Hey all . . .J I'll make it short and sweet. All the same rules apply. None of this meant to imply anything about anyone . . .blahblahblah. Right, let's get on with it, now, shall we?

"I'm still learning things I ought to know by now." -- Vertical Horizon

Don't Ever Die Again -2-

Josh was leaning on the wall next to the refreshment table stirring his coffee, which he'd been doing for twenty minutes. A scuff mark on the cement floor caught his attention, and he became wrapped up in it as his mind began to wander. One thing you could always count on at photo shoots, huge inefficiency and lots of time to sit around doing nothing.

Chris came to stand beside him. "Josh?" he questioned quietly, for he could see his friend's distraction.

Josh pulled himself out of the scuff mark. "Oh, hey Chris. Sorry, got lost there for a second."

"Yeah, I noticed," Chris smiled.

There was silence as Josh realized the coffee he was holding was cold and fixed another cup.

"Josh," Chris started again, "about Marc . . ."

Josh tensed a little as the coffee splashed into his cup. "Yeah?"

"Are you really okay? I mean, I know that . . .talking like this is kinda hard for you. I just want you to know that . . .I'm here." Chris waited until he saw Josh nod. "Are you really alright?"

"Yeah," Josh sighed, not convincing himself. He looked back down at the floor, and he spoke softly. "It's not that I'm sad, exactly. It's just that . . .everything seems new all of a sudden, like I've never seen anything before." Josh shook his head. "I'm not making any sense."

"No, I understand," Chris assured. "You got used to how it felt to be with someone, and now that you're not, everything feels different some way. You feel like you've got to get used to lookin' at everything again, right?"

"Somethin' like that," Josh nodded. "It's not that I'm sad, it's just . . .I don't know." Josh sighed and blew the steam off his coffee.

"Shock," supplied Chris. "You're in shock. It's like stepping into a cold shower--you just gotta let yourself get used to it."

Josh chuckled. "You're just full of life-analogies today, aren't ya?"

"Ah, it's what being old does to you, I guess." A comfortable silence fell over the two of them, and Chris thought twice about asking, but he was honestly curious. Josh didn't have to answer if he didn't want to. "Was the decision really as mutual as you made it sound?"

Josh took a slow sip of his coffee. "No," he finally said, "not exactly."

"What do you mean by `not exactly'?"

Josh glared at Chris. He could be so nosy sometimes. He understood that Chris tried to strengthen his friendships by testing their boundaries, but Josh couldn't help being annoyed. Still, for some reason, he answered. "I broke up with him."

Chris nodded; he'd thought as much. "Wanna talk about it?"

Josh screwed up his mouth and crinkled his forehead. "It was just . . .he--" an exasperated sigh, and he began getting angry with Marc all over again. He took a deep breath. "Remember when I got food poisoning a few months ago? When Marc first found out about how Justin can sense things about me?"

Chris nodded.

"He freaked out--Marc did. He got so possessive and overbearing. After that he--" Josh sighed, angrily, "he started asking me to stop rooming with Justin. I said no. Of course I said no, I mean it's Justin for god's sake. You can't just . . .I mean, christ!"

Chris put a hand on his friend's shoulder to calm him down.

Josh breathed. "Yesterday, Marc . . .he told me to choose. So, I did."

And after awhile, "Well, you made the right choice."

"Yeah," Josh nodded. "I know."

Another pause, and Chris decided to test another boundary. "Does Justin know that's what happened?"

Josh flinched as he took another sip of his coffee. "Not exactly. I was gonna . . .I just don't want him to feel responsible, ya know?"

"And you think he would?"

"I think he might."

"Well, it's your choice, Josh," Chris shrugged. "But you know you've never been able to keep anything from Justin. I'm surprised he hasn't sensed it already."

With a furrowed brow, "Well, I'm not sure that he hasn't. He's been weird since I told him." And he didn't eat last night.

"How do you mean, weird?"

"I don't know," Josh shook his head. "Just weird. Distant, kinda. I don't know," he said again, realizing he really didn't.

"Are you gonna tell him?" It was the first time Chris had turned his head to look at Josh, who stayed in profile to his friend.

Stop asking me questions, and stop looking at me like that. "I haven't decided." Another sip of coffee. "Where are the others?"

That's what JC said, but Chris heard what he meant: I'm not talking about this anymore. Chris nodded and backed off a little. "Joey's taking a nap," he gestured over his shoulder to a sleeping figure on the couch, "Lance is on his cell playing businessman," another gesture to the opposite side of the studio where Lance was speaking animatedly into his phone, "and Justin's doing his solo shoot."

"Correction, Justin's finished with his solo shoot," Justin called as he walked up to the refreshment table. "I'm supposed to send Lance over for his solo. Where is he?" the teen asked, looked from left to right.

Chris pointed to the opposite end of the room. "He's over there pretending to be a grown up."

Justin turned around and saw Lance barking into his phone. "Lance!" he laughed.

Lance looked up at Justin and took the phone away from his ear. "Yeah, Just?"

"You're up on solos."

"Ah, thanks." Lance barked into his phone a little more, before replacing it in his pocket and jogging over to the photographer.

"He's too goal-oriented for his own good." Justin shook his head as he turned back around.

"There's nothing wrong with being goal-oriented," Josh defended.

"Spoken by the true master," Chris laughed, narrowly dodging the smack directed at him by Josh, and grabbed a donut before going to watch Lance's shoot.

And there they were--two best friends without a distraction.

Justin concentrated on the toes of his shoes and hoped that if he tried hard enough, he could disappear into the floor. He knew there was something wrong here--between him and Josh. Something about Marc, his mind told him. But it felt more layered than anything he'd sensed before. It wasn't as simple as he wanted it to be.

I should say something, Josh thought to himself. He's obviously uncomfortable here with me, but I don't understand. Every other time he's sensed I was keeping something from him, he's said something. Why not now? But Josh just couldn't bring himself to tell Justin the truth about him breaking up with Marc. Josh didn't want to risk Justin feeling bad for causing a break up that was inevitable anyway, and besides, Justin hadn't caused it in the first place.

Marc had. It was the lack of communication that had made the relationship unstable, but the straw that broke the camel's back was Marc asking Josh to get a separate hotel room. I would have done almost anything to make Marc and I work; I'm not a quitter. But no one touches my relationship with Justin--that's an immovable. It had been ever since they'd met each other. No one interfered with Josh and Justin's relationship--no one.

"How did your shoot go?" Josh asked, for lack of anything better to start with.

"Oh, it was alright." Justin was still intently studying the toes of his shoes--only glancing up occasionally, and then only managing to bring his gaze up enough to look at the buttons on his friend's shirt. "It took a little longer than normal. I had a little trouble concentrating."

Josh didn't hear half of what he said. Justin, you've got to sense something is wrong here. You know me well enough to understand that I'm not good at starting conversations like this. You've always brought the subject up whenever anything's been weird between us. Why is it so different now?

"Have a bagel," Josh said, indicating a platter on the table.

God, I'm starving. "No, that's alright. I'm not really hungry."

"Ah, come on Justin. It's almost noon, and you haven't eaten anything since three o'clock yesterday afternoon."

Maybe just half of one--but no more. "Alright, I'll have half a bagel. Just for you." Justin had almost whispered the last part.

Just for me, Josh thought. But it's only half a bagel. That hardly counts. I've seen this boy put away four bagels when he'd already eaten breakfast that morning. God, what's wrong Justin? Please, you're killing me, here. Josh felt tears sting the back of his eyes and returned to sipping his coffee.

To Be Continued . . .

Well, there you are. Yes, rather short, but then, I never promised long installments, now did I? Well, if any of you know what's good for you, you won't complain about it being so short. Be glad it's out so soon after Lucky Me 15. And yes, for those of you who hadn't seen, Lucky Me 15 is actually up, now. I know it may not be highlighted on your computer anymore, but be sure to look for it now that you know it's there. Alright, off to Lucky Me 16 it is for me. I love you all . . .drop me a line to tell me what you think at Lauren2993@aol.com please. Till we meet again, -Lauren aka Pook