(…For those who have walked this line…)


    I can see him from across the room.  Time and the rigors of this thing he calls his job have taken their toll.  Constantly, he’s smiling and waving and making nice with hundreds of people whom he will never see again.  He doesn’t see me.

    I watch him as a young girl cautiously approaches him.  There are tears in her eyes.  She is nervous.  He smiles a tight-lipped grin and pretends not to notice.  I don’t know if I blame him.

    I guard my privacy closely, and I’m in no position to be followed.  People are not constantly coming up to me and yelling and screaming and crying as though I’m a deity ready to be worshipped.  His sense of reality is skewed.  He’s so far from normal that he doesn’t know what normal is anymore.

    I decide to make my presence known.  I join the line of rampant young fans all eager for a glimpse of these five young men.  They whisper excitedly and trade little bits of information.

     “He’s dating…”

     “I heard…”

     “I wonder what she’s like…”

    It occurs to me that suddenly the topic of conversation is not just him. They are dissecting an image that the media machine has created, and somehow I’ve gotten caught in the crossfire.  Their words are hurtful.  They are certain that I am not meant for him. They are certain that I cannot make him happy.  I try not to let it bother me.

    Some words of wisdom: I am not a bitch, nor am I a fame-seeking starlet racing for the top.  I am not a “normal, down-home girl,” nor am I “well-maintained” or even “exotic-looking.”  I think I was once all of these things, but I am now packaged and distilled and shaped into a single word:


    The animosity peaks when the youngest girl in our cavalcade looks at me.  Her tiny eyes are scrutinizing mine.  She has seen me before, of that much I’m certain.  She whispers to the girl next to her and their eyes narrow, and the quiet hissing among these “fans” begins to spread.

    I try not to let it bother me.

    I glance up and see him looking at me, blue eyes troubled, gaze stormy.  We lock eyes for a brief moment before I once again drop my gaze to the floor.  He glances a second longer before being prodded back into signing another picture.

    I am getting closer.

    I try to remember what this was like months ago, when the lines were shorter and the excitement genuine.  I vaguely recall coming home one evening to find him leaning over my stove, consulting the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

     “What’s cooking, Betty?”

     He glanced up sheepishly before looking dubiously at the red sauce that was furiously boiling.  “I wanted to surprise you.”

     “If you’re able to finish that without burning it, I will be very surprised.”  My tone was teasing, but his reaction was not in kind.

     He looked crestfallen.  I had forgotten how seriously he takes things, despite his happy-go-lucky demeanor.

     “Oh, baby, I’m sorry…” I cooed softly.  “I just had a bad day at work.”  I walked cautiously up behind him, placing my hands gingerly on his hips.  He turned abruptly, pressing his body against mine.

     “We got a deal,” he whispered heatedly.  “We’re actually going to record!”

     I looked up in shock.  “I…Wow…When?”

     “Two weeks,” he began, and then, more softly, “In Germany.”

     Time stopped.

     His excitement broke my heart.  “They’re paying for everything.  We’re supposed to get on a plane and then we spend two weeks in the studio.  After that we’ve got a marketing blitz and hopefully it will take off from there.”  He spun me around, lighting up the room with his laughter.

     I was dying inside.  I knew how it would end.

    But here I am, two years later.

    We are approaching the table.  They all still look young—dewy faces and hard bodies and fashionable clothes.  I know better.  I know we have all aged years in the few short months since they’ve returned from overseas.  They have all changed dramatically.

    “Can’t you be happy for me?”  I tried to block the sound of his yelling, but something in me was forcing me to listen.

    “How can I be happy?!”  I shot back.  “Do you think it’s easy for me to see you with other girls?”

    “You’re supposed to trust me!”

    “I DO trust you!  I just don’t believe you!”  Hot tears spilled down my cheeks, as he stared at me in shock.  I could see the indecision on his face.

    “I don’t have time for this,” He muttered, before storming out the door.

    Later that week the tabloids published pictures of him with another girl; a younger, more attractive actress with the world at her feet.

    I tried not to let it bother me.

    “Thanks for coming…it’s nice to meet you…you made this for me?”

    I can hear their voices now over the din.  They sound rehearsed, and I suppose in all reality they are.  But I know that Justin isn’t happy with it, and I know that Chris would tell the world a thing or two if his publicist would only let him…but for now, they all utter the same pleasantries while their eyes stare aimlessly into space.  They all possess a fine sense of detachment.

    A young reporter from a popular radio station steps up behind them and shoves her microphone directly in his face.  He looks like a deer caught in headlights.

    “Lauren McGrath, WXLK,” she chirps.  “So, tell me, JC…Do you guys find it hard to sit around and sign autographs all day?”

    I can see the truth dancing in his eyes.  All he has to do is open his mouth and say it…but I know before he even utters a word what his answer will be.

    “No, not at all…we love our fans.”

    I have heard that before.

    “Dinah, I do love you…but the fans may turn on us if they find out about you.”

    I nodded stoically, frozen in place.  Fans/fame…same difference.

    He leaned down, forcing me to look into his azure eyes, so troubled.

    “You know that I would do anything for you…and you know that I want the whole world to know about you, but with my career going the way it is, I just can’t do that right now.”

    Again, I nodded, saying nothing.

    He withdrew a small black box from his right pocket, and carefully placed it in my hand.

    “Open it.”

    Nestled inside was a small sapphire pendant on a silver chain.

    “I know you don’t like diamonds, and I know you don’t wear rings…so…”

    He struggled for words, speaking gruffly.  For someone praised so freely for the lyrics inside him, he had trouble expressing himself clearly when the time comes.

    I smiled softly and allowed him to place it around my neck.

    “Thank you,” I responded, and allowed my lips to brush his delicately.

    He smiled as well, entwining his fingers with mine.

    “This will tell the whole world you’re mine…but it will need to be our secret.”

    I nodded.  And tried not to let it bother me.

    I finger the shiny necklace still hanging around my neck.  It has become an amulet, the thing I use when I want to feel close to him.  I am close to him now, a mere four feet from where he is sitting, diligently signing away. He does not look up.

    Justin notices my presence first.

    “What can I do for you, young lady?”  Justin smiles and gives me a cocky grin before winking at me quickly.  I return his smile and smirk slightly.  “What are you offering?”

    He inhales dramatically.  “I will be but a shelter from the raging tempest inside your heart,” He brays, his Tennessee accent overly exaggerated.

    He is only half-joking.

    “Dinah…what are you doing here?”  He stared at me in shock.

    I sniffled and shivered, trying unsuccessfully to extract some warmth from the soaking wet pale yellow dress I had worn.

    “He…I…can I come in?”  I asked meekly, barely able to look up.

    “Sure, sure…come inside,” he responded, pulling me through his door.  His house was big, warm, and inviting…but yet all I felt was cold.

    I glanced around the spacious hallway lined with pictures into the kitchen where a lone bowl of apple jacks took residence.  Still I said nothing.

    Justin studied me carefully, trying to gauge my reaction.  Gingerly, he came up behind me, placing his hand on my shoulder.  I jumped at the touch.

    “You’re soaking wet…what happened?”

    “I went for a walk.”

    “In the pouring rain?!”  He replied incredulously.

    I nodded helplessly, offering nothing further by way of explanation.

    “Dinah, you’re scaring me, baby…what’s going on?”

    I smiled wanly at the endearment.  JC was forever getting angry at him for calling me sweetheart, angel, baby, whatever term came to mind.  Justin and I delighted in it, happy to rile him up at every opportunity.

    “Do you know where he went tonight?”

    Justin paused before answering.

    “I think he went to that club.”

    That club.  The strip joint.

    “Dinah, you know means nothing by it…it doesn’t mean he loves you any less…he just wants to…”

    “She was in bed with him,” I said abruptly, looking vacantly at the stairs.  “Did you know that?  He slept with her.”

    Justin’s face registered shock.  “I don’t know what to say…”

    “Don’t say anything.  I’m not going to either.  I know this is hard for him, that the separation means that he’s more open to temptation but…it’s…it’s hard for me too,” To my humiliation I felt the tears begin to fall as my voice cracked.

    “I know baby, I know,” He whispered, drawing me against him.  “But he loves you.  Remember that…you need to tell him.  He needs you, but you can’t let him use you, either.  Sure, he’s been changed by this whole thing, we ALL have…but what he did was WRONG.”

    I sighed and looked up at Justin.  “I guess.”

    “I KNOW.”  He said forcefully.  “Believe me, it WILL get better.”

    But now it’s been two years, and I haven’t seen it get better.  I keep trudging up this hill expecting to reach the top, and yet I feel like I haven’t moved at all.  I am finally here.

    “Hey there, beautiful…”

    His voice still affects me.

    I look fully into the eyes of the man before me.  Hidden beneath the lies, the deceit, the endless hours of work and exhaustion, I can see a flicker of love.  I can see the flicker of the man I once knew.

    I wonder if he sees it in me.  I wonder if he sees the worry, the empty nights, the loneliness that I feel.  I wonder if he can see the flicker of love, of the girl I once was, instead of the “girlfriend” that I am now.  I wonder if he is watching that flame, and I wonder if he sees it, as I feel it, extinguish.

    “This is for you,” I say softly, pulling gently at the clasp around my neck.  I can see the panic rising in his eyes as I gingerly place the necklace in his hands.

    “Dinah, what are you doing?”

    The fans around us look up.  In some small way I feel satisfaction.  The acknowledgment I have been so desperately craving has finally come…and it doesn’t matter anymore.

    “I’m leaving, JC.”

    “What?!  Dinah!  I don’t understand…what the hell is going on?!”  Panic.  Pure panic colors his voice as he grasps desperately at the shards of our “relationship” scattering around him.  They tear at his heart, making him bleed.  I can’t bear to watch.  I turn and walk quickly away.

    “Dinah!  DINAH!”  Screaming now, heartbreak pouring from his golden voice.  It is a hideous sound.  I hear footsteps behind me and I know he is running.

    I am too fast for him.  I jump into the waiting cab and yell at the driver to speed away.  He complies, and my last vision of JC Chasez is a broken man, crumbled, sobbing helplessly on the sidewalk.  I close my eyes, and try not to let it bother me.

2000 ~A