ONE OF THE BOYS
The next few months passed by in such a whirlwind that Lara didn’t have time to think much about anything but packing up her life and moving it across the country. She spoke with Lance, Chris, and her new employers at least once a week, and JC had even called a few times. Lance wanted to make sure he knew exactly what she wanted while looking for an apartment. Her new employer wanted to iron out the fine details. Chris just wanted to annoy her, she was certain.
“For the last time, NO,” she barked, taping up the very last box. “The last thing in the world I want to do is drive across the country with YOU.”
“It’d be fun,” Chris whined. “C’mon. What if I brought JC?”
“JC would never agree to drive across the country with us,” Lara said, giggling at the thought. “That’s ridiculous.”
“What if it was Lance?”
“Lance…” Lara pretended to consider it. “Do I get to share a bed with him?”
“You’re sick,” Chris said in disgust.
“Chris, I told you. I’m stopping at my sister’s in Missouri, and then at my brother’s in Vegas.”
“But a single woman, driving across country alone? I don’t like it.”
“Aw, Chrissy,” Lara said, blowing him kisses through the phone. “I’ve driven to my sister’s before. What’s another half a country?”
“It’s driving across the CONTINENT, you realize that, right?” Chris growled. “Fine. I’m going to email you a map…all the marked places are where you’re gonna call me to let me know you’re okay.”
“You’ve really thought this out, haven’t you?” Lara said, amused.
“I have no life,” Chris said.
“I thought you were going to look into…”
“Don’t start,” Chris interrupted, and Lara didn’t push it.
“Well, I appreciate it. You’re very thoughtful, looking out for me,” Lara said.
“Just doing my job.”
Chris was more anxious than he’d ever been in his life, for many reasons. First of all, he was truly worried about Lara driving across the country alone. That wasn’t a lie. But there were so many other things. She’d be staying with him for a few days, until they could get her new place organized. Lance thought he had found just the right thing for just the right price, and they could get her moved in within a week of her arrival, if she liked it. Chris had offered to get her someplace bigger, but she had refused. Lara wasn’t going to take advantage of his wealth.
There was, that, too…she’d be around all the time. Not like when she had stayed with him, but just a phone call away. Chris didn’t know how long he could hide the feelings that had been growing for months. He was terrified. He was falling in love.
Lara did just what Chris had asked…she called him at all the agreed upon locations. She also made sure to call him once at three in the morning and once at seven-thirty in the morning, pretending that she had lost track of time, or forgot the time difference. Chris hung up on her the second time, and Lara had laughed for it for miles afterward.
Before she knew it, she was pulling up into his driveway. It was early in the morning. She had made good time, and he wasn’t expecting her for a good two or three hours. Lara got out of the rented SUV and stretched her back, neck and legs before grabbing her purse and going up to the house. Everything else could wait. She needed a bathroom, she needed a comfortable place to stretch out, she just needed to not be moving.
Lara used the key Chris had given her and quietly let herself in. She was glad he was still sleeping, and didn’t want to waken him. She went to the bathroom, then went into the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. She poured herself a cup and sat down at the kitchen, trying to get her bearings a bit before deciding what to do. Her body made the decision for her…she laid her head on her arm on the table for just one second, and immediately fell asleep.
Chris whistled as he bounced down his steps. He was going to clean the house from top to bottom before she got there. Well, maybe from kitchen to living room, anyway. Chris stopped in the hallway and sniffed. “Ha, I TOLD her I learned how to set the timer on that damn thing,” he said out loud. He entered the kitchen and froze. Part of him wanted to scream with joy that she had finally arrived, and part of him was terrified. She looked about sixteen years old in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, her hair in a messy ponytail. Chris smiled. He really was…
Chris shook himself out of it and reached out to touch her shoulder. “Hey,” he said softly.
Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled sleepily. “Hey, Chris.”
“C’mon.” Chris helped her stand up, and she stumbled. “You need bed.”
“Okay,” she said, nodding against his shoulder.
“I’m not bed,” he said.
“Right,” she murmured.
Chris sighed and swept her up into his arms. “The things I do for you,” he grumbled, shifting her to a more comfortable position before heading for the stairs. He noticed she had lost some weight. It was understandable; he was sure that making the decision to move your world across the country was pretty stressful.
“I can walk,” Lara said, struggling a bit.
“Relax, fool,” Chris said. He nudged open the bedroom door with his foot and gently laid her on the bed. She kicked off her shoes and he tossed them on the floor. “You have a nice nap.”
“Chris,” Lara whispered, flinging a hand towards him. He took it and she pulled him down. “Thanks.” She gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek and fell back asleep.
When Lara came down a few hours later, Chris was watching TV and flipping through a magazine. “Hey,” she said softly.
“Hey.” Chris bounded to his feet and gave her a hug. “You look better.”
“I feel better. Thanks for carrying me up. That was embarrassing.”
“Oh, I plan on using it to my advantage someday,” Chris said cheerfully, and she grimaced, knowing it was true.
Lara squeezed him, then stepped back. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Well, yeah.” Chris blushed a little. “Figured I have a gym, I should use it more.”
“You look really good,” Lara said. “I mean it, Chris.”
“Wow, you’re giving me a Timberlake-sized ego,” Chris joked. “Hungry? I thought we could go grab breakfast.”
“I could eat,” she admitted. “I just wanna shower quick.” She sat on the arm of the sofa. “So…speaking of Justin…how are things? Have you heard from him at all?”
“Uh, no, why would I?” Chris said, staring at her.
“I just wondered. We ran into him that night at dinner, JC was working with him. I thought maybe you guys would have all gotten together or something.”
“Hardly,” Chris snorted. “I’ve seen Lance and JC, of course, and Joey a few times, but the Mighty Timberlake has not graced me with his attention. Besides, I would have told you.”
“The phone works both ways,” Lara reminded him.
“Thanks, Mom, I’ll remember that. And if I thought he’d actually take my call, maybe I WOULD,” Chris lied.
Lara sighed. “I’ll be down shortly.”
As she went up the stairs, Chris tossed down his magazine. Not long after the group had disbanded, Chris had been so betrayed by Justin that he couldn’t call him. JC had made some mumblings about trying to keep the group together with four, but that idea soon fizzled and died. Chris just couldn’t believe that Justin could walk away from their dream like that, but it was obvious that Justin was meant for bigger and better things. It was also obvious that Chris was damn jealous.
“I like this,” Lara said as they slid into the booth of a crowded diner. “I didn’t know they HAD places like this in California.”
“It’s my favorite restaurant,” Chris admitted. “And California’s pretty big. You’d be surprised what they have here.” Lara kicked him. “It’s just so much like home.”
“You’re right,” Lara said, looking around. A waitress brought them coffee and they ordered. “I texted Lance. He told me to, no matter what time I got in, just to let him know I got here. He’ll get with me later, to show me the place.”
“Good,” Chris said, playing with a salt shaker.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” Lara said, and Chris looked up at the tone of her voice. “Chris, I’m scared,” she whispered. “What if I can’t do this?”
“Do what? Do your job? Be an awesome writer?” Chris grabbed her hand without thinking.
“I’m not LA. I’m not California. I’m not…special.”
“Jesus, is that what this is about?” Chris rolled his eyes. “Honey, you ARE. You’re just fine the way you are, and if California doesn’t like it, too damn bad. It’s not like you have some high profile job where all that matters. You do your best, and fuck the rest of it.” Lara giggled. “Seriously. I mean, look at me. Am I LA? No. I’m still East Coast all the way. Remember that Lance wasn’t always Hollywood Lance. He was hick Mississippi Lance with an accent so thick you could cut it with a knife, and no rhythm. JC was a Mouse, for God’s sake. He’s not LA, either.”
“Yes, he is,” Lara argued.
“Continental,” Lara finished, and Chris nodded.
“Don’t worry about it. And remember…whenever you need a little dose of reality, I’m here.”
“You’re the only thing that’s gonna keep me sane,” she said.
“Good,” Chris said, thinking that being around her like this was going to steal his own sanity, piece by piece.
“Oh, Lance, it’s perfect,” Lara sighed, looking around the tiny two-bedroom apartment.
“Really?” Chris asked, and she glared at him.
“Some of us don’t need to have every electronic gadget in existence,” she said. “Some of us…”
“Some of us need a room just for all our books,” Chris said, and she blushed.
“I didn’t bring all those. I got rid of a lot of them,” she pointed out. “I’ll just buy more out here.”
“God,” Chris groaned.
“You sure you like it?” Lance said, and she nodded. “There’s a gym right down the street, if you’re interested. You get a discount for living here. Good security, close to the subway…”
“Thanks so much, Lance.” Lara jumped up and hugged him, sighing as she inhaled his cologne.
“You’re welcome.” Lance squeezed her briefly and let go. “We just need to stop by the office and sign the paperwork.”
“And then we’re going shopping,” Chris said, and Lara groaned.
“What?” Lara gasped. “Chris, I don’t have…I figured…”
“You figured you’d move into an empty apartment?” Chris asked. “Lance was going to have it furnished, but I thought it would be better to have you along. It’s my Welcome to California gift to you, so shut up about it.”
“God, Chris, thank you!” Lara hugged him.
“You’ll owe me. It’s all good.”
“So…who’s gonna help me move in?” Lara said, looking at them. They groaned as one.
Lara thump-bumped her suitcase down Chris’ stairs. “Save the carpet, please!” He yelled from the kitchen.
“Shut up!” She yelled back. She jumped as the doorbell rang just as she went by the door. “Hey!” Lara said in surprise. “I didn’t expect to see YOU here!”
“I’m not here,” JC said, leaning against Lance. “I’m home in bed and this is a nightmare. It’s only about ass o’clock and I’m not awake.”
“Hey,” Joey said from behind Lance, and Lara’s mouth dropped open. “I’m the cheap labor. You get me for the discount price of pizza and beer.”
“I can afford that,” Lara said with a laugh.
Lance led a stumbling JC into the kitchen. “Please tell me you have tea for him.”
“Probably,” Chris said, waving towards the cupboards.
“Definitely,” Lara said. She took JC by the hand. “Come sit down, JC.”
“Kiss him,” Joey teased. “That’ll wake him up.”
“I’LL kiss him,” Chris said.
“Don’t you dare,” JC growled. He wrapped his arms around Lara and leaned against her. “Mmm…comfy.”
“Very,” she agreed. She unwrapped herself and got him into a chair. “Let me get you some tea.”
“K,” JC said, putting his head in his arms on the table.
“This won’t take too long,” Lara promised, putting a mug of water into the microwave. “I don’t have that much, and the furniture is in already.”
“I still get pizza and beer, right? Even if we don’t have to move much?” Joey asked.
“Yes…definitely. I didn’t mention the two bookcases I need you guys to put together,” Lara said, and Joey groaned.
“You know you could do that yourself,” Chris pointed out. “I know you.”
“Yes, but I have four hot guys moving things into my apartment. I plan on lounging on the sofa and watching you all get hot and sweaty,” she said, grinning as she brought JC his tea.
“Not my idea of a fun way to get hot and sweaty,” JC muttered into his arms, and Lara laughed.
“She’s lucky I love her,” Chris said, flopping onto the sofa.
“Yes, she is, or we wouldn’t be here,” Joey said, putting the last screw into the bookcase. “Finished.”
“Your wireless is up and running,” Lance called out, shutting her laptop.
“Thanks,” Lara called from the bedroom.
JC wandered down the hall to the bedroom, where Lara was hanging up clothes. “I think everything’s about done in there.”
“You guys are awesome. Thank you.” Lara smiled gratefully.
“I’m just here for the pizza and beer,” JC said.
“I find that hard to believe,” Lara said, laughing.
“You always have something on your nose,” JC said suddenly, reaching up to wipe a dark smudge from her face.
“It shows how hard I’ve been working,” Lara said, swallowing hard. JC took the hanger from her hand and tossed it on the bed.
“Yes, you have,” he whispered, bringing a hand up to cup her chin. He kissed her and she melted against him. She fell into the kiss for a few moments, then pulled back, panting for breath. “Think anyone would notice if we christened your bed?”
“They might…you’re pretty loud,” Lara said weakly. JC chuckled.
“I don’t remember you being very quiet, either.”
“Yet another reason we can’t.” Lara looked up into his eyes. “JC…I want you so bad I can taste you. You’re hot and sexy and did I mention hot and sexy? But I…I can’t.”
“What is it?”
“Because I’ll fall for you, JC. I’ll fall hard. And as nice as you are, and as much fun as I have with you…we’re not right for each other, and I don’t think you’re interested in that kind of relationship. “
“And you want someone else,” JC said, kissing her nose and stepping away.
“I do? Who?” Lara was genuinely confused. Chris laughed from the living room, and her eyes immediately darted towards the sound.
“Lance,” JC said, but his eyes were amused. “C’mon. Let’s get Joey his pizza and beer.” He gave her one last deep kiss. “If you ever change your mind…” He took her by the hand and led her back to the others.