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Chapter Three

February 20, 1998

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

“Hi,” he says, drawing out the word.

There is no turning back unless I want to pull a Cinderella. I imagine leaving a Skecher behind as I haul ass back outside and return to present day with what little information I already have.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

He’s wearing basketball shorts, a white tank top and his giant gold cross that I haven’t seen since, well, the 90’s. His shoes are Nike, not the bright colored sneakers that I’m so used to seeing. His hair is also darker and fuller. He’s still waiting for my answer.

“I’d love one,” I say, my voice shaking. He steps close, so close that I can smell the subtle scent of Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Men. I try to look like I’m not sniffing him to death as I take a deep inhale. His arm extends and my heart stops. I have only touched this man’s hand twice before, at two concerts amidst hundreds of other girls fighting for an elusive hand hold. Yet, this time it is just him and me and the arm is all mine. Greed seeps into my blood threatening my common sense. Be an observer, not observed.

I touch his arm and he folds my hand up into the gesture like the most perfect Southern gentleman. His smile produces a slight dimple.

“I’m Brian Littrell, by the way,” he says. I almost say ‘I know,’ but I rewind. I think he already knows that I know. I think about smiling and then I realize that I haven’t stopped smiling. I have a split second to decide whether or not to use a fake name.

“Courtney Standiford.”

His eyes crinkled. “Thank you Courtney Standiford for agreeing to share a birthday drink with me.”

I try to look surprised, but I know that acting is not my forte. I also know that I need to walk away, but my body is not letting me. Neither is my mouth. “Then I should be the one buying you a drink.”

He laughs. “Maybe we’ll just have to have more than one drink, then.”

As he leads me towards the bar, I am suddenly reminded of my youthful appearance. I’m still smiling, but I am nervous. I am now the observed and the license in my wallet does not match my actual facade.

I am screwed.

“Do you like tea?”

“I love tea,” I say, relieved. My mind had immediately gone to alcoholic dr--

“Two long islands,” Brian says.


My heart plummets. He fishes his wallet out of the basketball shorts. I let go of his arm and tentatively reach for my purse. The Cinderella method is looking better by the second. I fiddle with the zipper. Brian and the bartender both look at me. Brian smiles again. I’m pretty sure that I would walk off a bridge for that smile now that I’ve seen it from inches away. I pull out my wallet and hold out my ID, trying to cover the date. The bartender, not to be fooled, takes the entire thing. He squints. He looks at me. He squints again.

“How old are you?” he asks. Brian is staring at me. I feel my face grow warm. The ground could swallow me up. If I say thirty-five I’ll be lying, but if I say twenty-one I’ll also by lying.

“Okay, she’s not twenty-one,” Brian says, holding up his hands. He leans towards the guy. “We’re doing the show here tomorrow. Can’t you hook my girlfriend up? I’ll make it worth your while.”

I am sure that I must be dead because I could not have heard him right. He did not just tell the bartender that I was his girlfriend, did he?

There is some sort of exchange because the bartender smiles at me and bottles start pouring. “No problem, man.”

Two tall long island iced teas are the result of the masterful mixing. Brian takes them both, leading me to a small booth that’s tucked away from the rest of the bar area. I slid in, still not believing my luck (or my stupidity). I expect him to slide in across from me but his shoulder touches mine as he scoots right beside me. I am caught off guard with the feel of his lips so close to my ear.

"Tell me you’re at least eighteen or else I’m going to burn in hell.”

I laugh. If he only knew… “I’m eighteen, I promise,” I assure him.

He lifts his glass. “A toast?”

“A birthday toast?” I ask. His eyes crinkle and I resist every urge to go all crazy fan-girl over him. I’m sure it should be illegal for a guy to look this good.

“I was thinking more along the lines of ‘here’s to a cool drink and a hot lady,’ but a birthday toast works.” He’s a giant flirt and it catches me off guard. I’m used to the crazy, goofy, reflective guy portrayed in interviews and onstage. This is…

This is a 23-year old boy, I remind myself.

I lift my glass and our glasses touch. I take the first sip. Long islands have long been my weakness. I will go well out of my way to avoid the smell of coffee, but I will cross the dryest desert if I know that a glass of tea awaits at the end.

"Are you from around here?”

"California,” I say. I don’t think it’s important or wise to give too much history.

"Really?” he sounds surprised. Does the Midwest brand a person for life? I wonder. “Where?”

“Sacramento.” It isn’t a total lie.

I can hardly wait
For another taste of honey
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside
Honey I can't describe
How good it feels inside

"I love this song,” he says. It takes me a moment to remember who it is.

“Mariah Carey,” I nod. “She’s good, but not as good as yo--” I stop, horrified. Has the liquor gone to my brain already?

His arm brushes against mine. “So you know my secret? It’s not as good as Bruce Wayne’s secret mind ya, but considering you didn’t rip Nick’s clothes off I figured maybe you weren’t a fan.”

I look at him, less mortified. The thought of him in a Batman costume is appealing. “Why would I rip Nick’s clothes off?” I ask.

Brian full on grins. “It happens almost every place we go. Every girl loves Nick.”

"Not me. He’s not my favorite.”

“But you have a favorite?”

This conversation wasn’t going to end well. I blush. He’s enjoying this. “Who’s your favorite? Kevin? It’s the eyebrows, right?” I laugh. I take another sip of tea and shake my head.

"Howie? It’s the wink, right?” He takes a sip of his tea and leans in closer. I shake my head.

"AJ? It’s the sunglasses by day, sunglasses by night effect, right?” I laugh louder. I shake my head. He’s so close… We both sip our drinks silently. He meets my eyes and I take it as a challenge. I don’t look away.

“I like where this conversation is headed,” he says softly. I catch a glimpse of his left hand. Empty.

"Me too,” I reply.