Atlantic City

by >>Jae

everything dies baby that's a fact

JC lay in the crumpled sheets and waited. He could just barely hear the sound of the shower through the bathroom door. Joey usually sang in the shower, but JC couldn't tell if he was singing now. If he held his breath and listened hard, he could probably tell. He didn't try.

JC was good at waiting. It was the thing he was best at. It was a good skill to have. He had thought, once, that there'd be a point when he wouldn't have to wait anymore, but what he'd learned was that you never got so rich or so famous that you got to stop waiting. You just got to wait in bigger, prettier rooms.

This wasn't the biggest room JC had waited in, or the prettiest. Lately JC liked large empty spaces. Spare, not much furniture, shining wood floors, an abstract picture or two on clean white walls. Rooms like the galleries at museums, with the same hush to them. Rooms like that were a reminder. Rooms like that let you think about what you were waiting for.

This room was just the opposite. Walls papered in a garish pattern, the carpet thick around his ankles, cluttered with chairs and couches and little tables that served no purpose other than to hold ugly ornaments, rooms like this invited noise. Rooms like this were designed to make you stop thinking. The only things in this room JC liked were the huge windows along one wall, looking out on the cloudy gray sky and the choppy gray ocean. The windows, and the big bed. As soon as he had gotten here, JC had thrown the fussy bedspread and the heaped blankets onto the floor, revealing the straight firm line of the mattress. Stripped like that, the bed was just the way he liked it. It was a good place to wait.

JC heard the water shut off in the bathroom, but Joey didn't come out. He definitely wasn't singing. JC waited. He had hated waiting once, fought it with eager plans and plots, rebelled against it with fidgeting and yawns. It came easily to him now. Now he knew the secret. If he could just wait long enough, he'd get anything he wanted. He just had to wait until he stopped wanting it. Before he stopped wanting it, he could pretend. In fact he should pretend - it was good practice. But he still had to wait. Something, God or the universe or whoever was in charge of giving people what they were waiting for, always knew somehow if you were pretending. It wasn't until the moment you really let go, truly stopped wanting, that you got what you were waiting for.

He took a deep breath, feeling it rise up from his toes, feeling it move through his whole body until he let it out. He wasn't killing time; he knew better than that. The more he tried to kill time while he was waiting, the harder it was to wait. The words themselves were telling - killing time. So violent. So negative. He had to take each moment as it came, as it was given to him, had to stop wanting to hurdle over each moment like it was an obstacle in a race. He had to stop wanting. Then he'd get what he wanted.

Then he'd get to stop waiting.

JC took another breath, and another. He turned his head to watch the waves crash against the shore outside the window. They hit again and again, patiently, relentlessly. He tried to breathe in time with them, but it must have been windy or something outside. They came a little too quickly for him to breathe comfortably. They left him panting a little, almost breathless. He turned his head back and stared at the ceiling. He breathed slowly, deeply.

The bathroom door opened and JC felt his body roll toward it before he could stop himself. He started to lie back in the sheets, but it was too late. "Hey, baby," Joey said. His voice sounded too loud to JC's ears. It sounded just right for the room. "Thought you'd be asleep."

JC didn't say anything, just looked at Joey. He had gotten dressed in the bathroom, a very un-Joey thing to do. If he'd thought JC was asleep, though, maybe he hadn't wanted to risk waking him. JC caught himself and stopped thinking about it.

Joey leaned against the bathroom door and ran a hand through his hair, still wet from the shower. "Listen," he said, and stopped. JC took three slow deep breaths before Joey continued. "I'm sorry," Joey said quickly. "For what I said before. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. You've got to know that." He smiled, and JC felt his own lips lifting at the corners.

Joey stepped closer to the bed. He sat in the ugly overstuffed chair and started to put his shoes on. He stopped with one sneaker still in his hand. "It's just. C, you don't know what it does to me when you act like that. I mean, I know. I know, I know, it's real clear who's the asshole here. But I just. I can't take it when you're like that. I know I fucked it all up, and I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know I can't say it enough but I'd say it every fucking minute if I thought it would make it up to you. I'm sorry. You know I'm sorry."

"That's what you keep telling me," JC said quietly.

Joey cocked his head toward him. "What, C? I missed that."

"I know you're sorry," JC said loudly.

"I know you do," Joey said. He tied his shoe and stood up. "And I'm gonna make it up to you, I swear. As soon as I can. I want it too, you know? I mean, I know you know, but you can't know how much. It's just - she's still a baby, practically, and my family's. And it's not really fair to. Anyway. I just need. Some time, you know. I just need some time, and I'll sort everything out." Joey's mouth twisted. "I hate to keep asking you to wait for me, but I keep doing it, don't I?"

"It's okay," JC said. "I'm good at waiting."

Joey sat down heavily. "Jesus, C," he said. JC looked up at the ceiling. "Why do you have to say things like that? I mean, I know. I know it's hard for you. I know I made everything hard for you. I know I fucked everything all up. But I'm trying, I am. I know it's hard for you, but it's hard for me too, you know? I'm not saying. It's different, I know, I made my bed and you've got to lie in it, but still. You're not making it easier, saying things like that."

JC looked at the ceiling. He waited. Finally Joey said, "So what? You're not talking to me now?"

"I don't know what to say," JC said.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Joey said. "Look, nobody made you fly out here. Nobody's making you do this. I mean, I know I'm the asshole, everybody knows, Joey's the asshole who fucked up poor JC's life. But hey, the door's open. Anytime you want to walk, nobody's stopping you."

JC put his palms on his thighs and spread his hands out, carefully, finger by finger. When both hands were outstretched, he said, "Okay."

"Oh, fuck this," Joey said. He picked his wallet and keys up off the dresser and stepped toward the bed again. "Look, I've gotta go. I don't have time for this. I'll call you later, all right? That is, if you're talking to me then."

JC felt his hands fall to his sides. He grasped the sheets in his fists and held on tightly, but they were made of a fine cotton, slippery as silk, and they poured through his hands like water. Before he could stop himself, his hands reached out and grabbed Joey's jeans, bunching in them, pulling Joey toward the bed until he was right up against it, his legs pressed against JC's head. JC turned his face into the denim and closed his eyes.

"Oh, hell," Joey said, but his voice was soft. "C, C, I'm sorry. God. I got you all the way up here, and all I do is pick fights. God, I just. I'm so sorry."

Joey put his hand on JC's head and stroked his hair. "I'm just. C, I'm so sorry. It's no excuse, I know, but I just. I get sick of waiting too. And I shouldn't take it out on you, because it's all my fault, but it's just. When you say shit like that, when you act like you don't care, I panic, you know? I get scared. I just. I want it so much. I want you so much."

Joey's hands covered JC's gently and tried to pry them away. JC held on, but Joey was stronger. JC unclenched his fists, hands resting lightly on Joey's legs. He felt Joey's body rise beneath them as Joey fell to his knees. Joey's stomach slid under his fingers, rounded and soft. It didn't matter what Joey did, he could never get rid of it. Even when he was in the best shape of his life, in the middle of the tour when he could do a show and then pick JC up and carry him across the room and fuck him against the wall without even getting out of breath, his waist stayed thick and solid. JC was just the opposite. He could eat whatever he wanted, sit around all day, it didn't matter. He never gained an ounce. Nothing stuck to him.

JC's hands were still as Joey's body moved through them. Finally Joey stopped, and JC was cupping Joey's face. "Open your eyes," Joey said quietly. JC looked at him. "I promise," Joey said in the same low voice. "I swear to God, C, it won't always be like this. Just give me a little time, and it'll be so much better. Just wait." He smiled, and JC felt himself smiling back, as helplessly as if he were a mirror. "It'll get better, I swear. It wasn't always like this. It's so hard right now, it's easy to forget. But it wasn't always like this." Joey's smile widened until JC's mouth hurt. "Remember?"

JC tried not to. Memories like that were a trap. They distracted you when you were waiting. They kept you wanting. Only two images floated through his mind when Joey said remember. One was Joey's smile, so wide it seemed like his face couldn't hold it, like the whole world couldn't hold it, and that might not even be a memory. That could just be what JC was looking at now. The only other picture in his mind was a blue bowl spinning slowly in the air and shattering against the floor. JC didn't know if it was thrown, or fell, or when it happened, or even if it had happened. He just saw the blue bowl whirling and breaking into a thousand shining shards. That might not be a memory either. JC wasn't sure.

"Remember?" Joey said again. He looked at JC expectantly. JC kissed him.

Joey kissed him back hungrily, and JC tried to keep his hands light on Joey's cheeks, but they moved back and tangled in Joey's hair, pulling him close. Joey broke away.

"Baby," Joey said, "baby, wait." JC looked up at him. "C, I can't. I've really got to go. My mom's got Bree at my aunt's, and I'm gonna be late as it is. It'd take me two hours to drive out there with no traffic, and this time of day, it'll probably take closer to three." He picked his keys and wallet up off the floor where he'd dropped them. "But I'll be home next week, and then." He grinned. "Just you wait, C."

JC lay back in the sheets. Joey said as he stood up, "You gonna catch a nap, C? Good for you. What time's your flight out?"

"Seven," JC said, looking at the ceiling.

"You can get a couple hours then," Joey said. He grabbed one of the blankets off the floor and tossed it over JC. JC pushed it back onto the floor. "It's kind of cold, baby," Joey said. "You sure you don't want it?"

"No," JC said.

Joey shrugged and smiled at him, then turned to cross the room. He opened the door and paused. "C?" he said quietly. He didn't say anything until JC looked at him. "I love you," Joey said.

JC waited. Joey sighed and said, "It's okay, C. I know. I mean, why would you have flown all the way out here if you didn't?"

"I don't know," JC said.

Joey sighed again. "I'll call you soon, all right? Not tonight, cause I've gotta do the family thing, and you'll be flying anyway. But tomorrow, definitely, okay?"

"Sure, Joey," JC said.

"And the tour's coming soon, and that'll be good, right? And after that, I'll get everything sorted out. I promise. You won't have to wait much longer." JC didn't say anything. "Have a good nap, baby," Joey said. He left.

When the door closed softly, JC knew he still wanted Joey. He must. He was still waiting.

JC lay back and closed his eyes. He waited for his wakeup call. When it came a few hours later, he thanked the recorded voice politely and got up. He hadn't slept at all.

As he was getting out of the shower, he found Joey's sweater, draped across the towel rack. Joey always left something behind. He started to put it on. It was chilly, and he'd only worn a T-shirt on the plane. He always forgot that it could get cold at the beach. He had the sweater half over his head when he stopped and pulled it off. He threw it back over the rack, then picked it up and held it balled in his hand. It was one of Joey's favorites.

JC turned the lights out as he left the room. He stopped in the doorway for a moment and looked back. In the darkness, the bulky furniture and random clutter loomed like ghostly shadows. The room looked stark, empty, just the way JC liked it. He took a few deep breaths. He still had a few minutes before the car would be there to take him to the airport. He felt a sharp sudden ache in the pit of his stomach. He kept breathing, slowly, deeply, waiting for it to pass. It did. Although it hurt, he was almost sorry when it was over. He felt a little hollow without it.

Just before he left, JC dropped Joey's sweater on the floor. Joey had a lot of sweaters. He wouldn't miss this one.

JC smiled as he closed the door and headed down the hallway.

He wouldn't be waiting much longer.

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