Hey. I'll get to this really quickly. Thanks to Justin for you're kick ass comments, and as always thanks to Jeff and Seth who have totally been there for me. Just a few more days and it'll all be cool yo.

I'm not implying anything about anyone here, and if you're not supposed to be reading this I'm not making you do it.

Stay cool yo.


Chapter 9

After reaching upstairs we both took turns in the shower. Seperately, of course. I was barely comfortable with this as is, and there was no way that I was going to let this go to fast. Besides, even if I was totally comfortable with it I wouldn't want it to go too fast anyways. I've been there and done that before with a couple of different girls, and it just didn't feel right. Actually, it felt extremely empty. I mean, it's one thing to get it on, but it something else to love someone and to actually mean it. I've spent the last year looking for that, and all things considered, I wasn't going to screw it up just because I was doing something a little different this time.

Justin let me borrow some blue-checkered boxers, a North Carolina Tarheels jersey and some kackis from the Gap. I had my brown leather sandals with me from the day before, so I didn't really need to borrow anything else. I spent a few minutes looking at myself in the mirror. I was trying to decide if there was something different there. I could tell that there was, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. My hair was it's usual blond organized chaos. My skin was still the lightly tanned colour it had been all week. My body was the same size; I wasn't any more muscular or toned, and I didn't gain any weight. There was something a little odd about the colour in my eyes, but that was nothing new seeming they changed colours all the time. I shook the cobwebs from my head and headed downstairs where JC and Justin were waiting in the living room.

As I slowly moved down the stairs I could hear Josh and Justin whispering about something. Normally I wouldn't easedrop on someone, but I didn't want to interrupt and, well... I always felt the need to know if I was being some sort of inconvienance. It's something about me. If I'm the cause of pain or disturbance to other people I'll run away and solve the problem for them. Kinda ironic though; I was always running away from the problems in life- whether they were my own or not.

I plopped myself down on the third step from the bottom and leaned my head against the wall. I tried not to make too much noise, and just waited so that I could hear what they were talking about.

"Just, you know Lance and I don't care- I mean, we're happy for you guys and we totally support ya- but I really don't think that it's a good idea to be telling Chris and Joey right away." Josh's voice was very serious and kinda flat. Not something that was usual for Josh.

"Why not Josh? You know I don't like keeping secrets." Justin's voice was pleading. No matter how old you get, some people are the perpetual little boy. In more ways than one I was like that too, but it was kinda remarkable that it was a trait that both Justin and I shared.

"You know how they'll react. They love you as a brother and even if they didn't like it at first they would adjust to it eventually-they'd have to, and I know they would anyways, not that I think they're going to care-, but Ryan... they're going to be so suspicious of him, and they would blame him for everything." Josh paused for a minute as if to cafefully choose his next words. He was always like that, the ever thoughtful person. "Ry's fragile enough as is. If Joey and Chris attacked him because they thought that they were protecting you, it would drive him away. He'd go, no matter how much it would hurt him, because he would never want to be the cause of any pain for any of us."

"Bbbut, I'd make him stay!" Justin's voice was shaky, and it was almost desperate. It was like the little boy who was begging his mom and dad for something and they kept saying no. Everytime they said no, the little boy's response would become more and more drastic, eventually describing impossible comprimises to get his parents to bend.

I quietly took a deep long sigh, and I knew that Josh was right. No matter what I had to do, I would do anything to make sure that I was not a cause of pain for Justin or any of the guys. I couldn't be. It would make me so uncomfortable that any relationship that Justin and I may build would eventually become strained. Even though my leaving might cause Justin some short term pain, it would alleviate any long term pain between him and his four "brothers."

I didn't want to listen anymore, but I couldn't get up. I tried to shut my brain off, but that wouldn't work either. I clenched my eyes shut and fought the coming tears thinking that I was already casing Justin pain. Again.

"Can you honestly tell me that you would keep him here, or where ever we were at the time, against his will?" Josh was trying to reason with Justin. He was good at it too. If he wasn't in the music business he could be a very succesful mediator or one of those amazingly good lawyers that looks out for people and does what lawyers were originally intended to do: protect innocent people.

"No." It was a barely audible gasp. "But... but, he wouldn't... Chris and Joey wouldn't... there isn't going to be any problems. Chris and Joey are just going to have to... Argh!!!!" Justin was clearly fustrated. All his life he agonized over putting positive spins on something that was negative. But there wasn't an easy way out to this one.

"See Just, even you can't guarantee that Chris and Joey will be totally cool with it. You guys are just gonna have to play it down for a bit, give them time to get to know Ry like the three of us do and then tell them. Even then there are no promises, but at least we'll have something to hold them against to bring them around. They're good guys Just, but sometimes they don't think things out all the way before they act."

My head was spinning. My thoughts were running away from me at a thousand kilometres a second. They were all leading in different directions and it was starting to make my head hurt. I always did this: think too much. One of my teachers in high school said that if I slowed down a little and narrowed my focus, things would be even easier for me. But I wasn't capable of doing that, and now there was a blinding, pounding ache in my head. I couldn't see even if my eyes were open. I just stared into the empty, white space behind my eyelids.

"Ryan!" Josh was shouting into my ear. He had one hand on my shoulders and the look in his eyes were as if someone had just run over his puppy dog. Justin was sitting on the stair next to me and he was paler than the cream coloured paint on the walls. He looked like he wanted to throw up and suddenly I did too. Except I knew that I really was going to, so I stood up and sprinted to the bathroom in the hall upstairs and let it out. Every once in a while, when I get a really nasty shock, my body decides to try and purge itself of all the bad. Not exactly the best way to solve a problem, then again, it was better than the running away that I was always doing. Unfortunately for the cereal I had eaten that afternoon, it was no longer a part of me.

When I finally finished, I noticed Justin was standing in the doorway- almost refusing to come in- and Josh was right behind him. Eventually Justin came in to help me up as I was flushing to toilet and Josh turned on the tap to get me a glass of water.

"Thanks." I croaked as he handed me a short glass full of the clear liquid. After rinsing my mouth out several times, I drained the cup and set it on the counter. Justin picked it up this time to re-fill it and urged me to drink some more.

"I hate it when that happens..." he started, "I mean, yo, you're throat gets all dry and gross and stuff. It's good to drink water... yeah..." Just couldn't say anything more, because he didn't know what to say, so instead he wrapped me up in his strong arms and told me with his body that he was sorry-for something he didn't do or couldn't control mind you- and tried to make me feel safe and secure.

I have to admit, I think it almost worked. I don't know how long we were there like that, but by the time we finally let go things felt better. There was still this nagging thought in the back of my head that screamed I was hurting Just and that I needed to get away. But there was this look in Justin's eyes that told me I needed to stay, and that I had no reason to run. Another first occured at that point in time. I actually ignored the nagging thought in favour of listening to someone else. And not just anyone else either...

I opened my own mouth, but nothing came out. So, I just pulled Justin in close to me to let him know that I wasn't going anywhere, at least not just yet. I inhaled the scent of his cologne-CK Contradiction I think- and did the ritual masculine back pat thang. I didn't know what to do or say at this point. I was scared, but at the same time I felt relieved. For one thing, I knew that he didn't run away and that he didn't run away either. This was a problem, but we'd work through it together.

I wanted to stay like this all day, and pretend that everything was totally cool, but that wasn't goning to happen. Josh felt the need to break the silence.

"Ryan, I'm sorry ya heard all that. It's not anything against you, it's just that..."

"I know." I interupted. "And you don't need to apologize either Josh. It's not ok, but it's not your fault, y'know?"

"Well, look... I am sorry that y'all can't scream at the top of your lungs that you guys are involved somehow..." I cut JC off again; man, was I ever turning into a rude friend.

"Hey, it's coo Josh. I mean, I'm not even sure what this all means anyways..." I could see Justin start to pout out of the corner of my eye and I grabbed his hand and squeezed it to reassure him. "Look Just. Even with everything we talked about last night, and everything that happened. I can't be instantly and completely ok with this, with us. It has nothing to do with you, and I love the thought of being with you, but with everything I've had to deal with in the last year or so- and I know that's a crappy excuse- and the fact that I have to deal with having feelings for another guy- even if it is such a crunk person like you- I can't do this perfectly right away and I can't do it without time and help."

Justin dropped my hand and looked at the forest green bath mat on the floor. For a minute I thought that this was it, and that I'd be going back to my own life once again, and not living this weird dream. But that was only for a minute because he picked my hand back up again before he spoke.

"Ryan... those are all good excuses." He looked really somber as he paused. Whether it was for dramatic effect, or just to get the words right, I couldn't tell. But I was pretty sure it was the latter. "But they are just that: excuses. And I'm going to do everything I can to help you get rid of them yo. I understand Ry, and I trust ya, and I'm gonna be here for ya, ok?" He managed a small smirk revealing a few of his perfect, white teeth in one corner of his mouth. I smiled back at him. He seemed to have that effect on me. I wasn't sure how or why, but I knew that I liked it. I reached my free hand out to Josh and gave him five.

"Thanks Josh. I'm glad you're such a good friend to Justin..." It was his turn to cut me off.

"And you." He smiled.

"Yeah Josh, and me too... anyways, I think you were right. Just, let's just keep this between the four of us until they get to know me better and until we know exactly where we're going wid this. Coo?"

"Coo." My reward was a smile and a quick kiss. I think I just raided the cookie jar, because I really didn't do anything to deserve either of these two guys. "Hey, are you still up to going?"

"For sure J."

"A'ight, well we should probably get out of here pretty quickly then, cuz Lance is gonna think we're having an orgy or something without him and get all jealous and prissy." We all laughed. Lance was great, but he did tend to worry a little bit too much. But, better a friend to worry too much, that not enough, right?

After I finished cleaning up and brushed my teeth about a zillion times, we finally jumped into JC's Jeep and headed over to Lance's. The conversation was fairly light until about five minutes before we got to Lance's when I froze up. I was suddenly worried all over again about how Chris was gonna react. Thank God it was just Chris and not Joey too tonight. I did not want to go through with this right now and my whole body stiffened with fear.

Justin sensed this though and rub the back of one hand against my cheek. "Look it's gonna be coo yo. Just like we talked about before, a'ight?"

"Yeah, yeah..." I sighed. "I'm ok, but I can't help feeling like I'm going to court or something and Chris isn't just the jury but he's also the judge... thank God it's just Chris and not the two of them."

"Don't worry about it Ryan. I talked with Lance while you and Justin were getting cleaned up. He already told Chris a lot of stuff about you and he said that Chris was kinda excited to meet ya. If I know Chris..." Josh paused as he pulled into Lance's driveway. "Oh, well... we're here!" He turned off the ignition and jumped out of the jeep. Man did I hate it when people didn't finish their sentences. It's not so much that I'm curious about what they were going to say, more that my over-active imagination takes over and imagines the worst.

"Comon," Justin urged me "lets just do this thang and you'll see that everything's completely coo."

"A'ight, but one thang first, k?" I managed a meak smile.

"Anything." His response made me feel stronger and I gave him a real smile.

"A kiss." He didn't say anything, but instead leaned forward and pressed his soft, red lips against my own. When his tongue begged entry I let him slip it inside and explore my mouth. It felt so... good. I mean, we've all got one evil pleasure, and I seriously think that a really good kiss is mine. We needed to stop though. If we continued like this, things might not look so good once we got inside. It was funny how sometimes Justin knew exactly what I was thinking, because he slipped his tongue out of my mouth and gave me a soft peck on the cheek.

"Let's go!" He grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the Jeep to Lance's front door. I reluctantly let go of his warm hand before stepping through the door.

Once we got out to the back porch where the guys were waiting, Justin was completely knocked over when Chris tackled him and started to tickle him. I didn't really know what to do, so I just stood there as Lance and Josh laughed at Chris and Justin. Justin had tears streaming down his face and was screaming for Chris to get off of him.

"Say Uncle Chris!" Chris bellowed at Justin.

"Un... hahaha... Uncle Chhh--- please! Get off!" He was laughing. I knew how he felt. People liked to tickle me a lot too, and I know that feeling where you're laughing so hard it feels like you sides are going to explode. "Uncle Chirs!!" Justin finally managed to get it out and Chris jumped off of him. Lance was laughing so hard that he had to sit down on one of the chairs on the deck.

"Hey, you must be Ryan." Chris started towards me and I backed off a little bit. He looked like he was gonna tickle me now too.

"Uh, hey..."

"Oh don't worry, I don't bite, and I'm not gonna tickle you... at least not yet!" He laughed and extended his hand towards mine. I accepted it. He had a fairly firm grip, and he didn't let go. "So, Lance here has been telling me all about ya." His grip got tighter and tighter. I felt my hand go numb, but I didn't want to force him off the shake because I didn't want to seem rude. So, I just tightened my grip back.

Justin had gotten up and was smiling at me. There was some sort of game going on here, and it had apparently been played before. Unfortunately I didn't know the rules. So I just figured I'd make up my own and tightened my grip stronger and stronger.

"Damn!" Chris said as he tried to let go. He had veins pooping out of his forehead and neck, but he was still smiling. I wasn't letting go yet. I wanted to win.

"Nice to meet ya Chris." I smiled back and seeing the obvious pain in his face I finally let go. Josh, Justin and Lance stood up and gave me a standing ovation.

"Geez, for a little guy you're pretty strong! I figured I was gonna win this one easy man!"

"Hey, I'm not that little, and besides I've gotta have at least a little strength. Y'know it's not easy lifting those ice blocks to make igloos." We all laughed at my mocking of one of the American false ideas about Canadians. The mood became considerably relaxed and I let out a small sigh of relief. This wasn't gonna be as hard as I thought.

"No doubt." Chris replied still smiling. What is it with these guys. I was starting to wonder if the record label had them all on some perma-grin drugs or something.

"You guys want something to drink?" Trust Lance. The ever graceful host.

"Yeah. I could go for some of my cereal too please Lance." I laughed at Justin. Ok, he was worse that I was when it came to cereal. Lance just rolled his eyes and nodded at Justin's request.

"Ryan? Josh?" Chris already had I drink. I assumed it was rye and coke or something since there was an open bottle of Crowne Royal sitting on the table inside and he had what looked like coke in his hand.

"I could go for some rye and coke Lance." Josh replied. Hmm... I might want to think about grabbing his keys from him now.

"Uh, some OJ would be totally coo Lance. Thanks. And maybe some of that cereal too!" I really wasn't in the mood to get drunk anyways.

"Hey! That's my stash!" Justin pouted before taking off into the garage to get one of the thousand boxes of cereal. "But I suppose I can share."

"Uh oh, not another one. How old are you Ryan?" Chris had this whole serious look on his face. Or at least he was trying to. It wasn't really working though.

"I'm tree years old!" I said proudly in my best little kid's voice, holding up three fingers as I did so. At least I managed to get them all laughing again.

"Uh huh... I thought as much. But it's cool. I mean, little Justin does need someone his own age to play with."

"I heard dat yo!" Justin yelled from inside. Yup. This was gonna be much easier than I thought.

"Well, Chris, we can't all be old men like you." It was Josh's turn to poke fun at one of us.

"Are you guys ok with chicken? I know Ryan can't eat beef, but I could put some steaks on too if y'all want?" Lance drawled out as he handed Josh and I our drinks.

"Mmmm.... Beef!" Chris said while rubbing his belly. This guy was one hell of a goof. But he was pretty cool. I laughed AT him while I pointed a finger into my mouth and pretended to gag.

"I could go for one too I guess if you're gonna make one for Chris." Josh said.

"All righty then, I'll throw a couple steaks on with the chicken." Lance paused for a moment and you could see the cranks turning in his head. Suddenly a light went on. "Hey Just, do you want me to barbeque you some cereal?" We all laughed as Justin came out with two bowls in his hand. He passed me one before sitting down on the wooden bench and devoured the Apple Jacks in his bowl.


The evening actually ended up going pretty well. Chris really was a cool guy and I found out on my own that Justin and JC were right about me not having anything to worry about. Over dinner we talked about normal stuff, like what was going on with who's family, and who was visting where, and how great it was just to have some time off. Justin and I tried not to make too much eye contact throughout supper-we even managed to "accidently" touch each other's feet every once in a while-, but I don't think we ended up being discreet enough. Chris ended up being one of those pretty intuitive people and he cornered me when Justin left to go to the bathroom and Josh was helping Lance clean up.

"So..." he started, "how long have you and Justin been doin' it?"

I think my jaw almost fell off, and I could feel an instant frog in my throat. "Excuse me?" I croaked out.

"I mean, it's totally cool with me, but... are ya?"

"Uh... well, yes and no, I guess." I know that I was sweating bullets, and it wasn't from the Florida heat either.

"Whadda mean? You guess?" He had a very thoughtful look on his face. He wasn't pissed or anything. More curious than anything.

"Uh..." I was completely speachless. He put his hand on my shoulder.

"Look, don't worry about it. I've been waiting for something like this to happen for a while. I'm just one of those people that picks up on things. I mean he's never said anything to me about it, but I just knew. I could tell that Justin's been trying to hide it for a while. He would go out with chicks and stuff, but you could see that he wasn't really into it, you get?"


"Well, anyways, I'm happy for you guys. I've only known you for what? Two hours? If that. But I like ya and I think you're a cool guy. Just don't hurt him k? Cuz I might just have to mess up that pretty boy face of yours." He smiled and squeezed my shoulder to let me know that it really was cool. I did believe him, but that didn't change the fact that I was completely freaked out by the whole thing.

"Uh, thanks." Man, what I great vocabulary I have. I guess I was just totally suprised. After the conversation that Jusin and JC were having this afternoon I never thought that he would be cool with this. "I mean... I really don't know what this is, or what we're doing..."

"But you know that he makes you feel good right?"

"Yeah." I said, a little more my normal self.

"Good. That's all that matters." He paused for a second to collect his thoughts. "Just one peice of advice though."

"Uh huh?"

"Try and be more discreet when Joey gets back k? He's not really going to be as cool about it as I am. Joe's a great guy, but he doesn't always think things all the way through all the time. He's also a little bit homophobic."

"But, I'm not really..."

"Gay?" He offered. I just shook my head no. Man I hated that word. "It's ok, I mean, it's just a label anyways. You love who you love. And that really is all that matters." I guess all those extra years he had on us really had made him wiser. "Peace?"

"Peace." I replied. We went inside and joined Lance and JC in the living room where they were sitting down on one of the couches. I plopped myself down beside Josh and Chris claimed one of Lance's huge leather chairs.

When Justin finally got back, he sat down on the couch that was the farthest away from me. I guess he was just trying to be discreet. Well, I'd have to do something about that wouldn't I? I got up and dropped myself right in his lap. The look of shock on his face was followed by a quick kiss and a round of applause/laughter from the other guys.

"What are you doing?" He shreaked. He was trying to sound mad and was doing a pretty good job of it.

"It's crunk." I whispered in his ear. "Chris knows." Justin's eyes were wide open like an owl's. I think he was more shocked than anything.

"You told him?"

"Nope." Chris interupted. "I just knew. I've known for a long time Curly. It's all good bro." Justin smiled and gave me a quick kiss before jumping up and giving Chris a big bear hug.

"Awww..." Josh and Lance cooed at the same time.

"Ok, ok, go back to your boyfriend over there. He looks lonely." Chris pushed Justin back in my direction. Things were good. I was happy, and everyone else was happy. No one got hurt.

"You guys wanna watch a movie?" Lance suggested.

"Yeah." "Uh huh." "Sure." We all agreed.

"Ok, well... so that there aren't any arguements I'm gonna let Ryan pick. What do you want to watch? I've got pretty much everything."

"Hmmm..." I thought about it for a minute before realising that I hadn't seen Autin Powers yet and everyone had been telling me lately that I *had* to see it. "Austin Powers coo?" I asked.

"For sure." Lance got up, walked out of the room and the returned inserting the DVD in his player and turning it on.

It was a great movie. Although I think sitting here holding onto Justin would've made any movie great. He just knew how to make me feel so comfortable and safe. It was something I had wanted for a long time.

My cell phone rang right when Austin was fighting off the hot android chicks. I grumbled in annoyance. Partly that I had forgotten to turn it off, and partly that someone had the nerve to interrupt this. For some reason people only called me at bad times.

"Yeah, this is Ryan." I answered.

"Hello son. This is your father." His voice sounded cold and I shivered at the thought of the disapproving look that I knew was on his face.

"Uh, hi Dad."

"Listen, I don't have a lot of time right now, so I'm just going to cut to the chase." I could feel my blood pressure start to rise. I knew this was not going to be good.

"Uh huh."

"I think it's time you come home now. You've been fooling around long enough."

"What are you talking about? I'm taking a vacation. It's not like I'm missing school or anything. And I *am* an adult. I think I'm capable of deciding when it's time to come home." I hated it when he tried to treat me like a child. I just want to be treated like someone who's capable of making their own decisions. Besides, it's not like I was using his money down here.

"Look, I'm not going to argue with you. You are an adult, but I am still your father. I want you to come home tomorrow. I've had Kristina book you a flight and she'll call you later with the details."

"Dad, you know I love y'all, but I am not coming home tomorrow just because you tell me to. You have to give me a reason why it's so urgent that I come home." Not to mention, I was so not going to just leave Justin. Not now. But I definitely couldn't tell him that. This was so not fun.

"Did you hear me?" He was practically yelling into the phone. "I don't have to justify myself to you. If you don't get on that plane tomorrow, don't bother ever coming home." He hung up and I just sat there with tears streaming down my face. This was NOT happening. It couldn't. NOT NOW!


Well that's it yo. If y'all got anything to say, good or bad, ya can email me at crazystar@canoemail.com