Happy birthday, Amber!
by Lesa Soja
Chris woke up a little before his alarm. He turned it off before it could ring and lay there staring across at the window. It was slightly cloudy out but not cold. September and still T-shirt weather, he loved Orlando. Fucking bright idea for a kid like him back then.
He had a stack of shirts on a chair by the closet, and when he came out of the shower he reached for the top one, a red T-shirt with Bean's on Broadway written in purple across the chest. Downstairs he ate the last bagel for breakfast, grabbed a water bottle and a sweatshirt, and headed out the door.
When he turned out of his subdivision onto the main road, a cherry-red Acura swerved in front of him and cut him off. Chris hit the horn long and loud, but the Acura was already speeding ahead. "Fucker," he muttered under his breath.
Joey nodded from the other end of the rehearsal room when Chris came in. A week back and things felt scratchy still, unfamiliar. "Give it time," Justin had said when Chris complained to him the first night. Chris had decided that it sounded more like pleading than advice, if only so he wouldn't have to smack him.
Justin and JC were laughing about something as they came in the door. Jaime was in a good mood, too, smiling at them as Lance ducked in the door and threw his bag in the corner. "Okay, guys," Jaime said then. "Something new today! Let's start working on The Girl for Me."
Things were better when they were actually singing, Chris thought. They were all focused then, working on each line and trading calm suggestions. JC especially. He had a lot of suggestions. They spent the whole morning on the new song and then took a break to order sandwiches for lunch.
"Okay," Jaime said when they came back in, "now let's try I Thought She Knew."
They started off all right, but then Chris screwed up the key change and Jaime held up his hands, stopping them. "No, no, " he said. "Not like that."
"I know," Chris said, "I know this song, all right? I just messed up."
"You have to just. Lift up over it," Jaime said, "like a butterfly."
"Like a butterfly?" Chris said. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It means light," JC said, "not dragging so much." Chris turned and glared, and JC glared back. Justin and Joey and Lance were capable of acting normal around him; Chris didn't know why JC had to be on his case all the time.
"From the top, guys," Jaime said. Chris got it right that time, but JC's face was still set into tight lines, and Chris had to stop himself from snapping at Jaime again. There were spots of color on JC's cheeks, and when they finally called it a day, he left without saying goodbye to Chris.
Chris went home, ordered a pizza, and watched TV till bedtime.
In the morning he woke up early again and turned over on his side, closing his eyes for another few minutes. Then he got up and got ready to go back in. He'd thought he was out of bagels, but when he looked in the fridge there was still one left after all, so he had that for breakfast and got on his way.
He pulled out onto the main road, and the same fucker cut him off. The same fucking car, he was sure of it. He jabbed viciously at the horn, and it did just about as much good as it had before.
Chris managed a wan grin when he came into the room and Joey nodded hello. After a few minutes they heard JC and Justin's voices in the hallway.
"Look," JC was snapping as they walked in, "this just isn't funny anymore. You can cut it out right now." Chris and Joey stared at them, but Justin only shot a long look at JC and walked away. JC sat down stiffly by the far wall and uncapped his water bottle.
When Jaime got there, he looked around the room once, and then once again, glancing from one of them to the other. Lance arrived a minute later, and Jaime picked up some sheet music.
"Okay, guys!" he said, with an determined effort at cheerfulness. "Something new today! Let's start working on The Girl for Me."
Chris's stomach felt chill and queasy.
"What?" JC said.
Chris turned to look at JC staring at Jaime, and then looked swiftly away again before JC could see him.
"I just thought that'd be a good piece to get into more of the new material," Jaime said.
"But," JC said. "But we, yesterday. We already… don't you remember… you said…" He trailed off in the face of Jaime's pained smile.
"Just go with it, okay, JC?"
JC didn't answer. Jaime, taking that as assent, played the opening bars on the piano. Joey, Lance, and Justin started singing, and after a moment Chris made himself join in, glancing surreptitiously at JC. JC's face was kind of pale. He sang obediently at his cue, but his voice was weak and Jaime had to tell him several times to project. He barely made any comments himself at all.
Chris avoided everyone at lunch, taking his sandwich off to the end of a hallway and sitting down on the floor. The wall felt solid enough behind his back, the ham and the olives were salty on his tongue, and his arm hurt when he pinched it. And JC, JC had stared at Jaime. Chris wasn't going to think about it.
"Well," Jaime said, "maybe we should get back to something more familiar for a while. Let's run through I Thought She Knew, okay?"
Chris was watching for the key change, waiting for it, and he still fucked it up. "No, no," Jaime began. Chris cut him off.
"I know, dammit! Let's go again, I know, you don't have to tell me. And," as Jaime was opening his mouth to speak, "I'm not gonna lift up like a freakin' butterfly, so you can forget about that."
Jaime looked at him curiously. "Are you a mind reader?" he said. "That's just what I was going to suggest."
JC swiveled around and stared hard at Chris. Chris looked away, flinching, but it was no use. JC came over and grabbed Chris's arm. "Five," he said, and Jaime nodded. Chris sighed and let himself be dragged out into the hallway.
"Okay, Chris," JC said. "If this is some kind of practical joke - !"
"It's not," Chris said.
JC glared. "Then what is it?"
"I don't know."
"Chris, you can't fool me! You, you're doing something, and you've gotta stop. What the hell is up?"
"I don't know, okay!" Chris hissed. "I didn't do anything, I didn't want for this to happen. I don't even know what's happening."
"But you have to know!" JC said frantically. "You're the only one, you remember. You know this is the second time, I know you know, so why -"
"I don't know, JC," Chris repeated. JC's nostrils flared. "I mean, yeah, okay -" He took a deep breath. "-it's the second time. It is. But how the fuck should I know why? How do I know you're not doing it, if it comes to that? Maybe you pissed off the powers that be, and dragged me with you."
JC dropped his hand from Chris's arm. "Fuck you," he said. He turned around and went back into the room.
Chris followed, but the rest of the session was shit. JC sang his notes perfectly but lifelessly, and Chris screwed up two times out of three. The others seemed to catch their mood, growing restless and short-tempered, and finally Jaime threw his hands in the air. "I give up," he said. "Tomorrow, you come in ready to do some work, you hear me?"
Chris refused to meet JC's eye as he picked up his stuff and took it to his car.
He turned on the TV when he got home and immediately turned it off again when he recognized the show that was on. He got out his X-box instead and played Halo till he could barely see straight. Then he stumbled upstairs and fell into bed.
Chris woke up and his alarm hadn't gone off yet. He shut it off anyway and closed his eyes again.
Ten minutes later he threw off the covers resolutely and got up. He grabbed the red shirt off the pile on the chair and did not, he was not thinking about it.
He waited at the corner, peering down the street as best he could with the shrubbery in the way. Then another car pulled up behind him, and he had to make his turn. He pulled out onto the road and the Acura swerved into the lane ahead of him. Chris pressed his thumb on the horn for what felt like a full minute, long after the Acura was out of sight.
"Okay, guys!" Jaime said cheerfully. "Something new today! Let's start working on The Girl for Me."
"Oh, please, let's not," Chris muttered. No one heard.
JC didn't speak to Chris all day.
Chris woke up.
He made himself get up, get dressed, and go to the studio. They started The Girl for Me. Chris went through the rehearsal numbly, like sleepwalking. Then he went back home.
He woke up and turned off his alarm without even opening his eyes. He didn't fall asleep properly again, but he went on lying there while the sun strengthened and faded through the clouds. He pulled the covers over his face when the phone rang, but after the sixteenth ring and redial he rolled his eyes and picked up.
"Chris?" Justin said. "What the fuck, man, why aren't you here?"
"Uh," Chris said.
"Are you sick?"
Chris hesitated, but then sighed and squared his shoulders. "No, I'm all right," he said. "Just running late. I'll be there in a few."
He tried hanging out with Justin, but Justin kept talking either about his tour or about incidents from the week before that Chris was already starting to forget. Also, Chris had a hard time not mentioning the things he already knew about the day. He kind of wished he could tell Justin.
Then he thought, why not? So he sought Justin out at the next lunch break and did. Justin looked at him coolly.
"You're repeating this day? That's kind of freaky, Chris," he said.
"Yeah," Chris said glumly. It was.
"Dude, you're serious," Justin said. "Wow. Well. There must be something - maybe some, like, karma or something. Look, we'll figure it out, okay?" He wrapped an arm around Chris's shoulder. Chris felt somewhat better. Justin knew shit, he would think of something.
When they left the studio they went back to Justin's house, and Justin started searching through his books. "Maybe this?" he said. "It's all about past lives, and stuff."
"It's not a past life I'm reliving," Chris said. "It's this one."
"Okay," Justin said. "Well, how about this book? It's about enlightenment and the spiritual elasticity of time."
Chris wanted to roll his eyes, but he wasn't really in any position to do so. So he took the book and started reading. Most of it seemed to be about how to make time become more flexible, though, rather than the other way around.
"I dunno, Justin," Chris said finally. "I don't think this is really helping me."
Justin looked up from The Garden and the Gardener: Cultivating Your Future Self and wrinkled his nose. "I'm not finding anything either," he said. "You wanna take a pizza break?"
"Sure," Chris said. Justin reached over and squeezed Chris's arm before getting up to find his phone. He looked immensely tall from Chris's floor-level vantage point, looming authoritatively like in his concert pictures. Chris sighed and stretched out on the rug.
Then he woke up. He shut his eyes tight until the alarm went off, and then got up and reached for the shirt on top of the pile.
"Chris, man, what's up?" Justin said at lunch. "You look a little weird."
"Nothing," Chris said.
He glanced over at JC, and JC was studiously not looking at him, though Chris was sure JC's eyes had been on him the minute before. Fine, Chris thought. He didn't need to talk to such a pissy bitch anyway.
Studio, home, studio, home. He bounced back and forth from the evening to the morning to the evening again.
He started going to the movies after rehearsal, moving from one theater to another till he'd seen all the new releases. Then he started in on the second-run shows. He winced a bit when he hit the third-run, dollar-fifty movie houses, but he didn't stop till he'd seen everything they had to offer too.
Lance, Chris thought. Lance was smart - not school smart, not street smart, but worldly, somehow. He knew what made things tick.
"Hey, Bass," Chris said the next time they were at lunch. "What would you say if I told you this day has happened to me before?"
Lance returned Chris's gaze stolidly. "Déjà vu is often considered a sign of mental strain," he said.
"Thanks," Chris said sourly.
One time he saw JC and Joey talking together, and Joey turned to look at Chris with a strange, surprised expression twisting his face. Chris hung his head and waited for them to come over to him. Instead they went out and didn't come back for the rest of the afternoon.
In the morning they were all back in the studio.
JC was talking to Chris again, though, at least during rehearsal. "Could you hand me that pen?" he said sometimes, or, "You just need to go a little slower there."
Once when they broke for lunch, Chris followed JC out into the hall.
"What do you want?" JC said.
"I want to talk to you," Chris said.
Chris looked down. He just wanted to talk. It wasn't so much that he really had anything to say.
"That's what I thought," JC said. He turned to leave, but Chris grabbed at his arm.
"Look," Chris said quietly. "It's really not my fault."
JC sighed and turned back. "I know, Chris. I do."
"So why are you still being such an ass?"
JC's eyes narrowed. Chris was already regretting that, but it was too late. "Well, it's not like you're doing anything to help, are you!" JC snapped.
"What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Well -" JC paused for a second and then snapped, "Do you think you could at least wear a different shirt sometimes?"
"Why?" Chris said. "It's not like it's dirty."
JC snarled at him wordlessly, like a cat, and stalked away.
In the morning Chris put on a green shirt, cussed as he braked, and sang The Girl for Me until lunchtime. JC ignored him. In the afternoon Jaime yelled at him for messing up the key change. Chris glared at JC, and JC tossed his head and turned away.
Chris squealed his tires on the way out of the studio parking lot. It was some satisfaction to jam his foot on the gas as he tore down the street.
He had gotten a block or two away when he heard a siren behind him, and saw the cop's blinking headlights. Shit, he thought. Fuck. He glanced in the rearview mirror again and lifted his foot off the pedal. He breathed hard for a few seconds. Then he stomped his foot back down.
For a few heady minutes he flew through the streets like a bullet, plowing straight through intersections and scattering a trail of swerving cars left and right behind him. Then he saw more cop cars pulling in alongside him, and in the near distance a couple more were stationing themselves crosswise to form a roadblock. He braked hard, jumped out, and started running, but he didn't get far at all before he was tackled to the ground. Cement scraped his cheek open and his wrists were wrestled into handcuffs. When he heard the metal snap shut, he dropped his head and closed his eyes.
He thought about calling someone to bail him out, but it didn't seem worth the trouble of trying to explain what he'd done. So he just stayed put until morning.
He woke up back in his bedroom. When he saw the familiar walls, he couldn't help sighing. He got out of bed and pulled on his shirt.
Chris got up, went to the studio, rehearsed, and went to bed.
He got up, went to the studio, rehearsed, and went to bed.
He got up. He went to the studio.
Chris woke up and lay in bed for a while. When he got up he stumbled across the room and pulled on the red shirt. The Acura cut in front of him, and he watched its taillights disappear around the corner.
At the studio he sang the new song and it felt like Tearin' Up My Heart and I Want You Back. He opened his mouth, and the notes came out, again and again and again.
"One more time, Chris," Jaime said, and Chris took off his headphones.
"Could we break for lunch, actually?" he said. It was early yet, and the others looked annoyed, but he gave them a conciliating smile and slipped out of the room.
He drove towards downtown and parked near a highway overpass. When he walked up to it, though, he saw that it was fenced in, metal mesh arching from one side to the other. He turned around and got back in his car. He thought about going back to his own house, but he only had two stories. His bank had more, but the windows there didn't open, he was pretty sure. He was starting to get hungry.
He drove back to the studio. JC was in the hallway. "You comin' back in?" JC said.
North Stairwell, said the sign at the end of the hall. Roof Access. "In a minute," Chris said. JC scowled and went into the room.
Heat was supposed to rise, but the air on the roof felt refreshingly cool. Chris looked at the treetops, at the clouds floating at the edge of the horizon.
He took a step forward. He was dizzy and he didn't feel light at all. The air before his eyes went dark.
He woke up to an enormous bang and sat up in bed with a start. It was terribly early, barely light, and downstairs someone was stomping in through the front door and past the living room. "CHRIS FUCKING KIRKPATRICK!" he heard from the stairs.
"JC?" he called back uncertainly. The footsteps neared his bedroom, and that door slammed open as well.
"You FUCKER!" JC shouted. "You fucking idiot asswipe motherfucker, don't you ever -" He was red in the face, spluttering. "Don't you ever do such a damnfool thing again!"
Chris stared at JC for a moment, at his fingers clenched into claws in the air. "JC -" Chris said, and stretched out his hand. JC launched himself at Chris, half hugging him, half sprawling across his legs. "I'm sorry," Chris murmured into JC's hair. "I'm so, so sorry. I won't do it again."
"Motherfucker," JC said again, more quietly. Chris could still feel JC's body trembling, but he petted JC's back with short, soft strokes, and JC's breathing gradually slowed.
"I didn't know," JC said after a while. Chris ran a hand through JC's hair and stayed quiet. "I didn't know if that was going to be it, the last time around, and I was," JC swallowed hard, "I was sitting there for the rest of the day. Waiting."
"I'm so sorry," Chris repeated, and he squeezed JC closer in his arms. JC pressed his face against Chris's undershirt and closed his eyes.
"You hungry?" Chris said eventually.
JC lifted his head a little. "I could eat," he allowed.
Chris made coffee and toast in his kitchen and found he was starving. While they were sitting at the table, the phone rang.
"Chris?" Justin said. "Hey, man, can you give me a ride today? I thought JC was gonna pick me up, but he didn't show up, and he's not answering his phone."
"Oh, um," Chris said. "He's here, actually, that's. Listen, Justin, me and JC are taking a day off."
"A day off?" Justin said.
"Yeah. You don't need us for one day - you can, like, work on your solos or something. So could you tell them? That we're not gonna be there?"
There was a pause. Then, "Where'm I supposed to say you are?" Justin was a good friend, still.
"Just - taking a break, okay? Comp day."
"Okay," Justin said dubiously. "It's gonna be your ass when you get back and Jaime's pissed, though."
"Whatever," Chris said. "You're a pal, J. Later."
When he hung up the phone, JC was looking at him, holding a mug in both hands without drinking. Three minutes later the phone rang again. Chris lifted the receiver and set it back down again quickly. It rang again.
"Let's go to the beach," Chris suggested.
JC tilted his head. "Okay," he said.
The sky clouded over more and more as they got nearer the coast, and the highway was fairly empty. JC leaned the passenger seat back and put his feet up on the dashboard. He had turned the radio up, but he wasn't singing along. Chris glanced at JC every so often and then back at the road. He drove.
When they got there, a gusty breeze was blowing along the deserted shore. The breakers were foaming heavily as they rolled in.
"You wanna go in the water?" Chris asked.
JC shook his head. "Let's just find some place out of the wind."
They spread out the blanket in the hollow at the base of a dune and lay down flat. Chris folded a towel under his head so he could look at the water. JC looked up at the sky and shifted closer to Chris.
A moment later he shifted closer still.
"C?" Chris said. He turned a little, eyeing the taut line of JC's profile, and reached for JC's hand.
"Oh, fuck, Chris," JC said rapidly, and he let Chris pull him forward.
They stayed there, listening to the waves and the gulls squawking, until they were both shivering too hard to ignore. Then they drove back to Chris's house, where they turned off the phone, took hot showers, and had lunch, hot tea and egg drop soup and fried rice, passing the cartons back and forth to each other on the couch. In the afternoon they watched the Gators play the Hurricanes in 1984 on ESPN Classic and then switched to TNT, which was showing Terminator and T2 in succession. Chris pulled an afghan over the two of them later, after they had had some of the leftovers for dinner. He fell asleep with JC's head on his shoulder and JC's arm pressed along his side.
He woke up and stretched lazily, turning off the alarm. Then he picked up the phone.
"Hey, it's me," he said. "You wanna take another day off?"
"Nah, s'okay," JC said. "We could use the practice."
Chris laughed and went to get dressed.
He and JC ate lunch together, sitting on the curb in the parking lot with their sandwiches. "You know, this might sound funny, but I really was having a hard time learning all the new stuff," JC said. "I think it's doing me good to go over it so often. And, like, to not wear out my voice doing that. 'Cause I was kind of hard on it over the summer."
"Aah, you sound all right," Chris said. JC smiled at him.
When they came back inside, Chris thought he saw Joey give JC a thumbs-up, out of the corner of his eye. He was going to ask JC what that was about, but then Jaime said, "Okay, now let's try I Thought She Knew," and Chris got swept up in the harmonies.
JC started hanging out with Chris more after that. At first Chris figured he owed it to JC to make up for the scare he'd given him, so he never said anything when JC sat on the couch next to him and turned on Terminator or Johnny Bravo or M*A*S*H. Partly because it was the episode where Radar's mouse was in a race, and Chris liked that one. But JC was good company, too, in his way. Not better than Justin, under normal circumstances, Chris clarified scrupulously in his head. But as things were, it was kind of nice to have someone to roll his eyes at when Jaime said, "Something new today!" Or someone to look at Chris sideways when they dropped onto the couch in the evening and say, very drily, "Long day?" It was a terrible, terrible joke, and if anyone but JC said something like that to him, Chris would probably clock them. But JC, who was just as much stuck as he was, somehow had a right. Or something. Anyway, Chris didn't mind.
When Jaime let them go, Chris went out to the parking lot and was unlocking his car when he realized JC wasn't with him. He went back in and stuck his head into the practice room. "C?"
JC was kneeling on the floor in the corner, sorting some sheet music into piles. "Yeah?" he said.
JC looked up then and gave Chris a bright, uneven smile. "Yeah," he said, "be there in a minute."
"Let's go to the movies tonight," JC said at lunch.
"I dunno," Chris said. "I actually, I went and saw all the movies a while back."
"Well, but, so, it's been a while, right?" JC said. "You've probably forgotten some of them. Or at least, enough to go again."
"Oh, all right," Chris said. So they went, and with JC sprawled in the seat next to Chris, tugging on his arm till Chris leaned down to hear JC's running commentary, it was actually fun again. They bought one giant tub of popcorn and balanced it precariously on the armrest between them, till JC knocked it over during an especially emphatic wave of his hand. Then Chris started putting the popcorn on the floor instead, and JC slumped onto Chris's shoulder and whispered directly into Chris's ear.
Before, when Chris had gone by himself, he'd made a habit of sliding into his seat just as the opening titles began. But JC watched the previews avidly. "I wanna see that one," he said once, after the trailer for some Polish film with artistic lighting.
"Um," Chris said.
"Well, uh." Chris felt a little bad pointing it out, but he had to say it. "At the rate things are going, we're not really gonna get the chance."
JC shrugged. "I know that. I'm just sayin', I'd like to."
"Okay," Chris said.
"Do you think Justin's getting kind of scary lately?" Chris said abruptly once, at lunch.
"Lately?" JC said around the edges of his sandwich. Chris held up a finger, and JC grinned. "Okay, um. Justin, no, not really. He's just had to cover for himself more. The one I'm scared of is Lance."
"Lance," Chris said, considering. Lance, slithering around with his cell phone and his handshakes and perpetually sunburned cheeks. "Yeah, I could see that."
"And Joey," JC said.
"He's, like, bonded. All over the place. 'We never expected it to be such a big hit,' 'We just take Suede over on Tuesdays' ..." The corner of JC's mouth twisted.
Chris nodded. "Freaks!" he declared. JC smirked and swallowed his last bite of bread.
When they went back inside, Lance and Justin and Joey were all standing at the piano, looking down at the music with diligent, intent expressions. Joey leaned down and played a few notes, and Lance gestured with an elegant hand. Freaks, Chris thought with no small satisfaction. He went over and slung his arms heavily over Lance's and Justin's shoulders. "What's cooking, chickens?" he said. Behind him, he heard JC giggle.
JC liked to buy a CD in the evening, always a different one and always one at a time. "The first time I thought of getting new music," he told Chris, "I got, like, a whole truckload, and I was so psyched. And then morning rolled around and I'd only listened to two of them, two and half tops. So now I just focus on one."
"Because you couldn't have done that before," Chris said.
"Well," JC said, "now, I never have to argue about returns." His cheeks were a little pink. Chris couldn't help himself and reached over to tickle JC's sides.
"You can't take it with you," he said pompously. JC gasped,
"fucker," and squirmed, and wriggled, but failed completely in his attempts to roll away.
"You know what we could do, though," Chris said later, during an afternoon break. "We could go to dinner."
"Sure, that'd be fun," JC said.
"No, I mean. Like, fancy restaurants. Really good food. Expensive food," Chris added.
"Oh!" JC said, and his eyes lit up. "Why didn't I think of that?"
Some places they couldn't get into, because you had to make reservations months in advance there, and their names just didn't do them any good. But lots of places they could. They'd find a maitre d' willing to squeeze them in - a party of two wasn't all that difficult to seat, after all - and then they'd be grinning at each other across a white tablecloth and the sparkle of silver and glass. Chris would loosen his tie, and JC would toe off his shoes under the table before ordering the wine. The food itself was sometimes a hit-or-miss thing for Chris, but he'd look across the table at JC, JC's eyes dipping half-closed as he drew his fork from his mouth, and not mind at all.
"Let me treat this time," Chris would say, when they were sipping the last of their coffee.
"No, no," JC said magnanimously, waving Chris off, "let me." Chris caught his eye, and they giggled till the people at the neighboring tables turned to glare.
They'd pretty much memorized Terminator, so now they watched with the sound off and did the voices themselves. "Kyle, what's it like when you go through time?" Chris said, and JC said impressively,
"White light. Pain. Like being ripped inside out... slowly." Then he ruined the effect by laughing. Chris smacked him hard in the arm.
"Sorry, sorry," JC said. He quieted down, and they watched without comment for a while.
"Hey, don't get mad, okay?" Chris said after a while.
JC looked up at him and waited.
"Why didn't you go on tour?"
JC wrapped a strand of hair around his finger and unwrapped it again. "I just wanted to make the album," he said. "Why didn't you?"
Chris snorted. "Yeah, right."
"No, c'mon. You could have, if you really wanted to, recorded something and gone out with it."
Chris looked back at the TV. "I dunno," he said finally. "I thought we were supposed to be on vacation, or something. It's all you freakin' overachievers running around make me look bad."
JC sat up and eyed Chris critically. "Aah," he said, "you look all right."
Chris snickered and pulled JC back down against his shoulder.
JC got an idea for a song suddenly at eleven o'clock at night. He tore a piece of paper out of Chris's fax machine and started scribbling, long angled scrawls that Chris could barely read. "There," JC said when he'd laid the pen down. "There, I've got it." His hands were trembling a little.
"Good thing, too," Chris said. "It's almost bedtime."
JC turned and stared at Chris, mouth open. His fingers tightened on the paper.
Then Chris got it. "Of all the stupid-ass times to get an inspiration," he said. "Nice going, C."
JC's eyes were already narrowing. "Fuck you, Chris," he hissed back, "'cause I know you've never been stupid in your life, but -" and Chris flinched a little. He bit his lip and touched JC's knee.
"Wait," he said, "JC, look. I didn't mean that, really, just - it's gonna be a shame to lose it, y'know?"
"Yeah," JC said, and he looked sadder again at the thought. But at least he didn't look mad anymore, and that, Chris felt, was something.
"Okay," JC said abruptly. "There's nothing else - we'll just have to memorize it, okay? You have to help me."
"Sure," Chris said, nodding. So JC sang him the melody, the core section of it that he'd worked out. Chris sang it back, and then JC sang the harmony with him, winding through and around Chris's part. There weren't any words yet, those would come later, so they sang everything on ah, like The Great Gig in the Sky. Chris hopped up next to JC on the lateral filing cabinet where he kept his tax returns and stuff, and they sang the song over and over and over again.
In the morning Chris woke up to the telephone ringing. "H'lo?" he muttered.
"Sing the song!" JC demanded. "C'mon, Chris, please?"
Chris had a moment of panic, and then he opened his mouth and sang. Scratchily, but singing. On the other end of the line JC sang too. When they finished, there was a momentary pause.
"Wow," JC said. "I think we did it."
Chris grinned. "Go put on some pants, maestro," he said. "You can't do all your singing from the privacy of your home."
JC snorted and hung up.
"Hey," JC said when they were pulling out of the studio parking lot later, "let's go to IHOP."
"What?" Chris said. "Who goes to IHOP at seven thirty at night? And anyway, weren't we gonna try that Peruvian place downtown?"
"I want chocolate chip pancakes," JC insisted. So Chris turned the wheel and took them there.
The pancakes came, but JC didn't start eating. Chris glanced up from a forkful of hash browns, and JC was looking at him.
"What?" Chris said.
"Nothing, just. I like your hair this length."
Chris put a hand up to the back of his head. "I, uh." He didn't know what to say. JC grinned at him and picked up his own fork. But before he touched his food, he turned the fork again to point the tines at Chris. "Sing the song!" he said.
"What, now? I'm eating." Chris said.
"Sing the song, you promised," JC said, waving his hands. "Sing, sing, sing, sing, sing!"
Chris shook his head again, but as JC started humming, Chris swallowed the bite he'd been chewing and joined in. When they finished, JC sat back with a look of relief. "Thanks," he said, and began to dig in.
The waiter, who had been approaching their table before they started singing, veered off to the other end of the section and didn't come back. But they already had their food, and looking at JC shoveling in pancakes, Chris figured it was no big loss.
When they got back to Chris's house, they sat down on the couch with Terminator on mute. "You still have chocolate on your mouth," Chris told JC. JC's tongue slid over his upper lip.
"Okay?" he said.
"No, uh," Chris said. He rubbed off the smear with his thumb, resting the side of his hand on JC's jaw. Chris rubbed at the spot once more, and JC caught his breath.
Chris looked at JC's eyes, shadowed and flickering in the light from the TV. "C?" Chris said stupidly. JC put his own hand on Chris's cheek and kissed him.
Oh, Chris thought. He blinked once, moved his mouth, kissed back. His hand found its way into JC's hair and held onto it. They went on kissing.
He was wrapped up in JC's arms, and then JC's hand was on his back, stroking, and Chris made a tiny sound. "Chris," JC said thickly, and Chris pulled back and plucked at the shoulders of JC's T-shirt.
"Come on," he said. JC pulled it off, and Chris slid his hands up JC's back. JC leaned forward and kissed the side of Chris's neck, pulling his collar down. Chris ran his hands back down, over JC's ass, the sweet warm curves of it, and around to grasp JC's hips. JC shimmied a little, and Chris hooked his fingers in the belt loops on JC's jeans and hissed, "come on."
JC laughed out loud and said, "Patience, you heard of that ever?" He let go of Chris and stood up, unfastening the jeans. Chris shook his head and watched, he was so hard, watching, and JC was standing there naked and reaching for Chris's hand. Chris let himself be pulled up. He pressed against JC's chest through the thin cloth of his own shirt, and JC's dick pressed against him.
"Come on," he said again, and JC didn't say anything, just followed him upstairs.
Chris's shirt landed somewhere on his bedroom floor, and his pants probably too, he didn't know. He didn't care. JC kissed his chin and stroked down along his throat and chest and pushed him down onto his bed. Chris wrapped his arms around JC's neck and his leg over JC's thigh, and JC kissed him.
JC nuzzled at Chris's hip while Chris was rooting around in the drawer of his nightstand, and licked behind Chris's knees before pressing them back. Chris let out a breath when JC's dick pushed into him. JC leaned on one arm and paused. "Okay?" he said.
"yeah," Chris said.
JC smiled and thrust again.
Later, after his eyes tightened and his lip curled and his hips drove unevenly faster against Chris for long, long seconds, JC slid back and eased Chris's legs down. "You," he said, "you're just -" He was smiling, and Chris pulled him up and kissed him. Then JC stretched out on his side and drew Chris towards him. With JC's mouth on his cock, Chris thrust and arched and moaned. He didn't even try to make words.
Afterwards, JC moved up to grab a pillow, leaned over for another kiss, and then curled himself against Chris's side. "Night," he said.
"Night," Chris answered. He rubbed his fingers through JC's hair and fell asleep.
The next morning Chris woke up with his arm nearly numb under JC's neck. JC's mouth was open a little, and his closed eyelids curved in a gentle line. JC, Chris thought, unable to get beyond that, and started trying slide his arm out slowly.
Then he sat bolt upright, tipping JC to the side. "the fuck, Chris?" JC mumbled. He opened his eyes halfway and rubbed them.
"JC," Chris said. He waved his hand at the bed, the window, the world outside. "JC!"
JC leaned up on one elbow, looked around the room, and then back at Chris. "Hey," he said, smiling. Chris couldn't help it, he put a hand on JC's jaw and kissed him. JC folded back down onto the mattress.
Then it was his turn to sit up sharply. "The song!" he said. "Sing the song!"
"Geeze lou-freakin'-wheeze, give me a heart attack," Chris said. JC glared.
"The song, Chris," he said, and Chris gave in and sang it. JC scribbled furiously on the back of an old itinerary that he'd grabbed off a heap on the floor. "Okay," he said, "and now -" he hummed a little of the harmony and began marking it down. "Could you keep going on your part?" He chewed on the end of the pen he was using and then sang a few bars, quietly. Chris sang the main melody a dozen times or more while JC wrote, crossed out, and wrote again.
"Okay," JC said finally. "That's, I think that's everything we had last night. Thank you."
"No problem," Chris said.
"Now," JC said, laying his hand on Chris's thigh, "where were we?"
They got up a little later. Chris kept looking around the room, somehow half-expecting something to be different. But it all looked just like the night before. Still, he felt wired.
JC insisted on calling the time and temp line to make sure. Chris rolled his eyes. "You really don't think it's a new day?" he said.
"Sure I do," JC. "I just wanna make sure what day it is. Like, is today tomorrow? or is it like a year from now? or what?"
"Um," Chris said, and decided to let that sentence go.
It was just the next day, it turned out. "See, we didn't miss a thing," Chris said, and JC rolled his eyes. They had rehearsal again that morning, though. It was high time to get going.
"You can have the first shower," JC said generously, lounging back on the bed.
"Thanks," Chris said.
When JC came down after his own shower, he was wearing Chris's red T-shirt. Chris smirked. "You know that's dirty now," he said.
"I like this shirt," JC said serenely. Chris kissed him again before they went out to the car.
They were the last ones at the studio; they could hear all the others' voices in the hallway before they went in. "This is gonna be weird," Chris said.
"Yup," JC said. He grabbed Chris's hand. "Ready?"
"Hey, guys," Joey called when they came in, and then he whooped loudly. "Look at this, will ya?" he called, and Lance and Justin followed him over to crowd around Chris and JC.
"Hey hey, kids, this ain't no circus," Chris said. "Move along. Nothin' to see."
"Oh, I think there is," Lance said. He rubbed his chin and nodded wisely. Justin tried to nod back and burst into laughter.
Joey high-fived JC. JC blushed a little, but put his palm up readily enough to meet Joey's. "Go, go, C!" Joey said. "Took you long enough."
"You have no idea," Chris said.
"Oh, please," Justin said. "Like we didn't all see that coming ages ago."
Chris turned his head to look at Justin, and then at JC. JC shrugged, his hand still wrapped firmly around Chris's. Justin socked Chris in the arm, smirking broadly. Joey ruffled his hair, and then Lance squeezed Chris's shoulder with an equally knowing grin. JC tightened his fingers, and Chris held on.
Then at long last Jaime hurried in, and they all moved to their places and started to settle. "All right, people!" Jaime called out. "We've got a lot to do today, so. Let's get to work!"
[Credits: Grand theft from Groundhog Day, of course, as well as petty larceny from Terminator and Rebecca Riots. (But it's always with love, so much love...)]
[Now with a ficlet sequel: come back tomorrow] | [smile]