Carly picked at her purse sitting in her lap and was about to break the strap off when Adrienne reached over and pulled it away from her. “Will you relax? Look around you Carly. You’re sitting in the middle of a limousine, on your way to a huge performance, tons of people are going to be there, you look GREAT, and Justin is going to be there. What more could you want?”
Carly’s eyes widened and she reached for her purse again. “THAT is supposed to make me feel better or less nervous? Oh my God I think I’m going to throw up.”
Adrienne rolled her eyes and chuckled. “You say that before every performance and you haven’t done it yet. You’re going to be great. Did you look at yourself in the mirror before we left the hotel? My God you look like someone who should be in a Revlon ad. That lady who did your hair and makeup is a genius in my opinion. I think your eyes are about to pop out at me.”
Carly popped open a compact and took a hard look at herself. Her dark hair was pulled up to the top of her head and held up by shiny silver clasps. The hair had been curled so that it had tiny ringlets cascading gently down the side of her face and resting on the top of her head. Her makeup was natural looking but there was also a look of maturity to her face that she hadn’t had before. Adrienne was right. The longer she stared at the person looking back at her in the mirror, the more the word ‘stunning’ seemed completely appropriate.
When they pulled up in front of the performing arts center a red carpet led from the curb all the way up to the entrance. Reporters, photographers, and fans were lined up on both sides and the sound of screams echoed in her ears. Adrienne was more than impressed. “I didn’t know we were going to the Oscars. My God would you look at all the people and the beauty of this place?”
That was an understatement. The building was huge and the whole front of it was made of glass that shined and glowed from the lights inside and out. Nobody had been able to perform in this building or rehearse there because of a stage problem last week, so Carly was anxious to get inside and see what it was truly like.
She didn’t have to wait long because the door to the limo opened up and she put her hand in Carl’s as he helped her get out. “You look very beautiful Miss Carly.”
She grinned warmly at him and squeezed his hand. “Thank you Carl. And you look very handsome yourself.”
Her simple black dress was sleeveless and ended just above her knees. Adrienne had picked it out for her and the main reason she fell in love with it was because it was fitting enough to show Carly’s curves and still be a completely elegant dress. The back had a small circle cut out to show some of Carly’s back and the collar was straight across from shoulder to shoulder. It really showed off the elegant span of Carly’s neck and collarbone, and everything was topped off with a diamond pendant necklace around her neck that had once belonged to her mother.
The moment they had exited the car camera flashes had come at her from every direction. Everyone was screaming her name at once and begging her to look their way so they could get the best picture of her for their magazine or paper.
Adrienne linked her arm with Carly’s and started walking down the carpet. “You’re never going to get there if you stand here in front of the car.”
Carly had to stop in a few places on the carpet for pictures to be made and to talk to supporters of the concert such as Entertainment Tonight, and E! Entertainment Television. They were the major sponsors of the event and of course NBC had their own person standing there asking basic questions and getting shots of the people walking in.
The fans continued to scream for her and she waved at a few of them who were overly anxious for her attention. It still amazed her to think that people were completely happy and honored just to know that she had acknowledged them by making eye contact or smiling at them.
“Carly! Carly Hawkins over here!”
A young nice looking man with a camera waved at her and Adrienne couldn’t resist pulling them over to him. “Hello there.”
He grinned at Adrienne and pulled out a pencil and paper. “I’m with Teen magazine and I was just wondering if you would give me the exclusive interview about what happened on your tour with N SYNC.”
Carly shook her head and started to turn away. “I’m sorry but I’m not going to talk about that right now and certainly not on a night like tonight. It’s about the music tonight, not about the craziness that surrounds it.”
He held up his hand and nodded. “I understand completely. If you ever feel like giving your story just give me a call at the magazine and I will give you the most fair and truthful article possible. I do have a few questions if you don’t mind?”
She knew it was time to get inside but one or two questions wouldn’t hurt. “Ok…two questions.”
“The rumors about you and Justin Timberlake, is there any truth to it?”
Carly smiled and shook her head. “We are not together as boyfriend and girlfriend right now…no.” It wasn’t a lie exactly. They weren’t together as boyfriend and girlfriend at the moment. She didn’t know what they were at the moment actually.
He wrote quickly and then spoke again. “How do you feel about being called the next Britney Spears."
Adrienne waved her hands in the air and pulled on Carly. “Oh my GOD! You actually think you’re going to get an exclusive interview when you ask questions like THAT? You should be taken out in the middle of a field and shot for that comment. Nice talking to ya!”
Carly giggled and allowed herself to be dragged away from the man and into the building. Being inside was a lot better and a lot quieter. She was led to her seat, which was a few rows back from the stage, and she sat there quietly trying to read the thick program that they had given her.
Adrienne looked over at her and snatched the program away. “We’re not sitting in the middle of a movie theater waiting for the show to start. Look around you Carly. Oh my God will you look at the people who are here? I think that’s Barbra Streisand over there. Would you look at that!”
Carly turned her head to look in the direction that Adrienne was pointing at but her eyes locked on Justin sitting a few rows over from her. He had a tuxedo on and she should have expected that because it was a black tie affair, but the sight of him dressed that way was still a punch to the stomach and an electric current to the senses.
Her eyes moved up his shoulder and neck until she reached his eyes and she found that he was staring straight back at her. He grinned tenderly and winked at her in a way that made her pulse quicken.
She blushed and turned around quickly. “Yeah…I think that…that is Barbra Streisand. Uh huh.”
Adrienne started laughing and nudged Carly’s shoulder. “I was lying to you about Barbra Streisand. I just wanted to get you to turn and look at the boy. He was looking pretty pathetic over there just staring at you like a lost puppy so I thought I would be nice and give him a thrill.”
Carly hit Adrienne a few times on the shoulder and growled. “I can’t believe you did that! You are pure evil…evil…evil!”
“Oh I can see it now on the front page of every newspaper. The next Britney Spears, Carly Hawkins attacks best friend at the music tribute show. Guards try to pull her away but she pleads temporary insanity because of the sexual pull of one Justin Timberlake.”
Carly folded her arms over her chest and pouted. “I want you to leave Adrienne and leave now. Where is security around here anyway? They need to drag you away from me.”
They both sat there in silence for a minute before they couldn’t contain their giggling any longer.
“You are completely hopeless Aidee. So completely hopeless.”
The performers were spread out all over the place but Carly had to groan when Britney was seated two seats over and in front of Adrienne. Of all of the seats in the house she had to be seated there. Carly had to admit that she wasn’t about to allow Britney or anyone else to ruin this night for her. She was going to sing like she had never sung before and she was going to do it her own way, with her own words, and with her own voice.
The lights went down and Carson Daly stepped out on the stage. He had been chosen as the host of the special and Carly honestly thought Adrienne was going to have a heart attack when she saw Carson for the first time.
“Can you believe how tall, how masculine, and how completely yummy he is? Girl if I were you going up on that stage then I would forget about old JuJu over there and go straight for the Daly Planet.”
Carly turned her head slowly towards her. “Shh.”
He introduced the first tribute and it was to Whitney Houston. Clips of Whitney’s career were shown over the huge televisions and when that was over Monica was on the stage and she sang one of Whitney’s songs as her tribute towards her. It was strange hearing someone sing a song that was so well known for another artist, but Monica did such an excellent job that it made Carly even more nervous.
Jessica Simpson and Ninety-Eight Degrees were next and they paid tribute to Diana Ross and Lionel Richie by singing a rendition of “Endless Love” that had everyone’s attention glued to them and to the magic of their voices together.
A man walked over to where Carly and Britney were seated and motioned that it was time for them to go backstage and prepare for their performances. Adrienne hugged Carly quickly and pushed a curl back in place. “Go up there and knock ‘em dead girl.”
While they were backstage getting ready the audience was watching The Backstreet Boys pay tribute to The Beatles via satellite from somewhere in Europe. Carly was thankful for the time to mentally prepare herself but she just couldn’t keep her hands from shaking. So many musical legends were in the audience and they would all be looking at her and wondering who the hell she was singing their song.
She walked over to the side of the curtain and watched at Britney did her useless tribute to Madonna complete with skanky outfit and half-naked dancers. That made her wonder how Jason and Dylan were doing. As it had turned out she hadn’t needed them for her performance tonight and it frightened her even more to think that she was going into everything as a true solo artist tonight.
The curtain closed, the show went to commercial, and Carly and Christina took their places on the stage. It was the longest five minutes of her life while they waited for the commercials to end and for Carson to introduce them. When the curtain did open Carly sucked in her breath and looked around at the audience who were all staring up at her. Compared to the crowds she had performed in front of on Britney’s tour and N SYNC’s tour, this crowd was nothing. But in comparison to importance and to meaningfulness, this crowd had every crowd put together beat.
Carson finished his introduction as Carly and Christina remained hidden by the darkness of the stage. “She’s topped the charts being a genie in a bottle, and she’s skyrocketed up the charts faster than any new artist has done in recent history. Singing ‘Tell Him’ by Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand this is Christina Aguilera and Carly Hawkins.”
The lights slowly came on over the stage and Carly jumped a little when the music began playing. She took a deep calming breath and put the microphone up to her mouth.
“I'm scared…so afraid to show I care…will he think me weak…if I tremble when I speak. What if…there's another one he's thinking of…maybe he's in love…I'd feel like a fool…life can be so cruel…I don't know what to do”
Christina walked over towards her and smiled. “I've been there…with my heart out in my hand. But what you must understand…you can't let the chance…to love him pass you by.”
Carly was gaining strength in the words and she let go with everything she had inside when the chorus came up and their voices harmonized together. “Tell him…Tell him that the sun and moon rise in his eyes…reach out to him…And whisper…tender words so soft and sweet…hold him close to feel his heart beat…Love will be the gift you give yourself.”
Christina slid into the melody. “Touch him…with the gentleness you feel inside…Your love can't be denied…The truth will set you free…You'll have what's mean to be…All in time you'll see.”
Carly walked forward to the edge of the stage with her and looked out over the audience. “I love him…Of that much I can be sure…I don't think I could endure…If I let him walk away…When I have so much to say.”
They continued singing so passionately and Carly was so lost in the words that she was shocked when they both sang the final line of the song minutes later. “Never let him go.”
The crowd clapped loudly as the two of them hugged each other and bowed. Carly’s eyes scanned the crowd and she saw Justin sitting there with an amazed expression on his face and clapping as hard as he could for her. The curtains closed and the two of them ran off the stage almost in tears. Christina was more excited than Carly was which wasn’t hard because Carly was pretty much in shock. “That was awesome Carly! You sang that song better than I’ve ever heard you sing anything. Where did the passion so deep come from?”
Carly smiled and made her way down the staircase to go back out into the seats. “I just felt the words…and I heard the message. Loud and clear.”
The mood of the concert took a lighter tone when N SYNC got up on the stage and sang a tribute to the Jackson Five. They pretty much replicated their performance of the songs from their concerts, but the audience was completely surprised and amazed when they slid out of Jackson Five and went right into a Boyz II Men medley.
Even though there were five guys up on that stage, Carly could only focus in on one in particular. He sang with so much passion for music and for life that she couldn’t see how anyone would be able to keep their eyes off of him. The words of the song she performed earlier where still ringing in her ears and the longer she watched Justin, the more she knew that he was what she wanted in her life forever. She needed his heart, his body, and his soul. To sound completely cliché…he completed her.
Brandy ended all of the tributes by singing Tina Turner and surprising everyone when the real Tina Turner came out on the stage and finished the song with her. The whole evening had been so magical up to that point and that performance only added the cherry on top.
Now all that was left were the performances of the younger crowd doing their own songs. They had shown the legends what their songs sounded like and how much they respected their work, but now was the time to show what they could do with their own material and their own songs. Britney didn’t really impress anyone by singing ‘Baby One More Time’ for the millionth time, but it was a popular choice and a favorite of many so it fit the demand. Plus, Carly could tell that she really got off on the tiny school girl outfit that seemed to get smaller and smaller as the performance went along.
The performances all continued with Brandy, Monica, and Jessica Simpson. N SYNC took the stage again and they debuted their new song “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Carly remembered hearing them record that song one day when she was with Justin in the studio, but she had never actually seen them perform it live with the choreography and dancing.
They completely blew her away once again.
All of them were so into the song and were feeling the music so much that it was hard to not jump up and sing and dance right along with them. Justin kept sliding his eyes towards Carly and with the words to the song she was wondering if he was sending her a message. But after a few more glances she realized that he was really staring down Britney the entire time he sang. That made her heart pound with excitement and pride as she literally watched him overcome his hangup and his pain to forge ahead with his life. A life filled with new beginnings and hopefully happiness.
When the song was over Adrienne leaned up and tapped Britney on the shoulder. “I wonder who they were thinking about. Is your nose itching Britney?”
Carly pulled her back and widened her eyes at her in warning. “Would you stop egging her on?”
“Oh come on. I need the simple pleasures in life, and I do stress the word SIMPLE when I’m talking about Britney.”
They both stopped giggling again when the same man walked up and motioned that it was time for Carly to go backstage for her performance. Adrienne picked up on how nervous Carly was and she grabbed her hands quickly before she could leave. “I haven’t heard the song you’re about to perform, but I can tell that it’s close to your heart. Let your heart speak this one and forget about everything else for just this time. This is all you.”
Carly kissed her cheek and slid out of the row to go to the backstage area. On her way up the stairs she was stopped by N SYNC coming down the stairs. She put her back against the wall and tried to slide past Justin in the small space but it was an impossible task without sliding her body up against his and to the side. He put his hands on her waist to guide her around him but the simple touch only made the sensations inside of her worse.
He grinned slightly and stared into her shocked eyes with pleasure. “Excuse me.”
She put a hand on his shoulder for balance and stepped around him. “That’s…it’s ok.”
Her eyes stayed glued to him as he trotted down the steps and out the door to catch up with the other guys. A hand on her shoulder broke her away from her daydreams. “You scared me.”
JC held out his hand for her to take and he smiled brightly at her. “Are you ready to do this?”
Squeezing his hand she climbed the last few steps and walked over to get her hair and makeup touched up. When the woman started messing with the clasps in her hair she stopped her and handed her a few things. “I want these in my hair instead. Can you do that?”
When the lady was finished putting the final touches on Carly’s hair and makeup she looked at her in the mirror and grinned. “You positively glow miss. Good luck out there.”
Carly took a deep breath and stood up to walk over to where JC was standing. His eyes widened when he saw her and he couldn’t resist leaning in to kiss her cheek. “It’s time to impress the hell out of the world Carly dear.”
Justin sat out in the audience and couldn’t keep his legs still. Joey, Chris, and Lance had all threatened him with certain death if he didn’t calm down and watch the show in a normal way but he just couldn’t help it. He had never seen Carly look more beautiful than she did right then and there at that concert, and he had never been more miserable in his life than he was at that moment because she was no longer his.
“Justin I swear if you don’t stop shaking the damn seats then I’m going to throw you in the back with all of the fans and they can tear you apart. RELAX!”
He turned his head to look at Chris and rolled his eyes. “I can’t relax. What’s the big secret with Carly’s song anyway? I mean, JC seems to know something about it and no matter how hard I tried to get him to tell me he wouldn’t say a word. What’s up with that? Where is JC?”
They all chuckled and shushed each other. “I think you’re in for a surprise Justin. Just watch the show.”
If you have Mariah Carey’s CD “Daydream” then you might want to get that out right now and get it ready for track number 12. (Looking In) If you don’t have that CD but you have Real Audio then you can try this site: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Boulevard/7852/backup/mariah.htm and click on the title “Looking In” I’m not sure how many people this site will be able to hold but it’s worth a try.
The show came back from commercial and Carson took the stage once again.
“Performing a song that she wrote and co-produced all at the tender age of eighteen is Carly Hawkins, and she is joined on the stage by a guy that teenagers would kill to have at their fingertips any day of the week. JC Chasez of N SYNC. Here she is performing her next single off her soon to be released debut CD…Miss Carly Hawkins.”
Justin sucked in his breath when the curtain opened and his eyes searched desperately for her figure in the darkness but all he could see was the outline of something on the edge of the stage. A spotlight up above suddenly came on to show a grand piano and it spread until JC was visible sitting on the stool in front of it. He shifted his hands and started playing the melody of a song that Justin had never heard before, but that slowly but surely worked it’s way into his soul.
After a few seconds a soft spotlight slowly lit up Carly where she was standing alone at the front of the stage with a single microphone stand in front of her. Justin couldn’t get over how lonely she looked up there by herself on the massive stage, but the thing he couldn’t get over the most, the part that haunted him, was how completely beautiful she was at that moment.
Her eyes were closed while she waited for her part to sing and she held onto the microphone on the stand like it was her life force. Her dress was the same, her makeup was the same, but now in her hair were small yellow rose blossoms that made her glow and appear to radiate in the soft light.
Justin couldn’t breathe or even move while he stared at her. But finally, she opened her mouth to sing.
You look at me and see the girl
Who lives inside the golden world
But don't believe
That's all there is to see
You'll never know the real me
The lights on the stage behind her slowly came on to show a full orchestra behind her and the whole audience gasped at the beauty of the stage, of the music, and of the performer. The only thing was, Carly couldn’t see it because her eyes continued to remain closed as she sang.
She smiles through a thousand tears
And harbors adolescent fears
She dreams of all
That she can never be
She wades in insecurity
And hides herself inside of me
Don't say she takes it all for granted
I'm well aware of all I have
Don't think that I am disenchanted
It seems as though I've always been
Somebody outside looking in
Well here I am for all of them to bleed
But they can't take my heart from me
And they can't bring me to my knees
They'll never know the real me.
When the music ended the applause was deafening and there truly was not a dry eye in the place. Justin was completely numb to the tears flowing from his eyes as were the guys sitting next to him. At that point they could care less who saw them cry over such a beautiful and amazing girl.
Adrienne stood up and clapped and yelled as loudly for Carly as she could. When she stood up Justin stood up as well and by the time they finished clapping everyone in the place was standing for her. They were not only clapping for the girl who had just sang a song with more passion and feeling than they had ever seen; they were clapping for the girl who had fought back from the pit of despair she had been in the last month and got up the courage to reveal her true self to the world.
Carly opened her eyes and raised her head to see the people around her clapping and shouting for her. A tear ran down her cheek and she smiled as much as she could at them before turning to blow a kiss at JC. “Thank you so much.”
The curtains closed and the people kept applauding Carly’s magnificence. Adrienne wiped the tears from her eyes and leaned down to yell over the noise to Britney. “Kinda makes Baby One More Time seem a little embarrassing doesn’t it? Pointless maybe? How about stupid? Do you like the word stupid?”
Carly was backstage trying to get over the jitters that still plagued her but JC was right there to hug her and cry right along with her. “I did it JC. I went out there and I did it.”
He hugged her even tighter to him and could feel himself glowing with pride. “You sure did, and you knocked them all off of their feet.”
There was an after-party for the performers and the people in attendance but it turned out to be a small social gathering. The nice part about it was that there were no fans there so the musicians and celebrities could talk honestly with one another and pretty much be themselves because reporters weren’t allowed either. It was probably one of the most relaxing gatherings Carly had ever been to in her life. Everyone was so nice and they all came up to her to tell her how much they loved her new song and the performance. Adrienne was one who wouldn’t shut up about it.
“I never knew you could sing like that. My GOD Carly! And you wrote that?”
Carly took a sip of water and nodded. “Yes I wrote it and for the millionth time I’m glad you liked it.”
“Oh would you stop with the modesty crap and take a compliment for once in your life. Girl you caused an absolute tear fest. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. You even made Puff Daddy cry and I didn’t think that was possible. Although he’s one that I’d love to hurt as well and that would probably make him cry. Yummy.”
Carly stared at her while the words sunk in. When they did she busted out laughing. “You have completely lost what piece of your mind you had left. I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
On her way to the bathroom her eyes scanned the crowd and she still didn’t see Justin or any of the guys yet. They either stopped off to change before coming or they decided not to come at all and go home to Orlando tonight. Either way it was disappointing because there were a few things that she wanted to talk to him about and her confidence was slipping quickly on the matter.
One of the rooms on her way to the bathroom was a conservatory with plants hanging from the glass ceiling and flowers blooming all around a small waterfall that trickled quietly in the silence. Carly walked inside and stared up at the moon through the glass and sighed. It was true that the night had a magical feel to it, but magic wasn’t what she needed right then. She needed a miracle and she needed strength to sort through all of the confusing thoughts racing through her head.
Opening up her small pocketbook she pulled out a penny, closed her eyes while she made her wish, and dropped it into the fountain. Her eyes followed the penny’s path all the way until it landed against the tiles in the bottom and she smiled at the foolishness of her actions.
“What did you wish for?”
She turned around quickly and put a hand to her heart when she saw Justin leaning casually against the doorway. “If I told you then it wouldn’t come true.”
He grinned and took a few steps towards her. “That’s a possibility, but it’s also a possibility that I could help you make that wish come true.”
Carly swallowed hard and looked up at him as he got closer and closer. “I was beginning to wonder if you had ditched the party.”
One of his hands reached out to delicately touch the yellow flowers still in her hair. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world.”
Her legs started trembling when his blue eyes continued to stare deeply into her and he ran one of the petals from her hair over her cheek and then finally over her lips. “I remembered how much you liked yellow. On me that is.”
His Adam’s Apple bobbed up and down as he struggled with what to say. “Carly…please tell me that you’ve forgiven me. Please tell me that I’m not misreading the love I see in your eyes.”
She suddenly could barely see him through the tears in her eyes. “I…I’m not mad at you Justin. I love you. I think I always have and no matter how I try to fight it, I always will.”
He turned his head to the side while he tried to calm his emotions. “I’m glad you’re not mad at me anymore because if you were, you would be really pissed when I did this.”
He dropped the petal, cupped her cheek with his hand, and dipped his head down to kiss her in a way that was as soft and as tender as the petal had been on her lips, but that held so much feeling and love that she wasn’t sure she could stand anymore.
Justin put his other arm around her waist and pulled her close to him for support and for the closeness that he had been craving to have with her for what seemed like eternity. The last month had felt like years but it had made him realize that no matter what happened, Carly would be the only girl for him…for the rest of his life. This was it for him.
He kissed her again before pulling back a few inches. His thumb slid up and down her cheek and he stared at her like he still couldn’t believe that someone as special as Carly was standing there in his arms and that she was actually looking at him like he was the most important thing in the world to her. “I love you Carly Hawkins and that love only grows stronger the more I’m around you. It’s eating me alive inside.”
She leaned forward and placed her lips on his briefly before opening her eyes and staring straight into his. The same eyes that at one time she couldn’t bring herself to meet much less gaze into. “I know, and I never should have doubted you. Not for one second.”
“How did you…when did you know that I was true in my love for you?”
She smiled and touched his hair lovingly. ”When I saw you, your eyes let me know…they let me know.”
His head raised and he stared up at the moon and the stars for a while before she looked up to see what was so interesting. “What are you looking at?”
“Do you see that star up there that shines so brightly next to the moon?”
Her eyes slid over and she smiled when she saw it. “Yes.”
He tightened his arms around her and sighed. “Now you know for sure that someone is looking at that very same star and is only thinking thoughts of you.”
He kissed her again and rested his forehead against hers. “Now you’ll know forever. This I promise you.”
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