I don't need to be forgiven
Lance came back, eventually. They knew he would, obviously he would, but it still didn't feel entirely certain, not even after Chris had gone over to his house for the Welcome Back barbeque and touched Lance, slapped him on the back and said howdy.
Sitting there with a soggy paper plate on his lap, watching Lance's eyes sparkle in the twilight while he did an impression of the take-off -- "and it was like this, man, like I could hardly breathe!" -- Chris decided that he was leaving. They still had a month before the studio time and he didn't want to be here anymore. It only made sense to go.
"I'm leaving," he told Justin the next morning on the phone. "So I can't golf tomorrow."
"Okay, man," Justin said.
Chris sighed. He'd known Justin wouldn't argue, because Justin was his friend and Justin understood that there were some things you had to do on your own, just to see if you could. Like make records.
"But you'll have your cell, right?" Justin asked.
"Okay then. Man," he said, his voice hesitating on the last word. Chris nodded into the phone.
"Me too," he said.
"Okay." Justin sounded relieved. He was the biggest sap in the world when it came to chicks, but he'd never once told Chris that he loved him. Not once. It was kind of funny. "You need any help packing?"
"Nope," Chris said. "It's still mostly packed from when I got back."
"Cool, man. Call me," Justin said. Then he started talking about getting a golf coach and Chris knew he was going to be able to escape without a hitch.
He went west, because west was the direction of freedom. Actually, first he went north, a lot of north to get to the top of Florida, but then west. He didn't know where he was going, but he had The Eagles in the cd player and California sounded nice as long as he didn't think about all the places in California he'd actually already been. He wanted somewhere that was nowhere, somewhere no one would ever think to look for him. He settled for Texas.
In Baton Rouge he had a CB put into the cab of the RV and he spent hours without any music on, just listening to the hum on long distance conversations, reports of "bears on the northbound side" and "four wheelers fucking up the road at mile marker 127" all issued by bored competent sounding men. They were reassuring, these never-ending public service announcements, interrupted from time to time by mild flirtations with the women on the channel and requests to "take it private." Chris was tempted, sometimes, to flip to the private channels and listen but it seemed like a violation of some sort of code, like reading JC's online chats over his shoulder, so he never did. Eventually, he picked a handle -- KC -- and thought about saying stuff, talking about what he was doing on the road like some of the men did, chatting about what they were hauling or what they were hoping for when they got home, but he only used it to ask what was going on when the traffic backed up.
It was nice.
The road went ever on and on. That was the beautiful part. Chris knew that he could drive himself off one of the overpasses in Louisiana and tomorrow the road would still be full of truckers, their slow voices crackling on the CBs about "a sweet pair in a yellow convertible" and "good eats at the second stop one the westbound side." Most of those guys didn't even know who he was, unless he was on their daughters' walls, standing behind Justin and smiling.
Justin had said to call him, but he called Chris every single night, usually around the time Chris pulled over for dinner.
"Lord, I was born a travellin' man!" he wailed into Chris' ear, every single night, and then burst into laughter. "What's up, Chuck?"
Chris shrugged his flannel shirt off, switching the phone from hand to hand. The RV was air conditioned so well that he forgot it was hot outside. "I'm at a truck stop called -- no shit -- Joe's Eats and Christian Bookshop."
"Ooh," Justin said. "Buy me something."
"What are you doing?" Chris shut the door and clicked on the alarm, but he didn't step toward the restaurant. He'd have to put the phone away first. He already looked strange enough to these guys who had beer bellies and were Proud to be Americans, he didn't need to walk in on a fucking cell phone.
"Nothin', man. Goin' to a club maybe with Trace. Meetin' some hunnies."
"Dude, you're never gonna get married if you keep calling women 'hunnies'."
Justin laughed, a loud donkey laugh. "That's the idea, man." He snorted "marriage" as if he hadn't sat in Chris' living room six months ago and seriously debated princess cut or square cut with Chris' sister. Sometimes, Chris hated Britney for being such a flake and breaking Justin wide open. Sometimes he wanted to send her a thank you note. "So where are you now?"
"Umm." Chris squinted at the sign near the freeway. "Just outside Texas. I'll be in Batona tomorrow, and then Santa Rosa the day after that."
"Cool," Justin said. There was silence for a second while Justin scribbled the names of the towns down. He didn't know why Justin thought it was so important to know where he was since he was always reachable by cell, but Justin got particular about stupid stuff and it didn't hurt anything to tell him. "Okay," Justin said, his voice mangled. Chris could practically see him, the pen cap hanging out of the corner of his mouth, barefoot in his kitchen. "Later," Justin mumbled around the pen.
"Later." Chris turned the phone off and slid it into his pocket. On his way out of the store after the best chicken fried chicken he'd ever eaten, he bought Justin a metal bike license plate with his name on it and a shot glass that said "Louisiana."
"Hey!" Justin said, loud and in Chris' ear.
"Dude," Chris groaned, rolling over in the cheap starched motel sheets. "You know it gets earlier as I go west, right?"
"What are you doing right now?" he asked.
Someone knocked on the door. "Answering the door," Chris said, although he was actually peering out from behind the nastiest drapes in three states trying to see who was knocking. He was pretty sure the Sleep EZ Motel didn't start maid service this early in the morning. He wasn't even sure they had maid service. Whoever it was was still knocking, but not visible from the window.
"Hang on," he told Justin. "And if I scream, hang up and call the fucking cops."
Justin laughed. Chris tossed the phone onto the dresser. He inched toward the door, slid it open, and stuck his eye to the crack.
"Open the door, Chris," Lance said.
Chris opened the door. "Hi," he said. Then he went over to the dresser and picked up the phone and flipped it shut. Justin was in a world of hurt. A universe of hurt, maybe.
"So, hi," Lance said.
"Just passing through?" Chris asked. Lance, who'd been studying his fingernails, looked up.
"Um," he said.
Lance sighed. "Okay. Just. Can I come with?"
Chris blinked at him. "You want to come with?"
"You want to ride around for a week in my RV?"
Lance nodded again.
"You want to listen to my cds and smell my smells and eat where I eat and sleep in motels like this one whenever I feel like it?"
"Sure," Lance said.
"You got your stuff?"
"Yup," Lance said.
Lance smiled. He looked tired, but he smiled.
It took longer to leave than Chris would have liked because Lance had to make arrangements for someone to come and pick up his rental car, and then had to transfer all his stuff to the RV, but it didn't much matter to Chris. That was the beauty of this kind of trip -- it didn't matter where you were or how long it took to get there.
"Justin told me where you were," Lance said once they were on the road.
"No shit," Chris said.
"I hope you don't mind."
"It's cool," Chris said. It was. If it hadn't been, he wouldn't have let Lance come along. He glanced over. He waited for Lance to say something else, to explain why he'd asked Justin where he was, but Lance didn't say anything else, just crossed his ankle across his knee and hummed along with the radio. He thought about asking, prying the truth out of Lance with a crowbar, but pissing Lance off didn't seem like a good way to start the next seven days so he kept his mouth shut.
He glanced over when Lance stopped singing. The navigator's seat was kind of in the middle of nowhere in the front cab, set apart from the dash and the windows and the driver's seat so that people could walk around it easily, but that made it hard to sleep in. Lance had his chin propped in his hand, his elbow on the armrest. His eyes kept slipping closed, fluttering open, slipping again.
"Lance," Chris said. Lance blinked, looked up. His eyes were red. He drove all night, Chris realized suddenly, and felt like an idiot. "You should go to bed," he said. He gestured to the back.
Lance didn't say anything, just stood up, swaying between the seats for a second, his hand closed lightly over Chris' shoulder. He headed back. Chris heard something thump, then slither, and felt the weight of the RV shift as Lance got into bed, then nothing.
He stopped outside La Mariposa for some coffee and a doughnut and only remembered Lance when he stepped outside the convenience store and into the nascent heat.
"Lance," he said, opening the door. It was still cool inside, but just barely. Chris turned on the air. Lance was still asleep, curled on his side, the sheet slanting over his bare shoulder. His clothes were draped neatly over the back of the seat near the window. His face was scrunched into the pillow; he was sleeping hard, the rest of the road weary. His normally perfect hair looked strangled and twisted. Chris touched it gently enough that it wouldn't wake him up.
"Lance," he said. "It's okay."
Lance didn't stir.
Lance woke up around lunchtime, while Chris was humming along to "Runaround Sue" on the oldies station.
"This is my favorite old song," he said, his voice froggy with sleep. He had a sheet wrapped around his shoulders and lines from the wrinkles of the pillowcase on his face. He looked like a kid.
"She'll love you and she'll put you down," Chris sang at him. Lance smiled. "So," he said after the song ended and a radio ad for farm equipment came on. "Feel better?"
"Mmm," Lance said. He shifted in the chair and Chris could see the pale smooth skin of his shoulder where the sheet slipped. He looked away quickly. "Are we eating soon?"
"Sure," Chris said. "Next exit if you want."
"Cool," Lance said. He got up. The sheet was off both of his shoulders; Lance hung onto it like a girl would hold onto the wrap that went with her formal gown. Chris focused on the road. The long straight road. "I'm gonna get dressed."
He hadn't felt this strange tenderness for Lance before. He'd always watched out for J, and C was just so fucking nice that someone had to look out for him, but Lance had always seemed like a kid who could take care of himself. It made Chris feel stupid for wanting to. He'd been shot into outer space, for fuck's sake, and now Chris wanted to make sure he got his rest? He shook his head.
They ate at a truck stop that had the best BLTs Chris had ever tasted. Lance laughed when he said that.
"Chris, it's bacon," Lance said. "How good can it be?"
"You wanna try it?" Chris held out his sandwich. Lance was eating salad. Salad. At a truck stop. Space had obviously addled his brain.
"C'mon, man. It's gooooood."
Lance shook his head, smiling into his salad. He looked up at Chris through his lashes and he had the prettiest green eyes. Chris' throat closed. "No, really," he said.
"Okay." Chris set the sandwich down on the plate carefully and pretended to look out the window until he felt like he could breathe again.
He only had one bed.
The RV had come with two beds, but Chris had the one over the driver's cab converted into storage space for his cds and made the other one a queen. He'd figured that he wouldn't need more than one bed; anyone he wanted to sleep in his camper, he'd want to share the bed with.
"It'll be okay," Lance said.
They were at a campground -- the Blue Pine Campground outside San Luis even though there weren't any pines around as far as Chris could tell -- the RV lined up in its very own camping spot, complete with fire pit and nearby restrooms. They'd made a fire and roasted seven hotdogs (three had fallen in the fire) and marshmallows and hadn't said much beyond "wow, this is nice" and "hey, this is nice" and "boy, this is nice" and now they were both tired and kind of smoky and it was time to go to sleep and Chris only had one bed.
"I could sleep on the couch," Chris said.
Lance rolled his eyes like Chris was insane, but he wasn't meeting Chris' eyes. Chris was kind of grateful Lance thought the couch was stupid; the couch was one of those foam mattress things over boards. And it was shaped in a U. "Get in the fucking bed," he said.
"Gotta brush my teeth," Chris said, and squeezed himself into the tiny bathroom and shut the door.
Lance was already in the bed when he came out. Chris lifted the sheet and slid in, careful not to touch any part of him. Lance was just wearing his underwear. Chris tugged his t-shirt down over his stomach.
Texas was cool at night and Lance had opened the little slatted windows all around the bed and the skylight. Insects chirped and buzzed in the long dry grass. On the other side of the campgrounds, someone's dog barked.
"Night, Lance," Chris said, but Lance must have already been asleep because he didn't answer.
The bed shifted.
Something warm and heavy slid over him and there was the fresh pass of air over his skin. He became aware of the sleepy chirp of crickets and there was the strange sucking noise of the toilet. He rolled onto his side.
Lance, he thought, and then Lance was back, circling an arm around his waist and breathing on the back of his neck.
He woke up hot, sun sweating on his chest, the blankets in a tangle over his feet. "Lance," he croaked. Lance wasn't there.
He sat up. He felt like ass. He hated waking up hot, and he smelled and he didn't want to think about Lance anymore. He'd been in his dreams.
"Hey," Lance said, yanking the door shut behind him. He had a bag in his hand and a tray with Styrofoam cups. "I would have started driving, but I didn't know where we were going."
"Heh." Chris ran a hand through his hair. Lance had showered or something: he looked freshly pressed. "Um, okay. Let me get a shower and we'll go." He slid to the end of the bed.
"Okay. I brought you a donut."
Chris smiled. "I knew there was a reason I let you come along," he said. When he walked by, Lance touched his arm. "Hmm?" he said.
"No, nothing." Lance pulled his hand back, shoved it into the donut bag. "Morning."
"Morning," Chris said, confused.
They were quiet most of the day. Lance hummed with the radio and leafed through the atlas and looked at the road signs while Chris drove and about three hours into it Chris realized what the difference was.
"Where's your computer?" he asked.
Lance looked over at him. "Didn't bring it," he said.
Chris blinked. "No?" he said.
"No," Lance said.
"Dude, don't, like, take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?" He expected Lance to give him one of the non-answers they were all so good at, but Lance just shrugged.
"I was lonely," he said.
"Oh," Chris said. "Oh."
Everything I tell you very well could be a lie.
The phone rang at six that night, right when Chris was getting ready to punch Lance in the face because he couldn't fucking empty a glass to save his life and Chris had just knocked the second one into his lap.
"What!" he shouted into the phone, hoping, praying, it was a fan who bought his phone number off the internet.
"Dude, manners," Justin said in his ear.
"You!" Chris shouted. "I blame you!" He swiped at his lap with a dish towel. At least Lance drank mostly water with lemon and his crotch wouldn't be sticky for the rest of the night. Damp, but not sticky.
"Hey, man, I was doing you a favor," Justin said. He was chewing gum, cracking it in Chris' ear.
"In what way is siccing Lance on me a favor?"
"In the way that he was driving us all crazy."
"I hate you."
"What did you buy me?"
Chris tossed the dish towel onto the counter. "Not a damn thing," he said. He hated cell phones; they were too small to really prop between his chin and his shoulder while he unbuttoned his pants.
"Dude, you told me you'd get me something," Justin said. He cracked his gum.
"That was before." Chris wadded up his pants and threw them into the corner.
"Dude," Justin said. "Oh, hey. Dude, I gotta go. C's here."
"Put him on."
"Fuck off," Justin said. "Buy me something." He hung up. Chris flipped his own phone shut.
"Um," Lance said. "When did we stop wearing pants?" He was standing in the door, a bag of sandwiches in his hand. Chris had been planning his witty comeback all along, he even had an opening -- "when did you start being such a pain in ass" -- but Lance was just standing there smiling at him, looking fucking happy to see him, and it seemed mean.
"I spilled water," he said.
"I bought you a sandwich," Lance said, holding up the bag. Chris ate in his underwear.
"I could never live out here," Lance said on the fourth afternoon. Chris squinted through the windshield at the sunbaked highway. The road had leveled out after Marquesas and was nothing but highway and yellow dirt and weeds and sun. It looked empty. Chris kind of liked it.
"It's so flat and dry," Lance said. "It's, like, nothing as far as the eye can see."
"Mmhmm," Chris said. He found himself staring at the horizon, wondering how far he was actually seeing, how far away it was to forever. "We have to turn around tomorrow."
"Well, then," Lance said, slapping his hand down on his knee. "We'd better get drunk tonight."
They found a bar outside of Moreno, Texas, a little brown building surrounded by a gravel lot and nothing else. "This looks good," Chris said.
"This looks like the opposite of good," Lance said.
"Here," Chris said, throwing a baseball hat at him. "Put this on, pretty boy, and you'll be fine."
Lance rolled his eyes, but he put the hat on.
The bar was perfect, dim and dirty and empty except for two high school age kids drinking beer and playing pool at the bar end of the room. It smelled like mildew and old liquor and the booth they sat at was kind of sticky. Chris used to hang out in bars like this one in Orlando when he didn't want to be found. It was kind of ironic, he thought, that he'd try to escape recognition even before he got famous.
"Chris, please," Lance whispered.
"Dude, way," Chris said. He waved at the bartender, a fat woman with her red dyed hair piled on top of her head.
"Honey," she said, sounding bored. "I saw you walk in here. I know your legs ain't broke."
"We're staying," Lance said.
The bartender's name was Bertha, no shit, and she had crap for beer but she had seventeen different kinds of tequila and a generous pour.
"So what are you boys doin' out here?" she asked after the second one.
"Nothin'," Chris said. There wasn't any sense in trying to explain it. Bertha wouldn't know who the fuck they were, and she wouldn't care if she did. That fact kind of made Chris like her more. "Just driving around."
"Mmm." She propped an elbow up on the bar. "Where y'all from?"
Bertha squinted at them. "You, maybe. But you," she pointed at Lance. "You're not from Florida, honey. Not by a long shot."
Chris sighed. The older women always loved Lance. Southern men oozed charm, like snails oozed slime.
Lance smiled. "No ma'am. Mississippi."
"And how'd you get hooked in with this one?" She gestured at Chris. Chris rolled his eyes. There was a certain kind of woman, the big, bossy with attitude kind of woman, that saw right through him. It was like his mother had a telepathic link with them, or something.
"We work together," Lance said.
"Uh huh. Work. Right." Bertha winked at Lance. "More?" she asked.
The bar filled up after dark, a crowd of guys in blue denim shirts and jeans and cowboy boots like Lance used to wear. Chris wondered what had ever happened to those boots. Lance had really known how to ride horses, and his cowboy boots were scuffed and broken in and a little run down at the heels. Lance wasn't exactly like these guys -- he'd gotten out of Mississippi before he'd really become a hick, and his family was middle class enough that he'd never have really changed into one of these sweaty hardened guys -- but he'd been kin to them in a way Chris was only just realizing.
"We should get out of here," he whispered after he saw a couple of guys eyeing Lance when he went to the bathroom.
"If you want," Lance said. He was drunk; Chris knew by the way he leaned against the bar, both elbows over the spill ridge, almost lying across the sticky wood. His eyes were sleepy.
"C'mon," Chris said. He waved Bertha over from the end of the bar and handed her a stack of bills. It was too much, but she would take it, he knew. Money was one of the best parts about the whole rock star thing, the fact that he could hand this woman three hundred dollars and not feel like he was missing something.
"Honey," she said, leaning in, running her fingers over the edge of the bills. "What exactly do you do? You an oil rig guy or something?"
"Or something," Chris said. He winked at her. She slapped him on the shoulder.
"Bye honey," she said, curving her hand over Lance's forearm.
"Bye Bertha," Lance said. "Bye." He smile ate up his whole face. He stumbled when he got off the stool.
"Here we go," Chris said. "Here we go."
The air was cool, drying the sweat on his face. Lance slung an arm around his waist. "Tequila!" he said, his mouth against Chris' ear.
"Tequila," Chris said back. He propped Lance up against the side of the RV and fumbled with the keys. They were on a big ring with all his house keys and his car keys and a whole bunch of keys that Chris couldn't even remember what the fuck they went to. He was like a fucking janitor. He didn't know who thought that RVs needed this type of high tech security. The keys hit the gravel. "Fuck," Chris said. He thought maybe he was too drunk to drive.
"Hey, look," Lance said. "Chris, look." His hand was hot around Chris' wrist. "Look."
Chris turned. Lance was pointing up at the sky. There was nothing out there, nothing, just total blackness and the biggest stars Chris had ever seen, glinting and silver and beautiful. "Oh," Chris said.
"Yeah, c'mon." Lance tugged on his arm. "C'mon."
Lance stepped up onto the fender and climbed up onto the hood of the RV on his hands and knees, settling with his back against the windshield. Chris thought about looking for the keys, but Lance grabbed at his sleeve again and the stars sparkled in his eyes. Chris climbed up.
The hood was surprisingly comfortable, the windshield firm against his back. Chris crossed his ankles and folded his arms across his chest. Lance slid over and tipped his head against Chris' shoulder.
"I was up there," he said.
Chris blinked. Lance'd been there. Lance had been up there. They were sitting in a parking lot halfway to New Mexico looking up at the stars and Lance had actually been there. Chris could have looked up any night of the six nights Lance was gone and seen him moving, another sparkling star across the sky.
"What was it like?" he asked.
Lance shrugged. "I dunno."
"C'mon," Chris said. He shrugged the shoulder that Lance was leaning on, but Lance didn't sit up.
"It was. Different. I dunno. I expected it to be something else."
"Like what?" Chris asked.
"Different," Lance said. "I'm gonna throw up," he said, and did over the far side of the car.
They sat out there on the hood for a long time, hearing the men come out of the bar, shouting, laughing, fighting. The RV was parked at the back of the lot, facing the darkness. No one saw them.
No one saw them, so no one saw when Chris lifted up his arm and let Lance slide underneath it, his cheek in the curve of Chris' shoulder. No one saw that Lance curled up against him and put his arm around Chris' waist and fell asleep there, one of his legs hooked over Chris'. No one saw Chris staring studiously at the stars.
Chris woke Lance when the stars grew faint. He found the keys in the gravel and let Lance in and locked the door after them. Everything was hazy and slow in the pre-dawn light. Lance stood dumbly at the edge of the bed. Chris folded his fingers around the hem of Lance's shirt and pulled up over his head. He slid his fingers into the waistband of Lance's jeans and unbuttoned them. Lance's clothes were cool and slightly damp from outside, but his skin was warm. Chris tugged his jeans down, off over each foot, undoing Lance's tennis shoes as he went. He got dizzy when he stood and the hand he reached out to steady himself landed flat against Lance's naked waist, right above the elastic of his underwear. Lance breathed under his hand.
"Lance," Chris said. Lance opened his eyes and pulled Chris in with one hand on his shoulder. His mouth was soft and open, and he tasted stale like old beer, and Chris thought it was funny that something so dreamlike should be the thing to convince him that Lance was really real.
The RV was already moving when he woke up, rocking over a speed bump one wheel at a time. He still had his clothes on. He smelled ... interesting. He was never drinking tequila again.
He stumbled to the front and flopped down in the seat and remembered, when Lance glanced over at him and smiled, that Lance had kissed him. He'd kissed Lance. They'd kissed. He wanted to do it again even though he hadn't brushed his teeth yet.
"Hey," Lance said. "Morning."
"Mmm," Chris said, but he meant it in a good way. Lance seemed to get that.
Lance was a great driver, fast and steady and completely assured, but he kept shifting in his seat, making faces at the road.
"What's wrong?" Chris asked.
Lance shrugged. Smiled. "I kind of have a kink in my neck. From sleeping on the hood."
"Yeah, that couldn't have been." Chris waved with his hand. Lance smiled again and kept his eyes on the road.
Chris got up. His stomach felt weird, shaky, and not just from the hangover. He hated taking risks. Chris' life was all about hard work and determination and focus, and he hated the idea that everything couldn't be planned for. But this couldn't be, not more than one minute at a time. He leaned up against the back of Lance's seat.
Lance tipped his head back, just for a second.
Chris slipped his hands into the collar of Lance's t-shirt and squeezed.
"Oh jesus, you bastard," Lance said. He arched his back. Chris squeezed again, rubbing his thumbs across Lance's shoulder blades, pressing them into his spine. Lance groaned. "Oh, right there," he gasped. Chris dug his knuckle in where Lance's shoulder blade came to a point near his spine. His skin was hot and slightly sticky under Chris' hands. "Oh, god," Lance murmured. Chris smiled into Lance's hair. It smelled like smoke.
Lance was hunched over the steering wheel, his shirt rucked up to the middle of his back, sighing when Chris' phone rang. Chris thought it was a good thing that Texas roads were long and straight and totally empty or they would have killed someone. He groped behind him for the phone, one hand still on Lance's back.
"Morning, sunshine," he said. Lance chuckled under his palm.
"You talk so sweet," Joey said.
"Fatone!" He smiled. Joey. He missed Joey. He loved Joey. He loved everyone.
"You got my boy?" Joey asked.
"Um," Chris said. Lance was still under his hand, but he felt a million miles away. "Yeah. Hang on. Joey," he said, holding the phone out.
"Joey!" Lance sat back. "What's up!"
Chris took his hand away.
Chris sat in the back and watched videos until Lance stopped for lunch. He was being stupid -- Joey and Lance were nothing but friends, nothing but best friends -- but Joey's voice on the phone had made him realize how thin his own relationship with Lance was. If it was. Whatever it was.
"You're being stupid," Lance said, sitting down across from him. Chris could smell fast food coming in through the window. "Chris."
"I know." Chris shook his head. "Yeah, I know."
"You kissed me," Lance said.
"You kissed me," Chris said, but he didn't even know if that was true.
"So stop being stupid."
Chris folded his hands. "I don't know," he said.
"You're an idiot," Lance said. "You want a big mac?"
"Yeah," Chris said, but what he really wanted was for Lance to kiss him again.
soul of mine to come alive.
Lance pulled over two nights later on the side of the road where it widened into a gravel-lined rest area. "Come on," he said, and went outside. Chris sighed. It was only a matter of time before Lance started talking. Chris had hoped to get back into Florida first, then he wouldn't have felt so bad about leaving Lance by the side of the road.
Chris climbed back up on the hood and leaned back, waiting for the Big Talk. He hated Big Talks. It was one of the many reasons he sucked at relationships. But Lance didn't talk, at least not about what Chris had expected.
"I thought it was going to be like a dream," he said, folding his hands behind his head. "I spent all that time in Russia and lifted weights and learned Russian and I thought when I got there that it would be something. Something great, like going onstage."
Lance was looking up. It wasn't quite dark yet, the sky a deep indigo, and it made Chris feel sad, like he'd gone all that way and missed something, driven past it.
"I spent the whole time in this tiny little capsule not understanding the jokes and watching these guys, real astronauts, doing real stuff."
"You did experiments, I thought."
Lance shook his head. "Sure, but whatever. That's not the point."
"Oh." Chris folded his arms around his waist.
"It didn't matter, Chris. Even the Russians, the ones who were doing real experiments, they weren't out there. They weren't any closer to the stars than we are now. There's no way, Chris. You know that old saying? 'You can't get there from here?'"
Chris nodded. "Um, yeah."
"Well, that's what it was like. You can't get there from here."
"Lance," Chris said. He looked over, but Lance had his hands pressed over his face.
"Chris," he said, his voice thick. "Chris, what do you do when your dreams are over?"
"Dude," Chris said. "I bought an RV."
Lance laughed, a muffled watery sound. "I hate you," he said.
Chris reached an arm as far around Lance as he could, over his elbows and everything. "I know," he said. "I hate you, too."
They got back into Orlando in the middle of the night, pulling up to Lance's house on the outskirts of town in the complete darkness. Chris followed him in, carrying one of the large black duffel bags with Lance's name stenciled on the side. They all had those from years and years of touring: once, as a joke, he and Justin had switched JC's and Lance's names. Lance may have been scarred for life when he opened it.
"So," Chris said. He set the bag in a hall already crowded with suitcases. Lance's stuff from Russia, he realized. Still packed.
"So," Lance said. "You're staying, right?"
"No," Chris said. "No. I gotta get back."
"To your empty house."
"Okay," Lance said. "Thanks."
"Welcome," he said.
He climbed back in the RV. The light over Lance's front porch went out as he was backing down the drive.
Chris couldn't sleep. His bed was too big. His whole house was too big. He kept wanting to get up and check on the RV, even though it was in the garage. He would lie down and force himself to hold still until he was on the verge of sleep and then he would hear a noise like a door opening or someone's footstep on the stairs and he'd be wide awake again, forced to walk the entire house, his heart racing, even though he had an alarm system. He even opened the closets, all six of them.
There was never anyone there.
Justin showed up in the morning with JC, who loved riding on the backs of the bikes. He liked the wind in his face, he said, but Chris and Justin thought he might like the feel of the cycle between his thighs and was just too scared to buy one of his own. Justin clapped him on the back just once, a real man hug like he didn't remember those nights when he'd slept in the same bed with Chris because he was homesick, but JC hugged him, a real two-armed squeeze, and kissed him on the cheek.
"I missed you," he said. Justin looked embarrassed, which was how Chris knew that Justin had missed him, too.
"Lance said you guys had a great time," JC said.
"What did you bring me?" Justin asked.
Suddenly, Chris was glad to be back.
He didn't see Lance until three days later when they started recording. Justin and JC were caught up in the details of being in the studio, listening to takes with intent expressions and getting in arguments with each other about how the production should go. JC wanted to turn everything into a two-step trance dance remix and Justin wanted to turn everything into a Stevie Wonder song; Chris just kept out of it and sang what they told him to sing. It was a strategy that had worked so far.
But, so, J and C were busy pissing one another off and Joey was busy being a dad for as long as he was in Florida; Lance was basically the only person left to talk to.
"So, how's it going?" he asked, while Lance lounged on the cheap couch in the lounge. Lance lifted his eyes.
"Hey, Chris," he said. He smiled.
Chris sat down at the far end of the couch. "Been doing anything good?"
Lance shook his head. "Not really. Been out a couple of times. Went jet skiing with Joey."
Lance shrugged. "Yeah," he said.
"Okay, thanks for joining me today in the World's Most Boring Conversation. I'll talk to you later."
"Okay," Lance said. He picked up an old Rolling Stone and flipped it open.
"Oh, fuck you!" Chris said. "Fuck you! I can't believe you're just going to say 'okay' and just let me walk away. You're the worst fucker in the world."
"Me? I am?"
"What do I have to do?" Chris asked. "I mean, c'mon, Lance!"
Lance set the magazine down. "You wouldn't stay."
"I wouldn't stay?"
"I asked you to stay and you wouldn't."
"I. Lance. What?"
Lance sighed. "Chris, I asked you to stay that night we came back and you wouldn't, so what do you want?"
"I want --" Chris said, but just then JC opened the door. His hair was standing up on end.
"Chris!" he said. "Where the fuck have you been?" Justin's voice seeped in over his shoulder, loud but unintelligible. "C'mon!" JC said. "Fuck!"
Chris glanced helplessly at Lance. "I'll be back right after," he said, and he was, he even ran down the hall to find him, heart thudding high in his chest, but the couch Lance had been sitting on was empty.
Justin had a party to celebrate the end of the first set of recordings. He and JC were barely speaking at first, eyeing each other over plastic plates of hamburgers and chips, but after a few beers Justin was doing his imitation of Richard, the sound engineer, his voice high and nasally and just a little whiny, and JC was crowing out laughter while Justin-as-Richard whined, "no way, no day." It was Richard's catch phrase. "No way, no day, JC," he whined. "We can't do that." JC tipped back in his chair laughing and spilled ketchup onto his lap.
"It's a little scary how they work," Joey murmured in Chris' ear.
"Terrifying," Chris agreed.
He thought that again, later, after Joey had left and JC and Justin were inside arguing about guitar riffs and it was just him and Lance lying on chaise lounges by Justin's sunken pool. Lance had his hands behind his head and was looking up at the sky. Chris tried that, but he felt like he was just copying Lance, faking his cool so that Lance would think he was feeling fine. He tried folding his hands over his stomach, but that made him feel like he was Lance's dad, so he just let them flop to his sides.
"It was very quiet," Lance said. "Not at first." He laughed a little, like he couldn't believe what he was saying. "At first it was so noisy you couldn't even hear yourself scream and it felt like Lonnie was sitting on my chest. Four Lonnies," he said and there was that laugh again. "I could hardly breathe. I thought I was going to die. But that was just take off."
"Lance," Chris said. Lance talked over him, like he hadn't heard.
"But then, after we got up there and I'd met all of them, it was quiet. Even when they talked. It was like." Lance shrugged, his shoulders making a squeaking noise against the chair. "Like the silence was more than any noise. Like the whole place could have blown up and no one would have noticed."
Chris shuddered, but Lance didn't seem to notice.
"You can do a lot of thinking when it's that quiet. A lot. Everything else is so big, that any thoughts you have don't really matter. You can think anything, and it's okay." He sighed. Chris glanced over. Lance's mouth was closed, like maybe he was done talking.
"What'd you think about?" Chris asked. His voice was softer than he expected.
Lance smiled. "Noise, mostly. Like, at our concerts, how sometimes it felt like I would go deaf from the sound."
"They're noisy," Chris said.
"Up there it was like I'd go deaf from the silence," Lance said. "Mostly, though, I thought about you."
Chris blinked. The sun was setting, shooting its last gold and yellow light across the sky. Right above him, a rich deep blue was beginning to take hold. He kept his mind carefully blank. "Because I'm so noisy?" he asked.
Lance smiled, a real tooth-baring smile just a shade shy of laughing. "Because you're the same kind of quiet it was out there."
"Lance," Chris said. He didn't feel quiet. He felt like his soul was a whole brass band.
"I was wondering," Lance said. "If maybe you wanted to share a bus on this tour."
Chris paused. "If you want," he said.
Lance sat up. "Fuck you. This is it, Chris, okay? I've asked you and asked you and asked you and this is fucking it, okay? Do you want to share a bus?"
Chris sat up, too. Lance was leaning forward, his hands on his knees. He looked pissed. Very pissed. His eyes narrowed to dark slits in his face. Chris tipped forward until the toes of his tennis shoes touched the ground. Then he kept tipping, until his hands cupped Lance's hairy round knees and his own knees resting on the smooth cement of Justin's pool deck, and his mouth lifted upward and fit to Lance's soft and unmoving lips.
"I'm sorry," Chris whispered, after a moment. But he didn't move his mouth, he couldn't move his mouth away from Lance's. "Please, Lance. I didn't know. I'm sorry."
His answer was the sweet slide of Lance's tongue against his.
Joey came into the toy room with a piece of paper in his hand. "Dude," he said, shoving the paper into Chris' face. "Did you know about this?"
"Maybe I would if you didn't shove it up my nose, ass," Chris said. He grabbed the paper from Joey and tossed it on the floor. He was kicking Timberlake's ass in foosball and Joey was bustin' up his rhythm.
"You've got to talk him out of it," Joey said. "I mean it. JC's freaking out."
"Why's JC freaking out? He's not going." Chris kicked the paper off his foot. He didn't need to read it. He knew what it said. "C'mon Timberlake," he said. "Show me what you got."
"JC's really freaking out," Justin said, and knocked a ball into Chris' goal.
"Fuck! Dude, why? It's swimming. He's just going swimming."
"Dude, it's for Celebrity Shark Week," Justin said.
Joey shrugged. "He's afraid Lance is going to drown or get bit by a shark or something."
"He's not going to get bit by a shark, you ass," Chris said. "I think it'll be wicked."
The door opened and JC himself came in, holding onto Lance's wrist, his voice raised in protest. JC could be really persuasive when he got all desperate and cute, but, although Lance was listening, he was also smiling that small smile that meant JC wasn't going to get his way no matter how much he begged. "Chris!" JC said. "Chris, tell your boyfriend that he can't go on Celebrity Shark Week!"
"Lance, you can't go on Celebrity Shark Week," Chris said. He stuck his tongue out at Justin and made his shot. Score! Timberlake had nothing on defense.
"Like you mean it," JC said, but he sighed and let go of Lance's hand. He'd lost and he knew it.
Chris couldn't say it like he meant it, because he didn't mean it. He would never mean it. And it wasn't like he was happy Lance was going deep sea diving off the coast of Australia to float around with sharks and stinging jellyfish and, like, giant squid and shit, because he wasn't. He'd miss Lance the whole time he was gone, his deep slow laugh and his hogging of the bed and his annoying way of washing every single dish before he put them in the dishwasher when that was what the damn dishwasher was for in the first place. He hated it when Lance went away.
Lance came up behind him and put his hands on Chris' waist, just resting them there, enough of a distraction that Justin almost got another one past him.
"Oh no you don't, you little fuck," he muttered. Lance kissed him behind the ear.
"I'm gonna go change," he murmured. His breath tingled up and down Chris' spine.
"Mmm. Okay," Chris said. He tipped his head back. Lance kissed him. Justin scored. "Hey!" Chris shouted. "Hey! I was handicapped! Foul! Foul, man!"
Justin laughed at him. JC slumped in the corner under Joey's arm. Lance waved and left the room, a tiny little leave-taking that was just a pinprick compared to the gash that would open in his heart when Lance took off for Australia. No matter what JC thought, Chris wasn't thrilled that Lance was going.
The coming back was all right, though.