nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.

That Alternate Universe Called "LA"

by Sidwich, written for Katie

To say that Justin’s first impression of JC was somewhat less than favorable would be an understatement to say the least.

It had been stifling at Millenium that day, and as usual the one standing fan running in the practice room had barely made a dent in the May heat. It was only exacerbated by the crush of dancers packed into the room for Marty’s master class, each generating enough heat to run a hundred-watt lightbulb. All together, Justin was sure, they’d put Hoover Dam to shame.

It had been a good class, Justin had to say, but he was still grumpy. Marty was awesome as always, and he’d gotten to class good and early to stake out a good spot in front so he could show off his best stuff. But man, the competition today… he’d spent way more class than he’d should have fighting off fellow dancers trying to encroach on his prime real estate, and he had the bruises to prove it. And Justin was still hopeful, but though he’d been encouraging, Marty didn’t know of any new gigs coming up when he’d spoken to him after class.

Cranky and hot after the long class and the inevitable roasting drive home on the 405 afterwards, Justin was just looking forward to a cold beer and a flop on his couch in front of the Lakers game when he walked in the door of the small apartment he shared with his roommate Joey.

He was making a beeline toward the kitchen and that icy beer, when something on the couch snagged his eye and forced him to do a double take. Something big and lumpy, and a shade of pink that might have been favored by Barney’s less depressive cousin. And it was making periodic, ominous, wheezy noises.


“Uh, Joey,” he called, barely raising his voice to avoid rousing the creature taking up residence on their couch. Well, if Joey were home, the most likely place would probably be the kitchen, he decided. “Joey….ow!” On his way to their kitchen, he cursed as he nearly tripped on a guitar case plastered with grainy, black and white photos of singers, songwriters and musicians. A low reverb echoed throughout the tiny living room, but the lumpy creature did not rouse. “Joey…” he said more loudly. “What’s going on with our couch?”

“Oh, hey, Justin! How was class?” Joey looked up from the ginormous assemblage of Italian meats, cheeses and bread he was putting together on their kitchen counter and greeted him cheerily.

“Class was fine,” he answered with a wave of his hand, heading for the refrigerator. At least he was going to get that beer. “Hey, what’s with our couch?” he asked as he poked his head into the refrigerator and began rummaging around Joey’s mozzarella, and mortadella, and parmesano, and … Jesus Christ how many kinds of cheese did an Italian need to eat to consider himself an Italian?

“Oh, cool… you met JC!” Joey smiled brightly as he put the finishing touches on his sandwich work of art. *Too* brightly Justin would have said if it was anybody but Joey. But since it *was* Joey he just chalked it up to him being Joey.

“Is he the new pink lump on the couch?” Justin inquired as he moved Joey’s leftover lasagna to the upper rack of the refrigerator. And his meatballs. And ziti. “Because if he is, I wouldn’t really say that we’ve been properly introduced. And who is JC?”

“Come on, Justin…. my buddy JC? I know I mentioned him to you last week.” Joey made a motion to slap him on the back, but without even removing his gaze from their refrigerator, Justin held up his non-rummaging hand. Sweat stains on his practice shirts were one thing but Joey’s marinara sauce was forever, and it was never too early to be making a good impression in class. Coke, juice, smart water… “High school in Orlando? My first buddy in Florida? I know I said something to you over breakfast last weekend…”

Pausing in his quest for a moment, Justin slowly straightened up and leaned against the swinging refrigerator door. If there was one thing that Justin had picked up about Joey after three years of rooming together, it was that Joey was crafty. And if there was one thing that Joey *should* have picked up about Justin after three years, it was that nothing that he said or did before 10:30 a.m. should be held against him. As the haziest recollection of Joey deliberately sedating him with Captain Crunch and full-fat chocolate milk last Saturday began seeping into his brain, he eyed his dear roommate suspiciously, “Refresh my memory, Joey.”

Somewhere in the torrent of “Greatest Guy Ever!,” “Everybody just loves him!,” and “Just so super-talented!” which followed, Justin managed to glean a few essential details. “So let me get this straight, Joey… if it weren’t for this JC guy coming to your rescue, being your friend and generally tolerating your existence when your family moved down to Orlando, you would have…” Justin rather impolitely snorted, but Joey ignored him. “… been consigned to the life of a social pariah and outcast at Dr. Phillips High School, and from then on for the rest of your days?”

Joey nodded his head so empathetically that Justin began to worry about the non-existent state of his health insurance.

“Uh-huh…,” Having personally been shanghaied into co-hosting more than one of Joey’s “quiet, little get-togethers,” Justin suspected that Joey’s version of events was more than a slight exaggeration. “And since your buddy JC decided to move out here to LA to go to sound engineering school, and since we have all this *room*…,” Joey winced at the black sarcasm which tinged his last words. “… you thought it was only right that you invite him to stay with us?”

“Justin, Justin…” Astutely detecting the strong skepticism underlying his roommate’s question, Joey opened his arms expansively before laying it on as thick as his homemade Bolognese. “It’s just for a little bit. Housing for his engineering program opens in a couple of weeks. He just needs someplace to sleep until then.”

“Uh-huh…” Justin sighed. Joey was a good roommate and a great guy. He paid his rent and his share of the utilities on time, stayed out of his way before 11 in the morning (last weekend excepted) and truth be told, he’d fed Justin some of his bone-stickingly good Italian fare on more than one occasion when his wallet had been a little thin at the end of the month. And basically, … it was just really hard to say no to Joey when he turned on the puppy dog eyes like he was doing right at this instant. “Okay….”

He held up his right hand just as Joey was about pounce for Joey-hug. “But it’s just for a couple of weeks, Joey.”

Joey beamed. “Just a couple of weeks, Justin. I swear. And honestly, he’s such a quiet guy you won’t even know he’s here most of the time.”

His joy was infectious, and Justin couldn’t help smiling as he poked his head back into the refrigerator and Joey continued. “And who knows, J? His singing, your dancing…you could make some beautiful music together…” Joey’s eyebrows resembled nothing so much as a couple of charcoal caterpillars doing the cha cha. “Bestest buds!”

“Whatever, Joe.” Justin said into the icebox. He had bigger things to worry about than an extra body on the couch for a few weeks. Like where was his beer? He was dying of thirst. “Just make sure he doesn’t get in my way, and we’ll get along just fine. And hey, have you seen my beer? I could have sworn I had one more Heineken left….”

“Oh, that… I forgot to mention…” Joey tried to chuckle, but it echoed hollowly off the linoleum in their kitchen. “It was just so hot this afternoon… and it took so long for JC to get in from the airport… you know how the 405 gets these days….”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Justin commented dryly.

“Well, we didn’t think you’d miss one little beer… it was just one little beer.” Joey shrugged helplessly.

Justin emitted something that sounded suspiciously like a growl.

“One little beer that’ll be replaced first thing in the morning?”

Aaarrrgh…. It was the Joey eyes again.

“I’ll be listening to the game in my room,” Justin grumbled as he exited the kitchen.


“Mmmmmph….” His hand slapped fruitlessly at the alarm clock on his nightstand, but it refused to cease its discordant ringing. “Mmmmmph….” He repeated as he pounded at his pillow in denial of the morning. Mornings were overrated… no, no, scratch that… morning’s shouldn’t even be rated at all. They should be skipped altogether, and go directly to DVD.

Still moaning, he was unscrewing a single eyelid so he could pitch his latest alarm clock out the window when he suddenly halted in mid-reach.

4:07…. 4:07… 4:07…. He could feel the red blinking lights reflecting off of his eyeballs in the pitchy darkness of his shoebox-sized room. Almost three and a half hours before his alarm was set to go off.

Justin sat up straight in his bed, totally confused and faintly alarmed. He hadn’t lived in LA so long that he’d developed that cocky nonchalance towards earthquakes so common in longtime Angelenos. His heart still slid all the way to his stomach when the shaking roused him from his sleep as it usually did in the wee hours of the morning.

But no… no shaking, no rumbling, no pictures in their frames vibrating their ways to the edge of his dresser. And it was far too dry this time of year for thunder.

Justin was about to roll over and chalk the late night interruption in his sleep to a none-too-friendly repeat encounter with the hoagie he had had for dinner, when an earsplitting yowling made the few hairs at the nape of his neck stand up.

It sounded like a pack of cats mating in an out-of-tune piano. And it was coming from his living room.

Aarrrgh… he covered his face with his hand in a futile defense against the cacophonous assault on his sleep. He hadn’t thought anything could be worse than when Joey was rehearsing for the heavy metal “Hamlet,” but he’d obviously been hideously, hideously wrong. God if Joey was auditioning for that mariachi Moliere he’d mentioned last Tuesday … well, he was going to have to poison his marinara sauce next weekend.

“Hey! Can you keep it down?” Still lying in his warm bed, he reached up with his free hand to pound on the wall. “Some of us are trying to sleep!” He punctuated each word with an especially heavy blow to the wall, and winced at the bruises sure to develop on his knuckles by the next morning.

Abruptly, the apartment fell silent. “Sorry, man.” The words were faint, the voice tentative and unfamiliar.

“S’okay,” he mumbled as he flopped back upon his mattress.

But Justin sighed as he pulled the covers over his head. He had a feeling this was going to be a long two weeks.


“Two months! It’s been two freaking months! Almost three!” Justin ferociously pitched a $40 chartreuse T-shirt into the growing “to fold” pile, before moving on to disgustedly throw into the pile yet another of the many shirts which littered the small but trendy West Hollywood boutique where he worked. He tossed over a third in magenta emblazoned with a pair of comely nudes of improbable anatomy, and missed by a mile.

Who the hell wears this stuff anyway?

“Well, if you’re going to be consistent with what you said last week,” Lance said mildly as he bent over to pick up the stray T-shirt and began to fold it neatly into a square, “ and the week before, and the week before that, it’s actually, two months, one week and three days since JC moved into your apartment.”

“Whatever,” Justin replied with a dismissive gesture as he began to rearrange and rehang the J. Lindenberg track jackets on the wall by size.

When Lou had first hired the second-year Southern Cal student, Justin had been skeptical to say the least. With his habit of wearing button down shirts and bow ties to the shop and his way of prefacing everything he said with a drawling, “Well, I’m from Mississippi…,” Lance had seemed the least likely candidate ever for Getups Boutique. And he’d also been more than a little puzzled as to why such a promising business student would want to spend a summer folding and reshelving garish obscenely overpriced T-shirts in West Hollywood instead of interning at a tony, air-conditioned office in downtown LA. Most of his fellow clerks, like Justin were struggling (but stylish) actors, dancers and artists.

But besides an interest in entertainment marketing and publicity, Lance had revealed an exceptional ability to relate all the West Hollywood characters to walk through the door from tourist to poser to bona fide superstar, and then charm them into feeling like they had finally found the T-shirt of their dreams. And the jeans, hat and sunglasses to go with it.

He was also the only person Lou had ever found who would debug their computer system for less than a $75 service call.

“….And he didn’t move into our apartment. He’s taken over. He’s begun an occupation of our living room!...It’s like… It’s like… he’s Germany, and we’re France!”

Having heard Justin’s commentary all before, Lance hummed along with the R. Kelly CD Justin had popped into their player that morning as he continued folding, creasing one sleeve and then the other, and then over and finally into threes as he let the younger man rant to his heart’s content.

“… he’s supposed to be in engineering school but when I leave in the morning, he’s there. When I come back from class, he’s there. And when I go to sleep at night, he’s there. It’s no wonder he can’t get into the dorms. He’s never in school. He’s like a giant pink fungus is growing on our couch. And it eats our food!” Justin added. “Last night, I got home late and I was going to have the leftover pizza from the weekend for dinner, but all that was left in the box was a scrap of pepperoni and a note that we were out of eggs. Oh, and we had a new box of dried tofu. Bleah,” The look on Justin’s face illustrated all his feelings on that matter. “I’ve stopped keeping much food around.”

“Mmmmmm……Have you tried talking to him?” Lance inquired mildly.

“I can’t!” Justin cursed bitterly. “He’s asleep all the time. *All* the fucking time. Morning… afternoon… night… And good luck trying to wake him up to talk. It’s like talking to a fuzzy ball of lint.” Justin gesticulated wildly in response to Lance’s arched eyebrow. “All the pink wooly blanket and curly hair. It makes you want to stick a couple of toothpicks under his eyelids to make them to stay open for two seconds! Total zombie.” Justin concluded glumly. “The only time he wakes up is three in the morning, when he’s “composing”,” Justin air-quoted.

“Composing?” Lance asked absently.

“Yeah, he writes these….” Justin waved his hands vaguely through the stratosphere. “… I don’t know what they are, but they sound like a three-year old banging on a See-n-Spell most of the time. Or an orgy.”

Sympathetically, Lance asked, “Have you tried talking to Joey about it?”

“It’s impossible,” Justin said gloomily. “For some reason he becomes completely irrational whenever I bring up JC. Keeps telling me I really got to get to know him, what a great guy he is, how they were the best of friends in Orlando growing up together. He won’t even talk to him about any interim rent money. Won’t hear of it. And now that he’s going to be in rehearsals down in La Jolla for the next month,” Justin concluded resignedly. “I may never see our couch again.”

Lance nodded. Attempting to change the topic of conversation to one of happier themes, he asked, “So, are you going to be able to make it out to the bar for the playoff game?”

“I think so. I’m subbing Marty’s evening intermediate class tonight, but if traffic is good, and I make a quick change….” Justin’s countenance brightened for the first time that afternoon. “Just make sure y’all save a good stool for me.”


“Mr. Timberlake! Mr. Timberlake!”

Justin dropped his dance bag outside the apartment door and sighed. So close…

“Mr. Timberlake… I must speak to you!”

Yep, Kevin… He could almost hear the Darth Vader theme striking up in the background. God, could this day get any better? Pasting on his best speaking-to-the-landlord smile, he turned to face his least favorite building manager in the whole wide world stalking down the hallway in his direction. Unlike his management partner and cousin Brian, Kevin never spoke to the tenants unless he had to, and he only had to if something was going terribly, terribly wrong. God only knows where Kevin had been when their ceiling had been raining plaster all over their bathroom last September. “Hey, Kevin, what’s up?”

“What’s up? What’s up?” Kevin Richardson huffed ominously. “Our tenants are up, that’s what.”

“Excuse me?” Oh, this so did not sound good.

“On four separate occasions, Mr. Timberlake… four separate occasions in the past month, Mr. Timberlake,” the building manager emphasized, “tenants on this floor have lodged complaints about strange noises all hours of the night. Strange *musical* noises all hours of the night.” Kevin sniffed his ever-so-elegant nose.

“Oh?” Uh-oh.

“Now, I don’t need to tell you, Mr. Timberlake, but we don’t generally allow you artistic types into our buildings. What with all the late rent, and the comings and going at all hours, well, it’s not good for business. And if it were up to me… well…” Kevin sniffed again for emphasis. “But since Mr. Dorough put in such a good word for you-“

And since he owns the building, after all...

“-and you’ve managed to deliver your rent passably well,” Kevin conceded, “we’ve never had a problem up until now, but Mr. Timberlake… we cannot continue this situation. You arty folks may be able to up at all hours, but working people live in this building… people who pay their rent and have to get up in the morning. Do you understand me, Mr. Timberlake?”

“Yes,” Justin sighed, picking up his bag. “I understand.”

“Good,” Kevin nodded in satisfaction. He turned to slink back to his downstairs office, when he paused for a moment. “Oh, by the way, a trunk was delivered to the office today. Now you know, we don’t generally receive packages for tenants in the office but Brian was managing the office this afternoon….”

“I’ll come and get it…”

“The package is addressed to for your apartment, but the name on the package is … something Mexican… Chavez, I think… Now, you know, your lease only lists yourself and Mr. Fatone….”


“I do not get paid enough for this,” Ass high in the air, Justin hissed out a low groaning noise as he finally managed to drag the aforementioned trunk through the front door of his apartment. “Jesus Christ…” he breathed, sprawled on the floor beside the old charcoal grey trunk. “Did your mom send every rock in the Chesapeake Bay?”

Only a soft snore from the couch answered him.

“I didn’t think there were any rocks left in the Maryland.” Justin muttered as he surveyed the mess that was once his living room. It wasn’t like he and Joey were ever going to be up for any Good Housekeeping Awards (well, not unless they invented a category for Best Pizza Dough to Unstick From Your Kitchen Ceiling), but this … this was getting to beyond what even he could deal with. And he’d spent six months on tour with the Black-eyed Peas.

His joints audibly creaked and his back cracked as he hoisted himself up and began to pick his way through the shoes, bags and instrument cases strewn throughout the room. “Man, what a mess.” Well, at least he knew where to go if he ever needed to borrow a mandolin.

But tonight, the playoffs.

His taste buds were already salivating at the thought of Chris’ bar snack specialties and he began tearing out of his sweat-soaked T-shirt on his way to the shower, pitching it into the overflowing laundry basket already full of his week’s practice clothes. A quick soap and rinse and he’d be on his way.

He was about to give Lance a call to that effect, when he saw a message flashing on his cell’s voicemail. Curious, he began the playback.

“Justin, you freak, Lance said that you’d be coming down tonight for the game… Can’t believe you’re finally coming out to play. Good, good. I’ve made up a new cocktail for the playoffs, and it’s going to blow your mind. It won’t last so get here soon.” Chris.

“Hey, man … it’s Joey… I’m here with Lance at the bar. You won’t believe the crowd that’s already here. The pre-game’s already on, but we’ve got your favorite stool, and it’s got your name on it.” Joey. Rehearsal must have been cancelled tonight.

“Justin, man… where are you? Joey’s big butt isn’t going to be able to hold your stool much longer. Give one of us a call.” Lance, of course.

Christ! What time was it?

Checking his watch, he sighed. 8:40 already. There was no way he was going to make it down to the bar with all the traffic and parking in time to be able to see anything other than the last couple minutes.

Oh, well… it’s not like he was really looking forward to hanging with Chris and Lance, and the rest of West Hollywood and watch sweaty men in baggy shorts run up and down the court. What were cold beer and salty, crunchy snacks in the big scheme of things?

He was about to exile himself into his room and wallow in the company of ESPN radio when he paused.

Fuckit. He paid half the rent. This was his apartment too. If he wanted to watch the playoffs and eat Cheet-os on his couch…. Well, he could get the Dustbuster out tomorrow.


“Aaahhhhhhh….” Smiling happily, he wiggled his ass into his favorite indentations in the couch, the ones with the perfect nexus between cushion and support for his loafing activities. He carefully arranged a dozen or so of the frilly, girly-colored throw pillows that had magically appeared in the apartment during the last campaign by Joey’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Kelly to domesticate the place (and Joey). The campaign had failed (as usual) but Joey and Justin had discovered that they made a wonderfully plush and comfortable TV-watching nest. Smacking his lips, he surveyed the array of snacks he’d laid out on their coffee table, cold cuts and cheeses for sandwiches, sacks of pretzels and chips, the beer that he’d been hiding in the case of diet coke in the back of their fridge. If it wasn’t quite up to the standard of Chris’ buffalo wings and nachos, it was not so bad for a last minute affair. Not bad at all. “Bring it on!” he crowed as he switched on the television with an authoritative snap of the wrist.

It was well into the third quarter when Justin’s consciousness resurfaced from the massacre of the playoffs game. “What’s the matter with you, Bryant? He was wide open!” Well… that was what he would have been saying if his mouth hadn’t been wrapped around a mammoth assortment of Joey’s finest deli selections slapped between thick slabs of fresh Italian bread. Joey could send him the bill in the morning.

This really wasn’t so bad. Nice, quiet and comfortable. He missed hanging with the guys but his joints sure didn’t miss all the banging and jostling and elbowing that was sure to be going on at the bar, and it’s not like he would have been able to really say much to the crew with all the noise. He’d catch up with all the gossip tomorrow at the shop with Lance, and stop by Chris’ for happy hour sometime this weekend. In the meantime, it was sort of nice to spend some time at home alone on a night like this.

Well, maybe not quite alone. He’d been so engrossed in the game for the past two quarters, he’d completely forgotten that JC had been sitting on the couch right alongside him.

He stole a sidelong glance at his couch companion as the quarter ended. As usual, JC snoozed along under his giant pink wooly blanket. His abnormally long toes peeking out from the end of the blanket appeared to be his only evident concession to the West Hollywood summer. At some point in his slumber, JC’s head had tilted drunkenly askew, and his neck hung had an awkward angle as he slept on on the old couch. Justin’s neck began to ache painfully in sympathy.

“Man, I wonder how you can stand it.” Justin murmured, taking a swig of his icy beer.

As the interminable commercial break finally ended, Justin tried to return his attention back to the game, but his thoughts strayed more than once over to his erstwhile roommate. In an attempt to support his neck, his right shoulder crunched uncomfortably, and his spine twisted in an odd direction which Justin was sure would horrify his Pilates instructor. Just looking at JC sleeping in such an odd position made all the muscles in his back tense.

With a sigh, Justin plucked one Kelly’s pillows from its place underneath his elbow. Cocking his head to one side to determine the best course of action, he finally reached over to tilt JC’s head back to straight.

As the palm of his hand curved along the planes JC’s cheek, he nearly started in surprise at the warmth of the other man’s skin. So warm even in the unseasonably cool summer night that Justin wondered what the source of the heat could be. Because his skin was dry, not the wet, clammy heat of a Southern California night … smooth. More like the skin of those teenage girls he’d see in Britney’s Thursday afternoon jazz class than a twentysomething couch potato, and the dark curls at his temples reminded him of the times he combed his brother Jonathan’s hair when he was at home. His fingertips were already tracing the line of JC’s jaw before he realized what he was doing.

He snatched his hand back. God, what was he thinking!

Without the support, JC’s head drifted another two degrees south of vertical, and Justin winced.

Hey, it’s not like it was any of *his* business if JC ended up looking like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, Justin reasoned, as he plopped back to his side of the couch and studiously ignored his couch companion who appeared to slumber ever onward completely oblivious to the world around him.

It was during the next commercial break that a strange rumbling, slobbering noise drew his attention away from a particularly fascinating commercial showcasing Jessica Simpson breasts and a pair of ginormous motorcycles.

Jesus Christ… now, it was worse than when he started. And was that drool dribbling onto the armrest? The armrest that he usually sat on when he talked on their telephone?

Carefully so as to avoid all skin-to-skin contact, he gingerly wiggled a pillow into the crook of JC’s neck.

“Much better,” he murmured when JC’s neck approximated something akin to vertical. “Drool away.” At least the pillows were machine washable (always valuable when living with Joey and his tomato sauce). Satisfied with his good deed for the day, Justin turned back to watch the fourth quarter of the game.

“Thanks, man.”

The voice was soft, unfamiliar. For a moment, Justin thought he imagined it or that it was part of one of the parade of beer commercials going by. I love ya, man and all that.

But no, the voice was coming directly from his left. From JC.

“Um, yeah,” Justin shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unsure of what to say, of how long JC might have been awake. “No problem, man.”

He peeked over at his unusually talkative companion, but JC seemed to have slipped back into his usual obliviously unconscious state as quickly as he’d emerged from it. Other than a slight flare of nostrils during his exhales, JC appeared to be as dead to the world as a Dodger Dog.

Well, a Dodger Dog wrapped in a pink blanket. Leaning over, Justin tentatively waved a hand in front of JC’s face.

Nope, no response.

Hmmm…. Justin shrugged. At least he knew the guy wasn’t completely in a coma now which was a relief. Must’ve been some kind of sleeping stimulo-something or anothers like when the guys in white coats would try to tickle the feet of sleeping subjects to make them giggle. Actually, he wondered if he could volunteer JC for one of those UCLA sleep studies. JC could do what JC did best, and he and Joey could get some contribution to rent money. Win-win situation.

Speaking of winning… “Ahhh… come-on, Bryant! What kind of shot was that! Pass the ball!”

He’d just about settled his butt cheeks into their comfy places on the couch, when a not quite unfamiliar voice awash in sleep offered its own tidbit of commentary. “Kobe’s a chump,” it said. “Plays like a pretty boy.”

He opened his mouth automatically to respond with a scathing retort (not that he had any love lost for Kobe Bryant or his recent antics, but *he* was the only person allowed to whomp on the Lakers on his couch), but as he turned, he found his mouth gaping open in surprise.

JC’s eyes were open. And they were blue. Really blue. Really uncomfortably blue.

“Um, yeah,” Justin managed. “It was a bad shot. Walton was wide open.”

“I don’t know why the Lakers let him get away with it,” JC yawned, and his eyes disappeared. It seemed like the ancient overstuffed couch was swallowing him whole. “They should have benched him a long time ago.”

“Kinda of hard to bench their superstar, don’t ya think?” Justin asked, dryly. “He’s the one whose name sells the jerseys and puts the butts in the seats.”

“Not gonna be a lot of butts in the seats, the way they’ve been playing,” JC noted, blinking at the TV screen from over his blanket. He peered sleepily at the assortment of snacks laid out on the coffee table. “Hey, chips! Where’d they come from?”

“Um… yeah,” Justin flushed guiltily, although he didn’t have any idea why he should feel the least bit guilty about burying his own Snyder’s barbeque chips in Kelly’s whole grain cereal bin. He chalked it up to his mama’s bringing him up the old-fashioned way. With equally huge helpings of good manners and guilt. He could almost hear her voice playing in endless loop in the back of his head at times.

This was definitely one of those times. “Want some?”

“Cool, man!” JC grinned so broadly as he dug into the bowl of chips that Justin almost wanted to reach over and pinch his cheeks.

No! No, cheek touching!

Taking care not to attract any of JC’s attention from the game, he inched his way to the far side of the couch and firmly fixing his attention to the TV set, Justin wrapped his arms around himself, and tightly clasped his fingers. In the meantime, JC happily munched away, stuffing his cheeks to the size of baseballs, and littering his blanket with greasy crumbs.

It wasn’t until the third quarter ended that JC cocked his head toward Justin and frowned. “Wanna share my blanky?” He pulled aside a fold in invitation.

It was one of the most improbable offers Justin had ever encountered, and not just because it came from a twentysomething man under a pink blanky. “Excuse me?”

“You look cold, all the way over there,” JC gestured in his direction, lowering his piercing eyes. “I thought you could use some of my grandma’s quilt. It’s nice and warm, and there’s plenty of room.” He patted the space beside him.

“Thanks, man.”

Endless loop…. Thanks, mama.


This is really weird.

Actually, the Pepto Bismol blanket was really nice. Besides the warmth it provided, up close, Justin could see the fine detail of the workmanship and stitching that had gone into the quilt, as well as its age in the bits which had been worn down and patched over. Patches in an amalgam of shades of pink had been sewn together in a menagerie of animals against a rose background. Across Justin’s lap, a jolly baby elephant frolicked with a bunny rabbit and a pair of puppies wrestled with a bear cub. Justin screwed his head upside down to observe a kitten apparently playing pattycake with a mouse. “This quilt is amazing…Did you say your mom made this?”

“My grandma,” JC said, polishing off the last of the pretzels. “She made it for my sister when she was born, but when I was …. I cried a lot when I was little, and my mom discovered that this blanket in particular would help quiet me, so it kind of became mine. Heather still hasn’t quite forgiven me.”

“I can see why,” Justin said, snuggling in its pocket of warmth and comfort. “It’s awesome.”

“Yeah, for some reason, it’s one of those things that always makes me feel better.” If possible, JC seemed to sink even deeper into the folds of pink quilting until his eyes barely peeped over the comforter. “I couldn’t have come to LA this time without it.”

“I know what you mean.”


“Say, JC, the building manager came up to me today. They’ve been getting complaints….”

“I need to keep the music down at night,” JC smiled ruefully. “I always forget. Sorry about that, man.”

“No problem.”

Well, that was easy.


“The food in the refrigerator. JC….”


“When you eat food in the refrigerator……”

No. Vacancy.

“Well, when you take something out of the refrigerator, could you please replace it?”

JC’s brow furrowed. “I don’t replace it?”

“The pizza?”

“You don’t like tofu?”

“Er… no…..”


JC had fallen asleep again, and Justin was most definitely not eating tofu, when Joey got home that night from the bar. He grinned at the sight of the two of them together on the couch. “Bestest buds, I tell ya!”

Justin simply shrugged.


It wasn’t so bad having JC around the apartment from then on. Eggs were replaced with eggs, pizza was replaced with pizza, Captain Crunch was replaced with Captain Crunch and milk was replaced with milk (with a note stuck on it that soy milk really would be so much healthier). Sometimes Justin even found a small carton of chocolate milk with a smiley face and his name written on it when the milk ran out early.

More of JC’s composing activities took place during the day and nearly all on headset, which made everyone happier. Even Joey privately confessed that he was sleeping *much* better without the unexpected eruptions of beeps and beats in the middle of the night, although Justin wasn’t convinced that “sleeping” wasn’t some kind of Joey-code for other nocturnal activities.

Every so often, though, as he teetered on the edge of sleep, Justin thought that he could hear the very soft strumming on an acoustic guitar through his bedroom wall. It was actually kind of nice.

And if Justin were to be perfectly honest, sometimes after a long day at the studio, he actually looked forward to coming home to find JC sprawled out on their couch. Once in a while, he’d even crawl under the blanket with him and take a bit of a snooze himself.


Meeting Wade for the first time was an altogether different experience. He sauntered into the studio one day that summer, too cool to sweat even in the August heat. Making his way to the front of Studio A amid all the quizzical stares, he clapped his hands twice, and announced, “Hey, Marty got a last minute call for a job in New York. My name’s Wade, and I’ll be subbing for Marty while he’s gone. Now, Marty’s told me you guys like to work it hard, so it’s going to be my pleasure to work with you this week.”

His eyes alighted on Justin just then, staked out in his usual spot in the front row. He grinned.

Justin grinned back.


It was only a week later when JC wandered into Justin’s room only to find him whistling happily, and throwing what appeared to be all his worldly possessions into a bag in a rather disorganized but enthusiastic fashion. “Hey, man, what’s all the noise? What’s going on?”

“Oh my God! It’s the most phenomenal thing, JC!” Justin beamed, radiating infectious joy, and somehow managing both to furiously pack and gesticulate wildly. “This guy Wade has been subbing Marty’s master classes all week, and Wade… he is so cool! We started talking after classes a few days ago, and we just totally hit it off, and when I asked him if he knew about anyone hiring, he said he’d keep me in mind. And, oh, my God! It turns out Britney’s been having an affair with one of her dancers, and it got outted in “The National Enquirer” today, so they have to kick him off her new tour! Wade put my name on the audition list and… and now, I’m in! Isn’t is absolutely awesome!”

“Awesome,” JC murmurred, leaning in the doorway. “So you’re moving out?”

“Dude, it’s an 18 month world tour! Six weeks of rehearsal in Florida and then the tour kicks off in Boston. Then onto legs in Europe and Asia…. It’s going to be awesome!” He’d hardly been able to believe it when Wade had called him that afternoon, and told him about the emergency auditions for the last spot on the tour, and even now with the faxed plane ticket confirmations in hand, he’d been pinching himself every hour on the hour to remind himself it wasn’t a dream. He was really going on tour with Britney Spears.

And it was all thanks to Wade. And that yo-yo who’d been banging Britney. What a fucking idiot.

“Oh, man… eighteen months on the road… I’ve never been to Europe. Or Asia. Do you think they have Captain Crunch in Asia? Maybe I should pack a box… Oh, JC… this is such a break… “ He bounced in his excitement, and he could been the stars shining from his own eyes, but he didn’t care. “I’ve never been on tour before… well, I did some stuff with the Black-Eyed Peas but man… this is a five star tour, to top to bottom…. Man, and if it goes well, this is a first shot for videos and other shows… this is just the beginning!”

As Justin finally paused to inhale, he realized that JC had taken a seat on his bed, and he looked really rather pale. “Hey, are you okay, JC?”

JC nodded wordlessly. “Oh, yeah,” he finally said. “I’m just a little… surprised.”

“Me, too! I didn’t think I had a shot at it, but I think Wade choreographed the tour and is a friend of Britney’s. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could have gotten it.”

“I’m sure you would have gotten it,” said JC, absently.

“Oh, man, you didn’t see the other dancers at the audition. They were fierce! One of the guys there, used to dance with Alvin Ailey, and there was this other guy who used to be on the U.S. gymnastics team … he was doing these totally mind-blowing handsprings, and then start spinning on….., and then there was just boring ol’ me just trying to groove …but anyway…” Justin interrupted himself, noting the distinct lack of change in JC’s hit-by-a-two-by-four expression. “Hey, man, I wouldn’t be springing this on you or Joey like this, but rehearsals start in two days in Florida, and I’m already behind on the costume fittings and paperwork.” He sat down beside the other man, and patted JC’s hand. “But, don’t worry, JC… with my advance on the tour, I’ll be able to pay out my share of the next month of rent, so you and Joey don’t have anything to worry about while y’all figure out what you want to do.”

“Oh, yeah… cool.” JC appeared unconvinced.

“Nah, really, JC,” Justin insisted. “You can move into my room until Joey finds a new roommate… or if you want, Joey and I can get your name put onto the lease, and we can make it all official and proper-like.” Justin grinned. “Unless you’re too attached to the couch to sleep in a bed again. But I know Joey would love it and would totally go for it.”

JC smiled shyly, uncertainly. “That would be cool…. “

“Awesome! This is perfect, JC!” Justin threw his arms around his de facto roommate, and the bed groaned with the combined weight of bouncing bodies. “It’s just perfect for everyone. I’m going on tour, Joey has a new roommate, and your mom doesn’t have to keep smuggling your packages to you in Joey’s name.” Leaning in, he whispered in JC’s ear. “Pssst….I don’t think a mugger ran off with your birthday cake this year!”

“You don’t think so?” JC dissolved into a puddle of helpless giggles. “You don’t think a band of cutthroats and thieves jumped Joey in the post office parking lot? Holding him up at gunpoint? And you don’t think Joey risked life and limb defending the cake before the muggers ran off with it?”

“Uh… no…” Justin contemplated the question. “…especially considering the chocolate buttercream smeared all over Joey’s beard. It’s a good thing your mom was able to send out another cake so fast.”

“Oh… well… that…” Justin detected a faint blush appearing at the tips of JC’s ears. “My mom baked two cakes to begin with.” At Justin’s look of surprise, JC shrugged. “My mom knows Joey,” he explained. “When Joey’s family first moved down to Orlando, he was always tagging along and coming home with me after school. Sometimes he’d just stop by to pow-wow over homework and some milk and cookies, but sometimes he’d hang out at the house all afternoon, and have dinner with us. Believe me,” JC shuddered. “… my mom knows I do not like buttercream.”

Justin chuckled. “Joey mentioned something about how y’all were buds in high school.”

“Well… I guess…” JC paused to consider. “The funny thing is… it’s not like we were really friends, at least not at the beginning. That first day at Dr. Phillips, Joey sat down next to me in homeroom, and asked me where we were going to go hang after school.” He shook his head at the memory. “He ended up coming home with me that afternoon, and after he turned the charm on for my mom, that was it. He had a standing invitation to the house after that, and he followed me home after school every day for the next three months.” JC thought for a moment. “After a while we became good friends, and I haven’t really thought about it much since then. I guess he was lonely.”

“I never would have guessed it about Joey.”

“I think a new town is always a lonely town.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.” As he spoke, Justin could feel the adrenalin which had been coursing through his system suddenly begin to drain from his body. His body drooped again JC’s, and he felt the weight of his heavy head resting in the warm crook of JC’s neck. “I’m worried about this tour, JC.”

“Yeah, I know.” JC tugged at one of the curls that fell over Justin’s left ear, reassuringly. “You’re gonna do great, J.”

“You didn’t see the guys at the audition this afternoon. They were good, really good. And experienced pros with resumes a mile long, every last one of them. I don’t even know why I was there. What if I can’t hack it? What if I can’t learn all the choreography? What if I get kicked off the tour? What if….”

“You’re not going to get kicked off the tour, J.” JC interrupted Justin before his hysterical frenzy could reach a fever pitch. “Everyone has to start someplace, Justin. And I know that you’re the most dedicated person I know. You’ll have the show down I time or die trying.” JC chuckled. “And I really hope you don’t die trying.”

Justin could feel the warmth of JC’s fingers as they stroked his hair. “What if everyone hates me?” He asked in a small voice. “That guy… he’d been on Britney’s tours for a while.” All of a sudden, he bolted upright, newly horrified. “What if *Britney* hates me? She was sleeping with that guy!”

He was so deep in pondering all the tortures sure to be wrought on him as soon as he arrived in Florida, that it took him a while before he realized that JC had collapsed on his bed in a fit of full-body giggles. “What’s so funny?” he demanded.

“Justin, nobody is going to hate you. Nobody *could* hate you, not after they knew you for even a little bit.” JC was laughing so hard now that Justin could feel the bedframe shaking. “And Brit isn’t going to hate you, either,” he gasped out.

There was something about the authority with which he made that statement. Justin eyed him suspiciously, “And just what makes you so sure about that?”

“I have my ways.” JC wiggled his fingers suggestively, grinning so hard his eyes disappeared. “Nah, don’t worry about it. Brit’ll be cool.”

There was a story there, Justin was sure, but it was for another time. Two long, ropy arms wrapped around him, enveloping him in a rib-cracking hug. “In the meantime, my man, you have got a plane to catch.” He felt the poke of a couple of fingers in his side, and he let out a yelp muffled by JC’s bony shoulder. “What time’s your flight?”

“Ten, I think. Wardrobe wants to start costume fittings by nine tomorrow morning. ”

“Yikes! It’s almost 8 already, and the 405 will be murder!” Moving faster than Justin had ever imagined possible for JC, he hopped from the bed and began to toss the remainder of the clothes Justin had strewn about his room into his gaping duffel. “We need to get a move on buddy-boy if you’re going to make your flight.” JC clapped his hands, and swatted at his butt. “Come on… chop-chop!”

JC worked his way through the room stuffing any and all stray items into Justin’s bag so quickly and efficiently that Justin feared that at any minute *he* was going to get tossed in with his alarm clock if he wasn’t careful. “Now, don’t you worry about Joey,” he said, bouncing the duffel to settle its contents. “I’ll talk to him when he gets back, and we’ll talk to Kev… we’ll talk to Brian about the lease…,” he amended as he began to zip the duffel. “Have you talked to Lance about the shop?… he’s still got a few weeks before school starts so he should be okay anyway…And when you find out, just let us know where you want us to forward your mail…. Do you have your ID for security?”

His head was spinning, and not just from JC’s frenzy of motion. It was all going so fast. It seemed like it was only a few hours ago that he’d gotten the call from Wade to come down to the studio and now his life was getting packed into his dad’s old army duffel.

He wasn’t ready for this.

Before Justin knew it, JC had hoisted a bag twice his size over his shoulder, and was hustling him out the front door so fast he felt a little sick. “It’s going to crazy on tour, but remember to get some rest, and make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables. Lots of regular, *small* meals. You’re not going to want be eating heavy when you’re rehearsing a lot. And milk. Milk will help settle that nervous stomach you get…”

“Jesus Christ, JC! I’m not a kid!” It sounded whiny, and he hated it when he whined. But JC was skipping along, ready to FEDEX him off to Florida, for God’s sake. “I can take care of myself.”

JC stilled instantly, as if he’d been slapped. Immediately, Justin could feel the shame burn at his ears. He began to babble an incoherent apology, but JC cut him off.

“I know, Justin. I know you’re not a kid. Believe me, I know.” He chose his next words very carefully. “I didn’t think I’d ever come back to LA after the last time, but Joey kept calling me, telling me that if I came out here again, things would be different. They would be good. And he was right. These last few months have been great here with you guys.” He turned and spoke to Justin with sincerity that tore at Justin’s insides. “I want you to have that kind of experience when you go on this tour. I want this tour to be the kind of fantastic experience that you’ve dreamed of. That you deserve.”

Out of anybody else’s mouth it probably would have been the most unbelievably hokey speech ever. Out of JC’s mouth… well, Jesus Christ!, it was momentous just because it was probably the most words that he’d ever heard coming out of JC’s mouth at one time. “Right. Fruits and vegetables,” he said, swinging his backpack onto his shoulder. He was *not* sniffling. “Lots of rest.”

“And milk for your stomach….”

“Chocolate milk?” Justin asked quietly, gently placing a hand on his shoulder as they stepped in the doorway. “Is chocolate milk okay?”

“Yeah,” JC said softly. “Yeah, chocolate milk is okay.”

“Good. I’m glad.” His smiled shyly, tentatively. “It’s not going to be the same without the smiley faces, though.”

As he cocked his head to one side, JC’s expression was unreadable. But then he stepped so close that Justin could swear they were sharing the same breath. And when he softly rubbed his cheek against Justin’s, Justin released a long-held breath that he had never realized he was holding.

“I’m glad.”


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