This is Chapter 6. I can't believe it only took me two days to write this and type it all out! I'm so proud of myself!
A great big THANK YOU to all who have written to me--Yee Hui, Byron, Dave, Patti (again!), the enigmatic G S, and of course Red and Dara! Is your name here? No? Well you know what to do! Write to Will at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Dedicated to Kenny who hopefully is slogging through the stories during his lunch hour, and who brings new meaning to the phrase 'witty crap'. And to Colin, to whom I know I never seem to appreciate enough, but rest assured I certainly do.
Disclaimer: This story is based very very loosely on a certain boy band called 'N Sync. I'm all the way in Malaysia, and I strongly doubt they've even heard of my country, so what do you think are the chances of me knowing them? Plus, if you know you shouldn't be reading this, don't, 'coz we are watching and we might even tell your parents. And Kenny, it's okay, you can read this, mental age doesn't count.
IN SYNCHRONICITY, Part Six.
Justin Randall Timberlake, one-fifth of arguably the world's biggest and most successful boy band, idol of hundreds upon thousands, and all-round object of desire, was not in a good mood. If he had to pinpoint the source of his irritation, he would be hard-pressed to choose between the toll of being on the road for close to three months; the routine of having to primp and posture at all times; or the fact that he'd lost his cell phone (and all its numbers therein) nearly two weeks ago, and it was still bugging him.
Which was why he was driving to Joel's place without calling in advance. It was 10 a.m. on a Wednesday afternoon--it would be a wonder to find Joel being up, much less about. As it were, it might take a small miracle just to rouse him from bed.
As he drove, Justin spared a quick glance at the nondescript box lying on the passenger's seat of his SUV. In it lay a small cross on a silver chain, a little something he found in an antique shop in Berlin. When he first saw it, he was struck by the similarity it bore to the one he himself wore under his shirt--a gift to him from Joel, before he'd left for his World Tour. The only difference being that this one had five tiny sapphires set into it. Justin had bought it without hesitation.
I hope he likes it, he thought. No, I hope he's too caught up with it to be mad at me for ignoring him--again, he amended wryly. This time it's not my fault, right? If only I hadn't left the phone in that damn restaurant, he argued with himself. Then I wouldn't have to feel like I bought this out of guilt.
Actually, I've never really seen Joel being angry at me, Justin mused. There was that once with the overzealous fan and her box of soiled panties, but that wasn't directed at me. But for some reason, Justin had a funny feeling that he never wanted Joel to be angry with him. Ever.
Although I've certainly given him much cause to do so...There was that time he was late for a dinner appointment. I turned up more than three hours later and he was still there--sick with worry, but he gave me a smile as soon as I apologised. A smile!
Or what about that time when he'd borrowed Joel's collection of first-edition Anne Rice novels--only to lose them when his luggage went missing. He seemed upset, but he said they weren't half as important as my Tommy Hilfigers. That dork.
And of course, Joel had barely batted an eyelid when Justin had brought a stranger to his condo for some casual sex. Justin frowned at the memory of that night, only three months ago. Joel had unceremoniously walked in on them doing the hot-and-heavy under his own roof, but had been totally sensitive and understanding. Justin's only gripe was that they didn't have sex that night. Quite understandably, but it was the first time Joel had ever said no to some intimacy--even if he didn't actually say it--Justin caught the drift.
Justin found himself missing the sex with Joel. He was so--so familiar, so comforting. Really, something to look forward to at the end of a long day, or better yet, the end of a long tour. Justin didn't have to close his eyes to imagine Joel's slim, supple body; from the cluster of moles just above his collarbone to the tiny appendectomy scar on his belly. Or the way his stomach muscles clenched when stroked, or the way his dark hair fell across his forehead. Yes, definitely someone--and something--to look forward to after three months with only Madame Palm and her five sisters to keep him company.
He parked his car and took the elevator up to Joel's place, carefully putting the box in his jacket. His mood was vastly improving, he noticed. He was even humming. He rang the doorbell three times, stifling a smile. He could see it now, the older guy's sleepy, irritated face--
The door opened to reveal someone decidedly not Joel. It was a rather short, blond girl about Justin's age, who looked at him curiously. Justin glanced at the house number. He was in the right place. What gives?
He took off his sunglasses. "Uh, I'm looking for Joel Ca--"
He was violently interrupted by an all-too-familiar shriek. It was one identical to those emitted by thousands of adoring female fans across the world, who signed their diaries 'Mrs. Justin Timberlake' in flowery script.
"Oh My GOD, Justin Timberlake! Rose, Rose, come here quick! It's--oh my god--it is, isn't it?!" screamed the girl excitedly. Justin nodded nervously, getting more and more confused by the minute.
A redhead appeared. Rose, Justin assumed. At least she wasn't jumping up and down and sobbing hysterically, like her friend. She peered at Justin through her glasses.
"Well, he does look a bit like that guy," she said doubtfully. Justin's nostrils flared, but he decided it would be more prudent not to answer to that.
"Is Joel Casey around?" he asked , wanting to settle the matter as quickly as possible. The blond was rapidly turning red in the face.
"Rose, Rose, let him in, let him in!" she cried, evidently too distraught to do it herself.
"For goodness' sake, Kitty, breathe!" she rolled her eyes at her roommate. Turning to Justin, she asked, "Are you really that Justin guy?"
He gave a sigh and nodded.
"Well, er, okay...come in, I guess," she opened the door wider.
"I just want to know what happened to Joel Casey. He used to live here? Own this place? Pan-Asian looks? Black hair?" asked Justin plaintively, rapidly getting fed-up of the situation.
"Oh, Joel! The landlord! He moved to New York last month. Rose and I, we're at the Uni too, you know? We were like, freshies, and he was like this gonna graduate kinda guy? And we were all, like, looking for a place to stay--" chattered Kitty.
"Joel was nice enough to rent us this place for half the going rate. He's a lifesaver," Rose cut in, giving a stern stare at her hyperventilating friend.
Justin was too dumbfounded to say anything at first. He was shocked that Joel would do anything as drastic as that. He'd always loved Orlando. How could he do this?
"You know, just the other day we found some of his things at the bottom of a closet, and he asks if we could be so kind as to courier it over coz it's sentimental and all, and of course we said we would, we're such nice gals and all, and he's such a nice guy too, but not as nice as you, of course..." Kitty's onslaught was unstoppable.
"Thanks," muttered Justin dazedly, and turned to go. He was rapidly growing angrier at Joel. How dare he? How could he? he fumed. Without a word! How could he? And to think I bought him something nice, too--how could he?
"Bye Justin Timberlake! Sure ya won't come in for some breakfast?" the irritated boy band member jabbed at the close button on the lift in response.
He drove the rest of the way home recklessly, his whole day spoiled. Never mind day, my whole week is gone! Storming into the house, he found J.C. in the living room, playing the piano.
"Back so soon?" J.C. arched an eyebrow at Justin. "I'd have thought you'd be shacking up with Joel--"
"Shut the fuck up, Josh," snarled Justin, jerking off his jacket violently. "I don't want to hear any of your shit right now," he stomped up the stairs to his room, slamming the door for good effect.
Chris came out of the kitchen to see J.C. calmly playing the piano once again, although hitting the keys a trifle harder than he should. He picked up the jewel box Justin had thrown down with his jacket.
"Josh? What happened?" J.C. shrugged, continuing to play.
"Our little prince is having another hissy fit. What's new? He's been going PMS on us ever since last week. Funny," he paused in his playing, looking up at Chris. "I would've thought meeting that Joel guy would have restored his good mood. But he came back even worse."
"Maybe they fought or something? Which isn't likely, Joel seems to think the world of our Justin." And then some, he said to himself. "I'll go up and check on him," he said aloud, clutching the jewel case.
"You do that. Call me if you need any help with the muzzling or the whipping," J.C. turned back to playing his piece. Chris made a mental note to ask Justin to apologise to Josh. They might have been friends the longest, but that also meant Josh had to put up with Justin's tantrums the most.
He knocked on Justin's door, getting a muffled 'Come in' in reply. The youngest 'N Sync-er was sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by his CDs, all stacked haphazardly.
"Alright, Curly. What's wrong?"
Justin only alphabetised his CDs when he was upset--even if they were already arranged. He'd mix them all up and do it again.
Not turning to look at Chris, he answered shortly, "He's moved away. To New York."
"Moved? You mean he wasn't there? How did you know?"
"Because he rented his place to a couple of girls who recognised me. Of course he wasn't there! He's in fucking New York!" ranted Justin, slapping together the CD cases with a hard 'clack'.
"I see. He's graduated, hasn't he?"
"Yeah. So?" Clack. Clack. Clack.
"So he might have moved to work there."
"Why? What's wrong with Orlando? He's always loved it here, he told me so. Why the fuck does he have to move anyway? For a job? Jeez. I could have gotten him one!" Clack. Clack. Clack.
Chris sighed. He'd always been the closest to Justin, and had seen the youngster grow from a self-confidence as a teenager to an over-confidence as a young adult. He was also the first to know about Justin's sexual proclivities. Although he was fine with it, what he really did not approve was his tendency to sleep around. It wasn't good for the group, it wasn't good for Justin, more importantly it wasn't good for Justin's soul. But Chris had no right to stop him, as the younger man had pointed out so often. Joel was the only one of Justin's little 'friends' Chris felt halfway satisfied about--and also the only one Justin consistently stuck with. Heck, when they were in Germany (Justin's former happy hunting grounds), all he did was gush about how Joel would love the three-thousand-dollar pendant he'd found. He didn't know why Joel left, but he was saddened that Justin had apparently lost a good thing in his life.
"Did he leave a forwarding address? Did he say anything to you, mention anything at all?" Chris asked.
"Don't know. Don't care. Fuck him."
"I don't know why he went, Justin. But he's got his own future to look out for. All I know is, he's a wonderful guy, one of the most caring, considerate person we've met, and maybe you should give him the benefit of the--"
Clack. Clack. Crack!
"Oh, get off my back, Chris! If he can't give a fuck about me, why should I care what happens to him? If he was so caring, so considerate, why didn't he at least say something to me? It's not as if it's the first time any of us have been used like this, you know--oh, get out, Chris. I just wanna be alone now." Justin stared unseeingly at the CD cover he'd broken.
"Fine. But just remember this, Curly. If I've learned anything in all these years, it's the fact that you can't afford to take people for granted. Sooner or later, you'll only end up regretting it. I'll see you at lunch," he got up and placed the jewel box on the bed, leaving Justin alone with his thoughts.
Angrily, the blond stood up, roughly kicking aside his CDs.. Stupid Chris. Forever telling me what to do. Fuck him. He started to pull off his wife-beater but it got stuck on his chain. He yanked the shirt away, and caught sight of himself in the full-length mirror, clutching the glittering pendant Joel had given him. Joel Casey. His best friend and confidante.
Suddenly Justin felt very tired of being angry. All he wanted was to just spend some time, snuggled up to Joel in his favourite position. All those nights alone at numerous, similar hotel rooms, it had always been the thought of being in those familiar arms again that had sent him to sleep. Why did he leave without a word?
He lay back on his bed. Was it true? Did he really take all the 'little people' for granted? But he already knew the answer, he though guiltily. He'd caught the hurt looks, the flash of irritation more than once from the people around him, when they thought he wasn't looking. Am I really such a bastard?
Idly, he wondered what Joel would do in his place. He'd probably just put on his goofiest smile and wait cheerfully for everything to go right again, that dork. He allowed himself a small smile. He felt around and picked up the jewel box. He'd told Chris and the rest it had cost three thousand bucks, but he didn't want to alarm anyone. It was a Cartier original, and had once belonged to an Austrian Duke. Three thousand? Try four times that.
What was that the Kitty girl had said? About Joel needing some things couriered to him in New York? In a flash, he'd made up his mind, and knew what to do. He put on his clothes and carefully set the gift at his bedside. But first, some pretty serious apologies to offer...
He'd gone back to Joel's former apartment, putting on his best smile and turning on the famous Justin Timberlake charm. He needn't have bothered, though, Justin strongly suspected that Kitty would cheerfully sell off her grandmother just to talk to Justin again. By the time he'd walked off carrying a small box of Joel's things along with his New York number and address, he was certain that he'd made a pair of fans for life. And all it cost him was an autograph on a pair of boxers--his boxers. Rose knew a good opportunity when she saw one, after all. Justin wondered how much that would fetch on eBay.
He looked at the stuff he'd brought back, the perfect excuse he'd needed to surprise Joel with. Mostly term papers, some project reports, and sentimental things like a high-school almanac and photo albums. Joel spent much of the day leafing through those, chuckling at Joel being voted 'Mr. Nice Guy' and 'Most Wanted Guy' by the girls. If only they knew he had the hots for their boyfriends, he snorted. But who was he to speak? He himself preferred to check out the guys who came to his concerts, and not the girls.
Finally he pulled out a couple of leather-bound journals, filled from end to end with Joel's neat handwriting.
It's his diary, Justin realised. I didn't know Joel kept one. He's probably started new ones though, these are all filled... He felt vaguely guilty about handling such personal stuff and was about to throw it back in when something slipped out.
It was a photograph of him, Justin, at a beach. His mouth was opened in laughter, his blue eyes twinkling at some forgotten mirth. He was clad only in swimming trunks, his hands outstretched as if to make a grab at the photographer. He remembered that time...Joel and he had driven down to Miami for the weekend last summer, and Joel had purchased an instant camera to take some pictures with. Justin, smiling broadly at the recollection, turned the photo over.
'Miami--so far the best days of my life! Of course, it was with Justin. He looks so hot in his Speedos--and even better without them I may say!' Justin grinned broadly at that. 'I was this close to telling him that I love him before that bitch with the soiled panties came along--'
Justin reddened. Oh yes, he definitely remembered her, and her gross underthings she'd--
Oh wait. Read that line again. No, read it once more. Did he say that?
Justin scrambled to open Joel's diaries. To hell with feeling guilty. He was overcome by an urgency he could not explain, only that he had to know. Randomly choosing a page, he read on.
'Dear Diary. I've got a bad case of luuurrve alright. Justin called up suddenly in the middle of the night, and asked if we could maybe talk a bit. Like I could ever refuse him!'
He selected another entry.
'...kept me waiting for three hours and fifteen minutes, and his phone was off! I felt like dying then, not knowing what had happened to him. If something had, I don't know how I'd live on...'
'...so what if he's not ready to love me now. What's important is--I Wanna Love You Forever...Justin! Man, that Jessica Simpson really hits the spot with that song...'
'Gosh, it's hard enough to keep my feelings under wraps whenever I look at him, I still marvel at my self-control when he actually touches me...'
'...doesn't he know I'd die a thousand deaths to be with him...'
'...I thought, he'd know for sure then, my feelings for him, luckily...'
'...how I love him...'
'...but I love Justin so...'
'...I love you, Justin. With all my heart and soul, with every fiber of my being. Corny? I don't think so. Not if you knew how strongly I feel right now. If you aren't ready, I'll wait for you, even if it takes all my life. Or even my next lives. 'Coz it's the only feeling I have for you, from the tips of my hair to the soles of my feet. I love you.'
Justin shut the book with a snap and threw it away from him. He wiped the tears he didn't know he could shed. It was too much. All this while, and he'd been blissfully ignorant. Always horsing around, always stressing on his non-commitment. And there Joel was; lovely, understanding Joel, dying inside with every glance, every smile, every touch.
If only he knew. If only he knew!
But he did know. Because, at least Joel was brave enough to say it, even if it was only to a book.
Even now Justin struggled to say to himself, to realise himself, what he'd always known, what he'd always felt.
He loved Joel too. All the signs were there, he was always only too blind to see it, always too deluded to realise it and always too selfish to acknowledge it.
Joel completed him. This he now knew.
He reached for the phone.
"Hello? I'd like to know when's the next flight to New York..."
There, it's done. Took me all night just to type it out, but it's a pleasure of course.
Anyway, keep reading! It's the next chapter you should be looking out for, when Justin meets Joel meets Nicky. You might have to wait quite a bit for this one, though...I want to do this properly and as perfectly as possible, so I'm not gonna rush it, and I'm sure you wouldn't want me to, either. I'll try and make it before the weekend, though, 'coz I have a temp job next week which might keep me too busy.
Keep writing to me, though! Coz if you don't, I won't know if anyone out there likes this story or not. And feel free to comment on each chapter or certain phrases you're not sure of, okay?
Once again, for those who hate paging up, it's Will at email@example.com