NOTES AND DISCLAIMERS: So made up, for entertainment only. Entertaining lies about famous people I don't know from Adam. A sideways inspiration from Cry Me A River, the one by JRT, and Mr. Adams of NRBQ. Free Man In Paris is a song by Joni Mitchell about David Geffen. Middlemarch is by George Eliot. Chris sings "Surprise" by the Sundays. Songs quoted are "Perfect From The Start" by Jeremy Toback, "Near Wild Heaven" by REM, "Get You In" by Better Than Ezra and "Easy People" by the Nields, respectively. Thanks to G, Younger and Katie for their help in the first draft writing. Thanks to Katie, Kel, Younger and Missy for very very helpful betas.
FREE MAN IN PARIS
I was born a fortunate son
Mother gave me all her fear and attention
I worked to prove my worth to everyone ... - Jeremy Toback
So this is the "post-sync" world, Justin thinks. Sitting outside his own hotel room, staring at his cell phone. Justin closes his eyes and prays.
He opens his eyes and Lance is bending over him. "Why," Lance says, "exactly are you sitting out here?"
Justin half stands up and hugs Lance. Justin says, "There's like, honestly, there's a party in there. But it's not mine."
Lance glances back at Leo, the bodyguard. He frowns. Justin steps aside and Lance and Leo go in the room. Leo closes the door before Justin can walk in. He doesn't really want to. He sinks back to the floor and takes out his cell phone. It's still not ringing.
The door opens again and people start filing out, going to another room, leaving. The new bass player, the three girls he picked up, people Justin can't even place. The door closes again. Justin watches the time display on his cell phone for ten minutes. No one calls at all. Eleven people have this number; he only wants one to call. She doesn't.
Lance comes out and tugs Justin up. "I got a room," Lance says, "you know, to hang out with you. Come on." Lance turns around and Justin follows.
When Justin gets into the room, Lance pulls him into another hug. Then Justin sits on the edge of the bed, and Lance says quietly, "How's your mom?"
Justin looks down. He won't cry. He waits until he can say it without his voice breaking. "She's gonna be fine. That's what all the doctors say, seriously. She calls every day. She's going to be fine. Perfectly treatable."
Lance nods. He looks down quickly and Justin wipes his eyes while Lance isn't looking. Justin says, "Cleared out the party?"
"Clear." Lance stands up and pats his pockets. "Leo's flushing things down the toilet. Why'd you, why are people partying in your room while you're waiting outside?"
Justin shrugs. His mom told him to go on tour; it was such a great album. Trace decided to really be a dad and stay with this one, this girl, this baby. Justin's fucking miserable. He says, "I dunno. Some girl offered to blow me, and she wanted to do it right there, in front of everyone. It just freaked me out. I guess that's a stupid thing to be freaked out by, but you know? Not with all those people there. Anyway, so I walked out and I was waiting."
His mom still hasn't called today. Some days, she doesn't call until really late, after she's rested all day and she can talk without having to get off the phone after a few minutes. Today is one of those days. He just needs to wait.
Lance says, "Who's your tour manager?"
"Ted who? Casablanca?" Lance smirks.
"Ted, who used to work with Usher and still does, but Usher's all off the road for the next year. Ted is very good. He's not hands-on about the after stuff, but that's not his job." Justin rubs his forehead.
Lance rolls his eyes and sits down in the chair. Lance never went to space, never made a third movie, never discovered anyone. When they went on this hiatus, no end date in sight, Lance got into the real estate business. He did that well. He and Howie are business partners now, and last Justin heard, Lance had doubled his fortune in eighteen months.
Lance looks miserable. Justin's pretty sure he's the last stop on Lance's little tour. Justin says, "Weren't you in LA with JC?"
"I was. He's working on the sequel to the disco concept album." Lance purses his lips. "He was like, you know, engrossed in studio things and he didn't want me hanging over his shoulder after the first few weeks. And even LA can get boring."
Chris and Lance broke up six weeks ago. Before Justin's mom was diagnosed. So Joey would have been stop number one, but Justin's pretty sure Joey had location shots in Cleveland and even Lance's misery wouldn't make Cleveland look good. Two weeks with Joey, a month with JC and now Justin.
He looks up at Lance and thinks, misery loves company. He says, "Why don't you, here's an idea. I think, um, Ted's a little over his head. I mean, he can handle the dancers and the tour stuff, but clearly, okay, this is not my best hour. I'm kinda lost. I'm doing crappy, and I need someone good to keep me on track. Why don't you, uh. You could hang out. You know?"
"Are you offering me a job?" Lance smiles.
It's not a smirk so Justin says, "Yes. I think I need someone. You'd be, you know, sort of perfect."
"Sort of?" Lance gets up and sits down next to Justin. "You need another manager?"
"Pretty much." Justin's phone rings and it's his mother.
It takes two days of lawyers and negotiating with Johnny and Lance and it's done. Lance basically takes over as Justin's co-manager for the last ten weeks of the tour. It's a really nice distraction for the first week, watching Lance get used to the job. Justin loves distraction right now.
Lance spends two days watching things and the next three days firing people and yelling at everyone else. He takes control of things really well. Ted isn't even resentful as Lance steps all over his turf, mostly because Lance spends his whole first day after the contracts are signed following Ted, asking Ted questions. Justin suspects that the people around him like Lance because they didn't much like being around Justin before Lance showed up. Not like Lance isn't depressed, too, what with the big break-up, but Lance wears it better.
Lance and Chris got together during the last NSYNC tour right when it was starting to become clear it would be the last for a really long time. It didn't seem then like the bad idea it ended up being. Or so Justin thinks. He's just judging by what he heard from Chris, and secondhand through Joey. Not like he and Lance didn't talk, but never about that when it started to turn bad.
So Lance and Chris were in love but the last six months sounded an awful lot like torture to Justin. Like they just tore each other down and brought out the worst in each other. Justin thinks they broke up when they had scarred every part of each other and had nowhere else to hurt. But it's not like Chris doesn't sound like the walking wounded whenever he and Justin talk, so maybe there were still a few places left.
Chris doesn't say much when Justin tells him about Lance being his manager. Only, "Well, that will probably work for you." Then he asks about Justin's mom.
Justin hates getting up. He always has and now it's just worse. All he wants is to be home. If he were home, he'd bring his mom tea. He'd go over to his daddy's house and see his brothers while she was sleeping. He'd be right there every moment she wasn't feeling well and he'd know how she was, not just how his dad said she was. The only thing that keeps him away is the way she says every time, "You're doing so great, baby."
Lance pushes his arm and says, "You're going to be late. Radio interview."
"I don't wanna." Justin sits up and rubs his eyes. "I want, I want to go home."
Lance presses his lips together and then says, "We can do that. You can. It'll be really expensive. Refunds, insurance. Your insurance next time out will be really scary. But you think about it, you have a radio interview to do first. You know you'll be back here, don't want to piss off the program director."
Justin nods and gets out of bed. In a few hours, Lance will nudge him and ask if he still wants to go home. Justin will say no, he can do it. Justin knows he's being manipulated, but Lance isn't really trying, he hasn't pulled out the big guns yet. Justin's okay with it, and really, he's paying Lance to do it.
He misses his mother. He misses Trace a lot, too, interviews like these. Lance is a perfect replacement because he knows all the people at the radio stations still. In the first two weeks on the job, Lance ends up doing half the interviews with Justin. A nice shield. And when it's just Justin, Lance sits in the back where Justin can see him, the two of them in an unspoken dialogue for the whole time. It's so much better than doing this alone or with the junior publicist he got stuck with for this last leg of the tour.
This morning's deejay doesn't want to talk Lance; it's a more urban station. The guy leans forward and says, "So, I hear your momma's sick, I'm sorry, man."
Justin doesn't smile. He just says, "Yeah, she's getting better. She's gonna be fine."
Three questions about Justin's last girlfriend who dumped him after sleeping with one of her co-stars from her last movie. One question about Britney, which is just silly. "We still talk all the time, man, she's completely cool." Which is true, so it's always easy to remember. Two questions about this album, one about the tour, three pointless jokes about the new Jay-Z song about being dumped by Beyonce.
No questions about NSYNC, only two years for that to become moot for urban stations. Two hours later it's a different kind of station and the deejay makes Lance sit right next to Justin so he can talk to both them. "Good to see you, man. So good to see you." The deejay smiles at Lance.
This one has one less question about Justin's last girlfriend. One question about NSYNC, "Why'd y'all break up? That last album rocked."
Lance says, "We didn't. We always said, you know, we wouldn't break up as long as we were friends, and we're all still friends. We just, you know, everybody had all these things, great stuff going on, and it was impossible to find all the time to focus on NSYNC, because that's, that's a huge chunk of time. So we're on hiatus. We don't know when it'll be over, but, man, it will be some day and for now, hiatus. No break up, just hiatus." He grins and looks over at Justin.
Justin says, "Totally. Man, don't know when, because JC's got this amazing album he's working on, and Joey's in this new movie and Chris has all this stuff and, you know, I've got this little tour that I hope people will be coming out to see, so."
The deejay wraps that part up saying, "And I can see Lance has himself a great job, so." Then another stupid joke about Beyonce's new song about how Jay-Z's an ass and the music fills the studio.
While the music's playing, the deejay takes off his baseball cap and smooths what's left of his hair on the top of his head. "It's not so little a tour, man, saw it two nights ago and you rocked. Great show."
Justin nods. "Yeah, you know, it's no PopOdyssey."
"Thank god," Lance says. He laughs and plays with his bottled water.
"Well, hey, what do you care?" The deejay chuckles. "You don't have to do any of it."
"Nope." Lance grins. "It's all the good parts of touring without any work at all. No dancing or anything."
Ten minutes later they're done and Lance opens the door of the limo for Justin. Justin scoots over as Lance gets in and says, "You don't have to do that."
"Fuck, I certainly don't. But I got to the car first." Lance whaps Justin's thigh with his book and leans back in his seat. He opens the book and starts reading. It's weird, distinctly weird to Justin that Lance is reading all the time now. Justin noticed that first night in Lance's hotel room, the stack of books Lance had already unpacked. Fiction, non-fiction, some titles Justin recognizes and another half he's never heard of. Lance is actually reading them and he takes notes. He jots things in the margins with his expensive Cross pen.
"What are you reading?"
Lance fiddles with his glasses and doesn't look up from his book. "It's about innovation and the Industrial Revolution."
Justin says, "So, like a business thing? Learning about all that?"
Lance shrugs. He turns a page. "I guess. That's not why I'm reading it."
"Are you, um, going to take a college course or something? You're reading enough." Justin remembers his tutors and how all that worked. Read a lot of books and do exercises, write papers and then a piece of paper that showed it was all done.
Lance snorts. "No college, no grades. I've been judged enough the last three years."
Which is a Chris slam or something. Justin plays with the hem of his t-shirt and doesn't say anything. Five minutes before they get to the hotel, Lance closes his book and tucks it into his messenger bag. He says, "Okay, you still wanna go home?"
Justin looks out of the window of the car. "No, I can do it. She told me to, she says it on the phone every time. It's fine."
Justin doesn't talk about Chris to Lance and he doesn't mention Lance to Chris. Chris calls every day, slightly more than normal since Justin's mom was diagnosed. Chris is so fucking talented, so capable of doing anything, so it's not such a surprise that he has bunch of projects going at any given moment. He had a record label for two years and then after the first hit act, Warner Bros bought it. Two years ago, Chris did a guest host thing for some talk show that lasted six months on the UPN. The show died, Chris got buzz. Now he's about to end a two-month stint guest hosting for the latest show to try to follow Letterman. Justin watches it religiously.
Chris calls two minutes after the show's done in whatever time zone Justin is in. Tonight he opens with, "Do you believe that bitch? Man, I been waiting four hours to say that to you."
"Dude, she's a big dyke. You know she dated Brit?" Justin smiles and pulls up the covers.
"I do recall that. I don't keep up with the woman so blessed as to get to deflower you, I don't keep up with her like you do, but I did hear that. And I was being all nice! No sly little questions about that big ol' closet she has right behind her. And she's still a bitch. What is up with that?" Chris laughs and it's almost like he's right there. He won't be, of course. Now that Lance is 24-7 on Justin's tour, Justin's sure he won't see him until the tour is over. One more reason to want the tour to end so Justin can go home. He misses Chris, like he always does.
"Well, she's a bitch, man. Brit dumped her pretty quick. I think you did good. I mean, you made her look bad. It was entertaining. That's the thing, right?"
"Well, it cuts down on people willing to be booked with me, say. I only get the shitty guests and no one watches because who really cares? But hey, I like your reasoning."
"I'm brill at this, man." Justin turns off the light and turns on his side. His mom called this afternoon at five; he can go to sleep after this. "So, anything else going on with you?"
"Nothin' honey. Getting back on my feet, you know, after everything."
Justin says, "You're always on your feet, man."
Chris asks about Justin's mom, Justin says she's fine, getting better and they say goodbye and Justin goes to bed.
It's weird. Johnny's still one of Justin's managers, but the album's been out six months, this is the second leg of the tour. And he's still Britney's manager, so with her album just out and her third movie still doing well, Johnny's a lot more focused there. Justin needs someone else. It's been his mom for so long and now it's Lance.
Johnny's old now, officially old, and as long as Justin's been doing all this, Johnny's been doing it longer. Justin always listens to him. And Justin's mom is his mom, he knows she wants what's best for him, he always listens to her, too.
Lance says he should do this silly TV thing, some quickie guest appearance playing in the club where the murder happens. Justin says, "I don't do club shows."
"Well, you have. And it takes two days, which you have in your schedule, and it's top five in the ratings every week."
"Maybe I had other plans for those two days." Justin picks at the hem of his jeans. They're not supposed to be artfully frayed anymore but Justin likes that look.
Lance pushes his glasses back up his nose and frowns. "You actually didn't. Or don't. We're going to be in LA. If you add up the time to fly to Memphis and back, you'd have all of three hours at home. If we stay in LA, you work two days, you get to see Joey and JC and you get a nice bump for the album and the tour."
"The album's officially a hit. The tour's at 90% capacity. I hate TV. You know? Sing the song eighty times and you're on screen for two minutes total. Half the audience thinks you're a whore and the other half doesn't even notice you." Justin takes the thread he's worked out and pulls it into little pieces.
"The jury's voted on whether you're a whore, Justin, you're guilty. Those people aren't going to buy your album anyway. And it's not the other half that doesn't even notice; there are people who will notice. Plus, you know, after this tour, there'll be a break and it's nice to keep your face out there. Along with the money, which is always nice." Lance taps his book but doesn't open it. It's a different one. Industrial revolution over, now it's some gray book about a parrot.
Justin thinks he could make this into an argument. Point out that Lance gets some of this money, because the structure of his contract means Lance only gets his percentage from this tour's receipts and this album's sales. Justin doesn't want an argument. But Justin's twenty-five, about to be twenty-six, and it's his life. He looks up and says, "One day. Why is it two days?"
Lance smiles. "I'll make it one day." Lance picks up his book and his pen. "You go get food or something, man, you're too skinny. People'll talk." Lance winks so Justin knows it's a joke.
The filming takes one day. Justin calls Brit from the side of the stage when he remembers that she used to date one of the actors. She tells him the actor had a very small penis. Lance charms the fuck out of the director, maybe even sleeps with him at the party after the shoot's done. Justin's pretty sure Lance and Ted have some sort of arrangement on the side as well. Which is one way to deal with a break up, Justin supposes.
He tells Joey about it over brunch. Joey says, "It wasn't a quid pro quo, of course." Joey grins and pours syrup on his waffle. They're at some out of the way diner in the Valley, Joey's favorite. "I mean, I bet he slept with the guy, but let's be honest, the guy was hot."
"I didn't think it was some kind of deal. Just, you know."
Joey says, "I think six weeks is sufficient time after a break up to get back to meaningless sex. Cause I know he didn't get laid when he was hanging out with me or C."
Justin shrugs. "I don't care, man, I was just sayin'."
"Not making sure he's sufficiently upset after breaking things off with your Chris?"
Justin frowns. "God, like we all weren't counting the days on that one. They'll both be happier. Those last six months were fucking torture, to us, at least. They were just making each other miserable at the end."
Joey says, "That happens a lot." He neatly divided his waffle in two and finished exactly half and he lays his fork on the plate. "I mean, never making it work." Joey signals for the check. "I'm glad they broke up, too. Like with you and Brit at the end, it was just kind of a relief."
They walk out and get in Joey's car. Joey says, "So, how's your mom?"
"She's fine. Getting better." Justin looks out the window. Lot of that lately, he thinks.
"Yeah, she's not, Justin. We all know it. She's not fine, it's making you miserable and it would probably behoove you to, you know, tell someone because it's gonna stay bad and you're just gonna explode." Joey shifts gears with an angry shove and pulls out into the road.
"Well, that's your theory." Justin closes his eyes. "I mean, there's some validity there." He actually starts laughing because it's just funny. It's ridiculous. It's funny that they're all doing so well and Justin, Lance, Chris, they're all fucking miserable right now. Joey, too, because Justin's pretty sure Kelly isn't living with him right now and he won't talk about her. Joey stops talking about Kelly when they're apart, and this time he has a tired set to his mouth as he never ever mentions her. Joey's quiet, too, so he's definitely unhappy. Maybe even JC is unhappy but Justin'll find that out tonight.
Joey starts laughing. "God, man, you must be so fucked. No mom, no Trace, no Johnny, really." He's still laughing and Justin doesn't think it's mean, it's just true.
Justin hangs out on Joey's set for a few hours and watches people drift by. He used to go crazy with nothing to do. This tour, he doesn't mind so much. He has one thing he wants to do and he can't. So now he can sit for hours and just watch other people. It's distracting.
Lance drives up with Briahna to pick up Justin. He tries to pass Briahna back to Joey. She clings to Lance. He grins at her and kisses her nose and then she clings to Joey. Justin sits in the car while Lance and Joey talk, laughing and poking at each other, for five minutes. Justin picks up Lance's book. Not the parrot one. This one is called "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The title sounds familiar. It's a pretty battered paperback edition. Justin looks up and they're still talking, so he opens the book.
He flips quickly, feels like a child sneaking through his parents' bedroom. On page 67, Lance's underlined: "Although she seemed expansive and cordial, she had a solitary character and an impenetrable heart."
Lance walks toward the car so Justin puts the book down.
JC looks tan even though Justin knows he hasn't left the studio in days. The first thing JC does is ask about Justin's mom. Then JC starts talking about the latest song he's finished and Lance rolls his eyes behind JC's back. Justin says, "Oh, Lance is really impressed."
JC turns around and shoves Lance, laughing. "God, you never change."
Lance winces. "I do, too."
Justin says, "Okay, weekly meeting of the girly girls is over there, people. Let's get drinks and enjoy this time, shall we?"
They sit in the back of the club and Lance says something to the bodyguards so no one bothers them but the staff. JC talks about his album a little more, argues with Justin about some of the staging on Justin's tour and barely drinks at all.
When they decided on the long hiatus, the one with no end in sight, JC couldn't stop talking about his next solo album. He waited until they'd decided for sure and then he would babble about it to any of them, it was his only topic of conversation.
Or maybe that's just the way Justin remembers it. The last half of that tour is a blur to Justin in some ways. The big gay second leg, Joey said once. The second leg when everyone had admitted to themselves that there wouldn't be a third one or a new one for a very very long time.
Justin wonders if they were all just running away from each other and clinging to each other at the same time in some mass neurosis. Chris and Lance got together, Justin was sneaking off to screw Nick Carter every chance he got. And Joey rolled his eyes as he called it the big gay second leg, even though he and JC were fucking each other every night and sometimes in the quiet room before shows. Back then, Justin thought at least Chris and Lance seemed to be starting a relationship. Justin barely talked to Nick, even with all the fucking.
JC's last solo album, the one he couldn't shut up about on that tour was the big disco concept album. It did pretty okay. Now JC grins and says, "Okay, so that's that. I think my album will be good and I think you've got too many dancers in those last three songs in the second half of the set. To sum up."
Lance says, "Well, I agree on point one and not on point two. Which I've already said."
JC laughs and butts his head against Lance's shoulder. "You look good." He's looking at Lance.
"I looked bad before?"
"Man, you looked like death warmed over." JC is petting Lance's shoulder.
"I don't think, I think I just looked serious. I'm allowed to be serious." Lance pushes his glasses up again.
"Maybe if you ditched the glasses. Do you even need them?" Justin takes a sip of drink. He's on his third; JC is still on his first.
Lance frowns. "Frankly, yes. Your eyesight does get worse, you know, as you get older."
"Not mine," JC says.
"Fine, mine." Lance keeps frowning.
"Mine, too," Justin says, because it feels like they're on the edge of a stupid argument or Lance getting really pissed.
JC cocks his head. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. I have to wear my contacts all the time now. Even on stage and everywhere." Justin watches Lance as he relaxes slightly.
Lance leans back against the cushions and says to JC, "So, you seeing anyone?"
JC blushes and looks down. "Maybe. I'm mostly in the studio, you know."
Justin pokes JC's arm. "Maybe? Who's the maybe?"
"Just some actress. She's nice. She's, like, thirty-eight, but she's really cool." JC grins and changes the subject. So, one for five, Justin thinks. Not that being with someone is a mark of happiness, but JC's definitely happy, actress or not.
Lance wears his glasses every day now. He reads a book a week, five books in the five weeks he's been managing Justin. When they're done, he puts them in his suitcase. Justin thinks he ships the books back to his house in Orlando because Justin's looking for a pair of socks in Lance's suitcase and he doesn't see any of the books Lance's finished.
Justin watches Lance all the time. It's been years since they were in such constant contact and even then, Justin didn't pay too much attention. There were so many people to try to understand and figure out, Justin trusted the guys implicitly and never watched them like this. But now, Lance is twenty-seven, he works two hours a day on his real estate business, the other twenty-two for Justin and he's the only person Justin sees every day that he trusts.
After his first week of the tour, Lance asked Justin when he worked out. Justin just shrugged and Lance said that Justin should join him in the mornings. So they work out every weekday morning, in hotels or the venue. Justin hadn't actually forgotten that Lance was incredibly competitive, but he's reminded every day. And Justin's no slouch in that department. Every day, it's who can press more, who can up the intensity more on the treadmill, who does more crunches. Justin thinks it's another manipulation. Lance thinks Justin will be happier or more stable if he's in better shape, if he's exercising more than just the show and the rehearsals. But he doesn't out and out say it; he just makes sure Justin does it. Justin doesn't resent it; it feels like love in a way. Like someone who cares enough to make him do things.
Lance is still in great shape, astronaut shape, Justin thinks. He's careful with his body, for all their pushing and competing, Lance isn't about to get injured. They both wear headphones for their music and Justin doesn't know what Lance is listening to these days.
Lance talks to Joey every day, JC more than twice a week. He never calls Chris. Lance is a fast typist and he doesn't play computer games any more.
Lance is a really good manager. He's right about the TV appearance. People start talking about Justin's appearance right after he films it, and there's a brief snippet on the stupid nightly entertainment shows and a resulting bump in album sales.
Three weeks before the tour ends, Justin's mom doesn't call. He stays up until two a.m. and there's nothing. Justin doesn't call her because he might wake her up. She's told him over and over that she wouldn't mind if he did, but it's something Justin would never do. He could call his dad, but he doesn't want to be an interruption. It must be something bad. He won't let himself think about it. He tosses and turns and reaches for his phone. He puts the phone back. He just needs to wait.
He falls asleep somehow because Lance is waking him up. Lance sleeps on the bus, in a big bunk while Justin has the bed in the back. Lance is in his face, Lance looks groggy and unshaven.
Lance says, "Paul, it's Paul on the phone."
Justin backs up against the headboard and starts to cry. He just can't, he won't hear it. Lance is there next to him, his hand on Justin's face.
Lance strokes Justin's cheek. He says, "I wouldn't, Justin, I wouldn't. I wouldn't just hand you the phone, understand? And it won't be that, it won't, you're not going to get that call, you're not."
Justin hiccups and takes the phone. So it's okay. Lance says it's not the worst, so Justin feels not as hysterical. Lance sits next to Justin on the bed and rubs his back while Justin talks to his dad.
It's not good news, but it's not surprising. Justin's mom is exhausted, dehydrated and she has to go into the hospital for a few days. Justin's dad says she'll be fine; it's just a little setback.
When they're done talking Justin closes the phone and puts his head on his knees. Lance says, "You've got time. You know, we can go back to Memphis tomorrow. I'll set it up."
Justin nods. He lays back on the bed and tugs at his covers. Lance starts to get up and Justin grabs his hand. "Please?" Lance gets in next to him.
Lance gets Justin on the earliest flight to Memphis. He doesn't fly out himself for another two hours because he has to cancel things. Not shows, but radio things and one TV appearance. Justin doesn't care. He calls his dad and he calls Brit because she was supposed to come by for lunch and now he'll be in Memphis and she'll be St. Louis.
"So she said she likes my hair." Justin sniffles and wipes his nose with his hand. Lance pats his arm. "I keep forgetting to get a haircut."
Lance says, "That's sweet." Lance hands Justin a handkerchief.
"She looked really tired. You know?" Justin leans against the wall and blows his nose. "This fucking sucks."
"I know." Lance crosses his arms.
"It's just, fuck. She's sick and I can't do anything and I have no fucking idea what to do without her and she's just sick now." Justin sinks to the floor and covers his face.
Lance rubs Justin's neck. "Justin." Lance hugs him and then says, "Look, I'll get your dad. We don't need to leave now."
Justin shakes his head. "No, it's fine. Visiting hours are over, I don't wanna tire her out and I promised I'd go home and make dinner for Dad. I can go see my brothers and Lisa and my dad." Justin stands up. "I'm sick of being such a fucking wuss."
Justin's still sniffling as they walk out of the hospital. The parking lot is full and Justin stops to remember where he parked. Then there's a flash right in his face and he blinks, puts up his hand. Lance starts swearing and when Justin opens his eyes, some tall skinny guy is pushing Lance. The guy has a digital camera in his other hand.
It happens like another flash of the camera. Lance shoves back. The guy says, "Fuck you, Bass." Lance glares and then punches him in the shoulder, just like that and Justin steps back. He backs away because the guy is lurching, Lance's eyes are thin slits and Justin can't believe this is happening.
The guy drops the camera and Lance picks it up, throws it on the ground. It makes a cracking sound and bounces a little. Lance stamps on it. The guy lunges at Lance again and Lance punches him again, in the stomach. The guy falls down and Justin just stares. He's never seen Lance throw a punch before. The guy struggles up and Lance stamps on the camera again and again until it breaks and splits and there's nothing on the ground but smashed plastic. Justin turns around and walks to the car, he sees the car.
Lance has the keys. He's one beat behind Justin and the doors beep as Justin steps up. He gets in as just as Lance does. They peel out of the parking lot. Justin says, "What the fuck was that?"
"He works for the fucking Enquirer, man. He, I saw him once, Chris bitched him out for taking pictures of Taylor." Lance is speeding and Justin grips the armrest.
"So you beat him up? Dude, did you just leave the scene of the crime?"
"He was fine. He stood up, he was yelling at me."
"Yeah, you fucking punched him. Dude, he's gonna call the police." Lance grips the steering wheel and Justin can see where his knuckles are cracked, his hands red. Justin says, "He's going to call the police. This is like, our speeding getaway car or something." Justin starts laughing hysterically. "Fuck, getaway car. Christ, you beat him up."
Lance doesn't say anything. He's staring straight ahead. He takes a turn way too fast. "Okay," Justin says, "you should let me drive. You're all way wound tight."
Lance says, "Get me my phone. It's in my bag."
Justin covers his mouth and then says, "Dude, no. You're driving like a fucking maniac. I am not giving you a cell phone."
"Give me my fucking cell phone, I want to call my lawyer."
"Or you'll punch me, too?" Justin can't stop laughing. "I'll call him. Wait, doesn't your lawyer handle real estate and corporate shit?"
"It's a firm. I'm sure he can refer me to someone at the firm who knows something about criminal law." Lance waits for Justin to get the phone out and then says, "Speed dial, it's number 3."
"Who's one and two?"
"Justin, dial." Lance brakes too suddenly and the tires squeal.
"I am, and it's ringing." Justin bites his lip so he doesn't giggle. This is so fucking ridiculous. Lance the terminator manager or something. Justin gets a receptionist and he says, "I'm calling on behalf of Lance Bass."
Lance's lawyer, Brad something or other, says, "Lance?"
"No, it's Justin, Lance is driving. Lance needs to talk to a criminal lawyer, he just beat the shit out of some photographer and we're speeding away in our getaway car."
Brad sputters and says, "Is this a joke?"
"I wish." Brad puts Justin on hold. Justin says, "I think he's getting someone."
Lance says, "I didn't beat the shit out of him. And this isn't a getaway car, for fuck's sake. He was in the hospital parking lot."
A woman comes on the phone. "This is Lacey Bayard. Is this Mr. Bass?"
"Mr. Bass is driving, I'm not giving him the phone."
"Make him pull over."
Justin covers the phone and says, "She says pull over. She sounds really serious. I bet she's a great lawyer, man."
Lance snorts and pulls over. Justin hands him the phone as soon the car is turned off. It's the road leading to Justin's house, so it's not that busy. Justin listens as Lance tells what happened twice. He starts in on the third time and Justin gets out of the car. He leans against the door and wishes he smoked. After ten minutes, Lance opens the door and says, "I'm done. She's flying out from Atlanta, she'll meet me at the house in five hours."
Justin gets back in the car. "What do you do until then?"
"Sit tight. Don't talk to anyone. I need to call Howie and my mom." Lance frowns and they pull into the driveway.
"Howie and your mom aren't anyone?"
"She meant the press or the cops." Lance steps aside so Justin can open the door.
Justin says, "I'm gonna call my dad."
Lance's criminal lawyer is a really tall black woman. WNBA tall, Justin thinks. Lacey brings her associate, a pretty blond woman who looks like Emily Proctor and has the same accent as the actress. It's like a Lifetime series or something.
Lacey slams down the remote for the TV and says, "There's a tape?"
Justin nods. He's sitting in his own living room, petting his dog. Justin says, "You saw. Some guy got it all, he wanted to film his wife giving birth. Isn't the tape a good thing? I mean, you can totally see that the guy shoved Lance first."
Lacey frowns. "It doesn't help." She stomps out of the room.
Justin makes grilled cheese sandwiches. Thanks to the tape, they've already got cameras in the driveway. Lots of phone calls back and forth and Justin figures his role right now is to just sit tight. And make grilled cheese sandwiches. Justin's dad decides to stay at the hospital. Justin tells his mom over the phone what happened. She says, "Good for him. What a bastard. I mean, the photographer. He deserved it."
Justin snorts. "I don't think that's gonna work as a defense." He promises to call her with more updates.
He makes five with just cheese and five with ham. You never can tell who's a vegetarian or who doesn't eat pork. He brings them into the dining room where Lacey, the Emily Proctor girl and Lance are talking. There are pictures of Justin's family all over the room but it still somehow looks like a war room. Justin puts the sandwiches down and says, "I can get drinks, too. Anybody want?"
Almost Emily Proctor is the only one who smiles. She says, "Sure, I'd like some coffee. Thank you so much."
Justin swallows and watches Lance take a sandwich. "That one has ham. The blue plate has ham. In case you don't eat meat or something." Almost Emily Proctor smiles again and takes one of the cheese only sandwiches. "Is Lance going to jail? Or, you don't know yet?"
Lacey taps her pen on the table. "Probably not. And I'd like some coffee, too."
Justin rubs Lance's shoulder and goes back to the kitchen to make coffee. He grabs the really expensive brand he knows Lance likes.
In the morning, Lacey says they've "worked out this part. You stay here," she says, gesturing at Justin, "The rest of us will be gone for two or three hours. When we get back, you and Lance will be free to leave to finish the tour. Not the country, but we'll work everything out."
Justin thinks, he's already finished the overseas dates. Lance comes downstairs in a suit, not one of the cool ones, the one he'd wear to an unexpected funeral or something. He looks older and tired. Lance rubs his hair and Justin can see his knuckles are still red. Justin gives him a hug and Lance is tense under his arms. Then all three of them leave. Justin sits on the couch for a while. He wants to leave, see his brothers, his daddy. He thinks he'll have time tomorrow, but tonight, it feels like desertion. He reaches to turn on the TV and his phone rings.
"Is Lance going to jail?" Chris sounds choked.
"No, Lacey the lawyer thinks he won't." Justin waits.
Chris says, "Okay." After a minute, he says, "Good." Then he asks about Justin's mother.
Lance sits on the steps with his suitcase next to him. Lacey is standing next to him, talking quietly, ticking points off on her fingers, but Justin can't hear. He turns to Almost Emily Proctor and says, "Hey, can I ask you some questions here?"
She nods. Justin says, "Um, I never actually caught your name, I'm sorry."
She blushes. She's pretty, really pretty. She says, "Norris Ransom."
Justin nods. "That's a nice name."
"Norris is my mother's maiden name. It's unusual, at least." She rolls her eyes.
"Must have been fun at age five," Justin says and slouches a little. He must be a foot taller than her, and she's wearing heels. She's pretty and smart, Justin likes that in a girl. It's not that different from what he likes in a guy, but she's standing right there. He thinks she's probably twenty-six, twenty-seven and it hits him with a rush they're almost the same age. He stutters, "I mean, Norris isn't the easiest name, I guess."
"Well, no one called me that then. But, um, you know, not very professional."
She blushes again. "Daisy. Everyone called me Daisy, even my mother. But I don't use that when I'm working."
Justin smiles. "Okay. I promise not to tell." He sits down on his duffel bag so she's not craning her neck to look up at him. He says, "So Lance is free to go now?"
"Yes. He'll have to be back here for the rest of the legal stuff in three weeks. But the tour will be over then, right? Did you want more details than that?"
Justin shakes his head. "Just, he's not going to jail, right?"
"Lacey's very good, I think it will be fine." She pats his arm and smiles at him. She walks over to Lacey and Lance. Lance stands up and then they're ready to go.
They sit together on the plane out to Chicago. Lance opens his laptop and starts typing as soon as he can. Justin says, "How you doing?"
"Fine." Lance doesn't look up.
"No, seriously, man. I mean, you know."
"Yes, Justin, I know. I'm fine. My summer's kind of shot to hell, my mother almost yelled at me, and my lawyer is telling me I can't leave the country. I now have a criminal attorney, so really, I feel really special." Lance stops typing and clasps his hands together. He sighs and goes back to typing. "I have this stuff Howie sent me. I'm pretty behind."
"Okay, then." Justin leans against the window and closes his eyes. "I'm just gonna sleep. You wake me up when we land."
When Justin wakes up, he's covered with one of those blue blankets the airline has, tucked tight around his arms. Lance's laptop is stowed and Lance has one hand over his face. Justin says, "Hey, Lance."
Lance says, "Yeah?"
"You have a shitty right hook. I meant to tell you earlier, but you know, the seven hundredth time I saw the video on ET, it was just really clear."
Lance puts his hand down and smirks at Justin. "Yeah, well, it worked fine, didn't it? I had a TKO." Justin almost laughs.
Justin is just tired. Three weeks, two weeks and then one week to go. It's just torture and he keeps thinking, one foot in front of the other. Lance's cancelled a lot of the radio interviews Justin had, because Justin asked. He can't talk anymore, can't push some stupid album that he doesn't care about anymore. He doesn't. He doesn't care about the tour; he just wants to go home. He misses his mother more than he can say.
Six days left. Lance is sitting on the bed when Justin wakes up. Justin mumbles something and turns on his side. Lance says, "So, there's this article in US, wanna hear?"
Justin says, "No." He flings the covers off and hopes he hits Lance. He doesn't. He walks to the bathroom and realizes he's naked, so, no, he didn't sleep in his underwear last night. He doesn't care about that either, Lance has seen it all before in changing rooms and the like. He starts the shower and drags his bag into the bathroom.
Lance comes in the bathroom and leans against the counter. He starts reading from the article. "Sources in the DA's office say they plan to throw the book at Bass." Lance sighs. Justin steps in the shower and rubs his hair. He peeks out from behind the curtain and looks at Lance. Faded shorts, white socks, gold-rimmed glasses. Justin turns up the hot water and hopes he'll make Lance's glasses steam over. He really doesn't care about anything right now.
Lance steps closer to the shower and says loudly, "But this is the good part of the article. Snippet. Whatever. It's pretty short. So they say, 'Bass has unlikely support from many quarters in Hollywood.' Do you wanna hear about the celebrities who think I was completely justified? They want to buy me lunch. Mind you, none of them have actually contacted me or anything. But still. It's a nice list. Wanna hear?"
Justin says, "No. God, shut up."
Lance says, "Just trying to distract you or something. I'm not having the best day, you know."
When Justin is showered and dressed he comes out of the bathroom and Lance is sitting on his bed. "I'm sorry your day is sucking, man."
Lance shrugs. "Whatever, I brought it all on myself." Lance nudges his glasses up on nose. "I talked to Joey. So, you know, I'll just make myself scarce tomorrow and the day after, okay?"
Lance rolls his eyes. "Of course. Of course, he talked to Joey and didn't even tell you. Maybe it was supposed to be a surprise or something." Lance stands up and says, "Chris is coming to hang with you. He gets in tomorrow night. In time for the show."
Justin grins. "Cool. Um, that's gonna be awkward, right?"
"No, it'll be peachy." Lance walks out and slams the door.
Chris is big and smiling. Skinnier than the last time Justin saw him, and he looks really good. He looks like the best thing in the world. He hugs Justin twice in the airport and then again at the hotel. He was visiting Justin's mom just two days ago. Justin can't stop grinning. He doesn't see Lance once all day until after the concert. There's a photographer backstage from the radio station. Chris hugs Justin and then Lance is there on the other side. Lance laughs a little while the photographer is there and when the photographer leaves, Lance is gone again.
Chris comes back to Justin's hotel room and perches on the bed. "So, just, what, a few more shows?"
"Two shows, four days."
"Man, good for you. I didn't think you make it." Chris stands up and pours himself a glass of water. "I mean, it must be really hard without your mom."
Justin nods. "But it's been okay. I mean, it hasn't. But I think the shows have been good."
"It was a good show." Chris downed half his glass. "But. I just mean, you've never really toured without your mom and Trace. You're used to more of a support network."
Justin shrugs. "It's been okay. I mean, Lance is here."
"Yeah." Chris goes into the bathroom and closes the door. He comes out a few minutes later. "So that's working good, Lance? Beating up photographers, taking care of you?"
Justin closes his eyes and lies back on the bed. "He's fine. Come on, man."
"What? I'm not saying anything."
Justin snorts. "Come on, can we not talk about Lance a little? Like, just, he's my friend, he's my manager and sadly, he's your ex-boyfriend and it just seems, you know, right now, not something we're gonna talk about like this, okay?"
"Oh, so all things Lance are off the table? Does that include Lance-related subjects? Can I talk about space exploration, country music or are those verboten as well?"
Justin sits up. "Come on, man. You wanna talk about how you're all suffering and shit, I'm there for you. But I'm not gonna sit tight for you bitching and making snide remarks about Lance. Okay?"
Chris frowns and rubs his chin. Then he says, "Fine. But I'm not gonna talk about my pain and suffering."
"Okay, me neither." Justin grins. "Did you see that Lakers game?"
Justin goes with Chris to the airport when he leaves. "It was great seeing you, man."
"I had to come, I hadn't seen any of the shows on this leg. It was a responsibility thing." Chris leans over and hugs Justin. "You're a strong man, you're strong, you know?"
Justin hugs Chris back and doesn't say anything. He doesn't even sniffle.
When he gets back to the venue, Lance is sitting in a front row seat, laptop open, typing away. Justin sits down next to him and taps his shoulder. "Hey, you. How are you?"
Justin says, "I was, just, you know. That was nice of you. To show up for the pictures."
"Don't want to start rumors." Lance keeps typing. Justin's convinced that Lance doesn't really type anything; he just does it to look busy. Justin cranes his neck and tries to read over Lance's shoulder. He sees the phrase "location price differentials" and decides Lance actually is working. Real estate stuff.
"Well, still, it was nice. I mean, have you seen him since the big break-up?"
Lance stops typing and stares straight ahead. "Justin. Drop it."
"Okay. Are you excited about the last show?"
"Imminent unemployment followed by whatever sort of punishment the DA decides for me? Oooooooh, boy, can't wait." Lance starts typing again.
Justin looks at Lance's profile. He says, "You've really made a difference. You know? I couldn't've done this without you. I'd be, like, home, being sued, with my career all fucked up. Seriously. You did really good."
Lance smiles. "Thank you."
One last show and it's really good. It's in Memphis and his mom is there, right in the front row. It's the best show of the tour. Before the show, Lance talked to all the crew, it was a really good speech. Justin's pretty sure all the crew likes Lance more than him. Justin's also pretty sure he was a miserable motherfucker for the last ten weeks and most of the people who worked for him are even happier than he is that this is over.
It makes him feel bad. He hates leaving a bad impression, and more, he hates that he made the whole thing so shitty for other people. There's nothing he can do now, but he approved the bonuses Lance thought of giving to everyone. For doing a good job when Justin was barely there.
But now it's over and he goes home from the show with his mom and his dad. His mom hugs him tight and he falls asleep in her lap in the car.
He sleeps in the next day but after that he spends all day with his mother. He drives her to her appointment, check up and tests, and waits for her in the lobby. She comes out tired and pale and he half carries her to the car. It's exactly where Justin wants to be.
A week later, Lance comes by for lunch. "I have to be in court today." Things got delayed from the three weeks Lacey talked about last time because of the plea bargaining.
Justin nods. "I know. Lacey called. She says she doesn't need me."
"For your life?" Justin grins.
"Guilty. Guilty to three misdemeanors. Instead of all the shit they charged me with." Lance doesn't smile at all.
"Do you already know what you're getting?"
"The joy of a plea bargain." Lance plays with his fork and ignores the mashed potatoes and peas Justin made for him. "Uh, probation for a year, twenty thousand dollar fine, one hundred and fifty hours of community service and, for shit and giggles, an anger management course."
Justin sits back. "Seriously? That's fucking harsh. Is that what most people get?"
"No. Most people don't get shit for a first offense bullshit assault charge. But I'm famous and I'm on tape." Lance frowns. He eats a bite of the mashed potatoes.
"Do you have to pick up trash on the highway or do you just get to visit sick children?"
"Well, you beat people up and the state of Tennessee doesn't like you hanging out with kids." Lance eats more mashed potatoes and doesn't touch the peas. "On the other hand, seniors. Seniors get to fend for themselves around me."
"Oh, cool. Senior citizen stuff." Justin smiles. He really can't stop.
"Yes, four days a week, six hours a day at a state run senior citizens home. And on the fifth day I deliver food to housebound people. Another six hours. I'll be done in five weeks." Lance looks up. "Why are you smiling?"
Justin grins. "Doctor's appointment today."
"Yeah?" Lance smiles. "Starts with an r?"
"You know it." Lance raises his hand and Justin slaps it. "Remission, baby. Not completely out of the woods, but definitely, absolutely, much better."
Lance says, "That's fantastic."
Justin says, "You have to be in Memphis for five weeks?"
"Six." Lance carefully separates his peas from the mashed potatoes.
"You wanna stay here? I mean, pity you don't own some property around here --"
"We do." Lance sighs. "We have this, it's a building downtown. We bought it when the builders went into bankruptcy. There's this white elephant of a luxury condo on the top floor. I'm gonna live there until I'm done and then we'll subdivide it, make it something we can actually sell."
"Oh, cool." Justin watches Lance eat. "You want me to come to court anyway? Like, you know, support you? Also, man, you could have just told me you don't like peas or something."
Lance looks down. "The mashed potatoes are more comforting." Lance crushes the peas with his fork. "I would, it would be nice. My parents are flying in, too. You know, because my mom's so excited about seeing me sentenced in court. I mean, I bet she'll take a lot of pictures and put them in a scrapbook."
Justin pats Lance's hand. "Dude, it's okay. She knows, she knows you're sorry and she knows how it's not something you'd ever do again." Justin can't even exactly believe Lance did it a first time. They used to get pissy with each other, years ago, all of them and sometimes punches were thrown but not Lance. And in the grip of tour fever, never so cold and vicious. Justin doesn't think about it because it's a little scary.
Lance nods. "Yeah. I guess, I guess mostly, it's just, she's never really been disappointed in me like this." He keeps his eyes on his mashed potatoes. He only eats a few more bites. Maybe Lance thinks it's a little scary, too.
Justin goes to see Trace at the bank. He can't believe Trace has an office and a job. Trace waves him to the chair and spreads his arms. "Look at my office, dude!"
"It's great." It is nice. Justin knows Trace only got the job because of Justin's dad, but Trace has kept the job, so that doesn't really matter anymore. "What's up, man?"
"So much shit, man. You know, I'm trying to get Marah to let me have Lara, you know? Because I think, Candee needs her sister. And me and Cherise can totally give her a better home than Marah." Trace leans forward and taps the planner on his desk.
Trace has two kids. He never seemed to care that much about Lara, but after Candee was born and Trace decided to marry Cherise, he's changed his mind. Justin thinks it's a really good thing. But he misses having Trace around. He nods at the right points in Trace's long narrative about lawyers and support payments. Then he says, "Man, you think you'll ever, you know, take a break, come out with me again, on the road and stuff?"
Trace shrugs. "Maybe. It would be totally cool, man." Trace tugs at his tie. "But it's like, you know, that's stuff easier for you. It's what you do. I do this now and I've got Cherise and Candee and Lara. It's like, it was super cool, man. But."
"No, that's cool. I wouldn't want take you away from all this." Justin grins.
Trace smiles. "I like all this. I didn't think I would, but you know, if this all being grown-up means, I can handle it."
Justin nods again. They make plans for dinner, for Trace to come by with all his girls to see Justin's mom. Lots of plans.
Justin goes over to Lance's condo for the first time three weeks after Lance is sentenced. There's next to no furniture. A big bed in the bedroom that Justin can see from the living room, a couch, bookcases. Nice entertainment center, of course. Justin slaps down the paper on Lance's couch. "You saw this, right?"
Lance frowns. "Yes. I made the paper. Two seconds after they took that picture, that old lady threw up on me." Lance stretches out his shirt and just looks at it. Justin notices two stains without even looking hard.
"So. But you're meeting people, right? Learning and growing?"
"It's not a fucking Lifetime movie, Justin. There's no bright shiny 'oooooh, look at the famous millionaire learn all about life.' I go there, I schlep things, I get ordered around, I play cards with old people. And then once a week I push carts and try to avoid oxygen tanks. It's really, it sucks."
"How's the anger management course?" Justin grins at Lance.
"Oh, it's great. I loooooooove it. It sucks, Justin. This whole thing sucks." Lance sighs. "Also, JC called and he asked Julie to move in with him or something. He's so whipped on her. So, how's your mom? Pretty great now, huh? She looked good yesterday. Like, really good. Like, we're touring Germany good." Lance grins.
"You scoping out my mom, Bass?"
"No. I'm just saying." Lance takes the paper and tosses it on the floor.
"You gonna just leave that there?" Justin stands up and puts the paper on Lance's dining table.
"I wasn't. I was going to pick it up." Lance looks at his shirt. "Four people threw up on me today."
Justin stands by the table and wishes Lance had more chairs. He says, "My mom is feeling a lot better."
Lance nods. "It's good."
"Yeah. She's decided to take up gardening."
"Good for her. My mom loves it." Lance gets up and walks to his bedroom. Justin follows him and watches Lance strip off his shirt and throw it in a laundry basket. Lance looks up. "Look, I know it's not my business anymore because our contract is over and done, but, are you, um, are you writing? Do you have some time off planned? I was just thinking today about that. In between four different people eating wheat who shouldn't have."
"Yeah. That's the thing. My mom's decided to take up gardening. She's just, she's feeling her age, I think, and recovering from being so sick. She says she doesn't want to be my manager anymore." Justin sits down on Lance's bed. The bedroom has no furniture besides the bed. Not even an end table.
"She's only forty-five, forty-six. That's not so old."
Justin looks down at his hands. "She doesn't want to travel, she doesn't want to work the hours. I think, you know, she was really sick. She wants to be home now."
"Oh." Lance sits down next to Justin. "Well, you still have Johnny."
Justin nods. "But. Uh. Did you have plans? I thought, this worked out well. We could, you know, do it permanently. You, managing me. I'll be a lot easier to work with now."
Lance looks away. "Huh. I wasn't expecting that."
"We can do up a new contract. You know, you can get more money. Whatever. Up your percentage." Justin bites his lip. He really thought Lance would jump at the chance.
Lance stands up. "Yeah. We could. I guess. I hadn't really thought about it. I haven't been making many plans lately. I mean, I don't have anything on the horizon. I guess, I'm trying not to be too optimistic."
"Dream big, you've got me now. You're really good at managing me. You rock at it."
Lance is looking out the window. Justin can see the whole city from here and it's pretty at night. Lance says, "I am good at it. But. You know, I'm not your mom or Trace or Johnny."
"Well, yeah. But we work together well. I didn't think you wouldn't want to do it."
Lance shrugs. "It's just. I guess it's not what I pictured doing. I'm just surprised." He turns around and smiles. "You'd up my percentage?"
Justin grins. "Yeah. Well, you have to talk to my lawyer and you have to talk to Johnny. But we can make it worth your while."
Lance sits down next to Justin and grips Justin's knee. "Oh yeah, we'll do all that. And you and me are gonna work some magic, you'll be a really big star. Bigger than now. It'll be good."
Justin nods. "It will be."
And I always thought that it would make me smarter
But it's only made me harder
My heart thrown open wide - Mike Mills
Justin calls Daisy two months after the tour ends. He says, "Hey, how are you?"
"Oh, I'm good. I was glad to hear about your mother, I'm so glad she's doing well. You're not calling because you need a criminal attorney, right?"
"No, God." Justin laughs. "I was calling, see. I'm about to start on my new album, and we're going to be recording in Atlanta and I thought, well, it'd be really nice to see you. If you wanted. If you don't have, you know."
"A boyfriend?" She laughs, sweet and nice. "I don't. Are you asking me out?"
"I am, in fact, asking you out. For like, two weeks from now when I actually get to Atlanta."
"Oh, oh." She pauses. "That would be wonderful. I would definitely love to, Justin."
"I can't wait, Daisy." Justin grins. "Is it okay if I call you that?"
"It's wonderful." She laughs again.
Lance glares at the sun and takes off his glasses. He opens his bag and puts on his sunglasses, one hand on the wheel. He looks sleek, like an ad in a men's magazine. GQ, maybe. "Look, here's the thing, J, we've only got some of the producers lined up, you've only written half of the songs. I'm gonna book some time in LA, okay?"
Justin leans back in the convertible and feels the sun on his throat. So very nice. "Totally. But we'll see, you know? Things'll flow."
Lance sighs. "Sorry I was late this morning picking you up. JC went on for a few hours about how great Julie the actress is, how much he really likes her, maybe even loves her. Talked my ear off. Did you hear from Joey?"
"Joey? What?" Justin sits up.
"He got that movie part, it's really good, you know? He's the second lead for once. So that's nice. And he and Kelly are back on, but that sounds not so stable."
"It always sounds not so stable. I mean, four weeks tops where those two had it really good." Justin is pretty in love with Atlanta right now. Bright and sunny. Humid, humid as fuck, but Justin likes that. He's sweating and he can feel the beads on his forehead and his shirt sticking to his back and the seat. He feels alive. Lance looks like an ad for cologne and Justin probably looks like a greasy frat boy. It doesn't bother him at all.
"Isn't that the way, you know? Love sucks." Lance pulls into a McDonald's drive through. He calls out his order and looks over at Justin. Justin just shakes his head. Then he asks Lance to get him a Coke.
After Lance gets his food, Justin says, "Love doesn't suck. Love is hard. I think there's a difference."
"Yeah, whatever. Three dates with lawyer girl and you're all up on the concept." Lance grins. "I like her."
"She's nice, isn't she?"
"You should make sure to get photographed with her a lot." Lance smirks.
"Because she's a foot shorter than me?" Justin pauses. "Yes, I get it." There were a lot of guys on the last tour, before Justin's mom got sick. Justin's usual bounce back from a relationship gone bad, lots of one-night stands with very discreet, hot, gay men. He adopted that strategy two, three years ago, when he decided romance didn't really exist anymore. Lance would have heard from Chris about Justin's nights out, so Justin can't pretend otherwise. So he does get it.
What worries Justin is that he doesn't have a favorite song on the album yet. Nothing quite gels in that way in his head. The songs are good, he knows that. He loves working on them, but it doesn't make his head fizzy. He feels like there's something just beyond his reach. He calls JC. "See, you know what I mean?"
"It's not quite there."
"Yeah, and it's not that the songs are bad. I think, I really think what we've done so far is great. It's just. I think there's something in my head and I can't quite translate it. Like I can't do it yet. You know?"
JC hums. "I do know. It's like, waiting and waiting to get taller or something, man."
"I got, I need to pull up on my bootstraps or something."
"See, it's like, you can't count on producers for that except sometimes. But mostly, it's all you. It's in you. And it's fucking, it's crazy, man, sometimes you have to just sit, sometimes you have to let it percolate, sometimes you have to force it and push it. And no one can help you. That's all I know, for sure." JC laughs. "Fuck, I don't even know that I know that."
"You sound pretty happy, man." Justin's sitting in his condo, the one Lance has him staying in. He has a balcony and he can sit outside. Today it's raining, so Justin sits on his couch.
"I am. I am. Man, I wanted to tell you in person, but I can't wait. I really. I can't." JC laughs again. "Fuck, don't tell Lance, because I want to tell him, but. Julie's pregnant."
"No fucking way! Man, wow. Congratulations, wow." Justin stands up and almost pumps his fist. "Fucking amazing. That's awesome. You, you have to call Lance right now. He's on his way over and I'm not going to be able to not tell him."
JC's laughing still. "I will. Right now. It's just, you know, she's only, uh, ten weeks along, we were gonna wait, you know?"
Justin's always thought that was a little fucked up. He'd want to know because if something bad happens, he could be there for his friends. But there's no way he'd say that to JC right now. So he just says, "I'm hanging up. You call Lance right now. Congratulations, man, you're, you're gonna be a great father, man."
JC says, "Thanks. Okay, yeah, hanging up now." Justin does a little dance around his condo. It's really exciting. He wants to call his mom, but he decides to wait. It's not fair for his mom to know before Lance. Justin flops down on his couch and counts. Trace has two kids now, Joey has Briahna, and now JC. So Justin's going to be an even busier honorary uncle.
Justin tries to explain the favorite song thing to Lance and it's just frustrating. A lot of things about Lance the manager are frustrating. Justin's used to being told what to do, to agreeing and only occasionally putting up a fuss. But Lance isn't Johnny or Justin's mother. Lance is only two years older than Justin and has three, four years less experience working than Justin. So they argue. Justin objects all the time. Lance is right most of the time, or Justin agrees with him in the end, but Justin wants to know that Lance is sure. He trusts Lance; he just doesn't always think Lance is right.
Lance frowns and plays with his napkin and looks confused. "Do you want different producers for the tracks we've done so far?"
Justin shakes his head. "No, no, they're fine. They're really fine. It's just, you know, the ones I haven't done yet."
Lance rips up the napkin. "Okay. So what can we do there? Maybe, um, do those in LA? Have JC stop by?" Lance grins. "He already has three baby name books. Do you believe that?"
"It's really cool, man. I mean, him and Julie seem really happy. Also, fuck, that's gonna be one very attractive child. You know?"
Lance laughs. "Yeah, cheekbones to kill for." Lance fidgets again. "So, LA?"
"Maybe. I don't know. It's not, Lance, it's not bothering me. I'm not lying awake at night going, MAN! It's just, striving. This album feels weird to me. Good, but I keep thinking the next one, it's gonna be so much better. It's like, it feels like all new. I feel almost inept. If that makes sense."
Lance looks down. "Not particularly. I guess, okay, tell me what you need."
"A new brain." Justin laughs. "Man, don't worry about it."
Lance sighs. "Okay. You know, why don't we look at some new producers? Somebody different, you know? Up and comers."
Justin nods. "Cool, like, they've done nothing. Maybe two songs. So they're hungry. You line 'em up and I'll talk to 'em in LA. We should totally do that."
Lance finally smiles. Justin gets it, all of a sudden, how happy Lance is to solve things. To make them right. Lance's smile is like sunshine, a real smile at last. So Justin leans forward and says, "I think that's just about perfect."
Daisy's apartment is dusty. She really needs a maid, or time to clean. She's in the shower and Justin is wandering around, poking at things. She's pretty special. Dating for six weeks, sleeping together for five. But he's taking it casual. She's already met his mother, but he hasn't brought her home all official for the seal of approval. He's mentioned to his mother he's seeing Daisy, but he hasn't said much more. There isn't that much more.
Trace said something about thinking she had a great rack when he saw her on TV for Lance's stuff, which is true and crude, so right on the mark for Trace.
He looks at her CDs and tries not to flinch. They're completely disorganized. They're just there, willy nilly. She has JC's solo CDs, one NSYNC and nothing of Justin's, which is sort of funny.
Justin finds his cell phone on the kitchen table and calls Chris. It's his life in a nutshell, doing things, calling his mom, Chris, JC, Joey and Trace and telling them about it. When he was around them all the time, maybe he got more done because he didn't have tell them about it. He only calls his mother every other day. And it's not weird, it doesn't feel weird. It feels weird that it's not weird. Justin sighs and Chris finally picks up.
"How you doing?"
"I'm fine, Mr. Tribbiani." Chris snorts. "Get some new material."
"I love Friends, man."
"I love it, too, but they did ten seasons, let it rest. Granted, it lives on in syndication and in your obsessive DVD collection, but." Chris pauses. "Okay, what are you getting JC for his birthday? It's, like, in a month, I know, but I don't want to duplicate."
"I wish he'd register somewhere, man, he's hard to buy for." Justin resists the urge to organize Daisy's CDs. That would be wrong. Maybe there's some method in her madness.
"Well, I keep thinking, you know, books about being a dad. But that seems played out, you know. Like everyone's going to do that."
"Plus, you know, thirty-one just isn't one of those birthdays." Justin listens for the shower, hears it. "So I'm at Daisy's."
"Ah, you want me to ask you about that, don't you?" Chris giggles. "How's the red hot lawyer?"
"Good, it's good."
"Well, good for you." Chris pauses and smacks his lips. "You know, I'm sleeping with someone, these days."
"Yeah? Who? Tell me more." The shower stops.
"Nothing to tell. It's nothing. It's sex, it's a guy. I can't complain. We have things to talk about, I like that. Don't need it, but I like it." Daisy walks out, drying her hair.
Justin says his goodbyes and closes his phone. He pulls Daisy onto his lap and kisses her. "How are you?"
"Clean!" She giggles. "When do you leave for LA?"
"Three days. You can come visit, right?" He wants her to visit. If he'd had longer to talk to Chris he would have said something about how it's casual. He likes casual. He's surprised by it.
She wraps her wet towel around his head. "Maybe. Probably."
They finish up in Atlanta. It's been hot and beautiful and Justin thinks he'll buy a house there someday. Maybe. He feels weird. Unsettled. It's not missing Daisy, though that's what his mother thinks. Things are so good and he just can't place the itch underneath his skin that makes him keep looking around and checking over his shoulder.
Lance has six producers lined up for LA; two Justin knows he'll use, four he needs to talk to. Lance went a little nuts, in Justin's estimation, about the whole producer thing, but it's interesting, the list he has.
The first producer is an ass. Justin sits across from him and thinks about gouging out his eyes after five minutes. Maybe he'd use the kid's labret to do it. Brad, his name is Brad, starts talking about all the exciting things Justin can do, something that's fresh and not pop and it's all so condescending and choked with superiority. Brad never out and out says it, but he talks about the songs Justin's done that he likes, and every one is "too much stuff on it." Justin smiles a lot and thinks he'll never ever work with someone like this. Justin picks up the check and after Brad leaves, he calls Lance. "Wow, I really hated that one. A lot."
"Sorry. He had an interesting resume, you know? He was an engineer for Coldplay."
"He had that whole indie-r than thou thing, that 'oh, you've wandered astray from the heart and soul of music with your sinful urges to make songs that gets played on the radio.' I don't need no fucking prophets and I'm not ashamed of making popular music." Justin rubs his forehead. "But, you know, not your fault and shit. Don't beat me up or anything, okay?"
Lance snorts and hangs up.
The second one is the same as the first. Justin finally just says, "I like to make music that gets heard on the radio. I don't think that's a bad thing."
The guy blinks and says, "Yeah, of course not, but. There's like, these amazing things that you can do when you lose that inhibition." Justin frowns.
The third one is a girl, really a girl, only about twenty-two. Justin remembers being twenty-two and he remembers when it seemed old. But she grins and leans forward and says she loves, "Gone, loved Gone and Cry Me A River and that one." She laughs a lot more than the first two, as well. She's never done anything on her own, just done engineering and she's very excited. Justin really likes that.
The fourth one is a little condescending and a little excited. Justin tells Lance to book the girl, Sally. Lance says, "So I found one you liked?"
"Absolutely. Good on you." Lance just says goodbye.
Sally is really easy to work with. Justin was worried that she'd be a pushover but she stands up for herself after a few minutes. Good adapting skills. She reminds him of his mother, only from Chicago and not Southern at all. He has half a melody and all these lyrics and he thinks it could be good. Sally wants to start simple and she asks good questions and it's a little wisp of a song after a few hours. Justin feels good about the next day, he really does.
He gets back to his house and finds Lance on the couch, reading another book. "You're still reading, huh?"
Lance looks up with a blank face. "Yes, it's like falling off a bicycle, you know, you never forget how."
"I just mean, you know. I thought it was some break-up dealing thing."
Lance frowns. "Yeah, well, it's not. You do anything for a hundred days and it's a habit. I'm in the habit." Lance puts his book down. "You have that party tonight. Wanna get something to eat first?"
Justin nods. "Coolio. Let me just get dressed."
Justin comes down in his stylish outfit and his glasses. Lance says, "Why are you wearing your glasses?"
"My contacts are annoying." Justin flops down on the couch. "Are you gonna bitch at me about this? Because if so, let's order pizza."
"Look, you know what? This is my job. My actual job that you pay me to do. There'll be cameras, and photographers and this is the sort of thing you should think about. I know it's minor, but. You look better without your glasses." Lance stands up and grabs his cell phone. He orders pizza and Justin fiddles with his glasses.
"Done?" Lance nods. Justin says, "You wear your glasses all the time these days. All the fucking time."
"I'm not you." Lance glares.
"You look better in your glasses or you're just not Justin Timberlake?"
"Both. Come on, don't be stupid. You know what I mean. You have a look and shit like that, and the glasses don't work," Lance says.
"Give me a break. They look fine. The contacts are annoying me, I just want. Is it so bad if I look older or smarter or whatever?"
"First, you don't. And I'm not saying that to be mean, but if you're shooting for that, you need better glasses --"
"So I run out to Ralph Lauren or wherever you got yours, it'd be okay?" Justin stands up and looks out the window. He wants pizza. He wants Lance to shut up.
"It'd be a good idea. But more than that, Justin, it's just." Lance stops. Justin turns around and Lance is rubbing his forehead. Lance says, "Fine, whatever, do what you want." He picks up his book and starts reading again.
The pizza comes and Lance seems to calm down or be less pissy at least. Maybe he learned something in his anger management class about fights worth having and Justin knows this isn't one of those. Lance even makes a joke or two. Justin brushes his teeth after eating and looks at his glasses. They're really not that bad. But Lance probably has a point about upgrading them before the public debut. He puts in his contacts. He blinks and thinks he's letting Lance win which is fairly annoying. He leaves them in.
He and Sally finish the song. It's really good, it's his favorite. Simple and clear, and even radio-friendly. Sally squeals and claps her hands when it's done. The engineer laughs at her and she calls him a fuckhead. It's a good day. Justin goes to the Beverly Center for new glasses after they're done.
Lance comes over for dinner and Justin is still cooking when he walks in the door. "Yo, yo."
Lance says, "You bought new glasses."
"I did, I did. Ralph Lauren, in fact. He makes nice ones. You like 'em?"
Lance sits down at the kitchen table. "Okay, we need to talk."
"About my glasses?" Justin stirs the pasta.
"No, us. This." Lance sighs and rubs his forehead again. Justin is getting really sick of that gesture. It makes Lance look old. He doesn't remember it from when Lance was seventeen or twenty-four. Justin wonders if Lance is counting to twenty, working on containing himself. Lance says, "I mean, I'm supposed to be your manager, not this person that you argue with and disagree with and try to show up or something."
Justin looks down at the bubbling water. "Yeah, I agree with that."
"So, what are we doing? Does this only work when you're miserable and you need someone to push you around?"
"No, no." Justin stirs and doesn't look up. "No, you're a good manager for me. Seriously."
"I haven't noticed that. You argue with me about everything, you're always pushing and pushing and I can't ever be right the first time and it's like, fuck, Justin, either you think I know what I'm doing and you need me or just do it yourself." Lance sounds tired which is a lot more scary than angry Lance. Even scary hitting Lance.
"It's not, dude. It's not like that. I guess. I guess I've been acting like that. But I don't mean it. I mean, I'm just. Okay, sorry." The pasta's done and Justin dumps it in the colander in the sink. He shakes it to get the water out.
"Okay. Just, okay. Justin, seriously, if you don't want me, just tell me. I mean, Johnny can't do everything but he can handle things now and we'll --"
"Okay, shut up now. I'm happy with you. I'm just --" Justin turns around and Lance is standing up, leaning against the counter. He really does look tired.
"Testing me? Sowing your oats? It's not, you know, pleasant to work with." Lance raises his eyebrows and doesn't smile.
"Right. Right. Point taken. I'm happy, I really am. I'll be less pushy and you can be less order-y."
"Look, it's a two way street. I'm an ass, you're an ass. We should both be less ass-y." Justin stirs the sauce and then grabs two plates. "Does that work?"
Lance licks his lips, and then sighs. "I don't, okay, you tell me. What's too order-y? I'm your manager."
Justin starts talking like Eeyore. "Don't wear those glasses, they make you look stupid. You shouldn't use that language in interviews. Blah, blah."
Lance says, "Was that an imitation of me? You were talking like Eeyore."
"You talk like that." Justin shrugs and grins. This isn't the best way to end an argument, but it's one he pretty sure will work. "Dinner's ready."
"I don't talk like that. Eeyore and I have nothing in common. We're not, there's nothing vaguely Eeyore-like about my speaking voice."
"It's pretty deep. Like that." Justin walks over to the table and puts the plates of pasta on the table. "Eeyore talks all low."
"I don't. I mean, yes, I have a low voice. I have an accent but I don't talk all slow and drugged." Lance smirks. "You're just avoiding the subject."
"Doing it pretty well, right?" Justin starts eating his pasta. It's good. "I mean, point taken, etc etc. You talk like a cartoon character, I'm an ass, we're good."
Lance rolls his eyes. "Do not." He looks five years younger and noticeably hotter than when he walked in the door, so Justin decides everything's okay again.
Daisy comes to LA twice in three weeks. She talks a lot about her cases and Justin listens. It's interesting. He talks about finishing the album and she seems to listen. Justin isn't completely sure, but he's not feeling paranoid. It's one more thing to chalk up in the weird column of things that he doesn't really care about. He still doesn't have much to say his mother when she asks about Daisy visiting. It just is. Daisy's fun to be with, she's pretty, she's good in bed.
JC comes by the studio three times. His album is done and he's knee-deep in promo. "Same stupid questions, man. Thank god nothing's leaked about the baby."
"But people know y'all are going out and they know she's pregnant, right?"
"I don't know, maybe people haven't put two and two together. She's on a soap, she's not incredibly famous." JC smiles. JC always smiles these days.
"So don't knock up Renee Zellweger and no one asks about it."
"I guess so. Or maybe just don't put out a press release."
Justin slaps his own forehead. "Now you tell me." Justin spins in his chair and watches the engineer get up and leave for coffee. "So, me and Lance had a fight a month ago."
"That's exciting news." JC sits down. "A month ago? If it's bothering you, why wait to bring it up?"
Justin shrugs. "I've just been thinking about it. You know, lately. Since then. He said something about me sowing my wild oats and pushing him and testing his limits."
JC nods. "Yes, people do that when they're resisting authority."
"You think I'm doing that?"
"How would I know? I don't see you two, you know, doing manager things." JC shrugs. "It wouldn't surprise me."
Justin turns back around. "Yeah, I guess so. It's just been bugging me. I don't, I'm pretty old to be sowing my wild oats or something. Also, I thought that involved more sex."
"You're never too old to realize you're getting old. And not old, but you know."
Justin says, "Well, that's heartening."
Howie comes to meet with Lance in person, prep for presentation they have to make to some prospective investors. Except Lance leaves a little early to talk to Jive, and Howie just opens his laptop and ignores Justin. Not that Justin minds, but he feels bad, like because it's his studio time or something, he needs to entertain Howie.
Justin sits down next to him and smiles. "Hey, so how are you?"
Howie says, "Fine. Sorry to be bothering your studio time here."
"No, it's good. We're recording, we're doing, you're not disturbing anything. Sorry Lance had to go."
"S'okay. It's not like he didn't talk to me before taking this job on." Howie sucks in his cheeks and squints at the screen.
Justin says, "So you don't miss him?"
Howie pushes the screen down and squints at Justin this time. "I don't, wait, you're not, uh, asking me about me and Lance, say? Right? We're just talking work stuff, right?"
Justin nods. "Yeah. God, yeah." Justin grins. "Though, okay, I assumed you and Lance had. You know, once or twice or something."
Howie shrugs and goes back to his laptop. "That's kinda rude."
Justin covers his face. "Okay, yes. I was hoping to rely on the secret fraternity of boy banders, you know, to cover that. Sorry."
"Apology accepted." Howie sighs. "When do you think we would have, anyway? Lance and I started this when he was already with Chris. And he wasn't cheating on Chris. They were, you know, actually pretty good together. And then when they broke up, he just kind of up and left town and now, you know, so."
"Now?" Justin thinks about standing up so he can see Howie's face. He wonders why Lance isn't available now.
"Now, it would be weird. Our relationship is set. We're business partners and friends. No complications. You know, sometimes you can't change things."
Justin nods again. He's not sure he agrees but he's very sure he's not going to encourage Howie to sleep with Lance or something. It could get serious and Justin's not sure why that's bad, but it definitely is. Justin gets up, says, "bye," and heads to the soundbooth.
Lance is talking about how much Jive likes the album, honestly likes it, while he wanders around Justin's living room bouncing a blue rubber ball on the floor. "They seemed really sincere. They want to do the third track as a single, the one with ?uestlove, and the 'oooh, oooh, ooh,'" Lance sings. He keeps singing the song for a minute, even the lyrics about wanting to be free and seeing the whole world.
Justin looks up from his video game and says, "I'm glad you like the song."
"Yeah, they want that one for the single, which, really I agree with. It's a good strong start." Lance sits down next to Justin, the blue ball in his hand. He squeezes it and Justin wonders if Lance got it from his anger management course. Justin wonders if he's a trigger for Lance's anger. It's a shitty thought. But the ball says 'Jive' so Lance picked it up at the record company and not back serving time.
Justin steers with the controller and watches his little car flying over the mountain. Lance says, "What are you playing?"
"Simpsons Road Rage. It's really cool." Justin drops off Bart and picks up Nelson. "Sounds great, man."
"Good. Cool." Lance stretches out on the floor. "Tired."
"Oh, it just gets worse from here, as you well know." Justin does a few tight turns and sails over Springfield dam. "Me and Daisy broke up, by the way."
Lance sits up. "Really? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. We weren't that serious. I mean, we went out for five months and she never even introduced me to her parents. She's really nice, it's just, she's pretty bound to Atlanta. And I'm not."
"Long distance relationships can work." Lance rubs Justin's shoulder.
"Yeah, but there has to be that spark, you know? Something along with just the distance." Justin pauses the game. "I'm seriously okay, I just wanted you to know as friend and manager." Justin starts the game again.
Lance pats Justin's shoulder and stretches back out on the floor. "Okay. I'm still sorry."
Justin keeps playing. Mostly he's thinking he needs to find a date for Joey's wedding. Joey came by a month ago to say that Kelly was pregnant again. And they'd set a date. Lance said, "Isn't the date just nine months after, you know, conception?"
Joey said, "No, dumbass, we're getting married. She finally said yes all the way and wants to get married. It's in a few months. She'll be big as a house, but hell, she'll be beautiful anyway." Then he looked at Lance and said, "Okay, Steve's gonna kick my ass, but. I was hoping you'd be the best man." Lance smiled and it was, really, the most beautiful Justin had ever seen Lance look.
Justin says, "So now it's really bothering me, because who am I gonna take to the wedding?"
Lance says, "Ha! Ford can't come, so I'm taking Stacey. I'd take my mom but she and Dad are already invited."
"Yeah, I could go with my mom. It's not exactly a first date kind of thing, you know?"
"It's not." Lance laughs. "You could ask Brit."
Justin pauses the game. "That is not a bad idea. She just broke up with her boyfriend, too."
"As your manager, I completely approve of that idea. I mean, that'll be worth one or two covers of 'are they back together,' and you can't beat that when the album's about to come out." Lance pauses. "Not that, you know, that should factor into your decision. Because, you know, if it'll be awkward or whatever."
"Well, it wouldn't be. You know, just friends, maybe if we have enough to drink and the wedding makes her cry, I can even get laid. But we're not getting back together, so." Justin starts the game again.
Lance is quiet for a little bit and Justin wonders if he's gone to sleep. Then he says, "I'm sorry about Daisy, I really did like her."
He has dinner with JC, Julie and Lance, but Lance is late. They've already sat down and ordered when he comes in. He's wearing his manager outfit, slacks and a button down shirt. He looks elegant, more of the GQ look Lance seems to have mastered. He sits down and says, "Sorry, that meeting ran long." He smiles over at Julie and says, "You look beautiful." Lance runs his hand through his hair and it sort of sticks up in the back. Justin likes it that way so he doesn't say anything.
Julie says, "Thank you."
JC grins. "See, because you are. None of this 'oh, I'm a beached whale.' You know you're beautiful. Like, you're not fat, not that fat people are always unattractive, and really, I don't know about that whole thing to begin with. But, pregnant women are always saying they're fat and they're not. They're pregnant and glowing."
Julie looks bemused. "What are you saying?"
"He loves you, he thinks you're fabulous." Lance waves to a waiter and orders his food.
Justin takes a piece of bread. "How's the big name debate going?"
JC and Julie both start laughing. "We've declared an armistice," Julie says. "The final decision will be made when the little kicker is born."
Lance says, "Have you narrowed it down at all?"
JC says, "Jillian or Josephine. And Julian or Jasper."
"Jasper Chasez?" Lance sputters.
Julie says, "Or Jasper Green. That's also up for consideration."
"Man, JC, you're all liberated and feminist." Justin grins.
JC starts to answer but the waiter brings their salads. Then a short woman steps up to the table and says, "I'm so sorry, but could I get your autograph?" She's saying it to Julie.
Justin leans back, grins and winks at Lance. Lance doesn't laugh, just barely. Julie is very polite and signs and the woman leaves. She doesn't even look at the three of them. Lance says, "See, that's devotion."
Julie says, "You'd think she'd recognize the three of you together. I mean, more than just one, say."
Lance says, "Once, this woman asked me for an autograph, and she's like, I loved you in that movie. With the posters. And I said thank you and she said, 'but have you ever done anything else? I thought you were really good in that movie.'"
JC says, "No way."
"Seriously! And I said, 'I was in that music group, you know, NSYNC, that took up a lot of my time.' This was, wow, a few years ago. Three, maybe four." Lance blushes.
"I don't believe that." Justin laughs.
"Swear to God. Chris was there, man, you can ask him."
Justin rolls his eyes. "I can't believe the only way someone would recognize you would be from On the Line."
"It's not a bad movie." Lance sticks his lower lip out.
"I saw it. It's not, sadly, a very good movie, either," Julie says.
"Hey, it could have been worse." Lance pushes his salad away from him.
Julie raises an eyebrow. "Nowadays they could just recognize you from the big fight video."
Lance flinches. "I think, you know, I have other things that people know me from than that."
She smiles. "Of course they do."
They talk about movies for a while and JC's new video. Julie gets up to go the bathroom. "Like I do quite often now."
Justin says, "She's great, man."
JC just nods and smiles.
Lance says, "I remember when you were married to music and the studio."
"Well, you know," JC says. "I said that once to Julie, when we first went out, and she said she wasn't anyone's mistress."
"She's really great," Lance says.
"It's like, man. It's not like I love those things any less. I'm like the Grinch, my heart grew two more sizes."
It's kind of ridiculous and incredibly sweet at the same time. Justin plays with his food and doesn't look up.
The first single does really well. Lance is happy, Justin is happy, Jive is happy. Justin is in New York and he likes New York. "Chris, you should visit," he says over the phone.
"Yeah, I think not."
"You're not still avoiding Lance, right? It's been more than a year."
"Oh, you're mister sensitive, aren't you? It has been more than a year, but it's not like we've talked." Chris sighs. "So, you know, still bitter over here." Justin doesn't say anything, but he thinks Lance is still bitter so they're a nice matched pair. Chris says, "Plus, you know, I stopped sleeping with that guy I was sleeping with."
"Oh, that sucks."
"Well, I can still get laid whenever I want what with being super-sexy and all, but I, you know, I was starting to like him." Chris refuses to come to New York. He's narrating and producing a documentary about Mario Lemieux, so he's in Pittsburgh for the next two months.
Justin loves New York, really. He feels free and there's so much to do. His mother comes up for one day and they go shopping and hang out. It's really nice. She doesn't want to stay longer, and he doesn't push her. Trace says he can't come, Brit's in Europe, Pharrell's still in Finland but Justin has other friends.
There's so much fun to be had. He says as much to Lance and Lance just gives him that look. "We, and specifically you, have a ton of things to do."
"Plan Joey's bachelor party?"
"Work, Justin." Lance goes back to his book.
"This whole exchange is becoming very cliché. I say 'fun!' You say 'work' and then ignore me to read your book. What are you reading now?" Justin tries to snatch it out of Lance's hands, but Lance stands up and moves to another chair in the room.
"I'm reading about baseball. That David Halberstam book. And it's a cliché because you think it's cool or funny or something to act like you're still twenty-one and there's four other guys to help with things and you don't have to do it all yourself." Lance turns a page.
"You're a bitter man, Lance."
"Pretty much." Lance wets his thumb and turns another page.
"What's up with that? You know this is fun. We have a really fun job." Justin crosses his legs and leans back on the bed.
"We don't have the same job anymore."
Justin sighs. "I'd hate to think you weren't having fun. I mean, you're rich without me. Aren't you having fun?"
Lance looks up. "Most of the time. But I'm not here to entertain you, you know."
"Well, I am here to entertain you." Justin grins. "Let's actually do something tonight."
"I do something every night." Lance sighs. "You think I'm very boring now, don't you?"
"No, not really. I'm very intrigued by all the changes in you, you know, you growing up or something. I still haven't figured out the book thing. But in terms of being fun to go out with, yep, pretty much, boring."
"Well, the book thing isn't that complex. Someone called me an uneducated idiot who didn't know anything and had never read a book. I decided to prove them wrong." Lance goes back to reading.
"Seriously? This obsession is all about some --" Justin pauses. Chris, it must be Chris. "It's not like he even knows. I mean, it seems like the kind of thing you could let go of. It might be good for you. He was probably just mad and saying things."
"Sure. I know that. But I like it. I like reading. I don't care if he knows or not." Lance closes his book and stands up again. "I do have plans for the evening, so I'm going to go do them. You have a radio interview tomorrow morning at seven am, I'll be here at six am, so don't stay out too late." Lance goes back to his room.
It sucks. Justin kicks at his bed and thinks about Chris. He's completely aware that Chris can say mean things in arguments. He's heard it all before. He guesses it's even more hurtful when Chris says them to his boyfriend. Justin decides there's nothing he can do. He can't make Chris better and he can't make Lance better. Justin sighs and gets dressed. He wishes he could, wishes he could think of something. He hates being powerless.
He goes out and resolves not to think about it. It's a slammin' night out. Good music, two great clubs. Even better, at the second one he runs into Nick Carter. They shout at each other in the VIP section, and then Nick grabs Justin's wrist and signals they should just go outside.
"You look great. This is late, man, but I was glad to hear about your mom." Nick smiles. The two of them are sitting in Nick's car. Not a limo, but an Escalade. It's pretty nice.
"Thanks." Justin pats Nick's knee. "And you, long time no hear, but good on you for all that. It's a really great album." Nick's just released his third solo album, the best Nick's done yet. Finally, a certified hit everywhere.
"Thanks. Well, we're caught up. Though, hey, Lance is your manager?" Nick laughs.
"He is. He's good."
"It would be weird, man, weird if, like, I dunno, Howie was my manager."
Justin laughs this time. "Howie, man, Howie. I see him all the time. Man, I wouldn't've hired Lance if he was my ex-boyfriend."
"Well, then I guess I know why Chris didn't." Nick snorts.
"Oh, you heard about that?" Justin told Nick when Lance and Chris got together, he thinks. He probably mentioned it back when they were fucking. They didn't really actually talk back then, just set up times to fuck. Then the tour was over and they stopped fucking and started actually talking once in a while.
"Yeah, I caught up with Chris. He's amazingly bitter." Nick laughs again. "I mean, not to diss him, but god, let's talk about something else."
Justin can't think of anything he wants to talk about so he leans over and kisses Nick on his wet pretty mouth. Nick rubs Justin's neck and bites at Justin's lower lip. "Okay," Nick says, "let's talk about whose room to go back to."
They decide on Justin's room. Nick's the same, strong and more graceful than Justin expects, kissing all the time and touching. Justin licks Nick's tattoos, Nick's thigh, his ankle, where the sweat beads on his skin. It's incredibly nice.
Lance wakes him up, wakes them both up. Justin opens his eyes as Lance says, "Hey, Nick, how are you?"
Nick mumbles something and rolls over, heavy against Justin. Justin pets his hair. "You gotta answer, man, or he won't go away."
Nick says, "You're not my manager, Bass, you can leave now." He sits up anyway.
Lance says, "Actually, I don't leave until I've successfully hustled you out of here so the maids and everyone else selling their story to the New York Post don't see you. It's fun that way." Lance actually does sound happy and Justin thinks he has one fucked-up manager, if Lance counts this as fun.
Nick gets out of the bed and Lance says, "Whoa, free show! Put on some pants, Nick."
Nick grumbles and Justin keeps his head down and eyes closed. Lance pulls the sheet off him, or, Justin assumes it's Lance. He can hear the shower, so that must be Nick. Lance says, "Justin. You get up, too."
"Are you mad at me?" Justin doesn't move.
"Nope. I'm having fun. Also, thank you for bringing home Nick Carter. I've heard rumors; it was nice to have them confirmed."
"You knew we went out." Justin rolls over and opens his eyes. Lance is perky and clean and dressed. Justin kinda hates him.
"No, no, the whole endowment question. Who knew?" Lance sits down next to Justin and pinches Justin's side. "Get up. We have to get Nick out of here, okay?"
Justin really doesn't have to do anything. Lance gets out Nick out without incident and Justin and Lance are in the car on time for the radio interview. "Are you and Nick back on or was that just a one-night thing?" Lance opens his book like he doesn't care about the answer. For some reason, Justin isn't convinced.
Justin says, "We're not back on. But he's in town for three more nights and so'm I, so I hope it's not just one night."
It's three nights. On the third and last, Nick lies in bed after they've fucked and stares at the ceiling. He says, "This is a fucking grind, isn't it?"
Justin snorts and sits up. "Sex?"
"No, the rest. The sex is great. Calm down." Nick pats Justin's pillow. "Lie down. I set the alarm this time, so maybe I'll even miss Lance the wonderful."
"Lance isn't so bad."
"He's great." Nick rubs his eyes. "He is." Justin lies back down and turns on his side so he can watch Nick. "I mean that, seriously, man. It must be nice, you know, having a manager you can really trust who knows his shit."
"Yeah, it is."
"I just mean, you know, our lives. It's a grind sometimes." Nick turns off the light. "And now I sleep."
Justin doesn't, even after Nick's breathing gets slow and regular. It's the kind of thing that keeps him up at night, counting and really thinking. He's pretty sick of it. But he counts every actual day off he's had, starting since NSYNC formed and it's a pretty sad number. It's just a little over a full year, culled from twelve. Which wouldn't be so bad if it had been a month a year or something. But it never was.
He kisses Nick goodbye and they make the usual noises about keeping in touch. Then he waits for Lance to show up. Lance busts in ten minutes before Justin is supposed to wake up, dressed and perky again. Justin laughs at his look of disappointment that Justin is also dressed and ready and sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Dude, you get pleasure out of the weirdest things."
"Well, we all have our kinks." Lance sits down in the chair by the window.
"I've been thinking." Lance looks attentive, which is always nice. "I want a real vacation."
"I mean, this is what I mean." Justin pauses. "I want, when all this is done, every tour, however many we do, whatever, I want four months off. And by off, I mean no award appearances, no charity balls or parties or launches. Nothing where photographers show up. I mean off. Really and completely not doing anything. I've never done that, man. No interviews, nothing. Nothing at all."
"What would you do?" Lance grins.
"I figure, I have time to figure that out. But, yeah, I just want to say that right now and you should be thinking about it when we do schedule things. I want this."
Lance nods. "It'll happen."
Justin gets really drunk at Joey's wedding and admits to himself he's got this little crush on Lance. He can't tell Chris because that's just a completely stupid idea. He would tell Joey, but Joey's dancing and laughing and Justin wants him to have this Joey night. Not to be Joey the comforting one, or Joey the helper. This one's all about Joey. He could tell JC, but JC leaves early because Julie's eight months along and she tires easily.
So he decides to tell Britney. They've been back to really good friends for the last two, three years. He forgave her for sleeping with Wade and she forgave him for being a complete ass about it. She looks beautiful and Justin hesitates for a minute, because he's really been hoping they could sleep together tonight. He thinks telling her he's crushing on Lance would make that less likely. He sits with her by the dance floor and lets her rest her legs on his lap. "This was nice."
She smiles. "It was beautiful."
"Hey, I cried." Justin pats her thighs. Britney has on the prettiest yellow dress, it really shouldn't work, but somehow it does. Light and flow-y and Justin should know by now what all these fabrics are. But he doesn't get to wear fabric like this.
"You did. Standing right up there by Joey, it was actually sort of funny."
"Except for the part where you cried." Justin saw her. She rests her head on his chest. Justin sees a photographer, but he doesn't really care. Joey invited some of them in, there's even a film crew. He knew when he asked Brit they'd end up in the papers.
"Well, you were crying. And then Joey started crying during his vows, and Lance was clearly tearing up and it was like this hailstorm of male tears from the front of the church. I think only JC made it out unscathed."
"Wait a month for Jillian or Julian to be born, babe."
Britney laughs and plays with Justin's tie. "God, I know. Promise me, Justin, if neither of us have kids when we're thirty-five, when I'm thirty-five, you can knock me up. Okay? I wanna be a momma, I swear."
"Pending approval from whomever I'm with, if I'm with someone, it's a deal." They pinky swear and laugh. Then Justin says, "I'm so crushing right now, man, it's sick."
"On me, Mr. Timberlake?" She laughs and fans herself with her hand. On the dance floor, Chris is dancing with Phyllis and Lance is dancing with Janine. It's a really delicate minuet, how well they avoid each other. And they're both laughing and having fun and somehow they managed to be groomsmen and everything without ever saying a word to each other. Britney says, "Okay, not me."
"You're hot, you're beautiful and lord knows, I was really hoping that tonight we'd have sex, but sadly no." Justin smiles down at her and she smiles back.
"You dork. You don't get wedding sex if you bring it up this early."
"Seriously? I thought I'd get points for being upfront." Justin pushes a strand of hair out of her face and strokes her jaw. Britney almost purrs.
"Well, you don't. We still might, but don't push it."
"Never." The dance ends and people clap. Chris kisses Phyllis and walks to the left. Lance kisses Janine's hand and walks to the right. "I wish Chris and Lance could have the kind of relationship we do."
Brit shrugs and her shoulder pokes Justin's chest. "Eh, give 'em time. It took us two years, man. Plus, the difference there? Two people who fight dirty. We never were very good at that. So, you know, like that." She looks up at him. "Who you crushing on?"
"Um." Justin isn't sure he can say it out loud. If he does, it's real.
"Lance? He looks good." Britney grins after a minute and Justin wonders exactly what expression he made that convinced her she was right. "Oooooooh, sweetie, you're all Celine Dion in love with her manager who she's known since she was fourteen. That's kind of darling, honestly."
"No, when you put it that way, it's gross. He's thirty years older than her." Justin flinches. "In a year, two, I will have known him half my life. And then after that, it's more than half. Every year after that, man. I think. Okay, I have a theory about this."
Britney nods. "Dependency."
Justin blinks. "No. No, I was going to say proximity. Dependency?"
"Your theory first." She pats his tie.
"Well, um. My theory was just he's around all the time and he's there and you know, we covet what we see. You know? He's hot, you know."
"That's an interesting theory." She grins. "Here's mine. You, like many of us, are a very dependent person. Dependent, like, you know, other people do things for you. And it's been your mom and Trace and Johnny and the guys. And over the last few years, all of them have been less there for you. And now heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Lance," and she says it like Ed McMahon. "And he's doing all those things for you. So you're all focused on him, like that, he's there for you and he's the only one, and ergo, crush. Dependency. It's just the way your mind is translating it."
"He is hot." Justin shifts in his seat. He doesn't much like Brit's theory. He really dislikes it when she's right and this is starting to feel like one of those times.
"Sure he is. And he's your manager and he holds your hand and he does things for you. He beats people up for you."
"Well, that. I think that was more about Lance being upset and pushed too hard than me. I think." Justin shrugs.
Britney makes her skeptical face. "He does things for you. He's easily stressed. Which, frankly, is a very good argument for not ever acting on said crush. Because, you know, he's about as over his last relationship as Julie is skinny. He's got this big huge beached whale of a chip on his shoulder. And that's what I think." Britney sits up and fastens the strap on her heels. "We should dance, they'll be packing up soon."
Justin takes her hand and they glide into some slow song. Over her shoulder, he sees his mother, holding hands with his dad and talking to Joey's sister.
Britney always feels exactly right in his arms, it really annoys the fuck out of Justin at this moment. "I disagree with you, by the way, but I didn't have intentions on acting on the crush thing."
"Good." She tightens her grip on Justin's hand and he twirls her, just like she wants. Her skirt flares and she twirls back into his arms. "I just think, you know, even without Lance being all bitter not over Chris boy, it would be bad to make your dependency even deeper." She leans on his shoulder again. "We're so old, Justin, we're not even in our early twenties anymore."
"I know." He pats her hair.
She looks up at him and says, "But we, I think we should definitely have sex when we get back to the hotel. We can pretend we're young again and people are taking bets on whether I'm still a virgin."
Justin kisses her nose. "No, let's just let it be right now. I like you better now."
"Flattery will get you everywhere."
He touches Lance too often. He got into the habit on the first tour, touching for reassurance. But now, now he's twenty-six, and he shouldn't be so dependent. Dependent, Justin thinks and frowns. He's read a few books about that. He can stand on his own.
So he realizes he's grabbing Lance's thigh to get his attention in the car. He leans on Lance when the show finishes. Lance never shrugs him off, not once, but Justin needs to stop that. He sits farther away and lets Lance read his book. He doesn't touch Lance after the shows.
The tour's started in earnest, no more promo shows. Lance says, "So, Jive is making noises, I wanted you to know."
"Noises?" Justin towel dries his hair; he's soaked with sweat. Fucking outdoor shows in the South in the summer.
"They weren't happy with the first month sales."
"It's platinum." Justin throws his towel at the wall.
"Last one was double platinum by now." Lance sits down. "Justin, they're just being whiny. They were counting on Jessica Simpson to do more, she flopping and now they're hurting. So suddenly, you're a problem."
"Tour's sold out. What do they want me to do?"
"Nothing yet, but I'm telling you now, be ready for shit down the pike." Lance opens his book.
Justin bites his lip. There are eight million reasons he needs to not do anything about this crush on Lance. There's the creepy Rene and Celine angle. There's the dependency thing. Brit's right, as much as it pains Justin to admit it. Justin has spent his whole life with people taking care of him, making him happy. Now his mom is gardening and Trace is a dad. He's solo, and all he has from all those people who used to hold his hand is Lance. And so, it's not a crush. It's a neurosis. Justin should find a book on that specifically.
He says, "What's the book? How do you choose them, anyway? Going through some list of books everyone should read?" Which is not what Justin wanted to say. He just sounds hostile.
Lance doesn't look up. "The book is a Ruth Rendell murder mystery. And I don't have a list. I just, recommendations, you know, from friends, randomly chosen people on the internet, paperbacks that look interesting."
"So, um." Justin strips to his boxer-briefs and puts on his clean slacks. He starts looking through his bag for a shirt. "So, what if the book sucks? Do you read to the end?"
"Yeah. It takes longer, but I figure, you know. I read Middlemarch while you were in the studio, which is fucking really long, and it was really boring until the last twenty pages. But those last twenty pages were amazing." Lance turns the page and finally looks up. "Can't you find a shirt?"
"Fuck, no. Where did it go?"
Lance stands up. "I think you forgot to pack it." Lance sighs. He's wearing a nice button down gray shirt and he starts unbuttoning it. "Can't have you walking around shirtless." Lance hates the tattoo on Justin's back. He doesn't say it out loud anymore, since Justin's mom was sick, but Justin can tell by the expression on Lance's face.
Lance holds out his shirt. He's just wearing a plain white t-shirt now, and it's really thin. Okay, and there's neurosis and there's how hot Lance looks with that tight t-shirt. Justin swallows. "Won't it look weird if I walk out in your shirt?"
"No one saw me come in, Justin. No one's got pictures of this. It's just a fucking shirt." Lance pushes his glasses up and tosses the shirt on the couch. "Wear it or go topless. Or there's the one you were wearing on stage. Either way, we gotta go."
Justin wears the shirt and smells Lance for the rest of the night. It doesn't help with the whole getting over his neurosis thing at all. Lance asks for the shirt back in the morning, even though Justin hasn't had a chance to get it cleaned. Justin just throws it at him.
Pharrell leans across the bar and shoves the full glass at Justin. "Drink, man." Justin hasn't seen Pharrell in months, really. Pharrell's gotten all focused on his latest project, some girl he discovered in Finland, and he hasn't had time to work with anyone. He calls Justin occasionally and stops back to the states every few months. After two years, Justin hopes the girl's album is going to be spectacular.
"I've had two, man." Justin grins. "Fuck, why you getting me drunk?"
"Because I wanted to talk about something and I figure, you know, get you drunk first."
Justin smirks. "Got a girl for me? Blind date?"
Pharrell screws up his face like that bitter beer commercial. That's a good commercial, Justin thinks. He hasn't seen it in years. "Nah, man, I just. I wanted to ask you something and I think it's kinda, you know, personal."
"Man, you're my friend. You're like a brother to me, you can ask me anything." Justin sucks on a pretzel from the bowl on the bar. "Is this the part where you really want to know about Britney? Cause, you don't need to feel bad about that. Everyone asks me."
"Nah. Not about Britney."
Justin nibbles on the now salt free pretzel. "Uh, fire away."
"So, uh, are you and Lance hittin' it?"
Pharrell shrugs. "I just mean, I thought. Maybe."
"We're not. I'm not --" Justin grabs another pretzel and sucks on it to cover.
"Man, I know you are. I know, it's not your main, dude, I know you." Pharrell looks around and lights a joint. Justin is just staring and blinking.
"Oh. But I don't, not, uh." Justin closes his eyes. "Okay. Yeah, but I'm not, with Lance. Me an' Lance. We're not. Just friends." He opens his eyes. Pharrell is nodding and inhaling.
"I get it. Okay, just checking."
Justin plays with his pretzel and then eats it. Then he says, because he's stupid and drunk, "Why would you think that? About me and Lance?"
"Well, he's pretty gay, you, you we've discussed and y'all have that vibe."
"A 'he likes me vibe,' you think? Like, you thought that because he seems really into me?" Justin carefully arranges his new pretzel at an exact right angle from the edge of the bar.
Pharrell laughs. "I dunno, man. You know, really, it's probably that been friends for forever vibe overlaid with all that other stuff. You know?"
Justin nods. "But you're okay with me, and all that?"
"Dude." Pharrell pushes Justin's arm and Justin clutches the edge of the bar to stay seated. "Sorry, man, thought you had better balance there. Dude, I'm fine. I've known for years."
Justin grins. He inhales deeply, closest thing he can get to getting high with the tour on.
Julie has her baby right on time, a girl they name Jillian Green Chasez. JC sends new pictures every single day. She's the prettiest, squirmiest little girl. She likes Justin, she likes Lance but she cries when Chris holds her. They don't all see her at the same time, of course, but Chris tells Justin all about it.
Kelly is due ten weeks later, but she goes into labor prematurely. It's a boy and he goes straight to the intensive care unit. Lance flies out to Los Angeles as soon as Joey calls. Justin has a show and he hates it. Lance says not to reschedule, he can be out there in a few days. "There's nothing you can do, man, we're just waiting."
Justin would rather be there than here. Here is another stupid hotel with an empty adjoining room. He wants to wait with Joey. He calls, but it's not the same. He calls his mother, she can't go either, but she calls as much as he does, talking to Phyllis mostly. She says Kelly is still not up and about and Joey looks a year older every single day.
Plus, Chris is there. Chris, Lance, tense waiting room, Justin thinks it must be trouble waiting to happen. Joey shouldn't have to deal with that. JC is there, but JC has Jillian to worry about, too. She's healthy, she's great, but Jillian's not even a month old. Justin talks to Joey, he talks to Lance, he talks to Chris, but he's pretty sure he's not getting the full story. JC just says, "It would be easier if you were here."
But he does two more shows and he finally gets on a plane to LA.
Lance meets him at the airport. "How's the baby?" Justin smiles and notices Lance hasn't shaved since he left.
"He's okay. Not great, but things are looking better. I can probably leave with you on Wednesday." Lance waves Justin to a rented car.
"So he's going to be okay?" Justin reaches out and rub's Lance's thigh.
"They're pretty sure. You know, they've made amazing strides, you know, treating preemies. And JJ's not that premature. I mean, he is. But."
"JJ?" Justin smiles.
"Joseph Anthony Fatone the third. There was a movement afoot to call him JT, but Chris pointed out we already have one of those." Lance smirks.
"So, you know, Chris is here."
"Yup." Lance turns onto the highway.
"How's that going?"
Lance frowns and squints into the sun. "What do you want me to say here?"
"I don't, I want you to tell me the truth."
"What do you want?" Lance taps the steering wheel. It's the only sign he's upset.
"I want to know how you are, you know, you're my friend." Justin crosses his hands in his lap.
"Whatever." Lance takes the exit for the hospital. "Look, it's none of your business."
"How does that work? Lance, gimme a break."
"No, you give me a break." Lance parks the car and clenches his hands on the steering wheel. "It's fucking awful, I hate him, I hate seeing him and he's your best friend, he's your best friend and you think he's amazing and he hurt me and I hate him. Are you happy now?" Lance rubs his forehead and covers his face. He takes a deep breath.
"Lance." Justin takes off his seatbelt and reaches over, tries to hug Lance but Lance won't put his hands down. "Lance, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, okay?"
Lance pushes him off. "Whatever. Just, he's your best friend, Justin. Just." Lance gets out of the car.
Justin says, "Fuck." He gets out and follows Lance into the hospital entrance. He catches up with Lance and says, "Lance, listen to me."
"Huh," Lance turns around. "No."
"You know, it's been two years. It's like, man, you know what Will Smith said, hate in your heart will consume you, too."
Lance blinks. "Will Smith? You think Will Smith is a horrible rapper."
"He's not great, but it's, like, man, there's something dark and wrong with you if you don't like that song. But I'm talking more about the point, man. You know, he also said, 'don't take it out on the next." Justin bites his lip.
"Well, there is no next."
"You're planning to be celibate for the rest of your life because of Chris?"
Lance just glares. He rubs his hands together. "I didn't say celibate. And I don't plan to take advice from Will Smith."
"Well, you know, you read way more than me, he's not the only one to say it. I bet you could think of lots of books and stuff where people have made that point. It's basically, man, it's been two years. I think you, you'd be happier if you let this shit go. You don't have to join the Chris Kirkpatrick fan club, man, but let it go. Stop, stop being like this. He's not your fucking nemesis. He's your ex-boyfriend and yes, it fucking sucks, and you two were really shitty to each other at the end, but you know, you loved him, too. I know that." Justin shakes his head and waves his hand. "Just, take a step and get over it."
Lance looks blank. Justin's been studying him up close for two years and he still, he has no idea what Lance is thinking half the time. Lance says, "Let's go in, okay?"
Justin takes a deep breath and follows Lance inside. There's a waiting room and Joey, JC, Kelly's parents, Phyllis and Joe and Chris is in the corner playing cat's cradle with Briahna. The news is good, but it's still waiting and waiting. Joey goes in periodically to see JJ and the other room where Kelly is recovering, and the rest of the time they just sit there and hold hands.
When it gets dark, JC says, "I got, you know, Jillian." He flaps his hands and looks sad. He keeps falling asleep, too, and Justin's pretty sure that as soon as JC gets home, Julie hands him the baby and says, "your turn."
Joey looks up, "Man, you don't gotta hang around here. We're just here. It's great you been here so long."
"Oh, I'll be back tomorrow. But Julie and Jillian, you know."
Joey stands up. "Man, go home." He hugs JC and gives JC a little shove. "Go home."
Justin goes out to get food later and sneaks it upstairs for everyone. They're very careful about it. When it's gone, Chris sits on one side of him and Lance on the other. Briahna is sleeping with her head in Lance's lap. Lance rubs Briahna's back and leans his head against Justin's shoulder. Chris says, "Thanks for the food."
Lance says, "Yeah, hospital food sucks."
"Least I can do." Justin sighs. Joey comes back from the NICU and sits down in front of Briahna. He brushes the hair off her forehead. Justin says, "Hey, man."
"Hey." Joey sighs. "Y'all can go, you know, too. My parents are gonna take Briahna back to the house, everybody come back in the morning. JJ'll be fine."
Justin says, "You leavin'?"
Joey shakes his head. Chris says, "Huh. Guess we'll stay."
Lance says, "We're all childless and unloved, man, this is our idea of a fun night out."
Joey laughs and covers his mouth. "Y'all suck."
Justin nudges Joey with his foot. "You suck the most."
Lance laughs and says, "Justin sucks the most. I hate Justin."
"Whu's going on?" Briahna stretches and Joey picks her up. He walks her out of the room.
They spend two days there and then they fly back to the tour. Justin is having absolutely no luck getting over his crush on Lance. It's hard to think someone isn't adorable when they spend two hours a day on the phone with their best friend because their best friend is having the worst month of his life. It's pretty damn near impossible.
Justin calls Joey, too, and he just listens or tells stupid jokes to distract Joey, but he knows Lance is best at it. After three weeks, JJ is okay to go home. Justin calls and says, "Okay, you know that part where we spent all night sleeping on crappy couches and shit for you and your kids? You're clear that that's always the way it is, right? Like, you know, we don't go away just because things are better."
Joey says, "I'm clear." He sniffs.
"Are you crying?"
"Yes, fuck you. It's okay to cry. You're being fucking sweet, man. Fuck you, too."
"Talk to you later."
Chris finishes his documentary and it blows up all over ESPN. He says, "Okay, all I want is one week to not talk about hockey. Can you give me that, J?"
Justin grins. "Dude, let me figure out things with my manager and we're set. Book your tickets."
Justin knocks on the adjoining door and goes in when he hears Lance say, "What?"
Lance is lying on his bed, reading another book. Justin doesn't even ask. He flops down next to Lance and says, "So, Chris wants to come out for a week. Let's work that out, right?"
Lance nods. He puts his book down and grabs his Palm Pilot. It's the latest model and really scares Justin. Sleek and thin and frighteningly like a Star Trek ship. Lance says, "What week?"
"One week from now. Are you gonna make yourself scarce and completely disappear again?"
"I don't think Will Smith would approve, do you?" Lance frowns and pokes at the screen. "Anyway, next week is fine. I'm not taking the bus those three days, though. I don't need to be that mature."
Justin rolls over and hugs Lance. "You're the bestest. Thank you for all that. And yeah, Will Smith would so not approve." Lance hugs back and then moves away quickly. He pushes his glasses up and moves to the desk.
Chris is great to have around. He bounces around and keeps Justin wired. It's really helpful, too, because Justin just has three months left on this tour. Then it's his vacation. "Here's what I'm thinking. You, me, Scotland. I read this thing about this golf tour thing. It's completely cool. Playing golf at these great greens all over Scotland, the home of golf. Six weeks. It would rock."
Chris nods. "Oh, fuck, yeah. When, man?"
"When the tour's over, barring any other shit I have to do. Six weeks with you, two weeks with Joe, two with JC, two at home and then I was thinking, you know, Paris." Justin dips into his bag and pulls out the brochures he got from his travel agent.
"It sounds like fun. I just, you know, really experience it. No promoting, nothing. Just being. In Paris." Justin grins. "Sounds dorky?"
"Sounds like a coming of age story. Like a Merchant-Ivory film. Helena Bonham-Carter will star, and maybe they can get Giovanni Ribisi to play Trace."
"Trace isn't coming. It's about being alone." Justin shrugs. "Just an idea."
"It's a good idea. It's just, you know, you're already come of age. You've came or something." Chris grabs the Scotland brochure and flips through it. "I get six weeks, I like that."
"You're my best friend." Justin hits Chris in the head with the Paris brochure. He can't wait to have six weeks of Chris time.
"No Lance time?"
"Two years of Lance time, man." Justin fiddles with the brochure in his hand. He thinks lack of proximity will be good for his crush. It probably is all neurosis and dependency, but he'll really be on his own this time.
Chris giggles. "I know that feeling." Justin thinks he should say something because he's really enjoying his Lance time and he doesn't want to encourage Chris but mostly he just doesn't want to deal with it. So he changes the subject back to Scotland.
Lance makes himself scarce but not as much as last time. He even spends a few hours with Chris, even if it just Justin and Chris playing video games in Justin's hotel room and Lance sitting on the bed making fun of them. It's almost like being back in the band, endless hotel rooms and everyone hanging out.
The day before Chris leaves, Chris and Justin are reading Cosmo and taking quizzes when Lance comes in and sits down on the bed. Chris and Justin are sprawled on the floor, ripping out articles for the other to read. Justin says, "Yo, what's up?"
Lance frowns. "Look, I talked to Jive today. They're officially unhappy."
Justin looks up. "What's that mean?"
"Sales are soft."
Chris rolls his eyes. "No, they're not. Two point five million, that's not soft."
Lance says, "It is to them. The last album was four million. They want to see this one at at least three, and they don't think it'll make it there."
Justin frowns. "What, okay, first off, what happens if they don't? Are they gonna drop me or something?"
"They're not going to drop you. It just means next time, it's a comeback album. And they'll be weighing how much support to give you, they'll be all over your ass when you're in the studio, they'll be that much more in your face. So, it's not, you know, good." Lance looks pissed, and Justin thinks, a shade of upset.
"What can we do? The tour's selling pretty well, we've already got a bunch of radio and TV scheduled. What else is there?" Justin rubs his forehead.
Chris says, "Nekkid pictures. Giveaways at the supermarket." Chris snorts. "Come on, two point five is good. God, people would kill for that amount sold."
Lance clenches his jaw. Justin puts his hand over Chris's. "Hey, Chris, can you get that, you were talking about those hot dogs outside, like, maybe three? The hotel ones, man, I bet they take out all the random horse parts or something. I want pure hot dog, man, can you get those?"
Chris rolls his eyes and stands up. "Oh, okay, sure, J. You want three? How many you want, Lance?"
"I don't want any horsedogs." Lance rubs his forehead and takes off his glasses. "Get me two." Lance cleans his glasses on his t-shirt. Chris rolls his eyes again and leaves. Lance says, "That was subtle."
"Polite fiction. Why do you think sales are soft, specifically? Is it the album?"
"No," Lance says forcefully. "Not at all. It's great. We hit radio, we did. I think, you know, MTV is doing its three hundredth retool and they're all reality shows or videos, so we didn't get that constant build we had when there was TRL and Cribs and things like that. We didn't get on TV enough to counteract that. Plus, the sales aren't that soft. Jive thought Jessica Simpson would blow up, she didn't, two other flops this quarter and they need this album to do more."
"So, not your fault." Justin gets up from the floor and sits next to Lance. "I mean, if you were thinking that. Some weird sort of album good, Lance bad thing. That's not the case here."
"Whatever, I'm not wallowing in self-pity." Lance shoves Justin.
"So what can we do?"
"Well, there's extending the tour. But you want your vacation in a few months, so. And I'm not sure we'd be able to keep up the sales. And you know, do a commercial, license one of the songs. Not doing a jingle on your own or something."
Justin says, "What's wrong with a commercial? You made a face."
"Well, commercials. People license songs for two reasons. 'Ooooh, I'm nobody, notice me.' Or 'ooooooh, you used to like me, like me again, I'm in a commercial.' I don't want people to think that about you." Lance sighs. "It would make Jive happiest, because they'll get paid straight off."
"Well, I don't think it's the second. It's not."
"We've, you've never straight out licensed a song. You know, it's different from recording a new jingle or something. It's your song in a commercial and it just looks, uh, desperate." Lance turns and looks right at Justin. He looks serious, maybe, blank.
"I don't care. I don't think it looks desperate. And you said it already, I'm a whore, the jury is already out, or has reported or something. It makes Jive happy, we sell more records. Tell me the negative there."
Lance shrugs. "I don't wanna do it. I don't want you to have to do it."
"Yeah, it's not my life's wish either. But it's not a disappointment, it's not going on my list of wish I hadn't, man, that sucked. Dude, having to take my shirt off at fifteen sucked, this is just another work thing. And you know, chill. Chill." Justin reaches over and pulls Lance close. He rubs little circles in Lance's hair. "Chill."
Lance hugs back for a split second and then pushes Justin away. "Fine. I'm gonna make some calls, bring over my horse dogs when Chris is back."
Justin drives Chris to the airport and hugs him goodbye. "See you in Scotland, man." Chris grins and mimes his awful golf swing before he goes into the airport.
Lance takes all of three days to find someone who wants a song for their ad. Lance picks the Pontiac GTO offer, it's the coolest, he says. Justin films a commercial for the overseas market for two days in LA. He gets to drive a lot and look cool. After two hours of filming, he walks over to where Lance is sitting, reading, sweating in the sun. Los Angeles rocks. Justin pokes at Lance's book. "How you doing?"
"When did you decide to become Joey Tribbiani? Seriously, you need to catch up with what's currently on TV and stop living in the past." Lance almost smirks, so Justin relaxes.
"What are you reading?"
"The Hobbit. You know, that Tolkien fellow? JC bought me a nice set for Christmas, you know, now that I read." Lance closes his book and looks up. "They're not treating you bad?"
"Dude, it kinda rocks. I drive in circles, I stand around. It's fine. It's a shoot. Actually, they're really sucking up to me. Did you prep them in advance? Yell at everyone beforehand."
Lance raises an eyebrow. "Of course I did. It's my job."
Justin leans over and whispers in Lance's ear. "You look hot when you do that." He winces, stands up quickly and says, "Just playing with you."
Lance rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Rest and drink water, it's hot out here." Lance is blushing maybe, or flushed from the sun. He looks away and points at the catering truck.
Show, show, show, Justin counts them down. The commercial debuts and the sales get enough of a bump. Justin books all his stops on his actual, real vacation. Six weeks in Scotland, touring golf courses and hanging with Chris. Two weeks in New York with Joey and his kids, two weeks in Los Angeles with JC and his kid, two weeks home with his mom, Trace and his daddy, his brothers. And then, "Paris. I think Paris for three weeks."
Lance says, "Paris. Why Paris?"
"Because it's Paris. I mean, first off, we've never been very big there. Or me. I figure, you know, alone in the big city, no one to be dependent on. Plus, Paris. It's beautiful. I bet it'll be a good place to write."
"Paris." Lance shrugs. "I was reading this biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, the poet? She lived in Paris for a while. She was having an affair." Lance looks down. "You could have an affair."
"I don't like affairs. You know, cheating, wrong."
"Are you still down on meaningless sex?" Lance blushes and keeps his eyes on his shoes.
"You asking? Because I was never per se against it, just, you know, not when you're seeing someone. And we're both single." This, Justin thinks, is sort of stupid, this flirting. But Lance is so cute when he's blushing, he can't stop himself. Also, some part of him is jumping up and down at the thought that Lance might say yes.
Lance laughs. "No, no, I'm not asking. I, I dunno. Okay, of course, you're hot. But. Anyway, you have fun in Paris."
"Okay." Justin grins. "Maybe you could lend me some books to read, or something. About Paris. I'm just, I'm really excited." Justin looks down and takes off his glasses, cleans them on his shirt. He wears them all the time now and Lance doesn't say anything. "Are you excited?"
"For your vacation? Strangely, no."
"I mean, it's your vacation, too."
"Not so much. I have the real estate stuff still and just because you're not working doesn't mean I'm not working. The Justin Timberlake business rolls on and on." Lance waves his hands. "I am happy for you. You deserve a break."
Lance looks like sunshine. He's back to almost blond, but he doesn't bother with spiking his hair anymore. It's soft, all the time. His eyes are somehow sharper, brighter behind his glasses and he's still in great shape. Justin needs to get away and get over this.
Before he knows it, the last show's done and Justin's packed everything. Standing in front of the airport in Memphis, Lance talking on his phone. "Lance, I got a plane to catch. Hi."
Lance says, "Bye" to the phone and closes it. "Sorry. I had to take that call." Lance hugs Justin. "You have fun. Drive safe, be careful."
"I'll miss you," Justin says. He doesn't want to let go of Lance. "I'll call you."
"I'll call you. I have to, you know. Work things."
"But not work things I need to do." Justin lets go and takes a step back.
"Nope, just keeping you in touch. Anyway, you have fun. Be a manly man in your manly vacation of golfing." Lance stands and waves and keeps waving, even when Justin turns away for a moment and then looks back. Justin sighs. He's taking time off, he's not going to be dependent and he's going to get over Lance.
Why can't I be your lover?
Can there be another?
And when I feel without I want to get you in. - Kevin Griffin
Justin waits for Chris in Heathrow and thinks about cat's cradle. He's never played that game, he thinks, or maybe only once. String combinations over and over again, he remembers that from school. Girls playing it, Justin never did. He's trying to remember if he ever knew how, just from watching, when Chris plops down next to him. "What you thinking, boy?"
"I was thinking about cat's cradle."
"Wanna play while we wait for our flight?"
"You'd have to teach me."
Chris grabs a spare pair of shoelaces from his bag for his new sneakers and complains about how they're not exactly right but he teaches Justin, while they wait and on the flight. Chris starts swearing after about an hour that he's going to go online to get more advanced levels. "This isn't the most stimulating game in the world, you know."
"I like it," Justin says.
From the plane to the first resort and golf course on their itinerary is only two hours. They don't start at St. Andrews. "I figured we'd build up to it. You know?"
Chris nods. "It's a good plan." They're doing a week each at the most famous courses, staying in the best hotels. Justin just booked one room at each place, two beds. It would be sort of pointless since they would just end up hanging out with each other anyway. Justin knows how it will be, him and Chris.
They just sleep the first night. Then they play golf on one of the finest courses Justin's ever seen, with a caddy who looks at Chris like he's Satan. Justin thinks it's because Chris has a really godawful swing. For dinner, Chris suggest haggis and Justin tells him that will not be happening. "I don't need to live the skit, man."
They drink, at the bar and in their room. They're lying next to each other on Justin's bed and Chris is absently drawing an x over and over again on Justin's stomach. It tickles. Chris says, "But, you know, I am over him."
"What were we talking about?"
"Um, hockey. You were nodding in appropriate places as I told you about how I got asked to do that thing on the history of hockey for ESPN."
"Man, you so should. None of the Ken Burns deep voice shit. Be like pow! POW!" Justin pumps his fist.
"And then I said, I am over him. Changing the subject."
"You think you are?" Justin leans forward a little and watches the precision of Chris's finger, one stroke, two, then back again to make the x.
"I know so."
"That's good. That's really good, man." Chris sits up and gets in his bed. "We're sleeping now?"
"Yeah, man, we got golf tomorrow!"
Justin's surprised how healthy Chris is. Not that Chris is some kind of always sick person, but he remembers Chris complaining about his knees a lot. Wearing braces, wincing at them. He doesn't anymore. Chris even jogs the second morning, and the fourth. He has these really cool custom-made sneakers. Justin knows Chris has been on this exercising, living right kick for the last three, four years but he's just surprised.
The fourth night they drink again. Chris drags Justin back to the room and they're laughing about something, laughing so hard that Chris falls over and pulls Justin down. Chris runs his hand over Justin's curls. "Haircut, you should get a haircut."
"Don' wanna," Justin says. Justin twists and shifts and somehow he and Chris are face to face, Justin half lying on top of Chris. "Just don' wanna."
Chris's hand is in Justin's hair and they're just right there, Justin isn't even sure when they started kissing, how he ends up pressing Chris down. They don't seem to stop either, and somehow end up getting each other naked, in Justin's bed. They stop long enough for Chris to say, "And you know what happens now."
It happens. It's good, it's slow for all that they're both drunk and tired. But it's slow and teasing and really good. They don't say anything when it's over and Justin's asleep two minutes after kissing Chris good night.
Justin wakes up and his head hurts. "Holy fuck, so glad we're not playing today."
Chris nudges him, and says, "Yeah." He closes his eyes and goes back to sleep. Justin wonders if he should think about this, about last night. He wanted this, he knows, when he was fourteen, fifteen and less over the years. But in the back of his head, pretty much always. And now, now there's no one in the way, no Lance, no Brit, no nothing. So it's a big thing. But, mostly he wants to go back to sleep so he does.
Chris is in the shower when Lance calls. "Okay, your weekly update," Lance says instead of hello.
Justin thinks about a witty remark or something, but his head is pounding. "Fire away."
"Album's still selling, Jive is making happy noises. Make sure you check your email once in a while, I have things for you to sign." Lance pauses. "Okay, with that done, hi, how are you? How's the vacation?"
"It's good. It's fabulous. The course is amazing and we're not even at St. Andrews."
"Yes, yes, golf things. I don't care. I mean, it sounds great." Lance laughs.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever. We're alive and kicking. Mostly." Justin wishes for an aspirin. Maybe the size of a golf ball.
"Hungover or sick?"
"Hungover." Lance laughs, bastard. Justin says, "Fuck you."
Lance laughs again and says goodbye. Justin lies back on the bed. The shower turns off and Chris comes out, settles in next to Justin. Chris is drying off and dripping all over Justin. "Who was that on the phone?"
"You're over him."
"Ah. Cool." Chris drops his towel on Justin's stomach. "Are we gonna talk about last night or just keep doing it?"
"What do you wanna do?"
Chris shrugs. "I vote we show, not tell."
So they're sleeping together every night now. First course done, onto the next one. They're gorgeous, green and endless, but not manicured and fake. Vistas like Justin can't believe. And they play and talk and it's pretty wonderful.
Justin sits on the bed and checks his email. Three from Lance and he skims them, blah, blah, business. He signs off on them and goes straight to the new pictures of JJ and Jillian and Briahna. Trace's wife is pregnant again. Justin can't believe someone he grew up with is going to have three kids. He's only twenty-seven.
Chris comes in with the food and sits down next to Justin. "Hey, red-hot lover."
Justin grins. "Hey, you. What'cha get me, boyfriend?"
"Oooooooooh, boyfriend. You're presuming a lot." Chris takes a bite out of his sandwich.
"Am I?" Justin starts eating his fries.
"What happened to not talking?"
Justin eats for a few minutes. He doesn't really like not talking. "I think, okay, we got a good thing here. And so far, these two weeks of, you know, red hot loving, this is great. But, uh, then what?"
"Then what what? Maybe, you know, we just let this happen."
"Then, don't tell me I'm presuming." Justin takes a large bite of his sandwich.
"Two weeks don't make anyone a boyfriend."
"What do they make me?" Justin puts his sandwich down. He's always been in some sort of love with Chris; he doesn't want to fuck things up. He thinks about what Howie said, about things being as they are.
Chris leans in. He has a little bit of mayonnaise in his beard. And one stray gray hair, right by his temple. He's so fucking hot to Justin. Chris kisses Justin and says, "You're Justin."
So things trundle along. Two more courses, two more weeks. One month together, whatever together is. Justin thinks together is good, and together right now is more than they had before. So it's important. Justin is pretty sure the Lance thing was just a neurosis, because he hasn't even thought about it more than twice since he and Chris started. Maybe he's thought about it more than twice, but Chris is the one right in front of him, Chris is better for him than some thing with Lance. So Justin tries not to think about it. It's just a little funny, because maybe they're both not thinking about Lance. Justin wakes up to Chris rubbing his thigh and Justin says, "How're your knees?"
"With all the wet weather and shit?"
"My knees rock." Chris grins. "Let's fuck."
It's another day of golf and it rains in the afternoon. Justin thinks about toughing it out or something but Chris says, "Fuck that. I'm thirty-seven. I can wait for another goddamn day."
By the time they have dinner, Chris is just pissy. He's banging around, and they have a pretty small room this time. "Hey, can you chill?"
"Chill? Am I disturbing you?"
"Pretty clearly, yes. God, fucking chill. You're just banging around."
"Ooooooh, noise too much for you?"
"Yes, god, yes. Sit down and be quiet, damn it. You're fucking annoying." Strangling Chris seems like a good option, but Justin decides to just stamp around himself. "It's like this, bang bang bang. I mean, do you need more of a demonstration? I can do it right next to your ear if you want. Which one is the good one?" Justin rolls his eyes.
"Whatever." Chris flops on the bed. "Gimme a break."
It gets worse after that. Sometime after Chris throws his shoe at the wall and calls Justin a prick, the actual argument starts. Chris says, "You, you're so full of yourself. You're like incapable of thinking you could possibly be wrong."
Justin shouts, "I know very well when I'm wrong and it's not now. You're full of shit. You can't just sit down and be quiet and you have to make everything a big argument because you're just fucking bored."
"Is that why? Maybe you're being all whiny and you bitched me out for just making a little noise. Because everything has to be so perfect for you all the time."
Justin sits down on the bed. "Shut up."
"Why? Am I bothering you?"
"Yes." Justin doesn't understand, he doesn't get how all this went from Chris being pissy to this argument. He's argued with Chris before; they had their first fight three hours after they first met. But this one feels like a whirlwind. He says, "I think we need to calm down."
Chris says "We?" He stomps into the bathroom and slams the door. Justin strips and just goes to sleep.
He wakes up and Chris is next to him, one arm around his waist. Justin holds Chris's wrist and starts to move Chris's arm when Chris says, "You awake?"
"Okay." Justin lets go and Chris rolls over. Justin gets up, goes to the bathroom, thinks about showering. They have a tee time in four hours. They have two weeks left in Scotland.
When Justin comes out of the bathroom, he stands over the bed. "Here's what I'm thinking --"
"Yeah?" Chris opens his eyes.
"I'm thinking, let's just make this is a vacation thing. Let's not try for anything else."
"You're not so good with the fighting, are you?" Chris sounds resigned.
"I dunno. Maybe I am, I just. We always fight, but you know, it isn't always so fucking pitched. We were like screaming at each other for an hour. So, apparently we add in sex and we get all psycho. Like, I don't like me being like that." Justin lies on top of the blanket and plays with Chris's hair.
"So just a vacation thing." Chris shifts and kisses Justin's hand. "Wanna chalk it up to timing? I got horrible timing."
"You don't have great timing." Justin leans in and rubs Chris's neck.
"Like, me and Lance? Totally would have worked out if we'd waited, I think. You know? Not started when the group was going to shit. But we started out off-kilter."
Justin nods. They kiss, sweet and tender for once. "Off-kilter. I don't know when we should have done this. But yeah, not now. I'm still gonna count you as my ex, okay? You can be the one that didn't cheat on me."
"So far as you know." Chris grins and Justin bites Chris's lip.
It's a great two weeks. They still have sex. Pretty much some of the best sex Justin has ever had. Chris has absolutely convinced Justin that his knees are perfectly fine now. But they both know they won't be doing this again. And it's still great. He tells his mother almost everything and she has a thousand questions. Justin just says he doesn't want to talk more about it. She's quiet for a minute and Justin says, "It's not, I just, I don't need to analyze it more."
He worries she's offended but she just changes the subject and moves on to asking about Scotland and golf.
Before Justin even realizes they're back in Heathrow. "I'm gonna stay," Chris says. "Just a few days. But I like London. You know, a break before I do the hockey thing. Really throw myself into it."
Justin nods. "'Kay man, I'll see you soon, though." Justin hugs Chris and one extra squeeze.
Chris says, "I was wrong, you know."
"Bout what? That you could make par on St. Andrews? Cause you proved that one pretty wrong. You sucked."
Chris doesn't smile. "When I said you were a little boy. That was wrong. You know, untrue."
Justin says, "I know. You just said it to hurt me. I mean, it worked. But I know that. I knew it. Also, that part where I called you a fucking little pisser who always plays at being bitter so you don't have to develop a real personality, you know, that was wrong and intentionally hurtful."
Chris grins. "I wasn't wrong about you being a cocky little shit, though." He slaps Justin's shoulder and says, "Get on your plane. See you soon."
"Guaranteed." Justin doesn't look back.
"So, JJ's a little small, but when they calculate by his gestational age, you know, if he had been born when he was due, he's actually ahead of the curve. They think he's gonna be real tall. And he's got this enormous head. So that means he'll be smart. Which is all his mom, frankly." Joey laughs and signals to the driver. "You hungry or you wanna go straight back to the apartment?"
Justin says, "You got food there?"
"Yeah. And some of it's not strained but that's Briahna."
Joey leans forward again. He says something to the driver and then sits back. "The movie people gave me this driver thing. It's really nice."
"Romantic lead, man, you deserve it." Justin leans back and closes his eyes. "I'm tired."
"Vacation wore you out?"
"Transcontinental flights wear me out." Justin leans against Joey's shoulder. "Tired."
Joey wakes him up when they get to the apartment and Justin plays with Briahna, coos over JJ and eats a sandwich before falling asleep in the guestroom.
In the morning, he tells Joey about Chris and Joey hmms in the right places. "Maybe it was all timing," Justin says.
"Well, you're smart then. Because, you know, didn't take two years and the complete destruction of your friendship to figure that out." Joey pours them both cups of coffee.
"I guess. It still kinda sucks." Justin drinks his coffee. "So, hey, movie time today, right?" Joey nods.
Justin spends three days just hanging out with Joey, going to the set, eating dinner with Joey, Kelly and the kids. The fourth day Kelly asks if he can stay home with the kids, just for a few hours, because she wants "time, even a few hours, and the nanny's off today." Justin agrees eagerly.
He's good with babies so he doesn't have any problems with JJ. When JJ goes to sleep, he and Briahna sprawl on the floor and play with her Barbies. Justin is trying to get a pink dress on Beach Vacation Barbie when Kelly comes back in. "So you're having fun?" She grins.
"I would be if I had slightly smaller fingers." Justin laughs. "I can't get this dress on."
It's more baby duty when he gets to LA. Jillian doesn't have either of her parents' cheekbones; she's got fat little cheeks. She has a little button of a mouth and a tiny nose and enormous eyes. "Seriously, enormous."
Julie raises an eyebrow. "It's not very nice to be insulting a baby in front of her mother. No, wait, it's very stupid."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. She's got huge eyes. It's really cute."
Julie says, "Good save."
JC's on a break, last album done, new one not yet fully formed in his head. He's thinking, though, tapping out beats while they eat and writing on napkins. They stay up late and talk about music and Jillian and Julie. JC and Justin go out once, dance for hours but when they get home JC laughs quietly and walks straight up to the nursery to check on Jillian. Justin kisses the baby's cheek while JC holds her and then goes to bed.
It's all good. Justin likes getting the kind of things you get from being right there with your friends, the names of the people who cut their hair, the TV shows they watch but don't admit to. Joey's gained a little weight, but not as much as he thinks and he drinks a lot of skim milk. JC has a new car and he wants to trade it in already. It's all the little things. Justin misses having them around so he's stocking up.
He spends two weeks at home with his mom, sees her garden and all the flowers. They have lunch with one of her friends from high school. "I just ran into her in the seed store. Would you believe, we have not talked since graduation." Justin's mom and her friend talk a lot about gardening and the friend's kids, who are all three in college and Justin nods. He doesn't have much to add. It's not boring or annoying, but it's not stimulating.
Trace's house is messy in that way houses get when you have two little kids running around and another on the way. Justin puts on the TV, sits Cherise on the couch and starts cleaning. He just can't take it. It itches at him, the tiny stain on the floor by the door, the smeared jam by the light switch. He bets Cherise tries, but she's eight months along. Trace isn't making enough yet for a maid service. Maybe Justin will get him one for Christmas. It only takes about three hours for Justin to scrub and mop and sweep. Justin flops down next to Cherise and grins. "There you go."
"You should go on vacation more often." She smiles and changes the channel to Julie's soap opera. "I bet you got all this excess energy all bottled up in you."
Justin shrugs. "A little. But it's all gone now."
Trace comes home and says, "Holy fuck, Cherise, you shouldn't be doing all this work, you're due soon."
Justin says, "She didn't."
Trace laughs. "Man, you didn't have to." Trace covers his mouth. "I take it back, I bet you did. Girls napping?" Cherise nods. "Okay, man, turn off the soaps, let's play some Halo."
Justin says, "Man, it's Alexis and Cameron! Wait up a few."
He leaves for Paris without seeing Lance. There's an email from JC reminding him that Lance's twenty-ninth birthday is only two weeks away. Justin hasn't bought him a gift.
He calls Lance his first night in his apartment in Paris. "Hey, you."
"You've been checking your email and that's fantastic."
"Oh, yeah. The things about that TV show? Yeah. I replied." Justin stands on his balcony. He always asks for balconies.
"I know you did," Lance says. "I was thanking you for that. Hey, guess what I did?"
"Grew a beard?"
"Ewww, no, I'd look awful. I tried once, you know. No, no, no. Actually, it wasn't that exciting. I don't feel like telling you."
"You suck," Justin sits down on the floor of the balcony. "I'm in Paris, I'm sitting on my pretty balcony and you won't tell me some exciting news."
Lance laughs. "It's not that exciting. Also, Howie and I broke ten million. In income and stuff. Not actually income, but it's too complicated to explain. Trust me."
"You and Howie be rich! Congratulations, that rocks." Justin laughs. "Okay, I'm safe and sound here, man. Just wanted you to know."
"Yeah, I knew. But thank you. I mean, I heard from the rental people."
"You're tricky. I gotta go." Justin says goodbye and sits on his balcony for another hour, just watching the city underneath him.
He loves being alone. He wasn't sure he would. But it's incredible. He doesn't talk to anyone, really. He orders his breakfast from a waiter in a café by his apartment every morning; he says "bonjour" to the doorman. Otherwise he just is. He thought it would be lonely. He doesn't feel lonely at all.
He writes a little, bits and pieces. He spends two hours a day playing guitar like some demented college student, he thinks. But it's good for him, even if he is just dorking around.
He thinks about Chris. He calls him, they exchange voicemail and two brief conversations. Everything's totally okay, Justin can tell. He thinks about Lance and neurosis. Dependency. He's so independent here, and he still misses Lance. He wonders what book Lance is reading now. He wonders if Howie made a move on Lance or something and he decides not to wonder about that anymore.
Time gets away from him and he realizes Lance's birthday is all of one day away. He goes down to the shops, maybe a hundred shops but he can't find anything. He has gifts, he's bought lots of gifts, but a birthday present is impossible. Everything he picks up seems too personal, something like, "oh, how I want you" or a boyfriend gift or something. Or too impersonal. Justin knows more about Lance than just his size in shirts. He doesn't want to just get a book or just get some vague gift thing like cologne. Justin knows exactly what Lance smells like.
He doesn't buy anything. He calls Lance at midnight Lance's time and says, "Happy birthday!"
"Hey, you. How are you?"
"I'm good. Writing and stuff and it's all pretty. It's Paris."
Lance laughs. He's slurring a little, he must be drinking. "You're a free man in Paris." Lance says, "Do you know that song?"
"Nope. Who is it?"
"Joni Mitchell. My mom likes it. Anyway, so yes, it's my birthday!"
"It is. How's twenty-nine?"
"I think this is gonna be only the first time I do this, you know. I don't wanna be thirty." Justin hears voices behind Lance, people laughing, someone singing.
Justin says, "Who you got there? Anyone I know?"
"Nope. I'll see everybody tomorrow. I mean, today. Not everybody, but I'm in LA, and Joey's here and JC so, those two. And the kids. No one else you knooo-oow," Lance sings.
Justin says, "I'll let you go. You party hard, man."
"Shit, you know it. Bye, man. Thanks for calling." Lance makes kissy sounds and Justin says goodbye.
He has to go home in a week. He has songs and he has things in his head. He has ideas. He likes Paris, likes walking alone. He starts reading some of the books he's bought. Mostly for Lance. He couldn't find a birthday gift, but he's got fifteen other presents scattered around the condo. He makes it through the first book, some short thing with twisty language and Justin puts it down every few pages to just think.
He writes in the margins, because that always works for Lance. The first thing he writes is "neurosis or love?"
More of the book, of decisions and labyrinths. Justin has to pause to look words up in the dictionary he bought for Lance. He thinks about being fifteen and studying next to Lance, thinks about Chris when he was twenty-five. Neurosis or love, that's a question for the ages, for twisty books. The book doesn't have much of an answer so far.
The next thing he writes, ten pages later, is "does it matter?"
He packs and goes to the airport early. He books a flight from New York to the closest he can get to Jackson, Mississippi.
Lance is sitting on the front porch of his parents' house when Justin pulls up. Lance's house looked empty, so Justin came here. He jumps out of his rental car and almost runs up. Lance barely grins. He's reading, earnestly, to Stacey's little girl, who's perched on his lap. Justin puts his bags down and sits down next to Lance, reads over his shoulder. When Lance gets to the end, he kisses her head and lifts her up, sets her down. "Take this into your mama, baby." She clutches the book to her chest and smiles. She runs inside.
Justin says, "Hi."
Lance turns and hugs Justin close. He smells so good. Lance says, "Where's my birthday present?"
Justin shakes his head. "Dude, I got presents galore. I got presents for your parents and Stacey and Ford and everything."
"And my birthday present?" Lance raises an eyebrow. Justin rolls his eyes.
Lance grabs one of his bags and they go inside. Jim and Diane are thrilled to see him, and they all sit down for a big dinner. It's delicious and Justin says so, over and over again. After dinner, Lance says, "Okay, let me take you to your room. You are staying here a bit, right?"
Justin nods. The two of them carry the bags to a room over in the side wing. Lance says, "This is my wing." Lance has been home for a while now, because he says "maaaah" instead of my.
Lance says, "Oh, I'm thinking of selling that other house. I like it, but, you know, I don't need so many houses."
"You own a lot of land, man."
"Well, I do. But all that land's got condos and apartments on it. I just, you know, this house is huge. So I was staying over more and more and we talked about it, me and my folks, and so I'm just gonna move in. For when I'm here." Lance opens a door and waves Justin in. "Your room."
"I'll only be here a few days. I gotta go home, you know, things like that. But I really missed you."
Lance throws a bottle of Jim Beam on the bed. "There's your present. Open it up and give me my gifts."
Lance sings, "You can call me selfish but all I want is my presents," while Justin gets the stuff out of his big bag.
"Okay, shut up. First, I got you this in Scotland, it's a t-shirt."
Lance laughs and leans over to open the Jim Beam. He takes a little sip and then a longer one. He says, "You didn't wrap 'em or anything. Is one of these specifically my birthday present?"
Justin says, "They're all for you. And I didn't get anything wrapped. You saw when I gave those things to your parents and Stacey, man. I'm not a wrapping kind of guy." Justin grabs ten paperbacks. "I bought these, like, everywhere. Everywhere I was. I was kinda random about picking the books, but I guessed you'd like them. Let me know if you have any."
Lance grins and passes the bottle to Justin. He looks over each book and then says, "Nope. Good choices, man, they look interesting." Lance pushes up his glasses. "This is my birthday present?"
"They're all your birthday present, man."
Lance sighs. Justin says, "Okay, one more. I got you this in Paris." He hands over a deep green shirt. "Couture, man. Or, you know, what the salesman said."
"Oh, that's awesome." Lance smiles. "It's awesome." He holds it up and his eyes are almost sparkling. Justin takes a drink of the Jim Beam and sits next to Lance on the bed.
"You really like it?"
Lance nods. They both drink and Lance talks about real estate and Howie's new boyfriend and Lance's niece. Justin talks about Paris a little and Scotland even less. After thirty minutes, Justin puts the Jim Beam on the floor, and he notices it's half gone. They're both lying on the bed and Justin rolls over and smiles at Lance. Lance says, "You look good. You know that, right? All rested and pretty."
Justin smirks. "I do believe I agree with you. And you, you look nice as well."
Lance makes his considering face. "You didn't get me a birthday present, did you?"
Justin giggles and shifts closer to Lance. He says, "God, what do you want for your birthday?"
"Belated." Justin ducks his head and puts his hand on Lance's waist. Lance says again, "Belated. Maybe I want you for my birthday."
Justin leans his head back and smirks. "That's something I can do."
Lance says, "Yeah?" It's impossibly sexy, hot and goes straight to Justin's dick. Justin licks his lips.
He starts to say, "What do you want," but then Lance is pressed against him and they're kissing. Kissing. Lance licks Justin's neck and tugs at his shirt.
Lance says, "I think, for my birthday, you naked."
Justin slips back and pulls off his shirt. His pants come right off and he's slowly pulling down his underwear as he says, "You should be naked, too. To make this even better."
Lance nods, his eyes heavy-lidded. "You first. I think, um, right now, I'll just --" Lance reaches down and undoes his pants, pulls out his dick. He laughs. "Come on over here, let's re-enact my seventeen year old fantasies." He laughs again and looks down, blushing.
"When I was fifteen?" Justin smirks and crawls over. He rubs Lance's dick, lightly, and Lance shudders. "Perv."
"Oh, come on. I was seventeen, you were fifteen. It's not like I held onto that fantasy and only hit on fifteen year olds." Lance bites his lip as Justin's grip tightens. Justin wants and wants and just looks up at Lance.
He says, "Yeah" and then starts using his mouth for other things. He never quite got around to having fantasies about Lance so this is even better, without expectations or a script that doesn't quite work out. So it's just Lance's hand in Justin's hair, Lance's dick in Justin's mouth and it's just as good as it can be.
Lance pushes him off and says, "I know what I want, I know what I want." He makes it a little chant out of it, repeating "what I want, what I want." He sheds his pants and pushes Justin down on his stomach. "You're okay with this, right?"
Justin says, "God, yes. Yes, yes." Justin looks over his shoulder and licks his lips. "Come on."
Justin buries his face in the pillow, smiles, arches his back. Lance hums while his fingers push and push. Justin doesn't hum, he just grunts and moans and figures that's music enough. It's about all he's capable of. He feels Lance, wet against his ass, he shifts back and back and then Lance stops humming.
It's still music inside Justin, in his head and body. Hard, nasty, dirty. Just perfect. Justin bites the pillow and claws at the sheets, while Lance bites at Justin's back, grasps Justin's hips and thrusts.
It's over too soon. It's fucking awesome, push and thrust, Justin panting and thinking he can feel Lance all the way up his spine. And again, and again and Lance grunts and swears. The hook and the bridge and then the fade-out for the music. Lance is heavy, little shudders and sighs. He says, "Sleepy sleep."
Justin turns and pulls Lance close to him. "Sleep," Justin says. He kisses Lance's cheek. "Happy birthday again."
"Hmmm. Definitely." Justin reaches over and turns off the light.
When he wakes up the room is bright. Justin covers his eyes. Lance says, from somewhere that is not snuggled up tight with Justin, "Are you awake?"
"Now I am."
"I just. Do you do that often? I mean, it's really a bad idea." Justin opens his eyes. Lance is dressed, pressed, neat. He's pacing back and forth in front of the bed, arms crossed.
"Sleep with you? What are we talking about?"
"We didn't use a condom, I meant that. I meant the whole stupid no condom thing." Lance glares.
"Um, wait, this is me who's, like, at fault? I mean, uh, weren't you the one who should've been wearing one?" Justin sits up and covers his eyes again. It's really bright.
"Yes, of course, and you're right, but. You should've said something. When were you last tested? Because I'm all clean, I was just, two weeks ago. So." Lance stops pacing and just looks. He looks pissed.
"I should've said something? Fuck, you're a buzzkill. God, I'm clean, too. I got tested before my vacation and you're fine. Shouldn't I be worried here?"
Lance says, "Buzzkill?"
"You are. Man, we had great sex. It was really nice. And now you're all, hey, Justin, you whorin' around much lately? You ever practice safe sex?" Justin frowns. "You're a downer."
Lance rolls his eyes. "I'm just concerned. I'm your manager, I don't wanna be covering up, you know, your wild, uh, things." Lance presses his lips together. Justin turns away and tries not to wince as much as he wants. "Okay, you're right. I'm being stupid. But you're clean, right?"
"Yes, yes. And I haven't had unsafe sex in, um, six years. Before last night. Okay?"
Lance sits down next to Justin. "Okay, sorry, I'm just a little freaked. You know?"
Justin leans over and kisses Lance, just once. "Freaked. Check. Freaked?"
"Just, you know. Anyway, I have to go, I have this thing with Stacey. So, thanks for the birthday present." Lance smirks and pats Justin's head. The door closes and he's gone. Justin flops back on the bed and tries to smother himself with a pillow. Suck-central.
Two more days in Mississippi and then he goes back to Memphis. He spends two weeks writing more and helping his mother plant flowers. She's trying to get a color theme going in one corner of the yard. He's following her directions about using the spade when she says, "Did you meet Lance's boyfriend?"
His mother stands up and looks down at her box of seeds and bulbs. He hasn't told her about Lance, not that way. It's weird, it's different, it's where he is right now. So she doesn't know and he didn't tell her about his visit to the Bass house. Not the sex part. So she just looks at the seeds and says, "His boyfriend. He started seeing this guy, Ivan? Diane doesn't like him, you can tell."
"Boyfriend? Lance didn't say he had a boyfriend. I mean, mom, I had sex with Lance when I was there and he really didn't say anything about it." Justin bites his lip. He didn't mean to say that. This is something he intends to work out without leaning on her.
She blinks and looks up from the seeds. "Oh. Was it, are you and Lance --"
"No. I mean, clearly, no." He's never said anything about Lance, that way. Not like he told her about Chris. In his head, the difference is clear. One happened, one is just a thing. Lance is more than a thing, but Justin doesn't like to think about it. And now he just doesn't feel like it. He says, "It was just once. That once. We were both a little drunk. It wasn't anything. I mean, clearly. He has a boyfriend? Diane doesn't like him?"
"Yeah." She sits down and hands him bulbs. "She doesn't say it, but you know her. She suddenly starts talking like she can't unclench her jaw." She grins. She starts talking like Diane, not opening her mouth and her accent altered. "Oh, Ivan is very nice. He's got a job and he's very discreet." She laughs. "She hates Ivan. I haven't met him, but I figure he's no Chris, so."
Justin says, "Lance wouldn't cheat, so they must not be that serious."
She shrugs. "Sure. Or, he did cheat, because it's you and who could resist you?" She smiles again and smears dirt on his nose. Justin stops and rubs until it's gone.
He meets with Lance a week later. They have lunch. Justin has been sort of been avoiding Lance since he heard about Ivan. Voicemail works. Lance sits down and says, "Okay, I'm in town for a week, and I have a thing after this, so we can only do an hour."
"You have a thing? Here in Memphis?" Lance looks down. Justin says, "Dude. Lifetime movie. You're living it. You have to see people you met during your community service. You made friends. You changed. You grew."
"It's not a Lifetime movie. I was forced to volunteer at the same center for six weeks, Justin, of course I actually met people." Lance almost smiles. He fiddles with his glasses and keeps staring at the menu.
"You're going to play cards with old people you met while you were doing your community service, aren't you? I bet you intentionally lose to them, and always pretend you can't count out your bets rights so you can give 'em money all subtle." Justin smiles.
"I'll have you know they beat me fair and square. Look, they're really good." Lance blushes. "It's not a Lifetime movie. I didn't learn anything. I didn't grow as a person. I met three very interesting people who I like to play cards with when I'm in Memphis."
Justin laughs. "Do you see them on Tuesdays? Is one of them named Morrie?"
"That was completely different. Have you even read that book?" The waiter comes over and they both order. Lance says, "Alison, Edward and Sam. That's their names."
"Well, then we better get crackin'. I have an appointment as well, of course. Basketball with Jonathon and Steven. And you, no missing card shark seniors."
Lance rolls his eyes. "They're very nice people. I mean, except for when they're playing cards. Then they're pure evil. But other than that." Lance snaps his napkin and puts it in his lap. "Let's talk work."
Justin leans forward. "I want, this time? No co-writing, no other producers. I think I can do it. I want to try."
Lance leans his head to one side and looks over Justin's shoulder, just thinking. He finally says, "Yeah. I bet you can. I can definitely sell that to Jive. So what do you need from me? We should put together a band. You know, work with the same people for all the songs. Maybe even do it here in Memphis."
Justin nods. "Yeah, absolutely." They talk more about it, through their salads and sandwiches. As Lance looks over the check, Justin says, "So, tell me about Ivan."
Lance raises his eyebrow. "Ivan."
"Your boyfriend." Lance doesn't look up. Justin says, "I heard he was your boyfriend."
"You sound, um, jealous."
"I'm not. I am, actually, pissed that you had sex with me and apparently have this boyfriend that you never mentioned to me." Justin taps his fingers on the table.
"We're not exclusive and it isn't really your business."
"How exactly does that work? Not my business? Your friend, your client, I don't get to hear about your business?" Justin glares.
"No, you don't. It's just, you know, it's not important. It's nothing." Lance still doesn't look up.
"Your mom, okay, someone who talks to my mom, said he was your boyfriend." Justin shoots for calm, thinks he ends up with petulant. Good enough.
Lance looks up. "He's probably my boyfriend these days. I haven't been seeing anyone else. But it's not serious. I mean, I don't tell you about everyone I fuck. I've never told you about everyone I fuck."
Justin knows he's hunching over and he knows it's stupid. It's not like he thought sleeping with Lance was some thing that made a difference. He understands their relationship. He just wants it to be different. Except now there's Ivan. And whoever else Lance hasn't ever bothered to tell him about. "I don't get that."
"Why, why should I tell you?" Lance stands up. "I have to go. I set a time."
"Okay, then." Justin stands up and walks out.
Lance calls him twice that day. Justin doesn't pick up. When he gets back from hanging out with his brothers, he sits in his room and looks at his poster of Penny Hardaway. He doesn't stay here long enough to update anything so his room is filled with things Justin loved when he was fourteen, fifteen. A few more things his mother added over the years. Justin writes more songs, finishes one in an hour.
He calls Lance after dinner. "Okay, we should talk."
Lance says, "Yes. This isn't, okay. When we were in a band together, pissyfits were fine, because, you know, we just had to work together with three other people to buffer us and now it's not that. It's you and me. And I can't just be angry, it probably violates my probation or something. Not, anyway. That's all over with. But. I should've said something. Certainly when we slept together."
"I agree with that," Justin says. "I dunno. I'm being pissy. It's not like I told you about every little thing I did on vacation. And I don't tell you about, you know, people I sleep with."
"Yes, you do. But that's work things. I need to know who you're sleeping with. I mean, were you, on vacation?"
Justin screws up his face and thinks. He's really not telling Lance about Chris. "Nothing you need to worry about. Seriously. I'm not just saying that. Just, nothing. And I'm not seeing anyone now. And I wanna know who you're fucking because you're my friend. So, let's not get distracted."
Lance doesn't say anything for a minute. Then he says, "Okay. I just, you know. It's weird, Justin. You know? Of course, we're friends, but then there's everything else. Ultimately, I work for you. Close enough to working for you and I think of a lot of things, I think of this as work. And I like to keep work," Lance sighs. "I don't know. I didn't tell you. I should have. Okay?"
"Okay. Sorry I snapped." Justin sighs. "So, tell me about Ivan."
"I hate Lance's boyfriend," Justin says. "Don't you wanna hear about that?"
Chris laughs. "Oh, sure. Fire away."
Justin looks around the studio and makes sure Lance isn't about to walk in. "Okay, he sucks. First off, he's like, imagine every stereotype of a gay man with money. That's Ivan. He loves that stupid gay show on HBO, talks about it's so much better than Queer As Folk or something, he loves dance music, he minces, he flames, he's such an ass. He doesn't like how I dress and he doesn't like how Lance dresses, for fuck's sake."
"Lance dresses stupid all the time." Chris almost laughs.
"Okay, but he's really condescending. He's very convinced that he knows everything and he's the hippest guy ever. And like, when he's kinda pissed with Lance? He starts calling him by his first name."
Chris says, "You mean he calls him James, or what?"
"No, nothing like that, he calls him hon, or sweetie, or dear or something. But then he's being all pissy and it's 'Lance, do you really think that's a good idea?' 'Lance, I don't agree with that.' So pissy." Justin shrugs. "I can't stand him."
"Well, why does he piss you off so much? He's Lance's problem."
"But he's around and I hate him."
Chris says, "Well, man, it's not your problem, really. Besides, it's not that serious. Sounds like rebound boy. Token boy."
"I like you better, man."
"Duh. I'm great. Anyone would be second-best compared to that." Chris pauses. "Can we talk about me now?"
"Yeah, fire away. Then we'll talk about me."
"We were talking about you. We were talking about your hatred of Lance's boyfriend. That's you. I think you just resent that Iiii-vaaaaaaaan is taking Lance's attention away from you." Chris sounds very serious, so Justin is sure he's joking.
"Do too. You're used to being all Lance thinks about and now he's back to considering his dick along with you."
"Do not. He's been thinking about his dick since he started working for me. Just now he's only doing it with one guy and I have to see him all the time."
Chris pauses. "Yeah, we're entering the part where I don't wanna talk about this. Okay?"
Justin says, "Yeah, sorry. So, you! Let's talk about you."
"Okay. So, I'm working on the documentary, as I've said to you, and it's going great. We're gonna do the first two parts first, should be done with those in about fifteen months. That's the budget and shit. And I'm seeing this guy. Nothing serious, but still. Thought I might mention that. Especially since you're the one without any significant other right now. Of any sort." Chris giggles.
"Hey, that's cool. Nothing serious, huh? When you gonna do serious again, man? You got a lot to offer."
"Well. I'm over my last serious thing. I mean, not you, I can never get over you. You're, like, impossible to get over. I have, like, conference calls with Britney and we talk about how great you are." Chris laughs. "But, you know, the other one."
"Let's say the name and prove you're over it." Justin looks up at the door but no one comes in.
"Lance. I'm over Lance. Completely."
"Cool. So now y'all will be friends again, right?" Justin sighs. "That would be rocking, you know."
"Over, not recovered, man. Also, you know, over him doesn't mean I like him. I don't."
Justin says, "Yeah, and now we're moving into my 'don't go there' territory. I'm glad you feel like you've put this behind you, but no dissing Lance. And for the record, I say the same thing to him."
Chris pauses. "Saying I don't like him isn't dissing him. Talking shit about what he's like in bed is dissing him. So, fine, then we've got our boundaries set. Anyway, I'm seeing this guy."
"Cool. Tell me more."
"Well, you know him. Nick, you know, Nick."
Justin blinks. The door opens this time and it's Lance. Justin says, "Nick Carter?"
Chris says, "Yeah. I was, uh, we went out a little before, um, you know. Right after me and Lance broke up. I mentioned him to you. Just, um, not by name. I guess, I ran into him and who else can you talk to about dating your bandmate even while your band is all falling apart? But then, you know, I wasn't over Lance, he called me a bitter bitter man. Anyway, I'm only a bitter man now and we're back. But better. Not like last time. I ran into him at some charity thing, which, you know, only place I can meet men, apparently. That doesn't freak you out, right?"
"God, no. Man, Nick and I weren't serious. I mean, we're friends now, but we were never that serious. It's not like you dating Brit." Justin pauses. He suddenly thinks maybe he should be careful here. There might be parallels someday. "It would be okay if you wanted to date Britney, of course."
"Well, I'll remember that." Chris makes a little snort. "Anyway, it's nothing serious."
"Okay, nothing serious. But Nick's good people."
"Yeah." Chris is quiet for a little while. "But you know, in retrospect, maybe I'm not so over, uh, you."
Justin doesn't push. "Well, Nick's good people."
The studio time hums. Every moment. Justin thought it would be hard, but it's easy. It's easy to do everything, to tell the engineer what he wants, to direct the band, to write everything from start to finish. He thinks about getting some other voices on the record, but decides against it. So it's just him. He even plays guitar on some of the tracks. He plays what he has for his mother and she ooohs and aaahs. It's only the second time he's been in the studio without her visiting more than twice and this time it feels normal.
He's in the home stretch. Lance smiles and says, "It sounds really good. I took those songs into Jive, they shit themselves. They always do. But they're really excited. And the whole all by yourself, all grown up angle, they like that a lot. It was really nice."
Lance rubs his neck and Justin doesn't look closer, doesn't want to see Ivan's little love marks. Justin sneers in his head. Justin is way hotter than Ivan. It's sick and wrong.
What's wrong is that Justin doesn't care about dependence, doesn't give a shit about any of the million things he can think of that are wrong about wanting to be with Lance, his manager, his friend, his band mate. All those things. He's too old for it anymore. He knows how important Lance is; he knows how rare it is for him, for Justin, to feel so strongly. He wants. And he's going to make this happen.
He looks up and says, "I have an idea."
"Yeah. Exactly. I want to pose nude."
Lance sputters. "Excuse me? Like, in Playgirl? Naked? You want --"
"Not in Playgirl. Or Maxim or Details. Like, Vogue. Arty. No dick shots, but plenty of ass, stuff like that. I know a photographer, he does stuff for them. Arty. And more of that all grown up thing." Justin smiles and stretches.
He watches Lance stare at his stomach. Justin plays with his jeans and smiles again. Lance says, "You think?"
"I think it would be good. I want to do it. And it'll be news. Another push for the album." Justin stops flirting and turns back to the console. "I want to do it. What do you think?"
"I think." Lance pauses. "I think it's a good idea. Tell me your photographer's name. I'll get it done."
"Seriously, no dick shots, Justin."
"You'll be there, you can make sure." Justin smiles and keeps his eyes on the console. He presses a button and listens to playback.
Lance rubs his forehead and takes off his glasses. If they were outside, he would light a cigarette. Justin knows all these mannerisms now. Three years of close observation. He doesn't always know why, but he isn't tired of watching. So he says, "Why are you all stress-y?"
"We're driving to this porn shoot and you're asking me why I'm stressed?"
"It's not a porn shoot. It's art. Yang's amazing. It's just, you know, me, naked, lounging around some nicely decorated rooms."
"Okay, it's stupid. The 'story,'" and Lance makes finger quotes and then puts his glasses back on. "This is about the rooms, right? It's a decorating story. You're, like, a prop. In a pictorial about cool things you can put in your bathroom. If you're fabulously wealthy." Lance sighs. "So it's really about you, naked and stuff. With pretty things behind you, and I believe you and I agree with you, it's great promo. And yes, Yang is fantastic --"
"You're gonna start frothing at the mouth. You need to stop. Why are you so nervous? We decided to do this."
"I worry." Lance taps Justin's wrist. It's an oddly intimate gesture. Lance touches Justin's head, his shoulders, sometimes his knees. Like those are the acceptable places to touch for manager, friend, band mate. Lance says, "I worry that you're not thinking this through."
"I think. Lance, I've been doing this more than half my life. I think I'm old enough to know when I'm skirting the whole career-ending decisions. And --"
"Okay," Lance says. "The things is, very few people make career ending decisions. They make bad decisions, one after the other. It's not just one, mostly. And I think, you know, you, you're very smart and you're incredibly talented. And I think, you, for you your mis-steps will be things of ego. So I just worry, I worry that this is about things like that."
"It's about," Justin says. He pauses. "It's about the body. Mine. It's about, when I was fifteen I had to take off my shirt and it was kind of gross. And then I was twenty-one I didn't think it was that gross, and I did it a lot. And now I'm twenty-seven, and it's mine. My body. I'm not afraid of it, I don't live off it, as much anyway, it's mine."
Lance sighs. "You finally feel comfortable in your skin? You sound like, I dunno, some starlet justifying posing for Playboy."
"I've always felt pretty comfortable in my skin, man. But now. Now, I don't care what people think. I just want to do it, and you know, you'll stop me if I think of bad things. That's your job." Justin smiles.
Lance frowns. Lance's hand circles Justin's wrist and then he taps the back of Justin's hand. "Okay. Just, just let me know if you don't wanna. If you change your mind."
"Oh, no way, man. I'm stoked. You just keep your eye on those shots so no dick shows. No dick, no balls. I don't want that weird airbrushing thing where it looks like I don't have any dick at all or a really small one. You know?"
Lance laughs. "Okay, okay."
Justin strips down to nothing behind the screen and puts on the thin yellow silk robe Yang left for him. He looks down and it's pretty see-through and then he laughs. He walks out and sits on the brocade couch. "Let's do it!"
They're doing two rooms a day, three day shoot. It's only Lance, Yang, Justin and Yang's assistant, some woman with a very short haircut. Justin wonders if she's a lesbian. Mostly because she barely looks at him.
Yang starts with a lot of ass shots. Justin lies on the couch, looks bored, pretends to be asleep, reads a book. The novelty of being naked wears off after a few minutes and mostly Justin's sort of cold. He looks over his shoulder at Lance and says, "How do I look?"
Lance presses his lips together and tugs at his pants. He says, "You look good. Pert little ass, skinny legs, nice back. I can see almost all of your tattoos. I almost wish I couldn't in some cases."
Justin sits up a little and turns. He's laughing and he can tell Yang is still shooting. "Did you just call my ass pert?"
"It's pert. It's even purty."
Justin rolls over all the way and covers his face while he laughs. "Purty?"
"Bring up your legs, man, it's pure porn now." Lance waves his hand. Justin does as he's told.
They're done for the day at four and Lance follows Justin behind the screen. Justin hangs up the robe and stretches. "Yes?" He smirks at Lance.
Lance makes that face of disdain again but Justin can see Lance is hard. Or his pants are cut really weird. Justin grins and pulls on his underwear, slowly. Lance says, "So everything was okay?"
"Yes, you were there. Can't wait for tomorrow. Man, the bathroom shots."
Lance rolls his eyes. "Whatever."
Justin bought a bunch of pornos. Lesbians, gay, groups. Lance has a date with Ivan, and Justin sneers as he thinks the name, so Justin watches his first batch of porn and jerks off. He figures he's not seventeen anymore and he can tire out his dick so he's not prone to excitement tomorrow. That would be embarrassing and make the shoot more difficult. He jerks off a few times, and mostly thinks about Lance.
Lance picks him up again in the morning and Justin says, "How's Ivan?" He tries to sound neutral.
"I know you hate him, Justin."
"That doesn't mean I don't care how he is." Justin looks down and doesn't laugh, barely. "I mean, you know, if he's feeling bad or something."
"You'll throw a party, yes, message received." Lance taps on the window. "We're here."
The morning is the dining room. After four hours, Lance calls in for lunch. He answers the door and doesn't let the delivery guy inside. Justin says, "My protector."
"Shut up and eat your Chinese." Lance briefly looks at Justin. "Maybe you could put on your robe or something."
"Eh, I don't care."
"I'm a little weirded out eating with you all naked." Lance plays with his chopsticks and then grabs the carton of mooshu pork. He turns in his chair so Justin is facing Lance's back. Lance says, "You feel all comfortable?"
"Well, everyone except for the assistant has seen me naked, you know?"
"She's seen you, Justin."
"I meant seen seen." Justin snags an eggroll.
"Oh." Lance pauses. He turns around and leans forward. He whispers, "Are you telling me you had sex with Yang?"
Justin opens his eyes wide and nods earnestly. "Yes, yes, I have. Just once, but yes."
Lance shakes his head. "Okay, then."
That afternoon is the bathroom. Which translates to a lot of getting in and out of the bathtub. Another four hours and Justin's just a prune by the end of it. When he steps out for the last time, Lance wraps a towel around him. "How are you?"
"Very very clean." Justin laughs and presses against Lance's side. "Now you're all wet."
"Oh, aren't you clever." Lance steps back and grabs another towel. He's just dabbing at his pants while Justin dries off and puts his clothes back on. Yang waves and starts packing up his things.
Justin says, "One more room tomorrow?"
"Eh." Yang shrugs. "I think this will be enough."
Lance says, "I want to see all the negatives. I don't want anything showing up on the internet before the press release and especially not any of the dick shots."
Yang does some weird shoulder roll that seems to indicate he understands. He says, "Yeah, one week."
Justin says to Lance, "Take me home?"
Lance goes up in the elevator with Justin to Justin's hotel room. They're staying in New York for two months, finishing up the album, starting the interviews, filming the video, promo shit. Justin thought about renting an apartment, but he likes hotels. Lance says, "I'll get you safely inside but I have dinner plans."
"I don't need an escort." Justin leans against Lance. "But I'm happy to spend time with you."
Lance pushes him off. "Stop it."
"Well --" The elevator stops and Lance gets off, stops in front of the door to Justin's room. "You hate my boyfriend, you're flirting with me, and I'm beginning to think this whole posing nude thing was nothing more than a chance to be, to be naked in front of me."
Justin sighs and opens the door to his room. He goes in and Lance follows. Justin says, "I do hate your boyfriend. Seriously, I think he's an ass. And I always flirt with you. I posed nude because I wanted to. Turning you on is an added bonus." Justin flops on the bed. "You have a date. I need sleep."
Lance says "I'll see you tomorrow," and leaves.
They don't talk about it. Things are wild crazy and Lance spends the entire week carrying around a biography of Victoria Woodhull. He only gets ten pages read, and Justin knows because he checks Lance's book every morning just to see. They have promo and mastering and mixing and meetings.
Howie shows up for a day and when Lance isn't with Justin that day, he's with Howie. Before Howie heads out again, he pats Justin on the shoulder and says, "Dude, you need a rest. Both of you." He glances back at Lance and says, "I don't miss this shit at all."
Lance looks tired every single day. It's Saturday night, or really, Sunday morning because it must be 3 am, Lance pulls out a packet and says, "If you're still awake, Yang sent me the photos. We have to take out all the shots where your dick or balls are visible."
Justin nods. "Okay, let's do that."
Lance pulls out the contact sheets and a magnifying glass. "He does digital, and do you care about this? Anyway, we'll get the negatives which aren't really negatives of all the bad ones. Just us. Don't want that on the internet."
"Hell no. I prefer the pics where they stick my face on some porn star." Justin grins and sits closer to Lance.
Lance sighs. He cleans his glasses on his shirt and starts looking at the first page. "Okay, these three are out. Gimme a pen."
Justin digs in Lance's bag and hands him a pen. Lance puts a little x on the first three. Lance says, "You can do this. There's four pages."
Justin takes the last one. Three pics of him lying on his stomach on the brocade couch. He looks good, he thinks.
Lance says, "Nice even tan there." He marks off two more.
"Yeah, I hate that kind of white white ass, tan everywhere else look, you know?" Justin takes the pen from Lance and marks the one where he's laughing, pointing at Lance. "Do we get copies of the bad ones?"
"Thinking about your Christmas cards?"
"Ha ha. My mom wants to see the shots, do you believe that? Maybe I will put the dick ones on the card. Maybe just the card I send you."
Lance sighs again. He puts down the sheet. "Look, can we talk about this? We haven't, you know, had a chance, but it seems like a good idea."
"You. This, uh, flirting thing." Lance looks over at Justin, skin pale, bags under his eyes. He looks forty.
"What do you want me to say here?" Justin reaches over and rubs Lance's neck. Lance doesn't shrug him off.
"Well, what's up with you?"
"Well, I think that's obvious. You have a boyfriend --"
"I know you hate Ivan." Lance frowns but his shoulders relax.
"I hate Ivan, but not because he's your boyfriend." Justin moves even closer and rubs Lance's shoulders.
"So, you're saying ..." Lance's voice trails off.
"Look, I think you know how I feel. I'm not gonna lie. And I'm not gonna play some game of do I or don't I, you know, I'm too old for that crap. And I can't believe Ivan is someone you're gonna be with for a really long time because you're way too good for him."
"He's not Satan, for fuck's sake. He has a job, he's very interesting, he thinks I'm smart and hot and he's good in bed." Lance still doesn't push Justin off.
"Well, I know a few people just like that." Justin smiles. "Look, whatever, you think I'm too high pressure? I can step back."
"You're hardly high pressure." Lance shudders and says, "Keep doing that. Are you, you know, I can get the massage therapist girl here tomorrow for you. You've had this week, too." Lance doesn't say anything for a few minutes except a little purr when Justin pushes Lance a little lower so he can rub his lower back. "Ivan and I broke up."
"Sorry." Justin grins and keeps rubbing. Lance is one big ball of tense muscle.
"Yeah. He dumped me, actually, to be precise."
"Idiot. One more reason to hate him."
Lance laughs. After another few minutes Lance shrugs Justin off and stands up. "Okay, I'm taking these sheets and I'll have 'em for you in the morning."
"Okay." Justin yawns. "Works for me."
Lance looks down at the sheet in his hand. "You do look hot."
"Cause I am." Justin laughs. "You should'a done it, too, man, that would have been hot."
"Yeah," Lance rolls his eyes. "I'm too tired to make the sarcastic and rude remark that deserves. See you in the morning."
They take the tour bus for what amounts to three straight weeks of radio shows. The single is doing well, but Justin bets it's not quite good enough for Jive. Justin wanders around the bus, hears Lance's music coming from his bunk. Justin pulls back the curtain. "What'cha listening to?"
Lance rolls over and raises an eyebrow. "Whatever I want."
"Why are you being pissy?"
"Because I'm trying to read. And listen to my teeny tiny boombox in my itty bitty bunk. I'm setting boundaries, like they told me. Right now, it's my itsy bitsy bunk, that's my boundary."
Justin grins. "They don't make two people buses, really."
"I used to have one. Now you get the bed and I have this bunk." Lance smiles, though, so Justin leans forward. He can hear the music a little. It's pretty.
"You have all four bunks."
"I can't exactly spread out that way." Lance tugs at the curtain. "Leave me alone. I'm reading."
Justin goes and sits on the couch. He can hear the music and after a few minutes he sings along. He knows this song from somewhere. He sings, "What I wouldn't do for you," over and over again.
Lance climbs out of the bunk and sits across from Justin. The music is off but Justin doesn't stop singing. "What I wouldn't do for you," Justin sings.
Lance looks up from his book. He smiles. "You mean that?"
Justin smiles back. "Yes."
Lance walks over and holds Justin's face. He leans down and kisses Justin. Justin sits up and kisses him back.
Haven't I paid my dues by now, don't I get the right to choose?
And I choose you to take up all of my time
I choose you because you're funny and kind
I want easy people from now on
The morning after the kiss, which was a kiss and sex in Justin's big bed and then showering quickly and then a forty-five minute show and a long session of pictures and shmoozing, Lance says, "I want you."
Justin says, "Ditto. I mean, I have for a while."
Lance smiles and pulls the blankets closer around them. "I, I was so glad you went on that vacation, I just kept thinking about I was going to jump you or something stupid and you're, well, you're you and my client and my boss and all those things and it seemed sort of stupid. Friends, too, you know, and I kept thinking about Chris and not wanting anything to ever end like that again. And I really, I dunno, Ivan was there."
"Heh. I went on vacation thinking I really needed to get over being hot for you. But then I decided that was stupid. Getting over it."
"So we wasted some time, huh?" Lance rubs Justin's jaw.
"Nah. Timing is important, timing matters. This, right now, right time for us."
Lance laughs. "Yeah. Though, really, I probably would'a kissed you day before yesterday or today or sometime really soon. But you looked so cute, singing your little song, legs spread in your jeans."
"Cute?" Justin shifts even closer.
"Maybe cute isn't the right word." Lance says it like he's Eeyore and they're both laughing, even as they start making love again.
Two weeks after the first kiss, Lance waves Justin over to his laptop. He points at the screen and says, "You need to stop doing that."
Justin looks at the picture. He's standing with Beyonce and Lance and looking at Lance. "Heh. I look kinda, um."
"You want to have sex with me, huh? I mean, it's pretty hard to miss." Lance laughs. "I appreciate the sentiment, but too many of those and well, I'm gonna need to consider a whole new venue for promoting you."
"I've never had to, you know. Seriously, I'm not all experienced in being cool and calm with someone I'm with in pictures. Like, when they're right there. You know?"
"Well, figure it out." Lance grabs Justin's hand and says, "We're keeping it on the down low when it comes to big bright public."
Three weeks after the first kiss, they're in New York again and Justin goes to see Chris. Chris has an office, and two assistants running around, calling people. Justin eases into the seat in front of Chris's desk. He grins. "How come you're not stuck out in Bumfuck, Connecticut, where ESPN is?"
"In my contract. I get to work from New York City." Chris turns his laptop around. "Wanna see the first ten minutes?"
"Fuck, yeah." Chris comes around and leans on the back of Justin's chair while they watch. It's really great. Quick but deep. Chris looks good.
Justin points out all the parts he likes and Chris nods and grins. "I'm really enjoying this, man. I mean, you know, there's history stuff, too. So, like, maybe, I can even claim this is educational. Or something. Either way, it's fun as shit."
"Dude, that rocks. And look at you, all happy. And looking fit." Justin leers.
"You know, hot younger boyfriend type, working out, the usual. I've been skating a lot, playing a lot of hockey." Chris settles back into his seat.
"Boyfriend type?" Justin rubs his chin.
"Type. It's not, you know, no notification needed." Chris looks down and starts playing with his pens.
Justin inhales deeply. "Speaking of notification."
Chris raises an eyebrow.
"So me and Lance? We're, like --"
"Going out? Dating? Together?" Chris smiles.
"Yeah. Yes. Did you already know this?" Justin exhales and relaxes back in the chair.
"Fo shizzle, as the kids used to say. Lance told me." Justin snorts. Chris says, "Oooooooh, did he not tell you he told me?"
"Whatever. I just wanted you to know. Because it is, it's not nothing at all. And you're important to me, and you know, so I wanted you to know."
Chris shakes his head. "It's been four years, man. I'm okay with it. You're good people. He's good to you. You know, timing. You two got it. So, there you go."
Justin says, "We're good?"
"We're always good, man." Chris half stands up and slaps Justin's arm. "You and me, you know."
Justin finds Lance in their hotel room, typing on his laptop. "Buying Oklahoma?"
"I don't want the whole state, I just want the cities." Lance grins and keeps typing.
Justin sits next to Lance at the table. "You told Chris. About us."
"I did. Not exactly told. I emailed him, he replied, I replied and then he replied."
"You let him have the last word, you're so mature." Justin leans into Lance's shoulder.
"Well, yes, yes, I am."
"You emailed him why?" Justin watches Lance who is still staring at the screen.
"I, actually I promised I would. When we broke up. We said if we fell in love again, if that happened, we'd let, I'd tell him. He'd tell me." Lance sighs. "Anyway, so, yes, I emailed him two weeks ago."
Justin says, "Man, close your laptop."
Lance closes it and looks at Justin. "Yeah?"
Justin kisses Lance. He says, "I love you, too."
So there's promoting and touring and all the same thing he does over and over again. He talks about how much he likes the album and tries not to sound like he doesn't love everything he's done before. He wants to be clear that he's grown, but he doesn't want to disavow everything he's ever done. His mother talks on the phone with Lance sometimes more than him, she asks Lance how Justin is doing and she doesn't mean the album and the work. He looks over his shoulder everywhere except on stage and sees Lance.
Once in a while they wake up in sunlight, wrapped up in the back of bus. Justin traces the light on Lance's hair and ear and cheek and thinks he's just almost perfectly happy. Lance wakes up and Justin says, "You know, it's like that stupid song, this must be growing up except if I'd known growing up was all, was as bright as this, I would done it a lot sooner. This is great. I really like it."
Lance blinks against the sun. "It's definitely bright." He leans in and kisses Justin. "It is nice."
Everything goes faster. The overseas tour, the second leg of the US tour. It feels like he blinks and he's been with Lance eight months, but it's so much more than a blink. He goes to a funeral for a guy from Jive he loathes and it's sad, even then, it's sad. And then he sees Joey in another pew.
Three days later he looks at Lance padding around the hotel room in his pajama pants and Justin inhales sharply. Justin says, "You're hot. You're supernova hot."
"Duh." Lance walks into the bathroom and starts brushing his teeth.
"I mean, look at you. You're, like, thirty --"
"Shut up. Stop saying that. I'm twenty-nine and 64 weeks. I'm not thirty."
"You're a really hot thirty. Like all ripped and shit." Justin grins. "Look, when you're done, I have a thing."
Lance walks out with the toothbrush in his mouth. He talks around it. "Tell me now, I don't wanna wait."
"Okay." Lance walks back into the bathroom and leaves the door wide open. Justin says, "So. I ran into Joey at that funeral, I told you that. And we got to talking. You know, he's at loose ends right now. He's thinking about taking some time off. And JC just finished his tour, and we're done in a few weeks and Chris's documentary is done --"
Lance spits and steps out into the room. "What are you saying?"
"And I said, you know, we went on hiatus because no one had time. Now we all have time. And I said that to Joey and he laughed and then he said maybe we should."
Lance makes a sour expression and grabs his glasses from the side table. "Excuse me? Get the band back together, man, let's reunite! Let's do it? Are you two smoking something?"
"And I laughed and then Joey said maybe we should. And I thought about it for a minute and then I said, why not?"
"Can I tell you all those reasons?" Lance sits down next to Justin and pokes his thigh.
"And I said, here's the only reason that matters: do we want to do it? Do we think it would be fun? And everything else is just bullshit." Justin looks over at Lance. "JC agrees with me and Joey. He thinks we should go for it."
"You talked to JC before me?" Lance stands up and paces. "Okay, Justin, I'm your manager, let me just be your manager here for a minute. You shouldn't do this. It's a step back. You just made your best album ever, it's actually getting really respectful reviews, you won a fucking Grammy, for fuck's sake and this one was all you and now you want to go back to your boyband? Be one in five? It's a step back. I just, I'm your manager and I'm telling you this is a bad idea."
"I don't agree with you. And I don't care if you're right. Didn't you say you thought I would make mistakes of ego? This isn't it. I want to do this. We've got, NSYNC is nothing to be ashamed of. It's not a step back."
"I'm not ashamed of NSYNC, but Justin. Boybands really don't get back together successfully." Justin knows this. Backstreet couldn't, didn't even try. But they broke up all the way, NSYNC just went on hiatus.
"Who says?" Justin stands up. "Don't, you know, we're so not New Kids, we're not anyone. Did anyone think the Rolling Stones would still be touring? And it wouldn't suck? Or Aerosmith? We were, we are better than those other teen pop bands, we never broke up and it wouldn't suck because it would be us. All of us."
Lance just looks at him. He looks tired. Justin says, "Okay, you said your piece as my manager. What does Lance think? You know, Lance Bass, the N in NSYNC?"
Lance bites his lip. "I like being in a band. But, you know. There's this band."
"Yeah. That's why we waited to ask you. Because, you know, Chris." Justin rubs Lance's shoulder. "I mean, you know, up to you."
"You two, you three fucking suck." Lance shakes his head. "We're tabling this. I need a day or two to think about it."
Justin knows that isn't a no. He smiles. "Cool. Let's go to bed."
Justin goes to visit Chris the next day. He's in New York, and so are JC and Joey so he calls them and they come over to the hotel so he can tell them about it. Lance sits in the corner. "I'm not participating," he says.
Joey grins at him. "No, you're so not. You're deciding." Lance glares at him and then opens his book. War and Peace now, has been for a month.
Justin says, "Okay, Chris is basically okay with it. He says it has to be all five of us, of course."
JC and Joey nod. Justin says, "And he has conditions."
Lance snorts. "Of course he does."
Justin grins. "He says if we're gonna do this, we need to grab it by the balls. Which is a direct quote --"
"Of course it is," Lance says.
"Anyway, he says when we do it, when we tour, we have to do Pop and I Want You Back."
Joey says, "That's not much of a condition."
"With the original choreography."
Lance bursts out laughing and JC and Joey just stare. JC says, "Like, with the flips? And the stupid --"
"All of it. To quote directly again, Chris says, 'No flips, no Chris.'"
Joey says, "Wait, he was the one -- he complained about them. He made us take them out of the tour and we didn't do them and now he wants the flips? What about his knees? His knees, man!"
JC says, "What about my knees? Hello? I just turned thirty-three."
Lance says, "Chris's knees are fine."
"Are they?" Joey turns in his seat. "I know he's been --"
"He decided," Lance says and closes his book. "He decided after that last tour that he didn't want to be forty and hobbling around, some guy who'd had fifteen surgeries and could still barely walk. So he went to all these doctors and trainers and you know, turned it around. His knees weren't permanently fucked up, nothing he couldn't fix."
JC says, "I knew he was on a fitness kick --"
"He wanted to do an Iron Man. Be like one of those sixty year olds who still makes good time. Run a marathon, all that. He said he had time to make it right." Lance glances down. Justin knows all this, he's almost a little pissed. Lance isn't really the Chris expert. Then he thinks it's a little stupid to be thinking of it as a competition. Then he thinks it was almost five years ago and he starts to say something.
Lance says, "He ran a 10k. He did pretty good." Justin closes his mouth. He didn't know that.
JC says, "So I guess his knees are okay. Does anyone care about mine?"
"Well, we should do some choreography. We're not decrepit." Joey nods.
"Chris isn't," Lance says. "Unless he's let himself go in the past few years."
Justin says, "Look at you, already talking like you're going to do it, too."
Lance raises his eyebrows and flips his book. "I didn't -- Justin, you shouldn't do this. You shouldn't."
"Well, I think you're wrong. And you're not gonna change my mind. So, manager boy, you gonna do it? Cause the only way I won't is if you won't. And you don't, I think you shouldn't decide based on what manager Lance wants, but on what Lansten wants."
"Don't call me Lansten." Lance frowns. "That's my condition."
JC springs up and hugs him. Lance pats JC's back. Joey says, "Knew you'd cave."
They tell Johnny over a conference call. He starts laughing and then he says, "You guys will probably be even bigger this time." He and Lance work out a meeting of all their managers to go over the basics.
Justin kisses Lance goodbye, and goes to his soundcheck. One week left on the tour. Soundcheck, show, it's a little weird without Lance. Dependency, he thinks. He turns it over in his head while he gets driven back to the hotel. When he gets to his room, Lance is face down on the bed. Justin says, "Baby!"
Lance mutters something. Justin flops down next to him. He pokes Lance. "What'd you say?"
"I said, ugh." Lance rolls over a little and pulls Justin into a fierce kiss. "That was the most satisfying part of my day." Lance grins. "How was the show?"
"Good. Dude, last show's Orlando, we should get all the guys to come. Last song, all of us. We can do I Want You Back, without the fucking choreography." Justin kisses Lance. "You know, I was thinking on the way back -- wait, tell me about the meeting."
"God, tell me what you were thinking first. Tell me your whole life story first."
Justin smiles. "Okay. So I was thinking about, uh, dependency. That was Brit's theory as to why I was initially crushing on you, you know?" Lance nods. "And what we have now, that's fairly dependent. But it's different. All my life, you know, people all around me taking care of me, helping me, and not sheltering me, not like that. I wasn't shielded from the big bad things, but a lot of other things. And I got used to making it through everything by leaning on Trace, and my mom and y'all. And then it was just you. Just you."
Lance says, "You've never really leaned on me, per se."
"Yeah. That's what I was thinking. I don't, I don't think we're dependent on each other. Not like co-dependent, bad and can't live without each other or some sort of addiction. But you're my equal, I don't lean on you. I rely on you, sure, but I'm not, I'm not addicted to you." Justin kisses Lance again. "To go on way too fucking long about this."
Lance says, "No, I get it. That's good."
Justin pokes Lance again. "Okay, tell me about the meeting."
Lance closes his eyes. "Pure hell. So, it's me, Tyrese --"
"His name isn't Tyrese, man!" Justin laughs. JC's upgraded managers with every new release, and every time they've gotten hotter. The latest one looks exactly like Tyrese.
Lance says, "I know, I know, it's Romo. Ro, so it's me, Ro, Joey's mobbed up cousin --"
"He's not mobbed up. He just really liked the Sopranos, Godfather, Scarface. I swear." Justin laughs a little and pushes Lance's hair out of his eyes. "Okay, so you, JC's manager, Joey's manager, Chris's little old battle axe of a manager. I got it. The scene is set."
"So, you understand, me and Ro, we're the ones who've actually worked in the music business. Not Betty, not Mario. So Mario starts talking about making sure Joey gets enough time. Enough solos. And Betty pitches in. Betty wants Chris to be featured. And Ro and I take the time to explain the entire, you know, NSYNC, it's like a barbershop quartet, there's a reason Joey and Chris and I don't solo, and they both just kinda stare."
"Heh. But Ro was helpful?"
"Well, you know. We spent a little time on that. I spent some fair amount of time explaining that no, nobody's name appears on the marquee, it's NSYNC. We put individual names inside the CD. It's not NSYNC featuring Joey Fatone! JC Chasez!"
Justin grins. "So, it was a little draining. You worked it out?"
"Yeah. I promised Betty and Mario that Joey and Chris could have every one of my solos."
"What did Ro say to that?" Justin sputters.
"Ro said that he thought that sounded like a great idea." Lance frowns. "Fucker."
For the last show, they're in Orlando. Two days off after that and then it's NSYNC time. Lance keeps calling it "magic time!" He waves his hands around and makes a goofy face. Justin thinks Lance is kind of dreading it. So this last show is a test run of sorts, of the next eighteen months. Of Lance and Chris together in the same room over and over again and JC and Joey and Justin and all that. Justin pushes into his dressing room and sits down, grins at all of them. "Woo!" He says and keeps grinning.
Chris says, "So our exciting reunion has leaked."
"Yeah, it has." Lance rubs his forehead. The dressing room is crowded, it's made for one. Joey is almost sitting in JC's lap. It would be awkward, maybe, even a Chris and Lance thing, except they were never anything more than fuckbuddies. Joey was never that into guys and JC gave them up after getting his heart broken with the boyfriend after Joey. JC was all more bi than Lance and Chris. Lance says, "But that was just yesterday, so. I mean, Jive is very leery of this. They're making nice noises, but they're leery. They think it's gonna tank and everyone's gonna laugh at us."
JC snarls. "Let 'em laugh. It's gonna be great. People have always laughed at us. We outsold 'em and out everything'd them."
Joey hugs JC. "We'll unleash JC on 'em."
"JC isn't going to convince Jive."
Chris shrugs. "We'll convince them. It just leaked. Wait and see what other people say."
Justin nods. "Anyway, I have a show to do. So y'all sit tight and practice or something."
The show is great, just about fantastic. Justin's just on and everything hits right where it should. He loves the songs and he loves his band and he loves everyone. He loves the way the whole audience seems to sing along, even with the album tracks from the latest album. Justin comes back after the first encore and waves to the cameramen. Lance loves live DVDs. He says, "We're taping this part, but just for fun. Y'all are the only ones who get to see it. So I'm gonna do an old song. I'm gonna try."
He sings two lines of I Want You Back and the screams hit him full force. Justin stops singing and they get louder. He grins and wipes his mouth. He turns to the side and takes the mic again. "So, I think I need some help."
He smiles wide and waves at the guys. He says, "Um, I got some help. Like, you know, sometimes, all my favorite people are all in one place. My very favorite people in the whole world." The screams somehow get even louder as the guys come out. They each take a mic from the back up singers and wave to the crowd. Lance hangs a little to the back and Justin winks at him.
They sing the song. It's just that simple. No choreography, but Justin finds his feet just doing it. Almost. He looks over at JC and he's doing the same thing. They both start laughing and Chris whaps Justin on the back of the head. Justin says, "Okay, let's start from the chorus, I suck." He takes out his in-ear monitor, and almost falls back from the screaming. He puts it back in.
Justin is in the living room of his Orlando house with his battered Nike shoebox when Lance comes in and sits on the couch. Lance says, "What's in there?"
"This is my hope chest." Justin grins. "No, I just, you know, sometimes I'm writing and I realize it's not a song for me, it's for NSYNC. You know? There's a part for Chris, and you or JC. And I would, you know, put them aside and then in this box. So I have a box. JC has one, too. Not Nike, I think, but he has some sort of box."
"That's cool. Is JC on his way over?"
Justin nods. "And how is your morning going?"
Lance rubs his forehead and says, "Surprisingly good. Jive is suddenly excited about the NSYNC project." Lance smooths his khakis. "Because the news is good, you know? I think we expected jokes and really, it's more like, hey, remember them? The one decent boyband. The one that didn't suck. And you know, pop is on a downturn, people want it back."
Justin hums I Want You Back and then JC comes in with Joey. Chris comes in a few minutes later. They set up a drum set in the living room and bring in two keyboards, Justin's guitar and another guitar for Chris. Lance wanders in and out, sits down on the couch and listens and then gets up, makes a call in the kitchen.
It's the same the next three days. Lance in his khakis and button down shirt only watching them all writing and talking on the phone non-stop. Justin isn't even sure if Lance is dealing with Justin things or NSYNC things.
On the fifth day Lance is standing in the doorway and suddenly he shouts, "No, fuck you and the overpriced horse you rode in on. You're a scum sucking asshole and I bet you fuck goats!" Lance clicks his phone shut.
Chris says, "You really shouldn't talk to Lynn like that." Justin giggles and watches Lance glare. He stops laughing.
Joey says, "Didn't that anger management course teach you anything?"
Lance snorts and walks over to where Joey is, sitting by the drum set. Lance leans against the wall and says, "They taught me not to hit, Joey."
JC says, "Who were you talking to?"
"Someone from the DVD making people."
Chris says, "Well, since Lance is here, I had this thing I was thinking about."
"Kicking me out?" Lance grins, but Justin bites his lip. Tense and uncomfortable, he thinks.
"No, of course not." Chris frowns. "I was thinking, along with our brilliant originals, maybe we could do two or three covers. Not Max Martin, but I mean, songs to show off us. Our vocal arrangements."
Lance narrows his eyes and then smiles. "Yeah. But no hits."
Chris smirks. "Because that smacks of desperation and it's just --"
"Always a bad idea." Lance smirks back. Something they used to say, Justin is sure, the remnants of their language together. It's a good thing, so he just smiles.
Joey says, "Yeah, that would be cool."
JC nods and Justin says, "Sure. Bring some in, I mean, I assume you have some in mind."
Chris springs up and says, "You betcha." He pauses. "We could do, you know, that song Justin was doing on his tour. That Better Than Ezra one, that one with the what I wouldn't do thing."
Justin shakes his head. "No. That's, it's not a group thing." He glances over at Lance and smiles. "It's not. I think, you know, not suited to us together."
Lance almost smiles and looks away. He walks back towards the kitchen and says, "I have to call the goatfucker back."
In bed that night, Justin says, "It kinda feels like you're not participating in the writing process."
"Well, it should. I can't write. That's been settled, hasn't it?" Lance shrugs and turns off the light. "Plus, you know, because the tour is over doesn't mean my work is over. I have Justin Timberlake things to do and NSYNC things to do."
A faint light comes in from the window, security lights on the lawn. Justin can see Lance rub his forehead. Lance says, "I think, I'm gonna say this tomorrow, you and JC have home studios, I think that would work for laying down the first tracks. We can save some money and while I know that's not that important, it gives us more bargaining power with Jive. They can't pull that 'we're paying for it' shit as much. Cause right now, they haven't put a penny down."
Justin says, "Yeah, that's a good idea. JC's is nicer."
"JC's house has Julie, Joey, Kelly, and three little kids running around. More distractions. I vote we split between the two, you know."
Justin rolls over and rubs Lance's stomach. Still flat, like any minute he's going to get the call from NASA. Lance never takes a break from working out. Justin hasn't hit his home gym since the tour ended. Justin says, "I don't think your lack of writing ability has been settled. You're older now, you read all the time, you have, you know, a way with words. Goatfucker is pretty creative. I would have just said motherfucker or something."
Just enough light to see Lance smile and he shifts under Justin's hand. Lance hugs Justin close. "You're sweet. But really, it's the kind of thing you should know by twenty-nine, the things you can actually do. And I can do three things well. So I'll stick to those."
"Well, professionally." Lance slips his hand around Justin's hip, feather light touches on Justin's dick. "Professionally. I'm a good manager, I can make money from real estate and real estate management and I'm okay at being in NSYNC."
"More than okay. But you're better when you're actually there." Then Lance is kissing Justin and they don't talk more.
In the morning Lance is still on the phone. But he's wearing jeans and a t-shirt. When Chris brings in his CD player and a stack of CDs, Lance closes his phone and sits down in the living room. Joey says, "Nice t-shirt."
Lance grins. The front says 'Justin Timberlake Road Crew 2008.' Lance stands up and models the back. It says 'No, We Can't Introduce You To Him, Put Your Shirt Back On.' JC bursts out laughing.
Joey says, "Can I get one of those?"
Justin says, "They wouldn't even let me have one. It was kinda annoying."
"Hey, you're not part of the road crew. And you could have introduced someone to yourself." Lance grins. He points out the silver writing on the sleeve that says '001.' "See, this makes it authentic. They sell, they sold knock-offs on Ebay. But Anthony numbered all of the real ones."
Chris says, "Okay, okay, I've got songs."
Lance leans forward and they all listen. They pick four songs, nothing Justin's heard before but it's interesting, fun. Lance even says a few things. It feels better, more like it should.
"I call this band meeting convened." Chris grins. They've been alternating between JC's studio and Justin's studio for two weeks now. It's really the first band meeting of this whole reunion thing. Justin leans against Lance's shoulder and Lance rubs little circles on Justin's arm.
Chris says, "Okay, since Jive is officially funding us now, I think we can expect we're gonna be touring."
"Woohoo!" JC throws his arms up and laughs. "Sorry, I'm used to narrating for a two year old, I'm getting, uh, over-emphatic."
"Is that what Julie calls it?" Joey elbows JC. "Because we call it just plain JC."
Chris says, "Seriously, guys." He glances over at Lance.
Lance says, "Okay, touring."
"We're doing the flips." JC smiles. "I've been working out."
"I think, there's a more important question." Chris tugs at his beard. "The thing is, do we want to have JC and Justin do a little solo turn?"
Lance tenses. Justin says, "I don't know --"
"You should." Lance stops rubbing Justin's arm. He leans forward and looks at Justin. "Ro would say the same thing to JC. It's a really good idea for you to do it."
"Maybe Justin has his own opinion, Lance." Chris frowns.
Joey says, "I don't know about that."
"Justin does have his own opinions. I'm paid to tell him mine and that doesn't go away here." Lance almost bites out each word.
"No, that's --" Joey puts his hand over Lance's. "I meant, I don't know about Justin and JC doing their little solo bit and then what are we three doing? Do I come out and do a dramatic monologue from my last movie?"
"Well, since that one co-starred Rob Schneider and a monkey, I don't know that there were dramatic monologues, per se." Chris grins and Joey sticks out his tongue at him. "I just mean, we should figure this shit out before we start fucking around with choreographers and planning stuff. It's not an unreasonable idea."
Lance says, "It's not. And we should talk about it. What do you think, JC?"
JC looks down at his hands. He says, "I don't know. It's a good idea. I guess. But it's an NSYNC tour, not NSYNC featuring JC and Justin. I think. You know, maybe we should table this until tomorrow?"
Lance says, "We'll vote. Tomorrow. How's that?" Everyone nods. Justin isn't exactly sure what he thinks or wants here but he's grateful he has a little more time to think about it.
They deal with a few other things, plan out the rest of the studio time. Lance doesn't say too much but under the table, his hand is on Justin's knee. They're meeting in Justin's kitchen, so when they're done Justin walks Joey and JC to the door. They're staying at JC's house, both of them and Justin makes a few jokes about kids running amok. Joey loves to talk about the way JJ is a holy terror and all energetic so Justin loves to encourage it.
He walks back to the kitchen and then he hears Chris and Lance hissing at each other and he waits right outside the door. It's not mature, but he couldn't give a fuck. Chris says, "Well, you know, he's twenty-eight, maybe you should let him talk and not just be his brain and his left hand. Do you let him decide what to do with his dick when you two fuck?"
Lance says, "Fuck you. It's my goddamn job to think about his career. It's my pleasure to think about the rest of him. It's a fuckload more rewarding than thinking about you was."
"Yeah, that was five years ago, man. Get over it. I just want you to stop controlling him." Chris sounds a little closer and Justin edges slightly from the door.
"I'm not controlling him. You think I am? Ask him for yourself. Jesus Christ, who has that kind of power over Justin Timberlake?"
"His mom. Trace. You, lately."
Lance slams something on the table. A glass, maybe. Nothing shatters. He says, "That's such fucking bullshit and you know it's bullshit and you're just saying it to be an ass. So, you know, we agreed to work together and we should do that and you should shut up and leave."
"It's not your house."
Lance sighs. "Yeah, it's not. So stay or go, but stop being an asshole."
Justin thinks he should walk in now. Now would be a good point to stop things. But he doesn't. He keeps holding on to the hope that they'll actually stop doing this. And he just feels weird because it feels, almost, like they're fighting over him. Or using him to fight all the same fights they did five years ago. And they keep not talking or barely talking, so maybe an argument is a good thing.
Chris says, "Look, I just think sometimes, you speak for him, you tell him what you think before even he has a chance to think for himself. And he's not the type of person, he's not easily led, of course not, except for a few people where he very much does let himself be led. So, that's all. And it pisses me off, because it's you."
Justin holds his breath. Easily led, his ass. Lance laughs, though, and Justin breathes. Lance says, "Well, I don't like you talking to him much either."
Chris says, "Fuck you," but Justin knows that tone, that easy tone. Justin figures things are mostly fine and he doesn't want to worry about it anymore today. He goes downstairs to the gym, he should probably work out.
Lance comes down to the gym an hour later, in his workout clothes. "Hey, you started without me."
"I haven't worked out with you in a month, man." Justin sits up from the weight bench. "And now, frankly, I'm done."
"You should use a spotter." Lance gets on the treadmill and turns it on.
"We've had that discussion, man, you point me towards actual articles where non-idiots died from tragic lone weight-lifting accidents, I will stop lifting alone." Justin stays sitting on the bench. "Let's talk about this solo thing. So you think I should vote yes."
"God, yes." Lance is warmed up and he starts running. "Dude, it's a great opportunity. All those NSYNC fans that haven't really heard your stuff --"
"Come on, how many of those are there? Seriously."
"Enough. Or ones who've heard your stuff but just need a little push." Lance pauses. "Anyway, it's a good thing, you should vote yes."
"How are you voting?" Justin wipes his brow with his towel.
"Uh. I think. I guess, I don't know. I mean, Joey's right. It kind of screws, it's an NSYNC tour. And me and Chris and Joey are gonna do what? I can't think, it's stupid for you or JC to re-arrange your songs for us, and what? We're your back-up singers? I mean, fuck, that's my job anyway, but at least with NSYNC I'm part of the group. You know? And so, what, we show clips of Joey's latest movie and Chris's documentary or something and then what? Here's the latest sales figures of Justin's album, go, Lance! Or you know, we can put up rental ads or something." Lance stops talking and runs a little faster.
"So, you want me to vote yes but you're gonna vote no." Justin stands up and fills a bottle with water. He brings it over to Lance. "I mean, you are, right?"
Lance shrugs. "I think, you know, I might. I don't know. Probably. I feel sort of conflicted."
"I used to, you know, when we were hashing things out with Jive and all that shit, I would have these conversations with myself, you know. Your manager on one hand, myself on the other. You know? 'I think Justin needs to have his name up there, highest.'" Lance cocks his head to the side and says, "'But it's a group, it's not just Justin.'"
Justin grins. "Did you, you just, dude, you were talking different for each side. How come my manager doesn't have as much of an accent? And also, you didn't, I mean, you did this out loud?"
"Oh, sure." Lance looks down and flushes even redder. "In the car, you know, not in front of people."
"With different accents?"
Lance nods. "And sometimes, you know, I'd be your boyfriend and that was even more annoying, because you know, sometimes as your boyfriend, I agree with your manager and sometimes I agree with Lance from NSYNC because I like that Lance."
"How does my boyfriend talk?"
Lance grins. He says, "He talks like Eeyore," and he says it just like Eeyore. "Because I do, right?"
Justin leans in and kisses Lance. It's a delicate operation but he makes it work. "You don't really."
They meet again in Justin's kitchen the next day. Chris says, "Voting."
Lance nods. Chris says, "I think we should do this anonymously."
"Oh, please, like we won't recognize each other's handwriting."
Chris says, "Here." He writes out yes and no with little boxes five times, and rips up the sheet. He gives one to each of them. Justin looks down at his and thinks about Lance and Lance and Eeyore voices. Chris says, "Yes means yes to Justin and JC doing their little dance on the stage, no means no to that." Chris pauses. "And Lance can count the votes."
Justin marks his and passes it to Lance. JC hunches over his piece of paper and carefully marks his, then passes it as well. Lance frowns and mixes up the sheets. "Is this sufficiently anonymous for everyone?"
Chris nods. Lance unfolds the first one and says, "No." Second one, "No." Third and fourth one. "No and no." Lance raises an eyebrow. "And finally, No."
Chris grins. "So that's settled. Let's figure out where we do I Want You Back."
The studio time goes quickly. Chris says, "It's like falling off a bicycle," and sits back on the studio couch, arm around Justin.
"It so is." Justin grins back.
Justin thought there would be new arguments, he and JC bringing to bear all that studio time logged when they were in charge. But it's the same arguments from the last album they all did together. And Justin knows how to fix those.
So the same, but better. Better because Justin isn't worried. He wants everything right but he knows this won't be the end. The end of anything. It's funny, with all the money Jive is starting to throw at them and the pressure of the hype that's already gearing up. It used to freak Justin out, make him sweat and this time he doesn't feel it at all.
When Justin walks into the back room for a bottle of water and Chris and Lance are clearly snapping at each other, he's surprised. They've been getting along, everything easy. Justin walks to the refrigerator and gets out a bottle. He leans against the cold door and says, "What are y'all arguing about?"
"Life," Chris says. He rolls his eyes and leaves the room.
Lance sits down. "Get me a cup of tea?" He looks up at Justin and smiles, fake. "Please?"
"Oh, sure." Justin warms up some water, pours into a black mug and puts a tea bag in the cup. "Here you go."
Lance stares at the cup while it steeps. "We weren't arguing about anything, we just, you know, periodically remember we don't get along."
That night Justin is just bone-tired. He thinks he can't even make it all the way up the stairs. He just sits on the bottom step and watches Lance buzz around the living room. "Bzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzz," Justin says.
"You can go to bed, I'll be up soon." Lance grins and keeps putting things away. JC came home with them and he kept pulling out CDs to show Lance and Justin. "Man, JC's wired. I thought kids wore you out."
"Apparently Jillian is rejuvenating or something."
"Maybe she does wear JC out, but JC's so energetic to begin with, you know, studio time, it's just not apparent." Lance pushes the last CD back in place. "Okay, I'm done banging around."
"That wasn't banging."
"Well, it was loud, clack clack putting back the CDs." Lance squats down next to Justin.
"When me and Chris were in Scotland, there was this one time and he was so loud and that was banging."
Lance snorts. "Well, yes, any Chris sized noise is louder than I could possibly be."
"Dude, he was so loud and then we were arguing and he threw a shoe at the wall and we were just screaming at each other, it was so fucked up." Justin shakes his head. "God, that fucking argument."
Lance stands up and crosses his arms. He says, "Yeah?"
"Yeah. It was just you suck, you suck, you suck."
Lance is quiet for a little too long. Justin looks up. "What?"
"You two, you and Chris slept together when y'all were in Scotland?" Lance looks blank.
Justin thinks, his mouth feels heavy. He hates being this tired. He starts to say something, frame a sentence but Lance says, "Fuck you." He walks upstairs and comes back down with a bag.
Justin stands up and grabs Lance's arm. "Are you, what the fuck?"
Lance shoves Justin and keeps walking to the door. "I'll be at Joey's. Screw you."
Justin stands in the middle of the room, blinking because he just can't figure out what happened. He's pretty sure he didn't actually do anything wrong but then again, maybe Lance is just fucking insane and way over-reacting. Justin frowns and stamps upstairs. He calls Chris. "Yo, what are you doing?"
"Trying to sleep."
Justin breathes. He's really angry but he thinks now that talking to Chris is a mistake. Lance would be pissed. On the other hand, Lance is insane. Justin says, "So Lance knows."
"How to calculate something? J, work with me, I'm asleep. I'm talking in my sleep. Knows what?"
"About us. You know, Scotland. Our sordid month and a half of golf and sex." Justin bites his lip and looks around the bedroom. Lance just pulled out one of the drawers and emptied it, he didn't even really pack. Nutball. But Justin's nutball. And one with known Chris issues. Justin says, "It's nothing, you go back to sleep."
"Thank god. Talk to you tomorrow."
Justin doesn't get an answer from Lance's cell so he tries Joey's. Joey answers and says, "Yes, he's here."
"He's being nuts."
"Well, that's your side." Joey sighs. "I mean, it'll be fine tomorrow, he's just cooling off."
Justin decides he's still pissed off and he sleeps on Lance's side of the bed.
His alarm goes off two hours before he needs to be at the studio. Justin rubs his eyes. Lance is sitting on the edge of the bed, playing with the fronds of the spider plant Justin's mom gave them when she visited two weeks ago. Lance says, "You slept on my side."
"You pissed me off."
Lance pats the blankets. "Well, in my anger management course, they said it was better to leave and process."
"You told me you didn't learn anything in that course." Justin sits up.
"Technically, I probably did learn something." Lance almost smiles. "Look, I over-reacted."
"Yes. It was, like, six --"
"Six weeks, two years ago. Joey told me." Lance pauses. "It was just, you know, Chris. And I always kind of suspected, but I didn't want to ask. And you know. Chris."
"I know his name." Justin throws off the blankets and doesn't apologize when they hit Lance. "What the fuck? I think it's perfectly obvious why I never told you and for you to be, all, I'm running out, I can't be here, that's bullshit."
"You're right." Lance pushes the blanket off his leg. "Look, I over-reacted, but, you know, this is Chris. Can we acknowledge he's a weird topic here? A sensitive spot?"
"It was two years, five years ago. I mean." Justin pauses. "Okay, I get it. But there is a point when he's just your ex-boyfriend, right?"
Lance cracks his knuckles. "And Brit is just your ex-girlfriend, right? So if I told you me and Brit went out four years ago?"
"Britney would have told me because we weren't going out then and you like girls, but you wouldn't've had sex with Brit because you guys are friends."
"Okay, fine. Look, I was upset. It wasn't that you never told me, it was just, Chris. I like to think of him as my little trauma and mine alone. You know? Also, I think this is valid. I think it's okay that I really would prefer that he die alone and unloved and never get to be with someone as great as you." Lance stands up and smoothes his pants.
"That's twisted and demented." Justin rubs his hair and gets out of the bed.
"But oddly sweet, right?"
Justin shakes his head and goes into the bathroom.
Joey pokes Justin's shoulder. "You and Lance make up?"
"Sort of. He's nuts." Justin rolls his shoulders and leans over the console.
"Well, you're no bag of sane yourself." Joey grins and pokes Justin again.
"Am, too." Justin sticks his lower lip out. "Well, fine, he's nutty and I'm nutty. I'm just, you know, he all storms out." Justin waves his hand like someone storming out.
"Well, you know, he didn't want to get into a fight. He hates fighting with you."
Justin frowns. "Okay, this is getting a little too Lifetime movie for me. He fights with me all the time. A lot."
Joey leans in closer. "Not about you guys. He fights with you about work things. Non-relationship things. Here's a guy who's had all of three, maybe four serious relationships in his life. It's like, okay, I know you've seen that Friends episode where Monica and Chandler have their first fight? And Monica's all, well, people get over fights. And Chandler says, 'They do?' It's like that. You've seen that episode three hundred times. Also, for the record, there are some really good Lifetime movies. I was in one, man. Don't diss them."
"Yours was really good." Justin nods his head. "I mean, you were a good father to that troubled teen daughter. I was, actually, you know, I was really glad you weren't the one abusing her and causing her to act out and dress all goth."
"It was a better movie than that. It was, you know, it was a good movie." Joey grins. "I don't know, I don't think I would have done the abuser part. You know? Variety is good and it's just acting, but you know, a little bit of it kinda lingers and I don't want that much, I dunno, child molesters suck."
"Totally." Justin says, "So, wait, you're saying Lance doesn't like to fight with me?"
"He never has, right? Come on. Admit it." Justin shifts away from Joey. He thinks.
"Okay, granted, we have a pretty easygoing relationship. But either way, it's kind of nutty. I'm a little pissed."
Joey says, "That's okay." He slaps Justin's shoulder and gets into the booth.
Justin and Lance eat lunch together in the back room. Justin says, "Joey says you're Chandler."
"Joey said that to me as well. I don't think I'm Chandler." Lance takes a bite of his sandwich and a little cheese dribbles onto his plate. "You're definitely Monica."
"Monica was fat and unpopular in high school. Also, she was really insecure and stuff. That's not me at all."
"But you're really OCD about cleaning things." Lance uses his crust to mop up the cheese. Lance likes cheese. Justin tries not to think it's cute.
"Which doesn't address our issue, Chandler. You freaking out about us fighting? Do we need to duke it out now?"
"No hitting." Lance nods. "Hitting is bad. I took a course."
Justin laughs. "You're so fucking adorable." And it's not quite settled, but something about the way Lance licks his fingers to get the last bit of cheese makes Justin stop worrying.
They film two videos back to back. One of the covers gets snagged for a movie Joey's friend is producing. So they do some black and white sit around and goof off thing for that and a much more complicated video for the first single, a Chasez/Timberlake/Fatone extravaganza.
So they do the lengthy hard work one first. MTV isn't back to doing Making The Video but Lance arranges for a film crew to do a behind the scenes thing. "It'll be good, you know, after the tour, a documentary to put with the show."
They start with the choreography. One rehearsal and blocking. Joey makes a mis-step and Lance starts laughing at him. Chris almost trips Lance and JC pushes Chris. Lance plops down on the floor and grins up at Justin. Justin says, "We should, you know --"
Lance nods. "God, yeah. We should, in the video." He looks over his shoulder at Chris. "We should all fall down."
The director says, "Screw up on purpose?"
"Just, you know, do it and burst out laughing at the absurdity of it," Chris says.
JC nods and says, "Totally. That would be awesome."
The director shrugs and says "Okay." He says something about rehearsing and Joey just laughs.
They start filming. Chris looks over at JC and starts making the same earnest face. Justin and Lance crack up at the same time. Joey sees them laughing and just stops. He leans over and holds his stomach, laughing so hard. JC does a few more steps and realizes he's the only one. So he pushes Joey over and jumps on Chris's back. "Who's got great knees?" Chris grips JC's legs and charges Justin. It just gets worse from there. At some point, someone calls out "cut," but Joey's got Justin in a headlock and Chris and JC are holding up Justin's legs while Lance tries to pull down Joey's pants so it's not like they just stop.
Then they actually do the choreography, letter perfect. Justin looks over once and grins at Lance and Lance does a minute eye roll.
Two days later, they're done and they start on the quick one. It's just walking around a house and then sitting around at a table, being friends, laughing. Lance says, "It's a homoerotic thing, have you noticed?"
"Aren't all our videos a tribute to homoeroticism 101?" Justin leans forward and looks at his hair in the mirror. "That's like, NSYNC's trademark."
"I just mean, it's a song about wanting to be with people who are nice and kind and we all sing it to each other." Lance stands behind Justin and plays with his hair, pulling out curls and making Justin's hair stand higher. "Also, stop looking at me like that."
"I try, man. You're the one who brought the cameras." Justin looks at Lance in the mirror and grins.
Lance kisses Justin's hair and sits back down on the couch. "So, I was thinking. Um, about us?"
"Are you dumping me?"
"No." Lance frowns. "Why do you immediately jump there?"
"Worst case scenario. Get the bad shit out the way first." Justin turns from the mirror. "So, us."
"Well, mostly, me. I was just. Chris never wanted me to fix anything. He put up with it at first, but by the end, he didn't even like me organizing his mail. And, you know, I always felt, before I started to work with you, I always thought, Justin, Chris. You know, the same thing. Linked at the hip and everywhere else. So it was, um, it was nice to be just yours or something. It was nice that we were something separate from the group. You and me, I mean. So I always thought you and Chris would eventually, um, it was like." Lance grins. "I'm not making much sense."
"No, I get it. I mean. Okay, you and me were always friends, but I always felt. Before you started managing me? It was like, we were never friends without the group. Like, even when it was just the two of us, they were there. If that makes sense."
Lance gets up again and hugs Justin from behind. "Makes sense. Anyway, I'm nuts, and you're so Monica."
"Am not." Justin sticks out his tongue at Lance in the mirror.
They do a lot of interviews. They decide from the beginning to split up for the interviews except in a few cases so it's Justin and Chris in one room and Joey, JC and Lance in the other.
Justin has his list in his head, things he doesn't say. He doesn't say that he and Lance share a room, pretty much always. When they came to New York, the first night in the hotel they all had rooms in a row. Justin just stared and tried to think of the right way to say he always had an adjoining room. Even before he and Lance were fucking. Lance just shrugged. The next day there was a security thing, two girls who snuck up to see JC and they moved to a different hotel. Johnny walked with them upstairs and pointed at the suite. "I thought Justin and Lance could take that one." Lance winked at Justin, behind Johnny's back.
So they always have adjoining rooms and Lance stayed with Justin for all of the recording but that's verboten. Justin doesn't mention Lance's books, or how they work out every day together. Verboten. He also doesn't mention Friends or Eeyore.
A girl reporter, and she is a girl, twenty-two if she's a day and Justin decides that's definitely really young, says to Justin, "Is it different, from Lance being your manager to being your band-mate?" She laughs. "And I asked him, too, so we will compare answers."
Justin smiles. "Well, it's not that different. Lance was always Mr. Schedule and Mr. Business when we were all together last time, so he's still that. And you know, we were never Lance orders, Justin obeys. We're just, we're even better friends."
She nods. She says, "Well, I remember reading back in the day and it seems like you and Chris were always super-tight and Joey and Lance were super-tight and I wondered about how those relationships have shifted since you were last together."
Justin hates the ones who read old issues of Teen People. He hates the ones who read it when they were ten and have been waiting ever since to dig the real dirt. He smiles anyway and says, "Well, those things haven't changed, they've just gotten deeper. We're all really close. Like, Chris is my best friend and Lance --" Justin licks his lips. He's about to say boyfriend. He's never been this close to a fuck-up. He says, "I was about to say manager. Which he is. But he's, like, second best-friend. And Joey and JC, same thing. We're all really close."
Chris says, "We share underwear. Really. That close." Under the table he kicks Justin's ankle.
At night they go out and dance and party. Then Justin ends up in Lance's room or Lance ends up in Justin's room and they have sex. "Making love," Justin says and laughs.
"Good fucking." Lance slaps Justin's ass and gets out of bed.
"I never," Justin rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. "I never thought we'd be so easy."
"We're hardly easy." Lance grins and comes back from the bathroom. He throws himself on the bed hard enough that Justin bounces. "I mean, you know, look how long it took us to get together. Look at the happy fun-filled tension fest that is every group meeting."
"It's not that bad." Justin reaches out without looking and pats Lance's thigh. "I mean, you and Chris are getting along pretty good, right?"
"Eh." Lance's thigh tenses. "It's good enough for government work."
"Well, good enough." Justin's tired, he doesn't want to deal with it. "And you and me, we're, like, fantastical."
"Oh, okay, AJ." Lance laughs. He sits up and pulls the blanket over them. "So, Chris and Nick, huh?"
Justin smirks. "Yeah. You know, they've been dating longer than us." Nick visited two days ago, quietly, of course. But Chris was extra-bouncy in the interviews and smiling and happy. "Who knew, man? They're cool."
Lance kisses Justin's cheek. "G'night." He flicks the light off.
They take a break from interviews to meet about the tour. Joey says, "Buses."
Lance leans back in his chair. "So, two? Three? Five?"
Chris shakes his head. "Five buses, man, that's what you have on the tour before you break-up."
"So three?" Lance taps his pen.
"Too much rotating. Or somebody's all, eh, I hate the rest of you." Chris smirks. "Come on, you wouldn't make me have a lonely little bus, would you?"
Justin says, "No way. So, two."
Lance nods. "Okay, so, who gets what?"
"Same as last time?" JC spins his pen in little circles.
"No," Justin says. "Me and Lance on the same bus."
Lance looks down and has a little smile. He says, "So, two or three person bus?"
Chris says, "Okay, I'm not on the kiddie bus. Nothing personal, guys, but I'll take moaning sex noises over Jillian and JJ at three am."
Lance coughs. "So." He pauses. "Yeah, I guess that's best. Justin, Chris and me on the three person bus and Joey and JC on the two. Does that work for everyone?"
Everyone nods and they move on to the set list for the shows. It's harder this time, more flexible with alternate songs for different nights, just a few anchors that they know for sure will happen at set points. But they're not doing choreography for half of the songs, so that makes it easier.
They start rehearsals five weeks before the first show. Justin's mom is coming down to see the second day of rehearsals, so Justin hopes they can get things worked out today and not suck tomorrow. They have two singles doing well on the charts, award show performances scheduled and interviews still to do but the album's out and selling. It's selling really well. Jive gives them all watches this time, not rings. Justin's more impressed with the reviews. He tries not to crow but half the reviews even say nice things about NSA along with lauding the new album. Nothing to be ashamed of, he remembers saying to JC and Lance. They were good, they are good still.
Lance squints at the mirror and rubs his forehead. Justin says, "You should wear your glasses. You don't want to miss, you know, flipping people."
Lance says, "I can't wear glasses on stage."
Justin shrugs. "I'm gonna. You let me wear glasses for the last album and tour, I like 'em better than contacts."
JC looks up from the floor where he's stretching. "Your glasses will come off while performing. Then someone will step on them. Man, it'll probably be Joey or Chris."
Chris says, "You can wear sports goggles."
"I'm not wearing sports goggles. We can test your falling off hypothesis in rehearsals. I had them tightened." Justin makes it through halfway through Pop before the glasses fall off and then everyone stops and points. It's pathetic. But it feels so much like home, exactly like home, that he just laughs.
Lance flips Chris over and over again. Just right each time. Joey is too forceful the first two times and not forceful enough the next two times so it's five times before he nails it. The choreographer nods, and says, "Maybe with a smile? Lance?"
Lance rolls his eyes and says, "Maybe."
After a blistering morning, Justin lies on the floor on his stomach. He puts his glasses back on. Not even a crack. Lance sits Indian style next to Justin and rubs Justin's back. Lance says, "I know the contacts are annoying ..."
Justin doesn't shrug, he just mutters. Then he says, "Is anyone else in here?"
"Just you and me."
Justin rolls onto his back and rests his hand on Lance's thigh. "You rock, man."
"I do, a little." Lance smirks. Justin pushes himself up and kisses Lance. It's not the best thing to do for his back but kissing Lance is the best part of rehearsal.
Lance is rubbing Justin's waist under his shirt when the door opens. They break apart and Justin sees Chris in the mirror, walking towards them. Chris looks blank. He says, "Camera crews here tomorrow, guys, you might want to chill with this shit."
Lance rolls his eyes and doesn't take his hand away. "Tomorrow we will."
Chris says, "Whatever," and walks past them. Justin looks at the floor.
When Justin goes over to Chris's house two days before the tour starts, Nick is sitting on the couch, feet up, no shirt. He looks comfy and at home. Justin flops down next to him and pokes him on the shoulder. "Where's your boyfriend?"
Nick snorts. "He wouldn't call me that, man."
"Well, he's stupid. I call you that. Where is he?"
"Taking a shit." Nick laughs. "Seriously, he is. In the bathroom."
Justin stretches his legs out next to Nick. "I'm gonna wait right here." He nudges Nick again. "Didn't know you were in town."
"Two day stop-over. Seeing that guy I'm dating."
Justin rubs his chin. "You okay with that?"
"Dating Chris? I like it, man, we've had a good year or so."
"Had and will have." Nick smiles. "I mean, Chris is a great guy. I'm very happy."
Justin nods. He doesn't really know Nick well enough to push. They just fucked, they weren't close. They still aren't. He gets up and walks to the back room. Chris is sitting in darkness, clicking on his laptop. "Nick said you were in the bathroom."
Chris looks up. "I was." He looks back down and clicks more. His face is blue, then white and red. "I had an idea while I was in the crapper. For the next part of the documentary. So I was working up some stuff and I'll email it to my guy."
"I came by to talk to you. If you have a minute. But I don't wanna interrupt the creative process."
Chris nods. "Okay, then sit there for five minutes."
Justin sits in the first chair he stumbles over. The light from screen makes Chris looks demonic and young. Like he's twenty-four again. Justin had the biggest crush on Chris when Chris was twenty-four.
After six minutes, Chris looks up. "Talk."
"Are you, seriously, man, are you actually okay on the bus with me and Lance? I don't want you wigging every time we make out."
Chris twists his mouth. "I didn't wig out."
"Well, fine, you didn't. But I sensed the potential for wigging. And you know, bus. Cramped spaces." Justin waves his hand.
"At some point we'll have a threesome?" Chris looks very serious.
Justin laughs. "That is not happening." Justin shakes his head. "I just, you know, you're my best friend, he's my --"
Chris stutters. "My b-b-b-b-manager! Yeah, I got the memo. I got the memo a year ago. You're too good for him."
"I'm not. I'm exactly good enough for him. And so were you, it just didn't work out. He's not a bad guy. And also, it's not like your time with him was, fuck, unrelenting misery." Justin stands up and crosses his arms.
"Well, no, just those last six months. And a few weeks along the way. But I know him pretty well. He's petty and self-centered and insecure and not as smart as he thinks he is."
"Sounds like you in a nutshell." Justin steps forward. "Don't talk about him like that."
"Yeah, it's me in a nutshell, too. I'm not good enough for you, either." Chris shrugs. "I just think you're the bomb diggety. You and Nick, I don't deserve the golden haired lot of you."
"Okay, granted, you're way not good enough for Nick, but, dude. You know what an ass I am. We all suck. We're all bad people and on our off days we snort coke off hooker's asses. But mostly, we're okay people. Don't give me that shit. Stop being an ass." Justin sighs. "Are you just mouthing off or are you really having these insane thoughts?"
"Mouthing off." Chris closes his laptop and the room goes dark. Then Chris turns on the light on his desk. "Mouthing off. Hey, Nick."
Justin turns around and sees Nick in the doorway. Nick says, "I thought you were in the bathroom."
Chris says, "Me and Justin were making out. Hey, can you give us a few more minutes, man? Sorry, I had a burst of inspiration and then J was giving me his two cents."
Nick licks his lips and finally says, "Okay." He closes the door as he leaves.
Chris says, "I'm mouthing off. I'll be fine with sharing a bus with the two of you and all the coke you snort off random hookers' asses." Chris grins. "Man, now I gotta go reassure Nick. You really do suck."
Justin says, "Maybe you should admit you love him."
Chris stops halfway to the door. "You think that would work?"
"If you mean it." Justin stands up, opens the door and pushes Chris out the door. "And you're really smart and you know you mean it."
Chris says, "Do not." Justin waves as he walks out.
Justin throws up in the bathroom. Lance rubs his back and says, "Done?"
"Yeah." Lance helps Justin up and pours him a glass of water. "This is a good warm-up for the show."
"It's our first show." Justin spits out the water.
"And you're nervous." Lance sighs. "Man, it'll be fine."
Joey throws up twice. But they stand together before the show and say a prayer. And then JC says, "Oh, fuck, who has a hackey?"
Lance closes his eyes and leans back against the wall. "God. Don't you?"
Justin pulls it out of his pocket. "I do. I kept it after the last one." He grins. It takes ten tries.
They don't use the springs for Pop. They just start in darkness and then all jump. The lights come up as they land. And it's back, just like that, the screaming and the force of it and Justin's never loved anything as much as looking to his left and right and seeing them.
Somehow the screams are louder for I Want You Back than for the opening. Justin momentarily imagines people holding up scores for the flips and then doesn't think. Just do, just do.
After the encore, they run off and Joey starts talking about the messed up intro to No Strings Attached and Chris is already saying he doesn't think the new bridge on the song from the new album is working. Lance grabs Justin's hand for just a breath, squeezes, and lets go. Then they're on the buses and driving.
First, Justin and Chris argue about the coffee. Chris doesn't like coffee anymore; he's worried about his caffeine intake. So he doesn't keep it stocked at all even when he takes the last cup because he has coffee once a day. Only once a day, but somehow it's always Justin's expensive blend that he frankly bought just because Lance likes it.
And Chris feels like he can't run like he likes, so he's taken to running around in circles in the front of the bus. Justin thinks it's annoying to do this while people are trying to sleep. Chris thinks people should sleep through it. It feels like old times, except not in a nice way. Justin remembers when he had his own bus and it was just him and then Lance. Some mornings he likes that better. Chris isn't open to compromise on the running, but he does promise to buy a box of coffee.
Second, Justin climbs into his bunk and wakes Lance up. Lance is pissy and complaining about the promoters, Chris's running, JC's insistence on two rehearsals a day and Justin's desire to play video games even at four a.m. Justin rolls over and Lance keeps complaining, but now he adds Justin being a brat to the list.
Justin rolls the other way and tries offering sex to shut Lance up. Lance is still pissy and says he feels weird having sex when Chris is right outside. Justin points out that Lance didn't feel that way last night. So they settle things with sex. Justin wonders if that's an inadequate coping mechanism but Lance points out they weren't having a serious fight.
Third, when Justin wakes up Lance and Chris are sniping at each other. Their usual argument, take three thousand. They're just arguing about nothing at all. Justin puts the pillow over his head and goes back to sleep.
Fourth, the show is something close to perfect, and Lance smiles even while he has his hands between Chris's legs and flips him something close to perfect. During the banter portion of the evening, Chris and Lance start talking about the woman who only recognized Lance from On The Line and Lance turns to Justin and says that it really did happen. Justin laughs. Chris says something about Justin being Lance's puppet and Joey stands behind Justin, moves him like a doll. But everyone laughs, even Lance.
Justin wakes up and blinks against the sun. "Whu time is it?"
Lance says, "Ten a.m. You can sleep more." They're sleeping in the back, on the big couches that are like a bed. There's a door and everything and Chris suggested it, so it's their bed now, no more sharing a bunk.
Then Lance says, "Or not." And Chris plops on the bed.
"Put some clothes on, play Halo III with me." Chris grins and bounces on the bed.
Justin shakes his head. "Nuh uh."
Lance says, "Maybe let him sleep."
"Maybe fuck off. I wasn't asking you."
Lance lies down next to Justin. "Maybe you should play with yourself."
"Maybe I will. And I'll make sure it all lands on your laptop."
Justin sits up. "Stop, both of you. You're driving me crazy."
Chris starts humming the song and Lance joins in. They grin at each other. Justin says, "Okay, is this just some act? Do you not get along or what?"
Lance says, "We get along sometimes."
"When we forget the unrelenting misery."
"And focus on our real enemy." Lance smirks. "You."
They both lean over and start tickling him. Justin tries to push them off and not pee in his pants and only accomplishes the second task. Lance sits back and says, "We win. You suck."
Chris says, "And he swallows."
"Which I appreciate." Lance rolls his eyes. "Seriously, you can take a nap. Or go back to sleep."
"Are you two gonna fight while I'm asleep?" Justin yawns. It would be okay if they fought, he thinks. It's up to them. It's not his job to make everything better for them.
Chris nods. "We're gonna fight."
Lance says, "And then we'll play Halo III."
"And I'll win." Chris nudges Lance.
"I wanna play." Justin closes his eyes.
"Well, it'll go like that." Lance says. "We'll be done when you wake up and we'll have a show and more shows. And the album will sell really well, will continue to sell really well."
Chris says, softly, "And you and Lance will be together forever and adopt 2.4 Romanian orphans. I mean, you'll fight and you'll make up and you'll have screaming arguments and shit and then you'll remember how you're all in love. And me and Nick will probably be together for a little longer and adopt 3.4 Romanian orphans just to show you two up."
Lance almost laughs. "And after this album, you'll make another great Justin Timberlake album and JC will make another great JC Chasez album and Chris will make twelve more parts to his hockey documentary and be the next Ken Burns, only cooler."
"And Joey will win an Academy Award." Chris pauses. "And Lance will own most of the mid-west."
Lance says, "And then we'll make another NSYNC album, because we've proved we can, whenever we want. Even when JC has three kids and Joey has five. And Chris will have better knees than you. And we promise to wake you up for it."
Chris sings, 'here where's the story ends.' Justin turns on his side and Lance tucks the blankets around him. He opens his eyes and watches Lance and Chris walk to the front of the bus. So this is the "post-sync" world, Justin thinks. Post sync, NSYNC, pre-sync. He thinks everything will come true, just like they said. And it's just what he wants, so Justin closes his eyes and prays.
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