It only takes Lance, maybe, twenty-five years to figure out that he's never going to love anyone ever. No, wait, that no one's ever going to love him.
His momma would say that he's feeling sorry for himself. She's probably right, but sitting in his house at Malibu watching the waves crash on his own private beach, it doesn't matter that his momma's right and he's a sorry sack of shit for feeling this way because Ricky finally left him.
The sad thing, Chris tells him, is that Ricky was a prick. "Ricky's a prick!" Chris shouts at him the fifth time he finds something Ricky's left behind and calls Chris because no one else is answering their phones. "Prick, prick, prick!"
"Dude, I know, but that doesn't mean that, you know -"
"Don't fucking say that you love him," Chris interrupts, "because if I fuckin' hear you say you love fuckin' Ricky the Prick, I will kill you and then myself, yes?"
Lance sighs. He wasn't going to say he loved Ricky, who had back hair, for fuck's sake. He was going to say that he missed him. "Fine," he says. "It's just. Lonely."
"You're an idiot," Chris says, and hangs up.
Chris is probably right.
Lance is an idiot, he's sure of it, after the fifth beer, when he's sort of half- crying and half-laughing with the palm of his hand pressed into his eye socket and Joey shows up.
"Oh, hey," he says blearily, and Joey says "oh, hey," in a totally different way and hugs him for what seems like hours. It's not long enough as far as Lance is concerned.
Later, Joey makes burgers.
When Lance wakes up in the morning things still suck and Ricky's fucking toothbrush is still in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, but Joey's making omelets for Chris and JC in the kitchen and singing Billy Joel songs. Billy Joel is like a thing with Joey. Lance doesn't really get it according to Joey, although he likes Billy Joel well enough. It has something to do with being from New York.
"She steals like a thief, but she's always a woman to me," Joey sings to him, swinging him around the island and into a chair at the table.
"WHOOOAAAA, SHE TAKES CARE OF HERSELF!" Chris wails in his ear, hooking an arm around his neck. He's so close that Lance can see bits of egg in his teeth, which is disgusting, so Lance moves over a seat and sits next to JC.
"They already sang 'Only the Good Die Young,'" JC whispers, patting his head. Lance closes his eyes with gratitude.
"Look," Lance says after everyone's done eating and is sitting out by the pool. "I'm just meant to be single or something."
They all laugh, but it's not funny. It's true. He's doomed to always pick the biggest jerks and end up ultimately old and alone with his fifty cats, even though he's allergic to cats.
"Remember when he said that after Frankie?" Chris says.
"Oh, god. Frankie," Joey says, falling back into his chair. He hated Frankie, who was tall and Italian and not at all like Joey.
"No, after Frankie he was giving up on men," JC points out.
"Oh, that's right," Chris says. "How's that working out?"
"Fuck off." Lance flips him the bird, smiling sweetly. Chris gasps with outrage and shock and says he's calling Lance's momma. "She'll just ask if you taught me," Lance says, closing his eyes and tipping his face up into the sun. He feels slightly better, although he won't admit it.
Justin shows up right before lunch, tearing into the backyard like he's running from a dog. "Sorry!" he gasps. "Sorry, sorry, sorry."
"Um," Lance says. "It's okay?"
"What's wrong?" Justin asks. "Chris said I had to come right away, that it was an emergency."
"Chris?" Lance says.
Justin's a little pissed, since he was with Cameron, who is his new girlfriend whether he admits it or not, but he settles down soon enough, because he, like everybody else, it turns out, hated Ricky.
"He was a prick," Justin says, while Chris makes see-I-told-you-so gestures behind his head.
"Why doesn't anyone tell me these things while I'm dating them?" Lance asks.
"Hello?" Chris says.
"Besides Chris," Lance amends, because Chris tells him every time.
"You're just so ... in love," JC says. "We don't want to be mean."
Joey nods and Justin bites his fingernails. Justin doesn't care about being mean, Lance knows. He just doesn't want anyone to tell him that the girls he sees are going to dump his ass, so he doesn't do it to anyone else. Lance and Justin have a special silent arrangement about that.
"You're so goo-goo ga-ga," Joey says.
"No, that's you about Brianna," Chris says. "But still, it's sort of similar. It's, like, unrational -"
"Irrational," Lance says.
"Whatever." Chris waves off the correction. "The point is, you're all head over heels -"
"No time to think," JC sings. Justin joins in on the next line. "It's like the whole world's out of sync." And then they both crack up laughing. Lance thinks that it's a good thing J and C found each other on Mickey Mouse Club, because otherwise they would have ended up crazy people wandering the streets mumbling to themselves. Poor crazy people.
Chris glares at them. "You're, like, every love cliche, ever."
Joey takes his hand. "If you love something, set it free," he says, his eyes full of mock sincerity.
"Free, free. Set him free," JC sings.
"Love means never having to say you're sorry," Justin says.
"All you need is love," Joey says. He squeezes Lance's hand to his chest.
"Love is a many spendoured thing," Justin says.
Joey thinks for a minute. "Um. Size doesn't matter," he says. Justin kicks him.
"That's not a cliche, dork. That's, like, a proven fact!"
Joey gets up and grabs Justin and manhandles him into the pool. "Really," Chris says, sotto voce. JC has his eyes closed and is still humming Sting. He's not listening. "Don't you ever fall in love gradually? Like, over time?"
Lance shrugs. "No," he says. "I mean, I think when you're in love you'll know, like BAM. At first sight. Like a lightning bolt."
"Really," Chris says. "You really think it happens like that?"
"Sure," Lance says. "My momma said that her and my dad knew immediately. They just saw each other and knew."
"And you believe them." Chris is ticked off about something, but Lance doesn't know what. It's not like Chris cares how Lance's parents fell in love. "How's that theory working out for you so far?" he asks.
Lance sighs and reclines back in his deck chair. "It's not," he admits. "But maybe that's just because I haven't met the right person."
"Entirely possible," Chris says. He gets up. "I'm getting a drink. You want something?"
"Water with lemon," Lance says. Chris salutes.
Lance leans back and closes his eyes. Chris has been in love a few times. Well, one time and then that half time when he was in love with Justin that Justin still doesn't know about because Justin is clueless when it comes to love. Chris had to actually tell him that Britney liked him. The point is, for Lance, that Chris has actually had the experience of being in love, whereas Lance has just really wanted to fuck the same person repeatedly and always gets dumped before he's done wanting to fuck them. Like Ricky, for example, who Lance knew was not going to work out long term because he was snotty and selfish and yeah, sort of a prick. But just thinking about Ricky and how he looked when he first woke up in the morning, his dark hair falling over his brown eyes, his slanted while smile, his thick shoulder. Lance sighs, miserable again.
JC says something Lance, lost in his reverie, doesn't quite catch.
"He likes you," JC says.
JC sits up and faces Lance. "Chris likes you," he says.
"Shut up, Jayce," Lance says. "How do you know?"
JC shrugs. "I didn't, until just now. I heard it."
"Did he say it or something? Because I totally missed it."
"Uh huh," JC says. "I think you're supposed to. I mean, I don't think he's trying to tell you."
"What the heck does that mean?"
"Um," JC says. "Okay, remember when he was in love with Justin?"
"God, yeah," Lance says. That had been a pretty miserable time for everyone except for Justin, because Chris would just hang around all day, listening to Justin talk about Britney and how much in love they were and then come to someone else's room feeling miserable and fat and lonely and Chris was impossible to cheer up when he felt like that.
"And remember he wouldn't tell him?"
"Because it would break up the band or something," Lance says. It was the stupidest reason ever - the band would never break up over something like that - but Chris hadn't been willing to listen to reason and wouldn't tell. Lance thinks, and thought then, that it hadn't been the band Chris was worried about breaking.
JC nods. "I think that's what he's doing with you."
"Whatever, C," Lance says, throwing his arm over his eyes. He doesn't feel like dealing with any of the guys jokes at the moment. He feels tired and maybe like he might cry. He hates Ricky, a lot.
"Hey," JC says, even more quietly than he was before. Lance peeks out from under his arm. "Really," JC says.
"I'm gonna go lie down," Lance says. "I've been out in the sun too long."
"Oh. Um, okay." JC sort of half stands up, but Lance waves him back down.
He goes inside. Chris is in the kitchen filling ice trays.
"Hey," he says. "You feeling okay?"
"I'm gonna lie down," he tells Chris.
"You want a cool towel or something?" Chris asks. Lance pauses and looks at him, but Chris doesn't look any different than he ever has. He doesn't seem like he's all in love or anything.
"No, I'm cool," Lance says. He goes upstairs and lies down and after a while he falls asleep. The noise of Justin and Joey shouting as they splash in his pool is sort of like a lullaby.
When he wakes up, it's dark out and Joey and Chris are asleep at the foot of his bed. Joey's snoring a little.
He gets up and pees and then goes downstairs where JC and Justin are playing Playstation. "You feel better?" JC asks him.
Lance shrugs and sits on the couch behind them. "I guess," he says. At a break in the game, Justin pats his foot reassuringly. "Why are they in my bed?" he asks eventually, but JC and Justin don't know or are too busy shooting things to say.
He falls asleep on the couch, listening to JC and Justin curse affectionately at each other - JC has picked up the unfortunate habit of calling everyone a cunt, which is sort of charming when JC says it, but is certainly not going to get him any more chicks - and feeling their backs shifting against the couch cushions. After a while, he hears them discussing him.
"It's not like he can't sleep there," Justin says, patting his leg affectionately. "Plus, Chris and Joey took over his bed."
"Yeah, but look at him," JC says. Lance has always thought that JC is secretly a mom. He can almost feel JC's fingers in his hair. "That's not comfortable, J."
"Fine. Lance!" Justin shouts.
Lance groans. "Jesus," he says. Justin ignores him and hauls him up by his arm. They take him to bed. Lance doesn't see what they do to get Joey and Chris out of the way - it's still dark in his room - but he lies down in an empty spot on the bed and falls asleep yet again, the heat of Joey's back against his.
When he wakes up, Joey is gone and it's just him and Chris in the bed. Chris is snuffling a little, like the cocker spaniel Lance used to have when he was a kid. Chris looks puffy and swollen and he's drooling a little on one of Lance's pillows. He's cute, Lance thinks, and then remembers that Chris supposedly likes him and has to get out of bed before things get all weird.
Joey's making breakfast again, omelets this time, and singing "Daniel" by Elton John. "Oh, it looks like Daniel," he sings to Lance, handing him a glass of juice.
"I don't know why," JC tells him, but Lance knows that it's because Joey has to go back home today, back to his real family, and he feels a little bad about leaving Lance to lick his wounds alone. He pats Joey's arm when Joey brings his breakfast over, because it's cool. Lance gets it.
Joey leaves after breakfast, putting the dishes in the dishwasher and squeezing Lance tight to his chest, before getting into his SUV and driving away.
"You're cool, right?" Justin says about it, and that's how Lance knows he has to leave too. He and JC take off after lunch. When JC hugs him, he pats him on the shoulder like he's tapping out Morse code. Lance shakes his head. JC would be such a tool if he weren't such a fucking doll.
"So then there were two," Chris says.
"Yep," Lance says. Chris wanders off to get a beer and by the time Lance follows him, he's already back by the pool, his feet dangling in the water. Lance sits down next to him. "JC says you like me," he says before he can stop himself.
Chris slides into the pool. "Huh," he says, paddling around.
"So," Lance says. "Do you?"
"What if I did?" Chris ducks underwater and surfaces, pushing his hair back out of his face.
"Did," Lance says carefully. "Or do?"
Chris shrugs. He's still wearing his t-shirt and shorts and they float around his body like tissue. "Whatever," he says.
Lance laughs. It's such a Chris thing to say. "When were you going to tell me?"
Chris shrugs again. "Never," he says. He scoops pool water up in his mouth and spits it at Lance's knees.
"So, how were you expecting it to ... you know. Happen?"
"I wasn't," Chris says. "I'm not your type."
"What's my type?" Lance asks.
"Asshole pretty boys who don't give a shit about you," Chris says, which is a pretty good assessment, actually, of Lance's type, if you consider Ricky or Frankie or Bobby, which Lance most definitely does not.
"Well, you're an asshole," Lance says, kicking a wave at him.
"And I'm pretty," Chris says, splashing him back. "I'm so pretty, you don't know what to do with me."
"Okay, true," Lance says. Chris grabs on to his ankle and floats in toward Lance when Lance brings his leg down. He puts his hands on Lance's kneecaps. "I have no idea what to do with you."
Chris smiles, and it's the same smile he's always had, white and wicked, and it has the echo of a hundred other smiles he's given Lance over the years, and it's gorgeous.
"You look like a seal," he tells Chris.
"I am the walrus," Chris answers. He makes a weird buck-toothed face that Lance thinks is supposed to be his walrus face.
"I don't fall in love like this," Lance blurts, confused by Chris' hands on his knees and the charm of his ugly walrus face.
"No," Chris says. "You do it all at once."
Lance nods. "Yeah."
"How's that been working out for you?" Chris asks. He stares at his hands and Lance's knees.
"I don't know," Lance says. "I think I'm just. I dunno. Meant to be single or something."
"Yeah, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Chris says. He moves his hands up to Lance's thighs.
Lance nods. "I've been thinkin' about trying something new."
"Well," Chris says. "It's a chick's perogative to change her mind."
Lance tries to kick him, but Chris lunges out of the water propelled by Lance's leg, his hands planted on the tile on either side of Lance's thighs, his mouth cool and wet and tasting slightly of chlorine and Lance thinks, in the split second before Chris is on top of him, his arms already going up to circle Chris' neck