one more day.

It would start, always, in his toes…a gnawing, slippery feeling that would slowly work its way up his calves, over his thighs and onto his chest, where it would crawl incessantly, an infestation, sitting and lying in wait until the call came.  It always did, day after day, the shrill bell shattering the peacefulness of the hotel room.

He couldn’t sleep in silence anymore.  The deafening sound had grown to frighten him, and so he would calm the terror with the droning beats of hiphop or techno or whatever happened to be on the radio at that very moment.  Through the paper thin walls he could almost hear the whispers, punctuated by the occasional shriek when someone else realized who was behind door number 719 of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

He would try to burrow further under the covers, but the heavy fabric did little to muffle the skittering sounds of anxious feet padding outside his doorway.  And so he would pull the blankets up over his ear, shivering though he wasn’t cold, and wait for the sounds to stop.  They never did.  Always, he could hear them, though he consoled himself with heavy locks and deadbolts and electronic keys.  He knew they were there, like rats, hiding in the walls, smelling scraps of food and waiting for the chance to devour whatever their pink paws could grasp.  He hated them…their treacherous tongues spoke lies to his face and spread filth behind his back.  They said they loved him.  Loved him so very much.  Loved him so much that they would do anything, ANYTHING, to keep him happy…as long he belonged to them.

He rolled onto his back, trying in vain to quell the nausea that played mercilessly in the pits of his bowels.  Management would be coming soon…banging on the door, dragging him out of the heavy warm cocoon where he lay hiding.

It would be nice to stay in that protective bubble all day…to let the heavy warmth permeate his bones, to keep the heavy shades drawn and the harsh light of the sun away, with the sweet smell of clean sheets to comfort his weary body.  It would be nice to not go out into the hallways, where he knew the “fans” waited for him.  It would be nice to avoid the reporters who were only after their own prestige, indifferent to the personal torment their callous reviews caused.

He had grown to despise people.  Anymore, he walked with his gaze to the ground, afraid of what he might see in another’s eyes.  Every so often, he would glance up, searching for a friendly face…but all too often those angelic, innocent gazes on the faces of countless teenagers would harden, the rats again spying their prey, and those carefully painted lips would curve into a cunning sneer.

He would use them, relieving the urges and desires that demanded instant gratification, then send them away, because he had no more use for them and their very sight made him sick.  He would pretend not to hear their plaintive cries or see their shaking shoulders as he slammed the door in their faces…and then he would open a bottle of Cuervo Gold the record label had so kindly paid for and wait for the pain to dispel itself.  He was still waiting.

He had tried to avoid the onslaught of girls before, when he wasn’t quite so hardened by the world someone else had created, but he could never flee in time.  They would be by his side before he knew it, offering him the treasures of a hundred secret worlds if only he would offer himself to them.  Little did they know that he sold his soul long ago, sold that soul when he was young and innocent, too decadently nave to understand the magnitude of his actions.

He thought he knew it all then.  It would be simple; sign a contract, put in a little legwork and the world would be his.  Fame, money, power, girls…all would be handed on a silver platter.  That platter tarnished far too quickly for him to realize what was happening.  At first it was simply hard work in his own town.  There were grueling days of rehearsal and performances in front of hissing snakes, people who would later call themselves “fans” and say they “knew them when,” but at the time were content with jeering and heckling the five determined men.

Later came the image changes, the endless days of baby blue, so much that he had grown to despise the color, and the practiced soundbytes.

    “Single and ready to mingle.”

    “I like a normal girl.”

    “I’m not seeing anyone.”

    “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

    “I’m unattached.”

He had broken her heart when he had said those words over and over, and when she had left him out of her own pain, he chose to spin it so that she was the one who had destroyed him.  It was a coldly calculated move that made him feel powerful, and slowly he had begun to believe the lie.  Those same lies were coming more and more frequently, until the line between fiction and reality became so blurred that the only thing for him to do was distance himself from a watchful public.

And so, with the money he earned, he built walls and gates and hired heavy men to keep him away from the public he so feared.  With his limited free time he would dream of the days of simplicity and openness.

    “You can walk away.”

It always came at times like these…a quiet voice, in the back of his mind, whispering on early mornings, with the lights down and the blaring red exit sign staring him in the face.  He could walk away.  Walk away and become a nobody.  Walk away and become the butt of countless jokes.  Walk away and tear down the crystal palace he had built.

Walking away was no longer an option.

He thought of his brother, of lazy Saturday mornings and carefree Friday nights, and hung his head in shame.  He had never asked for this.  When he wanted fame, fortune, and fantasy, he never realized what a heavy price he would pay.  He had thought it would be no different than his silly MMC days.  He never realized what a different ballgame he was playing until it was far too late for it to be stopped.

He had begun to measure his time in days, hours, minutes until he would be alone.  The broad scheme of time and space slowly lost its meaning as he began to console himself with thoughts of “one more day.”

    One more day and I can sleep in.

    One more day and I’ll be home.

    One more day and this will all be over.

But things were always delayed one more day, until he was running like a hamster on a giant circuit, searching for the end but never going anywhere.  It was day eighty-six of “one more day” and his battered psyche simply could not take any more.

The tears came then, as they always did, greeting another day with remorse and regret, and dread of the endless hours of promotion and appearances.  He would smile at them all, flashing a winning grin courtesy of several thousand dollars worth of cosmetic dentistry, and pretend like all was right with the world.  It was his job.

He continued to shiver under the plush down comforter, hands curled up into tight fists under his chin, as he watched the glaring red lights of the alarm clock blink on and off.  His wake-up call had come and gone, but the young man could not force his aching, tired body to move.  And so he lay in the darkness…and waited.

The bang on the door came precisely ten minutes later, and the young man flinched, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, and stayed absolutely stock still, every muscle in his body coiled like a spring.

When JC, the man he had grown to call his “brother,” entered the room, he didn’t notice the sobs racking the nineteen year old’s frame.  He didn’t see the bloodshot eyes and swollen lips, and didn’t hear the quiet sniffles as the young man fought to get his emotions back under control, back to the place where things didn’t hurt.  He simply threw the covers off and began barking orders like a general.  He had other things to worry about.

“Get out of bed, Justin.  It’s five-thirty.  You’re late.”

Justin Timberlake bit his lip to stop the tears that threatened to escape, and slowly slipped away from the safety and security of the cozy bed.  Getting into the shower, avoiding the mirror and the sickening image he knew it would display, he began to whisper softly to himself.

    “One more day.  One more day.”