“She’s going to do WHAT?”
Justin’s yell thundered throughout the backstage hallways of the venue they were currently residing in, and practically shook the walls of the small dressing room he was pacing around.
“No no no no NO…I don’t want to hear that man. Please tell me this is a joke. I know it’s June but I didn’t see you in April so you’re getting back at me now by giving an April Fool’s joke. Right? Come on Stephens let me hear you say that. My ears AND my sanity need to hear you say that.”
Maitlyn lowered a corner of the paper she was reading and raised an eyebrow at Justin as she stared at him curiously. She angled her head towards Joey who was sitting beside her on the sofa reading a comic book. “Sounds like trouble in paradise over there.”
Joey giggled over something he had just read and shook his head. “He probably just heard that Lisa forgot to order his shipment of peroxide. We’re talking Justin here. A dust bunny can freak him out if found on the right day and at the right time.”
She placed the paper in her lap and continued watching him. His face was flushed, his hands were running back and forth through his hair, and his eyes were narrowed so much they looked like tiny slits. “No Joey…I think it’s something big this time.”
Joey put his comic book down when she said that and watched Justin closely for a few seconds. Justin was pacing back and forth across the room and was now rubbing his temples as if in great pain.
Joey shrugged and turned back to Maitlyn. “Soooo…where is JC hiding out?”
Maitlyn barely caught what he had said to her because she was so concerned about Justin. He was known to freak out about things, but this wasn’t just a freak. This was complete anger and confusion…a deadly combination in his world. “Huh? Oh he’s in the other dressing room taking a nap.”
A devilish grin spread across Joey’s face as he slid closer to her on the sofa. “Oh really? That should take hours.”
Her attention was still completely focused on Justin. “Probably so.”
“What I want to know is…why wasn’t I told about this BEFORE the decision was made? Why wasn’t I notified that you were even THINKING about doing something this stupid…no I’m not calling you stupid but this really isn’t such a bright idea…I’m well aware that I’m on tour now and that I can’t be notified of EVERY decision that is made…BUT DAMN…why didn’t you just stick her on the Marilyn Manson tour? This is just about as scary.”
Maitlyn groaned and closed her eyes. “Sounds like something’s up with Carly. I TOLD him that all this would be too much strain on him. The boy never listens.”
Joey started playing with strands of her hair and leaned in close to sniff the cleanness of it. “This means we’re all alone Maitlyn my dear. If I were JC…I would let you nap with me.”
She sighed loudly and pushed his face away. “If you were JC I’d kill myself…slowly.”
Justin leaned his head against the far wall and slowly beat his forehead against it. “I’m going to get off this phone before I say a few things that I will regret later. Maybe EIGHTY years later, but later nonetheless. Bye Stephens.”
He clicked off the phone and beat it against his forehead a few times before leaning his back against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest, and leveling his angry eyes at Maitlyn and Joey. “You are not going to believe this. Hell, I don’t even believe this.”
Joey was still trying to pretty much climb onto her lap but she was focused in on Justin so much that she didn't pay him any attention. “Why don’t you stop staring at me like you’re about to breathe fire and calm your nerves some. What is THAT bad Justin?” When she said that sentence she realized that Joey was totally oblivious to what was going on around him so she put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him off the couch.
He landed with a loud thud on the floor. “Should I take that as a no?”
Maitlyn rolled her eyes and motioned to the now empty spot on the couch. “Why don’t you come over here and sit down so we can talk. If you can make it past Joey’s ego over here.”
Justin pushed away from the wall, stepped over Joey, and plopped down on the couch with a huff. “God really does have a sense of humor Spicy.”
Joey was laying on his side on the floor and he looked up sarcastically at Justin. “Is the baby having a bad day?”
Maitlyn widened her eyes at him in warning and raised her legs to rest them on top of him. “I’m using you as a foot stool for a reason. Let’s see if you can be as quiet as one.”
Justin reached up to rub his forehead again. “It’s Carly but I’m sure you figured out that much by now. She has been signed on to tour for the next three weeks.”
Maitlyn wanted to smile because that was so great for Carly, but there was more to all this. “Who is she touring with?”
Justin slouched into the sofa more and leaned his head back. “Britney. She’s going to be touring with Britney for the next three weeks. THREE weeks Maitlyn! Three seconds is too long much less three WEEKS!”
Joey’s voice sounded again from the floor. “I’d like to tour with Britney for three weeks. Maybe me and Carly can trade.”
Maitlyn raised a leg and kicked him in the stomach playfully. “Ignore the blind one on the floor Justin. Have you talked to Carly yet?”
He slid his head over until his cheek rested on her shoulder. “Not yet. I’m not even sure if she knows about this but she’ll know soon because they will want her to prepare for it and get everything in order.”
Maitlyn took a few deep breaths and debated whether or not she wanted to ask this next question. But being the nosey person that she was…she asked it. “Are you so upset because this will be bad for Carly and her career, or are you worried about yourself?”
This was the question of the century and Justin was positive that Maitlyn understood his pain a lot more than she let on to. “It’s true that I don’t particularly want Carly exposed to someone like Britney…and that’s partly because it exposes me to it as well. I hate myself around her and I know I shouldn’t let her get to me so easily…but she’s under my skin.”
“But you have something to keep you away from Britney this time. You have Carly to focus on and you can ignore Britney because of that.” Justin and Maitlyn turned to look at Joey on the floor and their expressions clearly said that they didn’t realize he was still down there. He laughed at them and continued. “I really don’t think you will have a problem with Britney. It’s her tour and Carly is a guest. We all know that Carly will be ignored because Britney will be so stuck in her ‘I’m the headliner’ mode that she won’t acknowledge that anyone else exists. Trust me.”
Justin and Maitlyn continued to stare down at Joey like they were completely baffled by him. “What?”
She shook her head and patted Justin’s hand before standing up. “Hell has frozen over sweetheart because I’m about to say something I never thought I would. Joey’s right.”
“So what should I do now?”
Maitlyn grabbed Joey by the hand and pulled him to a standing position. She held onto his hand while she led him to the door and stopped to look down at a still miserable Justin. “You call her and explain in truthful terms what she’s about to get into. If she knows what she’s about to face then she can plan ahead for the attack. Be honest with her Justin…she needs that the most right now.”
She pulled on Joey’s arm and pushed him towards the door. Joey laughed and looked over at Justin one last time. “See I told you she couldn’t keep her hands off me!”
She rolled her eyes and followed him out the door. “Oh go take a cold shower or something. Damn Joey! Do the words ‘not a chance in hell’ mean anything to you?”
Joey’s voice could still be heard as the door closed behind them. “But you just said hell froze over and I love cold weather baby.”
The corners of Justin’s mouth twitched upwards a little but he wasn’t in the mood to smile right then. Not even Joey or Maitlyn had the talent to accomplish that feat at that particular moment. He stretched his long body out on the sofa and flipped his phone open. His fingers dialed the number quickly and he rubbed his eyes while he waited for Carly to pick up.
“Come on…I know you have the phone on you. You BETTER have the phone on you.”
The ringing stopped after a few seconds. “Hello?”
He knew immediately by the tone of her voice that she knew exactly what was in store for her for the next three weeks. “It’s me Carly. I wanted to try to catch you before Jive called but you already know don’t you?”
“Yeah…he called me earlier today.”
If he didn’t know her better he would think she was angry with him. Her voice was rather sharp when she answered. “Are you ok? Do you think you’re ready to handle this? Carly this is such a big step and I need to know if you think you can do this.”
She took a deep breath before answering. “I think the question is…can YOU handle this Justin? Why did you put me on this tour when you KNOW that you can’t stand being near her? Is this another test?”
Her voice was getting angrier and angrier and he actually liked the fact that she was fighting back. The old Carly never would have stood up for herself this way. “I didn’t put you on Britney’s tour. Let me explain something to you about management and record companies. You belong to THEM Carly. Yes they clear big decisions through me first usually but overall they are the ones running the show. The negotiations and all the business dealings go through me, but they have the right to put you on any tour they want to…whether I like it or not. If they’re putting out the money for it, then you do what they tell you to do.”
“But I’m on BRITNEY’S TOUR!”
He closed his eyes and felt the throbbing begin increase in his head. “I’m painfully aware of that Carly. It’s only for twenty days and fifteen shows. If you can get through this, you can get through anything. Just stay away from her as much as possible and time will fly. You’ll be too busy for it not to pass quickly.”
“Did you just say fifteen shows?”
“Yeah…they didn’t tell you that part?”
“No they didn’t.” Her voice had dropped lower and he could hear the tension in her voice.
“Fifteen shows is nothing. I hear you’re doing great at the performances you’ve been doing in Florida and Britney’s crowds should be even easier to handle.”
“How do you figure that?”
He began his pep talk to her. The words were for his own comfort as much as they were for hers. “Every single person who shows up to the concerts will be there to see a female pop artist. True it will be Britney Spears so they can’t be completely labeled as sane for paying that much money to see her, but they will be there for female entertainment. This means that there will be a lot of teenage guys there, and a lot of young girls who are looking for a female role model. Now THAT’S a scary thought all in itself.”
“Don’t get sidetracked.”
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Oh yeah…as I was saying…that crowd is yearning for female performers or they wouldn’t be there. So it’s going to be perfect for you. The crowd will be WANTING to like you. Whereas if you were on our tour, the audience is mainly girls who want to see a male act. They could care less who the female openers are. See what I mean?”
Actually she knew exactly what he meant and she could feel herself relax a little. It made too much sense. “Yes I see what you mean. I never thought about it that way.”
He made his voice sound as enthusiastic as possible and prayed that it didn’t come across as sounding fake. “The more I think about this the more I think it’s a great opportunity. You’ll get to do three songs every night and you’ll also be able to sell your single at the vendors. People will be getting to see you and your name will be spread across America. You’re going to do great. Autograph signings, mall signings, and you can even go out to the gates and talk to people. That’s always fun.”
“I won’t have to see her much will I? I mean…you all don’t see your opening acts that much because of the busy schedules right?”
God forgive me for this lie. “I actually never see them. They have their schedules and we have ours. So you’ll stay on your side and she’ll stay on hers. Go have fun Carly and let’s both forget about all the what ifs.”
“So we’re freaking out over nothing?”
He looked at the ceiling and tried to push away all the thoughts he had about Britney. “We’re freaking out over nothing. Make sure you keep me updated.”
“You too. I want to hear everything about how your tour is going the next time we talk. Adrienne dying to meet Jordan Knight.”
“I feel sorry for Jordan then.” He was just about to say goodbye when he thought of something and rushed to say it before she was gone. “Carly please look out for yourself. It’s really easy to let the road and people get to you. Take care of your mind AND your body.”
She didn’t answer for a little bit and he was scared that she had already hung up. “I will. Bye Justin.”
The phone clicked as she hung up and he slowly and painfully put his own down as well. Only time would tell if she would make it through this, and he knew without a doubt that she would be tested far beyond her wildest dreams.
(The day of departure. 11:30am Orlando International Airport)
“I know I’m forgetting something. There’s no way on Earth that I could possibly have packed everything that I needed to. I’ve probably forgotten something basic too. You know how when you go on sleepovers that you always forget the biggest thing that you need? Like your pillow or your toothbrush or your hairbrush. You never leave behind the things that you can live without like your earrings or a certain shirt. Oh no…it’s always got to be the small things that mean a lot.”
Adrienne, Ariel, and Carly’s father all stood there watching Carly ramble on and on and they all knew that it was the nerves finally kicking in. Carly had never been one who stayed away from home for any length of time. She never went to a lot of slumber parties or sleepovers growing up. In fact, she never visited relatives for extended lengths of time so just the knowledge that she would be away from home was making her extremely nervous. Then you had to add why she was leaving and what was about to happen to change her entire life.
Ariel dragged their father off to the nearest gift shop while Adrienne stepped forward and held up her glass of water. “Why don’t you sit down and drink some of this. You are really wiggin’ out here.”
Carly put the straw up to her mouth and managed to drink the entire cup of water in one long non-breathing moment. “Thank you for that. Where is everyone else? I know I’m not the first one here and the plane takes off in an hour. Do you think they got caught in traffic or something? Jason and the guys are the ones who know what we’re supposed to do once we get there because…”
Adrienne put her hand over Carly’s mouth and stared at her. “I think you need a seatbelt for your mouth. Would you calm down?”
Carly took some deep breaths and smiled after a moment. “Who would have thought that I would be here doing this Adrienne? That I would be sitting here in this airport about to go out and tour across the country. Even I want to laugh at the thought sometimes.”
“Nothing to laugh about. You worked hard to get here and now you’re about to bring the pop world to its toes. Just let me know if there’s anything you need from me and I’ll be there.”
Carly grabbed her hand and linked her fingers with hers. “You’re still coming out to meet up with the tour in a week right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Are you sure you don’t want me to come sooner?”
She wanted to say yes so badly, but her pride and determination just wouldn’t let her. “I need to do this on my own. I need to prove this much to myself Adrienne. If I can’t handle a week on my own out there; what good am I?”
Ariel came running up with a stuffed animal. “Look what I have sissy.”
Carly got a little teary eyed when she saw the stuffed bunny in Ariel’s arms. She was going to miss the little devil. “That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Where did you get it?”
“Daddy bought it for me in the gift shop.”
Carly’s eyes slid up to her father and she could tell that there was an emotional battle going on inside him as well. “That’s because he loves you very much. Just like I do.”
An announcement was made that they would be boarding now. Carly felt like she needed more time. She needed to hang onto all of them as much as she possibly could. They were her support, her love, and her life.
She stood up and looked at the three of the most important people in her life. “I guess that’s me.”
“Call us every chance you get.” Adrienne hugged her and kissed her cheek.
“I will. You make sure you do the same.”
Carly stepped up and hugged her father tightly. He hugged her tighter than he ever had before. “Remember that we love you and that we’ll be proud of you no matter what.”
She leaned back and quickly wiped the tears from her eyes. “I love you too. I wish the tour was closer so you could all come out and see me. But hopefully I’ll hit an Orlando date sometime.”
Ariel held her arms up and Carly leaned down and hugged her tightly. “You take care of Adrienne for me. Do you hear me Ariel? She needs you to keep her on the straight and narrow.”
Ariel kissed her cheek and her little arms tightened around her even more. “And you take care of Justin.”
Carly laughed and looked at her little sister in amazement. “Now why would I do that?”
Ariel grinned and revealed her two missing bottom teeth. “I’m going to marry him one day. He told me so.”
The whole group laughed and Carly’s heart swelled even bigger with love for her baby sister. “I will definitely take care of him when I see him. Just for you. It would be a shame to lose my brother in law before I even got one.”
Jason, Dylan, and Nick all walked up and were loaded down with as much carry-on luggage as she was.
“How is everyone doing? Are you ready for all of this to begin Carly?” Dylan looked over at Adrienne and grinned.
Adrienne grabbed Carly by the shirt and whispered loudly in her ear. “Are you ABSOLUTELY SURE you don’t want me to come on tour with you sooner?”
“I’m positive but thank you.”
The three guys checked in and boarded the plane while Carly said her final good-byes. “Well this is it everyone. I’ll be back in three weeks…hopefully a bigger and better person than I am right now.”
They all hugged her one more time and stepped back. She was so close to breaking down and crying that they didn’t want to draw it out any longer than necessary. She turned, picked up her bags, and handed the ticket to the lady at the door to the skyway. All three of them waved at her when she turned to look one last time.
Ariel broke free from her father and ran up to Carly. “Don’t go yet…don’t go yet…you can’t go without my lucky bunny.”
Her little hands pushed the bunny into Carly’s hands and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Your lucky bunny?”
“It’s my lucky bunny sissy. Take it so you won’t be lonely on the road. It will protect you.”
Carly took the stuffed animal, kissed her sister’s cheek, and walked into the skyway. She could hear Ariel’s cries all the way to the airplane and they tore at her heart, but she knew this was the best thing for everyone involved. Ariel would understand one day why she had to leave but she was too young now to know her reasons.
Wiping the tears from her eyes she boarded the plane and walked down the aisle to her seat. Jason was sitting there reading a paper. “Is this seat taken?”
He motioned towards the empty window seat and smiled. “It is now. I thought you would probably want the window so you could look around. I’ve seen just about all I wanna see out of an airplane window.”
She put her things above them in the holding space and took her seat beside him. “So what happens now?”
“Now you relax and get some rest. You’re not going to get much for the next few weeks.”
“Actually…I meant what happens once we get to St. Louis?”
He put the paper down again and turned towards her. “Security will meet us at the airport along with some of the crew. The crew will be there to make sure that nothing is left behind and the security is there to make sure we get to the venue in one piece.”
Now that made Carly giggle. She giggled so much that she couldn’t catch her breath. “Security? For me? Now that’s a good one.”
He held up the paper in front of her and pointed. “I think you’re too modest for your own good. Why don’t you check the music scene right there.”
She looked over lazily but her eyes widened the moment she saw that her song was number thirty-nine on the Billboard top forty. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me. There must be another Carly Hawkins.”
“With the same song and under Jive? Get real. That’s you sweet cheeks.”
Her eyes remained on the paper and on her name printed in ink so boldly. “But…but…but this is the chart for big famous singers. You know like N SYNC, Backstreet Boys, and that kind of thing. Not for me.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee sweetheart. You’re well on your way to being a household name. And this tour is only going to strengthen your power.”
“I thought my single was only released in Orlando.”
He smiled brightly and folded the paper. “Looks like Justin has been busy lately because there’s no way Orlando alone would put you on the charts like that.”
He was right. There really was no way that one city would make you thirty-nine on the Billboard charts but it was still too much for her to take in all at once. “I think I’m going to try to take a nap. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“It’s no wonder. Don’t worry…I’ll wake you up when we get there.”
She put her head against the window and watched the ground as the plane took flight. She wondered what kind of resemblance she had to that simple act.
They arrived in St. Louis on time and it was a pain to get everything out of the plane. They had gotten a special waver to bring on more than their share of carry on bags and now it was time to unload them. She thought she was going to break her back in the process.
Nick walked up to her in the skyway and offered to take one of her bags. “Oh no that’s ok. We’re just walking right up here right? Hopefully the people we need to meet will be up there already.”
Jason laughed at her naivete. “Oh they will be. Just you wait.”
Nothing could have prepared Carly for the sight of three huge men standing outside the walkway holding people out of the way. The people were only trying to see their family members and friends getting off the plane but they were too close for comfort for the security guards.
When Carly exited the plane, two of them grabbed her bags and stood on either side of her. “Right this way Miss Hawkins.”
They led her across the airport and to the vans that were waiting outside. People in the airport watched her closely and whispered about her. Some wanted to know if she was someone famous, others wanted to know if she had been arrested for terrorism. The guys all had a really good laugh over that one.
“Oh would you three shut up. Wait a minute. I have some luggage that was checked in. Shouldn’t we go to baggage claim or something like that?”
The large man on her left answered in a deep voice. “That’s not necessary miss. The crew members we brought along will deliver your bags to your bus.”
Nobody answered her as they continued on to the awaiting vans. When everyone was seated inside, a bigger, younger, and better-built black man turned around in the passenger seat and smiled at her. “I’m assuming you’re Carly. My name is Carl…ironic huh…and I’m going to be the head of your security team. Jive recently called me and asked if I would take the position and I gladly accepted because I always love seeing new talents emerge in the business. First of all, do you have any questions?”
Dylan groaned. “Oh don’t ask that question unless you’d like to be here for weeks.”
Carly reached around, hit him on the leg, and laughed. “I have a lot but I’m assuming that everyone is going to take care of everything right?”
Carl nodded his head. “That’s right. The only thing you need to know right now is that you don’t go anywhere by yourself. I would prefer it if you stayed with me or called one of my team members if you were going to walk around the venue alone, but as long as you’re with SOMEONE then there’s enough security around to back you up.”
He watched her for signs of misunderstanding. When she looked like she got him completely he continued. “You are not allowed out of the venue, hotel, or off the bus for any reason without one of the members of the security team with you. That’s pretty much it.”
She turned towards the window and thought about everything he had just said. It scared her to think that she had these many security rules and regulations and she wasn’t even a well-known singer yet. She couldn’t even imagine what Justin’s life was like. She didn’t WANT to imagine what dangers probably surrounded him on a day to day basis.
Jason leaned over and whispered into her ear. “Relax Carly. Everyone goes through this at the beginning. You’ll get used to it.”
The vans pulled up to the arena and through the security gates. Carl pointed to the spot where he wanted them to park and turned to face Carly again. “I have your schedule right here and you’re supposed to be at sound check in about an hour. We need to go on inside and get prepared for that. After sound check you will go to the buses and relax until later tonight when you’ll have your first performance.”
They all unloaded their things and carried them inside to the dressing room that would be theirs. Carly almost fainted when she saw her name on one of the dressing room doors. “You mean this whole room is for me?”
Dylan walked past her just as she asked that. “Unless you want to change in front of us that is.”
She opened the door and put her hand over her mouth when she saw what was inside. Her wardrobe was neatly hanging on racks for her to slip into when it was time, there was bottled water and fruit for her to snack on, and some flowers sitting on the makeup counter. She walked over to the counter and touched it delicately. It shined so brightly under the big round bulbs that glowed around the mirror.
Her eyes turned to look at that mirror and she stared at herself closely. “How did you get here? How did you get so lucky to be here?”
A knock sounded at the door and a young woman poked her head in. “Hi Carly. My name is Belinda and I’m one of the hair and makeup artists on this tour. I just wanted to let you know that the concert starts at seven thirty tonight, you are the second opening act to perform so I need you ready for me at six thirty. Please have a clean face and clean hair.”
Carly shook her head nervously. “Oh ok. I…I’m just so glad I’m not the very first to perform tonight.”
Belinda smiled brightly at her and Carly liked her right away. “They are setting up the stage for you right now if you’d like to go take a look at it. Oh by the way, there are some singles of your song in here and they would like it very much if you signed them before tonight so we can give them out during the show or before it.”
“My single? My autograph?”
“Yes sweetie…your autograph. I have to tell you Carly, it really is nice to see that someone can be in this business and still have some modesty. I love it girl. Good luck and I’ll see you later tonight.”
Carly watched as Belinda walked out of the room and closed the door. She turned and picked up one of the singles and glared at it. “I’m honestly not believing this. Since when do I have a single, with a cover, with my name on it, and I’m supposed to sign it? Oh this is just priceless.”
Her fingers skimmed over the picture on the cover. It was a close-up of her in the yellow flowy dress that Justin had liked so much. She had to admit…it made her look very stunning and so unlike Carly.
She flipped the CD over and it fell from her fingers when she saw the picture on the back. It was the picture that was taken right after Justin had kissed her. She could tell because she looked like someone who had been completely, and thoroughly kissed…just like she had been.
She laughed, put the CD down, and walked to the door. “That little devil.”
The hallways were filled with equipment and people running around. The closer she got to the stage, the more people she saw.
Just as she was about to open the door to go up to the stage a hand grabbed her arm and swung her around. “Carly…it’s the first day and you’re already breaking rules.”
She looked at Carl and remembered what he had said. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m just so used to being able to go wherever I want to, whenever I want to. It won’t happen again.”
He grinned and let go of her arm. “It’s ok. It will take a while to get used to or it will take a fan attack and you’ll be too scared not to listen. Just be careful.”
Carl led her to the door and opened it for her. The air conditioner in the arena hit her at full blast and she took a deep breath. It was amazing how all places like that smelled the same, but she was looking at it in a new way now. They walked around wires and up to a man that had all kinds of gadgets on his table.
“Well hello Carly. I have your headset and earpiece right here. Put those on and I’ll give you some help if you need it. We need to get things settled with you before you start.”
She put the headset over her head and looked at him strangely. “Settled with me?”
“We need to figure out your volume levels, what you want playing in each earpiece, and stuff like that. Today’s sound check will be the longest, but after we save the information it will be stored for the rest of the time you’re here.”
Nick came up behind her, grabbed her hand, and motioned to the staircase that led up to the stage. “Shall we?”
It was the steepest staircase she had ever been on and she would look back on it one day and realize that it was her nerves causing it to be that way. Her heart almost stopped when she stepped up onto the stage and looked around the arena. It was the biggest thing she had ever seen in her entire life. Everywhere she looked there were seats.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
Nick put his arm around her and pushed her head down. “Don’t get sick on us Carly. It seems really impressive right now because all the lights are on. But when the lights go down you’ll only see the first ten rows or so. It will appear smaller.”
She didn’t believe him for one second. “Uh huh. Sure it does.”
The other guys joined them on the stage and Carly nervously walked around the stage trying to figure out the dimensions of the dancing area. There wouldn’t be a band, only her music playing over the loudspeakers. The sound technicians had notified her that the music and her voice would be playing in both of her earpieces since at this point she didn’t have a preference. That helped her nerves a little because that would be exactly what it was like in the studio.
Sound check went pretty well considering the fact that Carly was completely nervous about being in a room so big. The routine was flawless but her voice was weak from jitters. She reminded herself that she was usually the one who held herself back and she wasn’t going to let that happen this time. Like Justin had told her, she had come too far to give up now or let a little fear get in the way.
Later that afternoon she checked out the bus that would carry her, the dancers, and a few members of security around on the tour. It was as big as some houses she had seen and way nicer. She could see why people loved being on the road so much when they traveled in something like that.
At six o’clock she was in her dressing room pacing around anxiously. The CDs had been signed, her hair and face had been washed, and now there really wasn’t much left to do but wait. The sound of people screaming and talking outside creeped through the walls and into the hallways. The sounds made Carly’s insides jump, but she realized that this time there was a lot of excitement behind those jumpy nerves. She was excited to see what would happen when she took the stage in front of all those people.
“Who are you kidding? You’re going to get up there and freak out.”
There was a knock on the door and she ran over to it to let Belinda in. She was totally unprepared to see Britney standing outside her dressing room. “Hi Carly. It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other.” She reached out and hugged Carly before stepping inside the dressing room. “Your dressing room is much nicer than mine and you just joined the tour. Now that’s not fair.”
“This is one heck of a tour Britney. I’m so honored to be on it.”
Britney giggled lightly. “You’re too funny. I always help out my friends so I was more than happy to have you on my tour. In fact, I specifically asked for you to open for me.”
A sudden chill came over Carly and she couldn’t help wondering what the motives were behind Britney’s request. “Thank you for that. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Britney walked over to the dressing table and looked at the singles on the top. “It all happens quickly Carly. One day you’re nothing and then the next you have a number one single, everyone is calling for appearances, and guys you never though you had a chance with are killing to be with you. I’m sure it will happen like that for you too…with Justin managing you and all. He’s a hard worker.” Her fingers slid over Carly’s face on the CD. “Have you talked to him lately? Since he went on tour of course.”
“I talked to him last night but not for very long. He was about to take the stage but he called to check up on how everything was going."
Britney’s head jerked around and she sized Carly up with her eyes. “He called you right before the took the stage huh? Well that’s so sweet of him. He does that a lot when he…cares about someone.”
Carly’s cell phone rang at that moment and interrupted Britney’s confusing words. “Hello…oh hi! I’m doing great! The sound check went so well and I can’t believe how big everything is here. I have a security team and a bus. Oh my God you should see the bus!”
Britney waved and walked out of the room so she wouldn’t disturb Carly. Carly waved back and listened intently to the voice over the phone.
“You sound so happy and excited blossom. So everything is cool huh?”
She plopped down on the chair and sighed. “If I would have known you got such star treatment then I wouldn’t have fought you so hard all this time. I feel like a princess. Everyone is so nice and they help me out so much.”
His voice was low when he interrupted her. “I wish I could be there. I wish there was some way I could break free and be there for you.”
She didn’t know if it was his tone, or the words themselves, but her body tingled all over. “I wish you could be here too. Are you going to call tonight to get the scoop?”
He laughed over the line and Carly’s heart melted. “Oh you can bet on it. I’ll call just as soon as I possibly can. And I want to hear EVERYTHING Carly. You better give me every single detail.”
She knew she was blushing but he just sounded so cute. “I’ll tell you every single detail.” Another knock sounded on the door and she turned to see Belinda coming in. “I have to go because the makeup and hair lady is here. I’ll talk to you after the show tonight.”
“Good luck sweetheart. When you feel like falling apart, just remember that I’m thinking about you.”
Her lungs expanded quickly when he said that. “Have a great show Justin. Talk to you tonight.”
The phone clicked off and she turned in the chair to look at Belinda. Belinda was smiling knowingly. “I don’t know who you were talking to, but it had to be a guy because only guys have the power to make women look like you do now. It’s going to take me forever to get that redness off your face. Let’s get busy girl.”
Thirty minutes later Carly looked at her reflection in the mirror and her jaw dropped. “Did you leave any makeup in the case? Do I really need to wear this much?”
Belinda laughed. Everyone had the same reaction Carly did whenever they got stage makeup for the first time. “You need a lot for the stage because people won’t be able to see light makeup. Trust me…I’m the professional…you look great. Now go out there and knock ‘em dead.”
One more knock sounded at the door and Jason, Nick, and Dylan stood there. They looked her over and whistled.
“Oh stop it you guys.”
Jason held out his hand and she walked over to him making sure to be careful not to get anything on her outfit. “Are you ready my dear?”
Her head turned to look in the mirror one last time. “This is it.”
The four of them walked into the hallway and made their way towards the backstage area. The closer they got to the stage area, the louder the crowd got, and the tighter Carly’s hand was on Jason’s.
He put his arm around her and squeezed. “It’s just like the studio…only there’s a lot more Darrens watching.”
That made her laugh and that was the thing she needed most. “Oh will you stop it. I really love you guys so much.”
They all huddled together and prayed for a good show. The three guys surrounding her silently prayed for Carly’s strength. She had it in her to be a big star, and now she just needed to prove it to herself.
Belinda was collecting her things out of Carly’s dressing room when Britney came back inside. “Oh hey Belinda. I was looking for Carly. Is she around here somewhere?”
“She just left to go to the stage area. You need to be in your dressing room so I can get your makeup ready. I was heading there right now.”
Britney’s eyes roamed over the dressing room and she grinned evilly when she spied Carly’s bag. “I was just coming in here to grab…um…some really great perfume Carly said I could borrow. We really are a lot like sisters. I’ll meet you down there.”
Belinda didn’t like the idea of leaving someone in Carly’s dressing room when she wasn’t there. “Um…well I’m not supposed to leave the dressing room unl…”
Britney put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at Belinda in challenge. “Excuse me? Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t I the headliner on this tour? Doesn’t it have MY name on the tickets? Are you saying I’m going to steal something?”
Belinda grabbed the last of her stuff and shook her head before leaving. “I wasn’t saying that at all. Just make sure the door is closed behind you.”
When the door closed Britney ran over to Carly’s bag and dug through it until she found her cell phone. She smiled gleefully when she opened up the back, took the power pack out of it, and placed the phone back into the bag.
“Let’s see him contact you now. It’s a shame how easily things like that get lost on the road.”
Later that night Justin was in his hotel room and completely frustrated when he couldn’t get Carly on the phone. “Where the hell is she? That concert should be over by now and she should have her phone RIGHT THERE.”
JC looked over at him from where he was standing at the sink shaving. “You still haven’t gotten through to her?”
He sprawled back on the bed and groaned. “I’ve been trying for the last two hours and it just rings and rings.”
JC looked at him through the mirror. “Maybe she decided to stay out and watch the rest of the show. I’m sure she’s curious.”
Justin stood up and grabbed JC’s phone. “Maybe it’s my phone.”
After trying JC’s phone, the hotel phone, and even a pay phone downstairs Justin was extremely worried when he couldn’t reach her.
He ran into Chris in the hallway. “Hey J…what’s wrong with you?”
“I can’t reach Carly and tonight was her first show. I told her I would call, she said she would be waiting for it, and now I can’t reach her to save my life.”
Chris looked at the phone Justin was trying to crush and saved it by grabbing it. “Maybe a cell tower is down somewhere. Who knows?”
“Then it knocked out the major phone lines too. I don’t like this at all. I can FEEL it Chris…something isn’t right here.”
He nodded his head and stared at his young friend. “Why don’t you call the venue?”
“Oh yeah right! What do I say? Hi this is Justin Timberlake and I’d like to speak to Carly Hawkins? Oh that call wouldn’t last long enough for me to get the Timberlake out.”
Chris chuckled. “Well you’re the one who wanted to be famous.”
Justin threw his hands up and stalked over to Maitlyn’s room. “Lord save me from ignorant people.”
She snatched open the door and leaned against the wall when Justin pushed his way in. “Who are you calling ignorant?”
He plopped down on the bed and tried the number again. “I can’t reach Carly. No matter what phone I use I can’t get a hold of her.”
She finished chewing the cookie that was in her mouth and sat down beside him. “Why is this such a big problem?”
“I told her I would call and she said she would be waiting for it. This isn’t like her Maitlyn. Something is wrong. I can feel it in my heart and in my soul. SOMETHING is wrong.”
He rarely felt so strongly about something so she had to believe him. “Ok ok. Let’s just figure out what we can do here. Is there anyone else that you can call that’s on the tour?”
Justin thought for a moment but his shoulders slumped in defeat. “No. I don’t have the phone numbers to anyone over there.”
It was a shot in the dark, but she asked anyway. “What about Britney’s phone?”
His eyes stared at the cell phone in front of him and he felt physically ill. He hadn’t called Britney since they had split and he swore that he never would. His fingers dialed the number quickly and the phone gently rested against his ear. “Pray for me Spicy. I think I’m about to blow.”
Carly was in her dressing room gathering her stuff…unaware of the commotion surrounding her. She looked at the cell phone laying on top of the counter and sighed wistfully. “Don’t be stupid. He said he’d call and he’ll call. Just give him time.”
The dressing room door opened and Britney strolled in. She was still sweaty from the performance. “I just had to come by and tell you how great you were. I mean…you were nervous but you did such a great job. I just love the three songs that Jive picked for you to perform. Truly amazing! And it’s so great to see Jason again. He’s a sweetheart huh?”
Carly grabbed her purse and shoved it into her bag. “Yeah…he’s really great.”
“What’s wrong? You should be on top of the world after a show like that.” She put her arm around Carly’s shoulders for support.
“It’s nothing. I think it’s just sinking in that I’m away from everyone I care about. I’ll be fine.”
Britney’s jaw tightened when she knew exactly who Carly was referring to. “Sweetie we are your family now…for the next three weeks anyway. You can call on me whenever you need a friend. Day or night.”
A high-pitched ring sounded in the room and Carly jumped to grab her phone. Britney smiled sweetly and pointed to her own. “It’s mine. It’s probably my mom or something.” She put the phone up to her ear and spoke in that sweet voice again. “Hello?”
Justin closed his eyes and gripped Maitlyn’s hand. “Britney…” When his voice had no sound he coughed and tried again. “Britney…I need to ask you about Carly.”
Britney looked over at Carly and smiled. “Oh hi Justin! How is the tour going?”
“Forget about the tour…I need to talk to Carly and her phone isn’t working.”
She ignored his comment. “You are so unbelievably sweet for asking. The shows are going great and I couldn’t be happier. You should see the effects and props the company has put up for my show. It’s amazing! Are you going to stop by and catch a show anytime soon?
His eyebrows merged and Maitlyn looked at him worriedly. “What the hell are you talking about Britney? I just need to know if Carly is anywhere near because I can’t get a hold of her.”
Britney laughed and patted Carly’s arm. “Sounds good to me. I’ll save that special seat in the VIP box that you always sat in whenever I would perform. That’s right…the one that you said gave you the best view of me. The one where you said the lights make me look like a halo surrounds me. Yes that’s the one…you remember everything sweetheart.”
Carly shrugged Britney’s arm off of her and sat down in the chair while she put her hair in a ponytail. She didn’t want to hear any of this but at the same time she needed to.
Justin was getting angrier and angrier by the minute. “Listen you stupid…Britney…I need to speak to Carly. Can you put her on the phone please?”
She looked over at Carly and noticed that her shoulders where not as high as before. “Is Carly around?” She almost smiled when Carly turned in her chair and gave her a look of desperation. “She’s right here.”
Justin relaxed and took a deep breath. “Can I talk to her please? Something is wrong with her phone.”
Britney shook her head and mumbled. “Uh huh…ok…would you like to talk to her?”
“I just SAID THAT!”
It was just too delicious to her to see Carly’s excited face and know she was about to crush it. “Well she’s right here Justin…are you sure you don’t want to talk to her? She did really great tonight and I’m sure she wants to tell you about it.”
Justin clicked off the phone and threw it across the room causing Maitlyn to jump with fright when it shattered against the wall. “What happened?”
He walked over to the door and jerked it open and she followed. “Damn her games! I’m going to be on the next plane out of here. We have two days off and I’m going to go out there and see what the hell is going on. I don’t like it at all.”
While Justin was running around gathering his stuff, Britney was continuing to torture Carly. “I really think you should make time to talk to her Justin. I mean, she really would like to talk to you. She’s right HERE. Oh you’re so rude. Fine…goodbye.”
She clicked off the phone and shrugged to Carly. “I’m sorry Carly. He said he would have called your phone if he wanted to talk to you. He gets this way sometimes. Don’t take it personally.”
Carly’s shoulders were slumped down as far as they could go and her head was lowered. “It’s ok…thanks for trying. I need to get my stuff cleaned up anyway.”
Britney squeezed her hand and walked to the door. “See you tomorrow. Once again…great show.”
When the door closed Carly grabbed her phone and stared at it like it was the most repulsive thing she had ever seen. She mashed it deep into her bag and zipped it up. “I would hate to be a problem to you Mr. Timberlake.”
She grabbed her stuff, left the room, and allowed Carl to lead her to the bus where she would eventually cry out all her hurt and confusion.
- Chapter Twenty-Five
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