Once In A While
by Synchronik
Once In A While

by Synchronik

Every once in a while, Joey would get on a domestic kick and spend all his time at home cleaning his gutters and wiping down his blinds. He would give everyone notice of this phase by showing up at the studio smelling of Murphy's Oil Wood soap and would ask Lance, who seemed to know about cleaning-type things as part of his genetic makeup, about stuff like how to get wine stains out of leather.

Chris and Justin would get annoyed with Joey when he got into his cleaning moods, because he didn't want to go to clubs or pick up girls. "You ain't no fun," Justin would say, pouting, pulling on Joey's hand. "Come out with us!"

Joey would just shake his head and smile. Justin could never fathom how baseboards and tile grout could be more fun than a crowded smoke-filled club.

JC liked it, though, when Joey would stay at home and weed his flowerbeds and wash his windows, because then JC could walk across the street and stand in the late afternoon sun and chat while Joey knelt in the dirt in front of him in a tank top and raggedy shorts, and flicked mud at him. Sometimes he would bring beer over, and then Joey would knock off early and they would sit in the backyard and soak their feet in Joey's pool and listen to the sounds of kids on bikes and evening birds.

"I'm going to be doing this in thirty years," Joey said, once, clinking his beer bottle against JC's, and JC watching the sun slanting across Joey's shoulder and getting lost in his dark hair, thought that was true.

None of the rest of them, not even JC, were attached to their houses like Joey was. Justin's house was flashy and big, and crowded with his family, cousins coming in from out of town and staying for weeks, and stray entertainment people his mom brought home sleeping in the living room. Chris still lived in the same little apartment he'd always had, hardly decorated. JC could picture him sleeping on a futon (although he had a bed) and eating out of cans. And Lance's house was a showroom, the latest in furniture and fixtures and a kitchen like a gourmet chef's, even though Lance could only really make grilled cheese and brownies from a box.

JC liked his own house well enough, but he didn't like to clean, so he just hired a Cuban woman to do it for him. Her name was Marta and she was older and fat, and reminded JC in a weird way of his grandmother. She called him "Meester JC," as in "Meester JC, I do your keetchen floor, now. No come in, okay?" She was nice, but just the fact that he had a maid made him feel in some ways like his house wasn't really his.

Joey didn't have a maid, which meant that when he wasn't in a cleaning mood, his garbage sometimes made his kitchen smell and his clothes lay in random heaps in the den. But his house seemed real to JC in a way that his own meticulous bedroom never was. Joey had decorated the house himself, too, with stuff his mom gave him and stuff he picked up on tour, so it was a strange mixture of really nice expensive stuff like the Dutch dining room set made all out of half-circles of blond wood and that looked more like art than a table and chairs. But he'd gotten his dishes at Walmart.

JC spent a lot of time at Joey's house. He had a key--they all had keys to each others' houses and cars and hotel rooms and there wasn't really any separate property especially not on tour--but he didn't go over and hang out because he had a key. He just liked hanging out in Joey's living room, listening to Motown records and ordering pizza, or staying up watching Joey's big screen TV. until it was too late to go home, even just across the street and he would fall asleep on Joey's couch and wake up to the smell of Joey's coffee.

He went over in the afternoon, usually. He knocked on the door and opened it.

"C!" Joey shouted. "In here!"

JC smiled, setting his keys on the table in the foyer. "In here" was the den at the back of the house, Joey's favorite room because it had a glass wall that looked out over the backyard and the pool.

"Hey, Joe," he said, and then he saw Joey and his mind went blank for a moment.

Joey was doing laundry. There were piles of clothes everywhere, not piles of dirty clothes, like there sometimes were at Joey's, but huge heaps of sheets and jeans and towels, piled high and smelling sweetly of fabric softener and fresh air. JC could see a sagging line draped with t- shirts hanging perilously low over the pool through the glass wall. Joey had apparently decided to "keep it real" and dry his clothes on a line instead of in the perfectly good dryer in his laundry room. The man in question stood in the middle of the room, a giant among mountains of clothes, wearing old jean shorts and nothing else. His hair stuck up in strange tufts. His smile was white like the shirt in his hand.

"Hey, C. Doin' laundry."

JC nodded. "I see that."

Joey grinned. "The closet was getting kind of musty, so I figured ... " He shrugged. His shoulders. JC couldn't stop looking at Joey's shoulders--they seemed different, bigger, than when he wore clothes. They rippled when he shook out the shirt and began to fold. "Wanna beer?"

"Um, yeah. I'll get 'em." He bolted to the kitchen, feeling the heavy thud of his heart in his throat. Joey. He swung open the refrigerator door, and breathed in the sharp cool air.

"Don't fall in," Joey said, reaching around him and grabbing a bottle.

"Yeah." JC faked a laugh. He thought suddenly that it wasn't Joey's furniture that he liked so much.

They spent the afternoon there, in Joey's house, JC watching Joey gradually reduce the mountains of clothes into neatly folded piles.

"I'm sorry," Joey said at one point. "This must be so boring. You don't have to stay."

JC, who'd been staring at the hair on Joey's thighs, remembering how it felt under his hands the thousand times he'd touched it, pressing his palm down to boost himself off the couch, slapping Joey's thigh when he laughed, laying his head in Joey's lap when they watched TV. sometimes, glanced up.

"No, no. It's okay," he said. "I like it."

"You could help," Joey said.

"You could bite me," JC said. Joey threw a towel at him.

Joey folded like a pro. He was fast about it, and all his towels ended up the same size in a neat stack. JC hated folding laundry because it was tedious and repetitive, but watching Joey, letting his mind wander, laundry became kind of meditative. Relaxing. Sexy. JC tipped his head back and closed his eyes.

He woke up under a pile of warm laundry, Joey standing over him with an empty laundry basket, grinning.

"Hey, baby," Joey said.

JC stretched. "Hey."

"You're cute when you sleep."

JC smiled in spite of himself. "You're a jerk when I sleep."

"Yeah, but you love me for it." Joey sat down on the edge of the couch and ruffled his hair. "I'm sorry I'm not more, you know, entertaining." He waved his hand in the air.

JC smiled. "Well, I'm a big ball of fun, so I don't forgive you."

"Fuck off." Joey still had his hand in JC's hair, sorting strands through his fingers. "Your hair's fun now," he said, pulling on it gently.

JC rolled his eyes. "It's a mess. I should have it cut again. I don't know what I was thinking."

"It's a beautiful mess," Joey said, and leaned down, and that was how their first kiss happened, JC still half-buried under laundry with Joey's hand in his hair.

The second kiss took a while, mostly because JC spent some time at his own house after that. He wanted to go back, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, in part because he'd been brought up to believe that anything you wanted too much couldn't be good for you. His parents had tolerated the music obsession, especially after he'd quoted the "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" passage from the Bible, but they hadn't approved, exactly, and he was pretty sure there was no "fondle Italian men" passage he could look to for support.

But Joey did live right across the street, and did see him almost every single day at the studio, and finally one Saturday afternoon he cracked and grabbed a six pack out of the fridge and trotted across the street.

"Joey!" he shouted as he came in the door.

"C!" Joey answered. JC felt his grin, wide enough to split his head in two, freeze into brittle shards when he came around the corner.

"Hey Lance," he said.

Lance, lying on the couch on his back, one hand under his head, waved. "Hey, C."

"I brought beer. What are you guys doing?"

"Game," Joey said, gesturing at the TV.

"Oh. Basketball?" JC asked.

Lance laughed. "JC, it's April."

"Oh, right."

Joey smiled at him. "Baseball," he said.

"It's the Browns and the Cowboys," Lance said. JC nodded, trying to remember if the Browns were from Cleveland or California. Joey and Lance exchanged glances, then Lance tipped over on the couch laughing. "He, Joe!" he said, pointing. Joey had his hands over his stomach as if he would fall apart if he let go. Tears squirted from his eyes.

"Okay, um." JC set the beer down on the table. "I'll let you guys get back to it, then."

"Wait," Joey said, wiping his face. "I'll walk you out."

JC didn't wait, but he didn't exactly hurry, either, and Joey caught up with him by the door.

"Sorry," he said, still smiling. "But you're clueless about sports, man. Truly."

JC smiled. "Yeah, no shit."

"I'm glad you came over, though," he said, touching JC's forearm. "I, um. You should come over, still."

"Okay," JC said. "Yeah."

"Okay." Joey's fingers folded around his wrist. He was closer now, without having taken steps, and he was looking at JC's chin, or his collarbone, maybe; JC couldn't tell because he was looking at Joey's brown brown eyes.

This time, he felt Joey's breath on his mouth before the kiss, and smelled the scent of fresh beer, and managed to part his lips before Joey touched them with his own mouth and so got the slight faint pressure of Joey's tongue against his.

"You could even come over later, if you wanted," Joey whispered, rubbing one hand over his elbow.

JC smiled. "After the game, maybe," he said.

After that, JC kind of lost track of the kisses, which happened whenever he and Joey were alone together in a spot where they weren't likely to be interrupted. That meant mostly Joey's house or JC's, but there was also this hallway at the back of the studio that they only used for moving the equipment in and out, and Johnny's house had all sorts of rooms that were almost always empty, and as long as they were quiet, the bunks on the bus were very private, and, of course there were always the hotel rooms.

Joey liked to kiss a lot, JC found out, and he liked to cook, which JC already knew, and he liked to sleep in a slightly chilly room wrapped around JC with his hands under JC's shirt. Joey also liked to take baths instead of showers whenever he could, and he liked JC to shave while he was bathing so they could talk. He liked JC's house, too, because it was always clean, he said, and he liked JC's crazy clothes because they made his stand out "like a peacock, or something" he said, stroking the multicolored silk pants over JC's knee. So they kissed a lot, and JC shaved over at Joey's and let him cook and wore zebra patterned leather pants to their appearance on Jay Leno, even though Justin called him Lord of the Jungle for two weeks after. Joey cuffed Justin upside the head after a couple of days, and said "zebras don't live in the jungle, dumbass," and smiled across the room at JC. JC smiled back.

The idea of privacy kind of went out the window, though, when Chris came barging in to Joey's room one morning and saw them kissing. JC, lying under Joey with his shirt off and one leg hooked around Joey's thigh, didn't see anything. He just heard "Joe, oh, fuck!" and the door slam.

Joey pushed back a little. "Want me to go after him?" he said.

"Nope," JC said.

Joey didn't.

"So you're doing it, then," Chris said when they came into the room.

Justin choked on his toast. "What?"

"They're doing it," Chris said.

"We are not!" JC said.

"You will be, though," Chris said, spooning cereal into his mouth.

"I thought they were just making out and shit," Lance said.

"What?" JC asked.

"I told him," Joey whispered into his ear.

"You told?" JC turned and stared.

Joey shrugged. "We share a bus, man."

"So you're not doing it, then," Justin said.

JC sat down in a chair and pressed his face into his hands.

"Nope," Joey said. He rubbed JC's shoulder gently.

"But you will be," Justin said. He was leaning over the table, eyes flicking from JC to Joey and back again. He seemed supremely interested.

"No!" JC said. "I mean, yes. Maybe. Fuck." Joey squeezed his shoulders.

"Maybe," Joey said.

They went on tour after that, and Justin refused to room with JC and Lance and Chris refused to room with Joey, all of them smirking and nudging each other.

"You think they've got a camera in here, or something?" JC asked sitting on one of the double beds.

Joey flopped onto the bed next to him. "I wouldn't be surprised," he said. He picked up one of JC's hands, and ran it over his face. "Perverts. Wanna give 'em a show?"

They weren't doing it, though, not yet. Not because JC didn't want to, because when Joey kissed him, when Joey put one hand on his stomach and held him against the wall, when Joey nudged his knees apart and slid between them, when Joey rolled over in the middle of the night and wrapped his arms around JC's waist, he wanted to, he wanted to do it. A lot.

But, somehow, they never did. Joey would stop, pulling JC's shirt closed with reluctant fingers, or JC would slow his kisses until they were drowsy and slow and Joey fell asleep on his chest.

Justin pulled him aside one morning on the way to the arena. "You guys done it yet?" he asked.

JC felt himself blushing. "Look, Justin, I--"

"No, huh?" Justin grinned. "What are you waiting for, man?"

JC shrugged. "I don't know," he said.

"He's hot, right? I mean, you think he's hot, at least."

"Um, Justin." He didn't know how to do this, how to talk to Justin, who was just a kid, who'd never lusted after anyone besides Britney, who was just as perfect and normal and blond as Justin himself. He couldn't explain it, especially not to Justin.

"Joey's totally hot, man. You know that, right?"

JC sighed. "It's not about that."

"Well, good. Cause he is. What's up, then?"

"I don't know," JC said. He didn't.

"Hey," Joey said.

"Hmm." JC's eyes were still closed. It was early, maybe twenty minutes before wake-up call and he was warm and happy and half-squished under Joey's heavy weight. He'd woken up to wet kisses along the back of his neck, and Joey's mouth was still there, hot breath and slow movement. One of his hands kept JC flat against him.

"I'm leaving tomorrow."

JC cracked an eye, but he lay on his side facing away from Joey, and only saw the faint light beyond the hotel drapes. The room in front of him was empty.

"hhm, where?" He closed his eye and wriggled a little, because it would make Joey squeeze him tighter. It did.

"California. We've got to redo some stuff. Some voiceovers, and there's a few new scenes." Joey kissed his earlobe.

"Lance, too?" JC asked, feeling like a heel.

"mmhmm," Joey said, kissing with more purpose, pulling JC over onto his back.

"When will you be back?" JC asked, dodging so that Joey ended up kissing his cheek, then his nose.

"Dunno. Before the tour starts up again."

That's a month, JC thought. He almost said it out loud, but the phone rang.

"Wake up call," Joey said, smiling.

Joey called the first night from California, while JC was watching the new episode of Friends and wishing Joey would call.

"Chasez!" Joey said, sounding tinny and slightly distant.

"Fatone!" JC said back. "How's sunny D?"

"Well, I'm out of shape, and Lance already has four new pair of sunglasses. He's such a fuckin' tool."

JC laughed and heard "I am not!" from somewhere inside the room.

"Lance says he's a fuckin' tool," Joey said, and then there were some scuffling noises and Lance was on the phone.

"Your boyfriend's an ass," he said.

"I, um." JC held the phone away from his face and looked at it. He put it back to his ear slowly. "Sorry," he said, planning on lying and saying he dropped the phone, but it was Joey again.

"Dork!" he was saying, meaning Lance.

"So what are you guys doing tonight?" JC asked, trying to draw Joey's attention.

"Nothin'. We're going to be early. We've got an early thing."

"Shoot," Lance said in the background. "An early shoot."

"Shut the fuck up, Bass," Joey said, affectionately. JC scowled.

"Well, I should let you go then, so you can get your rest, or whatever," he said.

"Yeah, because it's almost 5:30 here, C. I'd better hit the sack."

"Oh, um, well--"

"No, it's cool. Lance made us dinner reservations, so I gotta go anyway."

"Okay," JC said. "Thanks for calling."

"Yeah," Joey said. For a second JC could only hear him breathe. Then he said "I miss you," low and fast, as if he didn't want Lance to hear.

"I miss you, too," JC said. He wanted to say other things, about how he couldn't sleep because he wasn't used to being in bed alone anymore, or about how he kept looking out the front window to see if Joey's lights were on, but he didn't. It didn't seem right, somehow, to say those types of things when Joey wasn't nearby. On the other side of the continent, Joey was quiet, too.

"Okay," he said after a while. "I should get going."

"Yeah, sure," JC said. "Talk to you later."

"uh huh. Bye." JC could hear Lance shout "bye, JC!" in the background, then nothing.

Joey called again two days later, but even without someone shouting things in the background, JC still felt weird and uncomfortable in the silences in between the words. The fact that there were never silences when Joey was home made it worse. Or, even if there were silences, like when Joey would slump against JC's shoulder and close his eyes, they weren't weird the way these empty spaces in the conversation were. JC pressed his lips together.

"Oh!" Joey said suddenly in his ear. "I wanted to ask you something."

"Sure," JC said, relieved.

"Could you water Phyllis?"

JC smiled. Phyllis. Joey's cactus, the one he'd gotten from his downstairs neighbor when he used to live in a shitty walk-up in the sketchy neighborhood near the Disney complex where all the performers lived. It had only been a big as his thumb when he'd gotten it, but it was almost a foot tall now. "Sure, yeah," JC said.

"Just a little," Joey warned. "Don't kill my plant."

"Don't worry."

"Seriously," Joey said. "I've had that plant for forever, C, and I'll--"

"Okay," JC said. "Just a little. I know how to water Phyllis, Joe."

"Okay, then." Joey fell silent again. JC felt his smile pause and then melt off his face, gradually, like ice cream in the shade.

"So," Joey said.


"Oh, I come back on the seventh," Joey said.

"What's that? A week?" JC asked, even though his mind was already singing "five days, five days."

"Around, yeah."

"You need me to pick you up?" JC asked. His carpeting had little tracks in it from the vacuum cleaner that Marta ran every other day. He slid his foot over them and erased them.

"Nah," Joey said. "I'll take a cab."


"So, Lance has this thing lined up for us, so I better go."

"Okay," JC said again, closing his eyes. "See ya later."

"Yup. Hey, C?"

"Uh huh." Something was wrong with his stomach, JC thought. It felt like it was going to leap out of his throat.

"I mean it about Phyllis. Just a little bit of water."

JC sighed. "I know, Joey," he said, and hung up before anyone could say goodbye.

Joey's house looked the same as it had when he left. There were still glasses in the sink from the wine they'd had that night, a cheap grocery store red that had been surprisingly good. Joey hadn't closed the curtains, so sun came streaming in the back windows, making JC homesick for something he could not name. He squatted down next to Phyllis, who lived on the floor in the corner.

"Hey," he said.

Phyllis didn't answer, but he poured a juice glass of water on her anyway, watching as the droplets rolled off her waxy skin.

The house even smelled of Joey, slightly garlicky from all the Italian food, and maybe a little musty, but in the good way that a sweatshirt will get musty when you wear it a couple of times without washing it. He wandered around through the living room, and the dining room, and the kitchen, picking up stuff and setting it down. He put the cds back on the rack in the den.

Eventually, when he could no longer help himself, he went into the bedroom, where the bed sat just as Joey had left it that morning, bedclothes heaped and tossed aside, pillow still dented from his face. Sun slanted through the blinds. Somewhere outside a kid yelled out with happiness, and he smiled a little, hearing that. He didn't feel happy, not exactly, but he felt something akin to it, here in Joey's room. JC sat on the edge of the bed for a second, running his hand over the sheets. They he lay down. And breathed.

"Dude," Justin said when he got to the studio that night to work on the remixes. "When did Joey get back?"

"What?" JC asked. "He's not. Not until next week."

"Oh." Justin squinted at him.


"You smell like him," Justin said, still squinting. JC had to suppress his smile.

JC started watching Entertainment Tonight to see Joey on TV. He hadn't called again, which JC thought was a good thing because he wasn't sure how many more of those horrible stilted empty conversations he could have had before he threw himself into the fucking Everglades, but there were times when he wished Joey would call again, and those times mostly happened while he watched ET.

It was Lance's movie, JC kept telling himself, so of course Lance was going to be on there, but he still wished that every once in a while they could show a clip of Joey doing something without Lance there. Without Lance touching him.

And they were always, always fucking touching, JC noticed. Tonight it had been Joey talking about how his was really a supporting role, and how the other guys weren't in it because there weren't any roles for them. "We didn't write this," Joey had said. "It was a prepared script, and we couldn't fit them in."

"Also, they hate us," Lance said, hooking one arm around Joey's waist and under his jacket. "Joey and me are the *nsync outcasts."

"Fuck off," JC said to the TV.

"Just you and me, buddy," Joey said, smiling down at Lance. After that, JC vowed to watch no more Entertainment Tonight. Ever.

He vowed the same thing the next night, when the ET exclusive showed Joey flipping Lance over his shoulder while Lance laughed and threatened to vomit.

JC knew that cactuses didn't need water more than once a week. Hell, they didn't even need it more than once a month, even, he thought, but he kept going to Joey's house to check on Phyllis anyway, once in the morning before he headed out to the studio, and once before he ate dinner. He would eat standing in front of his front windows, watching cars come home, and squinting at Joey's dark house. Somehow, the thought of Joey's plant sitting alone in the dark seemed unbearably sad.

On Thursday, there was a light on.

JC grabbed two beers from the fridge and jogged across the street. Joey answered on the second knock, looking tan and tired. He blinked at JC and smiled.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey," JC would have said, except he couldn't because Joey swooped him up, arms tight around his waist, making JC drop one of the beers on the floor. It shattered, and JC expected Joey to jump and swear and put him down, but he just squeezed, holding him off his feet, pressing his nose into JC's neck. Joey smelled like suntan lotion and his own shampoo.

"I missed you," Joey murmured against JC's throat. JC choked a little.

"Yeah, me too."

"I thought about you all the time, every day," Joey said.

"Me, too," JC said. He felt absurdly light and small, suspended in Joey's embrace, Joey's broad shoulders under his hands.

"Jesus, JC, I missed you," Joey said again.

"I love you, too," JC said. Joey laughed and squeezed him so tight JC thought he might be broken in half. He didn't mind.

Joey let him sink back to the floor. The kiss was sweet; dirty and full of tongue, but sweet just the same, Joey's hands on his face, thumbs near his ears, fingers curling around the base of his skull, smiling and kissing at the same time.

"Hi," Joey said against his mouth. "You brought beer."

JC glanced down at the beer pooling on Joey's tile floor. "Yeah," he said, smiling. "Welcome home."

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