wh Being Boring by Synchronik

Being Boring
by Synchronik

Cause we were never being boring

Pet Shop Boys

For a long time, Joey has been the one who hasn't changed. Lance has changed gradually, the whole time, the only one of any of them who changes like a normal person, in stages, and doesn't walk into a room one person and walk out someone else. JC has changed gradually, too, but somehow, it doesn't seem like he changes at all, just that JC goes from being himself to being *more* himself, everyday peeling a onion skin layer of artifice off him until someday, Joey thinks, JC will be completely revealed.

The lawsuit changes Chris.

And Britney changes Justin, first by turning him into a complete idiot who lives and dies according to some Hallmark card/Cosmo Girl theory of romance, and then by breaking his heart and turning him into a Normal Boy. Joey wishes he could be sad about that, but nope.

Joey prides himself on being the same throughout; good old rolling- with-the-punches jokester Joey. Even during the lawsuit days, Joey holds himself to a certain fundamental level of calm; he is scared and nervous, but he isn't freaked out, like some people he could name. Then he has a kid and everything changes.

People have warned him that having a kid will change things, but he doesn't think they mean in quite the way it has happened. Sure, he loves her -- more than he thought it was possible to say, really -- but he's always been a pretty loving guy, and Bri isn't anything more than another person to love. A really really cute person who can barf on him and get away with it, but still, just another person. The love isn't what has changed him.

The scary thing is, it has happened so slowly (the changing -- the love happened instantly) that Joey doesn't even realize he has changed until he goes out into his backyard one night to investigate a strange noise and finds Chris jumping up and down on his trampoline, naked.

Chris has always been the smart one. Joey knew that the minute he met him, and his opinion hasn't been altered by any of the mistakes that Chris made later. Chris has also always been the crazy one, and that opinion, Joey thinks while he shields his eyes with one hand and tries not to see what gravity is doing with Chris' private parts, will never change. Never.

"Dude, what the fuck?" Joey asks.

"Hey! Joe!" Chris bounces, his feet and his voice, both joyful. "What's up?"

"Chris, please. What the fuck?"

"Have you ever tried this?" Chris asks, his words broken up by the shock of his feet hitting the trampoline, and lifting up, high, into the night sky.

"Have you ever tried this?" Chris asked. He was sprawled on his back on the roof of his apartment building, a hand-rolled cigarette pinched between his fingers.

"Duh. I'm from New York," Joey answered, but he took the marijuana anyway.

"So, I been thinking," Chris said. He was looking up at the sky, and Joey, also on his back, looked up too, watching the flecks of the stars appear and disappear through the smoke he exhaled.

"Stop the presses," Joey said, and laughed.

"Remember that guy I told you about? Howie?"

Joey squinted, thinking. Howie, Howie, Howie. Between him and Chris, Joey could think of four Howies they knew. "Maybe," he said.

"Short guy --"

"Like you?"

Chris sighed. "Yes, like me, okay? Short like me. Are you fuckin' listening, Joe?"

Joey handed Chris the joint. "Yes. I'm listening."

"So he's got a record deal."

Joey sat up. "Really?" he said. Chris had his shirt off and was a pale blur on the dark roof. "You're shittin' me."

"Nope," Chris shook his head. He rolled onto one elbow, tossing his hair back out of his face, away from the cherry on the end of the joint, and took a drag. "Not shittin' you," he said, tightly. He exhaled. "I was thinkin' about puttin' a group together. You Interested?"

"Fuck yeah," Joey said.

"It's gonna be bullshit," Chris told him, grinding out the joint on the rough rooftop. "New Kids on the Block music and synchronized dance shit." Joey got it: Chris was warning him, telling him that they weren't going to be Motley Crue or Nirvana.

"Doesn't have to be," he answered. "I mean, it can be more."

Chris narrowed his eyes at him, speculatively. He and Chris had gotten along from the very first minute they'd met, falling in easily, Joey playing straight man and setting Chris up for the punch line. Joey couldn't even count the number of chicks (and guys, sometimes Chris went after guys) they'd gotten into bed with their little routines. But they didn't have a real friendship, yet, not a true one. They hadn't really tested each other. This was a test, Joey thought. The first and maybe the last. "You think?" Chris said.

"Totally," Joey answered. Chris nodded once and flopped back onto his back, and Joey thought *I passed*, his heart high in his throat.

Joey laughs. "No," he says. "No, Chris, I've never tried it." He's never even thought about trampolining naked. The truth is, he's hardly used the trampoline at all -- he got it because when he got the house the yard had seemed huge and empty and a pool seemed like too much of an expense on top of the money for the property itself. The trampoline had taken up room and seemed cool. He's jumped on it maybe four times in the five years he's had the house.

"You totally should," Chris says, but he's getting tired; his breath comes out in little puffs.

"You're fuckin' high," Joey says.

"High on life!" Chris shouts. His next jump is a particularly big one and Joey hopes that his back yard neighbors, the McMillans, are not upstairs looking out the windows right now. He's got a wall and privacy hedges and the McMillans (who he's only met twice if you don't count waving when you drive by on the street, which Joey doesn't) don't seem particularly impressed by his stardom, but there's a difference between fame and naked guys on a trampoline, Joey's pretty sure. "C'mon, Joe!"

Joey shakes his head. "No way, no day," he tells Chris, who bounces to a stop.

"You're really fucking boring," Chris says back, and leaps into the air, coming down so hard that the elastic skin of the trampoline sends him arching into the night. Joey's afraid for a split second that Chris has launched himself off the trampoline and into traction and all his muscles tense, ready to spring to Chris' aid, but Chris comes down fine, easily, just outside the center of the trampoline, and whoops as he goes back up into the air.

"Whoo! Maybe I should try a back flip!" he shouts to Joey.

"Maybe I should try a back flip," Chris suggested, hair hanging in front of his face. Lou blew cigarette smoke out in a cloud of disgust.

"Yeah," he said. "Because that's the fucking problem, Chris." He stubbed out his cigarette in the orange plastic ashtray and shoved himself to his feet. "C'mere," he said. He lumbered out into the hallway of Chris' apartment.

"Joey," Justin said. He was breathing hard, partly from the routine they'd worked so hard on, partly from something else. His voice was high with exertion. Joey glanced over at JC, looking for moral support, but JC was staring out the window, his narrow chest heaving quickly.

Joey went to the door.

They were right outside the door, so Joey didn't go into the hall, just pressed his face to the crack. Lou wasn't a tall guy, but standing in front of Chris with his massive bulk and his fat hands, Lou looked huge. Chris had his head down, nodding.

"Don't fucking fuck around with me, kid," Lou said in a soft voice Joey knew he wasn't supposed to hear. Lou grabbed Chris' chin, forced his face up, the way you would a puppy that had been bad. Joey flinched. "I told you, I don't have time for this shit. Get your act together. You get one more shot. You understand me?" He squeezed: Joey could see his fingers sinking into the tender skin of Chris' face. Chris nodded. They stood still for a long second. Joey was afraid Lou would lean down and put his mouth over Chris', afraid that it would happen, afraid of what it meant if he did, afraid of what he would do afterwards, but Lou just gave a final squeeze and released Chris' head. "Assholes," he said, and lumbered off.

Chris stayed in the hallway for another second after that, head down, rubbing his jaw with one hand. When he looked up, he saw Joey in the door. He smiled, a wry sad smile.

"Chris," Justin said, from inside the room. "Lou?"

"Coming," Chris answered. He slipped by Joey, one hand closing briefly over Joey's wrist, a message.

"What'd he say?" Justin asked. Justin was young, too young, Joey thought, not for the first time. A kid like him was a liability, someone who would have to be protected. But he was also talented, maybe the most talented. They couldn't lose him.

Chris smiled, a real smile, and Joey thought that Chris was the best liar he had ever seen. "He says we need to get a bass again," he said. "We need someone to round out our sound."

"Really?" JC asked. JC was smart, smarter than people thought when they met him, and Joey knew that JC had been to L.A. and had come back knowing more things than maybe he should about how deals were done. He wasn't Justin.

"No. He said we needed a monkey in the act, Chasez, what do you think?" Chris rolled his eyes at Justin, who laughed.

"Well," JC said, but he'd already lost and he knew it. "Um," he said. Chris glanced over at Joey and Joey nodded and just like that they were conspirators.

"Oh god!" Joey moans, thinking of all the things he'll get to see if Chris decides to try back flip. Or worse, the things he'll have to do if Chris decides to try a back flip and fails and breaks his leg. "Please, no," he says.

Chris must not be serious about it, though, because if he were, Joey's pleas wouldn't stop him, Joey knows. He keeps jumping, humming to himself.

"How long do you think traction takes?" he asks. He bounces closer to Joey's side of the trampoline and Joey steps back. There's a certain minimum distance you should be from your friend's bouncing genitals, Joey's pretty sure. He only answers when he's reached that inchoate space where he's far enough to not feel like Chris will bop him on the head, but close enough that Chris doesn't feel ignored and start waggling them at him.

"What?" he says.

"Traction. You know." Chris waves his hands in the air. "When you get put in traction. Do you think it would take longer than six months?"

"I think it depends," Joey says. He doesn't know why Chris is asking, so he doesn't know the right answer. Meaning is everything with Chris.

"Hmm. Better not then," he says, and hops to the other side.

"Are you getting down?" he asks, hopefully.

"Are you getting down?" Chris called up to Justin, who just laughed and did another upside down flip, suspended eighty feet about the stadium floor. "Oh, fuck you!" Chris shouted and took two steps back, thudding into Joey's chest. "Hold me, Joey!" he demanded, and Joey did, laughing and knowing that it was only half a joke.

"Never!" Chris shouts. "You should come up." He highsteps over to Joey's side of the trampoline again and Joey takes his customary three steps back. Distance, man.

"No way," he says.

"Don't make be come down there," Chris says. They can go on all night like this, Joey thinks, Chris bouncing and jumping and approaching and backing away, and the only thing that will happen is that Joey will get tired and cranky and Chris will inevitably get injured and then Justin will be pissed at him, so he might as well get it over with now.

"Why are you here, Chris?" he asks.

Chris stops, just bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. "Why, Joe! How could you ask me such a thing!"

"Fuck off, Kirkpatrick," Joey says, smiling so that Chris knows he's at least partially kidding. Partially. "Why?"

Chris shrugs. It's an honest answer. Chris thinks a lot, knows a lot, but he doesn't rationalize his behavior. He acts on instinct and worries about the "why" afterwards. It's what makes him so fucking immature.

"I'm still not coming up there."

"I dare you," Chris says. He crosses his arms over his chest and smirks and Joey wishes that Chris' arms covered up other parts, but underneath he's getting kind of used to it, not really looking at Chris' stuff, of course, but the nakedness and the night. Chris can get you used to anything, Joey thinks, and says "no" reflexively.

"No," Chris said. "No, no, no."

"Chris," Lance said. He held a piece of paper in his hand, something Joey didn't even want to see, if it made Chris look like that. "Chris."

"Look, don't even fucking speak to me, okay?" Chris said, and shoved out of the room. Joey heard his heavy boots on the stairs, then clanging on the fire escape, heading up to the roof.

"I'm real sorry," Lance said. He looked sorry. Five minutes ago, Lance had been strong, steady, his hands still like rocks on the table top when he told them what he and JC had found out from the lawyers, but now he was just Lance again, just a kid. Joey patted his shoulder.

"Not your fault," he told Lance. "I'll go get him."

Chris was pacing across the roof when Joey got there, hoisting himself over the crumbling brick edge. Mrs. Scarlatti in the top floor apartment was probably tearing her hair out at the noise, Chris' boots tromping back and forth over her head.

"Hey," Joey said.

Chris whirled. "Leave me the fuck alone, Joey," he said. "I mean it."

He did mean it, that much was clear by the look on his face, but Joey could never leave people alone. That was his fundamental flaw, what got him into trouble with the girlfriends of his friends and the friends of his girlfriends and pretty much everyone but the group, who didn't care who he dated as long as it didn't mess with the schedule. Joey just couldn't leave people alone.

"Chris," he said, again. Chris started pacing again and didn't stop until Joey crowded into him, trapping him in a corner of the roof.

"Joey!" Chris shouted. "Go away!" His voice high and desperate like the whining of a dog and the glimmer of tears in the corner of his eyes, and Joey said "no" and grabbed him and hugged him until he was quiet again, the hot night air on his back and Chris' sweaty arms around his neck.

"This is so fucked up," Chris murmured against Joey's collarbone.

"Nah, it's okay," Joey said. He meant it. Everything was very fucked up, and he had the sinking feeling that the stuff Lance was saying downstairs was only the very beginning of it, but he was also pretty sure that it would still be okay. Things would work out for the best. Eventually.

"You're such a fucking idiot," Chris said, wiping his face with his shirt.

"You're such a fucking crybaby," Joey told him. Chris smiled a little.

"I double dog dare you," Chris says.

"Yeah, well, that would work if I were ten," Joey says. He's not persuaded, and he's certainly not getting on the trampoline and he's definitely not taking his clothes off. No matter what.

"I triple dog dare you," Chris says. "C'mon. You don't have to take off your pants."

"Will you put yours back on?"

Chris shakes his head. "No way, dude. It's very freeing."

"It's very something," Joey says, but he climbs up onto the trampoline. He kneels on the edge to yank off his shoes. Chris hops away complacently, humming to himself, something from the radio that Joey should recognize but can't put a name to. Joey's surrender pleases him. That's part of the reason why Joey did it.

The trampoline is wobbly beneath his bare feet, made more wobbly by Chris' enthusiastic prancing. "Joey, joey, joey, if you're hurting, so'm I," Chris sings, happily, and Joey recognizes the song, a pop song from some years back that every girl in high school sang to him, except Kelly. Joey thinks that's maybe why he went out with her in the first place. Kelly's always had better sense than most people.

"Hate that song," he tells Chris, pushing himself to his feet, arms outstretched. He feels like he just got up on roller skates for the first time, all shaky knees and fear of falling.

"And if you're somewhere drunk and passed out on the floor!" Chris sings at the top of his voice, and coming from him the song sounds different, almost happy, triumphant, despite the downer lyrics.

"Fucker," Joey mutters.

"WHOA, whoa whoa whoa, Joey I'm not angry anymore!" Chris belts out. Joey considers belting him, but Chris is too happy to punch, singing at the top of his lungs about Joey's fictional alcohol addiction and fundamental fear of intimacy, his head tipped back to the stars. Joey settles for jumping down once, hard, and hoping Chris bites off his own tongue.

"Fucking freak!" Joey says, as he comes down.

"Fucking freak," the guy muttered as JC wandered past, sipping his drink and trying not to poke his own eye out with the red paper umbrella in it. Joey hardly heard it, the way he always hardly heard insults in public places: "fag," "pussy," "hack." He usually just walked by.

JC had stopped in front of him, though, in front also of the guy who'd made the comment, some typical loser in a t-shirt and madras shorts. Madras. Joey wondered what kind of club this place had turned into. "Excuse me," JC said. He smiled at the guy.

"Um," the guy said. "I didn't say anything."

Joey rolled his eyes.

"I think you did," JC said. "I think you called me a fucking freak. What do you think, Joey?" JC asked, turning to catch Joey's eye.

Joey nodded. "Yup," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets, trying to make it clear to the guy in the fucking madras that he wasn't really involved. This idiot had picked a fight with JC, and the glint in JC's eyes meant that he was going to take him up on it. JC looked like a pushover in his preppy white shirt and Jesus sandals, but he fought dirty and wasn't afraid to. JC was a sweetheart, but he didn't take shit. You didn't live long in this business if you did.

"Look, man, it didn't mean anything," the guy said. He wasn't a professional punk, Joey realized, noticing the guy's expensive watch and the fact that he didn't wear socks. He was a lawyer or a banker or a candlestick maker or something. JC might not lose.

"Hey, sexy," Chris said. He stepped up in between JC and Madras Man, one hand low on JC's ribs. "We're over here." He tipped his head toward the VIP room.

"This guy called me a freak," JC said.

Chris turned and looked at Madras Man, raising his eyebrows at Joey as he turned his head. Joey lifted an eyebrow back. "Well, I'm sure he didn't mean it, did you, man?"

Madras Man shook his head. "I was, um. Just kidding."

"It wasn't funny," JC said. "It hurt my feelings."

Joey bit his lip to keep from laughing. Madras Man flinched, torn between laughter and JC's unrelenting stare.

"Um. Sorry," Madras Man said.

"See?" Chris flattened his hand on JC's chest. "He's sorry. Let's go, C."

"I just think it's rude," JC said, but Chris pushed before JC could get all worked up about people's feelings and how manners were important.

"Yeah, yeah," Chris said. "Let's get you a drink." He turned JC toward the bar, and JC went, seemingly forgetting about Madras Man's insult the minute he saw Lance and Justin waving at him. Chris grabbed Joey's sleeve. "Nice," he said.

"What?" Joey asked. "He can fight his own battles."

"The point is, Joseph, that any battles JC fights, we all pay for." Chris slugged him in the arm.

"Good point," Joey admitted.

"That's what I'm here for," Chris said. He slung an arm around Joey's waist. "To keep you whippersnappers out of trouble."

The trampoline is actually kind of fun once Joey gets started. It takes a certain sponginess in the knees, and a lot of coordination with Chris so that one of them doesn't end up on his ass on the lawn, but it also makes him feel light and churns his stomach in a pleasant way, and it has the advantage of making him mostly taller than Chris again, most of the time, anyway.

"See?" Chris says, like he's made a point.

"Yeah, yeah," Joey says, air rushing out of him with each bounce. Chris hops after him, a naked deranged bunny, and Joey hops away, laughing. They go around maybe twice before Joey is so winded he can hardly breathe.

"Chris," he gasps, laughing. He tries to slow down, but Chris jumps harder, sending him up into the air. "Chris, stop," he gasps, holding one hand out, but Chris keeps on coming.

"Chris, stop," JC moaned, high and breathy. He didn't mean it. JC never meant it when his voice got like that. What he meant, Joey thought, was "oh, Chris, harder, deeper," but he didn't like to say that kind of thing when Joey was on the bus. He said it enough in the hotel room. Joey flipped pages in his People magazine and tried not to think about it, but he had to pee. Chris and JC had picked the wrong day to see Dances with Wolves as a matinee.

"Hey," he called. "I have to pee."

Silence for a minute, then JC's low giggle.

"Okay," Chris called back.

Joey sighed. They couldn't have just hurried up, no. Instead they had to be creative and were probably totally naked and in some bizarre position that Joey would be forced to look at on his way to the bathroom. Bastards. He wished that he'd stayed on the other bus with Justin and Lance, even if they were studying for the ACTs. Even geometry would have been better than watching JC and Chris have sex.

"Okay, coming through!" he shouted.

They were decently covered with a blanket, even though it was pretty clear that Chris hadn't ... removed himself from JC at all.

"Hi, Joe," JC said, brightly.

Joey crouched behind his hand. "Hey," he muttered and slammed the bathroom door. He went about his business and hummed and forgot about them until after he'd already opened the door.

They seemed to have forgotten about him, too. They were still under the blanket, mostly, but they were kissing -- Joey clearly saw JC's tongue slip into Chris' mouth -- and Chris' hips hitched incrementally, steadily. He was propped on one arm, the blanket sliding diagonally off his shoulder and half of his back and it seemed like an eternity between the time Joey opened the bathroom door and blinked for the first time.

"Um," he said, and bolted. It would be days, maybe weeks, until Joey could convince himself that he'd forgotten the way Chris had looked at that moment, his bulging arm, his hair hanging down into his face.

Joey's been in his backyard a hundred times, a thousand. Too many times to count, even with all the touring. He and Kelly had cookouts here last summer when they were trying to be a real couple, Joey roasting steaks in an apron and shorts and flipflops, Kelly bouncing Brianna on the edge of the trampoline cooing to her. He's seen his yard look a billion different ways, each time with that happy proprietary feeling of ownership.

It still looks different now.

The moon washes over it, making it clear as day, but blue, everything's blue, the near-black of the trampoline beneath his bare feet, the midnight blue of the air around him, the pale icy blue of Chris' chest clouded over with dark hair. Joey's yard is suddenly an entirely different world.

"Chris," he says, holding his hands out. Chris gets the message, gets that he means it this time, and slows down his bounces until he and Joey are kind of bouncing in tandem, like they're on a seesaw. Eventually, they're just standing there bouncing at one another. Joey's face feels stretched out, and he realizes he's grinning like a fool on a trampoline with a naked man. It's an oddly familiar feeling. It's the feeling, Joey realizes, that he always gets around Chris when Chris is being himself, his normal snotty cool self, and letting Joey be there, too.

"What's up?" Joey says. Chris blinks at him.

"What's up?" Chris said, coming into the room without knocking. "Justin says you're being a bitch."

Joey raised his eyebrows. "Takes one to know one," he said. His heart wasn't in it, though, and Chris knew that, and sat down on the bed.

"Dude, whatever it is," Chris said. Technically, Joey knew there should be more to that sentence, but Chris made it sound complete. Whole. Joey squeezed his eyes shut.

"Chris," he said.

"You get someone pregnant?" Chris asked.

"What! No!" Joey jerked back, shocked. Chris always fucking went for the jugular.

"You hooked on drugs?"

"Chris, god."

"Well, I know how much you drink, so that's not it." Chris pressed a finger to his mouth. "Hmm, let's see."

"Dude, just leave me alone, okay," Joey said. "Please?"

Chris ignored him, hummed a little to himself. "No girl trouble, no drug problem, obviously no money worries, what could be bothering Joey? What could be bothering Joey?"

Joey flopped back onto the bed and dragged a pillow over his face. "Leave," he said through the pillowcase. "Leave, leave,*leave*."

"Hey," Chris said, brightly. "You're not gay, are you?"

"No! No. I'm not gay," Joey said. He could feel his heart shaking in his chest. "I'm just, um. More flexible than I thought I was."

Chris squinted at him. "Can you suck your own dick?" he asked.

"What? Fuck off!"

"Can I watch? Because, seriously, Joe, that's pretty hot. I've seen video."

"Please fuck off," Joey said.

"Do you want to suck mine?"

"Shut *up*," Joey groaned.

"Because you can, if you want. I'm open."

Joey grabbed a pillow and held it over his face. He'd heard somewhere that you couldn't suffocate yourself, but those people hadn't had Chris around, Joey bet. Chris patted Joey's shoulder, and Joey felt the bed move, felt Chris' knee against his side.

"No, seriously," Chris said from somewhere near Joey's ear. "You are."

Joey shrugged, and breathed into the pillow. He was probably breathing in all sorts of hotel germs, but it just seemed better to be under the pillow at the moment. "Maybe," he said. "Sort of."

"Well, telephone when you find out," Chris mumbled.

Joey lifted the corner of the pillow case. Chris blinked slowly at him, his eyes half-mast. He was falling asleep. Joey thought maybe he should be pissed at Chris' obvious lack of concern about his sexual identity crisis, but it actually made him feel better. I'm gay, Joey thought, and Chris takes a nap.

"Hey, Joey," Chris said. His eyes were completely closed, and his face was relaxed like he was already unconscious.

"Hmm," he said.

"I meant it," Chris mumbled. "If you want."

Joey rolled his eyes. "Sure, Chris. Sometime," he said.

"Why can't I just come by, man?" Chris asks. He's totally bullshitting, Joey knows, because his voice gets high and innocent sounding. Chris never sounds innocent when he's really innocent.

"Hey," Joey says. "I'm not the one crying out for psychological help, man." He waves his hand at Chris and his whole naked self. Chris grins at him and bounces lightly, experimentally, on the balls of his feet. Joey narrows his eyes. Chris bounces again, a little harder this time. He's a three year old, just trying to see how much he can get away with. Fortunately, this time Joey knows an actual three year old, and he uses the same tactic on Chris that he would use on her: he walks to the edge of the trampoline and sits down, hanging his feet over the edge.

"C'mere," he says, and pats the fabric next to him, but he doesn't look around.

Chris bounces again, once, twice, three times, and then he comes and sits down, close enough so that Joey can feel the heat come off his arm, his thigh. He's still naked, of course he's still naked, but it's different when he and Little Chris aren't staring him in the face. Joey tips his shoulder to Chris' and then leans back.

"So, what's the deal, yo?" he asks.

"I just thought you could use some livening up, man. That's all."

"That's all," Joey says.

Chris nods.

"Justin's out with some girl and you got tired of Playstation," Joey says.

"Ahh, Joey," Chris says, tipping his head to Joey's shoulder. "You know me too well."

"No lie, man," Joey says, and hooks his arm around Chris' shoulder. "So, what do you want to do?"

Chris smiles at him.

"What *else* do you want to do?" Joey says.

"What else do you want to do?" JC asked, twisting his hands in his lap. He was nervous. Nervous. Joey shook his head.

"Nothin'," he said. "There's nothing to do. He's going."

JC nodded. "No, I know." He nodded again, but his hands were practically in knots.

"Dude, what's your damage?" Justin asked. "He's not gonna blow up like in the space shuttle or something," he added, and then had the nerve to look pissed off when Joey whacked him upside the head. "What the fuck!"

"C, seriously," Chris said. "It'll be fine."

"No, I know," JC repeated. "It's just. What are we gonna do for six months?"

Chris rubbed JC's back. "You could make a solo album," he said.

"Hey!" Justin said. "I *asked* you guys!"

"We'll do fun stuff," Joey said. "We'll go to a tropical island. We'll jet ski."

"Yeah," Justin said, catching on. "We'll go hang gliding. We'll, um, rent elephants."

"We'll rent elephants?" JC asked.

"Oh, sure," Chris said. "And we'll go to Europe and really see it, and we'll visit the rain forest and we'll, um. We'll clean your closet."

"We will *not*," Justin said.

"We will, too," Chris said. "The point is, C, we'll be so busy that you won't even notice Lance is gone. He'll be back and be all 'how come y'all didn't miss me?'" Chris' Lance voice was absurdly low and stupid sounding. Joey thought it was fucking adorable, maybe even more adorable that the smile JC gave hearing it.

Joey'd been thinking a lot of things were adorable lately. Things that involved Chris. Things that reminded him of Chris, like teenage girls, and the color black, and Chris' picture on a box of fruit snacks in the grocery store. Lately, in fact, he'd been seeing Chris' face everywhere -- on cards in the Walmart, on boxes of Chips Ahoy for a contest (which had been over months ago and had really made Joey reconsider his snack food purchases), on a poster in the window of the record store in the mall -- he felt sorry for the number of people who really didn't like *nsync because, man, they were everywhere.

He felt even more sorry for himself, though, because he was in *nsync and still couldn't have the one he had a crush on. That was pretty much the definition of pathetic, right there, Joey thought.

"I had thoughts," Chris says, and it doesn't matter that he doesn't mean anything by it, it still sounds sexy. Most of the stuff Chris says and does these days is sexy, even when he's sitting on the edge of Joey's trampoline with his shoulders hunched and his pot belly sticking out. It's a sign of how far gone he is, Joey knows, and yet he can't do anything about it.

"Uh huh," Joey says. "Like?"

Chris shrugs. "Like naked trampolining, but you pretty much killed that idea. When did you become such a wet blanket, man?"

"When did you decide that nakedness was the cure for what ails me?" Joey asks back. The truth is, he is boring. He's always been boring, he thinks, it's just taken Chris this long to notice it. Joey sighs.

"Quit your whinin'," Chris says. Joey blinks. "It's not like you lost an arm. You just lost your ... what? You fun appendage."

"Uh huh," Joey says. "So you decided to show me yours?"

Chris grins and bumps Joey's shoulder with his own. "Mi casa es su casa," he says.

"Yeah, thanks." Joey pats Chris' knee. His hands doesn't shake, doesn't seem to react at all to touching Chris' knee. That's good, a positive sign. Chris tips onto his back and stretches out, folding his hands under his head, his casa on display for all the world to see. Joey looks away. His face feels hot.

"So," Chris says to the night stars. "You know I want to fuck you, right?"

"You know I want to," Chris will say when Joey asks him if he's sure, if this is real, if it's not some part of an elaborate joke. Chris will laugh at first -- Chris laughs at everything -- but then he will smile and slide his arms around Joey's neck and kiss him, transplanting his laughter to Joey's mouth like it's air.

Chris, Joey will think, and it will be a complete thought in and of itself.

They will be inside after almost an hour of kissing on the trampoline, Chris' smell and feel and taste becoming Joey's. Chris will protest and Joey will insist, not willing to do more than touch where his neighbors could conceivably see and take telephoto shots. Strangely, he will not care that kissing is just as bad, publicity-wise, as Chris' nudity or actual sex. There's something so glorious about kissing Chris in the night air that Joey will risk anything for it, just for this moment.

But they will come inside and walk down Joey's long white hallway and fall onto his bed, and kiss again.

And this time Joey will be naked, too.

"Um," Joey says. There's no right answer for this. If he says yes, he's admitting something so secret he's not even sure it is a secret anymore, more like something he's made of, like flesh and bones.

If he says no, he's saying no. No. To Chris.

There's no answer.

Chris laughs. "Joey, simple question."

"I guess I know now," Joey mumbles.

"And you say?"

Joey blinks. "Chris," he says. "I. This is pretty, um. Sudden."

Chris rolls his eyes. "Please. You think I do this for everyone? You think I show up on Lance's back lawn naked?"

"Maybe?" Joey says, but he knows better. He knows Chris. "So. Not sudden."

"Not exactly," Chris says. He's up on his knees, one hand on Joey's thigh. He's warm: the temperature of the air around them shot up ten degrees when he moved. Joey's paralyzed, every muscle locked down, waiting for Chris to turn the key.

"So," Chris whispers, his nose nuzzling against Joey's ear. It makes something in his spine tingle, his hands, his whole body. Chris' breath shivers him to his bones. "You want your life to get interesting?"

Joey closes his eyes. "How interesting?" he says. He's barely breathing.

Chris' chuckle is low and sweet. "Why, Joey," he whispers. "I thought you'd never ask."

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