RATING: NC-17 for sex, violence and squicky mutilation moments - dark, dark in parts, please be forewarned
SUMMARY: And so your first memory of anything at all is saying "I don't know."
DISCLAIMER: So made up.
NOTES: Thanks to Tiff and my J-lo. Thanks to Aaron Sorkin and the people behind Homicide: Life on the Street. Also to John Mellencamp cause I keep using that song in my fics, in one way or another.
YOUR LIFE IS NOW
You remember the hospital and thick bandages around your ankle, another one on your arm. Police officers leaning over you and asking you your name. And so your first memory of anything at all is saying "I don't know."
Someone dumped you out of a moving car on the side of the road, the cops tell you. You've been in the hospital for a week already because there was more wrong with you than whatever happened to your arm and your ankle. A cut on your face, another on the back of your head and apparently there's what the doctors call "neurological damage" and the cops call "amnesia, can you fucking believe it?" You believe it. They take your fingerprints, but apparently you've never worked for the government or committed a crime or even been arrested because they come up with nothing. You guess no one's looking for you, either, because the missing person guy can come up with a bunch of matches for age and sex but you aren't any of those people.
And you're scared, scared of what will happen to you but there's this woman, Amy, who knows one of the nurses and she shows up one day and wants to help you. She's a do-gooder, she says, and pats your hand. The nurse told her about you and Amy apparently makes a habit of taking in birds with broken wings. You worry about exploitation, something in you knows that people take advantage and they're out to use you, but the nurses tell you Amy is okay. And no one else will take you in when you're released two days after you wake up. Amy even fights on your behalf with the hospital billing department and gets everything covered by Medicaid.
She lets you stay in her garage apartment, with your own lock so she can't come in and everything. She calls you "Jay" instead of John Doe and that sounds good to you. Amy lights a cigarette and offers you one, so you take it. Amy knows all sorts of people through her church, which is very liberal and has a lesbian pastor. She volunteers places, protests things, and she's a vegetarian. She's forty and you think she's a lesbian, too, so you're pretty sure she didn't take you in to molest you or something.
She even gets you a job, even though you don't have a social security card or any skills. Two days after you get out of the hospital, you're working in the back room of a bakery for an older man with a scar on his lip named Franco. Franco's nice and he doesn't mind paying you under the table. He tells you Amy usually sends illegal immigrants his way, people fleeing El Salvador or Colombia so he's glad you speak English pretty well. He still doesn't put you up front where the customers can see you because of the slowly healing cut on your face. Franco's cool, though, and he looks you in the eye and not at the cut, so that's good, too. You bake bread and put things in the oven and after a week, you're even pretty good at it. Franco tells you you're doing a good job and teaches you how to make more complicated things. You feel like you're really doing a job and not just pushing things around for charity.
At night, you watch TV with Amy and the two of you talk. Amy's not a big fan of network TV, but she likes The West Wing and has every episode on tape, so you watch all the old episodes with her. She has Homicide on tape, too, and Sports Night. You don't know if you liked those shows before you ended up in the hospital, but they're good so you kinda hope you did. Amy makes dinner sometimes and you decide you're a vegetarian, too. You're a vegetarian who smokes, and you like the same shows Amy do. And maybe you're just turning yourself into some model of her, but she's a good person and you worry that you weren't. The cops think the same people who threw you out of the car cut off tattoos you had on your ankle and on your shoulder, so they think you were being punished for something, probably drug-related.
You don't remember anything. You have a southern accent but Amy says it's not an Austin one. She thinks you're not from anywhere in Texas at all, and you wonder how you ended up in San Antonio. You're probably about twenty or twenty-one and before the hospital you were in pretty good shape. Now, you have a band of scar tissue around your ankle and more scar tissue on your shoulder. You have a tattoo around your calf and you wonder why they didn't cut that one off. The scars are still healing and sometimes they hurt a little. You have a salve and Amy reminds you every night to apply it. Mostly, your head hurts. Your head hurts a lot, every day. Not from the cut on your face, that's just a few twinges when you furrow your brow and you don't do that. The headaches, the doctor tells you, are from when you hit the ground with your head. And maybe you got bumped on the head before you were thrown from the car, too. So, all you remember of life is that your head has always hurt. And you look at yourself in the mirror and the bright metal surfaces at the bakery and you still don't recognize yourself.
It's alienating and confusing and it's a fucking cliché from some stupid chick movie. You hope it's not the one where you were an asshole and then you become a better person after you forget everything. You don't know anything about yourself. Except, you think, after two weeks at the bakery, you're probably gay. You get a little hard watching one of the deliverymen one morning, he's thin like a wind would blow him over but he's really all hard muscle. Once you watch a guy with blond spiked hair sitting at a café across the street for ten minutes and you're really just staring at his lips and his ass. You're not even freaked out by it, so you're pretty sure about this. You tell Amy you think you're gay and she says, "Jay, you should come to my church."
"It'd be nice to meet guys," you say with a smile. And it would be nice, to get laid, to spend time with someone, you're damn sure of that.
"You're not really ready for anything serious, honey," Amy says. She's frowning a little.
You hear a whine in your voice as you say, "I'm sure I'm gay, Amy."
Amy frowns and starts talking about how you don't know what you've done before, maybe you're a virgin or maybe you've been in the closet and have a wife somewhere. But you think if you had a girlfriend or a wife out there somewhere, they'd be looking for you. You're more worried that you don't remember how to do anything and you'll probably be bad in bed.
You go to her church even though Amy suddenly starts thinking you might be Jewish or a Buddhist or something. But you don't remember, so you make her take you.
After the services, you wander around and wait for someone who doesn't flinch at the scar on your face. You end up listening to two guys and a girl talking about some band whose lead singer is dead or something. The girl says, "I think they cut off his fingers. Or his ear. They mentioned physical evidence."
The guy says, "He's dead. Clearly. One of the kidnappers said so." The guy's cute and he smiles at you, moves aside so you can stand in the circle.
The other guy says, "Yeah, but the other guys won't let him be declared dead. Not until they find the whole body."
You nod like you know what they're talking about. The conversation shifts to the weather and local politics and you can talk about that. Then it turns out that the two guys are dating each other, so you leave with Amy.
Before you know it, it's been six weeks since you got out of the hospital. The cops call you once a week to see if you've remembered anything but all you have now is flashes. A blond woman with curly hair bending over you. A fat man who scares you. Cereal in a blue bowl. Nothing helpful. The doctors say you'll maybe never remember anything. You have neurological damage. The cut on your face has started to fade and it maybe won't even be visible in a year.
You watch a lot of Amy's tapes. You like The West Wing best and sometimes, when you're at the bakery, you recite the scenes in your head. You're really good at memorization. You're reciting the scene where the President is yelling at Zoey for getting in trouble at the bar when Franco walks in and laughs at you. You laugh a little, too, because you're happy. You used to sing along with radio but one time Franco came back and heard you and complimented your voice and you don't know why, but you don't sing when people can hear you anymore. You buy CDs, though, to play at the bakery or on the crappy boom box Amy gave you. Amy likes Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls and Tori Amos so those are your favorites, too. You use one of your first paychecks to go to the little second hand cd store and get a few of your own.
Amy laughs when she sees you have them and says, "Jay, you might like other music, too, not just the stuff I enjoy." But you do like it and when no one's around you can sing all of Little Earthquakes or Dilate from start to finish.
Basically happy, even though your head always hurts, with the bakery and Amy. It's not a bad life. And sometimes, you get so scared that someone will recognize you, will walk up to you and punch you because you did something bad to them. You made someone so angry they threw you out of a car and took a knife to your body and cut off your tattoos. You're glad you don't remember that. So it's almost okay that you don't know who you are and no one's looking for you.
Amy wants to go to Disneyworld for Gay Day or whatever they call it, and she's going to bring you. You don't have a driver's license or ID, so you don't think you can go at first, but it turns out Amy's talked someone in Austin into issuing you a new social security card. You have to promise to tell them if you find out who you are so they can revoke it. And then you get an actual ID with your name, or Jay Doe, which isn't so bad, and you smile as you hand it to the woman at the counter before you get on the plane.
You're wearing a Rangers hat to cover the scar on the back of your head, even though your hair is growing out curly and tight and almost covers it now. You've grown a thin beard because you think it distracts from the fading cut on your face. Amy made you have a full check up and paid for the wire-rimmed glasses it turns out you need to wear. You promised to pay her back. All in all, you think you might even look cute and you wish you could wear sleeveless shirts or sandals but then everyone would see your scars. Orlando is bright and hot and the most fun you can ever remember having, even if that's not saying much. Amy goes on rides with you and you hang out with a couple of guys from the church and one of them, Tom, is maybe flirting with you. He's nice, really nice and he has green eyes. Amy smiles because she told Tom all about your bad head and he's a friend of hers so you know she figures he won't take advantage of you.
You're laughing loudly at one of Tom's jokes. You see someone coming up to you out of the corner of your eye and then you turn and this blond guy's grabbing you, saying, "Justin?" Your head hurts. The guy grabbing you looks young but haggard, bags under his eyes and he's staring at you. There are two large black men behind him and they make small moves to pull him off you.
"I don't know" is as far as you get when the guy starts shaking you.
"Justin. Justin, it's fucking you, what the fuck," the guy says. His voice is breaking but your head really hurts now. You try to push him off and you hear Amy asking what the hell is going on. There's a bright spike of pain in your head and then everything goes black.
You start to open your eyes and you hear Amy saying, "What the fuck are you saying?"
The guy has a low, gravelly voice and he says, "He's coming with me." He must mean you. So you guess he recognized you. You wonder if he's arresting you. Maybe you did something bad in Florida.
Amy says, "Tell me why I should let you -- how do I know you know him? He's -- Jay's had a head injury, and ..."
You open your eyes, and you watch the guy say, "Justin has -- he should have scars on his ankle and his shoulder." The guy reaches over and pushes up your sleeve. He almost touches the scar tissue there and his fingers tremble. He looks at you and says, "You have a tattoo on your calf." You're just staring because your head hurts and you're scared that you've been found. The guy looks over at Amy and says, "What's wrong with him?"
Amy sounds pissed, she always does when people talk like you're not there. She says, "Jay has neurological damage. He was attacked."
The guy stands up and looks at one of the black men with him. He says, "Call Johnny. We're going to the compound." Maybe he's in the military. You start to panic because the compound sounds like some place where they'll lock you away. You don't remember what you did. Then he looks at Amy and says, "I know he was attacked. I know." His voice shakes. He says, "What do you mean by neurological damage?"
"I have amnesia," you say quietly. "I don't remember anything." The guy bursts out laughing and covers his face. He says fuck a couple of times and you realize he's almost crying.
Amy insists on going with you to the compound. It turns out you have a name, a job and a fortune. The blond woman you saw in your head is your mother and she clings to you, crying. The guy who found you is Lance, you're Justin and there's Johnny, Chris, JC and Joey. You're in a band and Johnny is your manager and you sing and dance. You were kidnapped one morning and the kidnappers sent your tattoos to the guys with their ransom demand. The cops found the kidnappers but they didn't find you and one of them claimed you were dead, your body thrown away and the other two have refused to talk. You talk to more cops and you tell them you don't remember a thing. They talk to the cops in San Antonio and don't bother you.
Amy goes home reluctantly and you see a lot more doctors. For two days, they poke and prod you and then they leave the room and talk to Johnny and your mom and the four guys. After some dermatologist tugs and pulls at the scars on your ankle and leaves the room, you get pissed. You stand up and walk into the other room. "Look," you say, "I'm fucking twenty-one, or so they say, and you tell me what's going on." JC and Lance smile a little, like they're glad you're not just staring and the doctor looks surprised. "You can tell them," you say, waving at your mother and the men, "but you tell me, too."
The doctor tells you the same thing the doctors back at the hospital said. You'll be scarred for life, except for the ones on your head that will fade. Your headaches will maybe never go away and they can only give you some medication for the occasional migraines. Your amnesia is a combo platter of physical damage and psychological trauma and you might never remember anything else. Other than that, you're fine. The scar tissue around your ankle shouldn't impair any movement or anything. They do a blood test and confirm you're who they say you are.
Your mother takes you home to your house. It's big and white everywhere. Your father comes to visit and two little boys fall all over you but then retreat when you don't recognize them. They're your brothers. You try to make it up to them. You sit in your huge house with your mother and you watch videos of yourself performing and being interviewed. You seem pretty confident and you wonder what that's like, to feel like that without having any questions. There's going to be a press conference now that you're alive. You sit at a meeting and it's decided that there's going to be a greatest hits package and then a short tour to get you back in the swing of things. You're going to record three new songs for the album, and they'll be JC's. You used to write songs. You used to produce, too. You bite your lip and nod a lot.
You have so many questions and you're afraid of asking them. Your girlfriend comes to see you and hugs you and cries. She starts talking and you realize she doesn't quite get the amnesia thing. She doesn't grasp that you have no idea who she is. She crying a lot, and it becomes plain that she's seeing someone else. You pat her on the back and say it's okay.
Johnny and the guys talk to you a little about the press conference. They want you to smile and not say much and you're okay with that. An hour before the cameras come and everyone needs to be onstage, you sit in a room with the other four guys. You don't know them at all. It's kinda scary because they look at you and almost cry and you keep reminding yourself that they love you and they thought you were dead. You can ask them things, you think. So you look around and say, "Why do I have a girlfriend when I'm gay?"
JC covers his face and makes a noise. His shoulders shake and he leaves the room. Now you're more scared and you say, "I mean, I am. Gay. And you don't get that from getting hit on the head, so I assume I was before." You look around again and Joey looks pained.
Chris gets up and says, "I'm gonna. I'm gonna go check on C. Lance, this one's all yours."
Lance rubs his face and says, "Justin, you're maybe not so ready for the press."
You bite your lip and look at Joey who is looking at his feet. Lance says, "You don't --" and pauses. He's struggling for words. "You used to say, sometimes, that you were bi. You mostly didn't talk about it. You've fucked a lot of girls, J. And you and Britney." Lance pauses again. He looks at his hands. You wish you remembered anything about the guys. You're missing so much and you can't read any of them. Lance starts up again. "You've known Britney since you were twelve. I know you guys fooled around. You once, you once told me she gave great head. But you've never really been that faithful to her and partly the relationship, I guess, is mostly about publicity."
You nod. That makes sense. Sort of. You say, "She's seeing someone now." Lance nods like he knew that. You think for a second and look at Lance and say, "Is it you?"
Lance bursts out laughing and covers his face. Joey snorts and stands up. He says, "J, don't worry about it."
"I'm not worried," you say. "I'm okay with it. I just want to understand what's going on."
Lance stops laughing and says, "That's okay. You should, uh, ask us. It's okay. But this isn't safe for the press, okay?"
You nod. Chris and JC come back and JC's eyes are red. You wish you knew what you'd said to make him upset. You get ready to face the cameras and Lance waves off the make-up artist as she starts to try to cover the cut on your face. He says, "He's not completely okay, let's not cover that up."
At the press conference, Johnny explains that you experienced "some memory loss," and now things are better and the guys are back. You don't answer any questions, really, just nod and say a few words about how you have a lot of work to do.
You're so lost. It's even worse than being back at the bakery because you have no idea who you are and everyone around you does. Worse, you don't know who they are. You watched tapes of the five of you and you're all laughing and falling over each other. You seem to genuinely like each other but hell, in the same interviews, you say you love Britney. On TV, you know how to do a lot of things. You sing, you dance, you talk well. It's pretty scary how talented you are.
In one interview you say that you tell your mother everything so you ask her. "Just tell me everything," you say, "about me and the guys and everything. I don't know what's going on."
She swallows and nods. You really did tell her a lot. She knows all about the guys you've fucked and the girls. You've slept with everyone in the band except for Lance. Fooled around with Joey a lot when you were in Germany, had a brief bout of being fuckbuddies with Chris when you were seventeen and a longer something with JC. The JC thing fell apart when you started using too much cocaine when you were eighteen. You stopped that, the guys made you and you stopped and you've been clean ever since. Lance is gay, and definitely not dating Britney. JC is gay, and Chris is bi and that's good, at least you're not in a band with a bunch of homophobes. She tells you about the Mickey Mouse Club and Lou and the lawsuit.
For the next six weeks your days have three parts, or maybe four. You spend part of every day learning choreography. The first day, JC sits down with you and shows you how to stretch so you get warmed up right. The guys all know this stuff, but you have to learn everything from the first song the group ever did to the last hit. You don't recognize the songs when they first play and you stop saying anything about it because of the way Chris winces. You pick it up quick, but you're still learning choreography for twenty songs in six weeks. Muscle memory, JC calls it, because you're not so bad once you learn things. You work out in the mornings with JC and Lance mostly and that's usually the best part of the day. You put on your Walkman and lift weights and you can do all those things without worrying that you're letting anyone down.
You sing every day with the guys for a few hours. You have to learn all the songs, learn to hear the guys again. It starts to come quickly, but you have to memorize all the words all over again. Even to the songs you wrote. The first day, there's a vocal coach there to go over your breathing, but your body remembers that pretty easily and it comes pretty naturally. You're really impressed with how good the other guys sound and you'd say so, but you worry that it would hurt them. They're better than Britney, but they seem to constantly realize out of the blue that you don't remember anything. And they wince and you feel bad and you wish you weren't the one hurting them. They don't ask if you've remembered anything yet but you're pretty sure they want to.
After the singing and the dancing you go home and usually some of the guys come inside and you watch videos of yourself and they tell you stories. Chris is always funny and that's great but you worry that he's afraid to not be funny. You can't tell. JC doesn't come often because it turns out you were an unreliable witness to your mom in this case and JC was in love with you until you screwed him over during your cocaine phase. You find out because you say the wrong thing and JC's face collapses and he leaves the room. He's nice to you after that, but he knows, like the other guys only occasionally seem to grasp, that you have no idea who any of them are, really. Joey is sometimes funny, sometimes sad and he always drinks a little too much. Lance is the easiest to deal with, but it's only because he acts so cool and like you're someone he barely knows. And it's true to you, but you know it's not for him and it makes you sad.
After they leave and the house is yours, you watch the tapes Amy sent you. She sent you all her tapes of the shows you used to watch in her house and you mention something to one of the assistants that mill around so she gets replacements. You don't have time during day or when she'd be up to call her, so once a week you write her and Franco. At night, when you're alone, it's the only part of the day that isn't hard, watching Bayliss and Pembleton find the bad guys and CJ and Toby sparring. Sometimes you listen to your Ani CDs. You have a lot of CDs and you listen to the ones you liked before but you like the ones you got when you lived in Amy's garage. They're more comforting. You didn't think musical taste was so associated with memory. You fall asleep with the TV on most of the time.
You don't remember the withdrawal from the coke or the three days you were kidnapped so you tell yourself this is the worst you've ever had it. Your head hurts all the time. JC says to you that your face in repose now is a constant expression of pain. The scars on your ankle sometimes pull when you're dancing and you want to stop and massage your ankle but you won't do it in front of the guys. Once your t-shirt sleeve rode up a little and the scar on your shoulder was visible. Chris blanched and Joey left the room quickly, you think to throw up. You've seen the pictures now, you had some pretty nice tattoos. You worry a lot that you're retarded. Amy never liked that word, but you think maybe neurological damage meant more than the amnesia, maybe it meant you're stupider now than you were. And no one will tell you. You seem pretty smart in the interviews you've seen and you used to write songs and produce things. Now you have to try and remember words and you don't know anything. When you go into the studio to record the new songs, the ones JC wrote, you don't know what any of the knobs do.
You get flashes of memory sometimes and it only adds up to about twenty minutes out of twenty-one years. But it's something. You remember holding Chris's dreads while he threw up, the beads biting into your hand. You have a flash of going down on JC, his cock in your mouth and liking it. You wake up one morning and you can see Joey holding Brianna, while you stroke her face. You see Lance at sixteen or seventeen, trying to learn steps and biting his lip. It's all you have, but you do remember the guys, a little. But maybe you'll never remember more. You don't understand some things and you can't ask anyone. You don't know why you never slept with Lance. He's hot and you totally want to, you want to get laid something fierce and if it was Lance that would be even better. But you had six, seven years and never did, so you wonder if you used to know something about Lance that made him unattractive to you. You still tend to think about him when you jerk off in the mornings.
It's such a fucking cliché you want to wake up and rewrite the script. You still wonder if you were an asshole before this, if everyone secretly hated you. Maybe you're still an asshole, but you try not to be.
One morning you wake up and feel a migraine coming. You haven't had one in the seven weeks since you came to Orlando and you hoped they wouldn't come back. But then it's there and you lie on the floor in a ball, crying and nauseous. You think about banging your head against the floor because that would be an easier pain. Maybe you'd knock some memories back into place but your head hurts so much, you don't want hit it again, really. It's just pain, over and over again. You don't know how long it's been, but you hear Lance suddenly, saying, "Justin?" in that broken voice. He comes over and rubs your back and says, "Are you okay, Justin? Fuck. What's wrong?"
You mutter, "Migraine, migraine" and close your eyes against the sun leaking in through the windows.
Lance leans against you and you feel his forehead against your arm, and then your arm is wet like he's crying. He sits up and rubs your head a little and says, "Justin, you gotta call. You can't just not show up, man. You just can't." He sighs. "Is there anything I can do for you? Do you, uh, need me to take you to the hospital or something?"
You say no, because Amy took you to the hospital once and they couldn't do shit for you. You took the meds the doctors gave you and you guess they've taken some of the edge off the pain, but it's still overwhelming. And you know from the last five attacks, there's nothing you can do but grit your teeth and wait to fall asleep and have this be over.
You hear Lance calling the guys and saying you're okay, you're at your house with a migraine. He comes back and pulls you onto the couch. He covers you with a blanket and sits on the edge of the couch and rubs your back for a long time. You fall asleep for a little while and wake up with only a headache. It's just a fucking respite, you know that, but you wander to the kitchen to try and get some food down while you can. Lance is standing in the kitchen, sipping at coffee. "Are you better?" he asks.
"It'll come back," you say quietly, staring at the floor. "And be gone tomorrow. I just wanted to get something to eat while I could."
Lance turns around and opens the refrigerator. "Do you want, uh. I can order a pizza or run down to McDonalds for a burger, if you want."
"I'm a vegetarian," you say, and wish you hadn't quit smoking. You rub your head and say, "There's, um, Morningstar Farms shit in the freezer. You just stick it in the microwave."
Lance makes a noise and grabs all three boxes. "I'll just cook some from all of these. Sausages and patties and chicken wings. And no meat at all, right?"
You nod and he's watching you, so he grabs a plate and fucks around and then the microwave is dinging and he puts the plate in front of you. "Thanks," you mumble. You really don't understand why you slept with everyone else and not Lance.
You nibble at the food and drink water. Lance says, "Is that any good?" You wave your hand so he knows he can have a taste of any of it.
"Not so bad," he says, eating the end of a sausage.
Then he follows you up to your bedroom and you watch videos for a little while, The West Wing and the ones at the end of the first season where everything was going to be great, let Bartlet be Bartlet. You don't watch the endless N Sync tapes you have so you can fake being Justin Timberlake. The migraine comes back full force and Lance turns off the lights and rubs your back again. You're crying and mewling and it's an act of will to not throw up your dinner. It seems like forever before you fall asleep.
When you wake up, you have that migraine hangover feeling, a kind of emptiness in your head but the pain is gone, so you almost smile. The sun's just coming up and the light doesn't hurt. You're lying in your bed, tucked under the covers. When you turn a little, you see Lance, still fully dressed, lying next to you on top of the covers. You reach over and run your hand through his hair, it's just as soft as you thought it would be. Lance wakes up with a start and looks at you. "Are you feeling better," he says.
You nod and smile a little. Lance rubs his eyes and sits up. You watch the line of his shoulders, the way his back tenses and wish fervently you remembered more. You know there are three thousand non-verbal cues a day you're missing, like the way it's taken six weeks to figure out which is Chris's actual serious expression and which is Chris's pretending to be serious to set up a joke expression. Lance is just waking up now, but you're pretty sure you're missing something that's going on here. "You can't," Lance says and pauses. "Justin, we waited for you yesterday and you didn't show. And then you didn't answer your phone. And I know you had a migraine and everything, but you gotta call someone. It really freaked everyone out."
"I'm sorry," you say. You hadn't even thought of that.
Lance shakes his head, says, "It's okay. Just next time, call someone up and grunt that you have a migraine and then we'll know." Lance sighs and lies back down on the bed, spooning against you for a moment. "We love you, J," he says, "even if you don't remember us."
You swallow and try not to cry. This seems like, well, not the ideal opportunity, but a pretty good opportunity to find out why you didn't want Lance but when you open your mouth to ask you say, "I'm retarded, right?"
Lance pushes up and narrows his eyes. "What?"
You say hesitantly, "Neurological damage, right? I'm not as smart as I used to be, right?"
Lance says quickly, "No, no. Why do you think that?" You just stare at him. He swallows and says, "You're completely smart. I mean, you watch smart people shows." You look away because that's not much of an answer. Lance grabs your chin and pulls your head gently so you're looking at him. "You were smart, you are smart now. You used to remember all these things and now you're a little lost, but uh. Look, smarts is like intelligence plus knowledge. And you've lost a lot of knowledge but that hasn't diminished your intelligence. You learn so quick, J. You're smart, you were smart, you are smart." You decide to believe him and you're so grateful that you're not dumb, you sit up and hug him.
You've gotten enough of the choreography down that you watch the others a little in the mirror and realize how completely bored they look. It pisses you off and when the morning session is done you stand up and say, "It's okay if you guys don't come tomorrow, okay? I'm the only one who needs this and y'all are just getting exercise or something."
They all look away and don't say anything and you feel like shit because you've screwed up again. But Joey and Chris come home with you and start telling this endless story about one time in Germany back when you and Joey were screwing around. You interrupt and say, "Is this how I would tell the story?"
Joey laughs and says, "Dude, you'd be interrupting us every ten seconds to say you weren't whining that much, you didn't say it that way."
Chris laughs, too, and says, "You'd be so wrong, though." And the next time he says something about the way you whined you interrupt again and say you didn't whine that much and they both laugh. It's almost easy and you think at least these two aren't mad at you about the dancing thing.
That night, while you're watching the Sports Night episode where Danny finds out Rebecca's not divorced you suddenly remember puking on Lance's shoes, from some time in 2000, you think. It makes you smile. The next morning when you're jerking off, you suddenly have a flash of Joey on top of you and inside you and you were thinking, "this fucking rocks." You wish you knew what triggered these little memories to float up because you'd do it over and over again but you really have no idea. And neither do the doctors you still see every week who just shake their heads and talk about the mysteries of the human mind. They've tried hypnosis and meditation and none of that helped at all.
You walk into the rehearsal room and only Lance is there. He bites his lip and then says, "I'm the only one who really needs to be here besides you."
You smile and nod and say, "Right, because you're the worst dancer."
Lance clenches his jaw and look at the ceiling. "In comparison," he says tightly, "in comparison to you and C, yes." You want to say you're sorry but all you ever do is apologize and it just makes you tired. So you take up the first position for Bye Bye Bye as Lance cues up on the song.
Lance is a pretty hardworking guy and he knows the choreography better than you do so he corrects you a lot, not unkindly, and by the end of three hours you're exhausted. You've run through the set list for the show twice, except for the two new songs and Wade's coming next week to teach everyone those. You really wished you remembered more about Wade because everyone says he's one of your best friends and you don't like him much at all. Maybe because he stares at the almost faded cut on your face and maybe because he's been screwing your fake ex-girlfriend since a month after you disappeared. You've forgotten what made Lance unattractive and what made Wade likeable and you'd like to know both.
Your ankle hurts a lot. You wore scratchy socks yesterday and forgot to put anything on it last night and now it's aching and raw. You sit down and try to rub it discreetly. Lance taps your knee and says, "Does it hurt?"
You nod and then he walks to shelf in the back. He comes back with some bandages and lotion and sits in front of you. He tugs your foot into his lap and you start to protest but he says, "It's okay," quietly. He takes off your shoe and sock and pushes up your pant leg. He pauses for a moment and just looks at the scar tissue in a band around your ankle. Then he sighs and even though his face is a lot paler than it was a minute ago, he starts gently putting lotion on your ankle. You close your eyes and remember how your tattoos came in a box. You don't know who got the box or if they opened it and something about the way Lance is gnawing at his lower lip makes you think that he maybe saw what was in the box. The thought makes your stomach turn and you jerk a foot a little. Lance rubs your foot reassuringly and it kinda works, because you start thinking about how hot he is while he wraps the bandage around your ankle. He put the sock on gently and even ties your shoe for you.
You do another hour of choreography and you're really looking forward to next week when everyone will be as lost as you are with the new stuff. You watch Lance for a moment and realize he doesn't need to be here at all. He knows this stuff cold and he's as good as JC, at this point, really. You blush and think he maybe drew the short straw and had to come in this morning, or maybe they thought he would have the most convincing story. They probably have meetings without you, talking about you. Comparing notes about things you've maybe remembered, wondering what happens if you never write another song. You haven't even tried. You're scared because you think you'll write something and show it to the guys and they'll tell you you're just written crap. Or you've just dredged up something from your subconscious and they'll say, nice song. I liked it when Brian McKnight did it five years ago.
Everyone's there for the last day singing rehearsals and for once, Lance is the one to follow you home. You make a simple dinner, and don't even tell him that the ground beef in the tacos is actually a soy thing until he's had two helpings. You wish this was a date and that after you both finished eating he would come over to your side of the table and kiss you silly. He doesn't, of course, he just gathers up the dishes and washes them at the sink.
You contemplate ways to get him drunk so you can ask him if he knows why you two never did it, but you really are an idiot sometimes and you just blurt it out. After dinner, you're watching the Madison Square Garden Concert again and you say something about how hot he looks and he laughs. And then you just say it, "Why didn't we ever do it? I did it with everyone else."
Lance pushes off the sofa and stands in the doorway to the room with his back to you, shaking a little. You say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and almost claw at the sofa because you want to make it better and you just screw up over and over again.
Lance sighs and turns around and holds up his hand to make you shut up. He says quietly, "I guess that's a valid question. But, um, Justin, you didn't, you know, you didn't have a little fucking checklist." Lance looks even paler than he did this morning and you swallow and just nod. "You and Joey happened because, I don't know, it was Germany and you wanted to be with boys but you were worried about strangers and Joey was in his experimental phase. And then he wasn't and you, you know, you really pursued Chris, like you were all over him. And not in some romantic way, but in a horny teenager way. Which, of course, you were." He rubs his forehead again and looks down at his hands. You'd give anything to read his mind right now, to steal his memories so you had something.
Lance says, "And the thing with JC. I think that was an actual relationship. He loved you, I know that, and you were, you weren't just screwing around at first and then."
You pick at the sofa and say, "The drugs."
Lance nods. He says, "So, yeah."
You know it's a bad idea to interrupt because he's about to get to your answer but you do anyway and say, "I was an asshole, wasn't I?"
Lance shakes his head and stares at you. "You weren't. You're, fuck, you were really one of the sweetest people I know and you never really. Look, everyone sounds like an asshole when you list all their exes. Joey's not mad at you and he never was. And the thing with Chris, you didn't force him or anything, it was what you both wanted. I know things seem screwed up with JC, but it's just hard for him - it's really hard for him with you not remembering anything. You two were always really close, even after you cleaned up and things were still over. And Chris," he sighs again. "You're not an asshole now, you weren't then, okay?"
You just nod and you really don't believe him. He's quiet for a minute and just standing there pale and looking like he's been punched in the gut so you think for a moment that maybe you'll never know why you haven't ever fucked him. But he sighs again and stares at his shoes and starts up again. "You, uh, you used to hit on me all the time. Like, from Germany until, uh, the last time I saw you, actually. But you were always drunk. Like, get three beers in Justin Timberlake and, except for when you were with JC, three beers in you and it's come on over to Lance and proposition him time. And, uh. I always turned you down." He turns around and taps the wall. You're so happy you could dance naked on the table. There was never a problem with Lance, just with you. Lance starts talking to the wall and says, "I never knew if you were serious. And I told you once, I would take you up on it if you asked me sober and you never did. So. I told myself, if you came back alive, if I could ask you one question, I'd want to know if you ever meant it."
Now he's standing facing the wall, arms across his chest protectively and looking miserable. He says, "I guess I'll never know now. And, and I know you can't control it and it's not your fault, but." Lance is still looking away and you're pretty sure he's crying a little, so you go back to feeling miserable. Nearly as miserable as he looks. He says, "I'm really fucking glad you're alive, Justin. I don't know what we'd do if something had happened to you. Permanently, I mean. But I think you need to, you maybe don't realize how fucking hard this is on all of us. When we were, back in Germany, I was really miserable once, and I thought I would never last at this and you crawled into my bed and didn't make fun of me when I cried and you spent ten minutes telling me how hot I was. And it's fucking, it's fucking painful that I'm the only who remembers that happening. Cause you used to, you used to sometimes, after interviews or stuff, you'd just give me this big grin and say I was hot. Like, to remind me."
He wipes his eyes and grabs his jacket and starts walking to the door. You follow him but you don't want to get too near. You feel like an asshole all over again. He stands in the doorway, with the door open and turns around suddenly. He hugs you and rubs your back and sniffles a little. Still holding you, he says, "Look, I'm sorry. This isn't your fault. You didn't do anything. I'm sorry I freaked." You pat his back and say you're sorry anyway and he puts his hand over your mouth to make you shut up. "You have nothing to be sorry about. I'm going home, I'll see you tomorrow, and thanks for the tacos even if you did make them with fake meat and trick me into eating it." Then he's gone.
The next morning when you get to the rehearsal room, JC is waiting for you. You say, "uh."
He looks up at you and says, "You figured out that none of us need this, right?" Someone else would have lied but that's not JC's way. You feel a little happy that you know at least that.
You say, "Is it your turn or, uh?"
He looks at the mirror and says, "No, Lance was gonna do it for the rest of the week. But he was, I dunno, he called last night and talked to Chris and Chris thought this would be better, for you and me to spend some time together."
You feel a little guilty so the two of you get to work right away. JC's even more of a tightass motherfucker than Lance and insists that you should both sing while you're doing it because, he says, "our mics are always fucking on, J."
After three hours he just sort of nods while he watches you dance and you just stop and look back at him. "Dude, you're just making shit up now. I'm fine, right?"
JC laughs and says, "Yes. But I wanted to make you sweat more." He pulls you into a hug and tells you still can't skip tomorrow. But it feels good, for once.
You could just go home then, but instead you go with JC to his house and listen while he plays you music. You don't have much to add, but he smiles wide and true when you say anything so it's nice. You go home and call Lance. "Are you mad?" You say. "I didn't want to make you mad."
He sighs. "I'm not mad. I feel bad because I was taking things out on you. I shouldn't have yelled at you, Justin. So, let's just forget about it." You just say okay, because that's what Lance wants.
You have your memory of Joey fucking you and you polish those few seconds like a shiny penny. You imagine the parts before and the parts after when you're whacking off in the morning, except not Joey. You usually picture Lance inside you and it's pretty hot. It occurs to you that you've probably seen Lance naked eight hundred times. Chris told you recently that you've all walked on in each other in the act, and you think it might be wrong but you pray to God that the next memory that floats up in your head is seeing Lance naked or fucking or both.
Everything gets really busy because you start learning the choreography for two of the new songs and there's the practice on the actual stage and you never get home until one or two am. You don't even try to watch your tapes and keep up with Being Timberlake 101, you just pop in a West Wing tape and eat veggie dogs straight from the package. After two weeks of rehearsal, you head to Los Angeles to film a video for the single from the greatest hits package. On the plane you wake with a start and you can see yourself at twelve, looking in a camera and standing next to Britney and JC. You go back to writing a long email to Amy on your laptop.
The video shoot is nerve-wracking. MTV is there for a Making the Video thing, and you should know how to do all these things and you don't. You don't even know the titles of the crewmembers or their names. Joey or Lance or Chris stay next to you and you've studied, you really have, so you muddle through. You're okay with the dancing and the lip-synching but you're supposed to be a fucking pop star and you've been shooting videos for the last seven years. You try so hard to be confident and play your part right, you have a splitting headache when the first day of shooting is done. You go straight back to the hotel and fall asleep.
The next day is easier and during all the waiting you start thinking about how you need to get laid. You want it something fierce. You used to be able to do this, from everything you've heard. Find companionship for the night. You can't ask JC and you're kinda scared of asking Chris. You won't ask Lance, so that leaves you with Joey. You corner him away from the cameras and say, "I want to get laid. But I don't know how."
Joey laughs nervously and says, "J, you don't need the bird and bees here, right?"
You roll your eyes and say, "No. Of course not. I mean, I want to get laid. I want a guy and I don't want to get caught and stuff."
Joey says oh and rubs his beard. He says he'll help you out. You ask him not to tell anyone else and he agrees to that, too. After the shoot wraps for the day he takes you to a club in Hollywood. As you walk in, he tells you this place is super-discreet and no one will know if you take someone home. "All of gay Hollywood comes here," he says with a grin.
You're feeling good and you know you look good. The cut on your face is just a pink line and in the dim light no one will even see it. You've grabbed drinks and found a table when a guy walks up to you and says, "Justin," like he knows you. You smile a little. The guy leans forward and says, "Don't you remember my name?"
Joey frowns at the belligerence in his tone and says, "Hey. Bud. We're talking here."
The guy rears back and he's pissed. "Of course, of course. Justin Timberlake doesn't remember the guys who blow him and the guys he fucks, we're not that important."
You start to say you're sorry but the guy flounces away. You're spooked anyway. Guys are looking at you but maybe you've gotten blowjobs from all of them. Maybe they all think you should know their names. You and Joey leave after an hour and you go straight to bed.
The last day of the shoot goes well, and everyone claps you on the shoulder and says you did good. You go back to the hotel and you're eating your veggie burger from room service when JC and Chris show up at your door, grinning. JC has a surprise and the three of you drive with two bodyguards to the Wiltern Theatre. You see the marquee and it's Ani DiFranco. JC's taking you to see Ani. You're thrilled. She's so great, you're the happiest you've been in, well, forever. JC and Chris know some of the songs a little but you know almost every one and you sing along quietly. You hug JC tight when the show's over and you walk back to the car.
In the car ride home, you're still bubbling about how great it was and you and JC start talking about how her live shows are better than her albums. The two of you are suddenly talking about production and live albums and it feels right. You don't know much more than just the basics but you're both engaged and right there. You look over and see Chris looking at JC and then you and his eyes are soft so that part makes you happy, too.
You do some interviews, always with one of the guys and the questions are carefully screened. You do those okay, too. TRL is really scary, though, and your head starts hurting a lot midway through. During the commercial break you turn to Lance and start to say something but he just nods. He takes your arm and pushes you off screen to one of the green rooms. Chris sits next to you until it's time to go and he shoos away the MTV people who buzz around you. You just rub your head and look at your feet. You feel like an idiot. Or a fraud. You know the stories, you once did a show with a broken thumb. Now you can't even last through fucking TRL without your head hurting and that's enough for you to run away. Chris doesn't seem mad or the rest of the guys but you still feel like an asshole all over again.
You have two days before the tour starts and when you're not in the last rehearsals you wander around your house and let your mom make you food. She found this vegetarian cookbook and she seems intent on trying out every recipe. It's sweet. She's great and you feel blessed. She gave you space during the rehearsals and now she's around to make you feel better when you're so nervous you can barely sleep.
The night before the first show in Orlando, you end up in one of the guest rooms, flipping through old Rolling Stone magazines. You stop because there's a picture of the guys. It's from right after they caught the kidnappers. JC is falling to the ground, his face twisted and he's crying. Lance is right next to him, holding him up, tears leaking from his eyes. Chris is on the other side of JC, Joey on the other side of Lance and they both look like they've been shot but haven't fallen down. You think it's the most evil picture you've ever seen. It should be illegal to take a picture at a time like that. You wonder if the photographer was proud and you hate yourself because it's really all your fault.
You start to read the article even as you know it's a bad idea. They don't spell it out, but it's clear that you were right and Lance got the box. That makes you feel even worse. You put down the magazine and it occurs to you as you walk back to your room that somewhere, someone has saved all these things as evidence. Evidence like the ransom note and the box and your skin. You've watched too many Homicide episodes and you can almost sort of picture of it. You make it to the bathroom before you throw up.
When you make it through the soundcheck and then the wait during the opening acts you want to throw up again. Everyone's really nice to you but you know that your nervousness makes them nervous. You're such a dork you've been practicing the hackey part. Then you're on and it's the scariest thing you've ever done. You remember to smile and you remember all the choreography. You think you sound okay and you're concentrating so hard on doing everything you need to do, you don't even notice the crowd. You notice the guys and they're a little on edge, a little off, you think, because of you, you're sure. You think about the reviewers in the audience and the kids in the worst seats in the back. You're sweating a lot and when you take off your pants for one of the costume changes they just slide off, practically.
In the middle of the new song, you hear the crowd. You really hear them and they're so many of them. They look really happy. It's like a surge that goes through you and suddenly you realize how much fun this is. You have a really cool job. You have a great job. You do this amazing thing and you do it well. The rest of the show is almost a blur but it's also sharp like everything is in focus. It's all new to you but it's great, it's completely great. The show goes really well.
You feel like you're getting the hang of this touring thing. Buses and hotels and traveling. The venues kind of look the same to you, just empty seats and then filled seats and the same set that comes with you from state to state. You're having a lot of fun and you think the guys are having more fun because of you, so that's something. You wish you could do more for them. You can call Amy now, you have time during the day, and she says to give it time.
You still don't remember anything more than twenty minutes or an hour of your previous life. You remember the smell of a venue in Germany. You have a brief flash of kissing Chris, pushed against a brick wall. One morning in the hotel while you eat breakfast, you remember kissing Britney. You call one of the road crew by the right name before you're even introduced.
Two weeks into the tour you wake up late and your head already hurts. You take your meds and pray but it's not working. The fear of the migraine, the dancing lights on the edge of your peripheral vision, are maybe worse than the migraine and you think that until it hits. You're curled up on your bed and you remember you have to tell someone. You force yourself up and knock on the door next to yours, you know the band has the whole floor. You sink to the ground when Lance opens the door and you mutter, "migraine."
He pulls you into his room and gets you onto his bed. He asks you whether he can do anything again and you tell him no. You hear him a little on the phone, hear him say, "No, we're rescheduling. Let's figure out a date now so we can announce it together with the cancellation tonight. We're rescheduling tonight, we can't do it." You're just drifting in and out because your whole world has been reduced to the pain in your head.
There's a dip in the bed and you feel someone rubbing your back. You hear JC say, "shhh, baby," and you realize you just walked over in your boxers. Your ankle and your shoulder and you don't want JC to see that or Lance. You start to moan about wanting a shirt and socks, but JC keeps rubbing your back and tells you not to worry. Someone pulls a blanket over you. You think the rest of the guys are there at different points but you can't concentrate around the pain.
You fall asleep at some point and when you wake up, it's 3 a.m. and the migraine has passed. You're on the edge of the bed and JC is curled up next to you. You get out of the bed and see that Chris is next to JC, one arm thrown around JC. Joey is sprawled across the couch, still wearing his shoes and Lance is asleep in the chair in a tortured posture. His neck will kill him if he stays there. You shake him a little until he wakes up.
"Are you feeling better," he mumbles. You nod your head yes and walk him to the bed. He makes a little noise but settles onto the sheets easily. He looks over at JC and Chris and smiles. "They're so cute," he says.
You say softly, "I didn't know. They're, uh?"
Lance is already half asleep and he says, "Yeah. Since you, uh, since you were gone. I thought maybe at first it wasn't such a good idea but they're really." Then he's asleep and you pull the covers over all three of them. You kiss Lance on the forehead and grab two blankets and a pillow. You go over to Joey and take off his shoes, and then throw a blanket over him. You put your pillow on the floor and wrap yourself in the blanket. And you finally believe Lance, that you weren't an asshole before and you maybe aren't one now. Your friends loved you, love you now enough to spend all day in a hotel room with you while you cried and held your head. Maybe you won't ever remember anything more, maybe you'll be eighty before your one hour accumulates enough other hours to equal the twenty-one years you've lost. But you're here now, you think, like Toby said on The West Wing, and this is a pretty great place in the end.
You're supposed to have a full week off after a month of touring, but it ends up only being four days so you can make up the show that got cancelled because of your migraine. You go over to Lance's house the first day. He lets you in and raises an eyebrow at you but you just follow him to the kitchen. He makes coffee and looks at you. You were planning something eloquent, but you end up just leaning across the counter and taking his hands. You say, "I'm sober now. And it's still proposition Lance time."
His eyes widen and he starts to move back but you step around the counter and kiss him before he can protest. It's sweet and soft and you tug him closer. Open your mouth to let him kiss you more and he pulls away. "Justin," he says. "I feel like I'm taking advantage of you here. You don't remember whether you wanted this."
"I really did and I do now and it's now that counts," you say. You kiss him again and he sighs. Then he pulls you even closer and mutters okay over and over again.
You end up on the couch and you pull off his pants. You're trying to remember what to do to do it best, but you end up just diving in. It really feels good and it's sort of your first time so you're glad Lance is moaning and enjoying it. You have his cock in your mouth and he's thrusting up and you think you were an idiot to not do this before. He comes with a shout and you think it's your second greatest accomplishment of the year. He pulls you into a kiss and you think it's maybe the greatest.
He kicks off his pants and laughs and says, "You wanna?" You nod and grin and he gets up, says, "Let me get stuff," and walks out of the room. You think you can maybe do this by just pulling your pants down and that will work and you're smiling and happy, leaning back against the couch.
He comes back into the room and puts the lube and the condom down on the end table. He sits next to you and tugs at your t-shirt. "Hey, you're all dressed," he says softly. You try to pull your t-shirt down a little, but he kisses you and then pulls it off. You're whimpering a little, you don't want him to not do this. Then he murmurs, "It's okay, it's okay." His fingers graze the scar on your shoulder, deliberately and softly, and he says, "I'm okay, it's okay."
He pulls you on top on him on the couch and he has to help a little because you know what to do but not how to make it all perfect. When you're inside him what you think of muscle memory kicks in and it's pretty much the best thing you can ever remember happening. When you're done and he's done and it's all beautiful and perfect, you lie together naked on the couch and you wrap your arms around him and say, "I love you, I really do." It doesn't matter if you've ever said it before. He says he loves you, too and you both fall asleep there.
You were wrong. The best thing you can ever remember is in the morning when he wakes you up by rubbing your stomach and looks up at you and says, "I meant it last night, I really do love you." And you say you love him, too. It's the most amazing thing and you know you could write a song about it, about him, about waking up where you belong.
Onto Part 2, Lighted Windows
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