What surprised them most about Joey turning into a girl was how pretty he was. Justin was supposed to be the pretty one, or JC. Or Lance, who knew he sometimes scared them all with his fair fine skin and his precise way of dressing. It was a shock, then, when Joey came out of the bunk area that first day, his same old t-shirt clinging to his breasts and sweatpants draped over the curves of his hips.
"Damn!" Chris said, hand slapping his forehead.
"I know," Joey said, tugging at the hem of his shirt. "It's awful."
"Awful?" Chris said. He and Justin were both staring, eyes darting from Joey's face to his chest. Joey shifted back and forth, crossing and uncrossing his arms in front of himself. "Dude," Chris said, finally, when he saw Joey scowl. "You're stacked!"
"Fuck off," Joey said, giving up and folding his arms. But it was true.
He was still tall, but he was narrower, somehow, not as thick through the shoulders, although his hips seemed to be the same. And there were the breasts. They were ... big, Lance thought, looking at them surreptitiously while everyone was waiting for Theresa and Nathan to show up. They were Ds, at least. Maybe double Ds. And Joey's eyes were the same, but his mouth had changed a little, and his chin was pointier, and he still looked Italian, but in the striking way that Italian women look in movies, dark and powerful.
"Man, you're like a supermodel on roids," Justin said, when Joey came out of the bathroom.
"Shut up," Joey said, although he was tall like a supermodel now. But he wasn't built like one. His extra flesh hadn't gone away. He was curvy all over the place, soft and smooth and round, moreso than Britney, who was really a skinny girl with nice, fake boobs. Joey was round all over.
"I think you look good," Lance said.
"Thanks," Joey said, but he sighed like he knew that he had turned into the type of girl that none of them would go out with, stacked or not.
"Not as bad as we feared," Nathan said, standing back and looking Joey up and down.
"What did you fear?" JC asked. He was kind of intrigued by the whole thing, Lance thought, and he kept poking at Joey as if poking would make him turn back.
"Hairy," Theresa said.
"Oh, right." Justin nodded, eyes big, scanning Joey for extraneous hair.
"Speaking of ..." Nathan said.
"Right. He'll need--" Theresa flipped her cell open.
"So, um, what about the shows?" Justin asked.
"What about them?" Nathan asked.
"Well, he can't, I mean. He's a girl."
"She's Joey's cousin," Nathan said. "She's on tour with you guys because Joey broke his leg."
"No one's gonna believe that," JC said. Joey sighed. He had pale circles under his eyes, and Lance hoped that wasn't part of the new package. He looked tired.
"Do I look like I give a fuck?" Nathan asked.
"What about the dance moves?" JC asked, and Nathan rolled his eyes.
"Hey," Lance said, coming up by Joey's shoulder.
"Hey," Joey said.
Joey squeezed his eyes shut. "No, not really."
"Yeah," Lance said. He put one hand in between Joey's shoulder blades, rubbing lightly. "Is this--can I still do this?"
Joey dipped his head to Lance's shoulder. "Please," he said.
Joey didn't look tired later, though, when he came back from the salon in the limo with Nathan and Theresa. Nathan got out first and turned to give Joey his hand. There was an ankle first strapped into a black high-heeled shoe by an ankle strap, and then Joey's calf, and then Joey was all out of the car, tall and curvy in a black dress that glimmered all over with some kind of sparkly dust and didn't seem to be held up by anything.
"whoa!" Chris said, walking into Lance's back. "Mary, Mother of God."
"What?" JC asked. "What is--whoa!"
"Joey?" Justin said.
They'd given him hair extensions or something, so his hair fell in dark waves to his shoulders. And his eyes were made up, and his mouth was painted a glossy red. He looked like a movie star. That illusion was shattered a second later, when Joey tried to take a step in his black strappy shoes and almost broke his neck, grabbing onto Nathan's arm as he lunged forward.
"Okay, so we'll hire someone to teach him to walk in the shoes," Theresa said, when Nathan glared at her.
Lance didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say.
"It's just, you're so ... wow," JC said, when they were all in the living room. "Like, wow."
Joey smiled a little. It was shocking how much different he looked. The last time he'd worn a dress and stockings, for the U Drive Me Crazy video, Lance knew he'd felt like an oaf, huge and bloated and unattractive. They'd all felt that way, except Justin, who had lucked out and gotten to wear pants. But now, in this black and sparkly dress with the slit up his thigh and JC and Justin staring at him, Joey didn't look uncomfortable. He looked gorgeous.
Lance missed the uncomfortable Joey, the one that had tugged at his skirt and bitched about panty hose and smeared his lipstick five seconds after the makeup artists got it on him.
Nathan and Theresa left after making Joey walk up and down the stairs in his heels. Joey collapsed on the couch and yanked the shoes off.
"Fuck," he said, rubbing his toes on the carpet. He had red nail polish on them, Lance noticed. "Those things are fucking murder, man."
Everyone was staring at places other than Joey: the window, the floor, the empty space in the distance.
Finally, Justin sighed.
"This sucks," he said.
"You're not the one wearing fucking control top pantyhose," Joey said.
Eventually, they got up one by one and went off to dinner, or to make phone calls, or wherever and it was just Joey and Lance, sitting on one of Johnny's white couches.
"You look really good," Lance said, quietly.
"I like the hair."
Joey grinned. "Wait until I tell my sister. She'll crack up. I have Jersey hair."
Lance smiled back. "It's nice, though. It suits you."
"Gee, thanks, Bass," Joey said. "This is going to be fucked up for awhile, isn't it?"
Lance leaned over until his shoulder was touching Joey's smooth bare one. Joey smelled like violets.
"I think so," he said.
It was a little fucked up.
Because Joey kept catching Chris watching him breathe if his shirt was too tight, or eying his thighs if Joey had shorts on.
"Sorry, sorry!" he yelped, when Joey threw him up against the wall. "It's just. I can't help it."
"This is turning you on right now, isn't it?" Joey asked.
Chris flinched. "Would you punch me if I said yes?"
"Just quit it," Joey said, and shoved him.
And Justin stopped touching him altogether. He would stomp out of the room if Joey tried to sit by him, or put an arm around his neck. That sucked, because Justin used to touch him all the time. Not in a sexy way, Justin wasn't into that, but in an affectionate pet way, leaning up against him in the hall, or sitting next to him with his head on Joey's shoulder. Joey had actually kind of been looking forward to that, to holding Justin's head on his lap while he slept, because he thought that might be different for girls. He thought he might get a maternal feeling.
That idea went out the window though, when Justin grabbed his wrist and yanked it away from his neck. "Could you get off me for a goddamned second, please?"
"Um, yeah, sure," Joey said. When he nodded he felt the end of his ponytail brush against his neck. He kind of liked it.
"I don't get it," he said to Lance one night on their bus. They were sitting back to back on the couch, leaning up against one another like they always did when Lance was supposed to be working and Joey was watching tv. "It's like I have germs or something."
"Cooties," Lance said over his shoulder, chuckling.
"Whatever. It pisses me off."
Lance leaned back, tipping his head back over Joey's shoulder and looking him in the eye. "You turn him on," he said.
Joey turned his head. "What?"
Lance smiled, and Joey realized suddenly how close they were. He could feel Lance's breath on his own mouth. They'd done this a hundred times before, sat like this, talked back and forth over Joey's shoulder, and he'd never noticed how close they were before. Their mouths. "You turn him on," Lance said. "You can't go grabbing at him and mauling him like you used to. Not with the ... endowments you've got now."
"Really. Sorry, man. Something's digging into my back." Lance sat up a little, and Joey reached around and felt his back.
"That's my bra, man," he said, sliding his hands under his shirt and unhooking it. He slid one hand up his sleeve and pulled the strap out over his wrist.
"Breasts are nothing but trouble, I'm tellin' ya," Lance said, bemused. Joey drew the bra out of his other sleeve. "How do you know how to do that?"
"Comes with the goods," Joey said, tossing the bra onto the table. "What do you think I should do about J?"
Lance turned away and pushed his back up against Joey's again, wriggling a little, and Joey wriggled back because even the new bras Theresa had picked out left an elastic mark that itched when he took them off. "He'll come around. He's just got to get used to it."
"Yeah," Joey said, sighing happily. "You did."
JC got weird in an entirely different way. Suddenly, he had to have Joey's opinion on everything.
"Come here," he'd say dragging Joey into his hotel room, "and tell me what you think of this new song."
Or he'd grab Joey's hand and pull him toward the back of the bus saying "Jo, I need your input on my look for the Billboard Awards." They had all started calling him that--Jo, without the "e"--like it was short for Josephine instead of Joseph. Lance still called him Joey. He couldn't help it.
Chris looked up at Lance. "His look?" he said.
Lance shrugged. "He can use all the help he can get."
"I dunno," Joey said when he came back. He kept tugging at his shirt, Lance noticed, even though it just emphasized the ... his breasts. "He's trying to branch out, you know, try new things."
"I bet," Justin said.
"What's that mean?"
Justin blushed. "You know, try new things. Like your, um, new stuff."
"My new stuff? What the fuck are you talkin' about, Jup?" Joey grabbed him, hooking one arm around his neck.
"Hey, hey!" Justin squealed and tried to squirm away, but Joey was still tall, and Justin was afraid of pushing in the wrong places, Lance noticed, so it wasn't long until Joey had him on the floor and was straddling him, poking him in the chest.
"My stuff," he asked. "What stuff is that, Timberlake?" poking while Justin laughed.
"I'm, I'm just sayin'," Justin said between breaths. "You know. JC admires the, the, goods."
"Ha!" Joey laughed. "No way!" He smacked Justin in the chest. "JC? I'm like an Amazon to JC!"
"Dude, that's the point," Chris said.
"Whatever," Joey said, shaking his head. "Who wants a sandwich?"
"Me!" Justin got up and followed him.
"It would be pretty funny," Chris said. "JC and Joey together? Can you imagine?" He laughed a little.
Lance smiled. "Yeah. Funny."
It was especially funny that JC kept using reasons to come on the two-man bus.
"Guys suck!" Joey said, stomping onto the bus outside the venue in Phoenix.
"Hey!" Justin said.
"It's true," Joey said. "Someone just called me a fat ass!"
"One of the crew?" Chris asked, standing up. "Which one?"
"No, no." Joey sighed, sitting on the couch next to Lance. "Some fucking catering person or something."
"Well, we can get them fired, too, you know," Chris said.
"Nah, that's. Forget it." He leaned back and closed his eyes.
Chris knocked on his door an hour or two later.
"I brought you presents!" Chris said, when Joey opened the hotel room door. His arms were heaped with pink and yellow cloth. He looked like he was about to wrap Easter gifts.
"It's the spring line," Chris said. He dumped the stuff on the bed and Joey could see it was shirts. "You should try it on--you can keep all of it."
"And use it for what? Dust rags?" Joey held a shirt up. "This is not going to fit, man."
"Whatever. Just put it on." Chris shoved something pink into his hand, and pushed him toward the bathroom door.
"Okay, fine." Joey peeled off his t-shirt with the faded STP logo on the front. He looked at Chris' shirt, a pink and white jersey style shirt with three quarter sleeves and "FuMan Skeeto" written in pink sparkles. He sighed.
Chris' eyes widened until Joey was afraid they would drop from their sockets.
"That so does not fit," Chris said.
"Yeah, I know," Joey said. When he tugged on the bottom of the shirt, it barely covered the underside of his breasts.
"You can't wear that."
"Dude, that's--" Chris met Joey's eyes for a second and was then drawn inexorably back to the breasts. "That's the extra large."
"Does it look extra large to you?" Joey asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"No." Chris sighed. "I should probably talk to Dani."
"Well, yeah. I'm still not wearing this stuff, though, man. It's for fourteen year olds."
"FuMan is a clothing line for all--"
"You look hot, Jo." Chris grinned up at him.
"Seriously, Joey. Like, Hustler hot."
Joey shoved him back, keeping his arms crossed over the breasts, until Chris was standing outside the door, shouting, "hey, my samples!" and "seriously hot, Jo!"
Joey peeled the shirt off and sighed. Men were pigs.
Joey slammed open Lance's door and flung himself down on Lance's bed with a primal scream. Lance looked at the back of Joey's head. He patted it tentatively.
"You okay?" he said, after a minute.
Joey opened one eye. "I don't look like a drag queen, do I?" he asked.
Lance squinted at him. "No," he said, finally. "Not at all."
"That's reassuring, asshole. Take a little more time, maybe."
Lance smiled. "I wanted to be sure. But no, you don't. You're ... girly."
"Yeah?" Joey closed his eyes again and smiled. "You know my life is fucked up when that's a compliment."
"Tell me about it," Lance muttered.
It turned out, though, that Jo was good for publicity, not only because she appeared suddenly in a boy-band, but because she was curvy and tall, and, well,
"You're stacked," Nathan said, in the meeting. "They're calling you the thinking man's Anna Nicole Smith."
"Thinking man?" Chris sputtered. "Joey?"
"Shut the fuck up," Joey said, swatting at him.
"It's because he's not blond," Theresa said. "Regardless, they're loving you. You're at the forefront of a new fashion vanguard. The real woman."
Chris sputtered again. JC smacked him this time.
"What's the downside?" Lance asked.
"The backlash," Nathan said. "There are some factions of the media who ..." he waved his hand, looking for a word.
"They say you're fat," Theresa said.
"What?" JC and Joey said, simultaneously.
"He's big boned," Chris said, snickering.
"Joey is not fat," Justin said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Nathan waved his hands. "Okay, okay. We know. It's just that there aren't a lot of movie star types that wear a size 16, no matter how good they look in it."
"So you want me to lose weight," Joey said in the resigned voice. Lance knew that voice. It was the same voice Joey used at the start of every tour when Nathan or Theresa or one of their other people mentioned something about wardrobe and "proper diet."
"Fuck no," Theresa said.
"Absolutely not," Nathan said.
"You're the avant garde, baby," Chris said. "You're the Next Big Thing." Justin smacked him on the thigh.
"We see this as the way to make your mark. You're going to be a gorgeous size 16 and guys are going to fall all over you, and women are going to love you because you're going to say it's okay to eat a fucking French fry every once in a while." Nathan smiled like he'd invented the size 16.
"It is," Joey said.
"Right, baby. That's our point."
Theresa pulled them into a group meeting in a hotel conference room outside Detroit. "Here's the new line-up," she said, handing out sheets of paper.
"Hey--" Joey said at the same time Justin said "hey!"
Joey glanced over apologetically, but Justin didn't say anything else, and three nights later at the Marcus Ampitheatre in Milwaukee Joey rehearsed "My Funny Valentine."
"Damn," Justin said, putting his feet up on the back of the seat in front of him. "He sounds great."
Lance nodded. Joey was up onstage, wandering around with the mike in his hand, dressed in a pair of his old jeans and a blouse that actually fit, singing "favorite work of art" at the top of his lungs. He sounded phenomenal, in Lance's opinion.
"We should release that," Justin was saying, tapping his fingers on his knees, but for once Lance didn't want to hear about business plans and marketing. He wanted to listen to Joey sing about loving someone there was no reason to love. He wanted to cry.
He didn't know what he felt two days later, when they did the staging for "My Funny Valentine." JC was sitting at the piano warming up, and they were all humming together, juicing up the harmonies when Joey came out onto the stage and time stopped.
The dress was red. The dress was red, the shoes were red, the mouth was red, and the rest of Joey was black and white, black hair and white skin, acres of it.
During rehearsal, the effect was stagey and camp, and not in the over-the-top way that fireworks were, and Lance tried to convince himself it would never work. It was too old for their audience, and not peppy enough. Then, in Pittsburgh, Joey stepped onstage to the opening notes. By the time Joey sprawled on his stomach on top of the piano, propped on his elbows with one high-heeled foot kicked up in the air, singing "stay, valentine, stay" into JC's hot gaze, the crowd was in a screaming frenzy, and Lance, harmonizing by Joey's ankle, had to admit he was wrong.
It got to be a private sort of hell for Lance, watching Joey draped over the piano in the red dress, smiling at JC while JC cast surreptitious glances at Joey's cleavage. All of his reserve around JC dropped away onstage: once, Joey even reached out and touched JC's nose with the tip of his finger while the crowd screeched with approval and Lance dropped a whole measure. Chris, standing next to him, nudged him with a hip.
"Sorry," he muttered when they came off for the costume change. "Sorry."
"It's alright," Chris said, yanking his shirt over his head. "You shouldn't let it tear you up so much, though. It's like a stage kiss."
"Yeah," Lance said, but it didn't feel like a stage kiss at all.
After that, Justin spent most of his time coming up with new songs for Jo to do. He went on a Lena Horne kick for a while, until JC pointed out that Lena Horne wasn't really in keeping with their audience. Then it was Prince, and even Lance, who didn't like Prince that much had to admit that Justin and Jo did a really kickass version of "U Got the Look" with Justin slithering all over singing "I never seen such a pretty girl look so tough," while Jo stood there with a raised eyebrow, smirking at him and looking tough. Justin even made Johnny call Prince's people about that one, but they couldn't get permission. Regardless, it was pretty clear when Justin started lolling up against Jo in the bus again and let her run her fingers through his hair that the awkwardness between them was over.
Lance thought, though, that maybe his own awkwardness was starting to show.
Part of the problem was that Joey was suddenly more available than ever before. Joey had always been a touchy person, and after the change he became even more so. He would slide his hand into the crook of Lance's arm if they were walking together, or call him Lala in a laughing voice while he touched Lance's cheek with one hand, or lean back between the V of Lance's legs when they were watching t.v. and recline against his chest and pull Lance's arms around his waist. Lance could see the envy smouldering in JC's eyes. He wanted to shout "take her, take her, I don't want her!" just so JC would stop glaring at him, but that wasn't entirely true. He did like Jo, who was mostly Joey in a softer package: he just didn't like her the way he'd liked Joey. The way he'd loved him.
"God, I'm horny!" Joey said, flopping onto Lance's bed on his back. He had sweatpants on, and his hair in a high ponytail, and no make-up on. If Lance squinted, he could almost pretend. "I'm fucking dying here."
"Why don't you do something about it?" Lance asked, petting his bangs back off his forehead. Joey stuck his tongue out at him and rolled over, pressing his cheek against Lance's stomach, throwing one arm around his waist.
"Like what?" he said. "Nathan's on the warpath since last week."
"Mmm," Lance said, running his fingers through Joey's ponytail. Last week, they'd gone out to a bar in Philadelphia and there had been tabloid photos of Jo dirty dancing with a bouncer. She'd had on a very short skirt and most of the photo had seemed to Lance to be one long smooth thigh.
"No," Nathan had said, slapping the tabloid on the conference room table.
"What?" Joey'd said. "I just danced with him."
"No more dancing, then," Theresa said. "In fact, no more drinking in public at all for a little while."
"Well, maybe gin and tonics. At parties," Nathan murmured to Theresa.
Theresa shook her head. "Look, I'm sorry, but you're a woman now and you can't be throwing back beers and grinding on bouncers."
"You're kidding me, right?" Joey said. "This is ridiculous. I can't drink? I can't dance?"
Nathan shook his head in tandem with Theresa's and Lance had thought they looked like windshield wipers. "Not with strange men," he'd said.
"You could dance with girls," Justin said.
"Oh, no," Nathan said. "Not with all the trouble we had with pretty boy over there." He'd nodded at Lance.
"Hey," Lance said.
"This fucking sucks!" Joey declared.
"And no swearing in public," Theresa said.
So Joey had basically been quarantined, and the strain was starting to show. "There's nothing I can do," he whined. "I can't get out of the damn hotel."
"Yeah, sorry." Lance stroked the soft hair of Joey's ponytail. It was real hair, dark and silky, like Joey's own.
"Chris thinks I'm hot," Joey murmured into Lance's shirt.
Lance coughed. "You're going to sleep with Chris?"
Joey shrugged. "Why not? He thinks I'm hot, and it wouldn't be any big thing."
"What if he likes it?"
Joey laughed and squeezed Lance's waist. "That's the idea, man."
"No, I mean, what if he likes it, likes it?"
"Hmm." Joey sighed. "Yeah."
Lance trailed his hand over the nape of Joey's neck. They'd been cuddly before, because Joey was a cuddly person, but he'd never been allowed to do this before, touch Joey's neck, his collarbone, with lazy fingers. "What about JC?" he asked.
Joey snorted. "JC's a little too ... enthusiastic."
"He thinks you're hot."
"He thinks the body is hot. He's not interested in me."
"But Chris is?"
Joey shrugged again. "It's different. Chris ... is different."
"That's true, man." Lance smiled.
Joey slid his hand over Lance's stomach, slowly. "You could sleep with me," he said, softly.
Joey pushed himself up on his arms, and put his forehead against Lance's. "C'mon, La," he whispered. "Why not?"
Lance closed his eyes. Up close, Joey's eyes looked the same as they had, before. "I don't do that with girls, Jo. You know that."
"So?" Joey stroked along Lance's side, pushing his shirt up a little. "I don't do it with guys. These are special circumstances, man. Necessity is the mother of invention." His hand slid under Lance's shirt and up over his ribs.
"I can't, Joey," Lance said, squirming away from Joey's hand, falling sideways onto the bed.
"Sure you can," Joey whispered, straddling him. "Sure you can, baby." His mouth was soft on Lance's, barely moving, and when Lance opened his mouth to breathe, Joey kissed him, tongue gentle and sweet.
For a second, Lance forgot and kissed him back and it was all perfect, him and Joey, the way it had always been in Lance's secret corners. Then Joey was on top of him, breasts and hips and ponytail trailing across Lance's face and it wasn't Joey, not really, and not just because Joey had a girl's body.
"I can't," he gasped, when Joey kissed his throat. "I can't." He scrambled out from under Joey, who was still on his hands and knees. He looked like a Penthouse Pet or something, disheveled and heaving. Lance sighed. "I'm sorry."
Joey shook his head, flopping onto his stomach. "No, it's fine."
"No, really." Lance fell back into the hotel chair, rubbing his hand over his face. "I'm."
"Sure, I understand." Joey sat up, straightening his clothes. "You're gay, I know," he said. "It's okay." He stood up and ran his hand through Lance's hair. "It's okay, baby," he said, leaning down and kissing Lance's cheek. "I'm gonna go, okay?"
"Okay," Lance said, and thought about how pretty Joey had looked just then, how girly, and how wrong some people could be, even when they'd known you for years.
Lance came into rehearsal the next day with his eyes on the agenda. He was a fool, a big fat stupid fool who hadn't slept with Joey, who had offered. Sometime around midnight, while Lance was lying in his bed gazing up into the dark, he'd realized that sleeping with Joey now might have resulted in sleeping with Joey later. After he'd changed back.
Lance sighed and looked up.
Joey seemed okay. He had an arm around JC's shoulder and was talking to Chris about something, ponytail bobbing for emphasis. JC looked dazed and happy.
"Did you hear?" Justin asked, waving Lance over. "Did you fucking hear?"
"Hear what?" Lance asked, hoping whatever Justin was all worked up about wasn't like the time they'd been forced to watch Britney's new video six times.
"Joey slept with a crew guy and he got fired!" Justin said. Joey laughed and smiled at Lance from across the table.
"He didn't get fired, J," Joey said. "He got bought off. It's totally different."
"Whatever, man," Justin said. "You're the woman of death! You kill the careers of crew guys!"
"Stop being such a junior high girl," Lance muttered. Justin made a face at him. JC just grinned and slid an arm around Joey's waist.
It turned out that was what the meeting was for.
"No sleeping with the crew," Nathan said.
"What?" Joey demanded, indignant. "I can't sleep with strangers, I can't sleep with the crew, who the fuck can I sleep with?"
"You could sleep with me," JC said.
Theresa glared at JC, who sank back into the couch with a sigh. "We were hoping you would refrain from sleeping with anyone," she told Joey.
"WHAT?" Joey stared, incredulous. "Are you fucking kidding me? Have you seen this body?" Joey hoisted his breasts for emphasis.
"He is built for it," Justin said.
"He was always built for it," Lance muttered.
"Keep in mind that we had to pay not only Dave--"
"Who's Dave?" Joey asked.
"The guy you fucked, sweetie," Theresa said.
"--but also all of Dave's little buddies who he told, who told Kenny, who told us."
"You go, girl!" Chris high-fived Joey, who had inched away from JC and was now squeezed between Chris and Lance on the couch.
"Thank you, thank you very much," he said. His ponytail hit Lance in the face when he mock-bowed.
"High-five all you want, Kirkpatrick," Theresa said. "The Happy Hooker over there just cost you eighty thousand bucks." Chris blew her a kiss.
"I'm worth it," Joey said.
"You won't be worth it again, Fatone," Nathan said.
Joey saluted. "I am, though," he whispered to Lance, who nodded and tried to think about other things.
In some ways, Jo was better off than Joey ever had been. Not that Joey's life had been hard before, Lance thought, like life was so challenging being an international pop star, but Joey hadn't literally stopped traffic when he walked down the street, and he hadn't garnered affectionate whistles from the crew when he came out of wardrobe, and he hadn't gotten solos. Not whole songs worth of solos anyway.
And Jo was simultaneously less and more tough than Joey had been before. Like, for example, at the pool bar on the outskirts of Las Vegas. They'd driven out there, Lance and Jo and Justin and two of the bodyguards because it was the kind of place they would never be "seen" at, a place where Justin could have a beer without it making the tabloids, a place on a dusty backroad with some old trucks in the parking lot and one or two Harleys up by the front door.
If Joey had been Joey, he would have gone in and had a beer, and played some pool, and made friends with some of the locals at the bar, and said "hey, back off" to the inevitable redneck who asked Lance if he was a fag. And the guy would have backed off, looking annoyed. Joey still did that same thing, now, but somehow it was a whole different effect when Joey leaned over the pool table in his low slung jeans, eyes narrow, and the locals at the bar checked out his ass. Or when he slumped against the bar on his elbows, grinning, and a bearded local said "what can I buy you, pretty lady." And when he came up and tapped the fat guy on the shoulder and said "hey, man, back off," Lance noticed that the fat guy didn't look so much annoyed as flattered.
"You're a superstah," Justin said, laughing, when Joey came back to the table. "Every guy in this place wants you."
"Yeah, whatever," Joey said, but he smiled.
Nathan and Theresa had been right. Joey was put on the cover of People and Vogue, and had to do phone interviews about what it was like to be a real woman in such a fake profession.
He always laughed at that, a laugh that was a little higher and more giggly than his usual laugh. "Well, Britney's real. J-Lo's real. I'm just a little larger than life," he would say, and the interviewer would laugh, especially if it were a woman. The woman interviewers loved Jo. He was asked to be on The View.
"I dunno," he said, waving the letter. "What do you think?"
Nathan lifted an eyebrow. "It's up to you. We don't care. It's not your demo, typically, so as long as you don't talk about multiple orgasms, it's your choice."
"Well?" He looked around the room.
"No," Justin said.
"No way," Chris said.
"They almost tore me apart. Literally," Justin said, shuddering.
"I could take 'em," Joey said, rubbing his hands together.
"No, you're not doing it," Theresa said.
"Hey! I thought you just said it was my choice!"
"It was. Until you started talking about taking out Barbara Walters. Now it's my choice."
"Damn," Joey said. "Barbara Walters."
"Joy Bayhart." Chris shuddered and pressed his face against Lance's shoulder.
He did do plenty of other shows, though, sometimes taking Lance along for support. He was a media darling, a trend-setter, a symbol of women's emerging self confidence.
"It seems silly," Joey admitted once, on their way to a thing with a New York radio psychiatrist. "I mean, I'm a big girl. I'm not sure what the big deal is."
Lance, who'd spent a lot of time with his sister when she wore glasses and had bad skin, thought he might know what the big deal was. The interviews were fun, though, and sometimes Lance got to talk, too, about what it was like to have a girl in the band ("cleaner," he usually said. "And the bus smells better."), and it was nice to see Joey coming into his own. Oprah did a segment on how Jo and women like him were changing the face of fame. David Letterman hit on him.
All of the attention wasn't positive, though. Jo was a good 6'4" in heels, and all the sex appeal in the world didn't keep the Amazon jokes out of the late night talk show monologues. More than once, Lance had come across Jo starring morosely at the television while some skinny little thing danced across the screen. And he refused to stand next to Christina, ever, just on principle.
"It sucks," he told Lance backstage at one awards show. He had on a black dress with spaghetti straps and three-inch heels. "Because, it's like, men look at her, and then they look at me like 'why aren't you that size'? Like I have anything to do with it."
"You look amazing," Lance said, putting one hand on the small of Joey's back. They were going out in thirty seconds to present the award for Best New Female Vocalist.
"You know what's worse?" Joey asked, tucking his hair behind his ears and shifting nervously. Lance knew he had on the shoes with the thicker heel, just so he wouldn't trip.
"What?" Lance asked, trying to make soothing circles. Joey's dress didn't have much of a back to it, and his skin was frighteningly soft.
"I used to do that."
Lance wanted to say something nice, something comforting, but he couldn't think of anything because it was true, Joey had done that, before, when he'd looked at girls. And then the music came up and that was their cue, and the only thing Lance could do was keep his hand on Joey's back through the presentation, drawing slow circles on Joey's spine, just to remind him that he was there.
Gradually, having Jo around became almost as second nature as having Joey. Lance liked that she still like all the same things Joey had liked--drums, and basketball, and eighties music--and that she made up stupid endearing nicknames for everyone, and that she would tell them stuff other girls said about them in the restroom. Mostly, though, Lance liked that he could touch Jo without feeling his heart leap into his throat. For a while, hanging out with Jo was even a little better, because Lance was free to like her without worrying about falling in love with her.
"What do you think?" he asked, holding up one shirt then another in front of his naked torso. He had a dinner for FreeLance with a new act, and he wanted to look like normal person so this kid would act like himself and Lance could find out if he really wanted to sign him.
Joey sat on the end of the bed, twirling some hair around his finger. "Neither of those are any good. What exactly are you looking for, here, Bass?"
"Quietly sexy. Not JC sexy, quietly sexy."
Joey nodded. "Boring, got it."
"Shut up," Lance said, hanging both shirts back up.
"What you want is ... hmm?" Joey leaned over his back, flipping through hangers. "Fuck, Bass. You've got horrible clothes."
"You're one to talk, FuMan."
"They were gifts, okay?" Joey said. "Chris was trying to make it up to me." He pulled out a black silk t-shirt with a wide neckline. "This one. This is a good one."
Lance took the hanger, and slid the shirt off the top. He was about to pull it over his head when he felt Joey's hand, a light warm pressure on his shoulder. He paused. Joey's fingers trailed over the edge of Lance's shoulder blade, drawing random patterns on his skin. Lance breathed in once, then out. Joey's hand was still there. "Joey," he said.
Joey's hand was gone.
"Black's a good color for you," Joey said, adjusting his hair in the mirror, pushing strands up off his face. "You should wear it more often."
Lance pulled the shirt over his head. "Joey," he said.
"So, I'll see you later, then, okay, La?" He waved from the door.
"Okay," Lance said.
He heard about it from Justin the next morning. Justin always knew everything first.
"Joey's back," Justin said, over cereal.
Lance glanced over the top of the paper. "Where'd he go?" he asked.
"No, he's back, like back. With the facial hair and the, you know, thing."
"Really?" Lance said, flipping the corner of his paper up, and trying to hide the thumping of his aching heart.
"So, hey," Lance said, standing in the doorway to Joey's room, watching the slope of Joey's broad shoulders.
"Hey," Joey said. "Hi." He smiled, and even though he was still clean-shaven and his hair was still long and pulled back in a low tail at the back of his head, it was really him.
"I feel like you've been gone, but you haven't been. You've been here all along."
"Well, not exactly," Joey said. "I mean, it was kind of ... different."
"Yeah," Lance said.
"So, welcome me back, you dumbass," Joey said and hugged him, and Lance realized that he smelled different, not in any tangible way, but just somehow, different.
"I missed you," Lance whispered into Joey's neck, and squeezed his eyes shut.
It took a couple of days, but they all adjusted pretty quickly. Chris flung his arms around Joey's neck and kissed him on the mouth, and then slapped him on the back. JC moped around for a few days, looking at Joey and sighing and looking away. Eventually, though, Joey forced JC to go to the bar with him and they both came back sloppy drunk and JC was pretty much better after that.
Justin didn't seem affected at all: he still kissed Joey hello on the cheek, and slung an arm around him when they stood together, even in front of cameras, and he still curled up against Joey on the bus and let himself be petted, and Joey still petted him.
Lance didn't know what to do.
He realized he'd fooled himself into thinking it was the girl thing that kept them apart, and had conveniently forgotten that there had been years and years when Joey hadn't been a girl and hadn't been Lance's either. Now, when Joey leaned up against him, or came over to his house and lolled around on his couch, or snuck up on Lance from behind and picked him up off his feet, Lance felt a surge in his heart that was either ecstasy or agony. It was over to soon for him to tell.
"You're okay, right?" Joey said to him one day, while they were waiting for the dailies to come back on the latest video.
"Me? Um, yeah."
"Mmmm." Joey said, nuzzling into his neck, a gesture left over from before.
Lance jerked away, shoving his hands in his pockets. "No, yeah, I'm fine, I'm good."
Joey smiled up at him. "Yeah. Right. You've been acting weird ever since." He waved his hand. Lance wanted to laugh, seeing everything that had happened in the last five months waved away. "But you're okay."
"It just took some time to get used to."
"Uh huh." Joey grabbed his hand and pulled him back to the couch. "It does, yeah."
"Do you miss it?" Lane asked, suddenly, because he had been so happy to see Joey back, good old reliable Joey, that he hadn't thought that Joey's return meant a return to back-up vocals and no solo interviews and no magazine covers.
Joey shrugged. "I miss the attention a little. I don't miss the shoes." He smiled, squeezing Lance's hand. "What about you? You miss her?"
"Not really. Some. I missed you. You were ... different."
Lance smiled. "You called everybody 'honey' all the time," he said. "And you laughed a lot, like, with hair flipping."
"Hair flipping, huh?" Joey grinned.
"And, you know, when you were a girl, you were all ..." Lance closed his eyes.
"I was all over you."
Lance nodded. Joey unfolded Lance's hand, running his fingers over the palm.
"I know, La," he said. "I'm sorry about that. I know I put you in, like, an awkward situation with that, but, you know. It was--"
"I kind of liked it," Lance said. Joey's hand stopped moving over his, and when Lance opened his eyes, Joey was smiling.
"Yeah?" he said.
"It was the hair flipping, wasn't it? Men loved the hair."
"It wasn't the hair."
There was an empty moment, when Lance felt like he could hear his own heart beating, and then he lurched at Joey, lunged at him and grabbed his shoulders, but then they were kissing, and Joey's mouth was open, and his hands were on Lance's waist, firm and calm, like it was okay and Lance didn't have to lunge and hope anymore, because everything had changed.
Joey pushed him gently, one hand right in the middle of his chest, until Lance was lying back, Joey kneeling between his knees. Joey's fingers were on his chin, holding his mouth in place with mild pressure. His kisses were thorough and slow and reassuring.
"This is sudden," Joey murmured, after a minute.
"Not really." Lance smiled into Joey's mouth.
"No? Why didn't you do this, you know. Before?" Joey asked, pushing himself back so he was above Lance, mouth swollen and red, like lipstick, but not. His eyes sparkled darkly. He shoved his free hand under Lance's shirt and ran it lightly over Lance's stomach.
"Hmm," Lance hummed, rubbing his cheek against the beginnings of Joey's beard. "I guess, I like you better this way."