"Ronald Lewis, may I help you?" Lew said, as he picked up the phone at the receptionist's desk.
"Hey, Lew!" Justin said cheerfully.
"Justin?" Lew said, a confused look registering on his face. "Hey man, what's up?"
"Sorry to call you at work, but I wanted to catch you before this evening and your cell wasn't on."
"Sorry 'bout that ... I can't use it in here because of the interference. No worries about calling, what'd you need? Is everything okay?"
"Well, I was wondering if you might wanna go shopping this evening? I can meet ya after work and we can go somewhere."
Lew paused for a moment. "You wanna come all the way out here just to go shopping?"
"Well, that's where you are," Justin started with a laugh, then dropped it, "but if you're busy then that's okay."
"No ... no, it's fine. It's just that there are better malls and stores there in Orlando."
"Yeah, but a lot more chances to be seen."
"Then you'll go?"
"Sure ... you know how to get to my place, right?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Okay ... how's four sound? I think I can manage to get out of here early."
"Yeah, that's great! See ya at four then!"
Pulling into his drive, Lew found the curly-haired lad lounging on his front step. He laughed at the boyish way he jumped up and ran to meet his car. Even at almost twenty, Justin still possessed an air of innocence, though Lew knew it was balanced by a maturity well beyond his years.
"Hey, man, I'm so glad to see ya!" Justin said, as Lew opened the car door.
"Hey, Jus! Sorry I'm late."
"Yeah, like five minutes! Don't sweat it, I did kinda just spring it on ya." Justin grabbed Lew in a bear hug. Lew laughed at the enthusiasm in the younger man.
"Well, don't just stand there, come on in," Lew said, leading Justin to the front door. They walked into his small, but well appointed, home and Lew asked Justin to have a seat.
"Just lemme run and change out of my work clothes and I'm all yours," Lew said as he ran back to his bedroom to change.
A little while later, he came back into the room buttoning his shirt. Removing the band which held back his hair, Lew let his brown locks fall to his shoulders, "Oh man, does that feel better!" He ran his fingers through the strands, massaging his scalp, as Justin smirked.
"I'm surprised the government let's you keep it that long!" Justin said.
"Yeah ... well, what they don't know, don't hurt 'em!" Lew laughed. "I'm a civilian, so they really can't say much. Besides, there are plenty of the other guys there with hair longer than mine. I just keep it tied back and tucked into my collar. That way if I have to enter one of the clean rooms or something, it's out of the way. Okay, so? Where are we goin' anyway?"
"I dunno, mall I guess?"
"How original!" Lew laughed.
"Shuddup! I just wanna shop ... I don't care where I do it!"
Lew nodded and the two headed for the door. "My car or yours?"
"Well, since I drove all the way out here to meet you, the least you can do is chauffeur me to and from the mall!"
"Yeah, mm hmm," Lew said, smiling at him. The two left
the house, got into Lew's van and headed for the local mall.
The two spent almost an hour browsing from shop to shop, filling the time with small talk. Lew finally asked Justin, "So ... what's up, Jus?"
"Jus, you didn't come all the way out here just to shop in these second rate stores," Lew said, arching his eyebrow. "What's goin on? Are you okay? Is Josh okay?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare ya. Josh is fine," Justin told him.
Lew noticed a little frown on Justin's face and asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, he told Melissa what happened last week, like right after New Years."
"Oh man!" Lew said, as he led Justin over to a nearby bench. It was located beneath the escalators in a sort of grotto with plants all around, effectively hiding them from the prying eyes of the odd passerby. "How'd she take it?"
"It was rough from what he told me. He thought he'd lost her there for a minute ... but she'd just politely gone out onto the porch to freak out."
Lew cringed, "Well, I guess that was to be expected."
"It all worked out though, she came back in a few minutes later," Justin smiled. "He's been with her almost nonstop since then. Either with her or in the studio, but I'm glad to see him so happy again and the music he's been workin' on sounds great."
"Okay, so that's all pretty much settled," Lew said. "What's up with you?"
"Oh, nothin' much."
"Justin!" Lew sighed. "So ... have you talked to Mac since you've been back?"
A grin spread across Justin's face at the mention of his name. "He emailed me the night we went out. I think right after he got home. It was waiting for me as soon as I checked it the next day. Oh man! Thank you!"
"Okay? What'd I do now?"
"For introducing us, you idiot!"
"Just went out for a drink with some friends!" Lew said, with a shrug and a grin.
"We've talked just about everyday since I got back. There's at least one email every day, and either he calls or I call once a week. He's awesome! Where were ya hidin' him?"
Lew laughed, "Hey, I don't hide 'em ... you just don't know where to look!"
"Yeah, tell me about it!"
"So, are you two thinkin' of makin' a go at it?"
Justin smiled, then looked down at his feet nodding. "Yeah, I think so. I really want to, and I think he does, too. It's something that's better discussed one on one, know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Any plans to get together to discuss it before you get back into the swing of things?"
"I don't know. It would be great and he's got some leave coming up, too. He's gone TDY for a week ... oh, that's...." Justin started to explain, but Lew interrupted him.
"I know, Jus," Lew smiled. "Military brat, remember?"
"Yeah, sorry. Well, he's gone to the Marine version of where he's stationed for about a week, so we're kinda out of touch at the moment," Justin said, with a frown. "I don't know what he has planned after that, though."
"To the Marine equivalent of the school?" Lew asked, with a furrowed brow.
"Yeah, that's what he said," Justin said, nodding. "Why ... somethin' wrong?"
"Nah, just makin' sure I heard right," Lew said, cracking a smile. "So, that's this week then he's got some time off?"
"Yeah ... it'd be great if I could fly out there, but I just don't know. We're supposed to be in the studio to record some stuff by then."
"Yeah, of course. Say, what are you and Joe doin' for your birthdays?"
"Oh, I dunno. We hadn't really thought about it much. Well, I know what I would like to do," Justin said, an impish grin spreading across his face.
Lew returned the grin, "Yeah, but somehow I doubt Joe wants to fly out to see Mac."
"Nah, besides I don't really think I want Joey going out there with me anyway," Justin laughed. "I really just wanna spend some quiet time. It's been a rough month or so ... I need a break. Nothin' fancy, nothin' big, I just wanna maybe get together and watch a game or a movie on the tube or something. You're gonna come, right?"
"I'll stick ya in the calendar. Just try and make sure it's on the weekend so I don't have to work!"
"You got it!" Justin laughed. "Well mine's smack in the middle of the week, but Joe's is on a Sunday, so we can make it then."
Laughing, they stood and walked back through the mall. The two stopped briefly at the food court to grab a bite to eat before heading back to Lew's place. In the driveway, Justin bade him a fond farewell then hopped in his car, purchases in tow, and headed home. Guess I'd better be checking my email, Lew thought as he watched Justin drive away.
The guys were all gathered around Justin's living room watching a Tarheels game on the large screen television. "Come on! Pass it!" Justin yelled at the screen.
"Oh stop with the coachin', Curly!" Chris yelled, throwing a handful of popcorn at him.
"Watch it!" Justin yelled back, tossing a pillow at him.
"Chill out, children!" JC shouted at both of them, as Chris started to throw the pillow back at Justin.
"Listen to Josh," Lynn told them, bringing in another tray of snacks.
"Thanks, Lynn," Lance said, taking the tray from her and putting it down on the table.
The doorbell rang and Lynn looked around at the six young men scattered around the room. She shook her head as they continued to yell at the screen. "Don't worry..." she told them, "I'll get it."
Melissa gave her a sympathetic smile from where she sat curled in JC's arms as Lynn turned and headed for the front door. "Lew! Glad you could make it," she said, opening the door.
"Hi, Lynn," he said, hugging her and kissing her cheek. A yell from the living room caused him to stop and glance toward it, "Don't guess I have to ask if they're here, huh?"
Lynn rolled her eyes, "Thank God games don't last forever!"
They were both laughing when she noticed the young man standing behind Lew. "It's a surprise," Lew said, winking at her.
"Okay ... well come on in." Lynn said. She lead Lew into the living room, saying, "Justin, honey, more sports fans."
"What, mom?" he asked, his attention only momentarily pulled from the game. "Oh hey, Lew!"
"Hey, Curly, how's it goin'? We winning or not?"
"No, they just won't listen to expert advice!" Justin laughed. The station had thankfully paused for their sponsors, allowing them to talk. "Glad you could make it!"
"Wouldn't have missed it! Hey, Joe, Happy Birthday, bro!"
"Thanks, man! What'd ya bring me?" Joey grinned from his seat across the room.
Steve smacked Joey's leg from his position on the floor, "Joseph, that's not very nice!"
"Yes, dad!" Joey said, rolling his eyes. "So, what'd ya bring me?"
"Oh, now that's what I like, direct and to the point!" Lew laughed. "Here ya go, Bro," he said, tossing a wrapped box to Joey.
"Aw, man," Joey beamed. "You didn't really hafta."
"I know, Joe," Lew told him. "I wanted to, though. You've been great, and I don't think I've ever gotten you anything before."
"Hey!" Justin whined, with a pout. "Where's mine?"
"Is it your birthday?" Lew asked, with a puzzled look.
"Well ... no..." Justin said, bringing out the puppy dog look, "not till Wednesday...."
"Well ... then I didn't bring you one."
"But it's not his either ... not till tomorrow!"
"See if I invite you next time!" Justin pouted.
They all laughed at the display. "Oh, man! Don't do that!" Lew laughed.
"What?" Justin asked innocently.
"That look ... you look so pitiful!"
"That's the general idea," Justin said, sticking his tongue out at him.
"Oh, alright!" Lew sighed. "I just can't take that look anymore!"
"Kewlness! Now what'd ya get me?"
Lew laughed at the 'little kid at Christmas look'. "Well, you'll have to excuse me, it came a little late, so I didn't have time to wrap it."
"Oh, that's ok ... just so long as it's a present!"
Lew walked the rest of the way into the living room and sat down.
"Hey! I thought you said you had somethin' for me?"
"I did ... but I'm not about to carry it in! Go get it yourself!"
Justin sighed dramatically and said, "Fine! Where is it?"
"Just head for the front door, ya can't miss it."
"You're gonna make me miss part of this game, aren't ya?" Justin said, looking at him quizzically, but still standing and heading for the door.
Justin shot him an evil glare, "BRAT!"
"Thank you!" Lew returned.
The others looked at Lew, silently questioning him. Lew merely shook his head, putting up a hand to silence them. He then began counting down. Five ... four ... three ... two....
"OH MY GOD! MAC!"
Lew cracked up, if not from the yell from the hall, then from the shocked looks on the faces around him. "Top that one!" he said, with a smug look. JC promptly smacked him in the back of the head, gaining himself a smack on the arm from Melissa.
"Josh! Be nice!"
"He started it!" JC pouted.
"I'll finish it!" Melissa laughed back.
"Now, who's acting like a kid?" Chris yelled.
"At least we're acting our age!" Melissa grinned.
Chris looked at her in astonishment, then managed, "Aw man, that was so cold!"
"What in the world is going on out here?" Lynn asked, emerging from the kitchen. "What's all the commotion?" Just then, Justin entered the room with his arm wrapped around the young man she'd seen at the door. There was a wide grin plastered across her son's face. "I take it you know Lew's guest?"
"Mom!" Justin beamed. "Mom, this is Mac!"
"Oh ... hello, Mac, it's a pleasure to finally meet you," she said, offering her hand.
"Hi, Mrs. Harless, nice to meet you, too," Mac said, taking her hand.
"Lynn, please," she smiled.
"Mac, hey man!" Chris said, the others chiming in with their own greetings.
"How's it goin' guys, and miss?" Mac asked.
"Sorry," Justin said, "Mac, this is Josh's girlfriend Melissa ... Melissa, this is Mac."
"Nice to meet you," they both said at the same time, causing laughter all around.
"Mac, can I get you something to drink?" Lynn asked him.
"No, ma'am ... I'm fine, thank you."
"Lew, how about you?"
"How about I come with you and see what you've got?"
"Fine, anyone else?"
"I could use a..." JC started, but Melissa elbowed his stomach and gave him a stern look. "Then again I could go get my own."
Melissa nodded and smiled at him, "Think I'll come, too."
"Let's head this way," Justin said, pulling Mac down the hallway toward the back of the house.
Lynn stood dumbfounded for a moment before heading into the kitchen. She shook her head as she entered.
"Everything alright, Lynn?" Lew asked her.
"Oh, of course," she said, smiling at him. "My God, though,
they must really be serious." The three looked at her puzzled. "Justin
just passed up a basketball game ... his favorite team at that ... to go
with him." The four burst out laughing.
After grabbing his jacket, Justin led Mac into the backyard, past the pool and into the lattice covered gazebo at the far end. The two had a seat on the swing inside. Justin turned and looked into Mac's eyes, "I missed you so much."
Mac grinned, "Jus, we talk all the time."
"I know ... we can't do this over the phone," Mac said, placing his arm around Justin.
"Or this," Justin said, as he leaned in to kiss Mac. It was just a simple kiss, a tender brushing of lips, then Justin pulled back to look into Mac's eyes. He moved in again for another, this one deeper, filled with even more emotion than the first. As Justin broke the kiss, he leaned his forehead against Mac's and smiled. "I've been wanting to do that all year," he said quietly.
Mac reached over to cradle the side of Justin's face in his palm, brushing his cheek with the back of his fingers along the way. "Do you know how hard it was for me to leave your room that night ... knowing that we weren't going to be able to do that again?"
Justin nodded, as he nuzzled into Mac's caress. "Yeah ... a pretty fair idea." Justin began to absently stroke Mac's back, merely enjoying the moment.
"Um ... are we okay out here?" Mac asked, looking around.
"Why ... are you cold?" Justin asked, a look of concern crossing his face.
"No, just..." Mac shrugged. "Are we okay ... outside like this?"
"Oh!" Justin said, chuckling. "High fences," he said
with a wink.
"I need to head to the pantry to get some more supplies before they eat me out of house and home," Lynn said, as she walked toward the back of the kitchen. The guys were fixing themselves drinks, so Melissa offered to help her. She kissed JC on the cheek before heading off after Lynn.
After watching them leave, Lew looked over and smiled at JC. "Jus said you told her."
A smile spread across his face. "Yeah. She's been great. I honestly don't know what I'd have done without her." JC looked in the direction the ladies had gone. His eyes became a bit glassy, but then he popped his head up, shaking away the bad thoughts, and turned to face Lew. "I don't know what I'd have done without you, either."
Lew looked at him and gave him a warm smile, then nodded.
"I mean it," JC said.
"I know. You're my kid brother, it's in the handbook," Lew said, with a wink.
"Handbook? Where'd you get a handbook? Now that's just not fair, you don't even have any sibs. I've got two and I didn't get one. And ... hey ... what's with this 'kid' stuff?" JC laughed.
"It's a relative thing," Lew shrugged.
JC hugged him. "Thanks."
"Hey! That's my boyfriend ... get your own!" Melissa said, as she returned with an armful of chips.
JC smiled and took them from her, placing them on the counter. "Don't worry. It'd take a lot more than what he's got to win me away from you."
Lew poked his lip out in a pout, before breaking into a smile. As Lynn entered the room, he walked over to help her with her load. "You're safe Melissa ... Josh isn't my type." JC looked at him with a hurt expression. "Okay, well he could be my type ... but it would be like dating my brother and that's just wrong," he said with a shudder.
They all laughed and Lynn said, "Okay, Lew, quit teasing the kids. Melissa are you staying over tonight?"
"Uh..." Melissa looked over at JC, gauging his reaction, "we were actually thinking about staying over at Lance's tonight."
"Okay," Lynn said, with a nod as she turned back to what she was doing. After a moment, she turned around and looked at JC and Melissa. "Josh, you do know that Melissa's welcome to stay over anytime she wants. You're both adults. I don't mind."
Standing directly beside him, Lew was probably the only one to notice the faint blush in JC's cheeks as he smiled and hugged Melissa closer. "Thanks, Lynn, I really..." he was interrupted when Melissa leaned back and nudged him, "we really appreciate that."
Melissa leaned up and kissed his chin, then turned to Lynn. "We do, Lynn, but are you sure you don't...."
"Like I said, you're both adults, and anyone who looks at the two of you can tell you're madly in love," she said, with a smile. "I mean Josh was miserable all last month, and now that you're here he's been happier than ever."
"Well, he doesn't have to worry about that anymore, because I'm not going anywhere for the foreseeable future ... or for at least a week," she laughed.
JC dropped his jaw feigning shock, then leaned in and bit her ear playfully. She giggled as she leaned her head into him to break his grasp, then elbowed him in the ribs. They went back into the living room leaving Lynn and Lew to laugh.
"They do look good together, don't they?" Lew said, once they had gone.
"They're adorable," Lynn said, smiling. "I wouldn't be surprised if the two of them were together for a long time to come."
"Now, if I could just figure out what is going on with my son!" Lynn threw her hands in the air, shaking her head. She turned to Lew, extending her index finger toward him. "Okay, I want to know everything that you know about this Mac guy..." she said, backing him into the corner where the cabinets met, "the one who's able to tear him away from a basketball game!"
Lew burst out laughing.
Justin and Mac sat quietly gazing at the sky, watching it change to twilight. Their companionable silence was a time to just enjoy being with each other, being able to finally touch again. After a while, Mac looked over at Justin, and became entranced watching the way the latticed light graced his face. Justin seemed to be in a thoughtful mood, his brow a bit furrowed.
"Whatchya thinking about," Mac asked him, wondering what had the younger man so distracted. Mac rubbed his fingers over the back the hand Justin had laying atop Mac's thigh.
Justin jumped slightly at the break in the silence. "Nothin' really," Justin responded, with a shrug. "Just something Lew asked me about the other day."
"Okay ... I must not be doin' something right. You're sittin' here with me and you're thinking about Lew." A comically hurt expression was plastered on Mac's face, but inside he began to wonder what was up. >From the look on Justin's face, this had to be something serious.
"No!" Justin said, shaking his head. "No ... he asked me if we were thinking about making a go of things." Justin turned away, gazing out over the backyard. He nervously shifted in his seat, then looked back at Mac, cautiously, "Are we?" Justin was almost afraid of the answer, though he did his best to appear strong.
Mac looked at him with a eerily serious expression. "I don't know. There's one thing I need to know first." Mac breathed a silent sigh of relief. If that was all that was bothering Justin, then everything was going to be fine.
Justin turned to face him directly. He wanted to make sure Mac saw how serious he was about this. "Anything," he said, stressing the importance of the word. Justin held Mac's hand in his, gripping it to keep his trembling from communicating itself to Mac.
Mac felt the pressure of Justin's hand holding his. He could feel the tremors through the contact. "It's probably nothing, but I just need to know...."
"Mac, if it's important to you, then it's not nothing." Justin sent a soundless prayer winging its way toward heaven. He had no idea what had Mac concerned, but he hoped it was something easily fixed.
"You're not really dating Britney, and just leading me on, are you?" Mac said, his face expressionless.
Justin sat there a moment in seeming shock, his face slowly changing to a look of concern. "No ... of course not. I would never do that to you!"
Mac slowly cracked a smile. Though he was almost certain of Justin's response, and he had initially asked the question as a joke, once it was out of his mouth, he realized that it held far more importance to him than he wanted to believe. He had to know for sure. He was brought out of his moment of self-analysis when Justin began to laugh. The laughter started out quietly and built to a deep belly laugh, bringing Justin to tears. Mac watched him dissolve into a ball, twitching with giggles. "Justin, are you okay? Was it that funny?"
"Oh My God! You have no idea ... after everyone asking me if I'm dating Britney. Then to get the question from you...." Justin fell into giggles again, unable to finish what he was saying. He finally managed to compose himself and apologize. "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't be laughing if you were worried about it, but Brit is more like my sister than anything else."
"So, you don't really have a relationship?" Mac sketched quote marks in the air.
"Well ... we have a relationship," Justin mimicked the quote marks before going on. "But it's a brother/sister type of relationship. We like hanging out together ... I mean where else can you find a girl who likes to play basketball as much as she likes to shop."
"Okay ... so you're not really engaged, right? And, you're not planning to be?" Mac asked, smiling.
"Complete fabrication from some tabloid, besides Jacob would probably kill me!" Justin laughed as he had a flash memory of when the story had first surfaced and the conference call between himself, Britney, and Jacob.
"Jacob ... another boyfriend?"
"Yeah ... Britney's!"
"Okay ... I'm officially lost now," Mac said, shaking his head to restore the connections. "You wanna back up and try that again? Please?"
"I know, it's wacked," Justin said. "Brit and I are in the spotlight all the time anyway, and the press is always seeing us together, so of course, they started asking questions about it. Eventually we decided that it would probably be better to just say yes. It gives Jacob and their relationship a break, it covers the fact that I'm gay, and it keeps them from looking for my boyfriend. Especially if he's in ... the military or something?
Mac smiled warmly at him. "Justin ... is that your round about way of asking me to be your boyfriend?" he asked, a hopeful expression crossing his face.
Justin looked up at him shyly, through his eyelashes. "Well ... uh ... yeah, I guess it is."
Thoughtfully, Mac sat a moment, just looking at Justin. It was just long enough to make him squirm. Mac reached over taking Justin's face in his hands. He looked deeply into his eyes, then kissed his forehead, gently. His lips traveled over Justin's face, stopping and kissing his cheeks, chin, and nose before settling over his mouth for a small, loving touch of their lips. Mac pulled back to look into his eyes once again, then leaned back in to kiss him lingeringly, passionately.
Mac's arms went around him, pulling him closer to the heat of his body, as Justin's hands moved up Mac's chest. Justin wrapped his arms around Mac's shoulders, allowing his body to mold itself to Mac's. His fingers ran through Mac's hair, while their tongues twined and danced. Eventually, a need for air, brought an end to the kiss, and they inched reluctantly away from each other.
Neither could take their eyes from the other's face, as they sat smiling tenderly at one another. Justin was the first to break the silence, "Was that your round about way of saying yes?" Mac nodded slowly. "I think I like your round about way of saying stuff better than mine," Justin said, as he brought their mouths together for another quick kiss.
Mac leaned back against the seat, pulling Justin to lay partially over his frame. They cuddled together, absently touching each other occasionally. The stars were now popping into view as the sky darkened above them. Mac's fingers brushed over Justin's shoulder, then up the side of his neck and Justin shivered. "Are you getting cold?" Mac asked, concern coloring his voice.
"A little ... but that wasn't why I was shivering," Justin said, winking at him.
"Why don't we go inside. I really should introduce myself to your mom," Mac said. Mac started to get up, but Justin held him to the seat.
"You met my mom earlier, besides you've talked to her a bunch of times on the phone," Justin pouted.
"Justin ... I said 'hi' and 'bye' and came out here with you. Actually, I don't think I even said 'bye' now that I think about it," Mac said. He tried to move Justin off of him again without success as the young man leaned heavily against him.
"What ... are you complaining?" Justin looked up at him with a slightly wounded expression that turned into an evil grin.
"No ... I'm just saying that she's probably thinking I'm rude, and you don't want her to have a bad impression of me, do you?" Mac scooted out from under Justin, then stood before him holding his hands out to take Justin's. Justin reached up and took Mac's hands, squeezing them slightly.
"Nah ... I guess not." Justin sighed dramatically as Mac pulled his unresisting body from the swing.
With arms wrapped around one another's waists, they walked inside, stopping to kiss briefly before entering the house.