Gay Best Friend
Your Gay Best Friend
You thought Lance was straight when he first joined the band because about two weeks after he moved to Florida a girl came to visit him. You had to go with him to the airport, even though you couldn't drive, because he still wasn't sure where it was and the other guys were busy doing things that guys who could drive did while you were left at home.
"Who're we here for?" you asked on the way in, figuring it was Lance's s mom or his sister. He seemed like a momma's boy to you. You would know, being one yourself.
But Lance had just smiled a toothy smile and said, "you'll see."
It was girl with brown hair and brown eyes, cute but not all that pretty from what you could see. You didn't get a good look though, because she came running out of the gate and flung herself at Lance, legs wrapping around his waist as he caught her easily.
"La!" she said.
"Te!" he answered, laughing.
"Do!" they said together. People were staring at them and smiling, like Lance and this girl were a romance movie or something. You shifted back and forth on your feet, wishing Lance could have just bought a map or something.
"Dipping you," Lance said, and did, one foot out the way real dancers did it, and the girl tipped back easily in his arms until she was upside down and looking at you. "That's Justin," Lance said. "He's in the group."
"Hi, Justin," the girl said, still upside down. Her face was turning red, and that was not an attractive look for anyone.
"Um, hi," you said.
Lance swept her back onto her feet and she did a neat little spin. "I'm Milla," she said.
"Milla's my show choir partner," Lance said. You noticed that Lance held her hand all the way back to the car, though, and you thought that Milla might be more than just a show choir partner.
"Lance has a girlfriend," you said to Chris the next morning when he showed up to take you to breakfast.
"Uh huh," he said, waving to your mom as he backed out of the driveway. You realized that Chris must know this. Lance and Joey and JC shared a house, and Chris usually spent at least two or three nights a week there, so Chris must have seen this Milla girl already. "She seems nice."
"But." You didn't know what to say to that because in the month that you'd all known Lance you'd thought you'd pretty much established that he was gay. He hadn't said or anything, but you thought that everyone knew. It seemed ... clear.
"You thought he was gay, huh?" Chris said.
You nodded. Chris grinned at you. "Just between you and me, kid," he said, ruffling your hair, "I think you're right."
Chris always knew how to make you feel better.
Milla turned out to be super nice, and not at all shy, not even when you came into the living room while they were making out.
"Oh, uh, sorry," you said, backing out, wishing that they would have gone up to his room or something, because you were young and could be, like, scarred for life or something seeing shit like that.
"No, hey," Milla said, sitting up. She didn't seem bothered at all, even though her hair was kind of messed up. Lance just smiled at you. He didn't seem bothered either, and you hadn't had a lot of hands on experience with girls--none if you don't count kissing Britney at the Christmas party, which you don't because Britney would kiss anybody -- but the couple of times you'd walked in on Chris or Joey, they'd seemed pretty pissed off. "We're not doing anything."
"No, it's okay," Lance said. You didn't stay anyway, because it was weird them sitting there and not being pissed, but still. She seemed nice.
Milla stayed for three days, holding Lance's hand, curled up in Lance's bed, even kissing him when you were standing right there. But she also taught you how to spin a girl, twirling under your arm and giggling.
"Remember how long we had to practice to get that, La?" she said. You spun her out and back in rapid succession. "This kid's a natural!" She was light and precise in her movements, and you dipped her without a warning and she followed, grinning. "Lance is a horrible dancer," she said, as if Lance wasn't standing right there.
"Shut up!" he said.
"We know," you said, winking at her, and she winked back over her shoulder. When you drove her back to the airport with Lance, she gave you a kiss goodbye, on the mouth, and said "take care of my boy, Justin." You told her you would.
On the way back home, you told Lance that he had a great girlfriend. He looked at you for a long time, before he said "um, thanks." You wondered if he was jealous about the kiss.
He came out to you all right before you left for Germany.
"Just in case, you know," he stared at his hands, "y'all need to, um, find someone else. Before you go."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Joey asked.
"I, uh," Lance said. And you felt bad for him, but you felt worse for Milla.
JC put his hand on Lance's knee. "We don't need to find anyone else, man." Lance looked like he might cry.
You took him aside after the group hug, pulling him from under Joey's arm. "Hey," you whispered. "Hey, what about Milla?"
"I talked to her last week. She says hi. She's going to apply to Duke and says she's going to kick your ass in basketball next time she sees you."
You shook your head. "I mean, no, how is she?"
"And she's okay, like, that you're, um, gay?"
Lance stared at you like you grew horns or blew snot out of your nose or something. "uhhh. Yeah."
"Really?" It didn't make sense to you, the way that Milla hung onto him, the way that she smiled up at him, the way that he hung on her, that she would be okay now, with this.
Lance smiled then, one of his pretty, broad smiles, with all his teeth showing. "Dude, she was the first person I told."
"When? When you talked to her last week?"
Lance took your arm, then, rubbing like he was about to tell you that your gerbil just died. "Justin, I knew when I was thirteen. I told Milla, like, three years ago."
"But she's not ... I thought you were, she--"
"She's one of my best friends."
"But you. I mean. What was that?"
Lance smiled, ducking his head and it struck you how damn pretty he was sometimes, now that the hairdresser had convinced him to lighten his hair a little. "It's just something. You know, it's nice, sometimes. To be close to someone else."
"Oh, okay," you said, nodding, although you didn't get it, not really. It seemed ... unfair in some way you couldn't put your finger on.
Germany sucked. A lot. You hated having your mom there all the time, because she got screechy when you had to spend long days rehearsing or performing, and you hated not having her around when she had to go home, because you were so homesick you cried every night into your pillow.
Joey and Chris loved it, because all sorts of things were legal in Europe that weren't legal in the United States. Things were legal for you, too, but the other guys thought you were too young. They were probably right. JC liked it, but he was more cautious about things than Joey and Chris. He started small, going to the deli place down the street, the biergarten around the corner, the club two blocks away from the crappy hotel you stayed at in Berlin.
Lance stayed behind, too, because he just wasn't that kind of guy, he told you. You were glad for his company, most nights, even though he wasn't much like you. He told you what it was like to go to high school, where you would never go, and he told you about his family, and how his mother threatened every week to pull him out of the group if something didn't happen soon, and he told you that he wasn't going to leave, even if she did try to pull him out. He would be eighteen soon enough, he thought, and his mom couldn't stand to be away from him. She'd give in, he told you.
It got so that you and Lance would spend the night together whenever the other guys went out, watching movies or doing homework or whatever.
"Hey," he said, opening the door, one finger held up. He was in pajama pants and a t-shirt, and he had a cellphone in his hand and his eyes were red. He put his hand over the receiver. "Milla," he said to you. You raised your eyebrows and waved at the phone. "Justin says hi."
He listened for a second, and said "she says hi, Jup." You sat on the bed and flipped through t.v. channels and watched while Lance talked, walking the room.
"Ha!" Lance said, loudly. "That's so not going to happen, Milla." He shook his head at you, rolling his eyes. "Okay, yeah." He sighed. "I miss you, too. Okay. Bye." He hung up, and sat down on the bed next to you.
"Talking to them sometimes is worse than missing them," he said, and you laughed a little.
"Yeah," you said. You knew what he meant. Sometimes, when you got off the phone with your mother you wanted to curl up in a ball and cry until you were just a dry empty shell. You patted Lance's shoulder.
He was the one who caught you the next time, stopping by your room not two minutes after you'd gotten off the phone with your mother who couldn't come to Germany because the boys needed her to be there right now, and you were almost an adult. You could handle yourself.
"I brought vampire mo--hey!" he said, when you opened the door. "What's wrong?"
"My mom," you said, sniffling. You felt like an idiot, crying because your mommy wasn't coming to see you, but you couldn't help it. You missed her.
"Oh, man," Lance said, throwing the movies on the cheap pressboard table. Everything seemed trashy, suddenly, and slightly threatening. You, Justin Timberlake, were on your own. "I'm sorry." He put his arm around your shoulders. "Are you going to be okay?"
"She's not coming," you said, and that made it horribly finally real and you were bawling, and Lance took you over to your bed and laid you down on it. You expected him to go and leave a big crybaby like you alone, but he climbed up on the bed behind you and put his arms around you and didn't say anything else. When you woke up later, he was gone.
Sorry," you said the next day, when Lance came by to get you for rehearsal. He smiled and squeezed your arm.
"Not a problem, man," he said, in his low southern voice, and you felt better about the whole thing.
You think the touching started then, after that, but it could have started long beforehand and you wouldn't have noticed it, because it wasn't until then that you started thinking of Lance as being your own personal friend and not just one of the guys. Suddenly, everything he did seemed directed at you, for you, about you. You liked it, because it made you feel special, like more than just the youngest member of a struggling vocal group. Like Justin.
So you would lean into him when he sat down next to you until he put an arm around you to steady you, and you'd stand so close to him that you could feel his body heat--he and Joey were always a degree or two warmer than everyone else--until Lou yelled at you to "get the fuck out of Lance's back pocket, kid!" at a photo shoot. Then you only did it when Lou wasn't around.
And when you were alone, really alone, just you and Lance, then you could wait until he was on the bed and lie down close up next to him, almost touching. If he fell asleep that way, you could trace his hand with your fingers, really lightly so that he wouldn't wake up.
Then he did.
"What are you doing?" he mumbled, pulling his hand away from yours and rubbing his face. "You're tickling me."
"Sorry, I," you said. Then you stopped, because you weren't sure what you were doing, what you wanted, why you kept touching him. "I was just, um, thinking. You know, about Milla."
You nodded, feeling like you were on to something. "You know, how you said about, um, being close to someone?" You glanced at his face, but he seemed amused in the way he got when Chris would tease him. Tolerant.
"Well, I." You sighed, unsure of how to finish. "This. Um, you and Milla were, like--"
"You want me to be your gay best friend?" he asked.
He squinted his pretty eyes at you for a second, looking for something, maybe. Then he smiled.
"Yeah, okay," he said.
"Okay?" It seemed like you should be happy, like you'd gotten what you wanted, but you didn't know what to do next. "So, um."
"Come here," Lance said, and you went.
He folded you up against him, with your cheek against his shoulder and your nose up against his throat, and murmured "put your arm around me," and squeezed you tight. It was weird. You'd never been this close to anyone, to any guy, on purpose like this before. Once, when you were homesick, Joey had hugged you and it had been kind of like this, but not exactly, because you had been upset then, and too busy thinking about your own problems to really feel it, the tidal wave of Lance's breath, the steady thumping of his heart beat, the heat and the pressure and the stealthy peace that started at the base of your spine and curled up your back until you were drunk with it.
"Nice, huh?" he said.
"Oh, yeah," you said, and then you both laughed.
After that, you spent a lot more time with Lance. You didn't drink alcohol, partly because you would get in trouble, but also because it wasn't good for your vocal cords, but being close to Lance was like what you imagined being drunk would be. You would spend whole afternoons on his bed or yours, breathing in his scent, listening to the t.v. in background because you couldn't really watch it when you were pressed up against Lance's throat, and talking.
You learned that Lance had hated high school, except for the choir, because it was all small people with small minds. He was going to get out, go to college and become and astronaut or a science guy or something, if this thing didn't work out. You liked to listen to him talk about his school and his friends, because he had a normal life without cameras. He made homework and pep rallies seem interesting and exotic.
You liked to tell him stuff, too, about Mickey Mouse Club and other stuff you worked on, because he would shake his head and laugh and say "I can't believe you, Just," in that low voice, and when he did, he would squeeze you closer.
So you told him about helping out at auditions, reading lines with kids from all over the country. You'd be nice to them for fifteen minutes or half an hour and then they'd screw up, or just not be good enough, and then they'd be gone. No one you'd auditioned with had ever made it. Sometimes that was funny, but more often it was just depressing, even though you'd liked being on the show.
You told him about JC, too, about how JC had been so nice to you when you first got there, and how talented he was, and how devoted to music.
"That was before you knew what a freak he was about his room, huh?" Lance said, and you both laughed because JC was a freak about people touching his stuff, and you still loved him anyway.
"You liked him, huh?" Lance had said, after laughing, and you'd blushed and nodded into Lance's t-shirt. He patted your back. "I know how you feel."
"You like JC?" you asked, pulling back so you could see his face.
"No," he shook his head. "Not JC. I mean, I just know how it is to like someone, like that. You know." You looked into his eyes for a second, his green eyes unlike anyone else's eyes you'd ever seen. Then he tugged on your waist--his hands were always on your waist, and you liked that--and you slid back into his embrace.
It got so that his skin was second nature to you, the smell of it, the feel of it under your fingertips. He had fine skin, especially in the insides of his wrists and along his ribs, and he would let you run your hands over it as much as you liked. If you had to spend a whole day out, away from the hotel, he would even let you run your thumb over his wrist, if no one was looking. It relaxed you, and it seemed to relax him, too, because he would always close his eyes, like he was trying to concentrate. Sometimes, when you pushed your hand under his shirt, he would shudder and his breath would slow to almost nothing, but he never told you to stop, so you never did.
All you wanted to do was lie on your bed with Lance and listen to him talk. You would come back from rehearsal and rush through your shower and dinner, watching Lance across the table. You'd get up first, usually, because Lance liked to dawdle over food, and go back to your room and race through your homework so that it would at least be partly done, and then, if Lance didn't have homework of his own (and sometimes even if he did, although he felt guilty about that), he would come by and knock on your door.
You never jumped at him and threw your legs around him like Milla had, although you thought if you had to be separated from him you just might, but you would step back from the door, shutting it quietly, and Lance would say "busy, J?" and you would shake your head and close your eyes at the feeling of his hands gliding around your waist and pulling you close. His hands were always warm.
Then you would lie on the bed, all tangled up together for an hour or two, until eventually he would yawn. Rehearsals wore him out more than you. Milla was right; Lance wasn't really a great dancer. Then you would tip your head back and say "you tired?" and Lance would say "not yet" and lick his lips, and before you could really think about kissing him, he would press on the small of your back and you would fall back against his shoulder, one of your legs threaded through his, and you would stay there for another hour while Lance stroked your hair or ran his fingers over the back of your neck and under the collar of your shirt until your skin tingled.
He never stayed the night though.
"Jup. C'mere," Chris said, one afternoon. You figured it was just one of Chris' things, one of the six billion pranks he liked to play because he got bored pretty easy, but when he pulled you aside he had a serious look on his face.
"What?" you said, nervous. Chris wasn't serious a whole lot.
"What's the deal with you and Lance, man?" he asked.
"What?" you said again, so you wouldn't have to answer. You didn't know what the deal was exactly, you didn't know how to answer that question, because you were pretty sure what you were doing wasn't normal, exactly, but it was Lance and it was ... you couldn't give it up, you didn't want to.
"You guys seem pretty close, Justin. You know what you're doing?"
"We're not doing anything!" you said, too loudly, too defensively.
"Okay," Chris said, sighing. It was the tone of voice your mother used when she didn't want you to do something, but knew you would do it anyway. "Look, if you need anything, okay? I'm here."
"Okay," you said, relieved to be getting off so easily. If it had been JC you would have had to explain.
"Anything, Juppy," Chris said with his hand on your shoulder. You nodded, and he left, and that night while you were lying on Lance's bed with your arms around his neck, you kissed his collarbone through his t-shirt. You didn't think he noticed.
The next day Lance told you he was flying home to visit his family for a week. It was his grandma's birthday, he said, and he had to spend some time packing and getting caught up on his schoolwork so he could go. You nodded, and smiled, and hung out in Joey's room, because Joey was warm like Lance and let you sit next to him and didn't wiggle like Chris or JC.
Lance came to your room the night before he was supposed to leave.
"Hey," you said, stepping back to let him in.
"Hey," he said. When the door shut he grabbed you around the waist and threw you on the bed, coming down on top of you with his hands on either side of your head, laughing. "I'm going to miss you," he said, smiling down at you.
"I'm going to miss you, too," you said, and it was true, but you were still surprised when you felt tears in the corners of your eyes.
"Something in your eye?" he asked, smiling, wiping the tears away with his thumb.
"yeah," you said, and let him shift you so that you were wrapped up with him like a pretzel, not sure where he ended and you began.
When he yawned an hour later, you wanted to cry again. "You going?" you asked, tilting your head back.
"Not yet," he said. "A little while."
You looked at his eyes, his mouth. "You could stay," you said. He looked back, equally serious.
"Yeah," he said, finally. "I could."
You got up and turned off the lights and the t.v., then standing by the bed, took off your jeans and t-shirt. When you slid under the sheet, he was there, warm and comforting in his underwear. He'd left his shirt on, but his chuckle when his hands came around your waist told you that you'd done the right thing by taking yours off. He rolled you over so that you were facing away from him, and curled an arm around you, his hand resting over your heart. You could feel his breath on your neck, and his knees behind yours. You scooted back until you could feel him all along your body.
"'night, Lance," you whispered.
"'night, Justin," he whispered back, and kissed your cheek near your ear.
Sometime in the night you came awake and touched him, sliding your hands over his chest and down his back. When you reached around and touched his ass through the thin material of his boxers shorts, he gasped a little against your throat. He hardly moved, though, and you yanked him close, your hands hard against his flesh, to hear him moan a little.
"Justin," he whispered. "Justin."
And you said, "I'm going to miss you," again, and rubbed his back under his shirt until he fell back to sleep.
He got up early to go back to his room. Before he left, though, he kissed the corner of your mouth. You liked it.
Lance came back on a Wednesday, and you waited a whole hour after he got back before you went running to his hotel room, checking the hallway to make sure no one saw you. You'd thought about it a lot while he was gone, and you thought maybe you would let Lance kiss you again, this time full on the mouth, if he wanted.
He opened the door, some of his shirts in his hand.
"Hey!" you said.
He smiled. He looked great, rested and well fed, and you couldn't wait for him to shut the door.
When he did, you flung yourself at him, knocking him back onto the piles of clothes on his bed. "Did you miss me?" you asked, "because I missed you somethin' fierce!" You squeezed him.
"I did," he said. "I missed all y'all."
You rolled your eyes at him. "No, did you miss me?" you demanded, and that was when you knew something was wrong, because instead of smiling and saying something nice, Lance sighed and closed his eyes.
"Justin," he said, pushing back onto your feet. "I, um. I don't think we should do this, anymore."
"Do what?" you asked, stepping back as Lance got to his feet.
"This." He waved his hand at the room, you, everything.
"I'm sorry, Justin," he said, and he looked sorry, really sorry, but he also looked like he'd made up his mind.
"I, um. Okay," you said, because there wasn't really anything else to say. It wasn't like you could tell him that you loved him or that you wanted him or that you never wanted to be away from him, or whatever, because you were best friends and not ... anything else. "So, do you want me to go?"
He sighed. "No, um. You can stay," he said, so you did, sitting on his bed and watching him unpack. He told you about his grandmother's birthday party, which would have been boring if anyone else told it, and he told you about him and Milla and some other people going to a movie and how he'd gotten in trouble for staying out so late, and he told you about Mississippi in the summertime, because Lance didn't seem to think that you had a truly Southern childhood, since you spent so much time on stage. He was probably right.
Somewhere in the middle of him talking, you fell asleep on a pile of his clean clothes. They smelled like him. They smelled like heaven.
You woke up to Lance saying your name in your ear. He was sitting next to you, shaking you gently. He looked sad. "You should go to bed, Jup," he said, when he saw your eyes open.
"You can kiss me on the mouth if you want," you said.
You stretched under his hand, throwing your arms up over your head so that Lance's hand ended up on your stomach. You had a nice stomach. "You can kiss me on the mouth."
He looked at you carefully. "Justin. I. Best friends don't do that."
"You kiss Milla on the mouth," you said.
"Milla's different, Justin! She's a girl."
"So you're not." He bowed his head in frustration, but his hand was still on your stomach so you felt like you were making headway.
"Lance," you said, propping yourself up on your elbows. "If you want to, you can kiss me on the mouth. If you don't, you don't have to."
"No, I want to, it's just--" he glanced at you, nervous. He hadn't meant to say that, you realized, and it made you smile. "Jesus, Justin," he said, finally, and lay down next to you, pulling you up against him. You threaded your arms around his neck and slid one leg between both of his, and sighed happily when his hands came together in the small of your back, underneath your shirt.
"You're going to kill me," he said, shaking his head.
You tilted your head back and smiled up at him until he caved in and kissed you, right on the mouth. It was the end of a beautiful friendship.