Nine in the morning, and already scorching.
JC was unaffected, but to the rest of them the heat was like water to be slogged through, danced in, sung under. Lou had lined up a showcase for that evening, and there were two new demos in it; Chris was cursing Lou's name with every laboured step and Lance was already shaking, but Justin was glad. The new songs were much better and, according to Lou, this rep was high up in Sony.
So it was worth it, he told Lance, fetching him another cup of water. It was worth it, he assured Joey, who was so hungover he could barely stand, white-faced and shivering in his sweat-soaked singlet. This could be the one, and if they could say afterwards that they'd only learned the choreography this morning, then the rep would be even more impressed.
"Justin, shut the fuck up," Joey said, too ragged for venom, but with enough disgust on his nauseated face that Justin stepped back, stung.
"Justin," JC said, more kindly, coming over from Lance's side. "Why don't you go grab us some breakfast, huh? Some sandwiches?" He handed him five dollars, which wouldn't be enough to feed all of them, but JC was the only one who ever had five dollars to spare at all.
So, sandwiches, for Joey, to settle his stomach, and Chris, who was unbearable if he didn't eat every hour, and Lance, who didn't need one but what else could they do for him? He and JC could wait, and always did, for whenever Lou showed up with lunch money, or Justin's mom finished work in the afternoon.
"Hey, Jup, wait up!" Chris shouted, ran up and fell into step behind him. "I'll give them some space," he whispered conspiratorially, and they left through the side door, stepping from the arid head of the warehouse into the sticky heat outside.
"Fuckin' Lou," Chris said again, but much more cheerfully now. He slung an arm around Justin's shoulders. "Like our voices aren't enough, we've got to conform to some fucking formula that nobody wants, just because some other group got big that way."
Justin scuffed along the ground. "We're gonna suck tonight, aren't we?"
Chris pretended to consider it. "No, we're gonna rule. Because we're superhuman. We can put on a showcase with ten hours' notice. We can put Lance up the back so he can copy your feet while singing something he only heard on Monday. We can pause between songs for Joey to go puke his guts out." He ran up to a street light and swung himself around it. "We can do all this and more, with big smiles on our faces, because it is what Lou wants." He did a few quick tap steps and bowed, beaming like a showman. Justin couldn't help but smile back, even if Chris' smile was fake.
They turned the corner and angled across the road, heading for the snack store between the cabinetmaker and the paint store. "But Lou's gonna make it happen, right?" he had to ask. Chris ruffled his hair, like he always did when Justin started wondering about Lou.
"If Lou doesn't, he's paying for somebody else to make us happen. It's all cool, kid, it's all cool."
Justin grinned to himself, thinking of the contract Chris had stuck over the rusting dartboard in his flat. It had bits highlighted, like "on or before January 1, 1996," which was when Lou could dump them.
Chris seemed to think it was when, not who, and didn't particularly care about how, either, except for when Lou shouted at Lance and Lance looked like he wished they'd picked somebody else.
"Race ya," Chris shouted, suddenly already running, and Justin had to swear and chase after him, practicing his breathing with every step, trying to time it so he would breathe as he stepped through the doorway of the shop.
He was half a beat off when he burst into the dim coolness, but half a step ahead of Chris, which, he decided, was more important.
They got ham and cheese for Lance and ham and tomato for Joey, and Chris said "nah" when Justin asked what he wanted, fishing in his pocket for change.
"What's your favourite colour?" he called out, a moment later.
"O-kay," Chris said, shaking his head, "what's your second favourite colour?"
Justin thought for a moment. "Red. Why?"
"Because we'll get asked all the time, when we're rich and famous!" Chris said gleefully, and then held up two popsicles.
Justin took the red one and then held it to Chris's mouth. "What do you like about being famous, Mr Kirkpatrick?" he asked in as deep a voice as he could manage.
The clerk was staring at them, but Chris threw down two dollars and winked at him.
"What I like," he said, putting his sunglasses back on as they blinked into the sunshine, "is that I have bling bling up the ying yang."
Justin laughed, and tried to put disapproval into his voice. "It's not about the music, the fans, making your mother proud?"
"Well," Chris said, then took a huge bite out of his microphone, talking around ice. "It was nice being able to put my mother in an old folks home. It's a great place, she can only make one phone call a week."
"And what about the women?"
"I like how they pay for dinner and then demand sex."
Chris was so cool, Justin thought, as he started talking about speeding tickets and parties and his New York penthouse with the carpet made of real leopard fur. Chris just had it all together, unlike Lance who seemed to think dancing was a chore, or Joey who didn't care if they rehearsed or not, or JC who was cool too, but had no direction. Chris was gonna make it happen for him. For them all.
He was telling Chris that when they stopped to throw their popsicle wrappers into the bushes by the door, and Chris put a hand on Justin's arm as he reached for the door handle.
"Hey, kid," he said, grinning. "You've got red in your mouth." Before Justin could reach up to wipe it away, Chris bent down and--
Chris bent down and--
Chris was kissing him.
His tongue was inside Justin's mouth, and his lips were like the weather, heated and moist and sticky, and Justin was struggling for balance and didn't know what to do wtih his hands, with his feet.
He was trying to co-ordinate his limbs into pushing Chris off him, but Chris retreated as suddenly as he'd come on.
"Kid," he said, hand on the wall by Justin's head, managing to tower over him, even though they were the same height; glaring down at him with eyes that were suddenly dangerous; angling his body so that Justin felt very insignficant and very small.
"Kid," he said again, "you haven't caught onto reality yet, have you?"
Caught onto it how? Justin thought numbly, and shook his head, because he obviously hadn't.
"We're gonna go back in there," Chris said, soft and dark, "and dance, and sing, until we dance and sing tonight, and do you know why?" He didn't wait for Justin to guess. "Because we've sold our souls to the devil, to get what we want."
Justin looked down at the sandwiches in his hands. He'd crushed them against the wall and they were all squashed out of shape now.
"Why," he said, and realised he knew that he'd sold his soul, knew why he'd done it. "Why are you telling me that?" he asked, eventually.
"Because the devil always gets the better end of the deal," Chris said, pushed off the wall, stepped back and spat onto the wilting grass. "Lou is gonna make us famous, okay? Lou is gonna make us famous, and himself rich."
"But," Justin said, feeling the sandwiches get squeezed under his gripping fingers, "why are you telling me?"
Chris kissed him again, gentler. It wasn't so bad this time. He stroked his hand down Justin's face, and smiled. "Because, baby, making it happen is the one thing you don't need to worry about."