|On the Bus
They called it "cuddlebugging" because that's what Lynn Harless had called it back in the early days when Justin and Lance had both been too young to tour without their mothers along. It was the term for when you were too young, or too sick, or too exhausted, or too alone for a single hug to suffice. When you needed someone to be close to, just for awhile, just until you felt better.
Lance remembered a couple of times when he had come onto the bus or into Justin's hotel room and seen him with his head in his mother's lap. "He's cuddlebugging," she would say, patting his hair. Eventually, the term, and the practice, had become a part of who they were on the road, when there was only them and no one else. It happened most often on rainy days, like this one, when the wind howled outside the bus, and they sat in sweatpants smelling of each other's sweat and food and cologne. When all anybody with any sense wanted to do was stay in and huddle under a blanket--that's when it seemed most necessary to be close.
Eventually, he and Justin had outgrown having their mothers on the tour, and at first Lance had thought that would be the end of cuddlebugging, because, really, what guys did that if they were older and mature?
Chris did, as it turned out.
Lance came out of the hospital after his collapse, and spent two weeks in Mississippi with his family, and had just gotten back in the tour. He was fine, he kept telling everybody, although he was tired and spent most afternoons on the bus in his bunk. His fourth day back, Chris had come and sat down on the edge of the bunk.
"What's up, buttercup?" Chris chucked him under the chin.
Lance smiled. "Hey, Chris."
"How you doin?"
"Yeah?" Chris leaned over him, looking into his face. Lance felt himself blush under the scrutiny. He wasn't used to so much attention, not from Chris, not from the rest of the band. Usually, he was just there, good old Lance, but since he'd been sick, he felt them watching him closely. Even Chris. Especially Chris. "You look a little better, he said. "You're sleeping okay and all?"
"Mmhmm. You miss your family, though."
Lance looked up at him. "Am I that obvious?"
"The Great Kirkpatrick knows all and sees all, baby. I just figured."
"Yeah. It's like I'm starting the tour all over again, and I have to get used to missing them all over again, too. I traded normal sickness for homesickness."
"That sucks," Chris said. That was one of the things Lance liked about Chris. Some people called him rude. Lance thought his mom might have called Chris "frank" and meant it as a compliment.
"I have a cure for that, I think."
"Chris, I can't drink, you know that. I'm still on medica--"
"Don't get your undies all in a bunch, there, Lance. It's not drinking."
"Sheesh. Boy acts like I'm an alcoholic."
"You are an alcoholic."
Chris poked him in the ribs. "You want my help or not?"
"Alright," Chris said, obviously taking the sigh as an affirmative answer. "Roll over."
"Don't do it, Lance," Joey said, coming by the bunk. "I rolled over for Chris once, and it changed my voice."
"You fuckhead," Chris said, kicking at Joey as he passed. "I'm trying to help the kid. Roll over, I said."
Smiling, Lance rolled over onto his stomach, folding his arms under his head. There was movement on the edge of the bed, and then he felt Chris' hand on his back. It moved up and down over his t-shirt, warm, solid, friendly. It wasn't exactly a massage: Chris didn't try to knead him, or anything. It was more like petting, or stroking, the way you would rub down a horse that had been ridden hard. Chris' hand moved from the nape of his neck down over his shoulder, all the way to the top of his sweatpants and back up again, over and over. It felt like heaven.
Lance heard Joey on his way back, and expected Chris to stop, but he didn't.
"Whatcha doin'?" Joey murmured, maybe thinking Lance was asleep.
"I'm cuddlebugging him," Chris said. His voice was near Lance's ear, and Lance realized that the movement he had felt was Chris lying along the edge of the bed near him.
"Sweetheart," Joey said, and Chris' hand did stop, just long enough for Lance to hear the impact of it with some piece of Joey's body. "Hey! I meant him, you ass!"
"Get the fuck out, Joe," Chris said, but he didn't sound mad.
Lance wasn't sure how long they stayed like that, Chris' hand roaming over his back, his breath warm on his shoulder, but it must have been more than an hour. He did know that at some point he realized that this wasn't just to make him feel better, that this was Chris' way of telling Lance that Chris had missed him, and was glad he was back.
He woke up some time later, to the faint sound of the t.v. and the dim light of the late autumn afternoon. It was maybe before dinner, or just afterwards. Out in the lounge, Joey chuckled. Lance was still on his stomach, arms curled around his pillow, and Chris was still there, his arm over Lance's back and his face against his shoulder. One of Chris' legs was thrown over his.
Lance sighed. He was still a little tired, but it didn't seem to matter so much, not with Chris here.
"Hey," Chris whispered. "You awake?"
"You want a glass of water or something?"
"Um, yeah, sure."
Chris squeezed him, briefly, pressing his whole body along Lance's, a whole body hug, then got up. Lance rolled over onto his back. He was still tired, a little, but he felt better. Chris would come back with a glass a water that was too warm, without ice, and he would probably spill some of it, and, then, maybe, Chris would sit back on the bunk and put his hand on Lance's shoulder again. Maybe.