"Do you think I'm a whore?"
"God, yes," Chris said happily. He opened one eye when Justin's lips paused on his abdomen. "Hey, I meant that in a very respectful, loving, sex-positive way."
Justin rested his chin on Chris' hipbone. "No, not like that - about the - did you see that review?"
Chris sighed. "First, I refuse to discuss this until you admit the inherent irony in being called a whore by the guy who writes 500-word album reviews for Entertainment Weekly. I mean, this is not Rimbaud we're talking about here. Second, I wish you'd just forget how to read like I have. It makes you much happier."
Justin laughed, a shaky little laugh, and Chris sat up on his elbows in alarm. "Don't. Don't you do it. I forbid you to get upset over this."
"You forbid me?"
"Yeah, I'm pulling out the big guns here. I'm using all my authority to absolutely forbid you to let this get to you. There's no crying in pop music."
"I'm not crying."
"Well, I should hope not." Chris flopped back down onto the mattress. "Jesus, J, haven't we been over this enough? Don't we have an entire fucking album on this topic? I've come up with about a hundred reasons why you shouldn't let this bother you. I swear, I'm going to assign numbers to my arguments and just yell 17 or 41 when you get like this. It'd save us both time."
"Sorry." Justin rolled over onto his side. "I didn't mean to waste your time."
"Justin," Chris said. Justin didn't respond. "Look, I'm a crabby, bitter old man, and I'm bad, bad, bad at this sort of thing. I suck. Completely. But in my own defense, you caught me off-guard. I was kind of expecting a blowjob, not an existential crisis." Justin didn't move, and Chris hung his head and expelled a loud puff of air. "And it makes me mad when you get hurt, and unfortunately you're the one here in my bed for me to get mad at, not the Entertainment Weekly guy. I mean unfortunately for you, it's actually very, very fortunate for me that it's you in my bed, and not that guy, because in addition to being a jerk, I bet he's really unattractive. It's probably kind of fortunate for him as well -"
"God, shut up," Justin said, but he rolled over and put his head on Chris' stomach.
"Come up here," Chris said and sat up."I hate talking to you when I can't see your face. I feel like you're rolling your eyes and mocking me."
"I usually am," Justin said, but he crawled up next to Chris and put his head on Chris' shoulder. Chris put an arm around him.
"You're being silly, kiddo," he said softly.
"I know," Justin said miserably.
"What do you want me to say? I've got all the old favorites - maybe the one about how our patriarchal society devalues what young girls like while respecting the taste of young boys, or the one about how fucked up it is that people think songs about rage and violence are real and valid, but not songs about love and happiness, or the one about how we're a society founded by Puritans who distrust pleasure. I'm working up a little something about the use of the word "whore" as a derogatory term by guys who date strippers and porn stars, but it's not really ready for release yet. Oh, I've got something new about our attachment to the Romantic ideal of the artist and the conflation of passion and suffering. It's kind of long, but it's pretty good, if I do say so myself."
"Maybe save that one for my birthday," Justin said, smiling a little.
"Okay now?" Chris said.
"Yeah, I just. I worry about it sometimes."
"Do you think I'm a whore?" Chris said.
"What? No, of course not."
"Why you and not me, then?"
"Because you don't care."
Chris laughed. "That's your reason? I'm not a whore because I don't care about what we do. That's fucked up, baby. Also, sort of insulting."
"No, no," Justin said quickly. "I mean, you don't care about what people think."
"I don't," Chris said. "And I admit it, I trade my talent for money. I do it because I live in this world. I'm not an angel or a martyr. I'm happy that I get to do what I love and get paid extremely well for it. And that's what most people want. So if that makes me a whore, then pretty much everyone on the planet is a whore. Some of us are just luckier than others. I'm incredibly lucky. I know it. But I don't hold a gun to anyone's head. I don't force anyone to buy our records, or listen to our music. I work hard and honestly, and I'm not going to apologize for the fact that people like to listen to the music I like to make."
"I'm not honest," Justin whispered. Shit, Chris thought. Shit shit shit. "I lie."
"And I make you lie."
"You don't make me do anything. What I do, I choose to do."
"But you've thought about it. You thought about it, before me."
"It'd be different for me, J. I'm almost thirty years old, I've had a lot of time to deal with it. And I'm the weird, old, ugly one. No one would care. And my twelve fans are very loyal."
"You have a lot of fans -"
Chris held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know, you're right, but for once, this isn't the Kirkpatrick Low Self-Esteem Hour. It's about you. My point is, it would be a nine-days wonder with me, and then people would go back to forgetting I'm even in the band. It wouldn't be like that for you. I'm not saying don't do it, Justin. I'm saying wait until you're a little older and can handle it better, or at least until you're not on the cover of every magazine. You think what they say about you is bad now? Wait until you come out. It'll be a circus. They'll tear you apart."
"I hate it," Justin said, picking at the sheets.
"You can change it if it really makes you crazy. I kind of wish you wouldn't, not right now. You're a kid, you've got time and time. But whatever you do, you know I've got your back."
"You cut me slack because you love me," Justin said, eyes still on the bed.
"Yeah, well, I'm sure I'm biased. And you're too polite to mention it, but I've got a financial interest in you as well."
"I know you wouldn't - that doesn't matter to you," Justin said, looking up.
"You're so sure about me, why do you doubt yourself? You're ten times a better person than me, J." Chris' voice was soft. Justin didn't say anything, but his hand left the sheets and found Chris'. Their fingers twined.
"This is what it comes down to: do you like the music you make?"
"Yes," Justin said. "I do."
"Are you proud of it?"
"Yeah. I mean. I know it's. I know I'll get better, but I am. I think it's good."
"Do you love what you do?"
"I don't like everything I have to do," Justin said, pulling his hand away. Chris held on tight.
"See, I know you hate when I bring this up, but this is one of those things about being twenty and growing up in a bubble. Most people don't like everything they have to do to make a living, everything they do to get through the day. It's not called being a whore, it's called being human."
"I don't know," Justin said.
"You'll figure it out, Justin. Give yourself time."
Justin was silent for a long moment, and Chris waited, watching him.
"I love what I do," Justin said slowly, "I do."
"Then you're not a whore," Chris said. "The worst you can be accused of is having bad taste in music. And that's a matter of opinion."
Justin laughed. "That's - oddly comforting."
"Oddly comforting?" Chris said. "That's good, right? You feel better." Justin nodded. "Okay, let's take some time to appreciate how incredibly well I handled this whole deal, this whole supportive relationship thingy. Me! Chris Kirkpatrick! Who would've thought I could do it? Yay me. I'm oddly comforting."
"Chris Kirkpatrick, the odd comforter," Justin said.
"So kiddo, you have any other philosophical quandaries or deep-seated emotional crises you'd like me to tackle, or can we get back to my blowjob?"
"Actually," Justin said, sliding down Chris' body, "Lance was asking me the other day why bad things happen to good people."
"Okay, it's time for you to stop talking now," Chris said, and Justin did.