COME UNDONE

("Love is blindness, I don't want to see..."  --U2)


 

 

    It’s funny how the perfect opportunity can fall right into your lap.

    Sometimes, when you least expect it, God waves a magic wand and presents you with a gilded box, filled with the hope and promises of a thousand shimmering dreams.

    What I got was Pandora.

    I can see her struggling to regain her composure, fighting to don the gilded mask that conceals her true emotions from the prying eyes of the general public.  She’s failing miserably.

    Oh my.  What a predicament.

    There are times when I think we, as “regular people,” are overrated.  The fans who spend hours scouring the internet for “eyewitness” accounts of us eating, sleeping, breathing, dreaming, you name it…well, sometimes I think they think we’re perfect.

    We’re definitely not perfect.  Some of us aren’t even close.

    Like JC.  The man is a moron.

    Granted, I know he was hurting.  I know that when Dinah left him a part of his soul shattered into a million jagged fragments, but he had it coming.  She told him it was over in the middle of a crowded meet n’greet, and he flew after her like a bat out of hell, only to see her slip into a waiting cab and ride off into the sunset, like Pocahontas on crack.

    You go, girl.

    I was jealous.  I admit it.  Dinah struck a chord deep within me that I thought was dead and buried long ago.  I have no time for overzealous, simpering teenies who claim to know me but then go apeshit when I refuse to conform to their precious image.

    Damn.  I need to relax.

    I suppose I’m an intense person.  I know that I have a sizable ego, but after being packaged and processed and prodded and dissected under a microscope stronger than most nuclear devices, my ego is all I have.  And it’s only for my own protection, right?  It’s only there to hold me together.  Right?

    Newsflash, kids:  Things fall apart.

    Her eyes are scanning the crowd constantly as she angrily brushes away the tears from her face.  She tries to catch her reflection in the plate glass of the expansive building, but all she sees is the distorted image of a broken young woman.

    How fitting.

    I decide to make my presence known.

    “You look exquisite, Dinah.  Don’t even waste your time thinking about him.”

    She looks up at me in surprise before considering what I had said.

    “That’s just it, J.  I want to believe that it isn’t a waste.   I want to believe that he…still…cares for me.”  Her voice trails off as her eyes stare vacantly into the distance.

    “Why is that important to you?”  I move closer, indulging myself in the scent of her hair, the smooth softness of her skin, her unmistakable PRESENCE.

    She looks up at me, eyes questioning.  “Why isn’t that important?”  She repeats, still trying to fathom my query.  “It’s important because…well…because…it doesn’t matter why it’s important, it just is!”  She is flustered and I can feel fingers of guilt working at my brain, reminding me that she is off-limits, that I most certainly can look, but I had better not touch.

    JC is fifty yards ahead of us, watching me with a murderous glance in his eyes.  I have seen that look before; hell, on countless occasions I have worn it myself.  Jealousy.  His cobalt eyes are piercing and filled with the unmistakable glare of possession.

    Too late, pal.  You had your chance.

    I catch myself thinking these vindictive thoughts and I almost laugh.  There has always been an unspoken undercurrent of competition between the two of us.  He thinks that because he joined the Mickey Mouse Club before I did, and is a whopping five years older than I am, that he’s got an edge on me.

    My, my, my…how wrong he is.

    I know that most of our fans are interested in me, that they eye me like meat on a platter and spend countless hours fantasizing over me, over the gentle way I must kiss, over my considerable skill in the art of making love.  Some of them even write about it, pouring out their desires in the form of fiction, which I read late at night when I think no one’s watching.

    Well.  We all gotta get by somehow.

    I match JC’s stare with one of my own, meeting his gaze evenly and refusing to look away.  I know I shouldn’t allow my temper to get the better of me, but sometimes it does.  Casually, deliberately, I place my hand gently on the small of Dinah’s back, looking at him coolly, a self-satisfied smirk on my face.

    Ah.  No more sour are the grapes sucked on by bitter pop princes.

    “C’mon, Dinah,” I whisper, guiding her down the red carpet.  “Show ‘em your smile.  Show ‘em that you’re above this shit.  Show ‘em that he can’t break you.”

    She takes this into consideration, posture straightening, shoulders squaring in spite of herself.  We walk slowly down the expanse of red carpet, mugging for the cameras, offering secret smiles to the millions of reporters eager to catch a glimpse of any sort of torrid romance.  I am enjoying it, reveling in the attention, knowing that I am in charge, that nothing can destroy this moment.

    And then Britney approaches us.  Oh God.

    My breath catches in my throat and I feel my legs turn to jello.  I snatch my hand away guiltily from the small of Dinah’s back, trying in vain to appear nonchalant.

    “Hi Justin,” She says, tone even.  She is wearing a Todd Oldham monstrosity that is half Morticia Adams, half Frederick’s of Hollywood.

    I love it.  And I hate myself.

    “You didn’t introduce me to your friend,” She prods, frozen smile plastered on her face.  I can see her trying to maintain a semblance of congeniality, but I know beneath that carefully made-up face is a temper hotter than Louisiana Tabasco, and I’m wary about allowing it to surface.

    “Dinah Shanahan, this is Britney Spears,” I gesture between the two of them, praying to God above and anyone else who might be listening that we get through this little ordeal quickly.

    Thankfully, Dinah is oblivious.  She shakes Britney’s hand politely and offers her best “professional” smile before demuring to me, expecting some sort of earth-shattering revelation to fall from my lips.

    I can’t produce anything but an awkward smile.

    Britney smiles slightly before beginning to speak, “Dinah…that name seems familiar.  Aren’t you JC’s ex?  The one who left him at the meet n’greet?”

    I am shocked.  I am dumbfounded.  I am speechless.  I am hoping Dinah has suddenly gone deaf.  I do not get my wish.

    Dinah recovers quickly.  “Yup.  That would be me.  I’m sorry, Britney.  Justin’s never mentioned you.”  Her smile is thinly veiled hostility.

    “Well, ladies.  The show is about to begin, we better get inside,” I speak hurriedly, feeling like a rat in a cage, trying to get away from this awful situation.

    The two women regard each other, and Dinah snuggles protectively into my side before urging me forward.

    “It was SO nice to meet you,” She calls over her shoulder, though her voice indicates otherwise.

    “Well, baby, making friends and influencing people?” JC’s smooth voice startles us both as he slinks up behind us, sliding his arm around Dinah’s slender waist.

    She does not resist, she merely lowers her eyes to the ground and says nothing.

    “Hmmm…you were full of comments earlier, darling!  What’s the matter?  Cat got your tongue?”

    I can feel my own anger rising inside my lungs, clawing desperately at my chest in a vain attempt to escape.

    “JOSH, don’t you think we ought to forget this whole mess for one night?”  I say through clenched teeth, pulling Dinah closer to my body.

    “Apparently I am the only one who hasn’t forgotten,” He replies evenly, scorching Dinah with his stare.

    She shrinks back, lower lip trembling.  “Look.  Y’all need to STOP.  NOW.  This is stupid.  JC let’s just leave it alone.  Please?  For tonight?  There’s no reason for any of us to act this way.”  Her soft Texan drawl resurfaces as her emotions become heated.

    I hate myself for acting this way.  I am a jealous person.  I try to control it.  I know my intensity scares people; hell, it scares ME sometimes, but around Dinah…I can’t seem to control it.  And JC knows this.

    “Fine,” He replies.  “Why don’t you come and sit with us, then?  Unless you want to sit with Mr. Martin,” He adds sarcastically, alluding to Dinah’s earlier conversation with the Latin heartthrob.

    She looks like he just offered to strap her into the electric chair.  I’m sure that if the situations were reversed, she would gladly throw the switch, but Dinah is too classy for that.  Sighing, she nods in agreement, and we enter the cavernous concert hall.

    I steal a glance at JC when I know he isn’t looking.  The macho bravado he has so eagerly displayed is fooling everyone except me…and maybe Dinah.  She meant the world to him; through the two hardest years of his life she was the only constant, consoling him and urging him forward when all he wanted to do is give up…and now, she too is gone.  It destroyed him, left him empty and bitter and praying that she would return.

    He finally got his wish.  And he blew it.

    Dinah, I know, is better off without him.  Sure, I can say that because of the feelings I harbor for her, but I also say that out of genuine love.  I know what she went through; she told me herself on numerous occasions.  I can’t possibly imagine what it must be like to deal with that kind of uncertainty, to know the man you want to be with is lusted after by millions of other women, some more gorgeous, smarter, with better goals than you.

    Don’t get me wrong.  Dinah is drop-dead gorgeous.  JC’s girls usually are.  But, she has to live with doubt, wondering if she is good enough, whether, if something better comes along, he might leave her crying and alone.

    I think that’s why she left.  To leave him before he had the chance to leave her.

    No matter.  The three of us walk down the aisle to the seats reserved for us, and slowly sit down.  I can see Britney, several rows away, watching me, a questioning look on her face.

    Britney.  Where to begin?

    Whoever said that love is a shining light, guiding the downtrodden and desperate, providing a sense of solace, was either high or just plain stupid.  Love is blindness, its random strikes brutal in force and undeniable in nature.

    I never saw it coming.

    I’d known her forever, since we were two self-important child prodigies, scheming and planning and praying for our dreams to lead us out of the back woods that we both called home.

    Fame hit first for me; with the dawn of *NSYNC and the waves of hysteria that were soon to follow, Britney seemed to fade to the background.  She was working with my mother on a pet project; trying to succeed in much the same way that we had.

    Never in my wildest dreams did I expect her to eclipse us.

    We leaned on each other a lot in those days.  Hell, seeing her day after day in such close quarters is practically begging for trouble, but for fear of public backlash we kept it a secret.

    I resented JC for Dinah.  She was always around, always understanding, helping him through the rough times even when he would treat her terribly.  She was not in the limelight.  JC could slip out into the night and hide from the rabid fans in her tender embrace.  Twelve-year-old Sheila or Jenny or Heather or whomever else happened to be around never suspected that the unassuming young woman with the body of a goddess and a smile that put the sun to shame was, in fact, in love with their pop prince…and he with her.

    It was not to last forever.

    Gradually, the spiderweb of fans began to grow, and with it the heated whispers, the rumors spoken in hushed tones, and the looks of malice.  They knew.  And she was powerless to stop it.

    I again turn my gaze to the little girl eight rows away, who before my very eyes has grown into a stunning young woman.  I sigh, squeezing the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger, trying to ward off an increasingly powerful headache.

    Somehow “Britney” and “headache” always seem to follow suit.

    Of course, I’m fooling myself yet again.  I love her.  I do.  I probably always will.  But with her increased independence came a desire to experiment, to try different men on for size.  It killed me, but yet I kept my mouth shut

    I’m Justin Timberlake, remember?  Nothing distracts me, I feel no hurt, never once in my life am I vulnerable, needy, scared or brokenhearted.  Instead I hide behind a cocky grin that I trademarked way back in the early days.

    Up yours, BOP.

    I hear JC sigh with exasperation and I know that he feels overpowered by her subtle perfume, that being this close to her yet forbidden to take any action has got to be killing him.

    She seems unaware, eyes focused straight ahead, watching Chris Rock as he warms up his scathing monologue.
 
    I wonder if she knows.  I wonder if she realizes that the two men sitting on either side of her tiny body are separated in more ways than one.

    She stands up suddenly, eyes frantically searching the crowd.

    I place my hand on her arm, and JC follows suit, entwining his fingers with hers.

    “Dinah,” We both say at the same time.

    “I…I have to go,” She stammers.  “I can’t do this…”

    Utter confusion clouds my features, and as I glance furtively at JC, I can see it reflected in his eyes as well.

    She pushes past us, walking quickly up the aisle, heading for the exit.  A few people from her record label notice and attempt to say hello, but she simply nods and affords them a half-hearted wave.  She is panicked.  And I have no idea why.

    “What the hell was THAT, Timberlake?”  JC says, his temper surfacing like clockwork.

    “I dunno, Sha-ZAY,” I return with the same breed of malice.  “You just couldn’t control yourself, could you?”

    His eyes bleed fire and his fingers curl into granite. “I don’t know, PAL.  Maybe you want to explain why you practically had your hand on her ASS before you go spouting off about control.”

    I roll my eyes.  JC is as predictable as Groundhog Day.  Looks like we’ve got six more weeks of winter.

    “Are ya gonna go after her, or what?” I ask in exasperation, fully aware that half of the Met is watching us carefully.

    “You seem to have that position locked up,” He says huffily, crossing his arms over his chest.

    Good God Almighty.

    Chris, with his impeccable sense of timing, strolls up to us, a bemused look on his face.  Dani is by his side, the picture of class and maturity.  Again I feel bitter.  Love seems to be simple for everyone but me.

    “Well, hello children,” He says congenially.  “Would one of you wonderful and charming young men like to explain to me why Dani saw Dinah in the ladies room, looking suspiciously hysterical?  I know that Chris Rock can be brutal, but even he doesn’t wield that much power.”

    People usually miss that facet of Chris’ personality.  They think he’s just a crazy, happy-go-lucky kind of guy.  I suppose, a lot of the time, he is…at least on camera.  What people don’t know is that he’s more faithful than Lassie to those he trusts, and when someone he knows violates that trust, he tends to take action.  His temper is just as hot as mine or JC’s, but of course the public ignores that.  He’s glaring at us expectantly, waiting for our reaction.  We do not disappoint him.

    JC and I look at each other and take off up the aisle, each trying to push the other out of the way, like some sort of screwed-up powerwalking relay.

    He reaches the doorway first, his face flushed, breathing coming in short little gasps.  Anger management is not one of his stronger suits.

    He bangs on the door, braying “Dinah” like the jackass he’s being.

    I furtively glance around, taking in the curious glances from the security personnel who are trying desperately to blend in with the garish wallpaper.

    “Dinah!” He howls again, his fist striking the heavy wood over and over.

    “JC would you KNOCK IT OFF!” I hiss, bringing my fingers to my mouth and nervously gnawing on the ragged bits of flesh surrounding my nails.

    He snorts in frustration, beginning to pace the aisles.  “This is all your fault, Justin.  You know that.  You just had to confuse her.”

    I look up at him incredulously.  “Right.  Of course it is.  I had everything to do with the way you CHEWED HER OUT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE.”  My words are bitter, but they are the truth.  I just don’t think he realizes that.

    A young woman from the audience cautiously approaches us, walking first to JC, a thin white notebook in hand.  She can’t be more than sixteen years old.

    “JC?” She says softly.  “Can I have your autograph?”

    Good old Dr. Jekkyl resurfaces instantly, shoving a shrieking Mr. Hyde back in the closet, at least for a precious few moments.

    “Sure thing, sweetie.  What’s your name?”

    “Andrea?” She whispers, sounding unsure of herself.  She is probably pissing her pants right now.  She’s a cute little thing, with a little blue halter top and flared black pants that end just before her chunky black platform shoes.  Her blonde hair is curled away from her cherubic face, which holds eyes widened in amazement.  I am shocked that she isn’t yelping in ecstasy, like so many fans before her.  Instead, she watches JC in quiet amazement as he carefully scrawls his name across the page.  He hands the book to me and I follow suit, as JC begins to chat her up.

    “Where are you from, Andrea?”

    “Long Island,” She says shyly, although her voice betrays no bawdy accent.

    “Really?  Joey’s from around here too.”

    “I know,” She replies.  “I like it.  I get to see all these neat acts that come to the city.”

    JC proceeds to deliver a full dissertation on the way music is moving in this rapidly expanding age, blah, blah, blah, when she emerges.

    Dinah walks carefully from the restroom, eyes puffy but presentable, her lips swollen from the bitter salt of her tears.  She sees us standing mere feet from the doorway and stops suddenly, before beginning to walk swiftly to the exit.

    I will not have her run away again, and so I thrust Andrea’s book back into her hands and begin to take off toward Dinah.

    JC looks confused, obviously annoyed by my display of rudeness, but then his eyes follow my line of travel and suddenly he sees her.  He tries to wrap up the conversation and pursue us, but Andrea has finally opened up and is now rattling a mile a minute about everything and nothing.

    “Dinah!” I say forcefully, trying to keep the volume of my voice within a normal decibel range.  My legs are longer than hers and I manage to fall into step beside her.

    “Go away, Justin,” She implores, her gorgeous silver gown gathered in her hands, her delicate Jimmy Choo sandals clicking insistently against the ground.

    I reach out and delicately grab her arm, forcing her to turn to me.

    A myriad of emotions swirl in those troubled blue eyes…hurt…confusion…love…anger…and somewhere, I think, I see hate.

    “Dinah…” I brush an escaping lock of hair away from her jaw, noticing now that there are in fact tracks of many tears marring her flawless makeup.  Once again, my intensity has caused nothing but heartache, but this time it is not MY heart that has shattered into fragments.

    “Justin I can’t do this.  I tried.  I really did.  I didn’t even want to come tonight, but I haven’t been out in awhile and since Island has poor artist representation at these sort of things they thought they’d send me…”

    She is babbling, trying to rationalize why she is standing here, with me, instead of by JC’s side, as she should be.

    “I knew he was going to be here and still I came.  I knew that he wouldn’t be over this.  I don’t even think I’M over it.  After all those messages he left and the flowers and…God…I know I hurt him.  But I couldn’t do it anymore.  You know that.”

    I rub her arm comfortingly.  I do know.  When the two of them split I spent many weeks acting as a counselor between them.  C, that first night…I didn’t even want to think about it, but my heart seldom acquiesces to my mind’s desires.

**

    I was actually in a good mood, for once.  I had taken Brit to see “U.S. Marshals,” the only movie we could actually agree on.  It had been fun.  The movie wasn’t nearly as engaging as “The Fugitive,” but because no one had recognized us and because there were moments when she would claw at my arm, startled by the movie, I counted the evening as a success.  We had gone to dinner beforehand and spent the final hours of the night dancing away, some songs more suggestively than others.

    I went back to my hotel, throwing my sweaty clothes in a messy heap by the bathroom door, and had just gotten out of the shower when the phone rang.  I smiled, picking it up, knowing it was probably Britney, wanting to talk to me one more time before we both met in dreams.

    “Hi baby,” I drawled, making my voice purposely seductive, senses tingling at the words I knew were coming.

    Nothing.  Silence punctuated only by light breathing coming through the line.

    Britney?”

    Again, nothing.  I thought I had heard sniffling, but I couldn’t be sure.  My next thought was that a rabid fan had gotten my room number, and was calling to see if—Omigod—it was really Justin Timberlake.

    “Look, it’s late and I don’t need any teenybopper bitches calling this line when I’m trying to sleep,” I barked, and was halfway to throwing the phone down when I heard his voice.

    “J?”

    I stopped suddenly, pressing the phone to my ear.

    “Yeah…who’s this?” I asked, unable to filter the concern in my voice.

    “I’m sorry for calling…”

    His voice was so lost, so thick with tears, that it practically knocked me over.

    “C…what’s wrong?”

    I heard his sobbing intake of air and felt even more helpless.  “Josh…where are you at?”

    The line clicked a second later and I panicked, snatching my key from the dresser and charging down the hall, the belt of my thick terry robe flying behind me.  I reached his doorway in what felt like two seconds, and began pounding on it relentlessly.

    “JC!  Josh!”  I hollered, trying to calm my galloping heart.  Never in all of the years I had known him did I ever hear his voice sound so desperate.

    He finally opened the door slowly, and retreated into the recesses of his plush suite.  All the lights were out, the curtains drawn, so that nothing could be seen but inky black shadows.
 
    "Shut the door,” He commanded softly, and I obeyed, staggering somewhat as I tried to find the bed.

    “What’s wrong, C?”  I asked gently.

    “She’s gone,” He said monotonously.

    I knew.  We all knew.  We were all there when she ran out the door, but none of us had seen the aftermath.  We had seen him stumble back into the meet n’ greet, grabbing his jacket and shrugging off our insistent attempts to help.  He did not restrain the tears running down his face, and we ushered the fans out of the room.  They did not need to see that side of their heroes.  Broken dreams are difficult for anyone to witness.

    What we didn’t see, I later found out, was him wandering the streets helplessly, crying brokenly and stumbling along the endless sidewalks.  We didn’t see him try to eat, only to have his attempts thwarted by the bitter hands of nausea.  We didn’t see his fingers caressing the returned necklace like it was all he had left of the love he lost.  In fact, it was…but we didn’t see that.

    “I know, C.  I’m so sorry…” I whispered, trying to move toward him in the darkness.

    “Stay there,” He commanded again, and I froze.

    “What was it, J?  Was I not good enough?  Did I not love her enough?  Did I stroke her the wrong way or something?”  He laughed bitterly, an ugly cackle that made me cringe.

    “I think…maybe…she just got scared?” I offered the little scrap of info like an olive branch.  I couldn’t tell him that three hours before I had been on the phone to Dinah, listening to her heart break as she tried to convince herself that she had done the right thing.  I didn’t tell him that I supported her decision.  I didn’t tell him that I knew he was once again sleeping around, days before she broke it off…but somehow, he knew I knew.

    “I screwed up, J.  I needed a warm body, so bad.  I never wanted her to find out.  And every second I was with that girl, I kept seeing Dinah.  Hell, I think I called her Dinah.  But it wasn’t the same.  Nothing’s the same,” He began to cry then, a sound that was so rare to my ears.  JC tends to get angry, and he tends to swallow that anger along with all of those other emotions that haunt him and release it only in privacy.  So to hear his sobs, to hear his pathetic low moan as he began to curl on his side, ripped me apart.

    I moved to him then, patting his shoulder awkwardly.  I kept whispering stupid little phrases, “I’m sorry.  I know it hurts.  It will be okay,” but I knew that the only way those phrases would have any meaning was if they came from Dinah’s lips.

    He cried himself to sleep that night.  I covered his shivering form with one of the down comforters from the hotel bed, lifting his heavy head to support it with a pillow.  I sat down in the overstuffed chair in front of him, trying to keep my eyes open. I didn’t want him to feel like he woke up alone.

    When he finally did wake up, he rubbed at his eyes and disappeared into the shower.  He was in there a long time, and when he exited, a billowing cloud of steam followed him.  His skin was unusually red, like he had tried to scrub her very essence away.  He said nothing to me, just a mumbled word of thanks, before he left the room in search of breakfast.  But I noticed that the whole time, her necklace was curled in his fingers.  I knew that the whole time, her gentle touch was seared into his memory.  I knew that the bitter taste of regret was on his tongue, and no amount of soap could scrub any of that away.

**

    Looking at Dinah now, I see his eyes reflected in hers.  I cursed the two of them for their stupidity.  I may want Dinah, hell, if I wanted to I could probably GET Dinah, but JC NEEDED her.  And she needed him.  And who was I to stand in the way of that?

    “Di…look…JC wasn’t thinking straight this evening.  Seeing you?  After all this time?  It ate him alive, just like you said it did to you.  You should talk to him.  I honestly believe that there’s something still there.”

    “I thought you said he wasn’t worth my time?” She counters.

    Oops.  But like the Grinch, I thought up a lie and I thought it up quick.

    “He’s not,” I agree, earning a reluctant smile from her.  “But,” I take my hands in hers, “The love you two had?  Dinah, that’s worth EVERYTHING.  That’s not something you can buy from a store, and that’s not something some third-rate stripper or teenybopper fan can take away.  If you asked him, he would give you Saturn’s rings, if it meant he could have you back.  I mean that.  He.  Would.  Do.  ANYTHING.”

    I am somewhat out of breath from my oration.  I know it was overdramatic and I know that she’ll probably rag me for years because of it, but it was the only way I could make her see.

    And see she does.  She glances over my shoulder at JC, who has finally extricated himself from Andrea’s endless ramblings and has come up beside us.  He looks defeated, to be sure, but in his eyes is a flicker of hope.

    “You got a minute?  Please?”  He says gruffly, his eyes to the ground.

    She nods, taking his outstretched hand.  I watch the two walk away, leaning warily toward each other, gradually relearning each other’s touch.  I smile slightly.  Sometimes things like that are for the best.

    “Hey,” A soft voice behind me makes me turn around, and once again I am face to face with Britney.

    I engulf her tiny frame in my arms, ignoring the persistent glances of the security guards, who now, instead of trying to disappear, are pushing each other aside for a better vantage point.

    “Whoa, tiger!” She cries in delight.  “Where’d that come from?!”

    “I’m sorry, Brit,” I say softly.

    “For what?” She asks innocently.

    “For pitting you against Dinah.”

    “Pitting me against Dinah?” She repeats.  “Oh mah gawd, Justin.  You fell for that?”

    I look down at her suspiciously.

    “Nothin’ works better to make people see straight than a little jealousy.  It worked for JC, it worked for Dinah, and, I suspect, it worked for you.”  The teasing smirk on her face is my undoing.

    “You KNEW?!”  I am angry at myself for the pouting nature of my tone.

    She giggles again, reaching up to mess up my curls.  I pull my head away stubbornly.

    “Oh come ON, Justin.  I’m blonde, but I’ll be damned if I’m some stupid ditz.  You of all people should know that.”

    Louisiana Tabasco.

    Sighing, I take my hand in hers and we return to the concert hall, where the lights are beginning to dim.  She gently brushes her lips against my cheek before walking down the aisle to her own row.

    I plop down in my seat just as the opening strains of “Oh Fortuna” begin to play.  Stealing a glance at Dinah, I smile to myself as I notice the tiny sparkling sapphire gleaming proudly against her collarbone.  Her fingers are curled in JC’s cautiously, hinting at a new beginning but not quite agreeing to erase the past.  I see his stoic smile, but he doesn’t fool me.  He’s doing cartwheels in there.  I just hope that he knows enough not to screw it up.  For everyone’s sake.

    The show is over before we know it, and we go home empty-handed.  That’s okay by me, I guess.  We’ve won a lot more than measly awards tonight.

    Dinah creeps up beside me, kissing me gently on the cheek.  “Thank you,” She whispers.  “I owe you one.”

    “I will be but a shelter to the raging tempest inside your heart,” I smirk craftily, adding, “BABY.”

    She giggles.  “Don’t let him hear you say that.  You know what will happen.”

    “What?” JC says, coming up behind her, wrapping her body in his arms.  She resists at first, before allowing the gesture of affection.  Like always, he has jumped in headfirst, and she is slow to follow.

    I trace the sapphire necklace which truly does offset her eyes perfectly, as JC has said I don’t know how many times.  I can feel his eyes on mine, and I quickly bring my hands back to myself.  It’s one thing to use a little jealously, as Britney did, but it’s quite another to tempt fate.

    “Nothing, yet.  I guess we’ll just have to find out.”

    “Whatever,” He rolls his eyes.  “C’mon, Dinah.”

    She stifles a giggle and I know what she is thinking.  Clockwork.  I stuff my hands in my pockets and amble over to the woman I slowly realize I have never stopped loving, nor do I think I ever will.

    “Hey,” I murmur softly, pressing my lips against her ear.

    She smiles that sexy hidden smile and whispers, “Hi.”

    “Do you want to go somewhere…or do I have to ask Christina Aguilera?”

    Her eyes widen and she laughs quietly.  “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

    We walk out into the New York night, arm in arm, the cameras clicking away at the winners of the evening.  I once again catch Dinah’s eyes and she smiles, tracing the necklace with her own fingers, like I had done.

    “Good luck,” I mouth, and the recognition shines in her eyes.  She brings JC’s hand to her lips, and a pleasant look of surprise appears on his face.  He pulls her closer to his body and she looks at me one last time.

    “You too,” Her lips form the words, though I do not actually hear them.

    I look at Britney and back at Dinah, who has disappeared into a waiting limousine.

    “Me too,” I mutter to myself.  “Me too.”

    Love IS blindness, my friends…but who the hell wants to see anyway?


2000  ~A.

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