|On the Bus
"DAMMIT! Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!" Lance threw his shoes across the back of the bus.
Joey looked up from his Gameboy. "Lance?"
Lance spun around. He was flushed and scowling, furious in a way Joey had rarely seen before. A way that, despite its rarity, Joey was intimately familiar with.
"I was ASLEEP, Joey! Asleep!"
Joey sighed, sitting up on his bunk. "Why don't you lie down back here," he said. Lance was pacing back and forth, running his hands through his hair. He looked like Albert Einstein in that poster, Joey thought, if Albert Einstein had been really pissed at being woken up from his nap.
"He's *insane*!" Lance said.
"I know." He grabbed Lance by the shoulder and forced him down onto the bunk. "Relax. Take a nap."
"If he comes after me again I will *kill* him, Joey."
"Shh." Joey reached out and patted Lance's arm. "He won't."
Lance scowled at Joey, but beneath his furious exterior, Joey could see Lance's normal calm demeanor returning. He gave Lance another pat and stood up. He went through the thin connecting door, and took a deep breath.
"Joey!" Chris, who had been perched on the back of the couch, jumped up. "Joey's here!"
"Thank god," Justin muttered.
"I heard that!"
"What did you do to Lance, Kirkpatrick?"
"He tickled his nose with a shoelace until he woke up, and then squirted him with water from the sink," JC said.
Joey crossed his arms over his chest.
"Cold water," Justin said.
"I didn't know he'd get so pissed, Joey, really."
"You thought he'd be happy about getting squirted with cold water from the sink?" Joey took two steps forward. If Chris were taller or Joey were shorter, they would have been nose to nose. As it were, they were nose to chest.
"Look, it's not my fault that Justin left root beer in the--"
"Don't be blamin' me for that."
"You know what this calls for, don't you, Kirkpatrick?"
"Joey . . . " Chris tried to back up, but there was no place to go. He ended up against the counter.
"You're dead, Chris," JC said.
"Windmill!" Joey grabbed Chris around the waist, and flipped him upside down, holding him behind the knees.
"Fuck!" Chris yelped. He grabbed onto Joey's leg, locking his arms around one thigh. "Joey, fuck! I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I'll apologize! LANCE, I'm sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry!"
Lance's response drifted through the door.
"And you won't do it again, right?" Joey said, shaking him.
Joey lowered Chris to the floor of the bus, and sprawled on the couch. Chris lay there for a second, red faced and gasping. "I fuckin' hate windmills, Joey."
Joey shrugged. "Quit acting like a twelve year old, and I'll quit windmilling you."
"It's my natural exuberance," Chris said. Joey poked him with a stocking foot.
"It's your annoying personality. Sometimes you just don't think."
Chris sighed. He folded his hands behind his head, and regarded Joey. "He's pissed."
"He'll get over it."
"I will not," Lance said, standing in the doorway.
"Lance, baby!" Chris rolled over onto his stomach, and grabbed Lance by the ankle. "Forgive me."
"Get off me," Lance said. He shook his foot. Chris clung tighter. "Chris."
"Please, please pluh--"
Joey reached down and hauled Chris off the floor and onto his lap. "Leave Lance alone, before we tie you to the back bumper."
Chris squirmed. "You wouldn't do that. You all love me."
"No, we don't," Justin said.
"JC loves me," Chris said. JC just looked up from his book for a second.
"Don't even ask me right now," Lance said.
Chris rolled his eyes. "What about you, Joe?" he asked, tipping his head back so that it rested on Joey's shoulder. Joey thought they might look like some sicko version of Santa Clause, but Chris wasn't that heavy, and at least he was holding fairly still.
"Can't stand you," he said.
"Figures. No one recognizes my genius."
"Maybe that's because you hide it under your personality," Justin said.
Chris flipped him off. "Can you hear this, or should I turn it up?"
Justin looked over at him for a second. "What the heck are you talking about?" he asked.
Chris exchanged glances with Joey. "You don't know that line?" Chris asked.
"It's a line?"
"Shoot me." Chris said. Joey groaned. He rubbed a hand to his forehead. He was too damn old for this.
"From what?" Lance asked.
"No, seriously, Joe. Kill me now. I have obviously outlived my usefulness. My expiration date was a week ago--"
"Try a decade," Justin said. Chris ignored him.
"--I probably even smell bad. Do I smell bad, Joey, because something is rotten in the state of Kirkpatrick, I--"
"Probably his brain," Lance said. Again, ignored.
"--can tell you that, my friend, when kids these days don't even recognize lines from one of the best teen angst movies ever made, say it for me Joey. Say it."
"The Breakfast Club," Joey said.
"The Breakfast Club? Wasn't that the one with that red haired girl in it?" Justin asked.
"She was hot."
"They *all* had her in it," JC said.
"Never mind." Chris flung his arms around Joey's neck, and shuddered in what Joey took to be theatrical sobs. He patted Chris' back comfortingly.
"There, there," he said. "They know not what they do."
"We know," Justin said. Chris pretended to sob harder. He was twisted in Joey's lap and was starting to put pressure on places that did not need pressure put on them, so Joey hooked his arm under Chris' knees and pulled him around so that his legs were across Joey's. He rubbed Chris' shoulder.
"They're snot-nosed little punks, Chris," he said.
"I'm older than you," JC said.
"Guilt by association." Chris raised his head and smiled at Joey, a smile brilliant and shiny with joy. He liked nothing better, Joey knew, than to be the center of attention. He was more like Justin than he wanted to admit, in that way. The difference, of course, was that Justin would pout and bully his way into the center of the crowd, and Chris would simply annoy people until they looked his way.
That's how Joey knew what had happened out here. Lance, who Chris had some strange affinity with, had fallen asleep. Justin and JC had probably been curled up on the couch, Justin with the Gameboy that was lying on the table now, and JC with his book. Things had probably been quiet, peaceful. Boring. And so Chris, who got bored easier than anyone Joey ever knew before, and who hated being bored more than anyone Joey had ever met, had sprung into action, and pissed everyone off, and gotten not only Lance's undivided annoyance, and JC's irritation, but also Justin's attention, and Joey's embrace. And Joey understood that in some sick twisted corner of Chris' mind, this was heaven.
He tipped his head so that his mouth was by Chris' ear. "You're amazing," he murmured not necessarily meaning it as a compliment.
"Yep." Chris nodded. He was looking around at the other guys, watching as they settled back into their afternoon siesta, waiting for the next opportunity. His arms were still around Joey's neck, and suddenly he turned, pressing his cheek against Joey's chest. "Now let me go."
Joey squeezed. "Not a chance, Kirkpatrick," he said.