So, this is the job:
You get up at two or three in the afternoon, and run, because the body's important. Without the body, you've got nothing, Johnny says. Then you shower and get dressed, and you and your roommate Bobby go down to the diner on the corner, where the waitress knows you by name and gives you extra gravy on the side with the meatloaf special without you even having to ask. This is the best part of your night.
By five, when the light is just starting to turn golden and slide away, you're out, leaning up against a building, watching the cars roll by. It's rush hour, but there aren't many cars down here on Elida, and the ones who do come by don't tailgate and honk. Their drivers are shopping, and your job is too look like something they might want to buy. Some of the other guys--Andre, Rock, Lyle--are up by the edge of the curb, waving and slouching, putting on a show. You tried that for a while, but Johnny took you aside after the second time some john kicked your ass and took your money and said "Jimmy, sweetie, stay back. Guys who are looking for you, they'll find you."
He was right. Johnny's right about most things.
So you stay back, lean against a building, smoke, and sooner or later a car pulls up just past the gaggle of bitches flirting on the street corner and leans toward the passenger side window and gestures, and you go.
Sometimes they're nice, and typically they're fine, okay, nothing you can't handle, and they drive you around the corner and you give them what they paid for. You're good at it.
You know you're good, because lots of guys come back. Right now, you've got four or five guys with scheduled dates, and Johnny's looking to move you up into strict appointments, but that takes more that four or five, and he gives you a lot of say, so you've been able to keep some others off your list. Not the one who cries, for example, because he's harmless and good money, but the one who said something about your "pretty skin" like it was a fucking coat or something. You've been doing this for long enough to know that's a bad sign. Last year, Carlos got pounded by some kid who came up from the Valley six nights in a row and complimented his eyes over and over again. Carlos was busted up pretty bad. You didn't go see him. No point.
But that means that every john is a possibility, a new name to put on your list and get you up and off the corner, into a place with hotel rooms and dinners, maybe, besides the shitty meatloaf at the diner, and appointments for fuck's sake, and that sounds so much like heaven that you almost forget you had real dreams, before.
He shows up at around 10:30 on a Tuesday, too fucking late to know what he's doing. A freshman like him should be on the corner at six or seven, early enough to get first pick and not have to consider what sloppy seconds might mean. He keeps glancing around like his fucking mother is going to grab him by the shirt collar or something. Andre and his bitches on the corner are on him like flies.
Of course they are. He's cute enough, nicely dressed, the car isn't a rental, which means he's probably from around here, even if he borrowed the car. "From around here" equals "repeat business" and that's the only reason Jimmy takes a few steps forward so he can hear what the guy says.
"--not really, no," the john says, holding his hands up in a defensive maneuver. He smiles and shakes his head. "Just browsing."
"Browsing?" Andre says. "What? Like we the mother fucking supermarket? I ain't no bargain basement, Mister! You can't be fuckin' browsing around here!" His bitches crow in approval. The john takes a step back toward his car.
"Sure," he says. "My mistake."
"Tha's right, your mistake. I'll fuckin' mistake you," Andre says, taking off his jacket. The john looks pretty shocked by the size of Andre's arms. Jimmy sighs. It's funny, he thinks, how many johns assume that just because you take it up the ass you're a pussy.
"Hey," he says. "Andre."
Andre turns around. "Jimmy. This guy's browsing." He cocks his head at the john, who's probably a good three or four inches shorter than Andre, and outweighed by about fifty pounds.
"Oh yeah?" Jimmy looks over at the guy, who glares at him. "Browsing, huh?"
"Yeah," the john says.
Jimmy smiles, a slow, sweet, sexy smile. A trademark smile. "See anything you like?" he asks.
The john looks from him to Andre and back again. "Um."
"Fuck," Andre mutters. "You takin' this guy, Jimmy?" he asks.
"I dunno." He keeps his eyes on the john as he shrugs, catching the hesitation, the nervousness. Freshmen. He keeps smiling. "Am I taking you?"
"Um," the john says. "Yeah. Sure."
"Alright then," Jimmy says. "Where to?"
The john points to his car, and Jimmy heads off in that direction. Behind him, Andre yells
"Ain't you got no self-respect, Jimmy. I ain't merchandise, man!"
Jimmy ignores him and smiles again at the john.
"Wow, thanks," the john says, sliding into the car.
"Sure, no problem."
The john tips his head back against the seat rest and sighs. "I'm new at this. Can you tell?"
Jimmy sighs back, making it sound like a laugh. The johns are always "new at this."
The john sits up and sticks his hand out. "JC," he says.
"Hi, Jimmy, nice to meet you." The handshake is firm, pleasant, dry.
"yeah. Likewise. So, what can I do for you, JC?" he asks.
"What do you do?" JC asks, but it must be a rhetorical question, because he looks a little shocked when Jimmy starts going through prices and holds up his hand. "Wait," he says. "Wait. Right here?"
Jimmy shrugs. "Wherever. Second location will cost you more, though."
"But, like. I could take you back to my house, for example?"
Jimmy smiles his first real smile of the night. A house call is five hundred, minimum. Andre's going to be pissed, and Johnny's going to fucking love him. "Absolutely, JC," he says. "You can take me anywhere."
The house is a ways away, maybe a fifty dollar cab ride, and Jimmy mentally adds that in to the price. They've already stopped at two cash machines on the way back and JC just handed him the money without blinking. That and the house thing make him Jimmy's new favorite person. In return, he's put on a little show in the car, loosening his clothes, stretching, tipping his head back against the seat and sighing. By the time they get in the front door, JC's flushed and ready to go.
He leans against the back of the couch while Jimmy blows him, his shirt still on, white knuckled against the cushions. He comes fast, hard, gasping, and Jimmy stands up and shoves his hands in his pockets.
"Can you stay?" JC asks. "I get more, right?"
"Six hundred gets you all night," Jimmy replies, smiling. JC, still sweating, smiles back, and reaches for the buttons on his shirt. Jimmy thinks, this'll be the easiest six hundred dollars I've ever made.
It is, in fact, the easiest seven hundred and fifty dollars he's ever made, because JC insists on paying him a la carte. Jimmy does not object.
The guy who cries is named Phil, and he's Jimmy's Wednesday night, all night, every week. He's a big shot in music industry, a producer or something, and he makes all sorts of promises, all sorts of offers. At first Jimmy was tempted to take him up on one of them, and asked him about the possibility of some work, some real work, back up singing or something. Nothing major. Phil had been very nice about it, but Jimmy had seen the look in his eye, the look that said "I'll own you," and he quickly demurred. He was a whore, but nobody owned him for more than an hour. There were worse things.
He wanted to get rid of Phil, after that, and also because of the crying, but Johnny said no, because Phil is an easy thousand, every week, and Johnny says there's no sense giving up a good thing. Jimmy agrees. He wants to agree anyway.
Still, the crying afterwards is annoying, and as Jimmy pats Phil's broad back and says "shh honey," he thinks of JC, who cracked jokes and gave him money for a cab without having to be hinted at, and who is also, Jimmy thinks, a bigwig in the music industry. And has blue eyes.
"I love you, Jimmy," Phil gasps, clinging to his waist. Phil always says that. Jimmy wonders if Phil has any idea how sick that is, by far the sickest thing a john's ever done to him, and he's seen some sick things. How fucked up must you be, Jimmy thinks, to think that love involves paying someone to fuck you?
"Uh huh, baby," Jimmy murmurs. He may have to up his rates.
When he gets back to the corner--Phil pays for all night, but rarely keeps him the whole time--he finds out from Andre that his "candy-ass pretty boy" was there to see him.
"Oh yeah?" he says, lighting a cigarette. "Who'd he end up with?"
Andre snickers. "Oh no baby. All he want is you."
"Really?" Jimmy says, eyeing the street. There's a Lexus rolling slowly towards them that looks promising.
"He's all soft on you, baby. You better watch out, or he'll be in love, too."
"Fuck off," Jimmy says, but he doesn't really mean it, and Andre knows it, and laughs.
The Lexus turns out to be three fraternity boys looking for a friend, and Andre gets them, mostly because Jimmy doesn't do gangs. There's something about him that makes him vulnerable to men in packs: he found that out the hard way. Andre laughs, though, and slides into the car. Unless they pull a gun on him, he can handle himself.
Jimmy goes back to his spot on the wall and smokes his cigarette and thinks maybe he'll go in. He doesn't need to make anything else tonight because of Phil, but if he does, Johnny might let him keep more than forty percent, because it's gravy. The night is warm, and there's music drifting down from one of the apartments upstairs, though, so he stays out and smokes and thinks about JC coming all the way down here again and leaving alone until a Mercedes comes by with just one guy in it. Jimmy smiles and gets to work.
He doesn't think while he's working.
"So what don't you do?" JC asks, the next time they're together a few days later. They're at his house again, and the money is a thick bulge in the front pocket of Jimmy's leather pants, so he's willing to talk all JC wants.
Jimmy laughs. "Lots of things."
Jimmy looks at him and sighs. They're all like this, the regulars. They all want to be his friend, be his buddy, be something more than just a john to him. They all think they want to know the gritty truth about it, but they don't.
"Lots of things," Jimmy says again. "There's no hard and fast rules, it's a case-by-case type thing."
"Yeah?" JC smiles, leaning forward, putting his elbows on his knees. "What do you do the least?"
"There are tons of things I've only done once, JC," he says. "What do you want to know?"
JC is still smiling, but he doesn't answer right away. "Never mind," he says finally. "Tell me something about yourself."
"I'm from Mississippi, I'm twenty-two, I'm a whore. What else do you need to know?"
JC laughs, shocked.
"Well, like, um ..."
"You want to know how it happened?" Jimmy asks.
"Um, yeah. I guess. You know, if it's not too personal."
Jimmy shrugs. "It's your dime, man," he says. "I was seventeen. My parents kicked me out because of the gay thing and I ended up in San Fran for a while."
Jimmy smiles. "If you were a fag from the Deep South with nowhere to go, wouldn't you head there?"
JC shrugs. "I guess."
"So anyway, I met my roommate there, and he hooked me up with my boss, and we came down here to make some money. We've been here for three years or so."
"Yeah. So, do you wanna fuck or not?"
He becomes a regular, filling up Jimmy's Tuesday night nicely, and at first, Johnny is pleased. "Nice job, kid," Johnny says, when Jimmy starts bringing home the cash. But JC wants to pick him up at five or six in the afternoon and keeps him the whole night, and Johnny knows that he's losing the three or four hundred extra he could get if JC were Phil, say, and brought him home early.
"So, anyway, nothing before ten," Jimmy says to JC, the next Tuesday.
"Really?" JC asks, running his hand up and over Jimmy's bare arm. "Really?"
"What if I pay more?" JC asks, pressing his face against the back of Jimmy's neck. "What if I make up the difference?"
"Shit," Jimmy says. "How much money do you have, man?"
"You rippin' me off?" JC asks, his arms circling Jimmy's waist.
"Look, you're already paying seven-fifty. It'd be over a thousand, and Johnny might not let you do it, anyway."
"Why not?" JC kisses his neck, small wet kisses.
"He thinks you're getting too attached."
"Yeah?" JC laughs. "What do you think?" More kisses.
Jimmy turns around so that he's looking into JC's face. "I think he's right."
"Okay," JC says. "Ten thirty okay?"
"Sure," Jimmy says. That night after JC fucks him hard, he gets up and throws Jimmy's pants onto the bed.
"Let's get you back," he says. "I'll go call the cab."
"Sure," Jimmy says. He's pretty sure JC won't be coming back anymore. No one likes to feel like they're being used, Jimmy knows. Not even whores.
The next Tuesday, though, JC is there at ten thirty as promised. He leans over and opens the door and Jimmy slides in.
"Hey," JC says.
"Hey. Didn't think I'd see you again."
JC smiles. "Yeah, well, you were right, I was wrong, blah blah blah."
They stop in the driveway, and JC puts his hand on Jimmy's forearm before Jimmy can get out of the car. "Jimmy," he says. "I have a, um."
"What, JC?" He puts on his most tolerant face. Whatever it is, JC's probably thinking that it's way out there. Jimmy's sure, though, that it's tame, pure vanilla. Maybe a spanking or some light bondage, tying him up with neck ties or something.
"I want, um. I want you to, um."
"You can tell me, Jace," he says.
"Let me," JC says, and leans in and kisses him. They've kissed before, a thousand times. Jimmy does decide things on a case-by-case basis, and JC's clean and friendly and has great teeth, and it would be stupid not to kiss him, but they've never kissed like this before, with JC's hand on his cheek, and his slow lazy tongue, as if they're actually making out and not just leading to something else.
"Oh," Jimmy says when JC pulls back. "That's, um, it's extra. Five hundred."
"Okay," JC nods. "Okay, sure." He gropes for his wallet, and tosses the money lightly into Jimmy's lap. Then he kisses him again, sliding his arms around Jimmy's neck.
It's extra because he doesn't like letting them do it, and it's always the regulars who want it, want to act like he's their boyfriend or something, and treat him like he's more than the whore that he is. It's uncomfortable. He let Phil do it, once, and that started the "I love yous" and he thought, afterwards, that he should have known better.
He should know better.
JC kisses him for a long time in the front seat of the car, like they're teenagers or something, and he's really good, slow and sweet, and Jimmy feels himself getting worked up in spite of his trepidation, which is good. That's what JC wants, right? That's what he's paying the extra $500 for after all.
For some johns, it's about ego. They think it's something special to make a whore come. It's not. Jimmy can do it almost at will, because a lot of the johns like it. He only does it when they ask though, because just as some johns like it because it makes them feel like big shots, others hate it because they think why should they pay for you to have a good time? So Jimmy doesn't guess, but if a guy leans over while he's fucking him and whispers "c'mon baby," in Jimmy's ear, he'll come. Give 'em their money's worth and they'll keep coming back, Johnny says.
JC doesn't say "c'mon baby," or reach for his crotch or anything. He just keeps kissing, sliding as close as possible on the seat, wrapping his arms around Jimmy's waist and tugging him close. He kisses hot and sweet, and moans when Jimmy kisses back.
"Let's go in," he says, after a while, and Jimmy, feeling light headed, nods.
He doesn't like doing this because it's too normal, getting pulled by the hand into JC's upscale living room, getting pushed gently to the couch, JC smiling down at him. It's like they're on a date or something, and JC hasn't shelled out over ten thousand dollars in the last two months just to have the pleasure. It's like his first time, a million trillion times ago, when he went by another name and someone said they loved him.
"Stop," Jimmy says, and shoves at JC's shoulder.
JC stops, sitting back. "What? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Fine," Jimmy says. "I'm fine. Give me a minute."
JC folds his hands between his knees. Jimmy knows he's looking at him, but doesn't lift his head, staring at the laces on his boots.
"If you don't want--"
"I said I'm fine," Jimmy says, and forces a smile.
"What the fuck do you know?" Jimmy demands, and this time JC doesn't back down in the face Jimmy's anger.
"I know enough," he says. His hand in Jimmy's hair is soft. "We can stop."
"We're not stopping, okay? Just give me a fucking minute."
"Okay," JC says. His hand runs through Jimmy's hair, down his cheek, over and over again. "I'm a record producer, did you know that?"
"I figured." Jimmy says. "You look the type."
"Yeah?" JC smiles. "So, yeah, I'm a record producer. I've got something new coming out next week. You listen to the radio?" His hand is slow and warm over Jimmy's ear. "You probably don't listen to my stuff. I work for a younger demographic. Teeny boppers, you know."
Jimmy closes his eyes. JC keeps talking, telling about his new album with some kid Jimmy's heard of a couple of times, but JC is right, it's not really his scene. JC's big now, no doubt, but this album is going to put him over the edge, into the top tier, him and the kid he works with. When JC tugs a little, Jimmy goes, tipping forward until his cheek is against JC's shoulder and JC's hands are on his back, running up and down. He falls silent after a while, his palms smoothing the silky fabric of Jimmy's shirt. Jimmy can hear his heart thudding gently under his ear.
"Why?" Jimmy says. There's no answer for a long time.
"I know what it's like," JC says, eventually. "I mean, not exactly. But I know."
Jimmy tips his head back and sees in JC's eyes that he doesn't know. He has some idea, maybe, what it's like to be bought and sold, what it's like to sell parts of yourself bit by bit. Jimmy figures he would. Show business is just prostitution, really, Jimmy knows, so yeah, maybe JC has some idea.
JC leans in and kisses him again, and this time Jimmy lets himself go, opens his mouth, closes his eyes, and falls in. He shouldn't. It's wrong, and it'll only end up badly, and Johnny'll be pissed, and for a second none of that matters.
"Call me Lance," Jimmy says when JC pulls back.
Afterwards, JC curls around him from behind, squeezing him tight, kissing his shoulder blades. Jimmy lies there for a few minutes, trying not to remember the sound of JC whispering "sweetheart" in his ear, or how it felt to have someone thread their fingers through his and kiss him while they fuck him. It occurs to him that he hasn't had sex with anyone for four years, since him and Bobby stopped doing it.
"We can't," Bobby'd said after the last time, snuggling up to him. "It's, it."
"It confuses things," Jimmy had said, and Bobby had kissed him and they stopped doing it after that.
"I won't," JC whispers in his ear. "Your name. I won't."
"Yeah, thanks," Jimmy says, and starts to cry.
He leaves before JC wakes up, not waiting for cab fare.
Bobby is asleep when he gets home, of course, but Jimmy can't sleep, not yet. He sits in the shabby living room with his knees pulled up and a glass of iced tea sweating on the coffee table beside him, and wonders what the fuck happened to him tonight.
Eventually, he gets up and goes to the closet in his bedroom. The shoebox is dusty, but undamaged. Jimmy opens it and ruffles through the envelopes in there, most of them bearing "Address Unknown" or "Refused" in red post office ink. At the bottom of the shallow box is a cassette tape. Jimmy pulls it out. "James Lance Bass," the label reads. "Demo."
He shoves the tape back into the box, goes back to the living room, and turns on the t.v. Nothing's on.
Jimmy's sick the next Tuesday, maybe from something he ate at the diner, or from the milk that sat too long in the fridge. He refuses Johnny's offer of a doctor, because he's sure he'll be fine by the next day.
He watches the green car pull alongside the curb from his darkened window, watches Bobby lean down and shake his head in the window, shrug, walk away. The car stays there for a minute, then drives off.
The next day, Jimmy's fine.
The Tuesday after that there is no JC.
Johnny a little pissed at first, because the money was fine, but Jimmy's turning trick after trick in an effort to make up for it, and he's got a Friday regular now, too, nothing much, a guy with a penchant for blow jobs, but it could turn into something more, Jimmy says, if he works it right, and Johnny is appeased. Besides, Johnny has other things to worry about. Rumor has it that some of the South Central guys are working their way uptown and Johnny is often called away from Elida to the streets where his girls work.
Jimmy gets back to the corner and back to work.
A week is forever on the corner, so by the time Tuesday has rolled around again, Jimmy's forgotten all about JC and his bottle green ride, and the restaurant down the corner from JC's house where JC would buy him real breakfasts before seeing him to the cab. Omelets, or pancakes, whatever he wanted. JC would never let him pay, laughing and covering Jimmy's money with his hand.
"Forget it," JC would say. "If I didn't drag your ass all the way out here, I wouldn't have to buy you breakfast."
Jimmy doesn't remember any of that, though, smoking, one arm folded across his stomach. He's so busy not remembering that he doesn't hear the guy calling his name right away.
"Hey, hey!" the guy says. "You Jimmy?"
"Who's asking?" Jimmy asks, not moving.
"The love of your life," the guy says. "Come here."
Jimmy eyes the other guys on the corner and saunters to the car. The guy is big, muscular, handsome in that dark Italian way. His smile is bright like sunshine.
"What can I do for you?" Jimmy asks, smiling back.
"Get in the car," the john says, unfolding a fan of hundred dollar bills.
Jimmy gets in the car.
They're driving for a few minutes before the guy sighs. "I got someone I want you to meet," he says.
"Oh," Jimmy says, hooking his fingers in the door handle, waiting for the next light. "Nope, sorry. Take me back and I'll get you someone who does that."
"Does what?" the john asks.
"Tag teams," Jimmy says. "I'm strictly a one-at-a-time kind of guy. Sorry."
The john shakes his head. "Fuck," he says laughing. "You're a piece of work, man."
"Yeah, well. I'm a piece of work with a pimp, so take me back and I'll get you what you want."
The john puts his hand on Jimmy's, patting. It's not what Jimmy expected. "Don't be so fucking paranoid," the john says. "JC didn't say you were such a freak."
"Oh," Jimmy says, understanding. A referral. That was nice of him. Nice. Jimmy feels his heart sag in his chest. "What did he say?"
"He said you were pretty. Pretty and blond. And annoying."
"Was he right?" Jimmy says, sliding a little in the seat so that the john's hand is on his thigh.
The john glances over at him. "Yeah," he says.
The john's name is Joey, and he's a friend of JC's. They've known each other for years and years and Jimmy thinks it likely that at one time or another they were a lot more than friends.
"So, he kept talking and talking, and finally I had to come and get you," Joey says, taking a corner, eyes on the road.
"See for yourself, hmm?" Jimmy asks. He wants to be nice to this guy, to JC's friend, because the guy seems harmless, and has money, and is built like a fucking Mack truck, but he's having a hard time summoning up the energy. He's a referral now.
Joey looks over at him and laughs. "Yeah. Something like that."
They pull up to Joey's house, and cruise into the garage. The lights come on automatically. Jimmy smiles, impressed. "I tell you what, Joey," he says. "You and your friends have some nice places."
"Yeah," Joey says, looking amused.
"What exactly do you do?" Jimmy asks, sliding out of the car.
Joey coughs. "I'm sorry?"
"Your job. What do you do?"
"I'm an actor." He opens the door and ushers Jimmy in.
"You must be pretty good. These are some nice--" Jimmy turns in the narrow hallway and stares. "You're fucking Joey Fatone," he says.
"Technically, I hired you to fuck Joey Fatone," Joey says, smiling.
"Damn," Jimmy says, impressed in spite of himself. He's seen some big money in the last five years, usually in passing, but this guy, he's ... "You're famous," he says.
"Yeah," Joey laughs. "I'm famous." He twirls his finger near his head. "Whoopee."
They go upstairs, and Jimmy tries not to stare, but it's weird to be in the company of a famous person. It's never happened to him before, and there are very few things Jimmy can put on that list.
"So, where do you want to?" Jimmy asks when they enter the enormous sterile white living room.
"Bedroom," Joey says, but they pass what must be the master bedroom on the way up the second flight of stairs, a large open room with a bed the size of Jimmy's apartment and a fireplace and wall size windows covered by horizontal blinds. Joey stops and knocks on a door at the end of the hallway.
"Look," Jimmy says again, taking a step backwards. "Famous or not, man, I don't do groups. I'm really sorry, but--"
The door opens and JC leans out, unshaven and scowling. "What the fuck, Joey?" he says, and then he sees Jimmy, and Jimmy sees him and they stare at each other for a good long minute until Joey pats them both on the back and says "surprise."
"This wasn't my idea," JC blurts, as soon as the door is shut behind them.
"No kidding," Jimmy says. He sits down on the end of the bed. He knew right away, from JC's expression, and also because JC looks like shit, like he hasn't slept in a week.
"He said you talked about me."
JC glances up from his hands, startled. "He said that?"
Jimmy stands up again, unbuttoning his shirt. "Yup."
"Well, um," JC says, backing away. "I guess. I mean."
"You told him where to find me," Jimmy says. "You told him my name." He pushes his shoes off with his toes. "You told him I was pretty."
"You are," JC breathes. He's pressed up against the door now, palms flat against the wood. He's flushed, and Jimmy thinks he looks scared, like he might bolt at any second, but when he reaches one hand out and slides it around JC's waist, he comes willingly enough.
"This is a bad idea," Jimmy says, afterwards. He's still draped all over JC, covering him, arms and legs tangled together, and JC's heart rabbiting in his ear.
"Yeah," JC says. "That's why I stayed away."
"You're too attached," Jimmy says. "This isn't fuckin' Pretty Woman. You can't save me."
"I know," JC says. "I know."
"We can't keep doing this." Jimmy presses his face into JC's shoulder and feels his arms tighten around him. "It's not a good idea."
"You said that," JC points out.
"Yeah," Jimmy sighs.
"So I've been thinking," JC says, sometime later, after they've pulled apart some and JC's hand trails down Jimmy's back in light feather-like strokes. Jimmy opens his eyes.
"We can't keep doing this, right?"
Jimmy pushes back on his hands and turns over. JC touches his stomach, covering it with his hand. "Right," Jimmy says.
"I mean, it's bound to self-destruct."
Jimmy nods and waits.
"But we could, for a while." JC rests his palm over Jimmy's belly button and looks up at him.
"Until it blows up," Jimmy says, keeping his voice low and disinterested.
"So I keep getting paid and you keep getting Tuesdays until it doesn't work, and then we stop."
JC nods. "Sure. Win, win."
Jimmy looks at him for a minute, at the rough unshaven line of his jaw. He touches JC's mouth with his finger, and JC opens it, obligingly. Jimmy smiles. "Sure," he says. "Yeah."
When Johnny finds out, he looks at him hard. "You better know what you're doing," he says.
"It's easy money," Jimmy says.
Johnny crosses his arms over his chest and tries to look angry, but he's tired from the shit going down with his girls and Jimmy knows it and that's why Jimmy's telling him now. "Fine, Jimmy," he says, eventually. "I'm telling you though, this is your problem. I don't have time to deal with your shit right now."
"Of course, Johnny. I got in under control," Jimmy says. He tries not to smile.
When Bobby finds out, he shakes his head. "This is no good, Jimmy," he says.
"You know better, man. This ain't the job."
Jimmy tries to smile, shaking his head. "This ain't anything new, man. John's been in love with me before."
Bobby leans over on the couch and catches Jimmy's chin in his hand. His blue eyes are sad and serious. "What about you?" he says. Jimmy pulls away and shrugs and doesn't answer.
JC picks him up on Tuesdays, at 10:30 sharp, and Jimmy stops taking tricks at 9:00 so that he can go upstairs and shower first. JC hasn't asked him to do this, but he does, anyway, ignoring the looks Bobby and Andre shoot him. He shouldn't have told Bobby, he thinks, because it's all over the street now--Jimmy's in love with a john--and the guys on the corner give him shit about it all the time now. They whistle when JC's car comes around the corner, and call out "how's your husband, Jimmy, baybee!" when he slides in.
It doesn't seem to bother JC, who waves and drives him off, smiling.
Andre takes him aside one Tuesday, before JC pulls up, holding his arm in a desperate grip.
"What?" Jimmy asks.
"Look, maybe you know what you doin' and maybe you don't," Andre whispers.
"Andre, I--" Jimmy struggles a little, but there's no point. Andre's huge.
"Shh!" he says. "This john, he treats you good?"
"If he can get you out, then, Jimmy, you go."
Jimmy laughs. "What the fuck, Andre? How's he going to get me out?" The whole idea is ludicrous. It's a fantasy, a myth, a pile of bullshit, and anyone who's been on the street as long as Andre should know that. Jimmy doesn't even think about it, not even when he wakes up in JC's plush bed with JC curled up behind him, or when JC takes him to the club on the corner to have drinks, or when they go to parties over at Joey's house and Jimmy wears clothes JC bought for him. He doesn't think of how his stomach churns when he sees JC's car rounding the corner.
Andre doesn't laugh. He shakes Jimmy's arm. "You go," he says again, staring down into Jimmy's eyes. Jimmy nods.
They kiss all the time, JC sliding his arms around Jimmy's neck and pressing into him, smiling. JC is narrower than he is, and Jimmy likes to slip his hand under JC's shirt and spanning the small of JC's back and holding him there.
"You guys are fuckin' disgusting," Joey says one night, when he walks in on them kissing in the foyer. "All giddy and shit," and Jimmy grins at him, still holding JC close.
He is giddy, he thinks.
It scares him.
JC hands him the slip of paper and says "be here, tomorrow at noon."
Jimmy knows what it is, knows he shouldn't go, but he shows up anyway, in an ironed shirt, and takes the clipboard from the polished girl at the front desk. The waiting room is all sunlight and framed gold records, and posters of the latest hottest things, things Jimmy doesn't really recognize because he doesn't spend a lot of time listening to the radio.
"Lance Bass," the receptionist says, and he follows her into a room.
He doesn't get the job, in part because his voice is rusty, although he hits some good notes in there, and the man behind the glass looks impressed. Still, impressed doesn't get you backup vocals on the next big thing by the latest big thing.
He steps out of the office building into the California sun. For a moment, he's blinded, but then his vision clears and he remembers who he is.
"You can't do shit like that," he tells JC.
"What? It was nothing. An open call."
Jimmy shrugs and watches the lights pass by the car window. "It doesn't matter. You can't do stuff like that."
"Why not?" JC asks.
"It's not." Jimmy shakes his head. He can't explain what it is, how it made him feel to go some place with an address in his hand and a connection in his back pocket. He can't describe to JC how wrong it feels to take things besides money, because money is about services and other things are about ... other things.
"Look," JC says, his eyes on the road. "They were looking for someone, I gave you an address. I didn't even call anybody. It was nothing."
"It wasn't nothing," Jimmy says.
"It was nothing," JC repeats.
"I'm a whore, JC."
JC glances over at him, and smiles. "I know."
Jimmy shakes his head. "No, you don't," he says. "You say you do, but you don't. You treat me like this, and buy me shit, and have me meet your bigwig friends, and send me out on job interviews and that's not how this works, JC! I'm a whore, and this is not how you treat whores!"
JC is silent for a moment, his mouth a thin line. "This is how I treat whores," he says, finally.
They fight about it again before Jimmy leaves the next morning, and when the cab gets there, JC is still in the bathroom dabbing at his lip. Jimmy puts his hand on JC's shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry," he says.
JC nods. "Sure. It's okay."
But Jimmy knows it's not okay. He makes sure to wipe his face before he gets out of the cab, in case Bobby's up already.
This is it, he thinks, on Monday, already planning what he's going to say. It's way out of control, so far out that he's thinking about JC even while he's with the johns, wondering what JC's doing, who he's talking to on the phone, what he's having for lunch. It's time.
He finds out Johnny's dead from Bobby, who comes tearing up the stairs at three, fresh from his run.
"We gotta go," he says, grabbing a battered suitcase from his closet.
"What, wait! What happened?"
"They shot him, Jimmy. We gotta get the fuck out of here!"
"Shit," Jimmy mutters, and grabs his own suitcase. "Shit."
This is bad, very bad. Impossibly bad. Johnny dead. And if Bobby knows then everyone on the whole corner knows and that means that sooner or later someone's going to come looking for him and Bobby and Andre and all the rest of the money makers that no longer have anyone to make money for.
"I'm going to my cousin's," Bobby says, throwing his suitcase down in the hallway and grabbing a pen. "This is the number. Call me when you get somewhere?"
"Sure, yeah," Jimmy says, folding the paper into his pocket. Bobby grabs him and hugs him tight, breathing on his neck.
"Be careful," he whispers, and kisses him quickly.
"You too," Jimmy murmurs, and lets him go.
He is out the door ten minutes later, his own suitcase bulging with clothes. In the late afternoon, Elida is only half busy, gearing up for the business that takes over the street in the evening. There are already some boys on the street, guys who don't work for Johnny, didn't work for Johnny, and they look at him with suspicion. He's become an unknown quantity to them now, a whore without a pimp, a rogue, and they won't talk to him until they figure out his new place in their little world. Hopefully, they won't talk about him, either, he thinks, yanking open the door of his cab.
"Where to?" the cab driver asks.
Jimmy doesn't know.
JC comes around the corner of his driveway, whistling, keys jangling in his hand.
"Jimmy?" he says. "This is, um. Door to door?" he asks, and Jimmy must look worse than he feels because JC crouches down in front of him. "Are you okay?"
"They killed Johnny," he says.
JC is warm, and smells of cologne and sunshine, and whispers "stay here," when Jimmy pulls away and stands up, suitcase in hand.
He doesn't want to, he was just going to stop by and let JC know because Elida's not going to be safe tonight, and he doesn't want JC getting shot even if they are breaking up, or whatever, but JC's got hold of his hand and is walking him into the house, and Jimmy doesn't protest.
He doesn't protest when JC peels his clothes off and puts him into bed, even though it's five in the afternoon and still sunny, and Jimmy doesn't think that he's tired. JC puts Jimmy's head on his thigh and strokes his hair and doesn't say anything, which suits Jimmy's mood just fine, because Jimmy doesn't feel anything at all.
He doesn't start feeling anything until he wakes up in the middle of the night, the perfect darkness engulfing him. He's been here dozens of times before, but the room has never felt so big and empty as it does now. He turns and feels JC shift against him and come awake, his hands running over Jimmy's arms. JC is warm in the cool cavern of the room, and twines around him, and hums deep in his throat while Jimmy cries and clings to him.
"Shh, sweetheart, shh," JC says. "You're here. You're with me."
Jimmy doesn't have the energy to tell him that's part of the problem.
It's easy, though, to forget the problem, while JC is making him breakfast and leaving him alone in the house, and coming home with tickets to concerts and presents of things like a toothbrush, that Jimmy forgot to take out of his apartment. It's easy to forget when JC comes in the door after work already pulling off his shirt and reaching for Jimmy, and kissing him until all of his professional demeanor is washed away in a tide of lust and heat, and he says, "JC, god. JC," when he comes.
It's only in the afternoon, when he's alone in JC's big house, watching JC's big screen t.v. that he remembers.
It gets easier to forget, though, as time passes. JC always seems happy when he gets home, even when he bitches about tempermental artists and the commercial sell-out song writers. He sighs and flops down on the couch and says stuff like, "fuck, baby, these people don't have a clue," but he smiles while he says it, and part of that, Jimmy knows, is because the latest single is climbing the charts with a bullet, but part of it is also, Jimmy hopes, because JC comes home to him.
He starts making dinner, just throwing shit together from the stuff JC keeps around in the kitchen, and JC eats it, always, even when Jimmy thinks it tastes like bad shoes. JC likes to come into the kitchen and kiss the back of his neck while he's stirring something or chopping something or otherwise has his hands occupied.
He also starts going to the addresses JC leaves on the table. They are never a big deal, back up gigs for small bands recording their first demos, one song on the album of a has-been who wants-to-be again. They are always open calls, but generally the types of open calls that are hardly advertised, and no one knows about. More than once, Jimmy gets the job because no one else shows up.
The first time he hears himself on tape he is shocked and pleased, and asks for a copy of it from the technician, who says, "sure thing, Lance," and makes him one right away, with the label of the studio and everything. It's nothing big, just him doing the bass for a young pop group's version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but Jimmy grins when the tech hands it to him, and again when he hands it to JC that night.
JC listens to it carefully, his head tilted to the side, and about halfway through Jimmy notices that he's sniffling a little.
"Okay," he says. "This is a happy song, Jace."
"Shut up," JC says. "You sound good. We're going to have to get you a union card."
"Fuck off," Jimmy says. But when JC comes home three days later with the union membership application, Jimmy fills it out carefully.
The fight starts because of the American Music Awards.
"You don't understand," Jimmy says, shaking his head. "I can't."
"That's what I'm telling you," JC says. "You can. Everybody knows! I'm out, I've been out, I am out. Gay. Queer as a three dollar bill. Everyone knows. Come with me."
"JC," Jimmy says.
JC looks at him.
Jimmy sighs. It never changes. It's a luxury of class, maybe, Jimmy thinks, or maybe it's just money, but the johns always think that bad things will go away if you ignore them long enough. They don't.
"I'm a whore, JC," he says, finally, puffing his breath out all at once.
JC looks at him for a long time, eyes narrow. "Right," he says. He walks out of the kitchen. When Jimmy goes down stairs to tell him dinner's ready, he's in the studio with the record light on. Jimmy doesn't knock.
He feels JC climb into the bed after midnight, the cool whoosh of air as the covers are pulled back, the heat of JC sliding up against his back.
"Come with me," JC whispers in his ear.
Jimmy sighs, but before he can say anything, JC's hand is over his mouth.
"Shut up for a second, okay?" JC says. "Come with me. I know you're all hung up on this 'prostitute' thing, like it's the only thing you've ever done or whatever, but it's not. It's not, Lance. Come with me." His breath is hot against Jimmy's ear and Jimmy thinks JC may be crying a little.
"JC," he says, wanting to say no. "You don't understand. I mean, people will know me, and--"
"And who the fuck cares?" JC's whisper is harsh in his ear. "So what? You know what I did before I hit it here? I was a waiter. Joey did soft core porn. Fucking Tom Cruise blew everybody in town, and I can't even tell you what this new kid Timberlake offered to do to me. No one cares, Lance. Only you."
Jimmy sighs. "JC--"
JC squeezes him tight. "Please," he says.
"Okay, fine. Yes," he says, and he's flipped over onto his back and pushed into the mattress and JC's tongue is in his mouth and his hands are under Jimmy's shirt, and his tears are on Jimmy's face, and when JC whispers something in his ear, something that may be "love" or may be just his name said dark with lust, Jimmy thinks
"so this is what it's like."