" Stevie hedged.

Kacey jumped over the coffee table, spilling the ice cream carton onto the floor as she took Stevie's hands in her own. "This is your dream Stevie. Don't let your father, your family, anyone stop you from it. You have the means… lets do it."

Stevie gritted her teeth, Kacey's excitement spilling over onto her. "Do you really… I mean… where would we go… and he'd be so mad if I just took the money…"

"What he doesn't know, won't hurt him." Kacey grinned broadly.

Stevie caught her implication. "Change my name?"

She nodded. "Go as whoever you want. The entertainment business is huge about name changes… and…" She rubbed her chin as she thought. "You know, I'm kinda sick of this northern weather and wouldn't mind visiting your grandparents again."

"Go to Florida?" She said incredulously. The plan began to take form in her head and for once in her lifetime, or as long as Stevie had know Kacey, she was actually beginning to make sense. "So you want to go to Florida, start a studio, make all my dreams come true, while getting back at mommy and daddy for everything?" She asked, raising an eyebrow with a grin.

"Uh huh." Kacey leaned back against the couch, her arms tucked behind her head as she grinned broadly at Stevie, knowing she was going to take the chance and do it.

"So what do you get out of the deal then?" She asked her, trying not to grin.

Kacey's eyes widened in shock. "Have you seen the guys that are coming out of that area lately? Why I'm going to find me a man while I'm down there! Don't try and stop me Stevie… I'm dead set on it." She placed a hand over her heart and pretended to swoon. "Those Florida guys are so hot."

Stevie grabbed one of the couch pillows and smacked Kacey right in the face. "Should've known that this was all about your hormones and not my life."

Kacey laughed, grabbing a pillow, ready to retaliate. "Yeah… who said this was about you anyway." She giggled before smacking Stevie upside the head as a full blown pillow fight began to erupt in the living room, Buttercup lifting her head up from the floor before rolling her eyes, lifting her tired body from the floor and moved into her owner's bedroom, away from the flying pillows and laughing humans.

Chapter 14

~Six months later~

Stevie leaned back in her chair, her eyes lingering on the walls of her brand new office, taking in the dark wood paneling, pictures hung on the wall depicting friends and family, a brand new computer sat on her desk and the sun was shining through the window bringing a bright glow to everything around her.

She spun her chair around with a light laugh, her mind barely comprehending that all of this was hers. The company was hers, the chair she was sitting on was hers, the computer was hers, as was every new recording artist, writer or employee that walked in the door was hers. She had finally done what she had always wanted to do, make music and provide it for the world.

Ivy Records was still a fledgling company but already the phone had been ringing off the hook with artists wanting to get in the door and take a look at the songs that she had been copyrighting since the day she had left JIVE. She knew it wasn't right to be calling in favors to get her company up and running but it was all she had left. She wasn't sure if they knew it was her company or if they just thought that she had switched companies and was now working to get this company off the ground as she had done other small time recording companies in college. She liked that no one knew.

On every written record, every payment, every bill, every memo and letterhead were the words Ivy Records with Steve Ivy listed as President and owner. She couldn't have her father finding her, couldn't have her family knowing where she was or how to get a hold of her. They knew she was in Florida. They knew she was working with a new company, but they didn't know that this was where her trust fund had gone. The knock down drag out fight when she had told them she was leaving had been all that she could handle.

She walked through the door, smiling at Wilson, the family butler, before admitting herself in the living room where she knew her parents were sitting down for their afternoon tea. She'd been called on the carpet so many times already that she already knew what would be said and how it would be said. Always starting out with…

"What were you thinking?" Her father yelled, rising to his feet as soon as he saw who had come through the door.

"That I couldn't work there anymore, obviously." She said softly, rolling her eyes slightly.

"Stephanie!" Her mother chastised. "Don't take that tone with your father."

"I wasn't taking any tone, mother." She said, tightly.

"Young lady!"

"What?"

"When are you ever going to take responsibility for what you're doing and start planning for your future. That job at JIVE was supposed to be…"

"Supposed to be what?" Stevie interrupted him. "My retirement check?"

"I'm warning you…"

"How did I get that job, dad?" She asked, softly but firm.

"I don't know what you're talking about." He said, his face turning red, either with embarrassment or anger. She wasn't sure which.

"I know that you pulled strings."

"Is that true?" Her mother asked, turning towards him.

"I did no such thing."

"Yes, you did." Stevie told him, walking towards him to stand before him. "JIVE threw that in my face enough times for me to know it’s the truth. And when it finally all sunk in… I quit."

"Do you know how many favors I had to call in to get you into the type of job and to have you working with such famous group to start with?"

"How many?" Stevie said snidely. "Enough so you'll be owing for the rest of your life?"

"I'm really getting sick of your tone." He said sharply.

"Well I'm getting sick of your interference!" She yelled as loudly as she could, trying to get her own anger across.

"Stephanie!" Her mother admonished.

"This is between him and I, mom. Stay out of it."

"Stephanie…"

"I have worked my ass off so that you would finally understand what it is that drives me and makes me want to do this on my own. I have told you time and time again that I want no help from you, your favors, or your money. I wanted to make it on my own in this world without your help. All I ever asked was for your support but every time you interfered and cost me something that was important to me."

"I just wanted to give you…"

"To give me the chance that you never had. I understand, but if I had wanted your help or your money or whatever it is that you give out willingly, I would've asked for it."

"Now listen…"

"NO, you listen… this is it. I'm finished with asking for anything from you. We are finished. I'm leaving New York and never coming back. Do not try and contact me until I contact you. I can't even look at you without wanting to scream. This is my life and you keep trying to ruin it for me."

"All I wanted…"

"Was the best for me, but the best you kept trying to give me was what you THOUGHT was best for me. Only I know what is best for me."

"Honey…" Her mother started, before her father cut her off.

"Where's your trust fund?" He asked, his face dark with suppressed anger.

"Gone."

"What do you mean gone?" He yelled.

"I donated it all to charity. Now you have nothing to hold over my head."

"That was supposed to be…"

"My security." Stevie grinned, before turning to leave. "I'm starting over without an strings. Get used to this, cause I'm not changing. If you need me for anything, Grandma and Grandpa will know how to get ahold of me. Goodbye." She turned and walked out, not listening as her mother pleaded with her to come back and her father demanded that she come back in here and discuss this decision rationally. She was tired of discussing everything rationally and doing what everyone thought was best. It was time to do what she wanted to do for a change and that was the plan.

Someone knocking on the door brought her back from her thoughts and she shook her head, dismissing the memory. She was moving on and that’s all that mattered. "Come in." She called out, swinging her chair one more time as she waited for whomever it was to come in.

Kacey stuck her head in and grinned. "Well look at you, Ms. President."

Stevie rolled her eyes. "What do you want?"

"Hey now… Can't I come in and bug a fellow employee whenever I want to? Plus I wanted to see what you thought of the office." She grinned; walking in and plopping down in the chair that was across from Stevie's desk.

The studio had been up and running for just about a month but most of the offices had remained unfinished, Stevie and Kacey preferring to work from home and to get the studio itself running so that the artists that were already clamoring for some of the songs to start recording early. In truth, however, both girls wanted to start work now instead of waiting for the office furniture and last minute items that were being held up when they could handle most of it from home.

Stevie grinned, spinning again, which only caused Kacey to laugh out loud. "I love it. I can't believe this is all mine."

"That it is Madam President. So what's the first item on the agenda?" She asked, leaning back in her chair.

Stevie grabbed a pencil, putting it to her lips as she pretended to think. "Hmmm, Ms. Secretary… I'm not too sure, but…" She looked over at the clock. "I'm thinking it's lunch time."

"Now that sounds good to this girl." Kacey said, jumping to her feet.

Stevie shook her head as she stood as well, grabbing her purse. She moved to grab her suit jacket as well, but stopped herself. This was her office, her company, protocol didn't matter to her and if she wanted to run around the office wearing nothing but a thong and matching bra, she could, even though she'd never do that. She smiled at the thought. She was going to have to get used to being able to do whatever she wanted.

The two moved down the hall, chatting about last minute plans, both excited that they had come as far as they had just the two of them. The only other employee at the moment was the receptionist for the front office. When Renee had found out that Stevie was leaving and starting her own company, she had jumped at the chance to come with her, not liking her status at JIVE and knowing that she would be treated better wherever Stevie went. This was her chance to shine and to be respected.

Stevie took one last look over her shoulder as she and Kacey walked out the door, remembering what this place had looked like before they had found it. This was her dream in reality and now she only had to wait and see what happened. It was all falling into place.

"What about this place?" Kacey asked, pointing to one of the ads in the paper.

"What about it?" Stevie asked, wrinkling her nose at the description, not wanting to think about what run down really meant. "Run down two story building with basement. Located in downtown Orlando near office buildings. Perfect for new office complex. Call 953-3443 for details."

"It's better than the one you were looking at." Kacey said defensively, she said pointing to the office building that was located outside of Orlando and would be a two-hour commute.

"Why don't we check them both out and decide." Stevie said, compromising, circling the two ads to call.

"Sounds good." Kacey grinned. "But I know which one we're going to get…"

"Yup, mine."

"Keep telling yourself that, doll." She said, standing up and walking into the kitchen of their brand new two-bedroom house that they had found complete with a fenced in backyard for Buttercup.

*****************************************************

"What did I tell you!" Kacey grinned, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she looked at the outside of the small office complex. "This is perfect."

"I don't know." Stevie mumbled, biting her lip as she took in the building. The outside needed painting, several windows needed to be replaced and they hadn't even stepped inside yet.

"Ladies… would you like to go inside?" The real estate agent asked.

Kacey nodded before Stevie could say anything. "Of course. Let's go in."

He opened the door, allowing them to go before them and check the place out. Kacey bounded in ahead, already pointing out the front office, how they could change this and that. Upstairs could have their offices and conference rooms, while in the back could be smaller meeting rooms for one on one writing/copyrighting sessions with Stevie's girls and downstairs in the basement could house the recording studios. They weren't going to be huge so two or three would be all that they'd need.

While Kacey ran around the room, suggesting this and that, planning he entire office in her head, Stevie just took it all in closing her eyes as she tried to picture what Kacey was saying. She tried to get rid of the dust and the broken beams and the holes in the floor and see it optimistically as Kacey did. When she finally managed to clear her head and see it, she smiled, it would be a lot of time and money but in the end it was exactly what she'd been looking for. It was just as Kacey described it; perfect.

Not even looking past the front room, she turned to the agent. "We'll take it."

"Have a good lunch, ladies." Renee smiled as they walked out the door.

"I'll take over when we get back so you can go get your own lunch." Kacey called out, waving.

"Thanks, Kace. Oh and Stevie, you have a bunch of messages from when you were in your meeting."

Stevie turned and grinned. Before Kacey had interrupted her moment of peace in her office, she'd been on the phone with Leanne Rimes trying to get her to sing one of her favorite writer's songs, who was a big fan of the artist. It had been a long two hour conversation as the girl didn't want to take a chance on a new studio for one song, but she owed her a favor and offered to look over the song and then they'd go from there. "I'm on my break, Renee." She put one hand on her hip, cocking her head to her side. "What have I told you about that?"

"No work. Got it, but one of them is from…" She started.

Stevie shook her head. "I'll deal with them when I get back."

Renee nodded. "I'll put them on your desk."

"Thanks. See ya in an hour."

************************************************************************

"I am so glad to be home." Justin grinned, stretching his arms over his head, while twisting side to side as he stretched out his back as they walked through the airport terminal.

Lance yawned. "I plan on sleeping for a week. Remind me why do we do overseas promotions again?"

Justin reached over and pushed his friend forward through the doors. "Because we have to think of all of our fans worldwide. That's why."

The quintet had just arrived back home after having been on a month long tour promoting their new record that had been released just last month. Everyone was glad to be home and to have a two-month long vacation before jumping straight into rehearsals for their upcoming tour. Management had only wanted to give them a month but they had whined and cried for two months, wanting to have some time to themselves after having been cooped up for three months in recording studios, a few weeks off, then off to see the world. They needed some down time in a major way and they wanted it now, not later. They all needed to work on their outside projects and sleep. Sleep for weeks and think of nothing that had to do with NSYNC, even thought they knew they'd have a few appearances here and there after having just released a new record, but those they could handle.

"I just want to get home." JC sighed. "I want my bed in my own room with my own darkness."

Joe looked over at JC who was walking dead on his feet. The guy had been pushing himself harder than he'd ever seen him push himself ever since New York and Joe wasn't sure if it had to with Stevie or something else. "You okay?" He asked.

JC looked over and grinned. "Yeah… just glad to be home. You?"

Joe nodded. "There's no feeling like coming home, is there."

"Nope."

"Can you believe we're finally home!" Chris shouted into their ears, wrapping an arm around each of their shoulders.

JC and Joe both rubbed their ears, before glaring t the man between them. "Yes we can, and you didn't need to shout it." Joe groaned.

"Ah ya big baby… " Chris said reaching up to ruffle his hair before taking off after Justin and Lance. "Wait up you two… we should go hit the beach, go shopping, maybe a club or two tonight?" He yelled as he ran.

JC sighed. "Where he gets his energy I'll never know but I would like to know and maybe buy some off of him."

"No kidding." Joe shook his head, watching Chris run ahead. "When you find out, let me know and share would ya."

"Sure thing."

They saw the limo driver up ahead holding signs for their entourage and the bodyguards holding back some of the fans who had noticed Chris, Justin and Lance. Both cringed, knowing that this wasn't going to be a quiet ride home and quickly made their way through the doors to jump in the limo.

After the last girl was pried off the car and all five members, plus whoever else was riding with them were in the car, they left to head home to Orlando. JC sighed, looking out at the passing cars and buildings, thinking about the upcoming few months. He didn't want to think about what he's be doing. There wasn't much for him to do but rest. He'd finished working with the artists that had called him looking for help with songs and producing, he'd written just about every song that had come into his mind, constantly working, not wanting to think about what had happened in New York.

He'd pushed himself to the limit, trying to forget about her. Trying to get his mind on anything but the way her dark hair curled around her face, the way her eyes sparkled when she was working, or the way the light had gone out of them as she had walked away from the studio, knowing she would never be coming back. He had tried to forget her and the way that her lips tasted but every night, she filtered into his dreams, taunting him with the fact that he didn't know how to contact her, he didn't know how to find her, and that she was gone from his life for good. He had lost the one thing that had begun to matter the most in his life and he hadn't realized that until it was too late.

"Jace?"

He jerked his head away from the window where it had been resting, glancing over at the friends who were all staring at him. "What?"

"You're home." Justin grinned; pointing out the door at his newly bought home.

"Oh right… thanks." He mumbled, grabbing his hat and glasses, not knowing who out there or around. He waved goodbye, mumbling something about calling them later before heading towards his front door, one hand digging into his pocket for his keys, while the other held up his huge duffel bag.

"He's sure out of it." Chris said, watching the guy stagger to his front door.

"He's tired just like we all are. Give him a few days to rest up. He'll be back to normal." Lance managed to get out through a yawn, before resting his head back against the seat.

"I don't think that's all that’s bothering him." Chris said, leaning back against the seat, looking at the rest of the guys in the car.

"He's been pushing himself too much the past few months." Joe told them, leaning forward.

Justin nodded. "Have you seen his notebook of songs? I think just while we were in Europe, he completed like 20. That's all he does. He flies back to the states, records with artists, flies back to us, writes, and whatever else. Does he sleep?"

Joe shook his head. "I don’t think so. At least not full nights. I can't begin to say how many times I've seen him up walking around at night, pacing, mumbling to himself, or sitting in a corner writing."

"These next few weeks will be good for him. He can get his head back on straight."

"Meaning he can forget about her." Justin said softly.

Chris looked over at him. "I didn't say that."

"But you implied it."

"It might be better for all of us if we forgot her." Lance cut in.

"Maybe…" Joe sighed. "I just wish…"

"We all do, man. We all do." Justin said, falling silent as each of them thought about the girl that had managed to touch each of them and then disappear without a trace.

************************************************************************

"I understand. Uh huh." Stevie spoke into the phone; one foot propped up on her desk, as she listened to one of the songwriters discuss what she wanted.

"No, that's not what we're trying to do here." She sat up, her foot falling down onto the floor. "Not at all. What we want to be able to do here is to give you a place to speak up. A lot of time the writer's of the song don't have any say and here you do. What we do is get your song sang, while letting you sit in on the recording and giving your input into the creative process. We know that this is your art here. The artist is just a medium for you to speak through. We want to give your dream a chance to be heard."

"Uh huh…" She listened as the woman spoke some more of her fears. "No, you only sign on for your one song, no contract for more."

"Good. So we'll see you Monday?" She grinned, wanting to jump and down for joy, another one signed.

"I'll see you Monday then, Amelia. Thank you so much and I was glad to be of service." She hung up the phone and did what she'd been inclined to do since she knew she had her in the bag. She stood up and began to jump around the office, screaming for joy.

Kacey came running as soon as she heard the first shriek, slamming the door open. "What are you doing?" She asked, breathing heavily in the doorway.

Stevie stopped, running over and grabbing her friend's hands to bring her into the room and join her in the jumping. "Because…"

"Why… are… we… jumping…" Kacey managed to get out.

"I signed another one." Stevie screamed out.

Kacey's eyes widened before throwing her arms around the other girl. "This is a reason to celebrate!"

"I know." Stevie shrieked, grinning broadly. "We're on our way."

"We definitely are." Kacey laughed, bouncing around the room.

************************************************************************

He turned the radio on, walking into his bedroom, throwing the bag on the floor to be unpacked later as he made his way over to his dresser, looking for his sweatpants and a t-shirt. The first things that he had planned was to climb into bed and sleep for a week but just as his hand reached into the drawer, his fingers touching the soft fabric, his hand stilled. The music that was playing penetrated his exhausted mind, breaking what self control he had as he slumped to the floor.

Would you look at her
She looks at me
She's got me thinking about her constantly
But she don't know how I feel
And as she carries on without a doubt
I wonder if she's figured out
I'm crazy for this girl
Yeah, I'm crazy for this girl

He leaned back against the dresser and sighed, running one hand through his hair as his thoughts once again turned to the girl that he wanted with all of his heart but had lost due to his own stupidity and pride.

She was the one to hold me
The night
The sky fell down
And what was I thinking when
The world didn't end
Why didn't I know what I know now

He remembered everything that had happened between them those short few weeks and couldn't quite figure out when it had happened. When had she gotten under his skin? Was it when she had first walked through the door? The first time she had stood up to him? Or did it go back farther than that, back to when they were kids and had first met? He didn't know the answers to those questions now any better than he had when they had first started cropping up about a week after she had left and he had realized that he missed her… a lot.

Would you look at her
She looks at me
She's got me thinking about her constantly
But she don't know how I feel
And as she carries on without a doubt
I wonder if she'll figured out
I'm crazy for this girl
Yeah, I'm crazy for this girl

Every song that he'd written, everything he did, was meant to make him forget her, but all it did was bring back memories of everything that the two had said and did. Music was what had brought them together in the end and it was what had driven them apart. He knew he'd never see her again and he regretted never being able to tell her that he was sorry and how much she meant to him. Somewhere along the way he had fallen for her, had fallen for her pride, her stubbornness, her temper, her passion, and the light that she brought to everything that she touched and did. She was beautiful inside and out and he had lost her.

Right now
Face to face
All my fears
Pushed aside
And right now
I'm ready to spend the rest of my life
With you

JC had tried to find her. He'd called up JIVE, talked to Janet, had even bit the bullet and contacted her parents after a lot of digging into the company to find out who he was and his contact information. No one knew where she was or had heard from her. Her parents had hung up on him when he had mentioned her name so he knew she'd been there recently. She'd disappeared.

Each of the guys had dealt differently to her being gone once they had realized that they didn't know how to get ahold of her, that the cell number they had was through JIVE and not her own. Joe had closed off. He was still his happy go lucky self, still going out to the clubs, dancing with the girls, even though he was happy with Jenn, who was waiting for him back in Orlando.

Justin threw himself into his music and the rest of the album, not wanting to hear the name Ivy or Stevie. He'd stopped playing pranks on everyone and when someone did one to him, he blew a fuse so they had left him alone when goofing off, knowing that it bothered him that he didn't know where she was or anything. When Justin was worried, he tended to be short tempered and he had been that for several months now.

Chris hadn't changed. He still acted like a big kid, joking around with all of them, making sure they all kept busy and entertained. JC thought it was his way of making sure no one got down in he dumps or lost it at any point in time. Playing Daddy was usually his job, but Chris slowly had taken it over in his own way.

Lance on the other hand used his contacts in the business to see if they had heard anything. Every now and again her name would pop up in the gossip circuit, a new studio usually tagged along with it, but he couldn't pin point which one or anything. If anyone knew who she was working for, no one was talking.

Would you look at her
She looks at me
She's got me thinking about her constantly
But she don't know how I feel
And as she carries on without a doubt
I wonder if she's figured out
I'm crazy for this girl
Yeah, I'm crazy for this girl

~Evan and Jaron, Crazy For This Girl~

Then there was JC. He could remember the looks he had gotten over the tour, remembered the concerned glances and the upbeat smiles as everyone tried to cheer him up and get him out to do things instead of sitting in his hotel room all alone. He had to give them credit, as the months went by, they all returned to normal, going back to who they were, forgetting her and moving on with their lives. While he on the other hand… he still remembered and regretted.

He stood up, walking over to the stereo and switched it off. Shaking his head, breathing deeply, he made himself a promise. He was going to move on, as he was sure she had, as everyone had. Who was she anyway? Just a girl that had come into his life and left it just as quickly. She wasn't anyone to obsess about or that he should let affect him this much.

He grabbed his clothes, heading into the bathroom to shower. As soon as he was rested, he was going to start this goal by going out with Joey and whoever and getting on with his life. It was time.

************************************************************************

Stevie locked her office behind her, standing to stare at her door. The gold nameplate that stood on her door read Steve Ivy but she didn't care. There was another office down the hall that had the name Stephanie Kingsley on it that housed the computer that had all the songs of her writers on it plus a keyboard and various other instruments. It was basically her play room and get away room but only her, Kacey and Renee knew that. To everyone outside the office, Steve and Stephanie were two separate people.

She switched her briefcase to her other hand so that she could dig into her pocket for her keys and headed down the hallway toward the stairs to leave the office, Kacey having left early as she had a dinner date with one the writers. She shook her head at that thought. Kacey was always thinking with something other than her head it seemed. Something she should probably do more of, she thought with a grimace.

"Stevie?" Renee asked as she walked into the front room to leave.

"What are you still doing here?" Stevie said with a frown. It was way past closing time.

"I had a few things to catch up on. I hope you don't mind."

"Oh no. Go ahead. What's up?" She asked, smiling.

"There was a call that came in about an hour ago but you were in your room and I didn't want to disturb you."


"Okay… but can it wait till tomorrow? I was going to head home and soak after that hellish phone call with Leanne's manager. That man is an ogre when it comes to contracts."

"Well it could… its just…" Renee bit her bottom lip, knowing she'd better giver her the message now rather than later.

"What is it?" Stevie asked tightly, knowing this wasn't going to be good news.

"Lance Bass called. He wanted to talk to Steve Ivy about possibly setting something up for his new recording artist. He'd heard only good things about this new company and liked the way it was set up and thought her first single should be something she should be proud of. He also mentioned that he'd heard you were the recording engineer…" She said the last part of the message softly.

Stevie sighed. One hand came up to rub her throbbing temple that would turn into a headache. So they had found her after all this time. She knew it would have been only a short amount of time before one of them did, but she had wanted her company to be successful, not still in the beginning stages.

"What did you tell him?"

"That we'd get back to him. I wasn't sure…"

"I'll call him tomorrow." She said, turning to leave, wanting to escape the message and any memories it brought along with it.

"Stevie…"

She placed one hand on the door, wanting to push it open and leave. Too many memories, too much pain, too many emotions that she didn't want to delve too deeply into analysis, because she was afraid of what she would come up with.

"Yes…" She whispered.

"He also said to say thank you for their single. It was beautiful."

"Stevie? What's wrong?" Kacey asked, walking into the living room, a glass of water in one hand, the other pushing back her damp hair. She had just gotten home from working out at the gym down the street.

Stevie looked up, tears in her eyes. "They…" She shook her head, pointing to the CD that lay on the table, the front jacket removed for readability.

Kacey frowned as she crossed the room, pushing Stevie aside so that she could see what it was. She picked up the CD, five familiar faces gracing the cover of their third album, aptly titled We’re Here To Stay after their ugly clown from their second release's tour. "It's their CD. I didn’t realize it was out yet."

Stevie shook her head. "I hadn't either. I was in the music store looking for something for Grandma since she twisted her knee gardening the other day and has to stay off of it for a few weeks when I saw it and had to buy it."

"Have you listened to it yet?" She asked softly.

Stevie shook her head. "I couldn't."

"Well then… what did they cut out your single? Those bastards, if they did, I'm going down there and…"

"No, Kacey… that's not it." She put her hand over the other girl's to calm her. "I was reading the liner notes and flipped back to the thank you's and…" Her voice broke again.

Kacey opened up the jacket and flipped to where each of the guys had written their thank you notes. "Each of them thank Ivy…," She said in awe, her heart filling with pride because despite everything that had happened, they had still remembered her.

Stevie nodded. "I know… I…"

"Why don't you call them? You miss them just as much as I'm sure they miss you."

"I couldn't." She said, leaning back against the couch.

"Why not?"

"Because I left. I left with the sole intention of never seeing them again and I won't."

"But…"

"But what Kacey… this is for the best. They're better off without me and… and I need to forget and move on."

"It's not the five of them together so much as one specific one is it?"

She didn't answer at first. Didn't know how to say what she wanted to say. "Things were bad from day one… we tried to be friends, we certainly tried… but… "

"But what, sweets…"

"But it just wasn't meant to be and I have to accept that."

"You love him?" Kacey said incredulously, not having realized just how much he meant to her.

Stevie shook her head. "I don't know what I feel, but maybe I do… I don’t know… but in the end it would never work and that's why I can't contact them. It'd only make me hope for something that could never be."

"Are you sure?"

"As I'll ever be about anything." She said softly before getting up and walking out of the room, leaving Kacey sitting on the couch with the CD.

She picked up the jacket off the table, flipping to JC's thank you's. "To Ivy… thank you for everything…for everything you did for us as a group and for me as an individual… you'll never know what you meant to us, to me…"

"I don't think you know what you're really giving up, Stevie…" She whispered, before replacing the jacket into the case and getting up to take a shower.

Stevie opened the door to her car and climbed in; resting her head on the steering wheel as all her memories of the past seven months overwhelmed her. From the time she had walked into JIVE and see them to the day that she had left, she had been fighting against her feelings, knowing that'd she see them again one day, but they, he, wouldn't get to her this time cause she'd be ready. She'd be ready to tell him that she had moved on, that she didn't need him or his condescending attitude. She knew who and what she was and could survive without his approval. But she wasn't ready yet. This was too soon. What was she going to do, to say, when she called Lance back in the morning? Maybe she could hide under the covers and never come back out.

Kacey would never let her, she knew. She took a deep breath, starting the car, looking over her shoulder for oncoming traffic and pulled out to head home. Kacey would know what to do when she got home. She had to; otherwise, Stevie was in trouble. Big trouble.

Chapter 15

She sat there tapping the receiver to the phone on her desk lightly; a constant drumming sound filled her office, as she stared down at the note on her desk. The handwriting was that of her receptionist’s, Renee’s, but that wasn’t what was bothering her about making this phone call. It was what was written on the note. "Lance Bass called again. Fifth time this week. Says it’s urgent. Stevie, you might want to call him back. I’m getting tired of fielding his phone calls." At the bottom was his cell phone number, which Stevie had managed to dial halfway through before hanging up.

"It’s not that hard, girl." She told herself, staring at the phone. "You pick it up, you dial, you speak to him as you would any other client, and then you hang up."

Shaking her head, she got lost in thought again about the phone call and if it was a good thing or a bad thing to dial, the receiver tapping again on the desk as she worked through whatever was bugging her.

Kacey skipped down the hall, needing to get a few things from her office before meeting with one of their writers about the song that she was currently working on, but stopped when she heard the light tapping coming from Stevie’s office. She stopped outside the door to peek in and saw her roommate and best friend, staring at the phone, one hand thrust into her already messed up hair, while the other cradled the phone receiver and tapped it on the desk. "That can’t be good for the equipment." She said jokingly.

Stevie’s head shot up; the hand in her hair coming out as the other dropped the phone. "What?"

Kacey walked into the room, pulling out one of the chairs to sit down and faced Stevie. "He’s not going to bite."

"I know…" She said softly, staring at the note then the phone again. "It’s just…"

"I’ve never seen you this nervous before." Kacey said, leaning back in the chair, her left leg coming over her right to cross them.

Stevie’s head dropped to thump against the desk. Kacey jumped forward, one hand reaching out to lift her head and rub her forehead. "Don’t do that, you might permanently hurt something."

Stevie raised her head to glare at the girl. "Ha ha, funny. This isn’t easy."

"I know, sweets, but… it’s for the best I think." Kacey told her seriously.

"I don’t know…"

"Look, obviously he wouldn’t have called here, wanting to take a chance on a brand new studio with a brand new artist if he didn’t know that they would be in your capable hands. He must respect you, even after you left."

"Unless he just wants to find me so that he can humiliate me." Stevie said sulking.

"Right, now does that really sound like something he’d do?"

"No."

"Exactly. So why don’t you call him up and find out what he wants. If you’re right about him, then just hang up, but if I’m right…" She grinned. "Listen to him."

"I still don’t know…" Stevie said, glancing at the phone again, before looking back at Kacey. "Why don’t you call and find out… field him out for me first?"

"No way…" Kacey stood up to leave. "This is all you, babe. Come on, you can do it."

"I don’t want to though."

"Too bad. We could definitely use more artists around here to perform the mass amounts of music that we’re getting in."

"I know." Stevie said grumpily, knowing that if she were thinking like a president, she’d have been on the phone with Lance, the agent, when he had first called.

Kacey ducked out of the room, but glanced in one last time. "If it gets bad, hang up, but at least give it a chance… they’ve probably missed you just as much as you’ve missed them."

"I doubt that." Stevie said snidely, before picking up the phone and glancing over at the piece of paper with the number on it and began to dial.

Kacey grinned when she saw her dialing the number before turning around leaving the room to head down to her office. This was a good thing she felt. The girl had been moping around too much during her spare time and needed to get back into contact with those five guys. They meant too much to her for her to cut them out of her life permanently and she was pretty sure that they felt the same about Stevie.

Stevie ran a hand through her wavy hair as she heard the phone connect and the first ring come over the receiver. Perspiration began to bead her lip as her stomach knotted with the first true twinge of panic. Was she doing the right thing?

 

Justin leaned back against the lawn chair, a bright smile lighting up his face as he took in the warm sunshine, enjoying his vacation, his time away from the fans, the spotlight, and the cameras. Dark shades covered his eyes and his body was clad only in dark blue swim trunks that came down to right above his knees. Beside the chair lay his sandals, towel, and sun tan lotion, along with his cell phone that he had turned off so that he wouldn’t be disturbed.

The parents of all five guys had gotten together to throw a welcome back picnic/pool party for them plus anyone that they had wanted to bring or invite. Lynn, Justin’s mom, offered to have it at her place so that they could use the pool and Joe, Joey’s dad, was acting as the official Barbeque King over at the grill.

Justin could hear everyone laughing and talking around him but he quickly tuned out the voices so that he could enjoy just laying there, not having to be anywhere in five minutes to talk, dance or sing. He could just be himself without a care in the world.

Lance looked over at Justin who laid there with a smirk crossing his features. "What are you thinking about now?"