Join the Club
You don't know when you figured out that they were all gay. All four of them.
Now, of course, it seems like you always knew, but a part of your mind insists that you couldn't have believed it until you had the proof. You might have believed it about Lance, certainly, about JC, probably, about Chris, maybe, about Joey, possibly... but not *all* of them, surely? And you don't know when the evidence crossed over from suggestion into a cold, hard fact-- when Lance emerged from a backstage bathroom, wiping his mouth? When JC was in Chris' room when you banged for breakfast? When JC and Lance slouched two hours late into a party, with their hair messed and their skin glowing? Or perhaps you were really as surprised as you didn't act when you rode your new bike over to Chris' place, and he and Joey were sprawled naked on the living room rug, watching porn and drinking.
* * * * *
"It's not what it looks like," Joey says, fumbling for clothes which are, as you point out, mostly on the kitchen floor. You don't laugh, because it isn't funny. You keep your eyes fixed on your new shoes--Adidas, blue with silver stripes.
"You're too young to know about this," Chris says, looking wastedly disconcerted.
"Lance isn't too young," you blurt, and the look they both direct at you is one of surprise.
"JC's gonna *freak*," Joey says, finally getting his pants on. Chris hits him, and Joey starts, and then cringes.
"JC is, too," you say, barely a question, and they look at you and, slowly, nod.
"Okay, shit, this is bad." Chris vanishes around the kitchen corner, but his voice drifts back-- "Are you gonna be okay, Jus? 'Cause C has this thing about not wanting you to know until you're ready..." he trails off and you hear clothes sliding over skin, rough jerks of denim, and see the shadow of Chris hopping on one foot.
"Ready how?" you say, wishing somebody would press stop on the damn movie, with its cocks and asses and loud noises and disgustingly slimy bodies.
"Not ready like *that*," Joey says quickly, and you don't know what "that" is, you really don't, but he rushes on. "Just, like. With Lance, he already knew, and you obviously, y'know, um, don't know, like, for *yourself*, not that I'm saying there is anything to know and probably there isn't, but if there's anything you don't know yet then it could be, um. It could make you make the wrong decision."
"Uh, *what*?" you say, and finally walk over to the couch and take the remote and turn the damn tv off.
Chris rushes back out, dressed, and slaps Joey on the back of the head. "God, shut *up*, Fatone." He turns to you, hands shoved deep in his pockets. "JC thinks you're impressionable, and that if you know we're all gay then you'll try to be gay too."
"Which would be a bad thing," Joey adds. "If you're not."
"Well, it wouldn't *have* to be a bad thing," Chris says, "but the older you were, the less likely that you'd do something that would mess with your head, you know?"
"And it would be less likely to mess with your head if you *did* do something," Joey continues.
Chris sighs and scratches his nose. "And even if you *were*... if you weren't *ready*, then it would be a bad thing."
"Because you're better off coming to it on your own terms," Joey says, and apparently they're finished, because they stand there and look at you expectantly. They're both barefoot, and you know they're commando under their pants because you can see their boxers on the floor, and Joey's chest is still bare, and Chris' neck has faint bite marks on it.
There's a smell in the room, and you don't know how to describe it, but you've smelled it before, lots of times, and now you think it smells like sex.
You think you want to leave. "I'm cool," you say, backing towards the door. "I just--"
"Time," Chris says, nodding fervently. "Absolutely. You got it."
You can hear them both growling "shit. shit. *shit*." as you pull the door closed behind you.
* * * * *
You're not cool, you are *so* not cool, and maybe you thought about them before and maybe you already had a clue, but your clue bus didn't have a naked Joey with a naked Chris sprawled between his legs with his head on Joey's chest, and technicolour porn, and that *smell* on it. Well, actually your bus *did* have that smell on it, salty and tangy and a little musty, and you'd kind of associated that smell with four big noisy brothers and junk food rotting under the couch, and Joey pouring a whole can of beer into Chris' bunk, and having your hair pulled and staying up all night, which is kind of the problem.
You'd thought that was about you, about all five of you, but it turns out that it was four of *them* and one of you, and you weren't in the centre of something and you're pretty sure that shouldn't bother you as much as it does.
And your bike is so new that you can't find the brakes in time when a dog runs in front of you and a trashcan is in the way when you swerve and the wheels are a little bigger than you're used to and there's that sudden sick feeling as the world tilts and collides with you, and now your knees are bleeding like you're ten years old. That's how old you feel, right now.
The dog barks at you, and it's pretty obvious that it's not wishing you a happy birthday.
When you finally get home, your Mom is there looking worried, and she wails when she sees your legs and gets out the kit and sits you on the kitchen bench and stains two old towels, cleaning up the mess. You feel sick from the pain of riding home with blood pulsing out of you with every pedal, and the room swims wanly to the tune of her crooned reassurances.
"Mom, what do you think about gay people?" you ask, your stomach churning.
She studies you carefully, and looks nearly as disconcerted as Chris, and she's not drunk but her answer is very long and makes even less sense than whatever Joey and Chris were saying, but she talks a lot about different kinds of love, and mentions Jesus but doesn't say anything about hell, and she knew you were going to Chris' place, so you guess she means that she knew, and she's cool, and that she wants you to try to be cool, too.
"I'm cool," you tell her, but you're glad anyway when she hugs you.
* * * * *
Your party is that night, even though you're not really in the mood anymore. If you hear "sweet fifteen and never been kissed" one more time, you're gonna hit somebody, not just because you've been hearing it since you were sweet fucking thirteen, but especially now that never-been-kissed has taken on a whole new... *gender*, one that suddenly makes it *true*. But you're good at smiling when you don't want to, and everybody seems to be having a great time.
JC and Joey and Lance and Chris all show up together, and you smile and hug and they smile and hug back and make jokes and at least you're not excluded from this, the unspoken understanding which amounts to 'perform now, deal with shit later'. You're a team of professionals, you realise with a great deal of pride, and that makes the laughter flow from your throat much more easily.
Your cousin brought two of her friends to the party, and one is really pretty, but she doesn't want to go into the garden with you, and you wonder if it's your fault, and if it's because you were trying too hard or not trying hard enough.
Later in the night, JC, very drunk, comes up and hugs you and says, "we love you", and you're now very drunk too, in spite of your mother's best efforts, and you say, "I love you too", and mean it. He hugs you for a long time, like something terrible has happened, like you might break if he lets you go. You feel his ribs slide under your hands as he breathes in and out, and his breath flutters on your neck, until your uncle comes up to say his goodbyes.
After you wave two more cars off, Lance, relatively sober, takes you aside and says,
"My pastor is really good. You know, to talk about anything."
"No, I'm cool," you say breezily, and pluck his beer from his hand. But as you drink, you decide to remember Lance's pastor, because you know Lance knows you well, and if he thinks you might need to talk about it, then he could be right.
Chris and Joey have obviously been drinking all afternoon, and have reached the state of long-term wastedness where tiredness balances their complete lack of inhibition, so they're functioning with a weird semblance of normalcy. You thought your mother would disapprove, but she's laughing at their jokes, and threating to kill them if they puke on her carpet, and you've hardly spoken to them but hardly anyone else is left, so you don't really have any excuse not to go over.
"JuJu!" Chris cries, and grabs you and kisses your cheek. "MMMMWAH!" The crazy glint in his eye made you expect it, because it's pretty normal for Chris, but you didn't anticipate how hot his lips would feel against your skin, and how shockingly lithe his body would feel where it pressed against yours. You laugh and push him off you, propelling yourself back into Joey. Joey slides his arms around you and his lips are amazingly soft on your other cheek, and it's so tender and warm and enveloping that you shiver and pull away.
Your mother is standing right there, and all you can think is what it must have been like, earlier--Chris wild like a firecracker and Joey stealing warmly over him like the late summer sun. And now you know you've never thought about it before, not *really*, because it feels like a switch has been thrown, and all you can think is, oh, shit, JC was right. I'm not ready.
Lance is there, though, blessedly calm and sober, and he takes you upstairs and puts you to bed and is careful not to touch you, and the fact that you're disappointed, that you want to know how he feels, too, is enough to scare you so badly that you tell him to go away and leave you alone.
He leaves a half-bottle of bourbon on your nightstand, so you take his unspoken suggestion and drink as much of it as you can. You finally fall asleep on the bathroom floor, waiting to throw up.
* * * * *
You don't say anything the next day, because all you're willing to think about is work, work, work. They don't say anything, because they're waiting for you to talk first.
They don't touch you, but they don't touch one another, either. At least, not in front of you, and you don't think they're doing it when you're not there. You realise, after a few days of this, that you're liking the way you're the centre of things, and that it's hurting the group, so at lunch you nudge Chris for no reason, like you used to. He nudges you back automatically, and you open your mouth to say something like "I'm cool, so just do your thing already," but what comes out is, "sorry."
"*We're* sorry," JC says, looking earnestly at you.
"You're *much* too young for this," Chris tells you, looking suddenly his age, and alien. Lance looks sad and wise, and even though he's only got two years on you, he reminds you of school and how mature the seniors seemed, because they'd done their SAT's and driven cars and elected school presidents, and you hadn't.
Joey, on the other side of you, puts an arm around your shoulders, and somehow you always knew Joey was more than four years older than you, because he's nineteen in New York years. And JC's been to LA and been fucked over and come back, and that aged him a century, three years ago, when he was seventeen.
So lost your virginity when you were eleven, and could swear like a motherfucker when you were eight, and have fended off passes from women twice your age since you were ten. You're a pretty jaded fifteen, you know that, and think maybe it should be a good thing to feel as young as you really are.
You wish the feeling would go away, though.
* * * * *
You have so many damn *questions*; your head buzzes with them night and day. You almost call Lance's pastor, but he doesn't know the answers to any of them, so one night when the others are out clubbing, you knock on Lance's door, and ask if you can talk.
"Sure," he says, and clears some of his books off his bed and throws them onto Joey's, and you close the door and sit down when he pulls his legs up. It's obviously not just Lance's bed, though, and the other bed obviously isn't Joey's, because you've been in Stuttgart two days now, and the other bed is still so completely covered with their crap from the bus that it couldn't possibly have been slept in.
The domesticity of this arrangement slams into you-- you've had plenty of sex but you've never had somebody come home and slide tiredly or drunkenly or hungrily into the sheets next to you, without any need for preamble. It's like they're married, you realise dizzily, because Lance doesn't even notice what the other bed implies. Lance is taking it for granted that his bed is also somebody else's, serenely unaware of his assumption that Joey will be right beside him when he wakes up.
It could just as easily be Chris or JC beside him in the morning, though. You've seen enough by now to know that these four only need two beds between them, and it doesn't matter to them who sleeps in which, or if somebody sleeps somewhere else for a night or two. You remember how it was when your parents were still married, and the screaming which happened when your father wasn't in your mother's bed all night, and the screaming which ended with your father sleeping on the couch, and you're struck by the calm civility of this arrangement. Chris might yell at Lance for squeezing his toothpaste in the middle, and Lance might throw all of Joey's laundry into the hotel hallway because his socks reek like the devil pissed on them, and they may all hate JC for a week because he's a whiny girl when he has a cold, but nobody is ever without somebody else's bed to sleep in, if they don't want to sleep alone.
"How is it possible," you ask Lance, because it seems as good an opening question as any, "that you all. that you're all..."
Lance tilts his head to the side, and you know he's already thought over his answers to these questions. "It's not as surprising when you look at it as a cause rather than an effect." He grimaces, and gestures to his science textbook. "As a causal factor. Joey and Chris were already, you know, and so were Joey and JC. And Chris and JC hit it off, and there it was."
"And Jason?" you say, a little incredulously, because you'd always thought none of them liked Jason much, even though they never said it aloud, and he was friendly to you, and a good singer. It was a surprise to you when Jason quit, because Jason was even more ambitious than Chris, and had believed in Lou's power to make it happen for them.
Lance shakes his head. "Jason was... not cool, apparently." You laugh, maybe at yourself for being as uncool as you are right now, and maybe at Jason for failing where you've mostly succeeded. "And Chris pushed it--"
"as Chris does."
You've seen Chris decide to get rid of people before, and he's good at it. Chris is sweetness and light, unless he decides to be vicious. You have no idea what it would have taken to make Jason quit, but you know whatever it took, Chris is capable of it.
"And then there was you."
You remember the auditions for the new bass singer, and how three guys were rejected, but only one was because he couldn't sing well enough. You can't even remember their names, but you remember the shared looks as they'd sung with them, and the guy with freckles and red dreadlocks who was a good rapper too, and so dorkishly funny that it came off as hip. Simon, you remember suddenly, because he also had the missing "n". Lou had said he was in, and you'd shrugged and nodded and thought that was going to be the end of it, until JC and Chris and Joey had all flatly refused to take him. "Bad vibe," JC had said, and Chris had folded his arms and raised an insolent eyebrow which promised the guy wouldn't last. You'd been confused by their sudden and mysterious solidarity. Lou had been really, *really* pissed.
And then Lance had come along, so tanned and pretty, a palette of summery browns, and screwed up his audition. You'd felt sorry for him but didn't object when Lou crossed his name off the list. The other three had protested, inexplicably, and demanded Lou give him more time. "Not *my* time," Lou had said, so Lance had come with you all to Joey's house, and swum in the pool and played records in the basement, and Chris had teased him and JC had given him the last sandwich, and he'd looked apologetic when he beat you in a swimming race, and Joey had bounced the ball at him in the driveway and said, "you're in". And as you warmed up with him for the second audition, the sound of him underneath Joey and JC and Chris was flawless, and you knew Lou wouldn't say no again.
"And then there was me," Lance agrees, nodding.
"But did they *know*?" This is another thing you can't figure out--they'd known Lance for ten minutes, and made up their minds. "Did *you* know?"
"Oh, yeah," he says, and shrugs. "After a while you get an instinct for these things."
You want to ask more--how long until, and how did it, and why isn't, and what if, and for God's sake, Lance, what about *me*? That last is the most important question, and you don't ask it because you already know that Lance is going to tell you that it's something you have to figure out for yourself.
The frantic buzzing in your head settles, though. You're not uncool, because the others have instinct, and Chris *invited* you and never tried to get rid of you, and Lance helps you with your homework, and Joey asks you over to swim, and JC makes your sandwiches just the way you like them.
"Thanks," you say to Lance, who looks surprised.
"No problem," he tells you. "But stop *worrying*, okay? You're cool."
And finally, you are.
"Is Lou cool?" you ask.
"Hell, no! Are you kidding me?"
You laugh, because you can see the irony--the group is unstoppable because you're five fingers of the one hand, and if four of the fingers are shockingly close together, then all the better to seize the world with. You've had success brewing in your collective palm since Lance's audition, and Lou is no fool, and knows it.
"What about Johnny?"
"He thinks it's 'unfortunate', but he's mostly cool."
"What about your moms?" you ask, and Lance grimaces.
"They're trying," he says, rubbing his forehead, "but who can blame them for thinking it's fucked up? It probably is."
You look down at the narrow bed you're both sitting on. Joey and Lance are big guys, and they could only fit if they were wrapped around one another every night.
It's not fucked up, you think wistfully. It's really... something.
* * * * *
So, it turns out, as the months hurtle by, that things become commonplace. It's not just Lance with Joey's beard burn on his cheek, and not just JC and Chris laughing inside the tiny bus shower. You realise one night when you bypass JC's room that you've absorbed the unspoken roster they have for picking up girls. That's another thing you've asked Lance, and he said,
"it's part of the job."
"and besides," Joey added from the couch, "friction is friction, baby!"
You couldn't say how the system goes, but you know Lance picked up tonight, too, and Chris should have done it two days ago, but didn't. He'll make up for it by the weekend, though, you could bet your life savings on it.
The easy trading of partners doesn't seem so improbable once you realise that they're two steady couples and an array of casual flings. Soon you can guess when Lance and Joey will need space away from one another, and when JC and Chris are about to start a fight over something random and inconsequential. There's a rhythm to who sleeps where, and when JC tells Chris to "just please shut up for one goddamn fucking *second*", a breeze of realignment drifts over the room, and you can sniff it and know that it'll be Chris with Joey and Lance with JC, tonight. It's a nimble and neverending dance of accomodation, and they do it so unconsciously that you wonder if they're aware of its patterns at all.
At a party in Vegas, you point to a tall blond guy and whisper to JC, "he's hot for you." JC stares at you, and you look around the room with suddenly brighter eyes. You've got an *instinct* for things now, you notice with some surprise, and test yourself with Joey and Chris.
"Dude, you are *good*," Chris says, slapping your back, after you get eight out of ten right, and can also guess which one Joey likes best.
One day you walk into a room, and Joey and Chris are hitting one another with pillows, and shouting.
"No, I am!"
"No, *I* am!"
"No, fuckwit, *I* am!"
"No, fuckwits," Lance interrupts. "I am."
"Wrong again. I am," JC says, sounding bored.
"Are what?" you ask.
Chris hesitates, but Joey grins wickedly. "The best cocksucker."
"Oh," you say, opening the fridge and grabbing an apple. "You're all wrong. *I* am."
Nobody says anything and you think maybe that's settled the argument, but then Chris drops his pillow and folds his arms and says, "you are not."
"You couldn't know," you tell him, taking a huge, crunchy bite, and chewing it right in his face, "because you've never had the pleasure."
Chris looks stunned, and then laughs out loud.
"Ladies, we have a winner," Lance drawls, and JC applauds desultorily. Joey's grinning at you. You feel pretty cool.
* * * * *
Your sixteenth birthday, and there are butterflies in your stomach for the first time in years. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed--it's going to be horrible, but at least it's the last time you'll have to hear it. And maybe it's still half-true, if you count guys as well as girls, but you're determined to take care of the still-true half before the party.
You've thought about this a lot. You've planned it, even. You've decided on Joey, because he's the most likely to do it, and the least likely to laugh, and he has a beard, which is something you want to feel on your face. You figure the best approach with him is just plain asking, so when you're dressed and your hair is styled, you say, "hey, come here," and Joey gets up and follows you into your room. You close the door and lean back against it and take a deep breath, and are glad you chose honesty, because you don't have to hide your nervousness.
"What's up?" he asks, looking worried.
"Could you kiss me?" you say, looking straight at him.
His eyes look so soft, so liquid. "Why?" Chris would have joked, at this point.
"I'm sixteen now. I want to try it."
He watches your face, and you see it on his when he realises there's no reason to say no. JC would have come up with an excuse.
"Okay," he says, and places his huge, warm hands on your cheeks, and you feel his breath, cool as gel toothpaste on your lips for a moment before the kiss happens. Your eyes drift shut and your hands flutter to his hips as his mouth opens over yours and moves gently, beard tickling the corner of your mouth. Lance would have left it there, but Joey is never condescending, and his tongue flickers over your lips until you part them.
Then it's a real kiss, and you're kissing back, and you feel the blood in your veins throbbing, and the breath catching in your throat, and he thrusts deeply into your mouth and you meet that and match it, tugging on his body until it presses all along you into the door. There's a roughness to it that you like, and a boldness that turns you on, and an assuredness that you could learn to crave. He pulls away for a quick breath and dives in again, kissing you harder, sliding his hands down your face and across your chest and then around your waist to pull you closer to him. You're not hard yet but your hips want to thrust against his, and when they do he thrusts back, once, and sucks hard on your tongue, briefly, and then gently draws away.
You look at him, at his lips, at his mouth, and you know your eyes are glittering.
"Okay?" he asks, his hands still on your waist.
"Yeah," you say, and it surprises you that you're so breathless.
There's a hammering on the door that makes you both jump. "Justin," Chris hollers. "Are you ready?"
You and Joey step back and you yank the door open, catching Chris with his fist in mid-air.
"I'm ready," you tell him, and behind you, Joey laughs.