Author's Note: I was coerced into writing this by Cecilia back when we
all thought JC and Chris were going to England to promote "Gone." Then
they didn't go, the bastards. But anyway. For Cecilia, who's breaking
my heart. She's shaking my confidence, daily.
The press releases all said it was a vacation -- "the band is taking a vacation" -- in order to reassure everyone that they weren't going to be breaking up anytime soon, no matter how many solo albums Timberlake made, but it wasn't really a vacation because, Chris thought, none of them would know what an actual vacation was if it bit them on the ass.
Only Joey was really "on vacation": Justin was doing his solo album (which Chris secretly hoped and feared would be a flop), and JC was writing up a storm locked in the basement studio of his house and only coming out to pee, and Lance. Well. Lance was in Russia, something Chris preferred not to think about too often. And he was supposedly busy with FuMan, but, truth be told, he'd never been that busy with FuMan, not ever, and he and Dani were kind of prickly around each other now, and not in a good way, so he, Chris, was pretty much just lying around his house, gaining weight and feeling like the richest luckiest loser in the world.
Which was why he said yes.
JC didn't know how, but somehow people got the idea that he didn't answer his phone. It wasn't true. He answered his phone all the time, whenever it rang, but people kept saying they called him and there were always messages when he checked. He never remembered not answering it.
"I don't know why you even have a phone," Chris said. JC smiled at him. They'd only been on vacation for two weeks and here was Chris. He looked good. He'd gained some weight. JC had always wanted to be able to gain weight like Chris, or, even better, like Joey because Joey just got huge and muscular and he was going to be big when he got older, a big teddy bear of a man like his -- JC blinked. Chris was waving his hand in front of JC's face. "Earth to JC," he was saying. "Calling JC."
JC smiled. "Chris!" he said, pleased. "Come in."
"Answer your fucking phone," Chris said, after JC let him in and got him some iced tea. JC leaned back against the kitchen counter. Chris sounded mad, but he wasn't really mad. Chris rarely was.
"Okay," he said. He touched his hair. He'd been painting and sometimes he got paint in his hair, which was kind of embarrassing. Lance had a mirror right by his front door so he could look in it before he opened it to make sure that he didn't have paint in his hair. Not that Lance ever would. Have paint in his hair. Actually, come to think of it, JC had one too that Lance had come over and hung specially when JC had admired his. He just always forgot to use it, like today when he looked out the spy window in the door and saw Chris there.
Chris was holding up JC's cell phone. He pressed buttons, held it up to his ear. "This is a telephone, JC. Say it with me. Tel - e - phone. Where are your pants?"
JC looked down. "Oh," he said. "I have pants on." He lifted up the hem of his long t-shirt and showed Chris his underwear. They were black silk boxers, his favorite ones. Joey'd gotten them for his as a gag because they said "sexy" in red flaming letters across the butt, but JC liked them.
"Oh, man," Chris said. "Please."
"Do you want to have breakfast?" JC asked. He wasn't exactly sure what time it was, but it still seemed like morning, so. "I have bagels and stuff. Coffee. Toast?" He turned and opened one of the cupboards above the sink, but it didn't have bagels in it. It had cups. Consuela, his housekeeper, liked to move stuff around. She said she didn't but she was clearly lying, because he never put his cups over the sink. He opened another cupboard. Plates.
"Are you even listening to me?" Chris asked, shaking the phone. Sometimes Chris just liked to complain about stuff, just because he could. JC didn't mind. "Are you coming or not?"
JC looked over his shoulder. "Um, sure," he said, but Chris wasn't fooled.
"To London, JC. To promote the single?"
"Oh!" JC said. London! He loved London. He'd never been, not really, not when he had time to look around, but he'd seen movies and there had been a Real World there and it had looked really cool. Also, they had socialized medicine, which was such a good idea, and --
"JC!" Chris said.
"Sure," JC said. "Okay."
"Oh, fuck me," Chris said, but he didn't really mean that, either.
Chris had forgotten. He'd forgotten that he hated flying, he'd forgotten that JC was a fucking freak, and worst of all, he'd forgotten his Dramamine and by the time he figured that out they were already on the plane taxiing down the runway.
"JC!" he whispered, urgent.
JC looked up from the safety card. He kept his finger on it, marking his place. Freak, Chris thought.
"Do you have any Dramamine?" he asked. He could feel himself getting nauseous, and not the good drowsy dizzy nausea of drugs. "Please, please, please?"
JC blinked at him. "Oh, Chris," he said.
"Fuck," Chris muttered.
The flight attendants didn't have any either, and kept coming by, offering him white soda and vodka and giving him sympathetic looks. He wanted to bite their hands off. His breath was high and tight in his throat, and he was too hot, and the air blowing on him smelled stale and awful.
"C," he said. His voice sounded faint, like he was hearing himself through a tunnel. JC pulled his headphones down. "Switch with me."
"You want to sit near the window?" JC asked.
Chris reared back in his seat. No, no fucking way did he want to sit near the window, especially if he could see the ocean. "Shut it. Shut the thing." He flapped his hand. He tipped his head back against the seat.
JC slid the window shade down and stood up, edging around Chris' knees. Chris reached out and touched JC's pants as his passed, his fingers curled against the back of JC's knee. JC always wore loose soft pants when they traveled. These ones were cotton, cool under Chris' hand, but warmed by his skin. Chris wished that he had thought of soft pants. His jeans were cutting into his waist. JC patted his hair.
Chris lifted the armrest and scooted across the seat, away from the aisle and the flight attendants and people walking by on the way to the bathroom. He felt the seat move as JC sat back down. He didn't turn around. He felt like an idiot acting this way, even though it was only JC, who'd seen him act a thousand times worse. He pressed the palms of his hands against his face.
"Chris," JC said, softly. Chris nodded so that JC would know he was listening, but he didn't turn around. He was too old for this shit. He should so be over it.
"Chris," JC said again. He tugged Chris' shoulder. Chris leaned back until his shoulder pressed against JC's. JC didn't hug him, thank god, just tipped his head against Chris', a kind of head hug thing. Chris closed his eyes. He felt like shit.
Chris fell asleep, finally, his head lolling against JC's shoulder. JC sighed. He wanted to hug Chris and make him feel better, but Chris was prickly when he got sick, like a stray cat, and didn't like being touched too much. It was kind of the way Chris dealt with everything, keeping it at arm's length. JC had tried to get it, tried to get Chris' feelings, but the closest he'd been able to come was a sort of educated guessing game. He could figure out what Chris was going to do next, most of the time, just like now, but he didn't really understand it.
JC leaned forward for a magazine, remembering just in time that Chris was on him. Chris wrinkled his nose at the movement, but didn't wake up.
He was afraid of things, Chris was. A lot of things. More things, JC thought, than he maybe even knew. Failure, mostly, another thing that JC didn't understand. Failure wasn't anything to be afraid of, it was like another chance to get something right. A do over. Chris always wanted to get things right on the first time around. The lawsuit had really shaken him.
The flight attendants came by with champagne and orange juice, and JC drank quickly, the fizz swirling in his nose. He loved champagne. He'd had champagne for the first time in Los Angeles with a record producer. The record producer had smelled bad, but the champagne had been a bubbly party on his tongue and JC had never forgotten it.
"Tiny bubbles," he hummed, glancing down at Chris to make sure he wasn't going to wake up anytime soon. "Tiny bubbles. Hmm hmm hmm." He was going to have to look the lyrics up on the internet. The lyrics for everything were on the internet.
"How's your friend?" the flight attendant asked. She crouched next to his chair and had her hand curved so that it barely touched his arm. She wanted to have sex with him. JC smiled at her.
"He's fine," he said. "We're on vacation."
"Together?" she asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"Oh, we go everywhere together," JC said. The flight attendant's face changed, became something slick and professional.
"That's nice," she said. "Enjoy your trip. Let me know if you need anything."
Let me know if you need anything. He knew that it was part of her job, part of the things she was trained to say, but it sounded so nice. What if everyone were like that, going out of their way to give other people what they needed? JC smiled at her again, tipped his head back against the leather seat, and closed his eyes.
By the middle of the second day, Chris was ready to kill someone. It wasn't London -- he loved London -- it was JC.
"And they're not allowed to move at all," JC said, staring up at the Royal Guard three feet from them. "Like, not even if you peed on them or anything." He squinted at the pamphlet in front of him. "It says here that guards have stood here in snow storms and rain and --"
"Dark of night?" Chris asked. The guard didn't even seem to be real. He stood there, without moving, until some other guy would come along and stand there without moving. Guys standing still. It didn't seem like that great of a job to Chris.
It also didn't seem like a very good way to guard anything.
"Well, yeah, they stand here at night," JC said. Chris rolled his eyes at the pavement. He thought the guard was probably laughing at him. On the inside.
"JC, please," he said.
"What? You wanna go somewhere?" he asked. He flipped pages in his pamphlet. "Cause there's Harrods, which is a store --"
" -- I know what Harrods is, JC."
" -- or we could go to the museum. There's tons of museums here. The Natural History Museum, the British Museum, the Freud Museum --"
"The Freud Museum? No shit?"
" -- the British Museum, that's supposed to be a good one --"
"The Museum of London --"
JC closed his book. "No museums, huh?"
"No. No museums."
JC blinked. He looked like he was upset, but trying to hide it. Chris sighed. He wanted to care, he really did.
"Fine. British Museum."
"Great!" JC clapped his hand against the side of his book. He began looking around for someone to ask directions from.
Chris rubbed his eyes. He liked London, he really did. People were nice, friendly but not too friendly. Even the fans who screamed for them seemed to be more polite about it, like they'd scream, but they wouldn't try to rip the hair from their heads. He bet Paul McCartney would beg to differ.
But being in London alone with JC was a disorienting experience. At first, Chris had thought it was the strange food and the strange accents and the strange ways people had of doing things (like, for example, tea. Chris was in favor of tea -- he was in favor of anything that involved extra food -- but it still seemed strange to him, so much food before dinner and everyone bustling out for tea at four like it was a requirement), but he'd realized this morning while he was waiting in the hallway for JC to come out of his room, that it wasn't any of those things. He hadn't felt this dizzying slippage in Japan or Germany or Austria or anywhere else for that matter. It wasn't England.
It was being alone in London with JC.
The British Museum was absolutely the most cool place JC had ever been to, ever in his entire life. JC felt like he stepped through the doors and into a place where if you pressed your ear to the floor you would hear words whispered hundreds of years ago. Secrets were kept here, JC thought, a thrill racing up his spine.
He tucked the guidebook he'd bought from a woman on the main floor in his back pocket. He wouldn't want it here. Normally, guidebooks were good, full of stuff that you wouldn't know otherwise, like the things about the guards. But in a place like this, the guidebook would take him away, separate him from the really important things, the magic that happened when you just stood and looked at things.
He paused in front of a statue of a centaur and a man, all in white, without faces. What had they been looking at, JC wondered. What had they been thinking? And the artist, who had he been who could make something like this out of cold stone, something that seemed like it could step forward and take JC's hand and breathe. JC smiled. There was a story about that, about a man who fell in love with a statue so much that it came alive, and JC could picture it, a man sliding his hands around the cool flesh, loving it, wishing it could love him back. He took a step forward. The stone would be smooth under his fingers, pocked with age, maybe. It would --
"C --" Chris said. His hand closed on JC's wrist. "You can't touch them, man."
"Oh." JC looked down at his outstretched hand. "Right." Chris didn't like the museum, JC knew. He was bored and cranky and wanted to go back to the hotel where he could be even more bored and cranky and complain about British television, even though their hotel got, like, 300 channels or something. He didn't want Chris to be like that, but he couldn't do anything to change it so he let it go.
He took a deep breath, tasting dust and secrets, and let it go. "Look how perfect it is," he said to Chris.
Chris snorted. "None of them have heads," he said. "It's creepy."
"It's beautiful," JC said. Every muscle, every bone, outlined clearly, leaping from the wall. JC was a musician and he wanted to be a painter, but looking at this he knew he would never be anything but second rate. Things like this made him sad for himself, but glad for the world.
"It's creepy," Chris said. "Can we get out of here?"
JC stood still and looked. He didn't even hear when Chris walked away.
He called Justin when they got back from the museum, shutting his door and dialing the number desperately, fingers jittering on the buttons. It rang four times and Chris got shuttled to voice mail, so he hung up and dialed again. Justin answered on the fourth redial.
"The fuck, man?"
"Oh Justin!" Chris squealed as loud as possible. "I can't believe this is your number! My friend Stacy --"
Justin hung up.
He answered again after the third redial this time. "Do you have any idea what fucking time it is?" he asked.
"Shut up," Chris said. "I'm dying here."
"It's, like, five in the fucking morning."
Chris glanced at his clock. Three in the afternoon. Justin was such a fucking liar, even with the time change. "I just went to a museum. With JC."
"Seriously. The sun's not even up yet, man."
"With JC," Chris repeated.
"I got tickets to the game tonight," Justin said.
Chris snorted his disdain. "I went to a museum."
"Dude, it's your own damn fault. You're the one who agreed to go."
"This is your fucking song. Come over."
Justin laughed. "I got tickets for the game, man."
"I hate you," Chris said.
"Kiss JC for me," Justin said and hung up. The next time Chris hit redial he got Justin's voice mail right away.
It was revenge, Chris thought when he woke to the shrill sound of his phone ringing in the in the dead of night. Justin's petty stupid revenge. He cleared his throat before he answered and turned the t.v. up loud.
"--hang on," he said into the phone. "No, shhh, I'm on the phone, baby," he said to his empty dark room. "Yeah, what?" he asked Justin.
But it wasn't Justin. "Chris!" Lance shouted in his ear. Chris fumbled with the remote, looking for a mute button. He ended up turning it off instead, jabbing angrily at the button. Lance sounded faint and far away. Made sense; he was far away. "Chris, are you there?"
"I'm here," he said. "What's up? Are you okay?"
"I'm perfect!" Lance shouted. "We just got our reports, and I'm perfect! I'm going, Chris. I'm so going!"
"Wait, what?" Chris sat up in bed. The room was cool; goosebumps raised on his arms.
Lance laughed, a strange shrill laugh. "I gotta go call my mom, but I wanted you and C to know. Tell C, okay?"
"Lance, you're going into space?"
"I'm going!" Lance shouted again. "I'll call you later, okay?"
"Okay," Chris said, but Lance had already hung up the phone.
He woke up in a silent room, Chris sitting on the edge of his bed like his cat Rocko. His eyes even glimmered in the dark, like Rocko's had. His mom had called him two years ago and said Rocko had died of kitty cancer and JC had remembered this future moment, Chris staring down at him, not stirring, barely breathing. His dreams had been full of Chris' voice coming from around corners, moving away.
"What's wrong?" he whispered.
"Lance called," Chris said.
JC rolled onto his back and pulled the covers back. The air on his skin was like a kiss.
Everything was silent. JC flipped the covers back and Chris climbed in and there was no sound. JC lay close, lifting his arms so that Chris could slide his arms around JC's narrow bare waist. JC slept in his underwear. Maybe I shouldn't, Chris thought for a second, but then the voice in his head subsided and there was nothing but JC's smell and his feel and his hand on Chris' back moving slowly.
Somewhere out there, there was a clip from one of their interviews. The interviewer, a woman, maybe, had asked Chris if he was the adult of the group. Lance could find it, JC thought, or Justin, who liked searching for them, just to see what people were saying. Justin liked that he could go on the internet and do that. It was like standing at the top of the stairs at a party and hearing people talk about you, JC thought, which was why Justin liked it and JC didn't. Like those people at the party, people on the internet didn't think they could be overheard, even though they knew they could. It just seemed private to JC.
In the interview, Chris said that the rest of the group sometimes leaned on him, that they were his "little ducklings" and sometimes he had to push them out of the nest. JC had liked that image, all of them yellow and fluffy and wandering every which way. He pictured Lance as a duckling with glasses, even though Lance didn't wear his glasses much.
Chris was probably asleep, judging by the steady rush of breath JC felt on his collarbone, the weight of Chris' thigh over his. He had made it seem like a joke when the interview lady had asked, hamming it up for reporters like he always did. Chris was so good with them. Reporters always liked him or Justin best, because Chris could make them laugh and Justin was just Justin: everyone liked Justin best. Chris liked to joke about serious stuff, too, and although JC hadn't known it at the time, that duckling thing, that might have been serious.
JC stroked his fingers up Chris' spine. Chris had hair there, a thin patch of soft dark hair in the curve of his back. JC touched it, up under Chris' shirt, and wondered what Lance had said on the phone, if JC should be happy or sad for him. In his dreams, later, Lance had yellow feather hair and glasses.
The next day they had to do the actual promotion stuff. Chris let JC handle most of it, talk about how they recorded Justin doing the beats, how Justin had written the whole song on his own with Wade, how proud they all were of his success. JC was really good at being proud of people, and Chris didn't stop him even when he started to ramble a little and talk about how it was important to tell people that you loved them and were proud of them and how his family always said "I love you" at the end of phone calls.
"Sorry," he said in the van on the way back to the hotel.
Chris looked up. "What?"
"I think I got a little sappy." JC smiled at him, smoothing his pants over his knees.
Chris smiled. "Dude, you're always a little sappy."
"Yeah, but." JC shrugged. "So Lance is going, huh?"
Chris nodded. He didn't want to say it, because saying it would make it even more real. That was a stupid superstitious thing to think, but he couldn't help it, and he couldn't say it. A phobia, he thought, and chuckled to himself.
"I hope he's not cold," JC said.
"In space?" Chris shook his head. The things JC came up with.
"In Russia," JC said. "It's only, like, sixty degrees there right now."
"He's not cold, JC," Chris said. "He owns clothes."
"Well, sure, but still. Sixty degrees isn't that warm. I hope he has a sweater."
"He has a sweater."
"Okay." JC nodded. Chris pretended to look out the window, but watched JC instead. JC nodded again, rubbed his hands over his thighs. He had leather pants on. JC was into wearing all sorts of bizarre clothes, lately, leather and feathers and silk and materials Chris wouldn't even try to name, even after Marcie, the head designer at FuMan, tried to explain them to him. "He's got a jacket, too," JC said.
Chris did not laugh, he would not laugh. Not at JC. "He's got a jacket, C," he said.
Traveling was great because people were great, JC decided while he was buying Nehi in a shop on the way back to the hotel. JC loved people. It was especially cool when he got to meet people as just another guy on the street, not like a famous person, but like a normal person. Like JC.
Chris sometimes hated people. He stood outside the door, his purchases already in a brown paper bag, tapping his foot impatiently. He had on his black leather jacket and glasses. Chris hated traveling because it made him feel sick, but a side effect of that he never seemed to notice was that it made him look pale and dangerous. Traveling made his eyes glitter. JC thought Chris looked like a British street hood, a really smart cool one. The kind that would read Nietzsche and then go kick the crap out of somebody, like Alex in that movie Clockwork Orange.
He didn't tell Chris that, though, because Chris would roll his eyes. Sometimes Chris was a pain in the ass.
"Hey, hon," the shop girl said, touching his arm with one finger. "Your change?" JC looked at her. She had a nose ring with a charm hanging from it.
"That's really cool," he said to her. She smiled. Her hair was black on top and pink underneath, and she had on a dog collar that looked like it came from a real dog first. It was all worn around the edges. He smiled. She'd have no idea who he was.
Joey called that night right before they left for dinner at some pub JC had heard about from a shop girl. JC was always hearing about shit from strangers. It amazed Chris. JC could go into a 7-11 to buy gum and come out five minutes later with a recommendation for a "funky little jazz club" or the "best barbecue in Phoenix." He'd gotten the address of this place from the girl in the drug store down the street.
"She had her nose pierced," he told Chris, "and so I asked her about where we should go."
"For dinner," Chris said.
JC nodded. Somewhere in that pretty head of his, that made sense. Chris didn't even want to try to figure it out.
So, anyway, Joey called.
"You hear?" he asked.
"He called," Chris said, trying to figure out what shirt to wear. He didn't want to wear anything that would get his ass kicked at a pub where people had their tongues pierced. He especially didn't want to wear anything controversial when he was going somewhere with JC, who would probably have on a latex catsuit with ruffled trim or something.
Joey sighed. Chris could hear the murmurings and gurglings that meant Brianna was somewhere nearby. "What'd you say?"
"What'd you say?" Chris asked, deciding just to wear black. Black seemed like an appropriate tongue piercing color.
"I told him congratulations."
"Me too," Chris said, although he couldn't really remember what he said. There had been words, and then there was JC's heat, his hair tickling Chris' nose, his soft sleepy sigh, his light hands.
Joey sighed again. "Dude," he said.
Chris blinked rapidly, wishing he were getting on a plane back to Florida instead of going to some freaky pub with a freaky guy. "Yeah," he said.
"Jeez, Chris," Joey murmured into the phone like it was a secret.
"We come back in a week," Chris said.
"Okay," Joey said. "Call me."
"Later." Chris set the phone carefully on the bed. Then he sat down beside it and breathed into his shirt, smelling his own fabric softener until it was time to get dressed.
The pub had great food, really cool and interesting stuff like blood sausage and kidney pie, and JC tried all of it while Chris ate French fries (they were called chips in England, the waitress told JC, although he already knew that) and drank lots of beer.
"Dude, I can't believe you're eating that," Chris told him, when JC cut into the sausage casing.
"It's good," JC said. It was. A little thicker tasting than he was used to, but it was still definitely good. He'd have to tell Lance about it when he got to talk to him on the phone. Lance was probably eating all sorts of interesting things in Russia. JC had heard that they made vodka out of potatoes there, and he wondered if it still had the kind of grainy taste that JC always associated with potatoes. Grainy vodka. That might be cool.
"That's fucking disgusting," Chris said, keeping his voice low. He kept looking around, like there might be photographers. JC thought that if there were photographers, he would take a big bite and let blood drip down his chin because it hardly seemed fair that he couldn't get out of the public eye long enough to eat a sausage. There didn't seem to be photographers, though. Chris was just freaking out. JC pulled his driving cap lower on his forehead anyway, just in case.
"What did Lance say?" he asked, hoping to distract Chris from his dinner, but that turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to ask. Chris' face collapsed into misery for a second, long enough for JC to see it anyway.
"He said he's going," Chris said. He gestured to the waitress for another beer and then chugged the rest of the one in front of him. JC couldn't remember if that was number three or number four that he was ordering. He decided it was number three and vowed to himself to keep better count in the future.
"Oh, that's so great," he said.
Chris glared at his empty beer glass. "Yeah," he said.
"You're not happy for him," JC said. He didn't mean to sound like he was judging Chris or anything, because that wasn't cool -- Chris was allowed to have his own feelings about stuff -- but Chris made a face anyway and went to the bar himself. JC sighed.
When he looked up from his plate again, Chris was playing darts with some guys in the corner.
Chris loved the pub. He loved the pub and he loved England and he loved this guy ... Chris frowned with effort and looked at the guy drinking his beer across the table. This guy Reggie, he remembered like the name had punched him in he head. He loved Reggie, who was a broker and played soccer for a club team and threw a wicked dart and bought pints and nodded wisely when Chris said "my friends suck, yo."
"Yeah, you can't count on your mates for shit," Reggie agreed. "Fuckers'll leave you in a pinch every fuckin' time."
"Amen, my brother," Chris said, clinking his glass against Reggie's. "A-fuckin'-men."
"Chris?" JC. JC standing at his shoulder, swaying back and forth, doubling, tripling, then coming together again into one complete whole. It was a pretty neat trick. Chris wondered where JC had learned it.
"Jayce!" Chris looped his arm around JC's neck. "My main man, JC!" He slapped the table with his spare hand. "JC, this is Reggie. He's fucking awesome. Reggie, this is JC. He wears feathers."
"Pleeztameetcha," Reggie said. "Any mate of Chris'."
"Yeah, um, hi," JC said. "Chris, we should probably go."
"What? Dude! We're just getting ... there are darts, man! Darts!"
JC didn't seem impressed and said some other things, and Chris didn't really focus again until there were stairs and rain on his face.
"Jayce, it's raining," he said.
"Um," JC said, and Chris realized that JC was standing next to him, an arm around his waist.
Then he was on his back, staring up at the water stained ceiling of his room, someone fumbling with his waistband.
"JC," he asked, and someone said something and it was JC, but it was still raining. Chris squinted and looked, but he couldn't see the drops falling.
JC was still a Mennonite, sort of. At heart anyway. Meaning he did stuff, a lot of stuff, that he really shouldn't do, but there were still things that seemed so fundamentally dangerous that he didn't do them. He didn't hit people, for example, unless he really had to, and he didn't do drugs at all, unless they were prescribed. And he still drank, which was technically wrong, but not because he was sad. He wished there was such a thing as a lapsed Mennonite, like there was for Catholics. Joey'd told him about that, how Catholics could be lapsed, and then go through a special ceremony or talk to a priest or even just go to church and then, like magic, you were unlapsed.
Chris sighed in his sleep.
JC rubbed his eyes. He should sleep himself, but somehow he didn't seem to want to. He was tired, and fuzzy from the beer he'd had with dinner, but all he wanted to do was sit on Chris' bed next to him and watch him sleep and make sure he was okay. JC wished Lance had called him, but that would have probably been worse because then Chris would have been mad that Lance hadn't called him as well as being fucked up because Lance was going into space. Really, there was no solution except for Lance not to go (which was no solution at all, to chain Lance to the earth just because Chris liked to have him close), or for Lance to go and come back. JC wished that it was simple, like taking a plane to France or something, because, really, the sooner this whole thing was over and Lance was back in Florida, the better for everybody.
"Mmm," Chris said. He rolled onto his side.
JC clicked off the lights and slipped his arm around Chris' waist. Chris still smelled like beer and smoke, but he was warm and had stopped crying and seemed to be really sleeping. JC kissed him, right behind his ear.
He was standing in a stairwell, one of those industrial grey ones like the ones at his lawyer's office and the only reason Chris knew it was a dream was because he was with Lance, he knew it was Lance, but Lance had long hair that kind of fell over his forehead in a swoop, like hair in an anime cartoon. They were walking up the stairs. Just walking up. Chris had no idea why. He could feel the rough paint flaking off the railing under his palm. There was dust in the corners of the landing. From time to time, Chris noticed a cigarette butt, ground into the floor and looking like no one had ever smoked it, ever. He and Lance were talking, but Chris couldn't hear the words. Sometimes, he would open his mouth and an answer would come out but he couldn't hear that, either. All he knew was that he was with Lance and it was important that they go up the stairs.
Justin burst through one of the metal doors on one of the landings. "Hey!" he said, surprised and pleased to see them. "What's up?" He pushed by, down to the next landing, his hand on the door handle by the time Chris said
Justin turned, door already open. Chris could see the expensive burgundy carpeting under one of Justin's tennis shoes.
"Dude, I'm late," he said, shaking his head, laughing. "Later."
"Sure, okay," Chris said. When he looked up, Lance was gone, out of sight. He could still hear his footsteps, his voice murmuring as if he thought Chris were right there behind him. "Lance!" he shouted. "Lance, wait up!"
After that, Chris could only hear the footsteps. He sat on a dirty stair and listened as they faded into nothingness.
Chris twitched like a dreaming dog under JC's hands. It was kind of a reversal of roles, JC thought, him up late at night watching Chris sleep, instead of the other way around. JC remembered dozens of times when he'd staggered to the bathroom on the bus and seen the lights of the t.v. flickering in Chris' open eyes. He'd never asked about it, though, and so didn't know if Chris had trouble sleeping or was just one of those people who didn't sleep a lot. It surprised JC, how many things he didn't know, sometimes.
Next to him, Chris shivered and then fell still.
Lance's voice woke him up.
" -- grateful for the opportunity to follow my dream --" he was saying. He sounded different, distant, distracted ... Chris blinked and couldn't think of any other d words.
JC was still in the bed with him, but he was sitting up, just his legs bare under the covers, crossed at the ankle, his hip in his white underwear near Chris' nose. Chris considered biting it. Then he considered putting his head in JC's lap. Neither move seemed good, but for different reasons.
"Really?" JC said, and Chris knew he was talking on the phone. He pushed the covers away from his face, and JC looked down at him and smiled. "Lance," he mouthed. Chris made a face.
T.V. Lance was wearing a white turtleneck with "Radio Shack" on the neck and looked like a corporate tool. He also looked rested and happy and was smiling his real smile, even when that soccer mom was talking about how she hoped to be the one to go. Chris made a face at him, too.
"Wow," JC said. It was so strange listening to JC and Lance have a phone conversation because Chris never thought of either one of them as being very talkative. He imagined that there were long pauses, international silences between them, but JC kept nodding and smiling and making little noises of assent into the phone, so Lance must have been talking. Either that or JC was completely freakin' nuts. Chris eyed him for signs of impending madness.
"No, he's up now. You wanna -- oh, okay. Later, man. Good luck." JC listened for a second, smiled. "Love you, too," he said.
Chris rolled his eyes.
"Lance says he'll call you next time." JC closed the phone and set it on the beside table next to him. "At a decent hour."
"Whatever," Chris said.
"He says that they're making the final decision in a month or two."
"Wait." Chris pushed the blankets all the way down to his waist and sat up. "I thought he was definitely going."
JC shook his head. "No, he definitely passed all the tests, though. Like, the physical stuff. Even with his heart thing."
"They fixed that," Chris said, smelling the hospital antiseptic in his nose all over again.
"No, sure, I know," JC said. "But he's all good now. So he finds out in a month or two."
"So he might not be going," Chris said.
"Probably he is," JC said.
"But he might not be." Chris watched T.V. Lance smile and nod.
"But he probably is," JC said.
"But there's the possibility that he might not. That, like, at the last minute, some Russian dude could say 'no way, no day, my blond American friend.'"
JC was looking at him like he was speaking Russian. "I guess," he said slowly.
"Fucking loser," Chris said, and got out of the bed. He wanted to hit something, and he didn't want for it to be JC.
"You should shut up," JC said, before he realized words were going to come out of his mouth. He meant it though. He loved Chris, he did, maybe more than he should after the last two nights, Chris' heat up against his back while he slept, Chris' little hand on his arm, but sometimes Chris was just a fucking heartless meanie and JC was tired of it.
"I'm sorry, what?" Chris asked.
Normally, JC would have sighed and apologized, but normally it wouldn't matter, because Chris would have been a jerk about some radio station guy who didn't give them proper respect, or a production assistant who thought his job was a party. This time it mattered. "I said shut up," JC said. "Why can't you be happy for him?"
There was silence for a second.
JC thought, maybe, that Chris' hand might be flexing, down at his side, but he didn't look and see. He didn't really want to know. "What?" he asked, his voice soft. "You gonna hit me, now?"
"Oh, jesus christ!" he shouted and left, holding his pants in one hand.
JC sighed. Then he picked up his phone and dialed Justin's number.
They had shit to do that day, real promotion stuff at the BBC studios and for some of the British teenie mags, so Chris had to sat silently in the back of the limo van, looking out the window and pretending JC didn't exist for most of the morning. He smiled at laughed and cracked jokes at the studio, so when JC got back in the van, he thought he was forgiven. He wasn't. Chris ignored him the whole way to their second interview. It only took JC ten minutes to figure it out: Chris thought spitefully that might be a new record.
The girl at the magazine asked about Lance going into space and Justin's solo album.
"Excuse me," Chris said, and went into the men's room.
"Hello," Justin said, out of breath. He was probably doing sit-ups for fun or something. Chris wondered briefly why his friends were such tools. At least the Backstreet Boys knew how to fucking relax.
"Get your ass on a plane," Chris said. "Seriously. I hate you and I hate your stupid song."
"I'm not supposed to talk to you," Justin said, and hung up.
"Fucker!" Chris shouted to the rickety tiles.
When he left, he took the van. JC could fucking walk back to the hotel.
JC walked back to the hotel, alone, even though his British security guys had protested. Lonnie and Jesse would have never let him do it, but they hadn't come to England: they had families and Chris had absolutely told them no. They'd been away enough.
JC thought maybe he should be mad at Chris for being such an ass, but he didn't feel like it. He wasn't good at being mad anyway. Chris and Lance and even Justin were pretty good at it, but he and Joey could only be angry, really truly angry, for, like, ten minutes, tops. Besides, it was nice out and he had his tweed driving cap on and no one was looking for him just walking down a London street, so there was no point in being mad anyway.
The front desk girl at the magazine had given him directions on a scrap of paper, and he pulled them out of his pocket to look at them. Her phone number was up in the corner. JC looked at it. She had been a pretty girl, blond, sunny, smart looking. JC had liked her.
He wouldn't call her, though. He'd given up calling girls after Bobbie, and he hadn't even regretted it. The guys made fun of him, teased him about getting a girlfriend, about hanging out with Emmanuelle, about his dates with his hand, but it was like being angry, JC thought. There was no point. All a girl would want would be his time and his love, and he had neither. His time was already taken up with the group and his own music and his painting and all the things he wanted to learn before he died so that he could point to them later, in the ether, maybe, and say that he hadn't wasted this time around. And his love, well, they had that. The guys.
Before Bobbie had told him to fuck off, when she was just amused by the other guys and didn't hate them yet, she'd laughed and poked him in the ribs.
"You got it bad," she said. He had turned to her, not understanding.
"For them," she had said, nodding at the closing door. "You're in love with them."
JC had blushed and shrugged and not admitted it, but Bobbie had smiled knowingly and kissed him on the mouth. JC understood now that she had smiled because she had been sure then that she could step in front of them in his line. It wasn't until after they broke up that JC realized no one ever would.
A sign in front of him said "Rare Antiques and Books." The shop looked like a junk shop, full of things that other people threw away. JC, always a sucker for a secret treasure, went inside.
Chris went into the pub, smiling, but there was no one in there who recognized him, not even in the "hey, aren't you famous" way, just a lunchtime crowd hunched over their food at the bar, watching soccer on television. He took a seat at the end and ordered a beer and fish and chips. No one looked up.
From time to time, Chris would go off by himself, just disappear. Mostly it lasted for hours, but once Chris had been gone for two days, walking back into the house they'd shared and tossing his backpack on the couch like he'd just gone to work. At first, they had all been worried, but they got used to it eventually, all of them, although Joey and JC never really liked it. The thing with Chris was you just couldn't boss him or tell him because he wouldn't listen. You had to just show him -- the way Justin had shown him that time he'd been gone so long, by grabbing him and hugging him super tight -- and hope that Chris would get it.
He didn't consider himself a stupid guy, but it took him almost seven hours to realize that he was waiting for JC to come and find him. He'd had quite a few beers by that point, but he couldn't seem to get drunk. Something about the alcohol was too heavy to consume quickly enough, and Chris was stuck at this level of sloppy bleariness, unable to push himself over the edge into real drunkenness so that he could go back to the hotel and apologize.
He sighed and threw another dart. Even with all the beer, he was pretty good at darts. He'd even won some money off a guy a few hours ago, but he wasn't sure how much it was. He didn't get English money. Lance would know.
For a while, Chris had hoped Reggie would come in, or someone young and female who would see him and know who he was. But every time the door opened, it was just another young English guy, fresh out of work, sleeves of his white or grey or blue shirt rolled up and his tie pulled loose, and none of them were Reggie. Truthfully, Chris wasn't even sure he'd be able to tell if Reggie did walk in. He didn't really remember what Reggie looked like.
And JC obviously wasn't coming to find him. Fucking JC, who was a fucking space case and had made him come on this fucking trip. He was probably out at some club or something, turning down chicks. Chris scowled into his empty glass. He hated JC.
He hated JC and he hated Justin, who wouldn't talk to him on the phone, and Joey, who had a fucking kid to love, and Lance who wanted to go into outer space like no place on the Earth was possibly far enough to get away from them, no. Lance had to leave the goddamn atmosphere. Well, fuck him. Fuck him, and Justin, and the rest of them. He was moving to England and buying a fucking castle and he didn't care if he never spoke to any of them again.
He ordered another beer.
The biggest downside of famousness, JC thought, was that public things weren't fun when you were by yourself, because you weren't ever really by yourself. When he was at home, alone, he could do whatever he wanted, and that was cool. And when he was with the other guys, he could do nearly whatever he wanted, because he was with them and they would be doing stuff, too. But when he went to clubs or concerts or restaurants alone, famousness sucked, because there were all these people staring and they were only staring at him.
He'd thought the club would be fun, and it probably was if you weren't him. If you were that guy in the corner, maybe, the one with the bleached blond hair and the tall black girl dancing with you. Or maybe that girl with the pigtails and the blue eyeshadow laughing over her glass. If you were any one of those people who'd had the same thought JC had had, namely that tonight would be a good time to go out and dance and maybe have a drink or two and talk to some people. Of course, none of those people were famous or had to be surrounded by bodyguards who didn't dance, who weren't even allowed to dance as, like, part of their job descriptions. And none of those people were being stared at or whispered about, or had paths cleared for them so they could walk through without someone touching them. This club didn't suck for any of them, JC thought, sipping at his drink. He missed Chris.
Eventually, Chris knew, he would have to go back to the hotel. Eventually turned out to be sooner than he thought, when the barmaid leaned over and took his chin in her hand and said, "all right, luv. Out you go."
They were closing, Chris realized, looking around at the forest of chair legs sticking up from the tables. A thin guy pushed a thin broom on the far side of the room.
"Oh. Okay," Chris said.
He pushed his way out the door and stood on the wet street. It must have rained. It rained a lot around here. Chris wasn't sure he liked that in a new possible location.
A cab pulled up at the curb, and the driver leaned over the back seat to open the door, but Chris' wallet was gone, not in any of his seventy pockets. He turned back to the pub door, but the lights were off inside and the heavy wooden door hardly rattled in its hinges.
"I'm famous," Chris said. "I can get you the money at the hotel."
"Bloody fuck," the cabdriver said, and took off.
"Bloody fuck is right," Chris said, and started walking after him. It wasn't that far, anyway, maybe six blocks in a straight line, but it seemed to take a lot longer than that, and toward the end it started to rain again. "Bloody fuck," Chris said again, to himself. He didn't bother trying to run, though.
The doorman at the hotel came out with an umbrella and said a whole bunch of polite things in a very soothing accent.
"Just take me to my room," Chris said. "I don't have my key."
"Certainly, sir," the doorman said. He didn't, though, but put Chris in the hands of a bell hop who almost let him into the wrong room.
"No, it's this one," Chris said, stabbing at the numbers. "Over here."
"Um, right," the bellhop said. He inserted the key card into the lock. "Right, sir."
Chris staggered into the room, and almost broke his legs on a pair of pants he'd left on the floor. "Fuck," he muttered, but he didn't turn on the light, just stripped off all of his clothes and groped for the bed. It was further to the right than he'd remembered, but he found it finally, and yanked back the covers to find JC there, already curled up, asleep.
"C!" Chris said, shaking his shoulder.
"Shut up, " JC murmured. "I mean it, Chris."
"Why are you in my bed?"
"Fuck off and go to sleep," JC said. He hooked one arm around Chris' neck and dragged him down to the mattress. He was so warm, and the skin of his neck was smooth under Chris' mouth.
"Night," he mumbled, arranging himself so that none of JC's boney parts were underneath him. JC didn't say anything.
JC came to sometime in the middle of the night, woken by thunder, maybe, or the sound of someone's footsteps in the hallway, or maybe nothing, just the night. Chris was beside him, almost on top of him, his mouth open, a pale figure on pale sheets.
JC reached out and touched his hair, right at the temple. "Chris," he whispered. Chris' hair slipped through his fingers. His skin pressed, hot and bare, against JC's. JC moved on the sheets until he was as close to Chris as he could be. Chris' breath smelled like beer, but JC kissed him anyway, tasting him lightly, closing his hand on Chris' hair.
"Uuh," Chris said, following JC's mouth blindly when it pulled away.
"We're not ducklings," JC whispered against Chris' flushed forehead. He rearranged himself so that he was over Chris and around him, as much as he could be anyway. He kept his lips on Chris' temple and whispered until he fell asleep.
It was JC's room.
Chris woke up like someone shot him, jerking upright, the sheets avalanching away from his body. JC's room. He was naked in JC's room.
JC himself lay on the other side of the bed, also mostly naked, his butt in purple boxer briefs against Chris' thigh. "Hmm?" he said.
"JC," he said.
"Come here," JC murmured, groping backwards for Chris' arm.
"JC," Chris said again. His heart pounded high and fast in his chest. He was choking, he was freaking out, he was gonna have a heart attack any second and JC was just lying there, groping at him.
JC rolled over onto his back and grabbed Chris' arm, yanking him down onto the mattress and crawling on top of him. "Hmm?" he said. His eyes were still closed, and he was smiling with his lips closed as well, rubbing his rough cheek against Chris'. Chris stared at him.
"JC," he said again. He'd forgotten all his other words.
"You never shut up," JC said. His mouth was stale from sleep, but sweet and wet, and open on his, and he was naked, and JC was practically naked, and hot and slippery, and when Chris felt his dick move, poke against JC's thigh, JC's poked back. Chris' heart still hurt in his chest, but his fear was bleeding away, leaking out with every breath that escaped.
JC kissed him and kissed him, squirming all over him until Chris realized what he wanted and slid his hands into the elastic of JC's underwear.
"Oh," JC said. He had a small perfect ass, and his back arched, and Chris had both of his palms on it, his fingers curved around it, brushing the backs of JC's thighs. "Chris."
"JC," Chris said, in between kisses, and pulled him tight and close.
JC had never expected this, Chris, curving up underneath him. He'd seen Chris in almost every way there was to see him, in ways he'd never seen anyone but the ones in the group, in ways he'd hoped never to see again, but this was new and it rushed over him like water, the joy of discovering something about Chris he'd never knew existed. It was like going to sleep on a plane and waking up in a country you never imagined, a place with sunlight and breeze and --
Chris rolled him and leaned up on one arm, his palm flat on JC's stomach. "You're too skinny," he said. His hand wandered into the front of JC's underwear.
"Yeah." JC closed his eyes. And waves crashing on the shore, JC thought. Chris' fingers stroked down, then up, and JC lifted up, hoping Chris would do it without being told.
"You're also pretty easy," he whispered in JC's ear.
So it just figured that his phone would ring the emergency double ring right when he was feeling better, his hand on JC's cock, JC's mouth clamped to his neck. Later, he'd have a hickey the size of a fifty cent piece, but it was hot, JC's air and moisture and suction on his pulse.
"Fuck," he said. JC had released him the minute he'd heard the ring, and was sitting up in bed, his underwear still tangled around his thighs. Chris blinked. God, he was fine. Even with his hair standing up in a white boy's afro and his cock poking ludicrously out of the sheets, a leaning tower of desire, JC was hot. Chris blinked again.
"Where's your phone?" JC asked, pawing through the bedclothes. "Is it in here?"
"No." Chris hooked his pants with his hands and dragged them up onto the bed. The phone trilled in his pocket. He grabbed it and clicked it, his heart throbbing again, in time with his nuts. His life was so fucked up. "What?" he said.
"Look, I know I'm not supposed to talk to you, man, but seriously. I need some advice."
Justin. Justin was calling.
"Not now," Chris said.
"What? Why? Oh! Is he in the room," Justin whispered.
"Yeah," Chris said. JC, apparently mollified by Chris' tone of voice, had stretched out on his back, wriggling out of his underwear, one hand on his cock. He caught Chris looking at him and smiled lazily.
"Okay?" he whispered. Chris nodded.
"I gotta go," he told Justin. "Like, right now."
"Okay, but you gotta call me back man, seriously. You gotta."
"Soon," Justin said.
"Yeah, okay." Chris dropped his phone on the floor and climbed on top of JC.
"Everything cool?" JC asked. His eyes were perfect brilliant blue.
Afterwards, Chris let himself be still. He didn't do that very often, JC knew, because at some fundamental level Chris believed that a moving target was harder to hit. He was right, of course, but not all things that were trying to catch you were bad. Chris was still figuring that part out.
"So," Chris said, his voice low. "Does this mean we're, um ..."
"Yup," JC said. "You know, if that's cool."
"That's cool, cat," Chris said, noogying him gently on the top of the head. JC wrapped his arms around Chris' waist and squeezed. "Just promise me you're not going to want to learn to fly the space shuttle or something."
JC smiled. "I dunno," he said. "I'm not really into relationships where people try to limit me."
"Oh, fuck you," Chris declared, squeezing back. "I'll limit your ass."
"Is that what they call it, now?" JC murmured. Chris' kiss was quick and full of laughter.