CHECK IN THE CLOSET
He stared at the small square of paper for several seconds, then his mouth curled into a sly little smile, and moments later split into a vast and satisfied grin.
His suitcases were neatly arranged by the closet door, where the bellhop had left them, and Justin took a step toward that door, so temptingly ajar, before he thought better of it and rounded the vast, smooth-canopied bed to tuck the little note into his duffel. It could go in the box with the others when he got back home. For now, he was in Vegas, his mom and his girlfriend would not be here for, what time was it, five hours yet, and...
"Hmm," he said aloud, and sniffed ostentatiously at his armpits. "Time for a shower."
Let him wait.
Humming happily, Justin stripped, and inventoried aloud, soap, washcloth, shampoo, as he got his washing kit out of the duffel. Leaving discarded travel clothes in a neat heap on the leather-covered armchair, he wandered into the bathroom. Grinned conspiratorially at his reflection. Turned on the water.
He washed, thorough but unhurried. Cameron ragged him about using Frederic Fekkai shampoo on his close-cropped head, but he liked the scent and the feel of it on his scalp, and just because there wasn't much hair, didn't mean he shouldn't take care of it. Careful attention to the ears, the neck. Shoulders. Wash out the travel tension.
Was JC wondering what he was doing? Was JC picturing him now, sliding soapy hands across his chest, down his arms, over his abs? Was JC twitching as he hid there in the closet? Was he patient enough to wait until Justin emerged, or would he barge through the bathroom door any second now, fling open the shower and step right in, heedless of clothes? Or was he, maybe, done up like a birthday present, wrapped and unable to get out, helpless to do more than wait for Justin to come find him, and meanwhile, to imagine... To imagine what Justin might be doing, where Justin's hands might be going.
Hell, why not, Justin thought. Take the edge off. He was pretty much hard anyway. He tipped his head back under the deluge of hot water, and smiled to himself. Perhaps... some sound effects. His hands, foamed with sandalwood-scented soap, slid over and round his fast-firming cock, and he groaned loudly, and saw it all in his head. JC, listening to him masturbate, wanting him. Stroking himself. JC's hands right here, doing this, and this, and this, JC kneeling at his feet, JC's mouth on his cock, taking him down, hotter and slicker than soapy hands. His own hands, working JC's cock, making him shiver and moan and beg. Justin's hands moved faster, one sliding over his balls and smoothing the tender skin between his thighs, the other pumping his cock, thumb circling across the head, as his ass tightened and he thrust forward and up. JC, watching him, stroking himself. JC waiting there, in the closet, listening.
Justin cried out as his orgasm hit.
* * *
(Back it up a bit)
What Goes Around Comes Around (on repeat)
There was litter all over his bedroom, like someone had stood in the middle of the bed and sprayed little squares of paper in all directions. Weird. Justin picked up one of the papers. WHAT DO YOU WANT was typed on it in large, anonymous capitals. Another one said WHO. Another DO YOU EVEN KNOW.
What the hell?
Someone had gotten into his house, into his bedroom, and left random notes for him. Keep calm. Yeah, okay. No, not okay, really not okay, and somebody on his security detail was so fired, fired into fucking orbit, but, okay. Notes in his bedroom. Nothing too sinister. Nothing... missing, nothing dirtied, nothing but little squares of paper. Except, why? It wasn't like...
Justin frowned at the notes. He had everything he wanted. The new album was going real well, songs were flowing now, and working with Tim was great, just great. He loved having that connection, that chemistry, someone who understood what he was all about and what he needed and where to take it. It was going to be huge. Probably. Mustn't count chickens, look what was happening, or not happening, with the movies. But, yeah. Huge.
And as for 'who', well, it was obvious. He was dating Cameron Diaz, was there a man in the world who didn't envy him that? Okay, Lance, but otherwise?
Could it be Cameron who'd left the notes? That'd be good, because he wouldn't have to have anyone fired, but. Didn't quite fit. Was she feeling neglected, now he was spending all this time in the studio? No, that definitely didn't fit. She had plenty of her own stuff going on, and besides, they didn't work like that. Cam wasn't romantic at all, at least, not champagne and rose petals romantic. Justin didn't think drinking games and rollercoasters counted as romantic. At all. Which was fine, being champagne and rose petals romantic took a lot of time, and a girlfriend who didn't want or need that kind of attention was restful. Other guys would envy him that, too. So, really, it didn't seem like something she'd do, leaving girly little love-notes around for him to find.
Not that these were exactly girly love-notes. Still. He should ask her, maybe... But if she didn't leave them, if it was someone else, then, that would be bad. If it was someone else.
* * *
Well, fuck. This wasn’t what he’d been expecting, but it seemed there was nothing to be done but suck it up and deal. So he shook hands and said the polite things and got himself out of there. He turned his cellphone back on to check for messages, and it rang almost immediately.
Somebody just told me, you’re in the studio.
“JC?” said Justin, startled. “Well, yeah, I’m—not studio studio, though, I’m at Universal, there was a meeting, um.”
Yeah, dude, I’m here too, having lunch with Joey. You wanna come join us?
“Joey’s here too?” Justin felt a twinge of shame. He hadn’t even realized Joey was in LA. “Where are you?”
Right now? We’re at the main entrance, our car just got here. You?
“I’m just gonna call and say hi to—look, I’ll meet you, uh, where are we eating?
VIP at the Bird Cage.
“Ah, excellent! I’ll be right with you guys.”
He rang off, grinning, hurried to his brief rendezvous, then got back to his car for the trip along Ventura. The Bird Cage didn’t look like much on the outside, but when he was ushered to the VIP room, JC and Joey were lounging like Roman emperors on the long, comfortable seats, and JC’s hyena laugh was audible as soon as the heavy wooden door was opened for him.
Joey enfolded Justin in a mighty hug, from which it was impossible to emerge anything but smiling, however bad a morning he’d had. JC bounced up for a hug too, then they plied him with drink and prodded him into ordering his food. The waiter disappeared discreetly, and the three of them settled back down. There was, necessarily and essentially, a report on Briahna from her proud papa, and photographs were brandished.
“She is the cutest thing, Joe. Why’d you not bring her out here with you?” Justin demanded.
“Dude, it’s nearly Christmas. Kelly made me promise to go shopping.”
“You bought out the toy store, didn’t you,” JC observed slyly, and Joey’s face creased into a rueful grin.
“So why are you here in LA? Officially, I mean,” Justin asked.
“Oh, few days work,” Joey said carelessly. “Nothing much, just fun stuff. How about you?”
Justin sighed. “Seems there’s a hold-up with Alpha Dogs, some legal troubles with the guy it was based on. It’s still gonna premiere at Sundance, but no general release .”
“What about that other one you did, with Morgan Freeman?” JC inquired.
“Straight to video,” said Justin, shortly.
“Bummer,” said Joey. “Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Justin Timberlake, and it’s still going straight to video? It must be all kinds of a turkey.”
“Oh, ‘cause you make such great movies,” Justin muttered, annoyed.
“Man, you have no idea. Wait till you see the Red Riding Hood thing, it’ll be out on DVD in the summer, that’s if I don’t get hold of all the copies and burn them first!” Joey laughed heartily, as if being in crap movies didn’t even matter. Maybe it didn’t, to Joey, but Justin was still smarting.
“But Joe, you did that one with the casinos, that was fantastic,” said JC. “Plus you got to sing.”
“The Cooler? Yeah, that was a good gig. Ooh, food.” The waiter had arrived. So they ate, and the conversation shifted away from movies, for which Justin was grateful. He just couldn’t figure the Edison thing, and it bugged him. He remembered the On the Line debacle, and how kind he’d been to Lance, not mentioning it if he could avoid the subject, but Lance hadn’t been embarrassed, particularly. Nor Joey. Maybe they just didn’t care as much as he did.
“So,” said Joey, through a mouthful, “you guys are both recording again, right? How’s it going? You having fun?”
JC grinned. “I got a few ideas,” he said happily. “I’ve been working with some new producers, you know, trying to work out what exactly—anyway, um, how about you, J?” They turned to look at him, expectantly.
And just like that, it was easy. Justin launched into a description of his new songs, and sang bits of them, which meant he had to stamp out a beat on the hardwood floor, and smack the rhythms on his thighs, and once he was fairly started it all just flowed out, what he was trying to do, and where he was going, and how great it was working with Timbaland. "Seriously, he's incredible. He just gets it, and he has such great ideas, and he has all this energy, it's fantastic. You know what, C, you should totally work with him too, he's the best."
JC grinned at him, with a knowing light in his sparkling blue eyes. "I think maybe you're right. It's good to work with the best."
"Yeah!" Justin interjected, and giggled, flopping backwards to lie flat on the padded seat.
“That’s right,” said Joey. “I bet you learned a lot from Kevin Spacey, and Morgan Freeman, even if the film didn’t work out so great.” His phone was beeping at him. “Look, guys, I’m sorry, I gotta go. Got a plane to catch.” He stood, and they stood, and hugged goodbye, and Joey knuckled cheerfully over Justin’s scalp like he was a teenager again, and they sent their love to Kelly and Briahna, and he was gone.
“Man, it’s good to see Joey,” JC said wistfully in the sudden silence.
“Yeah. I mean, yesterday I wasn’t thinking, hey, wouldn’t it be good to see Joey, but it really was. I guess I don’t see enough of you, either.” He leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes. Hadn’t really meant to say that. It wasn’t like his life was empty, right now.
JC cocked his head and looked thoughtful. "I guess not. But, well, if... I was thinking, um, maybe, you might wanna produce a couple tracks for me?"
Justin sat up, startled and gratified. "You want me to produce you?"
"Mm hm, if, you know." JC looked a little bit uncertain. "I mean, we haven't worked together in a while, but I think it'd be cool."
"You know what? It would. It'll be great! Man, I get revenge for all those times—" a throw pillow hit him dead centre, and he laughed aloud. "So, tell me what you got so far."
* * *
It had been a long time, too long, since Justin had been in this house. JC had changed all the furniture, now it was dark blue leather and textured glass and very cool lights, tall, elegant, sleek. A gleaming black piano, very classy. Except over there in the corner, a lava lamp. JC couldn't resist kitsch, never had, the only surprising thing about that purple and pink monstrosity was that it was the only one in the room. Where, Justin wondered, was the rest of the stupid stuff? Also, where were the awards?
He sprawled comfortably on the bigger of the couches, waiting for JC to come back with his soda. There was a fruit bowl on the low-slung glass table, a hand of bananas covering several green apples. And a book, black, with a butterfly on the cover. Lila, it was called. Obviously lesbian porn, Justin decided; it would be just like JC to sit here masturbating on his couch in the middle of the day. He wasn't going to say anything, though. If he mentioned it, JC would insist it was 'erotica', which as far as Justin could tell meant 'porn that doesn't actually turn you on'. Justin wasn't here to get fresh new insights into JC's convoluted fantasy life, the last album had had more than enough of that. He was here to work.
JC came back into the room with that shy little smile on his face, handed over a can of Coke and a glass with ice in it, and sat down on the opposite couch. Justin found himself grinning back.
"Thanks for coming over. You want, um, something to eat? I have snacks. Or fruit?"
"No, thanks." JC looked disappointed. "But, you go ahead."
"You should have a banana. I like bananas. Bananas are good," JC remarked, reaching to pluck one from the bowl. "Lots of potassium."
Now why couldn't JC have picked an apple instead, or a packet of Doritos, like a normal person? Justin did not wish to watch JC eat a banana. Really. It was just... He couldn't help it, his gaze drifted down to the book.
"Oh, hey, have you read this too? You should, dude, really, it's fascinating stuff, there's this bit where—" JC paused. "Maybe not." He smiled forgivingly. “I guess we should get started. Mm. Lemme finish this, and I’ll get my guitar.” So he did, and he played and sang, and Justin listened to what JC had been doing, and fell in love with JC's talent all over again.
* * *
Two days later, Trace brought round a bunch of stuff from the new William Rast range.
Justin pulled on a brand, spanking new pair of jeans, and found a small square of paper in the back pocket. ARE YOU ON THE RIGHT TRACK, it said.
* * *
"Yeah, and then it hits hard, really hard. A lot of power there from you, more than you're giving, I know you got it—"
"—really up, yeah, give it everything—"
"—let it all go, just like Lance—"
"— with his '80s rock on the bus!" they chorused together, and laughed, then JC shook himself like a wet dog, sobered down, and nailed it on the next take.
This was so much fun, this was just great. JC still wrote crazy songs, he was never going to change that way, but he could pull them off like nobody else, and Justin really thought his own input was pulling JC in the right direction. And the two of them, in the studio together, it was just working so well. It felt like JC respected him as a producer, now, like JC realized Justin was a mature artist, not just the kid who used to look up to him all the time.
Not that he didn't still look up to JC, in a way, but it was mutual now. And hey, why not, when Justin had spent so much time in the company of so many great recording artists. He knew so much more now. When you worked with the best, you learned.
"You ready for a break, J?"
"Yeah, sure, come on out." They sent the runner out for drinks, a tall latte for Justin, cold water for JC since they were still recording. JC saved his coffee order for the end of the session. Cappucino with a shot of caramel. Justin didn't know how he could drink something that sweet, though maybe JC needed the energy boost. He was intense in the studio, like he'd always been, absolutely determined to get it perfect. Hell, JC was even more of a perfectionist than Justin, which was hard to imagine—if you didn't know JC.
"This is good," JC remarked, perching on the spare stool. "You enjoying yourself, J?"
Justin grinned. "Well, you still sing about the weirdest shit, but yeah, it's cool. I don't know why we didn't do this sooner."
JC crinkled back at him. "I guess we needed to be apart. Figure out who we are solo, do our own thing, all that stuff." There was a knowing look in JC’s eyes, like he had more to say, but wasn’t going to.
"Yeah, exactly. I mean," Justin said, uncertain whether JC was quite with him on this one, "it's important not to be, like, stuck in one place. You have to move on, right? Keep developing, challenging yourself as an artist, you know?"
"I don't really think about it that much." JC shrugged. "I guess, the music changes, what you have to say changes as you get older, because you know different stuff, you want different stuff."
"Mm. I guess." Justin wasn't sure about that, exactly. He'd pretty much always wanted the same thing. Their drinks arrived, so there was a pause. Justin sipped carefully at his coffee, and watched JC chugging at his water bottle, the way his throat moved as he swallowed, a little trickle that escaped at the side of his mouth. "Looked like you needed that."
JC wiped the trickle away with the back of his hand. He was looking enigmatic now, like he knew a secret and he wasn't telling. That was the trouble with JC, he was all goofy one minute, and then he was just somewhere else. Sometimes he was actually somewhere else when you thought he was being goofy. "You're a slave driver," JC said, and grinned.
"Yeah, well, you wouldn't want me any other way."
"I mean, we never liked to settle for anything that wasn't the best we could do, even back when we were kids."
"And now," JC said, "here you are, all growed up." He didn't entirely sound as though he believed it, so Justin swiped at him. JC swayed back automatically, trained by years on a bus with Chris.
"Well," said JC, "maybe not completely grown-up! But, hey, there's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes." A hand darted out and jabbed into the sensitive spot just under Justin's ribs.
Justin shrieked and retreated to a safe distance. "I don't know why I like you so much."
"Because you have such good taste!"
"That's true! That's very true."
"So, how was it, that last take? Felt good, I thought." And they were back to business.
* * *
Cam was away on location, and Justin had nowhere he had to be tonight. It felt, actually, it felt a little weird. He could go out, but hell, if he did, there'd just be paparazzi taking pictures of him on his own and rumors for days about how the golden couple had split up. He'd stay in, maybe watch something stupid on TV. What time was it now? Yes, he'd have a beer and see what was on at nine.
There was a square of paper underneath the beer bottle. Justin picked it up—DO YOU KNOW WHATS MISSING—and stifled the grin that was threatening to spread across his face. This was, actually, this was kinda fun.
What he couldn't figure out, was why JC was being so secretive about this stuff. It was like he thought Justin wouldn't—which was just stupid. That first time, C had been a hell of a lot more upfront about what he wanted. Justin still had that note, hidden very carefully in his shoe collection, in the box with that very same pair of Jordans. He didn't actually need to keep it, he could recite it word for word right now, even after all this time, but he liked knowing it was there.
However. It did not explain what C was up to now, and plainly there was no point in coming right out and asking, because if C was determined to play games, he'd just go off at a tangent and refuse to answer the question. Justin was going to have to approach this from another angle.
He reached for his cellphone and thumbed through the memory.
"Hi, 's me. You wanna play golf sometime?"
* * *
"Oh, my god."
"Wassup, Timberflake?" Chris was, as always, ready and eager to be irritating.
"You just. Did you get dressed in the dark?"
Chris smirked as he glanced down over the scarlet polo shirt, the knee-length plaid shorts, and the black socks. At least, Justin thought with an inward sigh, the golf shoes, the gloves, and the black baseball cap were respectable. Chris never pulled this shit when he went golfing with Lance.
"Why do you care what I look like? Shouldn't you be more worried that I've been taking lessons?" His hand flicked out towards Justin's head, but Justin had years of experience and swayed out of reach.
"I don't care what you look like. It's just, people are serious, here. They see me with you looking like that, they'll think—"
"What, that preppy Timberflake doesn't take it seriously?" Chris cast an unimpressed eye over Justin's immaculate golfing attire. "Who could possibly think that?"
"No, it's just—"
"Unless they think you dressed me, in which case you seriously need to dump your PR people. Also, ew," said Chris. "I call driver." He hoisted his bag of clubs into the back of the cart and scrambled into the driving seat.
"Serious golfers walk," Justin grumbled, sliding into the other seat.
"Yeah, well, serious golfers can kiss my ass," Chris replied. "How fast do you reckon these things go?"
Chris hadn't been kidding about the lessons. His swing still looked like a trainwreck, but it was surprisingly effective, his drives went a lot further than they ought, and he'd definitely being working on his short game. This was more of a fight than Justin had been expecting, and the fizz of competition was just what he needed to get his own game into line.
By the fifth hole, Justin was only leading by two, and then Chris lucked out with, admittedly, a peach of a chip shot from just off the green, which had the audacity to trickle into the hole. And Chris wouldn't be Chris if he didn't perform a celebratory wardance, complete with ululating howls and hip thrusts. Good thing this green was surrounded by trees, and the foursome ahead of them had already teed off. Justin sighed gustily, but couldn't entirely repress a grin. Chris.
By the eighth, Justin was about ready to broach the awkward subject lurking at the back of his mind. His own drive lay splendidly in the middle of the fairway, but Chris had hooked, so they were peering into the rough when Justin blurted, "Have you heard from JC lately?"
"Not in a while, no."
"Do you know if he, um."
Chris looked at him "I heard you two were getting into the studio together. Is it possible you had a fight over some teeny, tiny, audible only to bats detail of production?"
"Of course we didn't fight," said Justin, and hurried on before Chris could point out, in his naturally obnoxious way, that there was no 'of course' about it, "we got on great, really good vibe."
"Then why don't you call him yourself?"
"I, um. It's just that. I think he's stalking me." But he was talking to Chris's brightly-checkered ass, because Chris had bent to look behind a tussock, and crowed with joy.
A mighty whack got the Kirkpatrick ball out of the rough to the left of the fairway, and into the rough on the right. "Shit," said Chris, and trudged over to hunt for it. "Bring the cart, wouldja?" Justin tried, virtuously but with little success, not to gloat.
"So what were you saying about JC?" Chris asked, once his ball was back on the fairway, a pitiful ten yards in front of Justin's.
"Nothing," said Justin, firmly. And sent his ball soaring into the sand trap. "Oh, fuck."
But it was his turn to achieve the miraculous. The ball lifted over the lip of the bunker, bounced, rolled, and came to rest less than a foot from the hole. Justin beamed, filled with the incomparable joy of a perfect shot. "I'm gonna have them put up a plaque," he called. "Something tasteful in bronze, on this date, at," he checked his watch, "eleven thirty-three, did Justin Randall Tim—"
There was a slightly crumpled white square of paper by his feet, and he'd have sworn, he knew, there hadn't been a little white square of paper there two minutes ago. Justin plucked it from the sand. ARE YOU WITH THE RIGHT PERSON it said. From the crest above him, Chris looked down impatiently. "You gonna finish up?" he said.
Justin eyed him. "I get it," he said, shoving the paper into his pocket.
"Yeah, since it took me six shots already," Chris muttered, "but don't think I'm gonna give you that one for free." Justin holed his nine-inch putt with insolent ease and watched, smirking, as Chris struggled to an eight. Yes, the proper order of things was being restored. He, Justin Timberlake, had a six-stroke lead at last. All was well.
"So," he said, as the cart puttered over to the next tee. "You and JC, huh."
"Me and JC what?" said Chris, who had never sounded innocent in his life and wasn't starting now.
"I mean, I don't mind, but you could have been a bit more subtle," Justin said airily. "Do you know how long he plans to keep it up?"
"Woah, scared now. Your sex life is so not my concern."
"Hey! Who said anything about—you know that's not what I meant. Besides, I have a girlfriend."
"Yep," said Chris, settling his ball onto the tee. "I guess."
Justin, a well-trained and polite golfer, could not bring himself to interrupt while Chris was addressing the ball. He maintained a dignified silence instead, and was rewarded with an excellent drive of his own.
"So you guess I have a girlfriend," he said, as they tootled along the fairway. "In case you haven't noticed, we've been together more than two years now."
"Yeah, but, J," Chris observed, "there's a certain ambivalence in what you choose."
"Man, not this shit again." He knew the signs. Chris was going into 'I studied psychology in college' mode, fuck it, Justin hated that stuff, it was such total crap. Chris really didn't know what he was talking about, he just liked to use long words. And, naturally, to piss Justin off.
He rolled his eyes and sat back, arms folded.
"Like, maybe, you can't have what you want, so you pick the closest thing you're allowed," said Chris. "Am I right?"
"Can I maybe beat my brains out with my 3-iron now? Because so help me—"
"When your girlfriend was a kid, she was, like, falling out of trees and getting into fights."
Chris, infuriatingly, said nothing more until they'd both taken their next shots and were close enough to get out the nine-irons, but once his ball was on the green, he gave Justin a knowing stare. It was pure gamesmanship, Justin knew it was, bastard wanted to put him off, and he was not going to fall for it.
"Of course, when you were a kid," Chris started to snicker, " you won a beauty pageant."
"Man, are you ever going to let go of that?"
"Nah," said Chris, and abandoned all pretense of restraint. He always did this, any time the subject came up. Justin didn't see why it was so irresistibly funny. Sure, it was unusual, but he was just a kid—and he had won, after all. Besides, it wasn't just about looking pretty, it was about talent, too. He said so.
"Yeah, and I'm sure all those girls were real happy that the kid with the curls and the big blue eyes got to win because he was just so talented."
"Of course they were! They were fine with it. They all said I was real cute."
"Sure they did."
"Yeah, they did." They had adored him. Women always adored him. They were happy for him, when he won.
"And they weren't even a little bit pissed that some pre-pubertal kid had got in the way of their ambitions to someday become Miss America and marry a millionaire? And achieve world peace, of course."
"No!" They'd been real sweet, Justin remembered. Kisses, and hair-ruffling, and big toothy smiles.
"You have an amazing capacity for self-deception."
"Listen, I was there!"
"Yeah, yeah," said Chris, unimpressed as usual. "Is your ass tired?"
"You keep talking through it. Asses aren't—"
Justin tackled him. They hit the bunker simultaneously, but Justin got a goodly quantity of sand down the front of Chris's shorts before Chris managed to roll him backwards and sit on him until he nearly expired from laughing.
He regretted it later, when he peeled off the filthy once-green shirt and the stained charcoal pants. But it was always the same, being with Chris, however hard he tried he always turned back into a big kid. Sure, it was fun. But it was just as well he didn't live in Florida anymore.
And damn it, Chris hadn't told him anything about JC.
* * *
When the playback ended, they looked at each other and nodded with satisfaction. It was seriously a good song.
"So when are you getting your album out?" Justin asked.
"Oh. Well. There's a lot to do," said JC, vaguely. That was just typical, JC enjoyed the creative process so much, he didn't seem to get that you had to plan, you had to promote, you had to get the music out there. No wonder the guys at Jive got exasperated.
"Maybe we should get together again, write another one?" Justin suggested.
"That would be great, you know—I had this idea for a hook, Da da da da da da day, da da da da all the way, until yesterday, you think we could work on that?”
JC flung his arms round Justin. “Thanks, man—it's been great, seriously. Yeah, you're right, we have to do this more!" His hand came up and rubbed the close-cropped hair on Justin's scalp, and he shook his head in apparent wonder. "You know, I don't think I'll ever get used to this. I still miss the 'fro." He grinned, let his arms fall, and just stood there, looking straight into Justin's eyes. "So, you're going to Sundance. Say hi to Lance for me. Don't let him onto the black runs, you know he'll do anything for a thrill, and he's way too pretty to die."
"I, no, I mean, sure," Justin stammered. JC was standing so close, it felt like, was he going to, if he just came a bit—
"I hope the premiere goes great for you," said JC, and stepped away. "I guess, I'll be seeing you."
* * *
"So what's this I hear about you setting yourself on fire in a sex shop?" Justin grinned evilly behind his ski mask. Lance's cheeks, already tinged with color in the cold wind, blushed crimson.
"I don't know where people get that stuff," he protested. "We had a photo op in there, it's not like I went out to buy sex toys! And it wasn't even me wearing the coat." He paused. "I guess I shouldn't have said anything about it on my MySpace, but you know... it's just frustrating, I guess, when stuff gets made up about you, you know?"
"Oh yeah," Justin agreed. "Best thing is to ignore it. There's no good way out, if you respond."
"I guess you're right," Lance said glumly. "I haven't gotten this MySpace thing down yet."
"You so don't! You, like, set fifty thousand fans screaming for my blood, or something?"
Lance groaned. "I just thought we should let the fans know we weren't doing Challenge this year. Then they all went crazy, or something..."
"Like seagulls, when you throw them a crumb."
"Man. I forgot how scary fans can be. I guess I thought they'd have grown up along with us."
Justin considered that for a moment. Lance, grown up? It was hard to see that, Lance was always full of new enthusiasms, he didn't seem that different than when they were kids together. It was why it was fun snowboarding with Lance, like golfing with Chris, he could be a kid again, but really, he didn't want to be stuck seven years ago, playing around and not being taken seriously.
"I've been in the studio with JC," he said, to his own surprise.
"Yeah, I know. It's working out, from what I hear."
"It's good, it's really good, actually. I mean, it's C, you know, he still does some weird shit, I mean, we worked out a song together and, man, I don't know where he gets that stuff, I really don't. But yeah, it's good. And I think I'm, you know, really helping." He paused, smiling. The two of them, in the studio together. It was so easy, so natural, wasn't hardly work at all. "So how'd you know it was going well? We haven't made any statements."
Lance shrugged. "I hear stuff. Besides, why wouldn't you be good together?"
Shouldn't be surprised, really, Justin thought, Lance always did know what everyone else was doing. "So... Is JC, have you, uh. Talked to him?"
"Did he say anything about, I mean, did he—look, do you have a message for me? Because you know, you can give it to me now, that's okay."
"Why would JC give me a message for you?" Lance could lie like an angel, always had. Justin scowled at him.
"He's being all stalkery and, and cunning!" he said, exasperated. "Little bits of paper with messages on, in my refrigerator and everything."
Lance was now looking at him as though he had boils, or something. "Justin, have you met JC? His idea of stalking someone is to look at them furtively for two hours at a party, then walk across the room and ask if they wanna leave now. He couldn't cunning his way out of a paper bag! Besides, you know what he's like, even if he was trying to be all machiavellian about something, he'd get distracted and wander into his studio to write about alien space babes instead."
That—that was actually true. Justin felt suddenly cold, colder than anyone wrapped in the most expensive skiwear money could buy had any right to feel. He stared at Lance. But Lance was good at lying. Lance was probably pretending right now, just like Chris did, Lance was going to slip a piece of paper into one of Justin's pockets, because Justin knew, suddenly, that even if Lance was right, even if JC wasn't the kind of person who could conduct a campaign of stealth like this was, there was something Lance hadn't taken into account.
JC could concentrate with absolute focus on anything, if it was important enough.
* * *
ARE YOU THERE YET. In his ski jacket. He'd have been amazed if there wasn't something.
* * *
Justin let out a deep, shuddering breath, and swayed back under the hot downpour. Let the water rinse the slippery white mess from his groin and belly while he got his heartbeat back to normal.
Once he was sure he was under control, he turned off the shower, stepped out, and toweled himself vigorously, then wrapped the smaller of the towels round his waist and sauntered back into the bedroom.
Time to look in the closet. Time to see what kind of a state JC was in, and pin him down for an explanation of what was it with all the notes. At least, the explanation could probably wait till after, but the pinning down was definitely a plan.
He walked into the closet.
It was empty.
Disbelieving, Justin went back into the bedroom. Maybe 'C had sneaked out, hidden somewhere else... but no, there wasn't anywhere else he could be, there wasn't room even for JC behind the outsize flower arrangement, or under the bed, and he wasn't behind the curtains, and aside from that the room was as stark and bare as hotel rooms always were.
Justin sat on the empty bed, and stared at his note. How could JC not be here?
He went back into the closet. Nothing. No JC, not even a little white square of paper on the floor. Hell, even a note saying, HA HA FOOLED YOU would be... something. Justin ran his hands along the shelves, groping without expectation, but his fingers found something, not a note, a box. A shoe box. An Adidas box, which, he thought hopefully, might be a good sign. He bore it back to the bed, and took off the lid.
What was inside was not shoes, or a note, or, well, anything he might reasonably have been expecting. It looked like one of those dustbuster gizmos his mom used for picking up stuff from the corners, only smaller. Beige, with a tapering piece like a baccarat shoe, and a handle sticking out the wide part. Gingerly, he reached in to the box and drew it out.
Was this what JC had wanted him to find? What the hell for? A dustbuster? What, he was meant to do housework now? It didn't even seem to have an On switch, or was that it on the underside, that little lever there.
He poked at it. A panel flipped open. There was a numerical keypad on the flipped-open part, and a tiny rectangular screen set into the dustbuster. Which, apparently, was not a dustbuster at all.
But what the hell was it?
ENTER DATE AND TIME, it said on the little screen. O-kay, thought Justin, and rather warily prodded at the keypad, checking the exact time with his Omega.
There was a little slot, just above the handle, now that he was holding the machine upside-down, though maybe this was right way up, he supposed. Was he really meant to put something into that? What for?
He'd find out if he did it, Justin decided with a shrug. He could use the note that had been on the bed. Unless this machine was going to shred it, or something, he wanted that note for evidence, to confront JC, to... oh, what the hell.
As he stood, a flash of white from inside the box caught his eye. There was a little square of paper in there, and he knew, he knew, that the box had been empty when he picked up the dustbuster thing. Justin spent several seconds quite seriously considering the possibility that JC could become invisible now, because what other explanation could there be?
ITS A TIME MACHINE DOOFUS, the note said.
Well, what the hell was that supposed to mean? Muttering curses at JC and vowing to spank his skinny nonexistent little ass, Justin slid the stupid message into the slot. There was a faint whirring sound, and then silence. He peered at the machine. The display was blank now. There was a slot opposite the handle, at the picking-up-dust end, but it didn't look like his message was going to come out. Stupid dustbuster ate his message. Frustrated, puzzled and still aching with disappointment, Justin dropped the dustbuster back into its box. It made a noise like a hiccup, but still didn't disgorge his message.
He partied like a mad thing that night. The Pussycat Dolls could shimmy like there was no tomorrow, and Mom and Cameron would have been disappointed if he hadn't looked like he was having fun. But JC still wasn't there.
Ignoring his girlfriend's come-hitherings, Justin checked his schedule before he crawled into bed that night. Nearly a month before he would meet up with JC again. It was getting complicated, what with finishing up his own stuff and tour rehearsals and all the attendant business of being a superstar, but he and JC had made a date to get together about that other song idea, so JC would be at Justin's house, and Justin was going to punish him for this, for getting him all, for the disappointment. They were going to settle this.
* * *
All Over Again
The instant JC came through the door, Justin had him up against the wall.
"Woah," JC said, surprised but smiling. "What's up?"
"You," said Justin, "have been sending me messages."
"Ah," said JC, coloring a little. "So, what have I been telling you?" His eyes, his beautiful sea blue eyes, were wide and innocent, there was nothing in them admitting—didn't matter, Justin thought, and pressed his hips closer. JC's tiny gasp was exactly what he wanted to hear.
"Not enough," Justin said, and took JC's lower lip between his teeth, bit carefully, tugged, then opened his mouth over JC's and took control. Kissed him. Kissed him hard. Kissed him until they were both hard, and grinding against one another, and he could taste the memory of cappuccino with caramel in the heat of JC's mouth, and JC was making those adorable helpless noises and squirming to get closer still. Justin hauled JC's T-shirt free of his jeans and flattened his hands across the quivering skin. He stroked, evilly, with the lightest teasing touch down JC's sides, where C had been reduced to helplessness by tickling so many, many times. JC whined and jerked his hips, and Justin didn't want to tease any more, he wanted, he wanted everything. Now.
He dropped to his knees, ripping frantically at the goddam button of JC's jeans, drew down the zipper and shoved denim and cotton out of the way. JC's cock, hard and velvety in his hands, his pubic hair softly wiry against Justin’s cheek as he nuzzled, filled his senses with JC. He settled himself and took the hot, silken tip into his mouth, heavy against his tongue, filling him up, he licked avidly, rejoiced in JC's gasps and groans. Held those mobile hips back against the wall with one forearm, and kept his other hand busy on the thick shaft of JC's cock as he mouthed and sucked, this was what he wanted, what he needed, JC, JC keening with pleasure and panting out his name, JC's hands patting helplessly at his scalp and stroking his face as JC's cock pulsed hot and wet and spurted saltsweet against his palate.
Urk. Justin swallowed hastily, and after the flood, swirled his tongue cautiously around the head of JC's cock. It wasn't so bad. Slithery, like warm oysters, but not nasty, not at all. And it was for him, he did that, he made JC come. Breathing deeply, he drew back slowly and raised his eyes.
C was leaning bonelessly against the wall now, looking down at him under the veil of his eyelashes, and still stroking his face, his thumb sliding tenderly across Justin’s swollen lips. Justin leant into that caressing hand without even meaning to, and JC slid down to sit on the shiny beech floor, and grinned at him, that adorable, enormous grin that took over his whole face, so Justin had to kiss him. Had to. Mid-way through what was supposed to be slow and sensual and perfect, they tipped sideways and clonked their skulls against the floor. And Justin realized JC was shaking. With laughter.
Justin frowned. If JC got to giggling, they'd never—he'd never—and Justin hadn't come yet, which was bad, really. "Upstairs?" he suggested, and got to his hands and knees. But the instant he got his feet under him, JC tackled him and he tumbled onto the stairs with an indignant yelp. Thirty seconds of undignified struggle, and Justin was sprawled face-up with JC straddling him, a suddenly predatory JC who smiled wickedly, and said, "Don't be in such a hurry," and had Justin's pants open and oh god, ohgodohgodohgod...
* * *
"Seems like they were good messages," JC said, looking sublimely pleased with life as he lay back, stark naked and perfectly beautiful, on Justin's huge white-canopied bed.
"They were fucking stupid messages," Justin growled, but half-heartedly, because the daze of wellbeing wouldn't let him be even a little bit cross. He rolled onto his side. "How did you do it, anyway? I mean, I get Chris, and the refrigerator, and Lance, and Trace, that was clever, but how did you do the thing in Vegas?"
"Come on, C, you got the note onto my bed, which, okay, bribe the bellboy, but how did you get the message into the shoebox? I swear, I honestly thought maybe you got one of those Harry Potter invisibility cloaks."
JC, up on one elbow, peered at him. "We have to do this more often," he remarked. "Cause you're just so cute when you don't make any sense at all. What note?"
Justin huffed, and swung himself off the bed. The bundle of notes was in the Adidas box with the dustbuster, stashed carefully amidst his shoe collection. He produced the box, and thrust the bundle under JC's nose. "These! All these!" He dropped them onto the bed. JC picked one up, looked at it blankly.
Before he even started to speak, Justin knew. JC didn't recognize the little squares of paper. JC hadn't sent them. He hadn't sent them at all.
"These are weird. Kinda creepy, really," JC remarked, puzzled.
"Don't get them out of order!" It seemed important. Justin gathered the scattered notes with shaking hands, but he'd looked through the collection so often now, he knew where they belonged. He'd kept track of which days they arrived, even. Wait, wasn't there one missing? "It's a time machine, doofus," he said to himself, checking through the pieces of paper. "No, no, because that's the one I put into the—"
It hit him all at once, like an anvil to the side of the head, he could almost feel his brain rattling with the impact. There, shining in front of him, was the complete picture, so clear and perfect he hardly dared breathe in case he shattered it. He had put the DOOFUS note into the dustbuster, and it came out before, it came to the moment in time that he'd programmed.
Okay. Wait. Not actually possible. No such thing as a time machine.
But he could test it. He could. He picked up the topmost note from the pile (WHAT DO YOU WANT), and prodded the dustbuster open. Checked the time by the bedside clock, carefully entered the numbers for one minute into the future, then poked the paper into the slot. The machine made that little hiccupping sound immediately, this time, and no paper came out the other end. He laid it carefully on the bed, and stared at it.
"What are you—" Justin held up a hand. "But—" JC tried again, and was hushed.
JC flopped back down. Justin knew perfectly well that an intense stare was coming at him from the other side of the bed, but he concentrated on the dustbuster. And, yes! A little piece of paper emerged slowly from the end-slot onto the counterpane. It was the message. "I sent them," he said. "I did it myself." Not JC, who was lying there looking completely baffled.
Justin grabbed the bundle of messages, dropped the final few back into the box and got up and danced on the bed, poking little squares of paper in and angling the dustbuster in all directions, as he sent the messages back. He knew exactly when he'd come home to find his room littered, though if he hadn't remembered, the groveling letter from the security office would have confirmed it. "I ought to have given myself more warning," he announced, and gabbled an explanation, probably making no sense, all, about finding the little squares of paper everywhere, thinking JC must have put them there, and not figuring out what the dustbuster was for until this minute.
JC seemed intrigued, and apparently followed it all without difficulty. "It's, like, time and relative dimensions in space, or something," he commented. "You send the messages, they stay where the dustbuster is in space, and they move through time." He should have known something like this wasn't gonna phase JC. In JC's head, this was practically normal.
Yes, of course. And that meant—Justin pounced on ARE YOU ON THE RIGHT TRACK and pushed the snout of the dustbuster into the pocket of his WR jeans. Then hurtled down to the kitchen to put YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING into the refrigerator, and ran back up the stairs, bounced onto the bed and smacked a vigorous kiss onto JC's forehead. "I'm gonna have to go back to Vegas," he announced, "back to the same hotel room. And the golf course." Not a hardship. And with a time machine in his hands, he didn't have any reason to hurry. He'd just put the notes through—which suddenly struck him as weird, totally weird. He looked at JC. "Where did the messages come from?" he said. "I mean, I got them, and now I'm sending them, but when did they get made? Where did they come from?" He looked at the paper square in his hand, an errant WHO he needed to send back to his bedroom.
"Must be a spatio-temporal hyperlink," JC suggested, wisely.
That sounded unnervingly convincing. "What's that?" Next thing, JC would be telling him that the stuff about alien sex females was all true...
"No idea." JC grinned affectionately. "Just made it up. Didn't want to say 'magic dustbuster'. Though really, if you had to get a time machine, a DeLorean would have been way cooler."
"Don't even get me started on that movie!" Justin said, indignantly. The debates they'd had, back on tour together. "Anyway, I still don't understand why the notes even exist. It doesn't make sense. It's like, a closed loop."
JC shrugged. "The way I see it," he began, "time all exists at once, like a movie on a film strip. So the notes exist for a few frames of the movie. You got them then because you sent them now. And you have them now because you got them then. It's fine." JC sat up and grabbed Justin by the hand. "I think it's more important to know, why did you think it was me sending the notes?"
"Because you—because of—" Justin stared back into JC's wide, guileless eyes, and realized that he really didn't deserve to be this lucky. Because another anvil had just hit him. "Before we get to that, C, there's actually something. Um. Else. Lemme get some paper." He sprinted downstairs again, to his music room, and returned with a couple sheets of paper ripped out of a manuscript book. He didn't write his songs out on staves very often; the way he figured it, if a song was good, he could keep it in his head, and if it wasn't, didn't matter if it got forgotten. But the paper came in useful once in a while.
"Tell me something," he said, breathless not from the stairs but from the excitement of this moment. "Write me a message. Whatever you want."
JC accepted the pen, eyed him mischievously, and began to compose his message. Justin didn't watch. He went into his shoe closet, picked out the box with that very special pair of Air Jordans, and carried it reverently into the bedroom.
"Okay, now tear it out. Make it about so big."
Justin didn't even look at the torn scrap, he entered the date and time, and fed the message into oblivion, via the shoe he'd been wearing that night.
"I was kinda hoping you were going to read that," JC reproached him in a mild voice.
"I want you, I want you more than anything or anyone in the world, I want to touch you and lick you all over, I want to kiss you and fuck you and hold you all night and do it again in the morning," Justin quoted. He pulled the crumpled note from under the shoes and showed it to JC. "That night," he said, "when I, when we—"
JC turned pale. "When you came into my room and got into my bed," JC said quietly. "You said you wanted me to. You came because you thought I wrote you this note?"
"It was in my shoe. I'd been hoping, wishing, except I wouldn't let myself, I never thought you would, then I got that and I knew you'd be, it would be okay." He could remember the leap of joy in his heart, the thump of excitement through his body, the feeling so clear it was almost physical, in fact it was physical because he felt just the same way now. Only better, since this time he knew what he was doing. "C, why... why was it only the once?"
JC's fingers pinched little pleats into the bedcover. "I guess... because there was Britney. And the guys. Chris would have taken me apart, if he ever knew. And you were so young, I knew I shouldn't have, I tried so hard not to. But, J, if," he raised his eyes, "if you'd ever come back to my bed, I, I would have. I wouldn't have been able to say no."
Justin thought about that, and tried to remember how he'd justified it to himself, that JC had never approached him again, and the reasons were much the same. Added to which, he'd been, what, scared? But he was just a kid, then. "I never got another note," he said eventually. "I was never sure. It was easier to stick with what I knew I had, what I was allowed to have."
"And this time? There's Cameron."
"I'll square it with Cam. She'll be cool. I'm not letting you get away this time." He wasn't. It was a dealbreaker. Cameron would understand. He'd make sure she understood.
JC reached down to the floor for the discarded scraps of music paper and the pen. "Pass me the timebuster," he said, and with a smile of pure naughtiness on his face, knelt upright and inserted a new message. Justin protested, since there were, he was certain, no messages left in his life that he didn't know about. JC just looked at him with bright, wicked eyes, and thrust the dustbuster, timebuster, whatever it was, into his hands. "Put that out of the way. We have better things to do on this bed." His cock was swelling, heavy, shifting towards upright even as Justin watched, and breathed faster.
"Much better things," JC crooned, warm breath into his ear. A hand was skimming across Justin's chest, fingers flickered over his nipples and paused to tweak, making him gasp. "Were you sorry, J? Were you disappointed that we didn't," he bit carefully at Justin's earlobe, and Justin whimpered, "do what it said in the note? Have you been thinking about it?"
"Yes, yes! Please, C. Please. I want that. I want you."
"Mmm. So beautiful, all these perfect muscles." JC's hands mapped them lovingly. "And I know what you can do with the hips. Ah-ah, no, not touching you there, not yet, gotta be patient. You got stuff?"
Stuff? Oh, lube. Yes. Cameron had a few more kinks than he'd expected. But this, oh, the tease, a gel-cold fingertip at a sensitive place, circling, testing, and a man's finger inside him, JC's finger, two fingers, a hot prickle as they surged into him, making him writhe making him gasp making him beg, and then fingers in his mouth too, dragging at the sensitive soft skin of his lower lip, matching the smooth glide of the fingers in his ass. Justin's hips rocked eagerly, he moaned around the hand at his mouth, and his own hands reached frantically for JC's skin.
"Please, more," he pleaded as the fingers slid out of his mouth. JC kissed him, pulling their hard bodies together, slick and beautiful, and those fingers kept moving slowly in and back. He flung a leg over JC's hips, pulling him tighter. The rigid heat of their erections sliding against each other, the scratch of JC's pubic hair against his groin, JC's teeth nipping at his neck. "Please!" he burst out. "Now, please!"
"I wanna lick you all over," JC murmured, "everywhere, so beautiful, J, wanna kiss down your back and your hips and your thighs and your ass, touch you everywhere."
"Next time, C, please, now, please." Justin practically sobbed it out, he couldn't wait any longer and yes, JC pressed him into the bed, and no more fingers, the hard head of his cock now, and Justin put his legs up round JC's waist and took him inside, slow and hot and perfect. Filled with joy, he watched the expressions that flickered across JC's face as JC reared up, eyes closed tight and his teeth digging into his bottom lip. "Yes," Justin whispered as their hips moved together, and "More," with every stroke, and "I love you, love you, love you" as JC drove into him and he felt his own orgasm swell up and through him and out, irresistible as a tidal wave.
JC lay across him like a wiry, sweat-sheened blanket, gasping for air. Justin stroked his hair, and wished for curls. "I do, you know," he whispered, scared but certain. "I love you."
JC's eyes opened, and his face creased into a grin. Then a piece of torn paper appeared out of nowhere, two feet above them and descending in an erratic zigzag. Justin squeaked with surprise, but JC rolled lazily and plucked it out of the air. He handed it to Justin, who read it with JC’s eyes on him. I love you Justin, it said.
Justin looked at C and smiled. Any second now, well, any minute, when he got back the strength to move, there was going to be more kissing and suchlike. Right now, this was enough.
Epilogue: I think she knows
“I was just, I dunno, thinking maybe I could send myself a note to say, be careful what you’re signing, or warn my Mom that Lou Perlman was going to get rich and we weren’t, or—“
Justin, did you ever get a note like that? Did Lynn?
“No,” Justin admitted, “but if I had, maybe things would have happened different.”
Do you like the way your life is right now?
And I like mine, too, just the way it is. Everyone survived, everyone’s happy. You don’t need to change anything, so leave it alone.
“I—guess.” He could think of a few interviews where it would have been useful to know the questions in advance, he could have been a bit smoother, a bit less juvenile—but it was true. He didn’t need to change anything, not now. “You’re right, you’re right. It’s time to let it go.”
I’ll see you when you get back from Vegas. Love you.
“Love you, too.” He disconnected, and fished the piece of paper out of his pocket, thumbed in the phone number with care.
Justin liked being exactly who he was. It made some things so very easy. Talking the receptionist into checking who'd stayed there right before he did, and persuading her to hand over the phone number, would have been impossible for anyone else, but for him, no problem. She was all starry-eyed over the autograph he gave her, and the hug. Women loved him.
"Mrs DeMello? Um, hi, I'm calling from Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas," Justin began, "I believe you stayed here back in January? Can you tell me, are you missing any, um, property?"
Ah, said the woman's voice, warm with a hint of the South, so you found it.
"The, uh, dustbuster," Justin confirmed.
And you know what it does?
"Yeah, I figured it out. Eventually. I just, I was wondering, do you want it back?"
Oh, no, honey, no. I left it there on purpose. I got what I wanted, and it'd be just plain greedy to keep going, not to mention, it sort of takes the fun out of it when you already know, you know? She paused. Did you get what you wanted?
Justin wondered what exactly Mrs DeMello had done with the timebuster. He was on the point of asking, but if she told him, he'd pretty much be obligated to tell her what he got, and he wasn't sure he wanted to do that.
"Yes, yes, I did," he said. "So, I should..?"
You pass it on, honey. Leave it there, in the closet, like I did, and let chance take it to the next lucky winner. It's a sign of maturity to know when to stop. At least, that's what my husband says, when I hit the tables. She laughed merrily. You have a nice life, honey. 'Bye, now.
Justin thumbed his phone off thoughtfully. Yes, it was time to let the thing go. He could work things out without hints from his future self. Just one message left to send, now, so he set the time carefully, and put the little dustbuster, time machine, into the centre of the bed, and posted CHECK IN THE CLOSET into it. Then briskly put the thing back into its Adidas box, and slid it onto the shelf in the closet for the next guest to find, or the maid.
WHAT DO YOU WANT. Everything, he thought. And grinned.
Note: perhaps you recognised a few of the quotes embedded in this story? Check here.