Project
by Lesa Soja
 

In the beginning, when Joey first started noticing Justin, it scared him. He would look away quickly and try to forget that Justin even had shoulders, or a stomach, or hips.

But nothing bad happened, and eventually he started kind of getting used to it. So he began letting himself look, thinking, so? So what? They were on tour at this point, which meant he got to see Justin all day, every day. It was like a twenty-four hour gallery, and he had free admission. It was terrific.

Then it started to be kind of a drag. Justin waltzed around as oblivious as a boulder, and Joey found himself regretting that he had to be around him all the time. If he could have gone home at night, for example, and jerked off in peace, instead of lying on his bunk listening to Justin breathe, that would have been easier. Or even if he'd just had that great view of Justin's ass, from his position behind Justin onstage, a few less times a week. That would have made it easier too.
 

He hadn't meant to tell anyone about it, but one night in a club, after they had watched Chris bounce up to a blonde and JC lean in to a brunette, and Justin had headed out to the dance floor, Lance turned to Joey and said, "Now who can we get for you?", and Joey didn't have time to look away from Justin's retreating back.

"Oh, no," Lance said. He reached out and put his hand over Joey's. "No. Listen, in five years he might be gay, but now -" Lance shook his head. "That's a project, Joe. Believe me, you do not wanna take that on."

"Yeah," Joey said. He wondered if Lance thought of him as a project too, or if Lance thought he was already gay.

"C'mon, dance with me," Lance said. Joey followed him to the floor, and they danced through a few songs, the way, Joey thought, that straight girls danced with each other, with smiling and eye contact and a little space between them.
 

In a way it was kind of a relief having someone else know, but sometimes when Joey looked up he would find Lance's eyes on him and realize that Lance had caught him staring at Justin again. Then he would feel vaguely guilty, and that would piss him off. What did it matter, anyway, if Lance approved or didn't? What did he know about it? He wasn't the last prophet of gayness.

Especially when Justin himself looked up and stared back at Joey with heavy, unblinking eyes.
 

And then there was the party at Chris's house, when they were back in Florida. The rooms were packed with bodies; Joey told JC, whom he ran into in the living room, that he didn't know how Chris could even know so many people, when they spent all their time holed up on the bus with just each other. JC laughed and chinked his glass against Joey's and toasted Chris's social life, and then the crowd pushed them apart.

Joey had been there for a good two hours and had yet to see Chris, when he suddenly caught sight of Justin in the hallway. "Joe-y!" Justin yelled, and began clambering towards him. Joey grinned. "Joey, my man," Justin repeated when he was close enough. "What's the word, dude?"

"Fabulous," Joey said, and a knot of people shoved through behind Justin, who leaned forward and put a hand on the wall next to Joey's ear.

"Fabulous?" he said.

"Fabulous," Joey asserted.

Justin smiled some more and pressed in even closer. "Joey," he said. He leaned in, and Joey leaned forward, and so, Joey thought, you couldn't say that either one of them started it individually; they both meant for their mouths to meet, and for a long moment they were kissing. A real kiss, with Justin's lips soft and willing against his.

Then Justin pulled smoothly back again and grinned at Joey. "Cowboy," he said, and took his hand off the wall and cupped Joey's chin for a moment, and then tapped him smartly on the cheek and moved away.

Joey went slowly on to the kitchen, where he discovered Lance wedged in next to the open window. "What are you so happy about?" Lance asked.

Joey let Lance have the full-on grin. "He's interested," he said.

Lance smiled back. "He is. But he's not ready."

Joey would have been willing to consider that; he was prepared to accept that Lance might be right. It was sort of a big deal. Justin might need time. But then Lance added, "Also, he's drunk," and Joey felt his mouth twist, and he turned away before he could say anything back.
 

A few days later Joey called Justin, dialing the digits by hand even though of course he had Justin's number stored in his phone.

"Oh, hey, Joey," Justin said.

"Hey, you," Joey said.

"So, what's up?"

"Well, I thought maybe," Joey swallowed, "do you wanna hang out this weekend? Saturday?"

"Oh, Saturday…" Justin said. "Me and JC are in the studio, and stuff. How about Sunday? You wanna get the guys together for dinner?"

"Okay, I guess," Joey said.
 

Chris didn't notice as much as Lance had, but he did slap Joey on the shoulder, hard. "C'mon, man," he said. "Whatever it is, you can do better, get better, or find better."

"Yeah," Joey said, thinking what a dumb bunch of friends he had. What dumb shit they said.
 

At dinner, Justin passed him a menu and looked in his eyes and smiled, and Joey thought about how Justin hadn't had as much time to think about it as he had. He met Lance's gaze mildly and let Lance look away first. Then Joey told JC that his pants were ugly and put some ice cubes down Chris's back. Chris punched him happily in the arm and told JC that his shoes were ugly too, and Justin said that JC's hair matched them, and JC told everyone that they were just jealous and should shut up.
 

After that they went on the road again. The first night back on the bus, Joey woke up at four in the morning to the tuneless beeps of the Playstation. He got up and found Justin sitting cross-legged on the floor with the controller. Joey came up behind him and leaned his chin on the top of Justin's head.

"Don’t," Justin said. "You'll mess me up."

Joey moved back. He watched the sweep of Justin's thumbs over the buttons.

Justin died a few minutes later anyway, exploding in a shower of flames. He stretched and sighed and turned to Joey. "Wanna play?"

"Sure," Joey said. He sat down next to Justin, and they played and played till the windows started showing gray.
 

When they were in one city long enough to stay in a hotel, Joey got some movies and everyone piled into his room to watch. Justin came and sat at the head of the bed with Joey, his knee pressing warm against Joey's leg.

They were only about twenty minutes into the first movie when Chris's phone rang. They heard him say, "Yo," and then in a softer voice, "Baby, hey."

Justin giggled. "Baby, hey," he imitated. "Hey, Chris is gonna do some sweet talkin'. 'Oh, I wish I could spend more time with my baby.' 'Oh, I wish my baby could spend more time with me…'"

Joey took a breath and touched Justin's arm. "Shut up, baby," he said.

But Chris was already getting up. "Here's some sweet talk for you, J," he said, flipping him the finger, and then, "Sorry about that," into the phone. He went out of the room and didn't come back.

Justin flashed Joey a conspiratorial smile. He shifted around and settled back into the pillows with his knees swung away from Joey and his toes fluttering against Joey's thigh.

The movie was pretty dumb. It was hard to pay attention. Joey's legs got kind of stiff after a while.

When the credits began rolling, JC yawned and stretched and stood up. "I'm beat. I'm gonna go to bed."

Justin got up quickly. "Me too. Night, y'all."

Joey watched Justin follow JC out the door.

Lance looked up at Joey from where he was sprawled at the foot of the bed. "You wanna watch the other one?" he said after a pause.

Joey shook his head. "No, I, uh… I think I'm just gonna go to sleep, too."

Lance nodded. "Okay," he said. "Night, Joey."

When he was alone, Joey stretched his legs out and moved down to lie flat on the bed. He turned his face into the pillow and ground his cock into the mattress.
 

Another night, at a club, Joey lost sight of all the others and wound up sitting at a table by himself. He hadn't taken more than a few swallows, though, when Lance appeared out of the crowd.

"Joey," he said. "C'mon, man. You gotta dance." He stumbled a little and caught himself on the back of a chair.

Joey laughed. "You're sloshed," he said.

"Yep," Lance said. He grabbed Joey's wrist and tugged. "C'mon."

"I just got this," Joey protested, but he let Lance pull him up. "Hang on," and he drank down three or four more gulps. Lance barely waited for him to put the glass down before dragging him away.

When they had pushed through to the center of the floor, Lance yanked Joey around to face him, still hanging onto Joey's arm. He said something over the music that looked like, "…see if I remember how this works."

"You know how to dance," Joey bellowed at him.

"Yeah," Lance agreed. The crowd around them crushed them in closer. Lance's knee bumped between Joey's. Joey thought the press of people would hold him up even if he fell. He laughed.

Chris came weaving towards them. "My boys!" he yelled. He grabbed Lance in a headlock from behind. Lance let go of Joey to struggle but couldn't stop Chris from scrubbing a fist over his hair. Joey laughed even more.
 

The next morning Joey went into Lance's room after breakfast. Lance had the sheet pulled over his head.

"You gonna get up today, dude?" Joey said.

"Go away," Lance muttered.

"Don't you wanna eat anything?"

"Fuck off," Lance growled.

"At least, like, drink some water, or something," Joey said. Lance didn't answer. Joey filled a glass at the bathroom sink and put it on the bedside table, but Lance didn’t even turn over. So Joey shrugged and left.
 

JC and Chris were being incredibly finicky about their headsets, so the rest of them had to wait while they were being adjusted. Lance stood patiently. Justin was skittering around.

Joey watched him for a while and then wandered off towards the edge of the stage and looked out at the seats. In a few hours, he thought, every single one of them would be filled. It was still an incredible feeling.

Justin danced over to him and bopped his hip against Joey's. "Hey, cowboy!"

Joey smiled and put his hands on Justin's waist. Justin shoved him off. "Don't be such a fucking fag," he said.

Joey hauled off and nearly swung, but decided just in time that he could do without a crowd of people looking at him like he was the jerk. He let his hand drop and turned and walked off the stage.

He wasn't really watching where he was going, but he ended up in the hallway where the dressing rooms were. He went into one of them randomly and saw JC's jacket hanging on a chair. There was a low couch also, and Joey sat down on it and rested his elbows on his knees.

After a few minutes, the door opened again. Joey didn't look up. Lance sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulders.

"Five or six years from now," Lance said, "you're going to be part of Justin's coming out story."

Joey pressed his lips together. He could tell that that was supposed to make him feel better, but it didn’t. "Who's going to be in my coming out story?" he asked.

Lance's arm loosened, and Joey heard him sigh. "Justin," Lance said.
 

[smile]