ONE OF THE BOYS
“It was really too much,” Lara insisted as she stepped out of JC’s car. “Really.”
“You were drooling on the case,” JC retorted. “It was embarrassing. I had to buy something so they wouldn’t kick us out.”
Lara stopped walking, carefully folding the garment bag over her arm. “Really, JC? Seriously? Sapphire earrings from freaking CARTIER?”
“They’ll look good with your dress. I’m just doing Chris a favor,” JC added. “You can only make him look good to begin with, and I’m…helping.”
“You’re an idiot,” she said, shaking her head. “Thank you, though.”
“YOU shouldn’t be thanking me,” JC said, carrying her other bags. “CHRIS should.”
“Whatever.” Lara unlocked the door with the key Chris had given her. “Chris, I’m back!” She yelled.
They heard Chris thump through the upstairs hall and down the steps. “Well? How’d it go? Your text said nothing and you’ve been gone…” He stopped short at the site of JC. “Hey.”
“Hey.” JC smiled. “She shopped. Lance and I helped.” He held up the bags.
“Is all that for tonight?” Chris said, blinking.
“No,” Lara said. “It just…got fun. There was the most amazing bookstore…”
“No.” Chris held up a hand as Lara got a dreamy look on her face. “I don’t want to hear it. Nothing about bookstores.” He looked at JC again. “How’d you end up in all this?”
“We saw her on the way to lunch. We were meeting Joey and invited her along,” JC said, putting her bags down. “She was doing some window shopping, and then Lance went over and hit on her.”
“Huh?” Chris gaped.
Lara laughed, blushing a bit. “I’m just standing there, minding my own business, and he says all deep and sexy in my ear, ‘You’re pretty enough to turn a gay man straight,’ or something like that.”
“You do look nice,” Chris said suddenly, running his eyes over her. “Like a grown up or something.” He swallowed hard. He had never seen her dressed professionally, and he was impressed.
“I doubt you know what they look like,” Lara said, and JC chuckled. “Well, if you guys don’t mind, I gotta get out of this monkey suit and into a hot bubble bath.”
“Um, okay,” JC stammered as Chris looked at the floor. It was obvious that for a brief moment, both of them had imagined her in the tub. “I’ll, uh, talk to you before Saturday, I’m sure.”
“I hope so.” Lara smiled up at him and gave him a hug. “Thanks so much, JC. You and Lance made it so fun today.”
“I’m glad.” JC looked at Chris. “Later, man.”
“Yeah, later,” Chris said vaguely as JC went out the door. He picked up Lara’s bags. “I’ll bring these up for you.”
“Thanks.” Instead of going up the steps, however, Lara reached up under her skirt and shimmied out of her stockings. Chris stared at her. “You cannot even know what it’s like to wear these damn things. I hate them.”
“Try neckties,” Chris said stupidly.
“I have. They’re nothing compared to stockings.” Lara led the way upstairs.
“How DID it go?”
“Fair, I think,” she said with a sigh. “I mean, they don’t ever let much on at that kind of thing. I know I presented myself well, and my work speaks for itself.”
“You’re a great writer,” Chris said. “Someone’s gonna hire you.”
“We’ll see. “ She stopped in the door of her bedroom and laughed. “I have to do some writing this week, though. JC dared me to write a screenplay.”
“That’s kinda weird.”
“Well, it is. But I’m gonna show him. He dared me,” she said, shaking her head.
Chris went in the bedroom and put her bags on the bed. “So…you had fun at lunch?”
“Oh, yeah,” Lara said, taking off her suit jacket and carefully hanging it up. “Joey’s so nice. I think he’s gonna be at Lance’s party. He showed pictures of his girls…they’re so precious. I love babies,” she said with a sigh. “And Lance is so funny…he is all into planning this party. I think YOU created the monster.”
“Probably,” Chris snorted, wondering why he was jealous. “And JC? You guys seem really tight.”
Lara stopped and looked at him. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want me to get along with your friends?” She bit her lip, feeling a strange vibe coming from Chris. “I…I just kinda ran into them, and…”
“Oh, jeez, Lara, of course I do.” Chris shrugged. “I know how awesome you are to hang out with…maybe I don’t like sharing you.”
Lara rolled her eyes and punched him in the arm. “Dumbass. There is MORE than enough of me to go around.” She poked herself in the stomach.
“Shut up, you stupid bitch, you’re not fat and never have been.”
She looked at herself in the mirror. “Well, once I hit thirty, I definitely stopped being skinny.”
“You’re perfect.” Chris surprised himself by walking up behind her and putting his arms around her waist, dropping his head onto her shoulder as he stared at their reflection. “Don’t say stuff like that, okay?”
She smiled up at him. “Okay.” She gave him a gentle shove. “There is a trashy novel and a bubble bath with my name on it up here. Get out.”
“Okay.” Chris left the room. “Reservation’s for six-thirty…we need to leave about five forty-five.”
“Okay,” Lara called after him. She quickly unpacked her purchases, carefully hanging the dress on the back of the closet door. She ran a hand over it and sighed, suddenly nervous. She hoped Chris would approve, and that she wouldn’t embarrass him.
She sat down on the bed and carefully opened the box from Cartier. The silver and sapphire diamond earrings winked at her. She HAD been drooling in the store. She’d never been inside a Cartier, and the guys had quickly whisked her inside, Lance saying something about looking for a watch for his dad’s birthday. Lara had skipped the fancy diamonds altogether, heading for the colorful stones she loved. She saw the teardrop earrings immediately, the deep blue of the sapphires blending perfectly with the bright silver. She had always preferred silver to gold. JC had asked the clerk to take them out of the case as soon as she pointed them out to him, and she had sighed wistfully as she held them up to her ears and looked in the small mirror on the counter. “We’ll take them,” JC had said with a grin, handing over his Visa card. It was only to avoid causing a scene in the store that kept Lara from arguing. It was obvious he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Lara put the earrings in and looked at herself in the mirror. Amazing.
“Women,” Chris griped, glancing at his watch and tugging at his necktie. “You know, I could just be in front of the TV in my jammies!” He yelled up the steps. “This is all for YOU, ya know!”
“I’m coming!” Lara yelled back. “It’s only five-forty. Hold your undies, for God’s sake.” She carefully picked her way down the stairs in her high-heeled silver sandals. “I’m coming.”
“Well, it took you…” Chris’ words died as she came into view. The dark blue of the dress brought out her eyes, and her long hair was curled into long ringlets. “It took…” He swallowed deeply. “Fuck ME,” he whispered.
“What?” Lara frowned, stopping on the bottom step so she was at eye level with him. “You…you hate it, right? It’s not good enough? JC said it was okay for this place and…”
“Fuck JC fucking Chasez,” Chris said. He reached out to lightly tug a perfect curl. “You look sensational.” She turned red. “Who ARE you, because you’re NOT the kid I used to ride scooter with.”
“I’ve grown up,” she said, stepping down to the floor on shaking legs. The look in Chris’ eyes was like nothing she’d ever seen before. “Didn’t you notice?”
“Not until now.” He took her hand and twirled her around. “Jesus, Lara, you look so beautiful.”
“Stop,” she muttered, hating the burning flush on her face. “Can we just go, or something?”
“Oh, yeah, right. Keys.” Chris headed for the kitchen to grab his keys from the table. Lara click-clacked after him.
“And for the record?” Lara said, and Chris turned around. “You look pretty sensational yourself.”
Chris looked down at his suit and shrugged. “I wear this all the time. You just aren’t here to see it.”
“SURE you do,” Lara grinned.
Lara tried to play it cool at the restaurant, but it seemed like every third table included someone she recognized. That singer, this actress, that director. She was thankful when the maitre’d stopped at a table and held out a chair for her. Chris thanked him and sat down across from her. “Are you okay? You look a little…green.”
“I’m fine.” She smiled at him. “I’m trying to not have a total fangirl freaking out breakdown. How long did it take you to not notice anymore?”
“Believe it or not, every now and then, it still happens. Back when we were still big, I had this phase I went through where I felt I deserved it all. All the adoration, all the special treatment. I was Chris Kirkpatrick of NSYNC, dammit, and everyone damned well better fall at my feet.” He sipped at his water, crunching ice between his teeth. “Then Joey pretty much smacked me upside the head, called me a prick, and made me step back and realize how freaking lucky I was. I was lucky to get basketball or baseball tickets whenever I wanted. I was lucky to ride around with my best friends doing what I loved. I was lucky to be able to give my family all the things they deserved and never got. Yeah, I’m one of those famous people, but that doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else.” Chris shrugged. “And when I’m somewhere and get to meet someone like Eddie Murphy, or Brad Pitt, my stomach still twists a bit.”
Lara smiled at the way he was opening up to her. He didn’t seem to want to talk much about fame, or his job, and she didn’t want to push him.
“Well, I assure you that my fangirl moment is going to die down momentarily.”
“Good.” Chris picked up his menu. “I don’t want to have to leave because you puked all over the table just because Hugh Jackman or someone walked by.”
“Is he here?” Lara said excitedly, looking around. Chris kicked her under the table.
Chris ordered a plate of fresh garlic rolls as an appetizer, and when the waiter returned, they ordered dinner. Lara ordered steak, which made Chris smile. He wasn’t surprised. She was as meat and potatoes as he was. “See? It’s good Jayce isn’t here. He’d probably get you to order something gross, like goat eyeballs or something.”
Lara choked on her water. “Goat eyeballs.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s too…” Chris waved his hand.
“Well, then, I’m hoping Lance doesn’t serve goat eyeballs at his party, because it could be a pretty disastrous date,” Lara said, laughing.
“Date?” Chris tilted his head a bit.
“Oh, yeah.” Lara rearranged her silverware two or three times. “Well, see, JC…he asked me…see, I was wearing the dress, okay, and it must have some sort of magic spell woven into it, see, because he wouldn’t ask me normally, I’m sure, and yeah. He asked me to go to Lance’s party with him,” Lara babbled.
“JC Chasez?” Chris’ mouth bobbled like a fish. “Asked you on a date?”
“Yes.” Lara’s tone was full of hurt. “That’s such a shock?”
“Yes! I mean, no!” Chris said immediately. “Not like you think. You’re just not his type.”
Lara folded her hands in front of her. “And what IS his type?”
“Not you,” Chris said, and she raised an eyebrow. “You know…the blonde bombshell type. You’re too…good…for him.”
“It’s a date. Not marriage.”
Chris reached over and took her hand. “Don’t be mad. I guess, really, I just am shocked that you guys hit it off like this. Didn’t see it coming.”
“Neither did I,” she admitted. “I’m sorry if it bothers you, but he’s your friend.”
“It doesn’t BOTHER me, really, I just feel…protective. I don’t want him to hurt you.”
“Chris,” she said, rolling her eyes, but she squeezed his hand. “I’m not riding off into the sunset with him. It’s a party. We’re going together. We probably will not end up staying together the whole night. I’m sure Lance will invite a lot of blonde bombshells to keep JC interested.”
“The blonde bombshells Lance knows have dicks,” Chris mumbled, and Lara choked on a garlic roll.