Hi! It's me again, after a hiatus of nine months. I know. NINE MONTHS! You could make a baby in all that time. Nothing quite so dramatic, unfortunately, just that being a cadet pilot is a lot of work. A LOT of work. Lots of new stuff and everything and not much time for oneself.
To everyone who wrote to me asking me where and what happened to Chasing Chasez...well, you're the ones who inspired me to continue. I won't lie, I admit there were a few times when I felt like just forgetting it, but I'd still get emails seven months since my last posting and I'd go, "No way I can be such a jerk!". Well, no more than I already am!
So a thousand and one apologies, and I hope this chapter can, in a small way go towards making up for lost time. Although you probably might want to re-read chapter 7--this one continues immediately where 7 left off.
If you want to screw me up some more, the addy is firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: I disavow all knowledge of 'N Sync's sexual preferences. All the work here is pure fiction, don't believe a word of it!
CHASING CHASEZ, Part 8
by Will Ang
"Justin? You there?" I heard him say from the stairs, behind me.
Oh God. I had to face him now?
I straightened up and turned to him. "Yeah, I'm here. She just left though."
"Ok. I heard a car leave, and I just wanted to see if--well," he shrugged. "You know..."
"...If I had left with her," I finished his sentence for him.
"Well, yeah. You guys haven't been with each other for weeks now. I'd have understood," he said quickly, coming down the stairs.
"Yeah. In fact, maybe I should have," I watched him look up at me, startled. "'Coz I'm pretty sick of seeing you treat her like shit all the time."
"What--? She told you that? I--"
"She didn't have to tell me anything, Josh. Try and deny it all you want. God knows, I have. But tonight was simply the last straw. She was just trying to be supportive and you totally blew her off. I mean, what the fuck, man?"
I saw him chewing his lip in consternation, looking away from me. I guess the last thing he expected on top of the kind of day we had was another argument with me. And I knew that he was going to apologize right then, and I knew that if I let him say it out loud I'd be feeling like a perfect shit for making him say it. I'd been hearing too many "I'm sorry's" from him lately, none of them particularly sincere.
I crossed the room to reach for him just as he looked up at me and opened his mouth to speak.
"Look, Josh," I said quickly. "I'm not mad at you. Ok, I kinda was, but not anymore. It's like I've been more angry at you these past few days than I ever have for the entire length of time that I've known you! And also, I've been making you apologize to me way too much, and it's not right. It's all not right. I shouldn't be constantly mad at you. I shouldn't always have to make you say sorry. Tell me what's wrong, Josh. You always know what's the problem, and you always have reasons for doing the things you do. So come on, just tell me why you've been so short with Britney ever since she hooked up with me. That's all I want to hear."
"Jus..."he said softly, shaking his head and giving me a nervous smile. "Jeez, when you give me that look..."
"What look?" I frowned, puzzled.
"You had this look of such utter...faith...when you were talking to me. It's like, you so totally expect me to just open my mouth and explain everything away and all will be well."
What on earth was he talking about? Of course I expected him to always have an explanation, although I wasn't naive enough to expect sunshine and rainbows after that. But still, this was JC. He had a rational answer to everything, from UFOs to why The Phantom Menace sucked. He wasn't the type who was too busy to answer any question you had, or the type who'd shrug and say "I dunno" when in fact they did know but couldn't be bothered to explain. My Josh always, always gave me the time of day.
There I went again. My Josh?
"Justin, you gotta know...I don't always have all the answers, okay. Like this thing I have with Britney. I don't know why I'm acting so mean to her nowadays. I didn't even think I was being mean until you told me about it! So yeah, I realise I'm being short with her nowadays, but I can't help it. Then you look at me with those big blue eyes of yours and ask me for an explanation and I just...can't give you any. I'm sorry."
What? What did my eyes have to do with anything?
"You weren't always like this to her, Josh. In fact, you encouraged me to go after her, in the beginning. You were alright, back then. Don't you remember?"
He nodded. "That was quite some time ago," he muttered.
"Josh. You know, At first, when you started acting strangely to her, I thought that maybe you were just looking out for me...that you were just being the concerned older bro. But it's been more than a year since Brit and I got together, and I think she's pretty good for me, don't you see that?"
His eyes lifted to meet mine. "Is she, Jus? Is she really?" he asked softly.
I squirmed under his penetrating stare. Why was he being so adamant about it? Of course she was...couldn't he see me being happy?
"I think so, Josh. I really do," I said slowly. "She makes me feel...needed. Y'know what I mean? Like, when we're all so far away from each other, on the other side of the world, I just know that somewhere, someone special--someone who really understands me--is thinking of me the way I'm thinking of them. Someone besides my mom, anyway!"
He smiled sadly at that. "Yeah. Yeah, Just, I know what you mean," his eyes suddenly downcast.
Dylan. I forgot. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it.
"Anyway, maybe you're right. That's what it was, Jus. I was being mean to her 'coz I hated her taking up all of your time."
Yup. I'm da man! I was right after all--wait. Run that by me again? That wasn't what I said. I said he might have been overprotective of me; I didn't say he resented her because I was spending too much time with her. But JC just kept going on, oblivious.
"I promise I'll be cool to Brit from now on. Sometimes I forget she's one of our oldest friends too. Frankly, I was barely aware I was being such an ass, but...I'll make it up to her somehow," he was saying.
"Uh-huh," I didn't know what else to say. JC had inadvertently let slip the real reason why he kept putting Britney down, and I was still processing it.
Maybe it was the same thing. He was my best friend. We spent a hell lot of time together, and then suddenly I'm hooked up and he's out in the cold. Yeah, it did make sense. It wasn't right to take it out on Britney though, but I'd forgive JC anything. I put it out of my mind, resolving to spend more time with JC from now on.
"Hey, um, you wanna get some rest or what? 'Coz, you know, we could always continue the talk we had," he asked hesitantly.
I felt awash with dread as I remembered the unfinished conversation we had just before Britney arrived. The one where JC was on the verge of telling me that he did fancy one of the guys in 'N Sync, and that someone was--
He never said that. He might have, but he didn't. He could have meant Lance, or Joey or Chris (yeah right!) or it could have been no one. That was just my imagination fucking me up, filling in the blanks of our conversation with ridiculous notions.
I wanted to tell him no. I wanted to tell him I was tired, and that it had been the longest damn day of my life, and that I needed to sleep alone, in my own room, preferably several miles away from him and from the confused thoughts I always seem to have from being around him. Then, perhaps, I wouldn't think of stupid shit things, or say stupid shit things, like--
"Sure I remember. I'll be fine. You wanna?"
And before I knew it, we were on the couches as before, the only difference being that he'd changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and the sofa now exuded the faint scent of Britney's perfume, on the spot where we'd made out just a few minutes ago.
I held onto that thought grimly.
"Now where were we?" he asked, his face thoughtful, knees tucked beneath him, eyes staring off into space.
Oh you fucking know where we stopped, you prick! Was he doing this on purpose? Did he somehow know how much the answer--the right (or wrong) answer--would mean to me?
But I kept my face still, and shrugged. "Something about the guys, I think," I offered helpfully.
"Really? I can't quite recall," he frowned. "Actually, all I remember is going all teary-eyed in front of you when we were talking about Dylan and I being...intimate," he sighed.
I blinked. Well, of course he'd rather remember that. I shoved my agitation into the farthest reaches of my mind. JC was offering a part of him no one else had seen before, and this was no time to be selfish.
"I remember that, yeah," I said softly. "And I'd told you it was something meaningful--something you guys shared together."
"And I still feel shitty--going to pieces just from the memory of sex," he said miserably.
"Hey, Josh. At least you did feel something, didn't you? Better than nothing at all."
"That's what I'm afraid of," he said in a low voice. "That's what I've been feeling all this while--a great big nothing, since his death. It's like I've been going through all the motions--comforting his sister, going through with the funeral, coming out to you guys--not because that was how I really felt, but rather how someone in grief should do. It's like I was in a movie or something, playing the role of a boyband member whose lover had just died, instead of actually living the reality. I feel fake, Jus."
"Oh, Josh," I moved closer to him, putting an arm across his shoulders. He was naturally thin, thinner than I was, even, but the way the bones in his shoulders jutted out into my skin made me realise just how vulnerable he really was, and how all this must be affecting him.
"Alright. You wanna feel something? Let's try and draw it out, shall we?" I suggested.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Well, I'll ask you stuff...about him, of course, about what you guys did together. Maybe that would make the feeling come back?" I asked hopefully. This was off the top of my head, the only thing I could think about right now to make him feel better. He was so stiff in my arms, even though I was touching him he was still so tense I might as well have been on the other side of the room.
JC nodded slowly. "Yeah, it's already working isn't it? You asked about the sex, and I gushed like a fountain," he smiled weakly.
"Wait till you hear the rest of my questions. You'll be beggin' for yo mama," I quipped.
That actually brought a short laugh from him. I kept my arm loosely around his shoulders as I thought of my first question. Which, thankfully, was not sex-related. Not if he didn't want it to be.
"What's the one thing, above all else, that you miss about him?"
He pondered on this for a while, his face returning to that thoughtful look he had whenever he was thinking real hard--about lyrics, a tune--anything important. Evidently, he was going through their life together, and I thought I saw a play of emotions cross his face. Here and there, his lips quirked up in the beginnings of a smile, while at times his eyes'd settle into a dreamy, faraway look, and even a touch of a frown sometimes. And then he'd always drift back into a sad expression.
"I miss this," he finally said, gesturing back and forth between himself and me. I frowned, puzzled, as he continued, "This. The kind of closeness we had. The way he put his arms around me. And the way I used to put mine around him. All wrapped up in each other's love..." his voice trailed away, and that faraway look in his eyes returned.
I filed that last bit of his in my mind for future use in a song lyric. It sounded like something Diane Warren or Max Martin could come up with, but still, it was sweet.
"The best times I felt like that was after sex," he said as an afterthought. I raised an eyebrow at him. "Though not always," he added. "I mean, it's the feeling; the way we could just relax in each other's embrace, no matter how hot it got, or how sweaty we were, how our limbs poked into awkward places, or if I was lying on the damp spot or whatever--that was the time I felt we were most together..."
Now I certainly did not need the visualizations which accompanied his words, but I think I understood the sentiments behind them. I couldn't say I had firsthand experience in that sort of thing; although Britney and I had slept together once or twice (though not really slept together), it would be a goodly while before we had any kind of damp spots to lie upon.
"And now, those arms are gone. Really, really forever gone," he said, almost in disbelief. "I've gone for months without his touch and yet I always took it for granted that he'd be there at the end of this junket, at the end of that tour," he covered his face in his arms and hunched down on the couch. "And I'm only now beginning to imagine the enormity of spending the rest of my life without him."
His voice choked a little at the end. I continued to stroke his back as his shoulders shook silently.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and stared up at the air in front of him. "You know, I've been doing some reading. On the 'net. About how people drown."
"Oh, god, Josh..."
"The way their lungs strain for air...but instead they get filled with water. And they're choking and everything, but there's only water, and water everywhere..."
"And they're still alive. They're dying, and they know it, and they're still fully conscious--"
"Stop it!" I turned him around to face me. "Josh, stop thinking about it right now."
"I can't, Justin. I want to, but something draws me on. I keep searching, and I keep reading those damn pages, hoping that somewhere, someone will write that yeah, drowning's a good way to go, there's no pain, he hardly feels it, it's over quickly, but no. Everywhere it's written the same. It's a horrible way to die, the victim suffers right until the end. And all I can think about is how Dylan suffered, too. And what he must have been thinking of, how he must have panicked--"
"Please, Josh," I begged. "God, just--don't--" I regretted ever thinking up this stupid idea of making him talk in the first place. I had no idea he'd get this morbid. And now I was feeling pretty horrid myself.
He looked at me with glistening eyes. "And I wasn't there, Justin. I'm never there when it's important to him. And this last thing, when he probably needed me the most, when he's crying out to God and his mother--was he crying out to me, too? I don't know which is worse, Justin. The thought of him calling out for me, and my not being there; or the thought of him not calling for me at all," his voice broke at the end, and he turned away.
I folded him into a hug, and felt him return it just as tightly. "I don't want anybody else to suffer like that ever again, Just. I don't want to lose anybody like that, and not ever hear their voice or feel the warmth of their arms. Most of all I don't want to die like that...afraid and all alone...so alone..." his tears seeped through the fabric of my shirt.
"Josh, Josh...," I turned my head and rested my cheek against his. "Not alone, God, never alone. I'm here, the guys, our families, we're all here for you. We're all, each and everyone of us, willing to wrap you up in our love. You'll never have a shortage of people who'll be there for you. Please don't think those thoughts anymore, please don't think of him suffering...he's at peace now please believe that, Josh..." I was babbling, and I didn't care. He had frightened me beyond thought, just for those few moments.
I closed my eyes and tried, unsuccessfully, to sniff back my own tears. JC was hurting inside, worse than any of us could have imagined. How had he managed to bottle up so many emotions into one skinny little body for so long? This close to him, seeing him as vulnerable as he had ever been in his life, I wondered how I could possibly entertain the thought of ever avoiding him. This was the guy I'd spent most of my life with, and a good deal of my formative years too. I could honestly say I owed everything I had to him. None of us would be anywhere near where we were right now if it wasn't for the energy of this one man driving us on.
I opened my eyes again, gently rubbing his back. I hadn't really seen him up this close, or held him for so long, it felt like I was rediscovering JC all over again. Sure, we'd hung out a lot in the past, especially near the beginning, promoting our European release. All we had was each other, literally, and we were as inseparable as we could get. And then came the proverbial fame and fortune. The awards, the platinum sales, the women. That was how he pulled wool over our eyes, I guess. He'd go for a few dates with this leggy blonde, or that busty redhead, and we'd have a laugh at how fickle our Joshy could be, never guessing that he had a boy hidden back home. That's when the whole group started doing things apart. It was suddenly all about how individual we still were, how we lived our lives outside of the group. And then...and then I never got to hold JC anymore.
I watched with childlike fascination as my breath gently fanned the little hairs at the nape of his neck, and felt the press of his taut, muscular body against mine. He tried to pull away, finally, but his skin felt cold next to mine; I was determined to warm him up, and I wasn't about to let go.
"Shh," I looked deep into his eyes. I felt his discomfort at me holding him so close, so intimately, and I knew he thought I should be the one who'd be feeling uncomfortable about this, with him being gay and all, but I really didn't mind, and I told him so.
"I know these arms of mine can never replace his. And I'm not trying to, either. But I want to, I want to be the one who'll be there for you, and this is my way of showing you how."
He nodded, and sank back against me. "Thanks Justin. This really means a lot to me, you don't know how much."
I smiled down at him. "Just think of it as me paying back for all the times I ditched you in favour of Britney," I joked.
"In that case, this doesn't count."
Was he pouting?
I laughed gently, and he let slip a small smile, too. I felt tremendously uplifted by that. It meant that he wasn't going to slip into insanity anytime soon, didn't it? He had me going there for a while.
We just sat there together for god knows how long, each thinking our own thoughts. On regrets and revelations. Of words unspoken that should have, and of words spoken that shouldn't.
I realised finally, with more than a little tinge of sadness, that JC's life was his own. If he wanted to be gay, if he wanted a boyfriend, that was fine. If he wanted to keep those facts a secret, I guess I had no choice but to accept that as well. I think I was the only one who held the world view that JC would, always and forever, be my bestest friend ever and keep nothing from me. How naive I was! How they must have all laughed. How puzzled JC must have been to discover that I was still stuck, mentally, at 13, still believing that he'd hold to the pinky promise we made back then to be best friends forever.
How we have changed since then. Is this how being grown up is? To lose your friends, or see them change in ways you'd never imagine them? To have responsibilities suddenly thrust upon you even though you didn't ask for them? No wonder people reminisced so fondly about their teens.
Alright. I made a resolution then and there, never to bug JC again about the whole issue with Dylan anymore. Tonight, more than anything, made me realise that the last thing he needed was a whiny kid pestering him about his personal life. If he chooses to tell me, fine, I'll listen. But I guess I don't have the right to know about everything that goes on in his life. Which was a moot point, because he was already keeping the major stuff from me anyway. So no more pouting every time I find out something about him that he hasn't told me. I'll take the mature route.
But for now, I was just content to have him in my arms, and me in his too. Tomorrow seemed far away, along with everything it held--Britney, the other guys, the studio. This was our moment, our time. And I never wanted this feeling--the feeling of being needed by JC, the feeling of needing him in return--to end.
Just in case you didn't notice it before, it's Will at email@example.com