Hey, kids! So, here’s #12, submitted as always for your pleasure. And ya’ll are getting stingy with the feedback, so write me write me write me : Schuydncer@aol.com . I’m wholeheartedly recommending Chatting Up Love (and not only cause I’m in it). And supermuchthankyou to Karen, Dru, and Dennis.

Disclaimer: Don’t know ‘em. Don’t care.

Retreat 12
by Schuyler

Corbett was busy and Justin was hyper, which just gave her another thing to do. She was trying to coordinate the boys’ return and make sure that their world was ready to move in the morning when the buses made for Tennessee. But by six the limos had been dispatched and Corbett had put Dimitri from Paris in the suite’s stereo and laid herself on the couch. Justin came in quietly and sat on the end of the couch, lifting her feet into his lap. He sat silently with her for an hour and wondered if the others appreciated just how hard she worked.
Thomas called to say that Lance and Joey’s flight had been delayed an hour, but Justin didn’t wake Corbett. The four boys all returned at once, laughing and joking. Justin put his finger to his lips and made a face. They all stopped speaking and tiptoed over to Corbett, setting down their bags. Joey reached down, grasped her gently around her waist, then suddenly lifted her high above his head, parallel to the ground. Her eyes opened with a startled shriek. “Hi!” Joey smiled. Corbett smiled back and reached out to hug him.
“Group hug!” Justin called out. Everybody ran together, both arms around someone else, except Chris, who kept his left hand in his pocket. When they’d separated, they fell onto the sofas, Joey on one, with Corbett curled up against him and Lance against her, and Chris and JC on the other, sitting beside each other, and Justin laying on the floor at their feet. “So, Lance,” Corbett said, letting her fingertips trail gently across the back of his neck. “How was your vacation?”
He felt warm and comforted inside. “It was okay. Got a lot of rest.”
“And we all know that Joey saw Kevin...” She and Joey both grinned like mad. Then she turned to the other couch with a wide and innocent stare. “And what did you two do?”
This was the set up. JC swallowed. “We got engaged.” They were beaming. Justin leapt up to hug them. Joey screamed like a girl, then ran to join Justin. Corbett, losing her support, fell back onto the couch. Lance found his head resting on Corbett’s soft stomach. His head bounced as she laughed.
Chris peered out from behind Joey. “Lance?”
Corbett sat up and turned to the others, letting Lance lean back against her chest. Lance smiled, “Let’s see the rock!”
Chris smiled and thrust his hand forward, showing off the glittering band. “Ooh!” Justin got up, “let me grab the champagne.”
“Champagne?” Joey asked.
“Yeah,” he was bounding towards the kitchen. “Colby sent out a case of her finest this morning...” His eyes widened with realization. “And Corbett’s got four bottles chilling. Corbett, you knew!”
“Yeah, whatever,” she responded half-bored with Lance giggling in front of her. “Get the bubbly.”

With eight of the twelve bottles warming in their stomachs, the six really started having fun. Something had sparked off Chris and Joey and Joey was chasing his best friend around the room. Cibo Matto’s “Stereotype A” was coming through the speakers and JC was singing along by himself. Justin, walking towards JC, hiccuped and promptly fell down.
Corbett was laying on her stomach with Lance sitting beside her, massaging her back. She made a tiny little moan and shifted a little, pulling the hem of her white, long sleeved t-shirt up away from her khakis and exposing a section of her smooth skin. Lance, the champagne having lessened his fears, touched her skin. Corbett didn’t flinch, and she didn’t run away. He couldn’t see it, but she smiled. He ran his fingers along the base of her spine. “Hey guys!” Lance suddenly shouted out. “Corbett needs a tattoo!”
She turned her head to look at him. “What?”
JC came over to her, grinning wildly. “He’s right, little C. We all have them.”
“Nuh-uh,” she smiled. “You don’t.”
“All good boys have their secrets,” he said, tugging down his waistband on one side to reveal the flame logo tattooed low on his hipbone.
Corbett feigned a shocked little gasp, then realized that they were all still staring at her. “Sure. Why not?”
The boys raised a little cheer. “Let me grab my wallet.” Justin picked himself up off the floor and ran into his bedroom. He grabbed his black wallet, flipped it open, and froze. With cautious fingers he grasped the edge of an old faded photograph and tugged it out of the place it had rested for so long. Him and Britney, a million years ago, it seemed, hugging and smiling. God, how it hurt to see her face. He thought himself stupid for pinning his heart to her.
He didn’t hear JC enter the room. “Justin? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” he tore the picture into four pieces and let it drop into the wastebasket. “Let’s go.” But JC had seen.
They returned to the others to find Corbett riding on Lance’s back. “What took you so long?” she joked.
“Just tossing an old picture out of my wallet.”
“There’s only two pictures in my wallet,” JC said, stooping to coax Chris onto his back, “one of my family and one of you guys.” Corbett burst into laughter. “What?”
“I have a picture of you guys too,” she choked out. Justin went into the little gray backpack she wore, fished out her wallet, and opened it. Then he started to laugh too. “I didn’t have a picture of you, so I clipped that from an old ad.” Doubling over, Justin held out the slip of paper, the cartoon cover from the “It’s Gonna Be Me” remix CD.
“You gotta admit, it’s a good picture,” Joey said. They were all laughing now.
Justin shoved the picture and the wallet back into Corbett’s bag. “Come on, J,” Joey said, letting Justin climb onto his back.
“Here we go!” Corbett called as Lance raced off down the hall. Chris and JC ran ahead to catch up.
“Uh oh,” Joey said, adjusting the heartthrob on his back. “We can’t let Beauty and the Runt beat us.”
“Hey!” Chris shouted back. “I heard that!”

Corbett laid on the table clutching JC’s hand. JC, who had ridden most of the way to the tattoo parlor standing up out of the sunroof of the limo while “Tubthumping” blared from the speakers, still hummed the song. Lance knelt beside her, looking her in the eye and stroking her head, trying to take away her slight stinging pain. “All done,” the artist said, sitting back.
Corbett hopped up and ran to the mirror, looking over her shoulder at the design on her lower back: the flame logo balanced precariously across her spine. Corbett Wren Keating was branded as theirs. Forever.