The bar was smoky and smelled of sweat and tobacco. Justin had to admit that this was not the type of bar that he was used to spending time in but things had changed a lot.
This was the first time that he had been out alone since the official break up.
After ten years and some solo success the band that had been his life for over a decade was going there separate ways. He had been wandering the streets of the city for a while now, just looking for somewhere to drown his sorrows and he had finally settled on this small bar.
A few men were seated at the bar and some couples took up the tables that were scattered around a small stage. A low beat played in the background and a flat voice was singing. Justin looked towards the stage and saw that this was obviously Karaoke night at the bar.
Sighing he went to take a seat at the well worn wood bar and ordered a double whisky. Justin didn’t drink a lot but he found that at times like this he needed it. He felt as if he was mourning his life and why shouldn't he have a drink in honour of his brothers. It was not as if there was anything else in his life.
Justin mused over his glass about how he had ended up here. It had been a long road and along the way he had found and lost love, but somehow it still felt as if this was the end.
Justin threw back his drink, wincing slightly at the unfamiliar burn of the alcohol as it hit his throat. He signalled the barkeep for a refill and took another long slug before he stood and moved towards the stage. The alcohol had made Justin braver than he had thought and he wanted to do the one thing that he could to remember those that he had lost along the way. So, taking the stage after the flat singer he selected his song and began to sing.
The deep throaty timbre of his voice was unexpected, but age had given him a depth of voice and the alcohol and smoke only added to that. Justin was singing the blues and despite the luke warm reception that the other singers had gotten Justin found that he got rapturous applause from the small audience. He was so taken with it that he agreed to stay on for another song when the compere asked him.
None of the bar patrons knew who this faceless and nameless singer was and they didn't really care, all they knew was that he had the ability to put their pain into his songs and sing with the emotion that they often lacked. And in that small bar, in the one city that dealt with so many false dreams and hopes, Justin Timberlake found an acceptance that he had not felt in his entire career.
It was sixth months after the split of one of the biggest bands in American chart history. Alyssa Harris, freelance reporter and tabloid extraordinaire sat in the bar of the east street bar and waited.
The rumours of the famous face had trickled in from a number of sources and now here she was, for a second night in a row, waiting to see if it was true. Various accounts had been heard of the young man that came to the bar and sang sometimes, a man with a past and with a familiar face. He didn't talk to anyone and didn't take requests but each night he was there his haunting voice would move the crowds - sometimes to tears.
The bar keeper had acknowledged that yes, they had karaoke some nights, and that yes, they did have one young man that was a regular but he wouldn't verify anything else. Alyssa waited and sipped on her daquiri as she waited. Not really taking in much of the alcohol as she wanted to remain sober enough in case he came in that night.
She was glad that she was not disappointed.
About an hour before closing he entered the bar, carrying with him a battered guitar case and making his way to the bar. The barman didn't ask him what he wanted, instead he slipped him a short tumbler with no ice and a bottle of whisky. The young man poured himself three fingers and then knocked it back, not even wincing at the obvious burn that the straight alcohol had to have caused.
Then worldlessly he moved to the small stage as if to take his position. The crowd's conversation quieted and Alyssa was given her first touch of just how powerful this man's power was.
She had seen him before, she knew in her head that this was the man that had sung with Nsync and made millions and yet by looking at him she could see that this was not the same man. Justin Timberlake was no longer the young, good looking and well polished man that he had once been and she could see an angle for her story formulating in her mind.
Justin wore his hair cropped short and it's original dirty blonde. He also had stubble from what looked like a few weeks of not shaving. He looked old and lined as if the last six months had been hard on him, but she began to wonder if it was longer than that and he just looked this way without the make up and designer clothes.
"Good Evening." He said by way of introduction. If the rumours were right then this was unusual. He didn't usually talk at all, just sang.
"Tonight I'd like to sing a song that has been plaguing me for a while. And I would like to dedicate it to an old friend. Someone that holds my heart without even knowing it and who left us too soon."
Justin stopped then, not telling then what the song was and began to play the chords on his guitar. As he did so he whistled the melody of the song.
Alyssa didn't recognise it at first and then the words began to play.
"I knew a man Bojangles
he'll dance for you
in worn out shoes.
With silver hair,
Ragged shirt and baggy pants
he'll do the old soft shoe
He would jump so high, jump so high
then he'd lightly touch down
told me of a time he worked with minstrel shows
travelling throughout the South.
Spoke with tears
for fifteen years
how his, how his dog and he
would travel about
but his dog up and died, up and died
after twenty years he still grieves.
He said: I sance now and
every chance in Honky Tonks
for my drinks and tips
but most of the time I
I spend behind these county bars
You see son, I drinks a bit.
The he shook his head
Oh lord, when he shook his head
I could swear I heard somebody say
Call him Mr. Bojangles
Come back and dance
Come back and dance.
As he sang the last words his already rough voice broke and he almost had difficulty whistling the melody that was obviously the close of the song.
Alyssa was taken aback, as were the audience who seemed clearly shocked by the display of emotions. She wondered what it was that had caused Justin to have such and outburst. He came down off the stage, disappointing a few customers that were used to two or three songs before he came off the stage and Justin turned to leave. He didn't even stop to finish his drink.
Alyssa began to ponder why it was that the song had affected him and decided to hold off on this story until she had an angle. Maybe this would give her the article that her career so desperately needed.
The next night Justin returned to the bar. Alyssa was there too but Justin didn't notice. He went to the stage and performed "Imagine" by John Lennon before following it with his same mournful song of the night before.
This time Alyssa could see that he was holding back some of the emotion of the night before but it didn't seem to affect the moving way that he performed the song. She wanted to approach him tonight, to ask for some quote or comment for her story. However as she was about to approach she saw a younger man cross the bar. He almost didn't look old enough to drink there but the barman didn't send him away. He was about to shoo him from Justin, one of the bar's best attractions when the younger man reached out for Justin.
Wade Robson had heard from Josh that Justin wasn't taking the split as well as the others. JC Chasez had dated Wade's sister, an Nsync dancer, for a while and the two were good friends. It hadn't taken much to track him down to this bar. Sometimes it was good to have a record label that looked for new talent, this way he could scout out Justin too.
He reached for his former friend and turned Justin to him.
Alyssa watched from her perch at the other side of the bar and saw Justin's face pale as he saw the other man, almost as if he had seen a ghost.
"Please, come back." Justin murmurred softly.
Wade reached his hand out and stroked back the overgrown hair that fell across Justin's face brushing it away.
Alyssa may have been a cynical journalist but even she could see what was between these two.
"Please come back and dance." Justin whispered again, tears brimming in his eyes.
"We always did make sweet music together." Wade replied, and this time he was smiling through his own brimming tears.
Wade leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Justin's mouth and then took his hand. And as the two of them left the bar and went off into the cool night she could see the barman sigh.
Alyssa made her way over to him and wondered if he would give her the quote that she wanted.
"Did you know those two?" She asked.
"Only by the names that they called each other when giving me a confidence." He replied. "And everyone knows there are only two people that will keep your secrets, your barman and your priest."
Alyssa nodded, seeing that she wasn't going to get a quote.
"I'll tell you this for free though." The barman said. "That's the best damn session singer I've ever lost."
Alyssa smiled - she had her story.
They say that it is better to burn out than fade away, but this is the story of two stars who found that neither was the way to go. Both peaked at an early age, reaching the pinnacle of their careers before they even reached their twenties, and both faded from the stage in their own different way. However they met again and realised that they didn't need a world stage to shine. One was singing for his supper in a cheap bar, feeling lost and the other was searching for something in his life. When they came together there was light again in their lives and while the barman commented that he had lost the best singer he could have wanted I knew that they had both found something more important and that was true love.