Hey hey hey! The feedback was not too shabby. Thanks to all who've written; David, LD, Jon...thanks for the support. I wonder what happened to the girls...as I recall there used to be more female slash readers than guys. And girls are better at feedback too, a sad fact but true.
Anyway, here's Part 9, after this updates are gonna be erratic again. I will try my best, of course, but no promises besides that I will finish the story by hook or by crook.
You can prod me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: I don't know 'N Sync, nor any of their family, and they sure as hell don't know me. That's why I can take liberties with their lives, because it's all fiction! It's all fake!
CHASING CHASEZ, Part 9
by Will Ang
I wouldn't go as far as to actually suggest that Tyler was adopted. There was that famous nose, and the same eyes. But there was no doubt in my mind that the Chasez blood certainly ran thinner in some more than others.
Look at the way he stumps across the kitchen! Absolutely no grace at all. While one brother could sing the knickers off women (and frequently did), this one could barely enunciate properly. On a good day. I thrust a spoonful of cereal in my mouth if only to keep myself from snorting derisively.
It was midmorning at JC's, with whom I was supposed to have breakfast with. I'd let myself in, as usual, when his younger brother had appeared, a finger to his lips.
"Josh's sleeping," he'd said in a low voice. "I don't think you should wake him up just yet."
My surprise at seeing him there quickly turned into irritation at his words. Foolish boy. I'd been hauling JC's ass out of his bed more times than I could remember, did he really expect me to care that JC lost any beauty sleep now?
"Really? And a good morning to you too, Tyler," I said flippantly, throwing my keys on the table, making sure I made a good, loud clatter as I did so. "Don't worry. He's expecting me to come by. You know, he even told me to wake him up if I found him still asleep."
I had thought to keep the smugness from my voice but I ignored it. Sometimes we must all indulge ourselves, right? The tight look on Tyler's face was all the satisfaction I needed.
"Oh, but we slept late last night, though," he said. "Really, really late."
I looked at him sharply, but all he gave me was a half-shrug.
"I guess you had something to do with that?"
"We were just talking into the night. You know how it is--time flies when you're discussing...interesting stuff, you know?" he said in exactly the same flippant tone I'd just used myself.
If ever I felt like bitch-slapping someone it was right then. I knew now that he knew that I knew about JC and Dylan, and how he knew about it first plus how I felt about the whole thing. Grrr.
Alright. So it's pretty much established that there wasn't much love lost between JC's younger brother and I. There never had been, for as long as I could remember. Oh, we were the perfect souls of courtesy whenever JC was around--but he should see the cold war brewing behind his back. Tyler Chasez didn't like me, and I didn't like him right back.
From his point of view, I guess I could understand his feelings. We were roughly the same age, and yet I spent more time with JC than he did, and was closer to him in ways he could only wish he was. Furthermore, JC always looked to me as and equal and respected my abilities, while he'd forever be the 'kid bro' in need of 'watching out'. In short, he was plain jealous. Jealous of my exclusive relationship with JC, and probably jealous of my looks and my talent and my girl.
Hey, why not? You can't possibly sound arrogant in your own head, can you?
His resentment hung over him like some sort of permanent cloud and he never failed to take it out on me whenever he could. But I wasn't the sort of person who took these kind of things lying down--I gave as good as I got. If he wanted to be snide and petty, so could I.
I never had this problem with the other siblings, for example Steve Fatone. Everybody liked Joey's younger brother. It was obvious he didn't have any of Tyler's hang-ups, or if he did, he dealt with them most efficiently. Most probably he was mature enough to accept the fact that the guys of 'N Sync were one family unit all by ourselves. We lived, breathed, shared, fought, laughed and cried so much with each other it was virtually impossible to explain it any other way.
Which was also why I was taking the news about Dylan so hard. If we were a family, then JC and I were the closest brothers. Bad enough that he'd been keeping his sexuality secret from me for years, but to tell Tyler first...!
Not down that road again, Justin! I could feel my blood start to boil, and forced down the disappointment with some effort. I'd already resolved to be grown-up about this issue and by God, it was one resolution I was going to keep.
So basically all I could do at the moment was glare daggers at Tyler as he read the morning paper, while I prepared a cold breakfast all by myself. I didn't want to leave, just in case Tyler was exaggerating and they hadn't really slept that late. Besides, Tyler himself looked minty fresh.
On the other hand, I didn't dare call his bluff and march upstairs to wake JC up either. The poor guy hadn't been sleeping well since that night I asked about him and Dylan. It was definitely the last time I'd brought the subject up, for it seemed to have burst a dam in JC and now he couldn't stop moping around. Not that I wanted him to stopper up his feelings, but hanging around all day, fiddling with dirge-like tunes and writing about lost loves grated on my nerves just a teensy bit. Part of the reason why I moved out a week ago, I was feeling more ornamental than comforting.
Well, at least he was getting back into his work with more gusto. In fact, he spent almost all his time in the studios nowadays. As it were, he spent more time than any of us in the studio even before Dylan's accident and now it looked like he was taking up permanent residence in there. It couldn't be healthy.
"So...how's JC, you think?" I asked Tyler. Just to make small talk. For appearance's sake.
"I think he's coping quite well, all things considered," he answered. His eyes appeared over the paper, and seemed to hesitate a while. "Thanks for taking care of him."
Whoa. That's saying a lot, from him.
"Um. I bet any of the guys would have done the same. I bet you would've too."
In my opinion, I don't think anyone would have managed to draw as much out of him as I did, but it seemed a nice thing to say.
"Maybe. But he's told me you were there from the beginning, so..." he shrugged and turned back to the paper.
What did that imply? That if it had been Joey, or Chris, or Lance that day in LA he would have told them instead? I never really thought about it until now, but I knew it was true. Damn. That sure took some wind off my sails.
I wondered just what else had they talked about. Dylan, definitely. He's the only one who knew that JC had been in a relationship. I was surprised Tyler wasn't here earlier. Surely JC would have called him up and poured his heart out to his little brother from the very beginning?
I suppressed another hot flash--of jealousy this time. It should have been me, talking to him till late last night, tucking him into bed and making him breakfast when he woke up.
Now how was it possible that that last line of thought sounded so wrong and so right at the same time?
"So how's Britney?" Looks like I wasn't the only one who felt a need for small talk.
"Fine. Great, even. Busy, though." Brit and I were actually in a comfortable zone of our relationship right now, one where I trusted her to live her life and she trusted me to live mine, and were content to call each other up every other day and meet up every other week. It was a neat arrangement, and I even stopped complaining that I never got to see her often enough. Somehow nowadays I rarely felt the need to just be with her all of the time, wasn't that great? Didn't it mean I was being more independent now?
Anyhow, I didn't want to talk about her, or about the weather or who got kicked off Survivor last night. It was time to move in for the kill.
In front of me sat a veritable fount of information on JC and Dylan. Since I couldn't get what I wanted from JC without triggering off tears, arguments and overall weird feelings...
Unfortunately I did promise myself--
Wait! A loophole! I told myself I wouldn't ask JC again about Dylan. I didn't say anything about getting the dirt from other sources.
But Tyler of all people? Who else was there to ask? There wasn't anyone else, except for his mom.
How do the English say it? Not bloody likely? Besides, she didn't know he was seeing someone, isn't that what he said? So Tyler it was. I took a deep breath.
"So I guess you guys had a lot to catch up on, huh? About college and stuff?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
"Among other things, yeah," he eyed me over the top of his paper.
So much for being casual.
"Yes, about Dylan too," he said, putting down the paper. He gave me an enigmatic smile. "So it finally comes down to that."
What the fuck was that supposed to mean?
"What the fuck was that supposed to mean?"
He shrugged. "Josh said you were pretty upset that he didn't tell you about himself sooner."
"It wasn't just me who was upset!" I cried indignantly. "I think I--we--were quite justified in being mad, anyhow. Besides which, I'm not anymore. Upset, that is. At him. I'm not. Anymore."
And just to show him how calm and collected I was, I shoved a large spoonful of cereal into my mouth, trying to remember that it was Apple Jacks and not, say, Tyler's ears that I was crunching under my molars.
"If you say so. But I can hear your teeth grinding all the way from here you know."
"Alright," I conceded. "I'll admit it. I was--was--pretty angry at first. I'm also not afraid to say that it did hurt to know that he chose to tell you right from the beginning but he'd have been perfectly happy to keep it from the rest of us for the rest of his life," I struggled to keep my rising ire in check. "But we've been talking about it...and I'm coming to terms with his reasons and his decisions."
To my surprise, Tyler was glaring at me coldly.
"You think I enjoyed him telling me? You think that I wanted to hear, from his own mouth no less, that he was gay?"
"What are you talking about?" I frowned. "He told me he decided to tell you 'coz he knew you had quite a lot of friends who were 'out' and you seemed cool with that."
"Yeah well, it's sure as well different to have friends who are gay than to have...family...gay," he said, with a sardonic twist in his lips as he spoke. "Before, it used to happen to someone else--friends, as you've mentioned...maybe a neighbour's son...the flamboyant type everybody talks of in hushed whispers during gatherings or weddings. But to have a brother--" he broke off and looked out of the window a while.
"I assume you didn't take it very well either."
He laughed shortly. "To Josh I probably took it very well indeed. All I told him was that I needed some time to digest the information, but that I also loved him. And that was it. Things went back to normal between us, just that now I'd tease him about guys, instead. But inside..." he shook his head. "It's not as bad now as it used to be, but I can still almost hear the harpies talk about 'that Chasez boy'..."
I could imagine them too. The things people would assume, the stuff they'd say behind your back, and those who would literally spit in your face just because you were somehow different. I didn't want JC to be subjected to such a life either, but what could I do? I couldn't very well go back and somehow 'un-gay' him. I wouldn't even if I could, because it was a part of him, always had and always will be, I understood that. And I loved him all the same whether he liked his peanut butter smooth or chunky.
"So take it from me--I didn't exactly had a jolly time hearing the truth from him," Tyler was saying. "Besides, you want to know one of the real reasons why he told me and not you?"
I blinked at him stupidly, then my eyes narrowed. What reason? How many were there in the first place? Was he implying that what Josh had told me was a false reason?
"Josh told me because, he figured, I was family. He thought that I'd accept him no matter what because I was his brother, his own flesh-and-blood, and nothing could change that fact, not even the truth about his sexuality. So I was a safe choice. But you...," he turned his blue eyes on me, now hard and cold as ice. "You on the other hand, were his life. All of you. He believed you could just walk away from him, make him give up everything he'd ever worked for, everything he'd ever cherished, if he came out to you. He was willing to run the risk of losing me, his brother, rather than even considering the thought of losing you. Of losing 'N Sync. So you tell me, Justin Timberlake. You tell me just who is more important to him, now you know the truth of it."
Oh wow. Oh fucking wow. I'd never thought of that. It was simple, it made perfect sense, but I'd never have thought of it in a million years. But it couldn't be all that Tyler was implying, though, that JC treasured the band more than his own family...he simply would never be so cavalier. Could he? This was a man I thought I'd known for years, and now I just didn't know what to think of the guy.
"That cannot be true. The last part, I mean. You can't ever say that you don't mean as much to Josh as--as 'N Sync is to him. You said it yourself--you're his own flesh-and-blood--the one he trusted above all else not to turn him away. Doesn't that count for anything?"
He took a deep breath, and expelled it. "Yeah. Yeah it does. I keep telling myself that, too. But those are the words he said to me, man. He said he was more afraid of telling you guys because he was scared that he'd lose all of you. How am I supposed to think? Maybe I'm thinking too much. I don't know why I brought it up in the first place. I haven't agonized over this for years, and then I see you sitting there, whining about how you're so jealous he didn't tell you straightaway..."
I bristled at the remark, but decided to let it pass. "Look, I appreciate you telling me, this. I really do. It's answered some questions which have been driving me insane for the past few weeks. I don't want you to feel bad about it or anything, and besides--now that he's willingly told us...maybe he doesn't care as much. Or maybe he knows we'll still accept him and love him just the same. Either way he has nothing to be afraid of anymore, right?"
"I guess. Yeah, you're right." He looked me straight in the eye. "Let's be frank. We've never really been too fond of each other. Because of this issue, perhaps, or because I think you're quite full of yourself sometimes--"
WHAT? I'll give him full, that arrogant--
"--But I know that you're just as concerned about Josh as I am. Although it will take more than one morning of sharing thoughts to clear the shit between us, but Josh really needs us now, so..." he cocked his head to one side. "Truce?"
"I understand. Truce," I gave him a small smile in return. Our eyes traveled upwards as the sound of water hitting tile floated down. "Looks like he's up already."
"I don't think he needs to know that we had this talk, do you?"
I shook my head. It wasn't particularly secret or anything, what he'd told me, but it was certainly an eye-opening conversation, from someone I'd least expected it from. He'd given me a lot to think about. And I guess, deep down, he wasn't that bad after all. But then, there was a small issue...
"So you really think I'm full of myself?"
He nodded unapologetically, reaching for the papers once again. "Not all the time, but enough to set my nerves on edge. Especially around people your own age. It's not arrogance or anything like that, just...a kind of supreme confidence. You know what you've got and you can't wait to flaunt it."
"You know, that almost sounds like a compliment, actually. I'll have you know that girls dig the 'supreme confidence' thingy no end," I said loftily. "Besides, I did my best to be nice to you, right at the beginning."
"Yeah, well, I'll be a man and admit that I was jealous of you. Right from the beginning. You had Josh all to yourself, and you were all he could talk about. Even after he told me about being gay, that's the other part why--"
He caught himself in mid-sentence and shut his mouth. Alarm bells rang in my head, as I recalled that he'd said there were more than one reasons to the Dylan affair.
"Another reason? You mean there's more that you haven't told me?"
"Come on, Tyler. What else is there?"
"It's just this one more thing he told me. Oh I guess there's no harm in you knowing about it now. After all it was a long time ago, before Dylan, and before you had Britney."
"Okay. Go on."
"And it's absolutely essential that JC must not know I told you this! He'd kill me, brother or no."
"Yes, yes, I swear I won't tell him. Spit it out!" I rolled my eyes impatiently.
"The other reason why he kept it secret all along actually has something to do with you, Justin."
"Me?" I asked, puzzled. I couldn't think of a reason why.
"Yup. You. 'Coz our Josh had the biggest crush on you back in those days," he laughed. "You must have been what, fifteen? Sixteen? The perv."
"You must be joking." I felt like laughing, but the look on his face froze the laughter in my throat.
"I'm serious," he protested. "Remember, this was like, five years ago or so...he only mentioned it in passing back when he was coming out to me; I asked him if he was sure he was attracted to guys and not girls."
"And what did he say?" I asked, my throat going absurdly dry.
"I can't really remember. Something about how he used to check you out all the time...something about you being too young... He's not mentioned anything about it since then, though, he seemed to have gotten over it by the time he told me, even. Have you noticed him hitting on you in all these years?"
I realized with growing horror that Tyler was indeed, speaking the truth, or the truth as he believed it. But it just couldn't be true! He'd never done anything to arouse my suspicions...or arouse anything else for that matter.
"No. Nothing that I can recall," I said, a bit hoarsely.
"See? Nothing to worry about. It's past history, you know? The kind of crush you used to have in high school, the kind you grew out of."
"Um. Sure." I assumed I looked pole-axed, but who wouldn't be? This was big? Bigger than that. Huge. JC had a crush on me. How did this come about?! How come I never knew? Was it just a passing fancy or a lie-awake-all-night kind of thing? How serious was it? How serious could a crush be anyway, I wondered. If it went deeper, it should be called love, shouldn't it? Or an obsession. The word crush itself implied something trivial, something temporary. Which is what it probably was.
Just then we heard steps on the stairs. Tyler turned back to me and said quickly, "Now remember; not a word to JC at all okay?"
I nodded dumbly. Not even if I wanted to. What would I say? 'Hey, Josh, haha, remember back when you had a thing for me?'
"Morning, guys," JC stuck his head into the kitchen, giving us a sleepy smile. His hair was still growing out and it gave him the most awful bed-head no amount of water would smooth down.
"Hey. You're up early," Tyler said.
JC gave him a blank look and turned to me instead. "Weren't we supposed to have breakfast? I think I even told you to wake me up if I was still in bed."
He remembered! I almost clapped my hands in glee. Once again I didn't bother suppressing the smug, pointed look I gave to Tyler.
"Oh, I told him that you slept late last night, so we decided to let you lie in for a bit."
Excuse me? We?
"That's sweet of you guys. No wonder you're both in my top ten."
"Top ten what?"
"List of favourite people, of course. We having toast?"
"So who else is in the list?" I asked, curiosity burning like wildfire.
"Joey. Lance. Chris. Wade too, if he's not in slave-master mode. Where's the coffee, Ty?"
"All the guys?!" I spluttered.
"Yeah, of course, what--? Oh. It's not that kind of list, you ass. My brother was in it or didn't you notice? Sheesh. Pass me the butter, will you."
"Oh. Sorry," I said, colouring a little. Damn. After what Tyler had said to me I was so willing to jump intyo conclusions. "So...it's a platonic one? Do you have...another list, maybe?"
"You mean a wish list? Who doesn't? And it's not just limited to ten either," he chuckled.
"So...who's on it?" It was my second attempt at being casual today. I hoped it passed off better than the last one.
"I'm not telling. You might freak."
"I will not. I promise. Come on. Anyone I know?" I cooed.
"Oh," he waved his hands indifferently. "Plenty. Lots and lots actually."
I was going to tear my hair out in frustration. Oh wait, I'd cut it all off for the Grammys. Fine, I'd tear out his hair, then.
"Okay, look, here's one of them--" he pulled out the sports section of the paper and showed me a grainy picture of a tennis player.
"Andy Roddick?!" I scanned the article. "He's only eighteen, you paedo. Who's next, Aaron Carter?"
"Very funny, Jus. I've not even started breakfast and already you want me to puke my guts out. Andy's cute and talented, and has arms like ohhhh..." he rolled his eyes heavenwards. "What's wrong with being eighteen anyway? You were there not too long ago. And may I remind you that you're dating someone who was eighteen like, last year."
I looked at the black-and-white picture again. Well, JC had me there. This guy was indeed quite cute, what with the cap worn backwards and tongue stuck out in concentration, eyes focused off the picture, on the ball. What else was special about this guy? So he had nice arms. I have nice arms, I don't see him drooling on me over breakfast.
Anymore, that is.
This was seriously disturbing, I thought to myself. I needed to stop thinking about it right now. I needed to stop speculating whether he still held a torch for me after all these years. Was that what I wanted to hear? Was that the point of all my questions? That he did, once, but not anymore? Or that he still...
No, no, no, no, no. Impossible. No. The very idea was ludicrous. It had to be a joke or something, I'll bet Tyler was snickering right this very moment, having a ball at the ideas he'd put in my head. I should have gone ahead and laughed in his stinking face when he'd suggested it. JC, interested in me? I was confident that I'd have known the instant he'd said anything, or done anything that was in any way non-platonic. I knew him better than that.
Or did I?
I looked up just to see his blue eyes trained on me, amused.
"Are you done fondling with my Andy yet?" he asked.
"Your--? Here," I flung it back to him as they laughed.
"Wanna know who else is on my list, then?"
No, I didn't, I realized suddenly. I didn't want to know whom else he fantasized dicking around with, because that just wasn't the JC I knew. Maybe that was the JC I'd have to get used to, but not now, not while I had so much shit in my head to clear up.
I smiled weakly and shook my head. "Nah. I think we've pretty much established the fact that you're totally into twinks."
"Justin's just jealous he's not on your list, Josh," Tyler said.
My eyes flashed to him. If looks could kill, I'd have blasted him into the next millennium.
Pretending not to notice, he lowered his gaze, though I continued to glower at him with my best Stare of Doom.
And through it all JC didn't say anything. I didn't know which was worse; my mortification at Tyler's slip-up or JC's seeming ignorance of it.
That really was the last straw. Why on God's good green earth was I tearing myself up because of this? So fucking what if JC had a crush on me? Had, had, had was the operative word! If Tyler was right, and he did indeed have one, it was a long time ago, and he'd done nothing, absolutely nothing to prove it true.
But what if he was still into me, now? said the small, nagging voice from somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, that somehow seemed to pop up in the most inopportune times to ask the most discomfiting questions.
Again, irrelevant, I told that voice firmly. I was pretty confident that JC would never like me in that way. Besides, he'd known I'd longed for Britney since my pre-pubescent days, and he would never do anything to jeopardize my happiness. I decided to just...not think about it anymore. Besides, JC had his little wish list anyway. Surely one skinny Justin Timberlake wouldn't fit in there what with the types of Andy Roddick and--and...whomsoever else was his type.
What was his 'type' anyway? He'd used to go out with leggy, brainy, busty models; women so overtly feminine we should have suspected all along it was a cover, since, no matter how goddess-like they were, they never lasted for more than a few dates. Obviously they weren't a good yardstick to judge him by since he'd just proclaimed his perpetual interest in the other half of the human population.
I watched him as he read the article on that Roddick guy intently, sipping his coffee.
Younger guys, probably, I mused. Must be good looking, of course. I suspected JC wasn't that shallow, but after years of being able to pull in people of a certain standard, it was hard not to be attracted to physical beauty. Must be talented in some way, otherwise he'd be bored in a week. And successful, perhaps? The guy would definitely need his own life, though, and be prepared to take a backseat to the band and to his music. In fact, that last one was something all our partners had to understand, which was why life was so much easier being with Britney.
And, I observed drily, having nice arms always helped, of course.
I turned back to my breakfast. Whoever was on that list, I thought wryly as I lifted the now-soggy cereal to my lips, has no idea just how lucky he is.
Seriously I have nothing against Tyler Chasez. But I do envy his cheekbones, because I have none whatsoever. I'll see you guys in a few weeks. Hopefully! I'm writing 10&11 now anyway.
Forward all comments, good or bad, as well as donations of extra cheekbone to Will at email@example.com