Merry Christmas people! I'm so sorry it took me so long to put this up, I've been so utterly busy these few days. I hope it's extra-large holiday-special size can somehow make up for it. I won't kid you, this has been the hardest chapter for me to write. If it weren't for darling Patti (you don't know how much I truly appreciate ya!) I don't know where I'd be. The fourth or fifth rewrite, perhaps.
Thanks also to all who have written to me! I've made wonderful acquaintances from all over the world, and it's been such a wild ride for me. When in doubt, always write to Will at firstname.lastname@example.org I diligently answer every mail that comes by!
Special thanks also to one of my best friends ever, Kenny, for sneakily printing my stories at his office. Hopefully the colleagues won't have something new to gossip about during the next lunch hour..."You wouldn't believe what I caught Kenny printing just the other day..."
Onward to chapter 9, the penultimate installment!
Oh wait, disclaimer first: Sex! Lots of it! Right up ahead! And it's between two hot guys, one of whom belongs to the foremost boyband in the world! Of which I have no contact with or personal knowledge of. Too bad you shouldn't read it before your eighteenth birthday. Shouldn't.
Joel looked out over the Floridian landscape. At this height from the plane, the night lights of Orlando scintillated like jewels, but the beauty of it all was lost on the young man. He stared at his adopted hometown unseeingly, feeling only the emptiness of the seat beside him like an accusation.
Nicky would have loved this, he thought. He loves flying, but has never been on first class before. He'd have to thank J.C. for that later.
Joel turned his thoughts back to the events that had occurred earlier in the night. After walking out on Nicky, he'd foolishly waited outside the door before he finally gave up on the thought that Nicky might somehow come chasing after him, begging for forgiveness. It was half an hour before Joel realised that that only happened in movies and Mills & Boon books.
The first time I left Orlando, I was alone and unhappy. Now I'm coming back to Orlando, still alone and unhappy--but with a different guy, he sighed. If it ain't one, it's the other. this love thingy is seriously driving me nuts.
Taking a deep breath, Joel shook himself out of the morose, lovelorn mood he was in, and tried to concentrate on having a good time for the next few days. He was utterly sick of crying, and utterly sick of feeling dependent on the guys in his life.
It was obvious that we'd rushed into things, he mused about Nicky. Chalk that up as one more resolution broken--whatever happened to 'Never hurry to get a boyfriend. Wait for the One who is worth it.'?
But Nicky was close to being 'the One'. The only thing was that--
He's not Justin.
Joel startled himself. Where had that thought come from? Joel looked down and found himself fingering the cross Justin had given him. He'd put it on almost unconsciously, sometime during the flight.
I'm with Nicky--Nicky dammit. He's still my boyfriend! We've just had our first major fight, but isn't that part and parcel of all relationships? We fight, we sort it out, and we come out more loving than before?
Joel's fingers returned to rubbing the tiny silver-and-sapphire cross.
After landing, Joel looked around the arrival hall. It was midnight on a weekday, and Orlando International was busy, but not crowded. He started to turn towards the taxi stand when he caught sight of a woman waving at him.
"Joel! Over here!"
"Aunt Lynn?!" he gaped, almost dropping his bag in shock. What on earth was Justin's mom doing here?
She came over, beaming broadly. "Now what have I told you about all that 'aunt' business," she wagged a finger reproachfully. "Anyway, it looks like I got in here just in time. I thought I'd miss you for sure, thanks to that no-good son of mine." Then she caught sight of Joel's floored expression, and misinterpreted it.
"Oh you were expecting one of the boys to come and pick you up?" she laughed. "Well, it is rather weird...somehow or other, all three of them were busy--at this time of the night! So Justin called me almost last minute to come and fetch you over to our place."
"Oh. Fetch me--? Oh," nodded Joel vacantly. What was going on? How on earth had Justin known that he'd be flying out to Orlando this soon?
"Come on, dear, let's head back. It's late, I do have to work tomorrow," Lynn started off toward her car. Joel hurried to follow her.
"I'm so sorry to have inconvenienced you, Au--Lynn. If I had known you'd be coming out at this time of the night..." he started to apologise.
"Oh it's no problem, really. Unless you call me that A-word again! It's always a pleasure to put you up at our place."
"Putting me up?!" he yelped. "You mean you knew I'd be staying over at your place?"
"Why of course. Justin told me so last week."
He did, did he, thought Joel grimly. He told you even before I knew about the party! There's going be one hell of a reckoning tonight.
"So how was the flight...?"
They chatted in the same vein all through the ride back. Joel explained a bit about his life in in New York--the sugar coated, sex-free version. of course--but it was obvious that he was seething with confusion. Not only with this sudden turn of events, but also about what had happened back with Nicky.
It had started with J.C.'s call...then missing Nicky's interview...then the dinner, the fight and finally the flight. But oh wait! Now he was practically kidnapped and forced to live under the same roof as...Him.
Not that he really minded, Joel had no idea where he'd stay in Orlando anyway, now that he'd rented out his apartment. But the least he could do was ask. And such close proximity to Justin, in his current situation, with their relationship--their friendship still a big question mark...Joel rested his head against the seat, feeling very stressed-out. He simply wasn't up to this all at once.
Lynn seemed to notice this, but she attributed it to exhaustion and jet-lag. They made it to her place without more comment.
"Looks like the boys are back," she observed, looking at the cars in the driveway and the lights in the house. "They really should learn to sleep earlier," she muttered to herself as they got out of the car.
Lynn went in first, as the door was opened by someone on the inside. Joel hung back, listening to Lynn talk to her son. "Justin, get Joel settled in, okay?" then she turned back to Joel and smiled. "Goodnight honey. See you in the morning."
As she disappeared from sight, Joel went slowly up to the door, and saw Justin's form silhouetted against the light. He was as beautiful as ever, even clad simply in his pajamas--and old t-shirt and boxers.
Joel just stared at him, a thousand questions glimmering in his tired eyes, but he swallowed them and brushed past Justin to go up the stairs into the guest room he'd used so many times before. He heard Justin's soft step behind him, following.
"I'm glad you made it, Joel," said Justin, closing the door behind them. Joel set his bag down and turned around to face Justin Timberlake.
"What do you want, Justin," he asked harshly. "You owe me one heck of an explanation. Your mom--she said--you were expecting--I--Just tell me what's going on!" he burst out finally.
"Joel," Justin said softly, approaching the trembling young man. "I'm sorry if it's been a little too fast for you to take," he drew a deep breath. "Josh left instructions with the travel agency to be informed when the tickets were claimed. He was told earlier tonight that only one had been taken...and, well--we decided that it's be a good idea to have someone greet you and all..." he fell silent. "So where's Nicky?" he asked carefully, trying hard to make it sound casual.
Joel gave a short, derisive laugh and sat on the bed, shoulders slumped. "He's not coming," he announced tonelessly. "Isn't that what you wanted to hear?" A mirthless smile twisted his lips as he raised his face to look at Justin. "I could tell you more juicy bits. Yes, we fought. Yes, I left him in New York to come here. And yes, I'm in need of comfort. How convenient for you, eh?"
Justin felt Joel's bitterness burrow to the core of his heart. He secretly did want to hear all those things, so he turned away from Joel's accusing glare.
"Is that what you really think of me? That I'd somehow take advantage of your situation now? Joel, please believe me when I say that I wanted you to be here so that we could settle our misunderstandings," he sat next to Joel on the bed. "I know I've been--thoughtless, and I've hurt you in the past, but I've come to accept and respect your decisions. I want you to know that I'm not here to--God, seduce you or anything. I just want us to be friends again--like we used to be."
Joel's eyes softened. For a moment, he'd really jumped into the conclusion that Justin still wanted something out of him that he couldn't give. Of course, he had no way to know what had happened earlier that night with Nicky--or the trouble their relationship had been going through. He turned to Justin, and wordlessly embraced him tightly. He felt Justin's surprise, and then his hands also rose to wrap around him.
Joel pulled back, and looked at Justin, an apologetic look on his face. "I'm so sorry if what I said hurt you, Just. I've got no excuse, it just seemed a little too--"
"You don't have to apologise," Justin was quick to cut him off, feeling uncomfortable at having to deceive Joel. "I'm just relieved that I'm still--your friend...aren't I?"
"Of course. No matter what. We've been through heck of a lot..."
"Yeah, we have. So...,"Justin looked up almost shyly. "You want to talk about it? I'll understand completely if you don't wanna say anything about it," he added as he saw Joel biting his lip uncertainly.
One one hand, telling Justin about his fight with Nicky would be admitting that he'd made a mistake in rushing into a relationship--not to mention spurning him along the way. On the other hand, Justin had proved that he was still, above all, a friend. And Joel really needed to talk to a friend right now.
It was a short struggle. He made himself comfortable before beginning to relate all the events that had happened up to earlier that night, starting with Nicky's incredible promotion.
Justin didn't interrupt, and Joel himself was surprised at how little there was to tell about his relationship with Nicky. He finished without tears, merely with a deep sense of regret and disappointment. He already felt better, just talking and knowing that there was a ready ear listening helped him realise a few things.
"So what are you gonna do now?" asked Justin, concern in his wide, blue eyes.
"About Nicky and me? Or about my future? I don't know. I used to think that...they were one and the same. But I guess I should have known better. Nicky's still special to me, still my boyfriend, no doubt about that...and I will settle things with him one day. Just not anytime soon. I want to take myself through one day at a time for now," he sighed.
Justin nodded, and stood to go. He touched a hand on Joel's shoulder. "You know I'll always be here for you in whatever you decide to do," he said, before moving off. "You better get some rest, then."
Joel watched him go, his heart and brain warring with mixed emotions. An old, primal part of him wanted to call out softly to Justin, and beg him to spend the night with him, but a newer, more rational Joel screamed against it.
"Goodnight, Just," was all he managed to croak out. "And...thanks."
"Don't mention it, Jojo. See you in the morning," And with that Joel was left, once again, alone in an empty bed.
The next few days passed swiftly with Joel barely even realising it. J.C. and Chris seemed genuinely pleased to see him, especially the latter. He no longer felt like an unwanted outsider, like he used to. He mentioned it to Chris in passing one day, and was surprised when the normally ditzy and playful band member suddenly turned serious and contemplative.
"I know...and I suppose it's because there were so many of Justin's...'friends' before. You know what I mean, we've talked about that. The rest of us just never took the trouble to really get to know them 'coz for the most part they were using Justin just as much as he was using them. Plus, they never stuck around. I'll tell you this, however," he stared straight at Joel.
"You're the only one he's ever chased after. And the only one with the guts to turn him down. What's more, he's willing to settle as your friend even after all that! You've taught him to care about others, about how people feel. Growing up as he has, Justin never got around to learning many things you and I take for granted--human behaviour, especially. You're good for him in that sense. And I guess we all admire and respect you for that."
Joel was taken aback by Chris' speech. the oldest member of 'N Sync horsed around so much that everyone tended to overlook the fact that Chris Kirkpatrick was the only one among them who possessed a college degree--in psychology, no less.
Chris left him with more than a few points to ponder. And every night, as he crawled into bed after an enjoyable day, Joel felt more and more guilty because he hardly ever thought about Nicky anymore. With these guys, he could be more of his fun-loving self, instead of the responsible, working adult that Nicky so wanted him to be.
J.C's birthday party seemed the culmination of Joel's trip. If he didn't know better, though, he could have sworn it was almost identical to the one he'd attended over two years ago--the night he'd lost his virginity to Justin. Somehow that particular thought wasn't at all reassuring.
Britney Spears was there once again, bigger than ever before, and not only in terms of her commercial value. Not surprisingly, she barely recognized Joel but that didn't stop her from flirting outrageously with him anyway, just like before. Justin was there to swoop him away from her attentions, thankfully. In fact, Justin was with him all the time, making sure he was always entertained, asking if he felt comfortable every few minutes, ensuring that his drink was always filled. A glaring difference from the earlier party, that. This one had a well-stocked bar.
Before too long though, Joel sensed that he was approaching his alcoholic limit, and excused himself from the crowd. He went upstairs to take a breather and splash some water on his face. But he still couldn't escape the loud music and general sounds of partying coming up through the floorboards.
Joel had just begun to get comfortable on the bed when there was a knock at the door and Justin poked his curly head through to grin at him.
"Joel? You okay? you're missin' the action," he said.
Joel smiled lazily at him and beckoned him over. "Come on in. I just want to lie down for a while. If Joey forces me to take any more tequila shots I'm sure I'll get rip-roaringly drunk. As it is I'm already very hi-iiigh!" he sang the last word out.
"I dunno, that might add to the entertainment. Did anyone ever tell you you're a shameless, flaming queen when you're tipsy?" Justin teased, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Joel scooted up the headboard as he assumed a lustful expression and a Southern accent. "Why mistuh," he slurred as he drew his finger down a mock-bodice. "What a thang to say to a gentlewoman like me!"
They burst into laughter at that. Joel felt really good, then. He wished he could feel as comfortable as this all the time, and not worry about money or careers or--boyfriends. He stopped his contemplation as he caught sight of Justin staring at his chest.
He looked down and saw that his act had exposed a bit of the cross Justin had given him--the very thing he'd always worn since arriving in Orlando, but had gone into great lengths to keep it from Justin's sight. He hurriedly stuffed it back into his shirt, his face now reddened not only by alcohol, but it was too late.
"You're wearing it," was all Justin said, his eyes glittering with hope.
"It--yeah, I am. But it really doesn't mean anything," he tried to shrug it off like it was no big deal, but Justin caught his hand.
"It means a lot to me anyway," he said, drawing out his own cross. "It's still right above my heart--where it's always been. Where you've always been."
Joel's heart quickened at those words. There he was, inches away from his first crush and the hottest guy he'd ever known, and he could not move or speak. He lay prone and helpless against the headboard of the bed.
"Joel, Joel," Justin breathed his name as he drew closer.. Joel closed his eyes tightly as Justin's cool hands took his warm, sweaty palms. "I just want to hear you say it--that you don't have anymore feelings for me, that you no longer love me. I want you to refute all that you've written in your journal for the past two years. Only then can we really, truly just be friends. I won't ever give up otherwise."
Behind Joel's eyelids, his brain throbbed with every beat of his heart, with every syllable of Justin's words. He knew every line in his diaries, backwards and forwards. How many times had he fallen asleep, pen in hand, dreaming of how it would be like to be introduced as Justin's boyfriend. Even now, with his eyes squeezed shut and senses blocked he could construct with loving detail the blond singer's handsome features, he could feel the phantom press of those beguiling pink lips on his flesh, and the rich, clear voice intoning his name in his ears.
When Joel finally opened his eyes Justin saw all this and more in a single, emotion-filled gaze, and he got the answer that he wanted.
Moving slowly, ever so slowly, Justin slid up on the bed, over Joel's rigid body. Then, still with agonizing slowness, he bent his head over Joel's and gently brushed his lips against the older man's.
A small groan escaped from within Joel at that electric contact. His eyes started to close once more, and he parted his lips for Justin to have greater access, but just then, Justin moved away. Joel's eyes snapped open only to see Justin starting to ease apart the buttons of his shirt. He laid still, watching his lover's motions with a sort of detached wonderment. He only stirred a bit when Justin got the last button, and pulled apart the fabric to expose his tight, taut body.
Seeing the smoothly-muscled expanse of flesh beneath him, Justin blew gently on the satiny skin, delighting in the little shiver it produced in Joel. Feeling more in control than ever, he dipped his head downwards and let his tongue play over Joel's heaving abs and flicker over his belly button.
Small, strangled whimpers emanated from Joel's throat as the skilled blond licked his way up to his nipples, leaving a broad swath of saliva with his tongue. The dark-haired man was starting to sweat under Justin's ministrations, and his fists clenched the bedspread under him. No longer was his face an impassive mask, his features were now contorted into an all-consuming desire--for Justin Timberlake.
And when Justin bit down on his nipple, Joel opened his mouth soundlessly and arched his back, grinding his rock-hard erection into Justin's body. Moaning in return, Justin paused to rip off Joel's shirt from his damp form, before descending once more to attack the other nipple. His hands were far from idle; one made its way to Joel's crotch and started to massage his cock through his pants.
Indeed, Joel felt like cumming then and there, but Justin was far too experienced to let that happen. He backed off just as Joel felt as if he'd lose all control, only to resume when he'd settled down somewhat. The older guy did not comprehend how Justin sensed this, but he was past caring. All his universe was reduced to Justin--his hands, his tongue and his hard, hot member throbbing against his leg.
He tugged insistently at Justin's shirt. He wanted to see more of his blond demigod. Sensing his need, Justin eased off Joel for a while, as he deftly removed his shirt and wifebeater, maintaining eye contact with him all the time. Then, with animalistic passion, they fell back to kissing. Forceful yet yielding, assertive yet gentle, their tongues dueled endlessly even as they moved their hips together mindlessly. When somehow Justin undid Joel's belt buckle and slipped a hand into his briefs, Joel broke the kiss to throw his head back with a guttural groan.
They were both breathing hard now, hands roaming all over each other's body. Justin's cheek against Joel's neck, perspiring flesh against perspiring flesh. Expert fingers slowly drew down the rest of Joel's clothes, and Joel found himself whispering into his ear, through clenched teeth.
"I want you...now! Please, Justin--!"
Justin stopped at his words, and looked at Joel below him. His lover's eyes were hooded with desire, his chest heaving and wet with saliva and sweat. He was exactly where Justin wanted him to be, since the day he walked out of his New York apartment--open and willing and completely submitting to his mercy. He never saw a more erotic sight in his life.
And over the sounds of a party beneath them, a world away it seemed, Joel heard Justin's low growl in response, and was thrilled to the core.
And then Joel's cell phone rang.
They both stopped and stared at Joel's pants, where the incongruous sound was issuing from. Uttering an irritated grunt, Joel fumbled for the phone in his pants which were around his knees by now.
Just as he held it up, the both of them saw it--blinking almost mockingly at them, Nicky's caller ID. Joel quickly pressed the off button. The ringing stopped, but it's effect had not.
Still, he turned towards Justin and started to embrace him once again. "I'm sorry about that. Let's just continue," he said, sounding a tad desperate. God, how he wanted Justin so much...it had been too long...
But for Justin, the moment was gone, broken. He held himself still, even as Joel rained tiny kisses on the hollow of his neck, just like he'd used to enjoy, but all he felt was--
Disgust. Self-loathing. He looked down at Joel's desperation, and all he could think of was how his actions had reduced his love, his Joel, to this. Justin didn't dare delude himself. He was solely responsible. He had manipulated events, arranged everything, to bring Joel up to this point, the point where he'd willingly cheat on his boyfriend just to get some of Justin.
Justin gently removed Joel's arms from around him and rolled away from the bewildered man.
"Just--? What--?" Joel blinked in confusion.
"I'm sorry, Joel. I can't continue this. This isn't you," he replied without looking up, picking his shirt off the floor.
"What are you talking about? You can't just leave me like--like--" Joel's voice faded as he scrambled upright to face Justin. He didn't know what was going on. First they were having the best making-out session of his life, then stupid Nicky had to call, and now this.
"Like what? Like this? Look at you, Joel. You said yourself not two days ago that he's still your boyfriend. Now that he just called, you can still continue begging me to fuck you? Tell me, is that really you?" Justin demanded.
Joel felt his words like a stinging slap to his face. He reeled back, and for the first time, really considered the implications of what he had just done, and was almost about to do. Justin was right. He'd declared himself as still having feelings for Nicky...and hadn't been fazed a single bit when his boyfriend called no less than a minute ago.
"Yeah," he said in a small voice. He looked up at Justin, however, with a strange expression on his face. "But I'm going to--call it off. He--he's not--it's always been you, Just," he blurted.
Joel was surprised by Justin's reaction. The young singer gripped his shirt, then balled it up and threw it across the room. He whirled back to face Joel, his lip curled in a sneer. "Are you so sure, Joel? Are you so sure it's me you really love? You don't know what I'm capable of. You just don't!"
Justin suddenly lunged forward and grabbed Joel's bare shoulders, his fingers digging painfully into the older man's flesh, his eyes boring hard into Joel's. "You thought Nicky's promotion at MTV was a miracle? Well, you're looking at the wonder bringer. I knew the job would be back-breaking, and I wanted him to spend as little time as possible with you," he shook Joel a little.
"This party," he gestured below them, where the party went on full swing, oblivious of their absence, "You think Josh really wanted one? I planned it. I planned everything! I booked your tickets, they called me, not Josh. It was all to bring you here so I--," words failed Justin now, but he had to say it all. "So I could have you where I wanted you. You didn't know how right you were the first night. I did want to take advantage of you. I wanted to seduce you no end. And--and I guess I should be careful what i wish for," his hands dropped from Joel's body, and Justin ran them through his unkempt hair. "I thought...if I could show you--I could make you...love me...the way I love you."
"Love me, Justin?" said Joel sadly, finally finding his voice. Hearing Justin's confession filled him not with anger, but again disappointment and betrayal. "Do you always manipulate things, people, to suit what your idea of love should be? I had a good thing going with Nicky, and you--gosh, you ruined it! And just now--" Joel gathered himself with an effort. He felt very self-conscious about his half-naked state. "Well, I won't totally blame you for--for what we almost did. But to bring me here, with that intention in your mind..." his voice trailed off. Justin did not need to look up to see the hurt in his one-time lover's eyes.
Tears fell unbidden from the young singer's eyes. He turned away from Joel. "I'm sorry, Joel. I couldn't help it. I wanted you to love me so bad. You have every right to hate me. God, I even hate myself..."
Joel's heart reached out for him. Justin had no excuse for doing what he had done, but deep in his heart he felt elated that he'd done it all--for his love. He reached out a tentative hand to touch Justin's shaking form. Slowly, Justin raised his head to look at Joel.
"Don't hate yourself, Justin. I--I actually--Justin, I still--"
He was interrupted by a violent pounding at the door.
"Joel! Joel, are you in there?" Chris burst into the room without waiting for an answer. He stopped short as he saw the both of them looking at him, startled, shirtless and disheveled.
He raised an eyebrow at the both of them, but said nothing about it. Instead his eyes fell on Joel and said in an urgent tone.
"Someone named Nicky is here to see you."
Can you feel it? It's the ending...at last. The next chapter will be the last of Joel & Co. But before that, I really want you guys to tell me what you thought of this chapter, since it was particularly difficult for me to write it.
Remember, it's Will at email@example.com ! Have yourself happy holidays!