nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.


by Jewelianna, written for Crystal Rose

The first time that Justin saw JC had been in his advanced English language class the spring of 1957, the one he’d placed into by test scores, rather than taking all of the prerequisite classes that the other students had completed. Justin had slumped into one of the uncomfortable desks in the last row of the classroom, content to avoid contact with everyone except Rabelias, Montaigne, and Castiglione.
Of course, the professor had other plans, and halfway through the semester he’d placed them into pairs to analyze selections of “Gargantuan and Pantagruel.” Justin had taken one look around the room, at the faces of young men struggling to get through this one final English requirement so they could get on with their pre-business, pre-law studies, and shuddered.

He’d been surprised when JC had come over to his desk, had pulled up another with a scrape along the wood floor, smiled, and offered to work with him. Justin had known JC, of course: student body vice-president, soloist in the select choir, and all around big man on campus. The kind of person that Justin’s parents wanted him to be and Justin decidedly wasn’t.

Despite that, they’d worked well together, and by the time the two-week assignment was over, Justin found he enjoyed working with JC. JC hadn’t snubbed him for not being in the sailing club or the legacy fraternities. He’d just talked about the books they were reading, with a passion Justin hadn’t seen anywhere else in the entire university.

When class ended, though, Justin went back to his freshman seminars and brooding, while JC continued to be the shining star of the English department, winning the coveted senior scholarship at the end of the year.


Justin didn’t really fit into the college lifestyle. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late wandering around the city, and hated the way they made him learn. Justin loved to read and write, but he utterly despised when people tried to interpret works for him, or worse, when they tried to interpret his. He couldn’t take criticism, was well aware that he couldn’t take criticism, and therefore spent a lot of time not going to class to avoid having to share his writing with the world.

He wasn’t sure he’d make it back for his sophomore year, but the fates had graced him with barely passing grades, the kind that made his parents shake their heads shamefully, that such a bright boy would be doing so poorly. They’d sent him back to school with stern admonishments to do better this time around. He promised he’d try.

Justin had put his name on the list for a single room, but hadn’t made the cut. Instead, he was graced with Lance Bass as a roommate, a nice guy, but someone just too typically collegiate: rich father, fraternity letters on his blazer, completely square. Justin never wanted to be typically anything.

Two weeks into school, and Justin was already on dormitory probation. He’d been caught with illegal substances, earning more demerits in one day than most students acquired during their entire tenure at the university. Justin was rather proud of that, actually. Being a certified genius had its merits: Justin had not only gotten into the most prestigious institute of learning in the country, he’d figured out how to walk the line carefully enough to survive living there.

He’d opted for poetry for his second year, hoping that shorter works would mean less reading and more time for him to wander into the city and listen to music. There was as new club opened up over by the ballpark that had the most amazing jazz singers on Tuesday nights.

Of course, JC had been in his poetry seminar. English majors ran into each other all over the place at the university.

“Hi,” JC had greeted him the first day, sitting down beside Justin around the long conference table. “Justin, right?”

Justin had just nodded and gone back to his book, pretending not to notice JC sitting right there beside him until the professor came in and began their discussion. Since that first day, they’d spent most of their class reading and discussing in large group settings, working through Keats and Shelley and all of the other greats from the British Isles.

Two weeks into the class, Professor Logan had announced that they would be writing their own poetry to share with the class, and working with a partner to conduct peer reviews and edits.

JC turned to Justin with a smile. “Me and you, is that cool?”

Justin had just shrugged. Better JC than one of the brainless, he thought. “Sure.”

“OK, cool, cat.” They made plans to meet at JC’s dorm’s study lounge that evening. As class broke, Justin watched JC meet his friends in the hall, laughing with them, swinging around his cardigan with the school letter on the front. Why someone like JC would ever want to work with him was beyond comprehension.


Back at his dorm, Justin fell back onto his bed, pulling the soft leather notebook from his jacket pocket. The pages were a creamy yellow and held all of his deepest secrets. With a sigh, he tried to find the poem he wanted most to share with JC.

His roommate returned late in the afternoon, as the sun fell golden through the dusty window pane.

“Hey,” he said in his low voice, dropping a stack of books on the desk. “Don’t you ever have class?”

“What?” Justin looked up from the bed where he lay on his back reading. He folded the book across his chest.

“You’re always here. Don’t you ever go to class?”

“I have classes in the morning, while you’re still asleep.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Wanna go get some dinner?”

Thinking for a second, Justin grabbed a bookmark to hold his page. “Sure.” Lance was really an OK guy for a square. At least he never complained about the lingering smell of pot in the room, or jerked off under the covers yelling out his girlfriend’s name. Justin had lived through that last year, and once was enough.


At JC’s dorm later on, Justin walked into a chaotic circus. The upperclassman dorms were free from the strict rules the underclassmen had to follow, and tended to be a bit wild. Like now. Someone was running down the hall in nothing but a towel, chasing his underwear thief in a crazy parade. There was a group of boys building a tower out of textbooks, standing on a table to make it taller and taller and taller.

And there was JC, curled up in a chair in the corner by the fireplace, with his feet hooked into another chair to save it for Justin. He had on casual clothes, camel colored corduroy pants and a loose navy sweater. Justin noted that JC was wearing glasses, and if anything, was even more handsome with the thin wire frames perched on his nose.

“Hey,” he said, standing awkwardly until JC lifted his feet so Justin could sit.

“Hi!” JC smiled at him, and sounded happy. “Sorry, things are kind of a zoo around here tonight.”

“Is it always like this?” Justin asked, jumping at the sound of the textbook tower crashing down. There was a cheer from the crowd, and a call for reconstruction. Justin slid his chair back, away from the madness.

JC laughed lightly, rocking a bit in his seat. “Usually. I don’t study here a lot, actually. Do you want to go up to my room?”

“Sure.” Justin stood while JC gathered his books, then followed him up the stairs and down the paneled hall.

JC’s room looks just like Justin’s, with the dark stained woodwork and the creamy white walls. It’s a little smaller, since seniors were the first on the list for single rooms, but otherwise identical. Justin stood nervously in the middle of the room as JC closed the door to keep out the noise.

“So,” JC stood by the door, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t really have a lot to show you. I haven’t written much since class started.”

Justin breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t be trapped here all night long. “That’s OK. Um, I have one so.” He passed the small leather notebook to JC, then perched on the edge of the bed. JC opened to the marked page and sat beside Justin.

JC’s lips moved when he read, just a bit, and he scratched his knee. Justin watched him nervously. He was always nervous when people read his writing, be it in the magazines he sent them to under assumed names or in classes here at school. He’d never been this close, though, been able to see the effect of his words in the expression on the reader’s face.

“This is beautiful,” JC said, pointing to a line halfway down the page. “I can really feel this here.” He had his finger on the line about trying to be strong, to be a man.

“Thanks,” Justin said. “Do you have any, um. Like, suggestions?” Their professor hadn’t been very clear on what should constitute these peer edits.

"Well, here,” JC said, pointing to one line. “Do those words really rhyme?”

Justin laughed. “Not with your accent.” He repeated them in his heaviest southern drawl, making JC smile and nod.

“OK, OK. That’s cool, man.”

The longer they talked, the more JC loosened up. In time, he pulled a folded up piece of notebook paper from his pocket and passed it to Justin.

Expecting words of love and devotion, Justin was shocked by the images that flooded his head as he read. This was hot, it was heavy. It was nothing that would every be published in the university’s literary magazine. There was a fire to the words that danced across the page.

“Wow,” he said, surprised that JC would write something like that. “This is really good.”

“It’s just something I threw down,” JC muttered, embarrassed. “Professor Logan will rip it apart because it doesn’t have any of the form that he’s so crazy about.”

“Yeah, but.” It wasn’t like the poems they read in class, but there was something more here. “Maybe we can work on that.”

JC shrugged, and grabbed a pencil from the desk. “OK, sure.” He slid further back onto the bed, pulling up his feet to sit Indian style. Together, they tweaked the lines into a more suitable pattern so that the poem could be submitted in JC’s portfolio.

It was late when Justin looked at the clock again, startled to realize that he’d stayed so long.

“I should go,” he said, somewhat reluctantly, pocketing his notebook once again. JC smiled at him, getting up to hold open the door.

“Hey, why did you ask me to be your partner, anyway?” Justin blurted out. It was a question that had played heavily in his mind all day.

JC smiled, leaning against the door frame. He’d pulled off his sweater earlier, and his thin undershirt stretched tightly across his chest. “I like you.”

“You don’t even know me,” Justin protested, though he glowed inwardly at the compliment.

“You’re smart, you do your work. We’ve worked together before and it went well.” JC smiled. “I know you’ll take this seriously, even if you like to blow off class.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because,” JC answered, half closing the door, “you love this stuff as much as I do.” He waved goodnight and shut the door, leaving Justin standing in the hallway, too dumbfounded even to smile.


Justin headed into town after his classes the next day, riding the trolley through Cambridge to the river and walking into Boston from there. The city lights were already on, though the sun still hovered just about the horizon.

He slipped down the stairs into a little club under a Brownstone near Berkeley, music already playing on the stage. His body moved to the glide of a saxophone solo, slipping up to the bar where Chris, the owner and Justin’s favorite drink-man was working.

“Hey, cat. What’s shaking?” Chris slid a coaster down the bar and dropped a beer on top of it for Justin. “Got some good acts in here tonight.”

Justin took a long pull from the bottle, letting the cool tangy beer wash away the minty fresh gum he’d been chewing on the walk over. He watched the stage, where music sailed from the instruments into all corners of the club. Justin’s feet tapped automatically.

“Any chance you’re gonna play tonight?” Chris asked, polishing a glass.

Glancing around at the crowd, Justin shrugged. “Depends on the mood after I’ve had a few more beers. I can’t stay too late, I’ve got an early class.”

Chris snorted. “Don’t tell me you’re going to turn all college-boy on me now.”

With a sigh, Justin finished his beer, only to have another placed into his empty hand. “I’ve got this group thing in my poetry class, and I don’t wanna screw JC over.”

“JC? Mr. ‘I’ll work with you’ JC?” Chris’s eyebrows lifted up into his hairline, and Justin groaned. He’d forgotten about his late-night drunken confessions about how great JC was at the end of last semester. It had resulted in merciless teasing that Justin had a crush. Chris’s mouth spread in a wide smile. “You’re just in seventh heaven with this, aren’t you?”

Cheeks flaming, Justin traced the letters etched into the glass of his beer bottle. “It’s cool. He’s a good writer.” Absently, he smiled at Chris. “Sings, too.” Those were the magic words.

“Yeah? Bring him by sometime, then. These guys are always looking for words to go with their melodies.”

The music on the stage ended, and Justin slid up closer to the front, catching the eye of the bandleader. He was waved up on stage, sliding onto the piano bench as easy as coming home. With his eyes closed, he felt the beat and began to play, thinking of JC up there, singing those heated words of his poetry.


They met in Justin’s room the next time, while Lance was at a study session for his biology class. With more space, it was less intimate than before, JC sitting in one chair while Justin dragged to other over from Lance’s desk so they could work together.

“I don’t like this one as much as the other,” JC confessed, smoothing out another piece of ripped notebook paper. “I tried to write it about love, but.”

Justin read through the words and agreed. “Well, it’s no Petrarch.”

JC laughed. “It’s more like Buddy Holly lyrics.”

“Do you want to try to fix it?” Justin asked, though he didn’t think it was a worth the time and effort.

JC turned the page and read it again, shaking his head. “Man, no. I guess it’s one of those things I’m not great at.”

Justin scoffed. “I’m sure there are so many of those.” JC was the campus golden boy.

“What?” JC looked up. “Things I’m not good at?” He appeared truly baffled by the notion. “There’re a lot of things.”

“Oh yeah? Name three.” Justin leaned his chair back on two legs, folding his arms.

Uncomfortable, JC scratched at his elbow, beneath the rolled up sleeve of his blue button down shirt. “OK. Um. I’m not good at public speaking. I mean, I can, I’m not afraid to, but my brain doesn’t really work on the fly, you know? I can only do it if I have, like, extensive notes or lots of preparation.”

“OK. That’s one.”

“Does writing love poetry count?” JC leaned forward and grinned a little at that.

“Nope.” Justin let the chair fall back to the ground, smiling wider because he knew JC wouldn’t be able to come up with two more. He was just perfect, in every way, something Justin almost envied. Which, in itself was ironic, he thought, because perfect was everything Justin didn’t aspired against.

“I’m a really bad at basketball,” JC offered.

“Really? I thought you were on the team.” Justin could have sworn he’d seen JC running around with the rest of the guys, wearing his warm-up jacket.

“Nah. I row in the fall, but never basketball. Oh!” JC’s eyes lit up. “I’m a TERRIBLE cook.”

Justin stuffed down a giggle. “Um, aren’t most men?”

“No, like. I almost flunked Boy Scouts because I couldn’t make a grilled cheese sandwich when we went camping. Charred black coal, man, seriously. I suck.” On a roll now, JC continued. “I’m terrible at remembering dates, too. My mom still calls me before my brother and sister’s birthdays to remind me.”

“Ok, ok.” Justin laughed, holding up his hands. “I believe you.”

JC stood and stretched, cracking his neck from side to side. “I should probably get going,” he said, folding up his poem. “My room next time?”

“Sure.” Justin watched him leave, then settled back on the bed. He flipped through his notebook to the poems in the back, the ones he never shared with anyone. More and more they were about JC and his beautiful poetry. Just one more thing Justin admired about JC.

Burying his head in the pillow, Justin let out a groan of frustration, indulging in self-pity for a moment before getting back to his reading.


Justin didn’t have very interesting classes, with the exception of his poetry seminar. His schedule was filled with a required ethics class, Latin, and Russian History, the latter taken solely because his parents were convinced he was communist, and who was Justin to throw a wrench in their belief system?

He spent a lot of time writing that fall, so that his notebook was soon filled with tight, cramped letters. He’d mark some of them to show JC at their weekly study sessions, places where the words just didn’t seem right, or he couldn’t find the proper pacing for the story he was trying to tell. Others, he’d rip out and bury deep beneath his socks, things he didn’t want anyone to ever see.

JC got more organized as time went on, pulling his papers from a tie-bound file folder rather than pants pockets or the pages of whatever book he was reading at the time. Nothing he’d shown Justin had ever matched that first poem, but his works were still quite good. Often, Justin would laugh at the satirical nature of JC’s poems, or smile gently as he read the soft words of love.

It took a long time for Justin to realize that beyond the poetry, though, he and JC had formed a new but deep friendship. They shared things while they were talking about writing that no one else knew. It was something about bearing your soul, Justin thought, that made him trust JC. He knew all of JC’s inner thoughts, so it was OK to tell JC a few of his own.


At their sixth session, the halfway point of the term, both Justin and JC decided to forgo their own poetry in favor of studying for the upcoming mid-term exam. With books spread across JC’s bed, the glow of the lamp on the desk the only light in the room, both were lost in their texts. For once, the rest of the dorm was quiet, as regulations enforced a silent study environment during exams.

“What does the question ask about Milton?” Justin leaned forward, trying to find the page of possible questions that their professor had distributed.

“Um…” Rooting under his stack of notes, JC pulled the typed page. “What effects did Paradise Lost have on Protestantism in England and common access to the Bible and other sacred texts?”

“Shit.” Justin shook his head. JC only smiled. “What?”

“You curse more than anyone I know,” he commented.

Justin laughed, innately amused. “You clearly haven’t met my friend Chris,” he commented.

“Does he go here?” JC looked up from his reading, curious.

Picturing Chris at the university made Justin laugh again. “No. He works at this place I go to hear music sometimes.” He didn’t want to give away too much information. It was where he went to escape the college life, not someplace he wanted to be followed.

“Oh. It’s nice, you know. That you have friends around here who aren’t students.” JC tapped a pencil on his book. He sat in the chair with his legs up on the bed, text balanced on his knees.

“I guess.” Justin couldn’t imagine that JC would be envious of him. He was clearly the oddball at the university. “I’m going to go get a glass of water,” he said, stretching. He grabbed one of the cups from JC’s bookshelf and dashed down to the bathroom. When he returned, JC had moved to the bed.

Settling in beside him, Justin pulled their notes up to be within easy reach. “Want to start on the Coleridge?” he asked, thumbing through a paperback book to find the dog-eared page.

“Um. Right there.” JC reached over and stopped the pages on the correct poem. As Justin began to read, JC’s shoulder rested against his.

He loved this poem, about a mysterious, magical place of romance. It was so unlike everything else they’d read in class.

“His flashing eyes his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

As the last word slipped from Justin’s lips, JC leaned forward and pressed their mouths together. Shock shot through Justin’s body and he froze as JC’s lips pushed against his in a most uncomfortable but still not quite bad kiss. Unconsciously, Justin’s mouth parted, perhaps to ask why, but succeeding only in encouraging JC’s lips to slip apart as well, adding moisture to this bizarre turn of events, and a soft lick of tongue before JC pulled away. His eyes fluttered open slowly. Justin’s had never closed.

When recognition floated across JC’s face, he repelled backward, scrambling off of the bed, covering his mouth as if he could somehow hide that kiss.

“I’m. Oh, God, I’m.” There was something wild about him, radiating panic. “I’m so sorry. Justin, I have no idea why I did that. I’m so sorry.” Grabbing his shoes, hopping into the loafers, JC darted to the door. “I’ve gotta go, I’m sorry.”

“It’s your room!” Justin called after him, but the door swung shut with a bang. Someone down the hall yelled “Keep it down!”, but Justin didn’t have time to worry about quiet hours. By the time the shock of the whole event had worn off and he got to the hall, JC was long gone.

He thought about leaving a note, or going to find JC, but the whole thing was just too bizarre to think about rationally. Instead, he gathered up his books and study notes into his bag. As he walked home, the wind blew bitterly across campus, and Justin worried about JC without a coat.

More, he worried about what had happened, and why it really didn’t disgust him the way it should have.


Justin huddled down with his record player for the next few days, letting the sounds of Ella and Cole soothe his soul while he studied for his midterms. Lance would go out early and return late, not interrupting Justin’s steady stream of brooding.

It wasn’t that he was distressed by what had happened. More, that he was perplexed by it. He had read Kinsey’s study of sexuality the previous year and knew of the spectrum and whatnot. He’d figured he was somewhere closer to the middle than the completely heterosexual side, but only because he could appreciate the beauty of a man. He’d never truly felt that he would ever experience attraction to another man. None had ever held his interest in that way. Nor, he could admit, had a woman, but he’d always assumed that would only be a matter of time.

On the last day of finals, Lance returned mid-afternoon wearing all white, carrying a tennis racket. “Are you just going to sit in here all day long? It’s so warm out today.”

Justin looked up from his book, which he’d only half been reading, registering that the week was finally over, and he had no more excuses to shut himself up in the dorm room. The weekend had fallen, thankfully, but Monday would mean another study session with JC. JC, who’d avoided even looking at Justin during their exam and hadn’t been without his pack of friends any time Justin had seen him around campus all week long.

With a sigh, Justin tugged on his shoes and went for a walk across campus, then out through the main gate into the city. The weather had turned warm, as Lance had said, and the late afternoon sunshine glittered off of the river. Justin watched the sailboats for a while.

Eventually, he found his way to Chris’s bar, sliding in just as the sun set. It was too early for live music, but the juke box hummed with Ellington as Justin headed to the back to find Chris.

Chris’s office was a hodgepodge of dark wood furniture and brightly colored plastic accents. He had comic book pages in frames on the wall, along with black and white photos of his favorite musicians. The golden wood of the floor kept the room bright, and the typewriter, which Chris had painted lime green, sat in the middle of the desk, clacking away. Chris had aspirations of being a writer, too.

“Got anything to eat around here?” Justin asked, waiting for Chris to pull himself out of whatever dime-novel ghost story he was writing at the moment to realize he had company.

“There’re some sandwich fixings down in the fridge,” Chris offered. “Help yourself. I have to finish this scene.”

Justin left him to his story and rumbled around to find the makings of a ham and cheese sandwich. He helped himself to a beer from behind the bar and settled down at one of the tables. With the house lights on, the tiny club lost all of its ambiance, he thought, so he turned them off just to get back that air of mystery in the dark corners.

Chris joined him less than a half hour later, grumbling about plot holes and uncooperative characters. “Never write fiction,” he warned, stealing a pickle off of Justin’s plate. “Seriously.”

“Don’t worry.” Justin shuddered at the thought. He considered himself more like Thoreau, or Emerson. He’d rather write about the world as it was rather than make up a new one.

“So, exams are over? We’ve missed you in here this week.”

Nodding, Justin finished his beer. “Thank God. Nothing worse than sitting around all day writing about stuff that means nothing to you.”

“I have no idea how you stand that college baloney.” Chris leaned back on two legs of his chair. “You’re so not the college type.”

Naturally, that made Justin think of JC. Taking a breath, he asked Chris, “What would you do if someone, like. Did something really out of character, and you don’t necessarily think that it’s wrong, but you’re afraid if you say that there will be some pretty serious repercussions?”

Chris blinked. “That’s a difficult hypothetical.”

“I know.” With a sigh, Justin ate his last potato chip and wiped his hands on a napkin. “JC, the guy I’m working with on the poetry thing? I found out something about him, or at least I think I did. And I don’t know whether I should bring it up or pretend I never found out.”

“Does he know that you know?” Chris asked.

“Yeah.” Justin’s only peace of mind over the past week had come from the fact that JC was probably suffering more so than he was, having been the one to initiate the kiss. “I don’t know if it was a one time screw up or something that he does all the time.”

Justin watched as Chris mulled the situation over. It wasn’t that he expected some sage advice, particularly given the lack of details. It was only that it had been a week, and Justin hadn’t come to any kind of decision. That was so unlike him, and it bothered him. Justin had always known exactly what he wanted and gone for it, even if it meant going against the social norms. He wasn’t sure why this would be so very different.

“I think you should talk to him,” Chris finally said, and it was the answer that Justin figured would be coming. “Not because he owes you anything about this, but if it’s bothering you this much, than you should probably talk it out with him.”

“Yeah.” Justin didn’t have any more to say, and Chris had to get started opening the bar, so the conversation was left on that note. Justin hung around for a few more hours before heading out into the cool evening air, tucking his hands into his pockets to keep them warm on the long walk back to school.


In class on Monday, Justin took his usual seat and waited for JC. JC never skipped class, so Justin was sure he would be there. Sure enough, seconds before Professor Logan began to speak, JC slipped in the door. His eyes scanned the room quickly before sliding regretfully into the only empty chair, to Justin’s left.

Class was as boring as usual, an overview of the syllabus for the second half of the semester and an introduction to Matthew Arnold, their next selected poet. Justin, glad to be reading more modern works, dove into the assigned pages while other students discussed which selections to analyze first.

At the end of class, JC moved to get up quickly, but Justin laid a hand on his arm. JC froze.

“Are we still meeting later, for the editing stuff?” He kept his voice light and soothing, hoping to convey a message that everything was OK.

“Sure. Um. Where do you want to go?” JC wouldn’t look Justin in the eye, something that hurt him, more than he would have expected.

“Your room again? I think my roommate’s going to be around tonight.” Actually, Justin had no idea what Lance’s schedule was, but he didn’t want to risk any interruptions.

“Sure.” JC bolted out the door as soon as a time had been set.

As Justin followed, he couldn’t help but feel a bubble of nervous energy building in his stomach. It was going to be an interesting evening.


“Hot date?” Lance asked, as Justin changed his shirt for the third time.

“What?” Justin stood in just his undershirt, perplexed.

“You keep changing.” Lance had his massive biology text open at his desk, pencil in hand. “That must mean there’s a lady involved.”

Justin laughed. “Something like that,” he admitted. At least, he thought it might be something like that. Whatever the case, he settled on a maroon sweater and a pair of black pants, slipped his feet into boots, and ducked out the door.

JC’s dorm was back to being crazy, with races down the hallway, one guy pushing another by his upturned heels while his hands were in roller skates. Justin jumped up the stairs two at a time and knocked on JC’s door promptly at seven.

“Hi.” JC looked nervous, edgy. His shirt wasn’t quite tucked into his pants, his hair ungreased. He ushered Justin into the room, then paused, unsure of what to do next.

“Look, I want to…” he started, just as Justin pulled out his notebook and said “I’ve got something…”

Both men laughed, nervously. “Go ahead,” Justin said. “I think what you were gonna say is probably more important."

JC shot him a wry look. “I just wanted to apologize again. I don’t know what made me do it, and I feel really bad about it.”

“It’s fine,” Justin assured him, hoping that JC could tell exactly how fine it was. “No big deal, really.”

“It is,” JC emphasized. “It’s just so.” Fisting a hand in his hair, JC turned. So that’s how his hair got so messy, Justin thought. He felt downright sad for JC, to have been so churned up over this little thing.

“Hey,” Justin said, stepping forward, placing a hand on JC’s arm. Alarm bells rang off in his head, too close, you’ll scare him away, but Justin didn’t heed the warnings. “It’s really OK. We’re here, with all of this emotion,” he said, waving his poetry notebook, “and it just gets all churned up. It’s nothing I haven’t almost done a hundred times.” When he said the words, he realized they were true. That changed everything.

JC didn’t answer, but his tongue slipped out to lick his lips. Justin’s knees quivered.

“I’m not angry,” Justin promised, taking hold of JC with two arms. “I’m not angry.” He had to make him see, had to make JC understand that it wasn’t a mistake, it was just a kiss, just a little kiss. Just like the one Justin gave him as he leaned up and pressed close to JC, chest to chest, lip to lip.

Warm and soft, slightly wet, and Justin’s mind completely blanked. All of his rational arguments gone, Justin could only focus on the beat of his heart, the feel of JC’s lips under his. He opened to them, intentionally this time, and felt JC come alive. His hands surged to Justin’s back, pulling his close. Justin’s leg slipped between JC’s, but his hands stayed above the waist, slipping up JC’s arm to cradle his shoulders, keeping JC close.

JC made soft sounds into Justin’s mouth, tilting his head to the side to taste Justin at a different angle. It felt warm in the room, and JC’s skin burned when Justin rubbed his thumb against his cheek. His chin was rough with five o’clock shadow, and scratched against Justin’s own scruffy cheek.

His mind was spinning. Justin slid back and sucked in a deep breath. JC’s eyes opened slowly, but this time, instead of panic in them, Justin saw only enchantment.

“I’m not angry,” Justin said again, because it was the last thing on his mind before the kiss and the first thing that came back.

“No.” JC was almost as tall as Justin, but not quite. He leaned his forhead to Justin’s shoulder. Justin’s hand caught the back of his head and held him close. JC let out a long shaky breath. “I’m so confused,” he confessed, but he did not pull away.

“Me too,” Justin admitted. At least, he thought, he wasn’t alone.


They talked late into the night, about everything. About Kinsey and what it all meant in the real world and about each other.

“There’s something about you,” JC admitted, hovering close to Justin on the bed but not touching him. “I knew it the first minute I saw you. It’s why I wanted to work with you.”

Justin smiled. “I thought you were just being nice.” He thought back to those first days the previous spring and glowed, knowing that JC felt this way even then. “No one else would partner with me.”

“Could you blame them?” JC laughed. “You skipped more classes than you attended.”

“Still do,” Justin added. All except poetry. Somehow, along the way, he’d started attending every poetry class. He had a feeling it had a lot to do with JC.

JC shifted closer, making the bed bounce. “Really, though. It’s you. I’ve never done this before, I want you to know that.”

“I know.” He felt like after all of those weeks of poetry, he knew JC’s soul inside and out. “I haven’t either.” His hand fell to JC’s knee, his head tilted down.

“Can I kiss you again?” JC whispered, and at Justin’s slight nod, took his lips once more. For what seemed like an eternity, they sat together, hands tentatively exploring, kisses soft and wandering. Finally, Justin pulled away.

“I should go home,” he said reluctantly. His cock throbbed in his pants, painfully hard. He wondered if their kisses had the same effect on JC. “I need to get some sleep tonight.”

“Right.” JC kissed him again, then once more. Then again, until Justin pulled back with a laugh.

“I really have to go!”

It took a moment to straighten his clothes, and fix his hair. JC watched him with heavy eyes. “Will you come by tomorrow night?” he asked.

Justin smiled at him. “Sure.” Then, with a wave, he left, closing the door tightly behind him. The halls were quiet, the campus asleep as he crept back to his room. He undressed in the dark and climbed beneath his cool sheets, a smile on his lips as he thought about JC and tomorrow.


Since they hadn’t gotten any poetry work done the day before, Justin and JC worked quickly to get that out of the way when they met again.

“Show me that first one again,” Justin asked, passing JC his folder after finishing their latest batch of works. “The one with the lines about the fire.”

Shyly, JC pulled the poem from his portfolio. He’d typed it up neatly since they’d last worked on it.

“I love this one,” Justin said, reading it over again.

“Thanks.” JC slid up next to him on the bed, deciding that study time was over. “It’s not really about anyone, just like. Feelings.”

“Yeah.” Sliding it back into the folder, Justin slid a leg up on the bed so that he could scoot closer to JC, pulling him into the V of his thighs. “Good feelings.”

“Definitely.” Tentatively, JC pressed a soft kiss on the side of Justin’s jaw. “This is OK, right?”



On Friday night, Justin decided to take a risk and bring JC down to Chris’s club. They’d spent at least a few hours together every day all week long, sharing not only long passionate kisses but also soft words and secrets. Justin had never felt so close to anyone.

“Are you sure I look OK?” JC asked for the hundredth time. He tugged on the bottom of his black button down shirt, left untucked. He’d worn a pair of blue jeans underneath, and black loafers.

“You look great. My own personal Elvis.” Justin grabbed JC’s hips and tried to make him shake, sending them both into fits of laughter on the sidewalk. “Seriously, though. You look great.”

As they walked inside, Justin paused near the door to give JC a chance to get used to the low lighting. “How did you find this place?” JC asked.

Shrugging, Justin led them to the bar. “Just out wandering one night last year. Chris!” he called, waving over his friend. “A beer and…” he looked at JC, expectantly.

“Oh, um. Vodka tonic,” he replied. Chris shot him a weird look. “What? I’ll have gin if you’re out of vodka.”

“No, we’ve got it. You must be JC,” Chris extended a hand and introduced himself. “Justin’s told me a lot about you.” He headed down the bar to get the drinks.

Justin turned his back to the bar, listening to the music up on stage. It took him a moment to realize that JC had gone still beside him.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“What did you tell him?”

Justin sighed, rubbing JC’s arm. It tensed beneath his hand. “Nothing like that. Relax. I told him about working together for school, that you wrote good stuff.”

“Oh.” Relaxing a bit, JC even managed a smile when Chris came back with his drink. “Thanks, man.”

“You gonna play tonight, J?” Chris leaned forward on the bar, shouting over the roaring sax.

“In a bit,” he promised. JC eyed him curiously. “What?”

“You play?”

“Hmm, yeah. Piano, and sing some. A little guitar, but I’m not as good at that. Not like those guys,” he said, nodding toward the dueling pickers up on stage.

Justin led them to a table. There was some great music playing, but he was completely unable to focus. Rather, he watched JC’s face, the delight that passed over his features as the music swelled, the concentration that popped up there when a complex lick was played on the guitar. Watching JC was like learning to love music all over again.

When his beer was gone, Justin slid up the stage to the piano, sliding in seamlessly as the older man who’d been playing got up for a drink. Justin picked up the notes and before long was trading fours with the bassist.

When the song ended, JC clapped loudly and whistled, making Justin blush. “You wanna try?” he asked, not expecting JC to agree. He was surprised when JC nodded and jumped to center stage, settling in on a stool.

Justin started to play a tune, and JC closed his eyes and sang. He had a beautiful voice, Justin knew that. Anyone who was given solos in the select choir had to have an amazing voice. But there was more to JC. He sang with passion, with emotion Justin had seen in his poems but never felt in this amazing onslaught of song. He almost lost time, just listening to JC.

They sang for hours, song after song. All of the ones Justin thought JC would know and more that surprised him. He’d thought of JC as a bubble gum pop kind of guy, but he knew his Billie Holiday just as well as his Buddy Holly.

When Chris sent the signal for last call around the club, Justin was amazed at how much time had gone by. He’d never played for so much of the night, and immediately felt bad about monopolizing the stage. Still, no one seemed angry with him when they finished the last number. Rather, the applause was more impressive and enthusiastic than he ever remembered hearing in the club before.

“You guys sounded amazing,” Chris said, passing them tips, as he always did. Justin slid them back across the bar, as was his part of the ritual. JC did the same, trusting Justin’s motives. Chris didn’t argue, just slid the money into the safe.

It was cold outside when they left, and JC wanted to call a taxicab. Justin just grabbed his arm, linking it in his own as they walked. He knew it was a safe route back to school. “Bet you’re never out this late with a date,” he joked. The street was wet and glowed in the streetlights, white along the sidewalks and red in the center from a lone blinking traffic light.

“Nope.” Rubbing his hands together, JC walked faster into the wind. “Girls’ dorms still have those curfews.”

“Ah,” Justin said, not knowing how else to respond. He’d forgotten that JC’s college experience had been different from his, had involved girlfriends and all of the things that went along with them.

“This is so much better,” JC added, making Justin smile. He let his worries slip away.

“Glad you approve,” he said. “Come on, I’ll race you across the bridge!” He took off in a run, JC close at his heels.

Back at campus, JC tugged on the sleeve of Justin’s jacket. “Come to my room,” he pleaded.

Justin hesitated. “What about dorm rules? No overnight guests?”

“Since when do you follow the rules?” JC teased. His hair was tousled from the run, wavy around his ears. His cheeks were pink from the cold, his nose cold when he buried in Justin’s neck in a quick embrace. “Come on,” he whispered in Justin’s ear, pulling them into the shadow of the bushes.

Groaning, Justin let out a long “fine,” stretching the word as if being coerced against his will. He couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do.

Upstairs, JC took off his jacket and shoes, storing them neatly in the closet. Justin tossed his over the back of the desk chair. He sat on the bed, spreading his legs when JC came to kneel between them, mouth eager when he leaned close for a kiss.

“Are you going to read me poetry?” Justin gasped, words falling between soft kisses. JC’s lips were pliant, his tongue firm as it licked against Justin’s teeth. Justin let his hands rest by JC’s ears, holding him close, fingers knotted in his windblown hair.

“Do I need to?” JC asked, boldly leaning forward, pressing their chests together. One of his hands slid up under Justin’s shirt in a brazen exploration. When his fingers closed over one nipple and pinched it through the thin fabric of Justin’s undershirt, he shuddered helplessly. Justin’s dick ached in his jeans, pressing against the zipper painfully. When JC’s mouth left his to suck gleefully on Justin’s neck, he gasped desperately for air.

When JC tugged on the bottom of Justin’s shirt, drawing it up, he slid back and let the fabric be pulled away to bare his chest. JC’s face was washed with awe as he carefully traced the flat planes of Justin’s stomach, nervous now that he could see where his fingers traveled. Justin slowly slipped each button on JC’s shirt from its hole, revealing glimpse after glimpse of tantalizing skin. No wonder JC had been cold- he wore nothing underneath.

When Justin slid back onto the bed, JC followed. Suddenly, what they were doing seemed so much more real, and Justin grew bashful. How had he been the one to take the initiative when this all began, only to be the shy one when it came to this.

“What’s wrong?” JC asked. He lay on his side with one head propped up on his hand. His other hand curled possessively around Justin’s waist, keeping him from scooting too far away and falling off of the narrow bed.

“I’ve never done this before,” Justin confessed. He reached up to brush back an errant strand of JC’s hair that had fallen in his eyes. “I don’t really know what to do.”

With a gentle kiss, JC sought to reassure him. “I haven’t either,” he promised. “But we’ll figure it out, right?”

“OK,” Justin agreed. He lay on his back as JC kissed him long and hard, working away all of the worries and fears that had crept to his brain. His body strummed with energy, but it was a quiet pulse that kept him pinned to the bed, helpless as JC kissed a soft trail across his collarbones. When he nipped at one of Justin’s nipples, Justin bucked up and a low moan escaped his lips, a voice that he didn’t even recognize as his own.

JC kept teasing Justin’s nipples, one then the other, with a firm tongue and soft lips. When he’d bite gently on them, Justin always moaned. Finally, he had to push JC’s shoulders away, afraid that he’d embarrass himself by coming in his pants.

“So,” he said, sitting up a little, giving JC’s chest a touch of the same treatment. JC nearly purred with pleasure. When Justin’s hands froze by his belt, JC’s eyes opened.

“This is where it gets different, huh?” he asked. His eyes never left Justin’s. “We can stop.”

“No.” The answer tumbled out before Justin could even think, but he smiled easily. “Please.” He boldly unbuckled JC’s belt, holding his breath as he brushed the edge of JC’s briefs. He touched the hard length hidden beneath with the back of his hand, shocked by its heat. JC stifled a groan into Justin’s shoulder. “That feels. That’s so.”

“A poet with no words?” Justin teased, made more daring by the complete undoing of JC at that little touch. He turned his hand and cupped the length in his palm, squeezing just a little bit. JC’s eyes fluttered shut and the most delicious sounds seeped from his mouth.

“Not fair,” JC breathed. He dove for Justin’s pants, undoing the buttons of the fly. When his hands slipped inside, grasping at Justin’s erection through thin nylon, it was all Justin could do to keep from creaming himself.

“Wow,” was all he could think of to say. “Oh, wow.”

JC leaned forward to kiss him again, hand still caught in Justin’s open pants. Justin opened his lips willingly this time, letting JC’s tongue inside, pushing back with his own. JC slid his body on top of Justin’s sliding his hand out so that their groins were pressed together. It had been like that way back when, their first night kissing, all hot amazing pressure. Justin slid his hands back into the pockets of JC’s loose-hanging pants, holding him as close as possible, thrusting up against him. The friction was just out of this world.

It got even better when JC reached between them and shoved their underwear down, out of the way, arresting his thighs tight together, but allowing JC’s cock to sit right up beside his. It was scalding hot, hard and wet, the most amazing feeling ever. Justin had always thought of sex as something totally different. He never thought his head would be spinning out of control trying to get more of JC, to kiss him senseless while thrusting against his hip.

The muscles in JC’s shoulders tensed suddenly. He thrust down quickly three more times before wet heat spilled onto Justin’s stomach. His eyes closed, he shuddered through the orgasm. Justin just watched, mesmerized, as JC’s cock leaked onto his own. It was the first time he’d seen anyone else come apart like that. He’d never thought anyone could be so beautiful.

JC licked his lips before opening his eyes, a look of dazed wonder on his face as he stared down at Justin. He kissed him slowly, open-mouthed, before sliding over to Justin’s side. He touched Justin’s cock carefully, as if it might break in his hands. The cooling drops of come lubricated his fingers as they stroked carefully down, making Justin shake with pleasure. He traced the ridges of Justin’s cock, touching the soft spot behind the head.

“Does this feel good?” he asked. Justin could only nod. “I do this to myself, sometimes. In the shower. I never knew if it was just me.”

The image of JC touching himself in the shower was too much for Justin to take in. With an arch of his back, he came, splattering JC’s hand and the bed beside them. His breath caught in this throat.

It was the best orgasm he’d ever had, hands down. All those people who told him masturbation was a waste of time because it paled in comparison to sharing sex with someone else were absolutely right.

He pulled JC’s face down into a kiss, and they kept kissing until sleep conquered them both.


Justin loved sex. Everything about college was so much more bearable when he knew that JC would be there at the end of the day. The greasy smell of bacon and burnt eggs in the cafeteria wasn’t nearly as disgusting, Lance’s insistence on listening to Perry Como not nearly as annoying, and his Russian history not nearly as boring. Particularly the latter, since another student had gotten stuck on a tangent on the evil Reds, prompting his removal from class until he could back with “a more scholarly attitude.”

“Hey, Justin?” JC asked one night after they’d experimented yet again with sex. Justin knew there was more. Boys in the locker room joked about that one last step two men could take, but it still scared Justin to think about. Right now, he was content to taste JC, to take as much of him into his mouth and drive JC wild that way. There were so many ways, they were finding, to bring one another off. Justin hugged JC closer thinking about it.

“Hey,” JC poked him, making him pay attention to his words instead of dreaming about sex. “Are you listening to me?”

“Mmmm,” Justin answered. “What?”

“Homecoming,” he answered. “I have to take Roberta Watson. My parents have it all arranged with her parents.”

Justin’s heart sank. “Oh.”

“You’re not mad are you?” JC kissed his shoulder. “You know I’d rather not go, but it was all set up at the beginning of the term.”

“No, it’s fine. Go. Have a good time.”

“Will you be going?” JC asked.

The very idea made Justin laugh. “Me, at a Homecoming Ball? In case you missed it, I’m not exactly Mr. School Spirit like you.”

“Oh, right.” JC kissed at his arm, tickling him with the tip of his nose. “Wanna go one more time before I have to get to choir?”

Justin agreed. He really loved sex.


JC had his friends that he had to keep up appearances with, which annoyed Justin to an extent, but he didn’t complain about it. He knew that as much as he marched to his own drummer, JC followed the beat of the crowd. Sometimes he wondered how the man who sang with him at the blues club could be the same one who wore the letterman’s sweater and drank milkshakes at the diner with the rest of his perfect friends.

When Justin asked him, JC had just shrugged. “I like milkshakes,” was his only attempt to explain.

A few days later, Justin found JC in the library, surrounded by a stack of math books. His pencil worked furiously across the paper.

“Hey,” he said, quietly sliding into the seat across from JC. JC looked up, barely recognizing him.

“Hi, Justin, what’s up?”

“Nothing. Just saw you here, wanted to ask what you were doing tonight. Maybe we could hang.”

Finally, a smile. JC’s eyes glowed. “That’d be cool,” he offered nonchalantly. “I’m having dinner with a group of the guys from the choir- you wanna join us?”

Justin made a face.

“Come on, they’re good guys.” JC pleaded with his eyes, until Justin finally sighed.

“Fine. But after, we’ll um. You know.”

“Oh, definitely.” JC grinned at him. “I’ve really gotta get this work done,” he said, apologetically.

“OK.” Justin slid out of the bench. “Catch you later, then.”

JC had already gone back to work, and Justin wondered what he’d gotten himself into.


JC had said to meet him in the main cafeteria on campus, the one Justin usually avoided because of its rowdy crowds and long lines.

He carried his tray to the far corner, where he saw JC in the middle of a rather boisterous crowd.

“Hey, meathead, slide over, make room,” JC ordered, securing Justin a spot on the bench next to him. He noticed the strange faces that JC’s friends made, could almost hear them wondering what Justin was doing there.

“I invited him,” JC said, as if it was as simple as that. “Justin’s got a really great voice. He’s even sung around town a bit.”

“Yeah?” The guy across from JC, who Justin thought was named Joey, perked up. “Why aren’t you in choir?”

Justin shrugged. “No time, really.” It was a convenient excuse.

“Aw, man, you have to make time. You can’t lock yourself up studying all of the time. You must ENJOY life.”

“Like you enjoy it?” One of the other guys chided. “Fatone here has more girlfriends than the entire baseball team combined!”

“Hey, now, hey now. I treat my ladies right.” Joey looked at Justin, explaining quite seriously, “You spread them out, you know? One at Wellesley, one at Radcliff, one from that little secretaries’ school downtown, you know? Make sure they don’t know each other, first, of course.”

“How do you do that?” Justin asked, curious.

“Oh, just ask them if they know JC and Roberta. Everyone knows JC and Roberta.” Joey grinned.

Justin turned sideways, looking at JC. “Roberta, that’s the girl you’re taking to the Homecoming Ball?”

Nodding, JC stuffed his mouth with a huge bite of meatloaf.

Justin didn’t really have anything else to say to that. He listened as the guys talked about their plans for the weekend and raved about the new car that someone’s dad had promised him at Thanksgiving break. Hot rods had never been Justin’s thing. He preferred to travel on two wheels.

“What’dya you drive?” someone finally asked him, attempting to include Justin.

“I’ve got a Harley back home,” he answered.

“Really? What’ya, like, Steve McQueen or somethin’?”

Justin rolled his eyes. “Or somethin’.”


“Is Roberta your girlfriend?” Justin asked.

“Jeez.” JC rolled off. “What’dya have to bring her up for?”

“You know, you talk more like your friends after hanging out with them,” Justin commented. They’d snuck back to JC’s room after dinner and had been going at it hot and heavy ever since.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Annoyed JC fumbled for the zipper on his pants.

“Nothing.” Justin stopped his hands. “Hey, look, sorry I brought it up.”

“Yeah. Whatever, I don’t like to talk about it.” JC slid back down under Justin’s arm. “Hey, what’re you doing next weekend?”


“Wanna go down to my parents’ house on the Cape? It’s always empty this time of year, and I always get good work done down there. No distractions, you know?”

That made Justin laugh. “And you want to bring me along?”

“Sure.” JC settled down. “No one there to bother us, right?”

Justin thought about it, sitting by the shore. “Must be nice, to live at the beach, write all the time.”

“Yeah. That’s where I’m going, after school ends, you know? My parents want me to go to some publishing company back in Baltimore, but I think I’m gonna stay up here for a while and write.”

“Can I come too?” Justin asked.

JC kissed his forehead, then the tip of his nose. “Sure. You and me, we’ll be like Emerson and Thoreau, Hawthorne and Longfellow.”

“Sounds perfect.” Justin tipped his lips for another kiss, hands already sliding down under JC’s pants.


Justin went to the bar on the night of the Ball, hanging around and playing until long into the night. Chris let him hang around after close. He didn’t see JC until the next morning, on his way back from breakfast.

“Hey,” he called, jogging up. JC looked tired, but smiled at him anyway.

“Hey. Wanna go, um.”

Justin laughed. “Man, it’s not even 9 am. Must have been some dance last night.”

“Yeah.” JC pulled his coat tighter. “So, um.”

“Right, right. Lead the way,” Justin said, following JC upstairs.

It was fast and rough, hands bruising, nails scratching. Justin tripped over the leg of his pants and fell to the floor. JC followed him down. With a ferocity that Justin hadn’t seen in him before, JC kissed down Justin’s chest, right down to his dick. When his mouth closed over the tip, Justin groaned.

“JC,” he panted, trying to stay quiet as he heard two guys in the hall outside talking about football. “Oh, fuck,” he whispered, biting on his knuckles. JC’s mouth slipped lower, taking more of him inside. One hand squeezed his balls, pulling them away from his body, and Justin’s mouth opened in a silent scream.

His body shuddered when he came, almost without warning, heat searing through his body as he emptied himself into JC’s mouth. JC kept it up, licking until Justin feebly pushed him away.

“Fuck,” Justin whispered, sitting up, pushing JC back against the bed. JC’s eyes were dark, steely blue.

“My turn,” Justin whispered, spreading JC’s knees and bending down between. What a way to start the morning.


JC was strangely cool for the rest of the weekend, claiming that he had a lot of work to do on his thesis outline. Justin let him be. The Saturday morning sex had been more than enough to sate him for a couple of days. If JC had stuff to work out, be it schoolwork or otherwise, then Justin wasn’t going to push it.

He smiled when JC slid into his seat at Monday’s lit class. “Hi,” he whispered. “Are we on for tonight?”

“Sure,” JC answered. Professor Logan started talking, then, and Justin didn’t get a chance to find out anymore. Something was up, though. He just didn’t know what.

At the end of class, Justin watched JC get mobbed by his friends in the main hall of the Arts building.

“You stud!” Joey called, clapping JC on the back. “Congratulations, man! That’s such awesome news!” Others offered similar remarks, making Justin’s stomach drop.

“What’s the celebration for?” he asked casually, strolling up to the crowd.

“Chasez finally popped the question! And she actually said yes!”

Justin’s heart beat loudly in his ears. The girlfriend that JC didn’t want to talk about. The Homecoming Ball he had to go to. The world spun, and Justin fought to keep from falling with it.

“Congratulations,” he offered lamely, voice oddly strangled. “I hope you guys’ll be happy together.”

“Justin--“ JC began, but his friends carted him away with more good wishes and merriment. Justin left by a different door.


The day passed in a blur. By the time Justin arrived at JC’s room that night, he wasn’t even sure that JC would be there. Shock had faded to seething anger as Justin knocked on the door. His jaw locked in fury when JC opened it, looking a little bit scared.

“Hi,” he said, holding back the door. “Come on in.”

“Thanks,” Justin spat. “Do you have any poetry tonight?” he asked.


“No? I’ve got one, but I don’t really know that you want to read it. It’s rather gruesome.”

“Hey, man, listen--“ JC took a step toward Justin, but pulled back when he saw the flash of rage in Justin’s eyes.

“Listen to you? So you can lie to me some more?”

“I never lied to you,” JC said quietly. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you on Saturday. I should have.”

“You should have told me, oh, six weeks ago when this whole thing started.” Justin tried to keep his voice down, in hopes that everyone in the hall wasn’t listening, but it was hard. “Damn it, JC. What was this, just something to do to kill time? Keep your girlfriend a virgin ‘til you tied the knot, but get your rocks off in the meantime?”

“Hey,” JC said. “That’s not fair, Justin. Come on, what did you think this was? You can’t have thought it was anything serious.”

“You have no right to tell me what I think-- what I should have thought.” Shaking Justin sank down onto the bed. JC took a tentative step closer.

“Look, I care about you. A lot. You’ve gotta believe that. But this, what we’re doing. It’s not something we’re going to just be doing forever, right? I mean, my parents have been planning this wedding since we were practically in diapers. What was I supposed to do, tell them that it’s off because I’m fucking another guy from school?” He shook his head. “They’ve done so much for me, I can’t let them down like that.”

Justin didn’t answer, pain radiating from his heart. He knew, he’d known that whatever they were doing never had a chance of being real. He could have kicked himself for being so delusional.

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” JC said. “It’s just. My parents gave me the ring at Thanksgiving, and they’re so excited. I don’t really have any choice here.”

“You always have choices,” Justin said, not letting him use that excuse. The anger slunk out of him, leaving disappointment and a bottomless sadness. He wanted the anger back, but it wouldn’t come. With anger, he had defense. “You should have told me,” he said again.

“I know.” JC stood, helpless. “Can we still be friends at least?” he asked. “Partners?”

Justin thought about working with JC day to day, eating lunch with him, hanging out. It broke his heart even more. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea. I wouldn’t want to ruin your good reputation.”

“Justin,” he pleaded, but Justin just stood and walked to the door.

”I think I have enough stuff for my portfolio,” he said, before walked out of JC’s room. He made it all the way back to his dorm and into the shower before he started to cry.


“I thought you were going to the Cape this weekend,” Chris commented a week later.

Justin glared at him. “Plans changed.”

Chris just blinked and poured another drink.


Semester ended two weeks later. Justin passed all of his finals and went home to Tennessee. His mother fussed over him, his father boasted about having a son who was taking the famous Northern university by storm.

Justin read a lot of books and tried to forget about JC. It didn’t work. As 1958 dawned, he wondered if JC was with Roberta at a fancy New Year’s Eve Ball in Washington DC.

Mostly, he resolved never to be taken in by the popular crowd again. More than ever, Justin was convinced how vastly different his life was from that of the All-American college boy.


When Justin got back from the Christmas holiday, he changed his schedule so he wouldn’t have any classes with JC. He spent more time at Chris’s bar than he did in class, and sat on the probation list from the first night on campus, when he was caught drinking under a tree in the middle of the yard.

“What are we going to do with you, Mr. Timberlake?” the dean asked, after summoning Justin to his office a month later.

“Kick me out?” Justin suggested from his position slouched in one of the leather chairs of the dean’s office.

“You know that we make exceptions for our legacy students, but by George, Mr. Timberlake, you aren’t making this easy for us.”

Justin leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I don’t think it’s my job to make things easy for you. Isn’t it your role, Dean Aldridge, to make things easy for me? Isn’t that what you told us at our freshman orientation?”

The dean flushed, and Justin held back the triumphant grin. “I am trying to help you, Justin. That’s why I’ve called you here rather than to the provost’s office. We can’t have students tarnishing the name of the university.”

Justin rolled his eyes. “Heaven forbid.” He stood. “Is there anything else? Because I’ve got class in ten minutes, and apparently, I should go.”

“That you should,” the dean said. “And maybe you should think about whether this is the really the place for you. There are a lot of people who would love to be in your shoes right now. If’ you’re going to just waste the opportunities that have been given to you here…” His voice trailed off, but the rest of his sentence was clearly implied.

That Sunday, Justin hung out in the hallway by the phone, waiting for his parents weekly call. When he answered the payphone, he was greeted with his mother’s teary voice.

“… and he said that you’ve been skipping your classes, and had failed your midterm exams. He said you might not be allowed to come back next year, or even be asked to leave this term if you don’t start to do your work!” Justin’s mother blubbered into the phone, until Justin deciphered that the dean had called her. He rolled his eyes and sank back against the wall.

“Mama, listen, it’s not that bad,” he began.

“Why do you do this to us?” she asked pleadingly.

“I don’t know,” Justin answered. He loved his parents, he really did. They’d just never understand him. “I’ll do more,” he promised. “Don’t worry, I’ll do more.”

His mother sniffled twice more before clearing her throat. “That’s all we ask, baby.”

Justin talked to her for a few more minutes before hanging up. He headed back to his room, falling face down on his bed.

“What’s wrong?” Lance asked. He was sitting at his desk, writing his weekly letter to his grandmother.

“The dean called my parents,” Justin said. “God, I hate this place.”

“Then why are you here?” Lance snapped back at him.

“Because it was expected of me,” Justin answered. As much as he’d wanted to do other things with his life, he’d followed the path that his parents had laid out for him. It was resentment for that decision that led him to skirt the rules in everything he did at the university.

Lance turned back to his letter. “You make no sense, sometimes.”

“What?” Justin asked.

“I mean, if you make a decision to do something, you should at least have the balls to follow through with it. Don’t be all rebel-without-a-cause, ‘cause it’s really not gonna get you anything except miserable.”

“Yeah?” Justin said, glaring at Lance. “Well, fuck you too.”

Lance just shook his head.


Justin started going to class and doing his work. He spent less time at the bar, and when he was there, he’d be up on stage rather than drowning in whiskey.

His mother stopped crying when he talked to her on the phone, and Lance started treating him like a human being again. Justin almost would have called him a friend. He’d see JC around campus and it didn’t break his heart anymore. JC had only been doing the same thing Justin had, trying to live up to everyone’s expectations for him. Justin couldn’t fault him that, not when he hadn’t had the strength to stand up for himself either.

That was changing, though. Sometime at the end of the term, Justin decided that it would be his last at the university. He hadn’t told his parents, yet, but he knew that ultimately, they’d be happier if he wasn’t so miserable. At least, he hoped that was the case.

For the first time in his life, Justin actually started to plan for the future.


The library was incredibly crowded during finals week, but with Lance’s constant cursing about the evils of organic chemistry, Justin had to seek out a retreat. He looked around, trying to find a carrel or table, anyplace that he could sit and cram for his Ancient World Lit class.

There was a seat, in the corner by the window. At the other end of the table, though-- with a sigh, Justin walked over and waited until JC noticed him.

“Hi. Um, do you mind if I sit here? There’s no place else.”

“What?” JC looked up, dazed. Justin just waited. “Oh, um. Sure.”

Justin slid into his seat and opened his book. This was almost worse than his room, he thought. He couldn’t stop sneaking looks over his book at JC, whose head was buried in a thick hardcover book.

After an hour, Justin had finally begun to focus and made it through half of his notes. There was only so long he could watch someone read, even someone who fascinated him. He was deep into the world of Antigone when JC kicked his foot under the table.

“Want coffee?” he asked, and Justin nearly salivated.

“Oh, God, yes,” he pleaded. “Here, let me.” He reached for some coins from his pocket, but JC waved his hand away.

“I got it.” He left, and Justin ducked back into his book. A few pages later, JC was back with two steaming Styrofoam cups.

“Mmmm,” Justin said, sipping the hot black coffee. “Thanks. I needed this.” He kept his voice hushed, out of courtesy to the others who were studying.

“No problem.” JC wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “How’ve you been?” he asked.

“Good. You?” He could do this, he thought. He could make small talk.

“Um, OK. Roberta and I broke off the engagement.”

Why is he telling me this? Justin wondered. “Oh. I’m, um, sorry. Really.”

JC just shook his head, twirling his coffee cup around on the table. “Thanks. It’s not, really. Um. It was more our parents, you know? And when we really sat down and thought about it, it just wasn’t something either of us wanted. She’s going to medical school and I’ve got a place down on the beach lined up for after graduation.”

“Right.” Justin picked up his book again, wanting the conversation to be over, not wanting to hear the details of this.

“I wish I’d realized it sooner,” JC said quietly, and when Justin looked up, JC’s eyes were on him steadily. “You have no idea how much I wish that.”

“OK,” was all Justin could think of to say, before going back into his reading. He knew what JC was trying to tell him, but he couldn’t dwell on that now. Not when he needed to ace the final just to pull off a passing grade in class.

Later, though. Justin filed the thought away, because it deserved some pretty serious consideration.


It rained on graduation day, all the way into the night, ruining the big celebration party on the main yard, and dampening the spirits of graduates and families alike. The next day, though, dawned sunny and clear. It was warm, too, a perfect sign that summer was just around the corner.

JC kept the top down on his Spyder, a graduation gift from his parents as he loaded it up. When he’d left them at the hotel the night before, his mom had been weepy at the thought of JC staying up north on Cape Cod for the summer, but his father’s firm insistence that boys must grow up had kept JC from giving in to her tears. He’d visit, he promised, on all of the holidays, and they were welcome to come see him at any time.

But for now, he was free. His trust fund had opened the minute his diploma touched his hand, meaning JC could take at least a few years to write before having to worry about supporting himself. He was looking forward to it.

Tying down the last load in the back seat, JC checked his maps: Route Three south to the Sagamore Bridge, then all the way down to Provincetown. He folded them up and pulled his sunglasses from the glove compartment.

The motor had just started, and JC was about to pull away when the passenger door opened and someone jumped in. Startled, JC stalled, then cursed, turning off the engine.

Justin beamed at him. “Just made it.”

Confused, JC lifted his sunglasses. “Justin, what are you doing here?”

“Going to the beach. Remember? We’re gonna be writers by the ocean?” Justin grinned at him, holding his large bag on his lap. “Let’s go!”

“But, that was before. I mean.” JC was rattled. But at the same time. “Are you sure?”

“More than. Come on, if we’re gonna beat the traffic, we’ve gotta move.”

“But, what about school? Your summer classes.”

“JC.” Justin stared at him, incredulously. “Do you really think that I’d rather spend the summer in the classroom here, with people I don’t like, when I could be at a beach house with you, writing? This,” he waved his arms around, “never meant anything to me. You mean everything.”

JC’s cheeks flushed. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure! So start the car already!” Justin laughed, and it was contagious, because JC found himself chuckling too. At what, he wasn’t sure, but he started the engine and eased into first as he slid down the driveway.

“I can’t believe we’ve got a whole house to ourselves, for the entire summer! Privacy,” Justin said, and when JC looked over there was a glimmer in his eye.

Maybe this was just the solution to everything. At least, he thought, it was a way to make things real.


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