On Oct. 12 Britney Spears took a break from the London leg of her six-week European tour and consulted the stars. Forking over $60 at the Astrology Shop in trendy Covent Garden, she left with a 20-page computer-generated horoscope that delved into, among other areas, the 18-year-old singer’s romance with ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake, 19. According to store manager Barry Street, she may well be telling him bye, bye, bye in the coming months. “She’s quite conservative and traditional in her romantic life right now,” he says. “But after February she starts to rebel…. My own bet is that she’ll go her own way.”
Maybe, but right now these young stars are very much aligned. After they were spotted clubbing in New York City this summer, their affection became more public on Sept. 7 at the MTV Video Music Awards at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall and later at the nightclub Twirl. “There were 600 people here,” says Archley Prudent, a designer for the club, “and they sat next to each other or danced the whole night,” touching each other’s faces and doing “the little things people do that show you they’re a couple.” Since then, despite living far apart—she with her parents in Kent-wood, La., he in Orlando—they’ve been seen dancing at South Beach’s Level Nightclub, shopping at clothing boutiques in Miami Beach and strolling on Sunset Boulevard in L.A.
To some the only surprise is that it took the pair so long to hook up. Spears and Timberlake have been friends since they started rehearsals for the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club in 1993, when she was 11 and he 12. “They have a lot in common,” notes Matt Casella, then the show’s casting director. “They certainly share the same interests—singing, dancing, acting.”
Interest in one another was rumored as far back as late ’98, but reports also linked Spears to Robbie Carrico, a singer with Boyz-N-Girlz United, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys—even Prince William. (She denied all attachments.) In May Spears confessed to Rolling Stone that she and Timberlake kissed “sometimes.” Two months later a rumor began to circulate that they were engaged.
“I laughed when I heard,” Timberlake told PEOPLE in July, denying any nuptials. “If I was seriously thinking about getting engaged to anyone, nobody would know about it.” Spears, too, brushed off betrothal, but she sounds smitten. “When you’re comfortable with someone you love,” she told Elle last month, “the silence is the best. And that’s how me and J. are. When we’re in a room together, we don’t have to say anything. It’s for real.”
Their connection may be rooted in similar upbringings. Children of the South—he grew up in Memphis, she in Kentwood—they’re humble about their talents. “They both were incredibly polite kids,” says Casella. ” ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir.’ Their moms did a great job of raising them.” Spears is the second of three children of Lynne, 45, a schoolteacher, and Jamie, 48, a building contractor; Timberlake is the only child of Lynn Harless, 39, owner of a music management company. (His father, Randy, 41, has two children with his second wife.) In the spring of 1993, after a nationwide search, they and five others (including Christina Aguilera, then 12) joined 13 other cast members in the Mickey Mouse Club, a modernized version of the ’50s kids show that had been resurrected a few years earlier. The cast—who each had at least one parent living with them in Orlando—went to class, rehearsed and socialized together. By all accounts, Timberlake and Spears were just pals. The show was canceled by ’95, and three years later fledgling solo act Spears began opening for ‘N Sync, one of several Orlando-based boy bands, on a nationwide tour. “I’m attracted to guys who are really confident and make conversation,” Spears recently told YM. Clearly Timberlake fits the mold. “Every relationship I’ve been in,” he told CosmoGirl, “I’ve eventually overwhelmed the girl because they just can’t handle all the love.”
These days Spears (who is in the process of buying a Manhattan loft) is winding down a tour sans Timberlake, who is touring with ‘N Sync. But their romance seems mostly, well, in sync. “They are both so famous right now,” says Casella, “that it would be hard to be able to trust new people. They have a history and past together. They feel safe with one another. It’s perfect.”
Sue Miller and Sona Charalpotra in New York City, Susan Christian Goulding in Los Angeles, Eric Noe in London, Jeff Truesdell in Orlando and Denise Sypesteyn in Miami