the Whole No. 14: The Clothes I Wear
The Clothes I Wear
Joey remembered the first time he saw JC, back when they were still kids. It had been on the Universal lot, and JC had been new in the second year of the cast.
"That's Josh," one of Joey's friends, Sarah, said. "But the producers say he has to go by JC. He's nice."
"He looks like a goof," Joey said, because JC did. He had on acid washed jeans and a sweater vest and his hair flopped over his forehead. He smiled and waved at Sarah and came over. When she introduced them, JC's handshake was firm and narrow.
"I'm, um, JC," he said. "Are you on the show?"
"He's gonna be," Sarah said. She was a pretty good friend. Joey knew he wasn't ever gonna be on the show. He didn't have the look they wanted, the young fresh look like JC in his sweater vest. Joey looked like a Guido from New York, which was what he was, so it was okay. "If they ever come to their senses."
"Nah," he said. "I'm going to be a singer."
JC smiled at him, not a polite smile, but a wide open grin showing all of his teeth. His hand squeezed Joey's. "Cool!" he said. "Cool, man! So'm I! We should sing together!"
"Sure, um. Okay," Joey said, pulling his hand back. He'd meant to let it blow over, because he didn't make promises like that with people he hardly knew. They could be dumb or bossy or just plain not good singers. It wasn't a good idea. JC didn't let it go, though, kept coming over during rehearsal breaks, and talking about how he had been in choir and in shows back in Balmer (which, it turned out, was actually Baltimore), and before Joey and Sarah could leave for the day, JC had managed to get Joey's last name and phone number and address.
"I'll be in touch," JC said, waving. Joey hadn't doubted it.
JC called him every day for a week, then a month, then six months, until his mother knew JC's voice on the phone and the names of his parents. It got so that it wasn't a real day unless he'd heard JC's eager voice on the phone, talking about how the show had gone or what songs he'd been working on, singing fragments of lyrics over the tinny phone speakers.
At first, Joey'd been slightly annoyed, but JC was so good natured, so *nice*, and he just ignored hints to leave Joey alone. It was one of the things Joey would eventually come to admire about JC -- his tenacity. He wouldn't give up, ever.
JC had come back from Los Angeles with something wrong with him. Joey didn't notice right away because JC looked the same as he had when Joey met him, the same short haircut brushed down over his forehead, the same faded jeans, the same button down shirts and sweater vests. He still smiled the same way, still laughed the same laugh, still leaned up against Joey's shoulder and grinned. But there was still something wrong.
"Hey," he said to JC one afternoon while they were sitting in Joey's backyard on the picnic table. JC was staying for dinner. He stayed for dinner a lot those days, although Joey knew that JC and his parents got along fine. "You okay?"
JC'd blinked a couple of times, staring at his knees. He had on a button down shirt and long khaki shorts and running shoes. Joey remembered that very clearly because he'd seen the tear splat on JC's thigh right above his knee and looked up to see if it was raining.
"JC?" he'd asked, suddenly scared.
"I'm okay," JC said. He'd smiled, wiping his eyes on his sleeves. "I'm okay, Joey."
Joey had put his hand on JC's back, right between his shoulder blades. His shirt was hot from the sun or from JC's skin beneath it.
"It was hard," JC said. "In L.A. It was just." He took a deep breath, shuddering under Joey's hand. "It was very hard."
"But you're okay now?" Joey asked. He'd known the answer before JC even said it, and he knew the answer was a lie.
"I'm fine," JC had said.
For a long time after that, JC had looked the same. Even when he wore the stuff Lou made them wear, the track suits and the basketball jerseys and the matching ugly shirts, JC still looked the same. Friendly. Goofy.
Joey wasn't sure when exactly JC had stopped looking that way. It might have happened gradually, the way JC's hair grew out, but JC stopped wearing real shoes except for shows and appearances and just shuffled around in what Justin called his Jesus sandals. His clothes changed too, became looser, more casual, softer to the touch. He still tipped his head to the side, and laughed too late and too loud at jokes, and he still came and sat quietly next to you when he thought you might want to say something, though. JC changed outside, moving from sweater vests to feathers and silk pants, but inside, Joey thought, JC had changed back to the way he used to be. Back to himself.
"Hey," he said, when JC opened the door. He was wearing his favorite t-shirt of the week -- a snug yellow one with a red Pegasus on the front -- and loose jeans that might have belonged to one of the other guys. It was hard, sometimes, to tell whose clothes were whose even with the wardrobe ladies, so Joey would sometimes pull a shirt out of his drawer that didn't fit, or drag pants over his hips and not be able to button them up. For instance, the jeans JC had on right now were so big they gaped in the front underneath his belt, hanging down, showing his underwear. Tighty whiteys. JC still wore tighty whiteys. They were probably Joey's jeans.
JC came and sat next to him, close. He was worried. About Justin. After Joey and Justin had broken up, JC had come to sit with him for hours in just this way, pressed close against Joey's side, not saying much. It was JC's way of trying to help. Joey wondered if JC went and sat next to Justin these days and hoped he did.
He pulled his knees up and tilted against Joey's arm.
"Are you happy?" he asked.
Joey looked at him. "JC, man," he said, but JC shushed him.
"I said, are you happy?" he asked, and Joey knew he could stall all he wanted, pretend he didn't know that JC was asking about Lance, and JC would just keep asking until he couldn't help but answer.
"Yes," he said, beneath JC's fingers.
JC grinned. "Okay," he said. "Okay, then. Good!" He rubbed his cheek against Joey's shoulder, then smiled at him again. "Yes. Okay."
Joey laughed, because he was happy.