It took awhile for him to notice, but when he did it seemed as if he’d been noticing all along, each instance accumulating in his subconscious until one day, oh.
JC was singing again. He had been all day, on and off, a bright little twist of notes over and over without words, clearly midway between idea and crumpled notebook page, just trying it out. Leaning over the end of the couch, Chris could see him moving about the small kitchen, swaying with the movement of the bus. He appeared to be piling too much ice cream into his favorite blue bowl. Chris found himself smiling at the familiar sight.
“Dude! Hit me!”
JC gave him a look that clearly said oh, I will and turned away. Having trouble with the writing, then. JC always turned into a pissy bitch when the writing wouldn’t flow, although Chris liked the fourteen notes he’d heard variations of since morning, a nice riff.
But by next morning JC was sounding a little ragged and Chris thought he might rip his hair out if he heard those fourteen fricking notes ever again. It sounded familiar, like a song he should know. Probably something… kind of… well. It was just, the tune was so familiar, but he couldn’t quite come up with why, couldn’t place it and if C would just sing it this way… but he couldn’t try it out himself, because the one time he had opened his mouth, JC had given him a look that said I will pound your head on the ground and disappeared into the back of the bus. Which was going pretty far, even for him.
So Chris had them stop the buses at the first available hick gas station. He could hum a little in the parking lot, or take his time deciding between Twizzlers and beef jerky and get a few notes in that way. Predictably, when Chris yelled through the partition to see if JC wanted anything, he got no answer. He pulled the sliding door back, hoping if he moved it slowly enough and peered in at about knee level, JC might not notice and glare some rude words at him. It didn’t matter. JC was sitting silently on the big couch with a blanket draped over his head.
Hardcore-bad writing fit, then. Chris was feeling his frustration. Maybe some of that crappy Neapolitan ice cream that JC liked, if the hicks had any. Chris went forward and thwocked Justin on the head to let him know it was time for a candy break.
** ** ** ** **
The hicks, as it turned out, were John and Debbie. They ran the gas station, wearing matching shirts with their names sewed on the pockets, and looked to have been married since before Justin was born. John wore a sweaty Purina HogChow cap that Chris would’ve killed for, which he lifted and adjusted on his head as a kind of substitute for conversation. Debbie Chris had liked on the spot, because although she clearly recognized them, her only response was to laugh. Chris explained the ice-cream thing.
“Oh, your poor friend! Well, no Neapolitan. We do have ice-cream bars or popsicles. Or would he like a Slush-ee?”
Chris thought for a moment. “Not a bad idea. It would fit under the blanket. Hmm.”
“The blanket? Oh, no, is C having one of his fits?” Lance put down a bottle of peach iced tea and smiled at Debbie and John.
“Yeah, you know. The mighty artiste.”
“Probably get a lot more done if he wasn’t so mighty or artiste-y.” Lance took his change and carefully tucked the bills into his wallet.
Chris raised his eyebrows and shrugged a little. “Such sympathy, Bass. His ways are not our own. Especially since you and I do not write shit.”
“Well, you do. But yeah.” Lance could never really pull off the hard-ass thing, so Chris only elbowed him a little bit for the snark. “But you have to admit, sometimes it’s like he digs a hole and then jumps on into it.”
“What hole? What jumping? What’re y’all talking about?” Justin edged up to the counter between them and unloaded. Chris noticed that John’s cap yanking accelerated at the sight of Justin’s mound of junk food, half of which seemed to be trying to escape over the edge of the counter.
“Whoa! Got it. Thanks, Bass. Guess I got a lot goin’ on here. Now, who’s jumping and what hole? Oh, that sounded bad. Heh.”
John gave a particularly violent yank, just as Lance rolled his eyes. Chris felt he might be on to something, here.
“C,” Lance said. “The writing.”
“Oh, his writing gig, his thing that he does? Oh. Wait, he’s writing? I totally didn’t realize.”
“That’s because you haven’t taken those headphones off in days, dude. Although why you need to listen to The Lord of the Rings on tape when you could read the books…” Chris shook his head.
Lance gave a low snort that spoke volumes.
“Shut up! I’m just saying, I didn’t notice. But you know JC, he’s kinda quiet anyway, on the bus.”
“Something up with C?” Joey pushed in next to Justin.
“Damn, Joey, did you leave anything, dawg?”
“You should talk, obviously. Is JC writing again? Or not writing, I guess I should say.”
“Yeah, the not writing.” Chris sighed as Lance started trying to stuff half of Justin’s junk food down the back of his shirt, holding on to his belt. Justin giggled wildly and swung his shoulders from side to side, unable to escape. Stupid JC. Chris was so worried about him that it didn’t occur to him until too late to jump on Justin’s back and crush everything under his shirt, a tragic loss of fun. But at least his tentative theory about backwoods eye rolling was vindicated. John had practically turned his cap inside out on top of his head at the sight of Lance and Justin giggling and wrestling around like seven year olds.
“Here, young man. Give this to your friend.” Awww! A cherry Slush-ee. How cool was that. “Your friend, he’ll be all right? He’ll be all right.”
Not sure if she was asking or telling or what, Chris tilted his head from side to side like yeah, yeah.
“He will. You’ll take care of him.” She nodded, satisfied. Chris smiled and wrinkled his nose, feeling like the biggest tool. But John took his hand down from his cap brim and Joey grabbed the back of his neck and shook him like a dog with a rabbit. It almost made up for Justin hooting as Lance grinned, the fuckers.
As he climbed back onto the silent bus, Chris realized he had forgotten about trying to sing the song.
** ** ** ** **
In his dream, JC and he had been baking a pie, rolling out the dough and putting the apple filling in and crimping the edges of the crust, or actually he had been doing all this while JC just babbled on like an idiot. Chris remembered thinking jesus, JC, just shut up one time! Because he had never baked a pie before and wanted to get it right. But he had woken up happy because it was a lot of fun listening to JC go on about whatever while Chris made a pie.
As he lay there cozy with his head under the warm pillow, Chris thought maybe there had been something else, some other fading part of his dream that he could barely grasp. It was… JC had been bouncing, like he did when he was excited about something. Excited… he sounded good. It sounded good, because that’s right, he’d been singing something. It sounded really good, actually, and Chris smiled under his pillow and hummed the little spill of notes. God, finally. That was it.
He must have heard C in his sleep. Although, truthfully, after they’d crashed back onto the bus, candy exploding from Justin’s clothing as Chris tripped him up the steps, Chris had been a bit freaked out. JC, sitting on the couch with the tv controller in his hand, had greeted them with a smile, as normal as he ever was. He had seemed pleased by the Slush-ee. Appearing oblivious to Chris’s narrow-eyed stare, he had watched “Pitch Black”with them, laughing as Justin imitated Vin Diesel, until Chris had to escape to the back of the bus himself from the sheer weird normalcy of it all.
Not a notebook in sight back there. No blanket, no dirty blue bowl, not a single chewed pen. Uncanny.
And not a note from JC’s mouth the rest of the night. Chris shivered in his bunk. Just remembering was giving him the wig. Usually, JC spent days in a kind of self-induced fever, with the ragged singing and the blanket and the guys mocking him and trying to make sure he ate once in awhile. Or, really, mostly Chris making him grilled cheeses or Hot Pockets while Justin snorted like an ass, because Justin never had trouble writing, the punk bastard.
Denial. It must have been. But evidently it had all worked out, because at some point he must have sung the song and Chris must have heard him in his sleep and dreamt about it, JC happily singing the song to him in his dream. Because now he had it. It was right, it was exactly what he’d been hoping to find in the hick station over the Twizzlers. Chris smiled again and shut his eyes.
But when Chris sang the song to JC, all sleep-rumpled as he held a frying pan in the little kitchen, JC’s face drained of color and the pan hit the floor. JC gave him an unreadable look before fleeing to the back, but later Chris thought it might have been something like oh, fuck.
** ** ** ** **
“I was holding a frying pan.” JC glanced at him sideways and tugged a little at the blanket Chris held firmly.
“JC. Dude, I know you were, and then you, like, heaved it and freaked out. What’s going on, man?”
“I didn’t freak out. I just.” JC sighed, then with quick hard pull tore the blanket from Chris’s hands and bunched it up in his lap, curling his body over it slightly, winding it around his hands.
“You did freak out! I don’t know, I mean, were you pissed because I sang that? Because I know you pretty much told me not to, but it just sort of fell into place, or I think maybe I must have overheard you last night, or something, but when I woke up it was there, and I. I’m sorry. JC? I’m sorry, man. For whatever.” God. As usual when he spoke to JC, Chris had to remind himself to shut up. He had this tendency to go on, for some reason, which he himself found pretty funny.
“I never told you not to sing.” JC put his head down onto the huge bundle he had wound the blanket into, then turned his face toward Chris a bit. “And you didn’t hear me sing it, because I didn’t.”
“Well, you indicated that I shouldn’t be singing it, and I guess I must have just come up with what I sang to you on my own, or remembered it or something, because, dude, I know that song from somewhere.”
“No. You don’t.” Chris was sure the blanket would be back over C’s head right this minute, if he hadn’t turned it into an enormous arm trap. “And anyway.”
Chris waited. For once, not going to babble. But JC was silent, face pressed into the blanket.
“JC.” Hesitantly, Chris curved his hand over JC’s shoulder. He never liked to be touched in his writing gigs, strangely, since JC usually had no idea what ‘personal bubble’ even meant, but Chris guessed all bets were off, now… oh. He was shaking.
“C. What’s up, man? C’mon.” After a minute, Chris slid his hand into JC’s hair, stroking slowly and, he hoped, comfortingly. JC made a little noise and turned his face toward Chris again.
“In my dream. I was holding the frying pan.” He lifted his head from the blanket, straightening up and turning toward Chris. “In my dream.”
“In yo… JC.”
“In my dream, Chris. I was in the kitchen. Holding a frying pan and you came in and you sang to me and I remember. I remember, I was so happy, because finally, that damn song. And I remember thinking, hmmm, I’ve never written a song like that before, I’ll have to tell Chris because he’ll laugh. But then you.”
“JC. No.” Suddenly, he realized he still had a handful of JC’s hair, cupping his hand around the back of JC’s head as he spoke. He tugged the handful of hair gently, then let his hand slide free. “You big freak, you must have figured it out before you went to sleep or something.”
“Chris, no.” JC narrowed his eyes and yanked free of the blanket trap, grabbing Chris’s wrist and shaking his hand around for emphasis. “I dreamt it, the frying pan. But I didn’t know the song before I went to sleep. And it may be familiar to you, but I don’t know why, because I’m telling you, it’s not a song. Already. I mean, it’s not already a song.” He gave Chris’s wrist a final hard shake.
“Dude, get off me. I use that hand.” He twisted his wrist to break JC’s hold and grabbed JC’s hand in turn. Still shaking, dammit. C had himself all worked up. “Okay, C, let’s break it down. What are you saying, we had some kind of weird-ass dream telepathy? Because, no. I’m telling you.”
“Chris. All I know is, it happened just like I dreamed. And you… it was the same song. You sang the song from my dream, Chris! The same one! How do you explain that?”
“Whoa, whoa, come on, C. You’re gonna hyperventilate, you keep on like this.” Chris put his arm around JC’s trembling body and pulled him in close. “Listen. This is just getting to you because, you know how you get when you’re writing. You know? How you go into your weird place and we have to wait ’til you come back?” He gave JC a questioning little tug.
After a few minutes, JC nodded into his shoulder. “You make me sound insane, man,” he mumbled, but Chris thought he might be smiling a bit, from the sound of his breathing.
“No, not at all. Maybe just a little. But I’m just saying, everything hits you pretty hard when you’re like this. And maybe it was just a little deja vu thing, your dream. Or you just remembered it that way. Because maybe that song just is familiar, you know? Maybe we both know it but just can’t remember where from, you know?”
JC shook his head slowly, rubbing his face into Chris’s t-shirt. Chris could feel him let out a heavy breath. “I don’t think so, man. But, okay. Yeah. Maybe.” He sat up again, with a small embarrassed smile on his lips. But his eyes still had that too-round look to them, the way they got when C was tired or stressed. “I’m gonna get something to eat. Nothing with a frying pan, though.”
Chris snorted. “I’ll make it, man. I’ll make french toast.”
JC pursed his lips a little and bumped his shoulder against Chris’s, then got up and drifted away, trailing his blanket. Smiling, Chris said, “You’re welcome,” and headed for the kitchen.
** ** ** ** **
“You just used the word ‘just,’ like, nine times in one sentence.”
Chris leveled a hard stare at Justin. “You were listening. To a private conversation.”
“Well, yeah. When a person gets woken up because people are, like, throwing pots and pans and freaking out, and then other people are using parts of a person’s name repeatedly, well, you can’t help but want to know what’s up.”
“Woken’s not a word.”
“Chris. It is too, because I just used it. Now, tell me, dammit! Is he okay?” Justin bit his lip and bumped a fist against Chris’s arm, right about where C had mauled him. Chris relented.
“Man, you know. He will be. We’ll have to make sure of it, okay?”
Justin nodded seriously and leaned against Chris. “You said french toast, right?”
“Fucking spying food slut!” He pushed Justin away, laughing. “Come on, little big man, you get the stuff together and I’ll wash the pan.”
As J went off happily, saying something about nasty-ass cinnamon, Chris could hear the shower go on in back. Good. Maybe relax him. He needed it.
** ** ** ** **
That night in his sleep they were all onstage. Justin was bouncing along like he was on crack, as usual. Joey made faces at them all with his back turned to the audience, and Lance smiled his cat smile, gliding around, perfectly satisfied. Chris himself was having the serious kind of fun he had onstage when he was trying to get it all right, but he felt a little confused. Hadn’t they already done this show? Tonight, in fact, and the audience had been hyped and it had gone well, although JC had snuck little bits of the song into most of his solos, glancing sideways at Chris as he sang. Chris had done his best to bump into JC and glare at him every time, but JC had beamed at him and skipped out of the way. Resilient motherfucker. Chris looked around. Huh. He was dreaming, then. Where was C?
Chris woke himself with a gasp. Son of a… shit. Goddammit. Shit. Shit. Scrambling out of the tangled heap of covers, he landed mostly upright beside the bed and swung wildly to look around the hotel room. C was. He had. He… but no, Chris was awake now and the dream was gone. JC was gone, no longer radiantly smiling at Chris as he sang the song onstage, sang the words to the song, no longer holding his hands out like here. Here, for you.
Out of there. Now. Getting out of there was imperative, so he started pulling on his clothes. Strange how, although the presence of the dream was fading, somewhat, the wig remained. And the words. Now he had the song lyrics in his head, JC’s voice singing the song, and he felt sure that C was right, that this was a new song, never before heard. Never before heard, until… oh, god. JC was going to freak. Chris was bone certain of it. JC had been there.
He threw open the door. JC, who had apparently been sitting against his door in the quiet hotel hallway, flopped into the room. From the floor he looked up at Chris, then his mouth crumpled a little and he shrugged one shoulder against the carpet.
“I had a dream.”
Chris sat right down where he stood, next to JC, and put his head on the floor in front of his crossed legs. What the fuck. This was beyond the wig. This was beyond freaking out. He was beyond freaking out because, what the fuck. How could he take care of JC when he was the one breaking down?
“C’mon. We’re going out.”
Chris lifted his face out of the carpet. “JC. We’re in, like, Nebraska or something. There is no out, here.”
“We’re going out. We’ll find an out. Get your coat. I’ll get Lonnie.” He stood with a single flowing movement. Chris shook his head. Okay.
** ** ** ** **
Fourteen beers later Chris thought he may have figured a few things out. He waved at the bartender. “Jorge. My man. You don’t look like a Jorge. Can I get another Negra?”
Jorge, a large hispanic man, regarded him expressionlessly. JC barked out one of his wild laughs. So drunk. JC seemed a lot more relaxed now that he was wasted, which was one of the things Chris had come to realize over the last few hours. Perhaps they should both stay drunk until whatever it was… stopped. Chris didn’t remember if he dreamed much when he was drunk. It seemed like an option, though. Maybe they could just stay in this shitty little bar in Nebraska or whatever, with Jorge forever. Good old Jorge. They could eat jalapeno poppers and Chex mix. The guys could tour as a trio.
Also, JC looked tired, which on JC along with the drunkenness just made him look kind of glittery eyed and hot. Even hotter than usual. Chris was pretty sure he himself looked all pasty faced and goofy. And freaked out. Because, another thing he had realized was that this whole situation had the power to give him the shivers, like, repeatedly. Just too weird. Too… immediate. Like he was in a dream right now and couldn’t wake up.
“I’m pretty sure I’m awake now, Chris. Are my eyes open?” JC grabbed his shoulder and almost sent them both reeling off the barstools. Chris righted them both with some difficulty, anchoring JC to the dingy wall by the sternum with one hand and giving Jorge a thumbs up with the other. Surprisingly, Jorge had nothing to say about this feat of dexterity. But he did put another couple beers in front of Chris before turning away. Good old Jorge.
“Chris. Are my eyes awake? I mean, open?” JC was looking at him with those glittery drunken little slitty eyes, and Chris thought about another conclusion he had come to in the past few hours. This was all C’s fault. Because… because of that stupid song. That stupid fucking beautiful song that Chris had never heard, really, but couldn’t get out of his head. Stupid JC.
“So, what? You’re pissed at me, now? Not talking to me? Whatever. Fucker.”
JC slid bonelessly off the stool, barely managing to stop his full descent to the floor by latching on to a handful of Chris’s jacket. “‘M goin’ back. If you ever wanna talk EVER AGAIN, fucker, come find me.”
Sighing, Chris stood and pulled JC against him. Holding C upright with an arm clamped around his waist, he fished bills from his pocket until Jorge’s eyes widened a little, then wove his way outside to the limo, JC in tow. Lonnie helped him pour JC into the car, shaking his head but without a word. Good old Lonnie.
He slid into the limo warily. Immediately, he had an armful of drunken JC.
“Sorry. ‘M so sorry. But we are gonna talk about this, right? Because, I think we better.”
“We will, C. But, scary as it sounds, I think we should sleep first.”
“Yeah, we better. Sleep, I mean. And then talk. Okay, Chris?”
“Okay, JC.” With that JC put his head down on Chris’s shoulder, out like a light. Chris threaded his hand into JC’s hair and looked out the window of the limo, trying not to think about anything.
** ** ** ** **
Getting JC into the hotel was the usual comedy of errors, with the extra added attraction that Joey leaned out of his door when Chris and Lonnie made some noise wrestling JC down the hall to his room.
“Dude! What did you do to JC?”
“I murdered him, what does it look like? Now come and help me hide the body.” Chris didn’t mean to snarl. But, really.
Joey snorted and took one boneless arm from Lonnie’s grasp. JC roused briefly.
“Joey!” he said happily. “Chris is pretty fucked up, I think!”
Chris snarled again, in the midst of thanking Lonnie profusely and promising never to do it again. Lonnie was nodding gravely in a way that reminded Chris, for some reason, of John and his HogChow cap. JC giggled.
“He usually is, buddy. Now let’s get you inside, okay?”
“Okay, Joey.” JC, out like a light again. He weighed about a million pounds, drunk. Chris wanted to let Joey carry most of the deadweight, but JC, although unconscious, had a vine-like grasp on his neck.
“Chris, Chris, Chris.” Joey shook his head.
“What, Joey. What.”
“Chris.” That disapproving look, as if Joey had any fucking room.
“What? He’s not an adult? I held the bottle to his mouth?”
“Whatever, man. You know what I’m saying.” With a mighty shove, Joey sent them toward the bed. “This ain’t the best time for this.”
Chris meeped as a bony JC elbow caught him near the eye. “Ow. What the fuck, man. Dammit!”
He could hear Joey saying something else, maybe even laughing, the fucker, but JC had landed like a sack on top of him on the bed, and he was busy for a minute trying to breathe through a faceful of denim and rhinestones. Scratchy. JC also seemed to be spreading over the surface of the bed and over Chris. By the time Chris had managed to persuade C to pour over into the center of the bed and mostly off of him, Joey was gone.
** ** ** ** **
“Well, you wanted to talk. Talk, then.” Chris narrowed his eyes menacingly at JC, who appeared unimpressed.
“It wasn’t just me. You said we should talk about this. You know we need to talk about this.” JC struggled out of his jacket, the scratchy rhinestone one, Chris noted absently.
“JC, I swear to God!” He looked beseechingly around the darkened room. Where was Jorge when you needed him. Oh. Behind the bar, ignoring them, of course. Hmm. Chris didn’t remember there being this many tables in here, before.
“Chris, it’s a beautiful song. Although I suppose that’s apropos of nothing, but really, it’s not. I sang it to you onstage, you know.” JC smiled a little, hesitantly, and lifted his glass to his mouth. Chris looked down at the table. There, in front of him, stood a bottle of Negra on a little paper napkin. He didn’t remember ordering it, but. Good old Jorge.
“Yeah, C. It’s…” Chris felt defeated, somehow. The wig was becoming old hat. That was just not right. “It’s pretty beautiful, JC.”
“What are we gonna do?”
“I have no idea. None. You just had to write that song, didn’t you, C?” Chris supposed that was a little unfair. JC couldn’t help being a genius. He shook his head.
JC slammed his drink down suddenly. Eyes blazing, he stood up and pushed away from the table. “Oh, that is it! You just don’t get it, do you?” Amazed, Chris watched as JC strode over to the jukebox, which… there was a jukebox? Huh, really hadn’t noticed that one. JC slid a dollar in and punched a few buttons. Turning back to face Chris from across the room, he crossed his arms tightly against his body, shoulders hunched, his face white and still. The tension in the little bar was palpable. Even Jorge, Chris realized, was paying attention.
Music filled the room and Chris felt a shock run right through him.
** ** ** ** **
Gasping awake for the second time that night, Chris struggled to sit up. He made it about half way before realizing that the weight holding him down was actually JC, who had apparently spread himself over Chris again in his sleep. He slumped back down into the warm blankets.
JC said something into Chris’s neck and then pushed himself up abruptly, looking at Chris out of wild eyes. His breathing started to hitch, just a little. Chris pulled him down and wrapped him up in the blankets, holding on to him tighter when he pushed his face into Chris’s body.
“Oh, honey, I don’t know either. I just don’t know.”
** ** ** ** **
Somewhere around dawn Chris could hear the door to JC’s room opening slowly. Rubbing his tired eyes, he turned his head a little from where it was propped against JC’s arm. Bass. In the watery light just beginning to fill the large hotel room, Lance looked ethereal, like he was floating across the floor… floating, with a smirk on his face. Fucker. Chris was too exhausted to deal. He had stayed awake all the rest of the night, watching JC sleep, wondering if he dreamed.
Lance came to rest on the bed on Chris’s side, pretty much with his ass on Chris’s foot. Chris kicked gently at him, trying not to bounce the bed, until Lance moved about a quarter of an inch and settled back in, regarding Chris steadily. He wrapped his hand around Chris’s ankle over the covers.
“We have that photo shoot, Chris. And then those radio things. I went to wake you but you weren’t there.” Lance shifted his gaze briefly to JC, a cocoon of blankets with a few spirals of hair coming out the top. Looking back at Chris he opened his mouth to go on, but instead narrowed his eyes and peered more closely at him.
“Oh, my god. Have you slept at all? Are you… you’re still drunk, aren’t you? Oh, my god, Chris.”
Chris made a face and shushed Lance with a few abrupt hand motions. The JC cocoon made a mmmm sound beside him, then JC shot up out of the blankets, yelping “Photo Shoot!” and lurching toward the bathroom. Chris watched him try and fail to shut the bathroom door on a corner of the blanket he was trailing. Finally JC threw his hands in the air and gave up, leaving the door wedged partly open with the blanket. Chris could hear the shower turn on. He turned back to Lance to find him watching the proceedings with an open mouth.
“He’s drunk, too!” Lance sounded scandalized. As if. Bass partied even harder than Joey. Chris had seen him shitfaced many times. What was wrong with people, lately? Ow, his head hurt.
“Could you possibly keep it down a little? I’d really appreciate it.”
Lance ignored him. “Chris, what is going on with you? With C. All of a sudden the last couple days, y’all are getting weird. Weirder.”
“Bass, I will kill you with my own hands if you don’t stop shouting at me. Or I would if I could move.” Chris shut his eyes, feeling the exhaustion spread through him like a black tide. Lance patted his ankle.
“I’ll get you guys some coffee if you promise to tell me what’s up, later.” Lance stood up. In the bathroom, JC moaned as if in pain. Chris could hear the vague sounds of wretching.
“Gross! I’m outta here. I’ll send coffee and stuff. Y’all better be ready soon. Like, we have to leave in forty-five.” Chris opened his eyes and grimaced his thanks. Lance rolled his eyes and left. Finally.
After a few minutes in which Chris lay there feeling spacey and disconnected from the world, JC came out of the bathroom with a rueful smile. “I always feel better when I throw up,” he said, unwinding the towel from his waist and moving toward the closet. Chris carefully stared at the ceiling and contemplated suicide.
“JC. Could you help me find the floor? So I can crawl to the bathroom.” JC gave a low laugh, then came to sit on the same foot Lance had flattened. He lay down next to Chris, looking into his eyes, all damp and warm smelling, with his hair curling wildly around his head. Suddenly, Chris felt he might live through this.
They lay there for a few minutes, looking at each other, until finally JC smiled and got up to finish dressing. Chris dragged his ass out of bed and got into the shower. There was barf in the tub. And fucking JC had used all the towels.
** ** ** ** **
They didn’t have a show that night, thank god, and since they had spent the endless day at one media event after another, it was decided to let them stay at the hotel another night before setting out on the buses the next day for Nebraska. Or, wait… whatever. Missouri, maybe. Chris was too utterly spent to care. JC probably knew where they were. And Lance, Lance usually kept track. Two out of five was good enough.
Chris had been extra manic that day. The photographer at the shoot had had to resign himself to pictures of the guys all carrying Chris around on their backs and hanging off their arms and legs. One of the DJs had snort-laughed until tears squirted out of her eyes, which was cool, while another had gotten so pissed off he stopped talking to Chris at all, which of course guaranteed Chris’s most determined rambling weirdness. JC spent the day laughing at Chris, mostly; not saying a lot but looking pretty fine despite a tendency toward paleness. The guys were cool, too, all things considered. Except that Justin kept making gagging noises and then cackling, which made JC shoot murderous looks at Lance, who looked back at him with wide innocent eyes. So, really, SOP. The usual.
But the day was winding down, and so was Chris.
He had to stay off the bed, and the couch, too. So he sat in a fairly uncomfortable lump on the floor by the tv. Justin and Lance seemed to have a competition going to dive-bomb popcorn into the spikes of his hair. Every so often Chris could feel something tap his head lightly. Cursing at last, he shook his head back and forth like a horse pestered by flies, listening to those two losers crowing triumphantly and slapping hands. Luckily, Joey’s attempts at pelting him with potato chips failed. “Design inadequacies, man. Just not aerodynamic enough!”
JC was being kinda quiet. Chris looked back at the couch. With a sense of horror, he realized JC was asleep.
“C! Wake up, man!” Maybe he sounded a little panicky. A tad panicky. The guys were staring.
JC opened his eyes. Looking at Chris with the faraway calm of the mostly asleep, he smiled sadly. “But. I’m really tired, Chris.”
“JC, man. C’mon.” He looked around at the guys, then back at JC. His eyes were closed again. Behind him, Joey cleared his throat.
“Not knowing what’s going on, here. But that’s okay, for now. You two freaks sleep. Or not. Or whatever. But we will talk, tomorrow, Chris. Because… okay, come on, Justin, Lance.”
“No way, Joey, man. This is too cool. I wanna stay.”
“Justin. Up. Now.” Joey moved over to the door, then looked at Lance. Lance looked at Chris, then got up.
“Awww. All right, then.” Justin climbed reluctantly out of his chair and turned off the tv. Stooping to give Chris a sloppy kiss on the forehead, he plucked a few pieces of popcorn out of his hair. “Hey, man. I’m here if you need me.”
“I know, J. It’s cool.” Fatalistically, Chris watched the door close on them. He could feel the black tide rushing toward him, in the distance. What a pussy. One night without sleep and he… “JC. C, man.”
JC took in a breath and opened one eye. He smiled. “Is it time for bed, Chris?”
“Yeah, C. Let’s get you to bed.”
JC spread out on the bed and on Chris again like liquid. Chris could get used to this, the feel of C breathing into his neck. So comfortable. So warm. With a sense of sinking under the waves, he closed his eyes.
** ** ** ** **
JC was laughing. Actually, giggling, that helpless high-pitched tickled sound he made when Chris really got him going. Chris opened his eyes.
Oh, this… this was just too much. Chris snorted, pushing sunglasses up his nose. The beach, for fuck’s sake. Bright sun, the roar of a decent-sounding surf, birds in the air overhead. Not a soul in sight. He turned a little on the blanket to find JC convulsing next to him.
“Nice choice, hairboy. What’s next, the Guggenheim? A Dairy Queen in New Mexico? The moon? Heh. Don’t tell Lance.”
JC got himself under control, wiping his eyes as he sprawled limply on the blanket. “Woo. What makes you think it was me?” He turned a trembling smile on Chris, clearly about to lose it again. Oh. Lots of brown skin and muscle, and JC’s pure look of enjoyment as he turned toward the sun, pushing both hands up his face and into his hair, ran through Chris like a spark through a wire. Like… the song when Chris first heard it on the jukebox, or when JC first sang it for him. Beautiful.
“Did I miss the part where this made sense?”
JC nodded gravely. “Yes, Chris.” He started shaking again, and a second later the giggling began. Chris sighed.
“Freak. I’m taking a walk. I’ll be back.”
“No! No, Chris, I want to come.” JC stood with an effort, pressing his lips together fiercely around a smile. Chris was willing to bet that behind his dark glasses, his eyes were joyful crinkled up slits. Chris shook his head and started trudging.
They wandered down the endless beach, kicking up sand, darting in and out of the water, flinging shells at each other and shouting insults. After awhile JC led Chris up away from the water into a little stand of trees, beyond which he could see a countryside of forested hills spotted with patches of color. Chris shook for a minute when he realized that the sun stood in the same place in the sky as it had when they started. JC looked at him with concern, holding on to his wrist as he breathed hard through his nose.
“Sorry. Sorry. Relapse. But, uh, JC. Maybe…?” JC released his wrist, and started looking around for a place to sit.
Settled, they stared at one another. Chris had not the faintest clue of what to say or how to begin. JC nodded a little.
“Okay, I. Chris, I’m sorry. I have a confession.” Chris could feel his own eyes widen. Oh, my god. Voodoo. It had to be. Or maybe, like, satanism. He knew it. Fucking JC.
“I. Chris.” JC lapsed into silence. He looked terrified. Well, duh! He should be. Messing with the dark powers like that. Had movies and tv taught him nothing?
“Chris.” JC was sounding a little desperate, twisting clumps of grass up from the dirt around his knees, looking at him intently with the sides of his mouth turned down. It was hard to see JC like that, even if he did deserve it. Messing with that. Messing with him like that.
With a woosh of breath the tension went out of JC. Suddenly, he looked very calm. Chris eyed him suspiciously, but JC smiled at him, a small affectionate smile. Loving, almost, but with a tinge of something dark. Ah. That was the devil in him, then.
In an instant, Chris’s world went ass over tea kettle as JC pushed him onto his back. “You are so dense.” Chris was having trouble making sense of the words muttered into his mouth, but he understood the tone, because it was the wire spark feeling, the shock all through him, the beauty of the song they had written together. Oh. And he understood JC kissing him, he was pretty sure, so he opened his mouth as JC growled and gasped on top of him and pushed hard against his moving body. He didn’t think much after that.
** ** ** ** **
Mmmm. Chris woke with a sense of utter rightness, head under his pillow, JC heavy all over him. He stretched. Ew, sticky.
JC made a noise that had every hair on Chris’s body standing on end, then sighed and rolled off. Chris pulled the pillow from his head so he could watch JC’s face. After a minute, JC opened his eyes.
“Does that count as one wet dream or two?” JC gave him a look so black that Chris had to smile.
“You’re such a retard. C’mere.” JC held open his arms and Chris slid home. “Now, shut up and go back to sleep.”
Chris was just about to fall back into the warm darkness when he heard C’s murmur. “Better now?”
He flung a hand upward, finding JC’s face, patting all over it lovingly until JC sputtered and pushed him away.
** ** ** ** **
When they strolled into Lance’s room for breakfast the next morning, Joey turned around from his plate, took one look, and snorted. “Okay, then.” Justin glanced up briefly from his paper.
Chris turned to JC. “What did he say, JC?”
“I didn’t hear anything, Chris.” JC gave an enigmatic smile worthy of Lance and headed for the room service cart. Chris watched him pile on the waffles and bacon. Good. Get some meat on those bones. Those long, lean… okay! Breakfast! Chris could just see the curve of JC’s lips over his shoulder. Not so enigmatic.
Lance came out of the bathroom in a cloud of humidity. “Morning. Leave some for me, losers,” he said, cuffing Justin on the back of the head. Justin ducked elaborately without a word. It was still several hours before the magpie in him awoke and the chattering began. Chris treasured these times, because honestly, some people never shut up… Hey! Chris turned an outraged glare at JC, who was settling down next to him on the couch.
JC looked blandly back, removing his foot from on top of Chris’s. He spoke to Lance. “So, Wyoming tonight? When will we get in?”
Wyoming? Who knew?
“I’m not sure, but we have that thing at the club, that one club? And that dinner thing, and a few quick radio spots. Which, why can’t we tape them here or, like, on the road and send them on?” Lance plunked into the chair next to Joey’s at the table.
“DJ.” They all looked at Justin, still face-down in the paper.
Joey nodded. “They want to, like, interact.” Made sense. But Chris didn’t really care about that right now, because JC was licking his fingers. Mmmm. And then Chris was firing the croissant that had bounced off his head straight back at Lance, because it could so be on, if that’s what he wanted, motherfucker.
JC cleared his throat. “Guys. Chris, um.”
What? Oh. Right. Yes, that was only fair, for them to understand what else had inspired all the weirdness the last couple of days. Chris turned to look into JC’s beautiful eyes, then opened his mouth to sing.
** ** ** ** **
He knew he had his face pressed into JC’s back, sleeping hard with C an unconscious lump beside him. But he was also in a dark, smoky club, sitting waiting with the rest of the excited crowd, watching the empty stage. Most excellent. Chris had really been looking forward to trying this out, the new one, the latest little twist of notes. He turned to JC. JC regarded the club with mild surprise, then rolled his eyes at Chris and took a sip of his drink. “Well. At least we get to have some fun in our dreams, these days.”
“Oh, because real life is so dull now.” Chris leaned against C, breathing him in. JC.
“Painfully dull.” JC smiled a private little smile down at his hands, then looked up. Chris was pretty sure everything in his own heart was spilling out, right about then, into his eyes, too.