by Lesa Soja

They started because Chris had been talking about riding the bus for field trips in junior high. They were all still up and wired even though it was already past one. When Chris paused, Lance said, "Uh huh," and Justin said,

"But did these trips involve music?"

and that was when Chris brought up the song. Justin pounded the back of the couch. "Yes! C'mon, you guys, we have to sing it, right now! All of us! C'mon!"

JC glanced up in the direction of the driver. Lance smiled. Chris made a face. "Bo-ring."

"But I never got to," Justin said.

"Yes, you have," Chris said.

"Not all the way through," Justin insisted. "C'mon, you have to sing it with me. Lance? Joe?"

"Okay, if we get real beer," Joey said. Lance got up and got some of the cold beers from the fridge. Chris grabbed one, and JC passed him the bottle opener.

"Okay, let's get this over with," Chris said, after taking a long swallow.

They started off in a rousing unison chorus. "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer - " and then they broke down into chaos, because Chris and JC and Joey sang, "If one of those bottles should happen to fall," and Lance and Justin sang, "Take one down and pass it around."

"If you're gonna sing it, you have to sing it right!" Chris yelled.

"I am singing it right!" Justin yelled back.

"It's 'happen to fall,'" JC affirmed. Justin glared.

"Waste of good booze," Lance said, tipping his bottle up.

Justin turned towards Chris and started up again loudly: "- Ninety-eight bottles of BEER ON THE WALL. Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of beer…"

This time Joey switched and sang it Justin's way. Chris and JC still sang it their original way, but everyone just went on to the next line anyway, except for Lance, who paused for a drink and then handed his beer to Justin. Justin took a pull at it between verses and passed it back to Lance.

For a while Chris and Justin sang their respective middle lines as loudly as they could, turning to stare at each other while doing so, but around eighty-six Chris got bored with that and just sang it at the same volume as the rest, although he was still using his own words. Then Justin quieted down too, and Joey passed Chris his beer, and Chris drank from it and passed it on to JC. Lance and Justin were still passing their bottles back and forth between each other.

They all took turns getting up to take a leak.

At seventy-seven, JC started harmonizing, and Lance joined in, following his lead. Chris even added a little descant. At sixty-five Lance got up to get more beers, and they went back to the regular tune. When Lance sat down again he put his arm around Justin, waving the bottle in that hand to punctuate each instance of the word "beer." Justin sang doggedly on.

After fifty-three, Joey stopped and said, "JC's asleep." JC was slumped up against Chris's shoulder.

"So?" Justin said. He licked a drop from the neck of the bottle he was holding, gave it to Lance, and went on. "Fifty-two bottles of beer on the wall…" Lance spent that whole verse drinking.

At forty-five, Chris suddenly jumped up and yelled "Freaks! I can't take this shit!" and went and turned on the Playstation. He took his current beer and two extras with him. JC opened his eyes and closed them again and continued slumping over till he was lying down.

At thirty-one Lance stood up again, using Justin's shoulder for leverage, and went for more beers. They had drunk all the ones in the fridge by this time, so he had to take the warm ones from the cupboard.

Joey was still singing, but in a rather sporadic way, mumbling some lines and phrases and dropping others, and mixing in the two versions indiscriminately. Between twenty-six and twenty-one his eyes closed and his voice faded, though he was still mouthing words from time to time.

Justin was starting to get a little wild-eyed. Lance began rubbing his arm. First he rubbed from elbow to wrist, then he switched and stroked up over Justin's biceps, pushing up the sleeve of his T-shirt.

At ten Justin paused, and Lance held the bottle to his lips. Justin tilted his head back and drank. A trickle ran down Justin's chin, and Lance wiped it away with his thumb. Then they started the next verse.

Justin sang with renewed energy through ten, nine, and eight. He flagged somewhat during seven, six, five, and four, but kicked it up again for three and two.

Then Lance put his hand on the back of Justin's neck, and Justin was quiet while Lance sang softly, "One bottle of beer on the wall"; and then it was Justin's turn to sing

"one bottle of beer"

while Lance looked at him with serious eyes. Lance moved his fingers down Justin's vertebrae and they sang, "Take it down and pass it around," together.

Then Lance sang, "No more bottles of beer on the wall," at the same time as Justin sang,

"Zero bottles of beer on the wall." Justin giggled, and Lance chuckled and put his other hand on Justin's face and stroked his cheek.

"Happy now?" Lance asked.

Justin nodded. All Lance's rubbing had made him sort of horny, but he wasn't sure he could get hard enough to do anything about it.