Everybody is there when he finally arrives, Tyler and some friends Justin thinks he should remember and Roy and Karen, who comes into his arms immediately.
“Where is he?”
“In his room,” Tyler says, a little line between his eyes like he’s thinking hard, trying to remember something. Shock, Justin realizes. “Said he had some phone calls.” He laughs, and stops himself abruptly.
“Thanks for being here,” Roy says gravely.
“Yeah,” Justin says.
The phone is open on the bed, but JC is sitting by the window. He looks the same. Pale, but he’s been that way for a while now, working too hard, partying too hard, doing too much. Burning that candle. Justin remembers asking every time, how JC smiled as though Justin should know how it is. He knew. He wishes now he’d been less sure, had listened harder when JC spoke, paid better attention. That JC had listened to himself.
He turns slowly. He has that little line, too. Shadows like bruises under his eyes. “Can you believe this shit?”
“No,” Justin says truthfully.
“Yeah, it’s bullshit. But they did some tests. It’s fucking unreal. I feel fine.”
“So, what now?”
JC shrugs. “I don’t know, man. Chris says –” His face changes suddenly. “His friend Rich, Chris says –”
“JC.” He moves closer, but JC’s staring out the window intently now, like he’s afraid he’ll miss something. “Josh?”
“Chris is pissed off at me.”
“He’s. Maybe I shouldn’t have called him. I think it just upset him. You know how he gets.” The rusty sound he makes is nothing like a laugh.
“He got pretty mad. I just wanted to, you know.” His fingers are white around his knees, his spine straight. He’s waiting for something, Justin thinks. He tries to step closer, but JC flinches away, almost imperceptibly.
“I just wanted.”
After a few minutes Justin realizes he’s not going to go on. Probably he doesn’t know how. “JC,” he tries again. “What did he say?”
“He said.” The rusty noise again, and JC lowers his head. “I’m not stupid, you know. I just.” He takes a breath. “Everything is going to be okay, right?”
Suddenly, somehow, Justin knows. “Aw, man. JC.”
“I know he’s just worried. But I have too much to do — they said it might take over a month, or it might even… I can’t.”
“JC,” Justin says gently. “Chris is right. You gotta go.”
JC leans forward over his knees, his face in his hands, and Justin is finally able to cross the room to him. His back is heaving when Justin touches him tentatively, his body shuddering a little with each breath, and Justin crouches next to him for a long time, running a hand up and down his back and over his shoulders, rubbing his neck, finger-combing his hair, trying to breathe with him until he calms down.
Finally he says, “Fuck,” roughly and scrubs his face with his palms. Justin starts to scoot over when he sits back up again, but JC turns suddenly and throws his arms around him and puts his damp face in his neck. After a minute Justin eases his arms around JC’s body, trying not to squeeze too hard.
“I’m supposed to go today,” JC whispers.
“I should pack.” His hands on Justin’s back are trembling. “Chris said I should, clothes and stuff and like, my laptop –”
“Your parents can bring your stuff later,” Justin says. “Hell, they can bring my stuff too, for that matter.”
“Oh,” JC says. His body seems to relax a tiny bit. Soon he lets Justin pull him into the other room, and Justin keeps hold of his wrist as his family surges around him.
He seems just fine, trying to make his mom smile, shaking Tyler by the arm, stepping into his father’s embrace. Talking to everyone else, accepting hugs, giving hugs, trying to comfort them, of course, even when they get teary-eyed. Looking for his keys and shaking his head as he rummages along the kitchen counter, coming close to smiling himself when Justin dangles them in his face and then holds them out of reach, closing his hand around them. He will be fine. Justin whispers in Karen’s ear before he lets her go, and she starts crying. It’s a promise.
“Cedars-Sinai,” the GPS repeats dutifully. JC leans his head back against the car seat and Justin sees his throat move. Then, as Justin pulls out of the garage and signals, waiting for traffic to let up, JC turns his head. “I should call Chris back.”
“Yeah,” Justin says. “You should.”
JC says, “Hmm,” settling back in his seat, and he doesn’t turn away. Justin can feel his gaze throughout the long drive.