Item
by Lesa Soja
 

When Melinda first got them the whiteboard, the idea had been to use it to stay up to speed on their schedule. And for the first few weeks, Lance faithfully copied each day's agenda onto the board from the master list he kept on his computer. It was sort of helpful, Joey supposed. It was nice of Lance to go to all that trouble.

Then one morning Joey looked at the board and discovered that their eleven o'clock interview was with Fidel Castro, and the show that night would be at the Martian Embassy. Lance sighed when he saw it and corrected the hijacked lines, but a few days later the board proclaimed that they were doing a photo shoot in Atlantis and performing at the Satisfied Frog, and that time he only sighed. After another week the schedule had disappeared entirely, replaced by the heading Places I Wish We Were Going Today, which was soon followed by 1) Acapulco, 2) The zoo, 3) Joey's house, and 4) The Apollo. After that, Lance just announced the agenda to anyone who'd listen over breakfast.

The whiteboard stayed, though, covered by one list after another. At first they remained fairly general. Hot Movie Stars, for instance, was a popular topic, generating a list that included 1) Cameron Diaz, 2) Catherine Zeta-Jones, 3) Ewan MacGregor, 4) Sarah Michelle Gellar - not a movie star, moron - yes she is, 5) Ryan Phillippe, 6) Reese Witherspoon, 7) Ben Affleck, and 8) Christian Bale. Good Advice, another favorite, drew observations ranging from 1) Warm up before singing and 2) Don't wash bloodstains in hot water to 3) Don't eat the yellow snow and 4) Get over yourself.

Then the lists began to get more pointed. Common Misconceptions started off at arm's length with 1) Southern = slow and 2) Southern = polite, but quickly closed in on 3) Chris is funny, 4) Justin can sing, and 5) Justin gives a shit what you think. Joey erased the board that night and put Best Comfort Food instead, and that stayed up for a whole week.

When Britney came to visit, she stuck the cap of the red marker between her teeth and wrote Cutest Members of NSYNC:  1) Justin. Justin grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the lounge. Chris picked up the marker and replaced Britney's line with 1) Chris, "because," he said, "Dani isn't here to do it herself." Then Joey changed it to 1) JC, just for the pleasure of seeing JC blush. JC hid his face in the couch cushions and promptly fell asleep.

Lance came in a little later, and Joey suddenly wondered if the same strategy would work on him. So he erased the line again and wrote 1) Lance. But Lance said, "Naw, naw," and didn't blush till he had taken the marker from Joey and changed it back to 1) JC. JC had sat up and was staring at them, but his face was more pale than pink.

The lists took a nastier turn again after that, with Things That Bother JC:  1) Other people being around, 2) Other people breathing, 3) Other people existing; and Good Things About Joey, which remained a lonely itemless heading for the whole afternoon it was up. Then there was a return to Places I'd Rather Be, which this time read 1) Home, 2) Orlando, and 3) Anywhere but here. This, however, was followed sternly by Things That are Better than Being in the Group, which had only the postscript THOUGHT SO in angry capitals at the bottom of the board.

When they got the second bus, the whiteboard went with Joey and Lance. There seemed to be a silent consensus that Lance was in some obscure way still responsible for it, even though he wrote on it the least out of all of them. The lists grew more slowly now that they didn't all have equal access to the board, but there was still always at least a heading. They spent two meditative months on Songs You'd Like to Cover, and another three on Things You Want to Be When You Grow Up.

Joey woke up at four one rainy afternoon and found Chris pacing up and down in their lounge. Lance was still asleep.

"Chris, man, sit down," Joey said, rubbing his eyes.

"I think I'll change the board," Chris said, nodding persuasively.

"Whatever floats your boat," Joey said.

Chris wiped away Best Fan Gifts with the side of his hand and replaced it with the heading Things You Never Got But Stopped Wanting. He chewed on the end of the marker for a moment before writing 1) B.A.

"You don't want one anymore?" Joey asked.

"Don't really need it, do I," Chris said. Joey nodded. Chris passed him the pen. "Your turn."

Joey drew a green line down the side of his left hand while he was thinking. Then he wrote 2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume.

"Good, good," Chris said, and he handed Joey the PlayStation controller.

The list stayed at that point for a few days before expanding in the space of a morning to 3) Moon Man - oh no wait, we got some a' them! and the postscript DORK. This burst of activity was succeeded by another pause.

Then one night when Lance and Joey got on the bus, the board said 4) JC in neat block letters.

Joey glanced over at Lance, who raised an eyebrow and grinned. Joey smiled back.

He didn't feel so much like smiling the next day, though, when Lance went to go talk to Chris, and JC came over to their bus. JC made a wandering round down the length of the bus and stopped abruptly in front of the board. A wrinkle formed between his eyebrows as he studied it. Joey grimaced to himself behind JC's back.

"Do you know who wrote that?" JC said finally, turning around.

"Uh," Joey said.

He did know, actually. He'd seen that careful printing too often not to recognize it, on everything from densely packed spreadsheets to On The Line production schedules, from the card on his birthday that cracked up everyone who saw it, to the card two weeks later that he didn't show anyone else at all. But he didn't really think he ought to tell JC that. Item 4 probably hadn't been meant for JC to see, and even if it had been, Joey should have erased it anyway, before things could get to this point. He had a responsibility, even if he wasn't on active JC duty anymore. He really should have known better.

Now, though, it was too late. JC had seen, and he was eyeing Joey coldly. Joey cleared his throat and aimed for a genial tone.

"Well, it wasn't me," he said.

JC's mouth pinched together, and his eyes narrowed. "I know," he said.

Joey bit his lip.

JC reached up and yanked the board off its hooks before stalking away. He shoved it behind the trash can in the kitchen and slammed the bathroom door shut.
 

[Now with a ficlet sequel: pay for that] | [smile]