Justin woke when three bodies fell onto his bed, making it roll like a ship at sea. "Fuck," he mumbled thickly without opening his eyes, "oh, fuck, 'm gonna be sick." The mattress bounced again as three bodies leapt quickly off it.
"Time check," Chris' voice said.
Justin opened one eye. "What are you -"
"Twelve minutes to three," Lance said, consulting his watch.
"In the morning?" Justin whined. "I'm sleeping, man."
Chris pulled the blinds briskly. Justin yelped and covered his eyes with his arm. "I see you recognize our good friend Mr. Sun," Chris said. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Joey, you want to do the honors?"
"My pleasure," Joey said. He grabbed the remote from Justin's bedstand and turned on the television, flipping the channels until he hit MTV.
"What're you -" Justin said as Joey and Lance flopped down onto his bed.
"Shh," Lance said. "We're watching."
"You're a multimillionaire. Don't you have your own TV?" Justin said. "Seriously, guys, I feel kind of funny."
"Oh, we're not watching the TV," Chris said. "We've seen this twice already."
"Then why are you here?"
"Well, we haven't seen you see it yet."
"I don't get it," Justin said, scrubbing at his eyes. He was feeling kind of funny. Dizzy. The room seemed to be moving a little.
"Shh," Chris said as the MTV News theme played. Justin lay back on the bed until he heard his name. Then he sat up.
Carson Daly was doing a remote outside a club. Justin heard the words, "twenty-first birthday party" and said, "Hey, I don't remember -"
Then he froze.
Justin had seen himself on TV and in photographs many, many times over the years. He was used to the way the cameras could distort his looks, make him look a lot better or a lot worse, but always at least slightly different than the face he was used to seeing in the mirror. But he had never, in real life or on tape, seen himself look quite as trashed as the Justin on TV who walked over and put an arm around Carson. In fact, Justin had never seen anyone look quite as trashed as the Justin on TV did.
Carson's smug smile said he'd never seen anyone look quite that trashed, either.
"Why did you let me -" Justin said, and then he was drowned out by his own voice as the Justin on TV grabbed the microphone.
"It's my birthday, Carson Daly, you magnificent -" and then MTV bleeped a word as Carson laughed in what Justin felt was a very unprofessional manner. He wished someone would wipe that superior look off Carson's face.
He got his wish a second later as the Justin on TV leaned in and kissed Carson.
On the mouth.
Quite a lot of tongue.
Justin's mouth fell open in the exact same look worn by the couple dozen shell-shocked teenies gathered outside the club, and by Carson Daly himself. The Justin on TV grinned maniacally at the camera.
"Oh my God," Justin whispered. Joey, Lance and Chris laughed hysterically. Justin scrabbled in the sheets for the remote and turned the TV off. "Oh my God," Justin said again.
"Bastard," Joey said.
"Hey," Justin said. That was a little uncalled for.
"That's what it was," Joey said, "in case you were wondering. That word they bleeped out. Bastard. As in 'It's my birthday, Carson Daly, you magnificent bastard.'" Justin looked at him blankly. "That's what you said," Joey continued.
"Right before you started making out with him," Lance said helpfully, and then fell laughing into Joey's lap.
"Why did you let me talk to him when I was that drunk?" Justin said. "Why would you do that? What's wrong with you?"
Lance rubbed his hands together happily. Joey and Chris pulled out their wallets and handed him fifty dollars each.
"What are you giving him?" Justin asked.
"We had a bet," Lance said. "On what you'd say first when you saw it. I said you'd find a way to make it our fault."
"I said you'd start to cry," Joey said. Justin looked at him indignantly. "Well, you French-kissed Carson Daly on national TV, man. I mean, I'd cry."
"What'd you say?" Justin asked Chris.
"I said you'd claim it was your evil twin," Chris said. "I had nothing - Bass got in there so fast with the blaming us thing. It was a sucker bet, really. I must've been drunk myself to take it."
"Well, but, why weren't you looking out for me?" Justin said. He was starting to get a little pissed off. "I mean, why let him come into the party so late anyway? Cause, of course I was gonna get trashed - it's my twenty-first birthday. Whose bright idea was it to let the cameras in after all the fun really got going?"
"Justin," Lance said patiently, "he was there at twenty past midnight. Twenty minutes after the fun started."
"Twenty minutes?" Justin said. "But. I mean. Look at me. I was so drunk. How - what -"
"Well, twenty-one shots of vodka will do that to you," Joey said.
"Twenty-one shots?" Justin shrieked. Joey winced at the noise. "How am I not dead? Why would you let me do that?"
"We didn't," Chris said.
"First of all," Joey said, "there was no 'let' about it. You knocked me on my ass on the way to the bar as soon as you got in the door. And second, as soon as we realized you were actually going to try to do all those shots, Chris started to water them down. Before you were halfway through, you were pouring straight tap water down your throat and you didn't even notice the difference."
"And you're welcome, for not letting you become the star of a very special Discovery Channel - MTV collaboration. Portrait of an Idiot: Justin Timberlake Gets His Stomach Pumped." Chris slid up the bed to sit next to Justin.
"But, I got that wasted in twenty minutes?" Justin said. "I mean, I was kissing Carson Daly wasted! I've never been that wasted before!"
"Or so you'd have us believe," Lance said. "I don't know, I didn't think Carson looked all that surprised."
"You seemed to really want to be drunk," Joey said. "You were on a mission."
"I have never in my life seen anyone get that drunk, that fast, and then stay that drunk," Chris said. He put an arm around Justin's shoulders and grinned at him. "You're an inspiration to idiots everywhere."
Justin hid his face in his hands. An awful thought struck him, and he lifted his head. "Did I. Did I do anything else that bad?" he asked plaintively. He was not comforted when Chris, Lance and Joey bellowed with laughter again.
"No," Chris gasped, "no, you didn't do anything else that bad."
"Christopher Alan Kirkpatrick," Lance said, "I believe you are telling a fib."
"You didn't do anything else that bad," Chris said again, his arm still around Justin's shoulders as he tried to catch his breath, "but you did many, many things that were much, much worse."
"Ah," Lance said. "I believe you have a point."
"Oh, God," Justin said. "What did I do? What did I do?"
"You don't remember?" Joey said.
Justin thought. "No," he said. "I don't remember any of it at all."
"That's convenient," Lance said.
"Nothing?" Chris said. "Come on, you can't have blacked out for all of it. Think. You don't remember anything?"
Justin thought hard. "Um," he said. "I kind of. Maybe. There's something. Were there strippers?"
The guys howled. Lance and Joey fell off the bed in a tangled heap. Chris said breathlessly, "Well, you seemed to think there were," and Joey pounded the floor with his fist.
Justin almost didn't want to know, but - "What does that mean?" he said in a small voice.
Joey and Lance crawled back up onto the bed. Chris shook his head, still grinning. "Oh, baby," he said. "You were so drunk. So very, very drunk. And you were - how shall I say this - loudly encouraging various people to take off their clothes at certain points of the evening." Chris patted Justin on the leg when he groaned.
"I wasn't. I didn't. Tell me I wasn't harassing the waitresses," Justin pleaded.
"You were cool," Joey said reassuringly. "You just harassed the guests."
"Let me see. There was Brit."
"But that's okay," Justin said. "I mean, Brit, she's great, I'm sure she's not mad at me."
"Well, she wasn't at first," Joey said. "But when she turned you down very nicely, you yelled, 'I guess it'll just be like every night of our relationship was then,' and then, well, you know."
"She was mad," Justin said.
"Oh, yeah," Joey said. "Then, she was mad. Now, who else was there?"
"Me," Chris said. "Although that's understandable. Who doesn't want to see me without my clothes on? It was a special touch when you took off your own shirt and tossed it to the crowd to egg me on, though." Justin whimpered with embarrassment and pressed his face against Chris' shoulder.
"We're being a bit too nice here," Lance said. "I think we ought to mention the real highlight of Justin's little fantasy strip club."
"You mean Lonnie?" Chris laughed. "Oh man, I'd give my left arm for a picture of his face when J told him to take it all off." Justin was considering never looking up again.
"No," Lance said, "that's not who I mean."
"Oh," Joey said slowly. "Right."
"Ah, yes," Chris said.
There was a long pause.
"Who was it?" Justin said fearfully, still not lifting his head.
Lance said, "My mother."
"No!" Justin gasped. "I - no! I didn't!"
"Yes," Lance said flatly. "Oh yes, you did."
"But, I - she - why was she even there?"
Joey whistled. Chris sighed and shook his head pityingly at Justin.
"Okay, that's the important question," Lance said. "Just because she's in town visiting her beloved son, and wanted to stop by for a minute to say happy birthday and give a lovely present to a drunk asshole she's misguided enough to be crazy about, well. Clearly she was asking to be hooted at by some punk. I'll have to talk to her about controlling herself a little better in the future."
"I didn't mean. I wasn't. I know she. Fuck." Justin flopped down flat on the bed. "That's - that's bad. And not, like, bad in the good way."
"Yes," Lance said, "I'd have to agree. There's no way in which encouraging your ex-girlfriend, a three-hundred-pound man who could snap you like a twig, my mother, and Chris fucking Kirkpatrick to take off their clothes could possibly be seen as good."
"Well, not all of us together, at least," Chris said.
"Oh God," Justin moaned. "I hate me. And I hate vodka. And birthdays. And my stupid drunk brain that makes me do stupid things and not even remember them. I mean, all I remember is strippers, and there weren't even any there for real. No strippers, no poles, no lap dances -"
"Well," Joey said. Lance laughed.
"What?" Justin said suspiciously.
"I wouldn't say no lap dances."
"Who was giving lap dances, if there weren't any strippers?" Everyone looked at Justin. He had had a bad feeling that that was what was going to happen. "Is it too late for me to not want to know?"
"I think it is, kiddo," Joey said.
"Okay," Justin said. He took a deep breath. "As long as it wasn't Carson, it can't be that bad. I can deal with anything except giving Carson Daly a lap dance. It wasn't Carson, was it? Please tell me it wasn't Carson. Even if it was, please tell me it wasn't."
"It wasn't," Chris said.
"Oh, thank God," Justin said. "Wait. Was that you telling me it wasn't because it wasn't, or because it really was but I told you to tell me it wasn't?"
"It really wasn't," Chris said.
"Oh, thank God," Justin said.
"Don't you want to know who it was?" Lance asked.
"Is there any chance that you won't tell me?"
"AJ McLean," Lance said.
Justin fell over sideways.
Chris hauled him back up. "Easy there, slugger. Remember, at least it wasn't Carson Daly."
Justin straightened his shoulders. That was true - at least it wasn't Carson Daly. "But, AJ McLean? Why was he even there? How did he get there?"
"I guess your not remembering things thing means you don't remember calling him and inviting him?" Joey said.
"I called AJ and invited him?"
"Guess that's what it means," Joey mumbled.
"Well, you called all the Backstreet Boys and invited them. It was part of the brilliant boyband detente idea you had at around 2:30," Chris said.
"Look, can we maybe pretend I repeat everything after you say it and you just go ahead and explain it, because I'm starting to give myself a headache," Justin said.
"Touchy, touchy," Chris said. "Well, as far as I could make out, you were suddenly very distressed by the idea that all the boybands were hating on each other, and you wanted us all to come together and be about the love and the peace and the singing and dancing and being shiny together."
"Oh, being shiny," Lance said. "He was slurring his words so badly, I thought he said being spiny together."
"What the hell does being spiny mean?" Chris said.
"I don't know," Lance said. "I thought it was one of his crazy hiphop words."
"Well, he definitely said shiny when he was on the phone with Kevin."
"I was on the phone with Kevin?" Justin said. "I was on the phone with Kevin, asking him to be shiny with me?"
"I thought we were just going to pretend you were repeating everything," Joey said. Justin gave him a dirty look. "Hey, it was your idea."
"Oh, yes," Chris said gleefully. "And I can relay Kevin's answer - he said he was sorry he was out of town and couldn't come to your party, but he hoped you had a happy birthday and that it was very nice of you to say you loved him. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what he said. It was a little hard to tell with all the laughing."
"I told all the Backstreet Boys I loved them?" Justin said. "I know, Joey, I know, I'm repeating things again, I don't care, shut up, fuck off."
"Hey," Joey said, "that's not being all about the love and the peace. That's not being shiny."
Justin ignored him. "Where the hell did I get their numbers?"
"Well, at that point, there were some people helping you. You're a very persuasive speaker, J. You had a lot of people getting behind your shiny new world order," Chris said.
"Or a lot of people wanted to see me make an even bigger ass of myself."
"That may have played some part in it," Chris said. "I prefer to believe in the better side of human nature myself. The side that made you want to tell all your boyband colleagues that you loved them."
"I told them all I loved them?" Justin really didn't seem able to stop the repeating.
"Well, not Brian."
"Why didn't I tell Brian?"
"Maybe because you hate him?" Lance offered.
"I hate Brian?"
"That's what you told him on the phone."
"I - that's just mean," Justin said.
"You seemed to think so," Chris said. "So you called him back and apologized and said you didn't hate him, but you didn't really know him well enough to love him, so maybe next time he was back in town you could have a drink or something and get to know him and then you would love him. He thought that was a very sensible plan."
Justin groaned and lay facedown on his bed. "How did I humiliate myself with the rest of them? Did I tell Howie I was in love with him? Did I ask Nick to marry me?"
"Well, you didn't really have a chance to talk to Howie for long. I think he was getting shiny with someone else at his place, if you know what I mean."
"Getting -" Justin chewed on his lip for a minute. "But why would he have answered the phone then?"
"You kept hitting redial," Chris said.
"What the hell was I drinking?" Justin said. "Because it's like I wasn't just drunk, it's like I went insane. Were you all spiking the drinks or something?"
"Do I get another fifty bucks every time he starts blaming us?" Lance said. "Because if I do, I'm gonna be able to retire by the time Justin's birthday is over."
"No dice," Chris said. "That's not the bet I agreed to - unlike J, I remember what I did last night."
"Shut up," Justin said. "I can't believe not one of you was looking out for me. Some friends you are, letting some asshole take advantage of me while I'm drunk off my head."
"AJ's not an asshole," Joey said. Justin looked at him. "What? He's not."
"Oh, no, he's a fucking prince. Just because he got me to do something I never would have done if I was anywhere near sober, let's not let that ruin his perfect fucking reputation. I mean, let's not rush to judgment here. I'm just your friend, your brother, I only spend every fucking day of my life with you, why should you take my side when some jerk - some Backstreet Boy - waits till I get drunk and convinces me to give him a lap dance."
"Yeah, that's exactly what happened," Joey said. "If by convinced you mean 'sat quietly minding his own business and chatting with JC until you jumped out of nowhere and started grinding on him,' then that's exactly what happened. Man oh man. What an asshole that AJ is."
"That's what - I. That? Me? What?" Justin said. He looked at Chris. "I did that?"
Chris put a hand on Justin's knee and shook it comfortingly. "Fraid so, baby."
"Why? Why? Why would I do that? Why?"
"Well, you are one hundred percent love," Lance said.
Chris put a hand over his face. Joey laughed. "Oh, man, I almost forgot about that."
Justin didn't say anything.
"What, you remember that part?" Joey said.
"No," Justin said, "but clearly you're dying to tell me every single fucking thing I did, so why bother asking?"
"Come on, we deserve a little fun after riding herd on you all last night," Chris said.
"And by the sound of it, you guys really did a fabulous job," Justin said.
"Hey, it was a big job."
"Bigger than you," Justin grumbled.
"Well, it's not like you were encouraging us to look out for you, with the way you were behaving," Lance said.
"The way I was behaving?" Justin shrieked. "The way I was behaving?"
"Dude," Joey said, clutching his temples, "how are you not hung over? If I made that noise my head would explode."
"Still drunk," Chris said.
"I am not," Justin said, shaking his head furiously. When he stopped, the room kept shaking. "Okay, yeah, I am a little. Which means I must have been really, really drunk last night. Which means you should have been taking care of me, not bitching about the way I was behaving. I looked out for you on your birthday, Lance."
"I didn't tell your mother to take off all her clothes and shake it," Lance snapped.
"Hey!" Justin said. "Don't talk like that about my mom."
"See!" Lance yelled. "See! See! You don't like it either!"
"Please!" Joey said. "Both of you. Stop making that fucking noise." He pinched the bridge of his nose. Chris was shaking with laughter.
"Okay," Justin said, taking a deep breath, "Lance does have a point. Lance has a point. What about the rest of you assholes?"
"I have a point," Joey said. "I have a point that's a lot like Lance's point."
"I told your mom to take off all her clothes and shake it?" Justin said.
"No! Jesus," Joey said. "Haven't you learned anything from this? Don't freaking talk about people's mothers."
"I didn't. I wasn't," Justin said. "That was, like, hypothetical?" He looked at Chris, who nodded, still laughing. "Hypothetical."
"I don't fucking care. Don't involve my mother in your sick twisted fantasies."
"I wasn't - I wouldn't have a sick twisted fantasy about your mother."
"You had one about Lance's mother."
"Oh, God," Lance said. "Shut up, shut up, shut up before I burst into flames!" Chris opened his mouth, then paused and closed it. Justin thought that was probably a good call, considering how close Lance was to hyperventilating.
The room was quiet except for Chris' choked laughter.
"Okay," Lance said carefully, "okay. I believe that what Justin wanted to know was why you were mad at him, Joey. That's all. Nothing to do with anyone's - with the people who gave birth to anyone in this room. Or their hypothetical lack of clothing."
"Yes," Justin said just as carefully. "Yes, that is what I would like to know. Joey. Please."
"You felt Kelly up," Joey said, not carefully at all.
"Oh my God," Justin said. He fell down across Chris' lap. Chris patted his back. "Does she hate me?" Justin asked, his voice muffled by Chris' legs.
"No," Joey said, "no, she thought it was funny."
Justin sat back up. "Oh. Well, good. But then why were you -"
"She thought it was funny. I did not."
"Oh," Justin said. "Oh. Well. Um. Sorry."
"Oh, come on," Justin said. "I'm sure I was just all excited because of my party and all, and I just. Grabbed her a little. By accident, probably."
"A lot," Joey said. "And it didn't look like no accident."
"I was really drunk," Justin said. Joey didn't say anything. "Come on, it's my birthday," Justin whined, and Joey's scowl broke into a grin. Justin beamed. Joey could never resist him for long.
"What about you, Kirkpatrick?" Justin said, turning to Chris. "What awful thing did I do to you?"
"Oh, nothing," Chris said. He was still chuckling every now and then. "I was just curious about what you'd do. Like I said, I'd never seen anyone maintain quite that level of drunkenness before. It was like a science experiment."
"Huh," Joey said. Lance rolled his eyes. Chris stopped laughing.
"Wait," Justin said. "Wait, did something happen? What happened? Why won't you tell me - did you do something stupid? Cause you know what, I could really stand to hear about someone else being ridiculous right about now."
"Well, it was during the karaoke," Joey said.
"Oh, man, there was karaoke?"
"You seemed to think there was," Lance and Joey said at the same time. They bumped fists. Chris folded his arms and glared at them.
"Did I. Okay, by now this question seems a little beside the point, but. Did I sing anything really embarrassing?"
"Oh no," Lance said. "Not at all. Just a couple of duets."
"Oh," Justin said, pleasantly surprised. "Who with?"
"Yourself," Joey said.
Justin closed his eyes. "What did I - never mind. Continue."
"You were just finishing up a lovely rendition of You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore -" Lance began.
"It was touching," Joey said. "And you knew all the words. Who would've thought?"
"You were just finishing up," Lance said, "when you noticed a fine young lady eyeing your good buddy Chris here. And being the wonderful, polite friend you are, you waited until he was getting somewhere, and then you said -"
"Into the microphone," Joey said.
"'Hey, it looks like Kirkpatrick's gonna get laid! First time since the accident! Ma'am, you are a very kind - and very brave - woman!' And then you led the crowd in a round of applause," Lance said.
"And by the time the clapping was over, that very brave woman had disappeared," Joey finished. Chris didn't say anything. He had stopped glaring at Joey and Lance and turned his attention to Justin.
Justin giggled. "Well, at least I'm a funny drunk."
"Oh, yeah," Chris said. "You're a very funny drunk. Just ask AJ." Justin winced. "He thought you were about a hundred bucks worth of funny."
"A hundred bucks worth of something," Lance said. "I don't know if funny's the right word exactly."
Justin narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about -" and then he yelped as Chris reached across and shoved a hand roughly into Justin's jeans. "Hey! Hey! I ain't that drunk anymore!"
Chris handed him a folded piece of paper. Justin took it suspiciously and opened it. It was a hundred dollar bill.
"Oh," Justin said. "Um. Huh."
"Now that's funny," Chris said. Justin didn't laugh.
"Um," Justin said again. "You know, I'm just going to believe that that shifted around while I was sleeping, because otherwise I'm really not comfortable with where that was. Really not comfortable. Like, years of therapy not comfortable."
"That's funny," Chris said again. "Because you were pretty damn comfortable with it last night."
"Well, last night he was a hundred percent love, Chris," Lance said. "I bet that makes a difference."
"Yo, what are you talking about with that? That's the second time you said it," Justin said.
"It was the highlight of the evening," Lance said. "That's what you said when you came out."
"When I came out where?" Justin said. Everyone looked at him.
"Into the glorious, sunny field where you are openly bisexual," Chris said.
"Oh, when I came out," Justin said. "Wait - what?"
"I think you heard him the first time," Lance said.
"I - no, no, I didn't. I didn't. It's a lie. I mean, isn't it?" Justin looked at Chris, who shrugged and shook his head.
"Wait," Justin said. Something seemed off. He tried to think why. He wished he were just a little closer to sober. He thought harder. "Wait!" he said triumphantly. He had it. "You're telling me I came out last night, and that wasn't the lead story on MTV?"
Everyone burst into laughter for what seemed to Justin like the hundredth time since he'd woken up. "Great point, J," Chris gasped. "You should call them and complain about it right now."
"Well, but -" Justin stopped and waited for the guys to compose themselves. "Come on. You're just fucking with me now, right?"
"Swear to God," Chris said. "You did."
"But, I mean, didn't anyone hear? Cause, I mean, it didn't make the news or anything? Not even on the local stations?" Justin hadn't been planning on coming out, so he knew he should be relieved at the oversight, but somehow he felt a little disgruntled.
Joey took pity on him. "We're not fucking with you, J," he said. "You did. But luckily, you were so incoherent that nobody but us realized what you were saying." He looked at Chris. "You wanna tell him?"
"No," Lance said, "no, no, let me." He jumped up and bounced on the balls of his feet, shaking his arms out. He picked one of Justin's shirts up off the floor and put it on. He swiveled his hips a few times. "So drunk," he murmured. "So very, very drunk." He ran his hands through his hair and then rolled his head around on his neck.
"What's he doing?" Justin said to Joey.
"He's getting into character," Joey stage whispered. "It's kind of Method, and kind of - something else. He picked it up while we were shooting."
Lance spread his legs out and swayed back and forth. He half closed his eyes and let his mouth fall open. He stretched his arms out on either side and started spiraling them.
"Now what's he doing?" Justin said.
"It's the windmill thing," Chris cried happily. "You were doing that all night, J. For balance or something, I guess. It's like my favorite thing ever. You kept knocking people's drinks out of their hands."
"I have something to say," Lance slurred loudly. "I have something to say, and I want you all to shut up and listen to may."
"Listen to who?" Justin said.
"To you," Joey said. "But he's you, so he should be saying me."
"Why didn't he say me?"
Lance opened one eye all the way. "Not like you ever do," he said quickly, then went back to flailing his arms around his head.
"I have something to say," Lance said again. "And it's something I knew a long time ago, but I didn't know, and nobody else knew. Except some people knew, and then I knew, and then it's now, and now I'm telling you."
"I don't understand," Justin said.
"Wait," Chris said.
"See, some people are all like, all the things in the world, they're all one thing. And then other people are like, no, no, they've all gotta be the other. But, see, they're wrong, and they don't know, and the reason why is because they're not right. Cause if the thing is one thing, then that's good and it should be the one thing and it should be all proud and whoo hoo, I'm the one thing, but if it's not, then it shouldn't, because that's not good. And if some things are one thing and the other thing at the same time, then they should be proud and then that's gotta be good too. Because if not, then what's good? I'll tell you what. Nothing. And that's not good at all."
Justin put a hand over his mouth.
"And see, I know what you're gonna say. You're gonna say, oh, you've got to be the thing or the other thing, but I'm telling you," Lance pointed so wildly he almost fell over, "that I'm all the things, and all the things are me, and I don't care and I know, I know that I am, and that's what matters. I know what I am, and I'm gonna tell you right now."
"This is the point where Johnny went into cardiac arrest," Chris said, and Lance shushed him.
"I'm one hundred percent love," Lance shouted, and spun around and fell down on his back, kicking his feet in the air. Chris and Joey applauded. Lance leapt up and took a bow.
"But that doesn't even make any sense," Justin said.
"Well, and thank God," Joey said. "Oh. Unless you wanted to come out, in which case, good for you, hey, supporting you and all, but you might want to think about getting a speechwriter or something to help you with that."
"It didn't make any sense to most people," Chris said. "But to people who knew, or who, you know, had their suspicions but maybe hadn't yet been told exactly, through what I'm sure was some sort of clerical error -"
"Yeah," Justin said. He leaned into Chris. "Sorry about that, man. I was gonna -"
"No problem," Chris said. "But to those people, they had a pretty good idea what you were getting at there. I mean, you get kind of incoherent, but you're never subtle."
"Oh," Justin said. He thought about that for a minute. He looked at all the guys, grinning carelessly at him. "You know what? Fuck you. No, I mean it. Because I don't care if I yelled at your mother, or had sex with your girlfriend, or kept you from getting laid ever again," he said, pointing at each of them in turn. "You should've gotten mad at me in private, but you should've taken care of me when I was like that. Because what if I had done something really bad, something that I couldn't take back? How would you feel then, huh? You'd feel like big jerks, and you'd be right. Because you are." He slammed back against the headboard and crossed his arms over his chest. "You all suck."
"Oh, no," Chris said. "We're big mean jerks, and we've made Justin hate us, and we'll totally regret it when he dumps us all and releases his album of solo duets, Justin and Justin."
"A Love Affair for the Ages," Lance smirked.
"Shut up," Justin said.
"Oh, you shut up," Chris said. "And knock off the sulking. You think nothing bad happened by coincidence? We were looking out for you all night, that's why nothing bad happened. You made a little bit of an ass of yourself, which is exactly as it should be. It's your twenty-first birthday. But we didn't let you go totally crazy - we didn't let you out of our sight, we didn't let you have sex with Nick Carter -"
"Nick was there?" Justin said. "How's he holding up? He was so upset about the thing."
"He's doing fine," Chris said. "He looked good."
"What's he been up to?"
"Well, last night, mostly pointing and laughing at you. He had a couple of drinks, too. I think he enjoyed himself. But to return to the main point, we expended a superhuman effort to keep you from running completely off the rails. JC almost sprained something keeping you from taking off your pants in AJ's lap -"
"And God knows it's hard enough to keep you in your pants when you're sober," Lance said.
"Hey, where the hell is C? Why didn't he come with you guys? It's my birthday - what else could he have better to do?" Justin said.
"I thought you were gonna call him," Chris said to Joey.
"I did, but there was no answer. I thought he was on his way. He must still be asleep."
"Or not," JC said from the doorway. "Who can sleep through all your racket?" He smiled at Justin. "Hey, birthday boy."
"Oh," Justin said. "Um. Hey." JC's face was scrunched up against the sunlight pouring in through the windows. He was wearing a pair of Justin's sweatpants and nothing else. Justin swallowed a few times. He was just surprised that JC was standing there. Because he hadn't expected him. That was all.
"You sleep here, C?" Chris said.
"Well, I was," JC said.
"You were sleeping in one of the guest rooms?" Justin said. Just to be sure.
"I moved there around seven," JC said.
"You moved there around seven?" Justin said. Apparently he was back to the repeating.
"You don't mind, do you, J? You thrash around a lot when you're drunk. I think I've got a bruise on my leg." He moved into the room and put his foot on the edge of the bed, pulling up his sweatpants to show Joey.
"No," Justin said. "No, I don't mind, I just. I mean, it's great. Or not great, but it's cool. Not cool exactly, but it's fine. Like, fine in a neutral sense, not fine in a you're so fine sense. I mean. Right. Right?"
"Justin," JC said patiently, "you're not making any sense."
"What did we - um, here's the thing. I don't actually, um, remember. Anything. About last night. At all. So, you know. If there's anything to remember, I, well, don't."
"Justin," JC said, "you were drunk off your ass last night. I promise, no one took advantage of you. Believe me, the state you were in when we got home last night, no one would have wanted to. Look, you're still wearing the pants you passed out in."
"Oh," Justin said. "Oh, right. So you were just sleeping with me because. Um. Because we're friends and we just do that sometimes? Except we don't really, unless we're on the bus. And not even so much then anymore. And we're not really on the bus right now. But. So. Um. Why were you sleeping with me?"
JC smiled at him. "Secret," he said, and turned and walked out of the room.
Justin watched him go, his mouth falling a little open. He didn't look away until Chris cleared his throat.
"Gentlemen," Chris said, "I think that last night, Justin may have told JC a secret." Joey and Lance burst into laughter. Again.
"What?" Justin said. "What - do you know something? What did I say? What does that mean - I told him a secret?"
"You were all about the secrets last night, kiddo," Joey said.
"Guess you just had some things you wanted to get off your chest," Chris said.
"Who was I telling secrets to? What kind of secrets? Oh, God."
"You had a little secret to tell each of us. It was very sweet," Chris said. "As for what kind, well, let's see. You told Joey Brit's tits were fake."
"Wait," Justin said. "You told him the secret I told you, Joey? You suck."
"I didn't tell anybody," Joey said.
"Then how does he know?"
"Oh, me again," Lance said. He jumped up, bounced, shook his arms and his head, rolled his hips. He was still wearing Justin's shirt. "Drunk idiot," he murmured. "Very drunk idiot." Then he climbed onto Joey's lap and leaned back, swinging his arms until Joey had to grab him to keep him from falling. Lance licked his neck. "Joey," he whispered, "my friend Joey. My good friend Joey. I love Joey. You wanna hear a secret, Joey? I'm gonna tell my good friend Joey a secret, because I love him." Lance put an arm around Joey's neck and pulled until Joey's ear was next to Lance's mouth. "Secret," Lance whispered again, and licked Joey's ear. Then he yelled at the top of his lungs, "Brit's tits aren't real!" and cracked up.
"Ow! Damn it!" Joey said, and pushed Lance onto the floor.
"That's how we know what you said," Chris said.
"Oh," Justin said. "What were my other secrets?"
"You blew a guy in Germany just because he looked like me!" Chris shouted. Then he said in his normal voice, "Which I already knew."
Justin looked at Lance. "You hated me the first six months I was in the band," Lance said. "Which I, too, already knew, and I hated you then too."
Joey prodded him with his foot and whispered, "Birthday."
"But that was then, and we were both very young, and I haven't hated you in a long time," Lance said. Joey kicked him again. "And, you know, I like you now, and it's your birthday, so happy birthday, and actually, you know, I like you a lot." He grinned at Justin, and Justin couldn't help grinning back for a moment.
"So what did I tell C?" Justin said.
"You know, I didn't hear," Chris said. "Do you guys know?" Lance and Joey shook their heads. "We must not have been around."
"I thought you didn't let me out of your sight all night," Justin said. "I thought you were looking out for me."
"Well, not when you were with C, you ass," Chris said.
"Oh," Justin said. "Right."
"But I wouldn't worry about it, J," Chris said. "Whatever you told him, C doesn't seem to be mad about it."
"Not at all," Lance said, smiling.
"He doesn't seem bothered a bit," Joey added innocently.
"Oh, I'm not worried," Justin said. "I was just, you know, curious. That's all."
"Sure," Chris said. He got up, and Lance and Joey followed suit. "Look, this has been lots of fun, but I've got a couple of things I have to take care of before we go out tonight. And you," Chris said to Justin, "should probably start sending flowers and shit to the many, many people you offended last night. I'll be back to pick you up around seven, okay?"
"I'll walk you out," Justin said. When he got out of bed, he had to put his arms out a little to keep his balance.
"Love that," Chris said.
When they got downstairs, JC was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating toast. "You guys leaving?" he said. "Can I catch a ride? I drove J home last night."
"You're going?" Justin said. JC looked at him. "I mean, you're wearing my sweatpants."
"Did you need them right now?" JC seemed to find something amusing.
"No," Justin said, "no, you can wear them."
"Thanks," JC said.
Justin trailed after them to the door. There was a large flower arrangement sitting on a table in the hallway. "Oh, that just came for you, J," JC said.
"Oh, I bet it's from Carson," Chris said. He pretended to read the card. "'Justin, I'm so happy that the world has finally seen our passion. If you truly love me, give me a sign - call TRL today and request a Brian McKnight song. I'll be waiting by the phone.' Then there's like twenty little xo's and a few hearts."
"Oh, that's not what it says," Justin said as he opened the card. He read it. "Never mind what it says. Don't you have to leave now?"
"Lemme see, lemme see," Chris said, grabbing at it. Justin put it behind his back and Joey swiped it.
"Oh man," Joey said, laughing. He showed it to Chris.
"What does it say?" Lance said.
"'Dear Justin,'" Chris said, "'Saw MTV this morning. Thanks for taking the heat off me. Best, Nick Carter. P.S. AJ says hi.'"
"Oh, don't tease," JC said. "It's his birthday." Chris handed JC the card. "Oh," he said, and tucked it back into the flowers.
The guys headed out to the car. Justin put a hand on JC's arm and he paused in the doorway. "Can I talk to you a minute?"
"Sure," JC said. "Be right there, Chris." Chris rapped on the roof of the car impatiently before he got in.
Justin took a deep breath. "Okay, see, when I told you before that I didn't remember anything from last night, I meant that I didn't remember anything. At all. Um, that I said or anything. Sorry. So I was kind of wondering, did I maybe tell you a secret last night?"
JC smiled. "Oh, yes," he said. "Yes, you did."
"Um, what was it?"
"Justin," JC said, smiling even more brightly, "I can't tell you that. It's a secret."
He ran lightly out to the car. Justin watched him go.
Justin went back inside and ate cereal and finished the rest of JC's toast. Then he called a florist and ordered flowers for all the people he thought he might have possibly offended somehow. Then he called back and ordered flowers for a whole lot of other people, just in case. He made arrangements to call into TRL the next day. The producer said, "Look, I'm not asking you to go against your principles or anything, but if you could possibly act slightly amused and kind of grossed out by the kiss, we'd appreciate it."
"Hey," Justin said, "that'll be no problem at all."
He called Britney and apologized for catcalling her. She forgave him very sweetly. Then he apologized for telling Joey her breasts weren't real, and she hung up on him. He started to call the florist again, then thought better of it and called a jeweler.
He put AJ's hundred dollar bill in an envelope and had it couriered to him. It came back by return delivery. AJ had scrawled across it, "Baby, you earned it. Buy yourself a birthday present." Justin laughed and put it in his wallet.
He finally got out of his filthy jeans and took a shower. He had completely sobered up. He didn't even have a hangover - it was like a special birthday present from God. When he was dressed and ready to go, he still had an hour before Chris would arrive to pick him up. He sat on his bed and thought about what he could have told JC that would have made him smile that way. Maybe it had been something as silly as what he'd told Joey, nothing to worry about. But then he thought about that smile again.
Justin was pretty sure it was something to worry about.
When he got into Chris' car, Justin said, "Look, you're sure you didn't hear what I said to C? You don't have any idea?"
"Oh, I have an idea," Chris said. Before Justin could protest, he said, "But I didn't hear a word."
"Oh," Justin said. "I was really drunk last night, huh?"
Chris' eyes flickered over to him, then back to the road. "Yeah, you really were," he said. "You know what I've been thinking about all day?"
"What?" Justin said.
"You remember the first time we did that?"
"Yeah," Justin said. He laughed. "That was the first time I had a drink ever, you know? Thinking back, I'm not so sure splitting a bottle of Jack Daniels with you was the best way to start."
"What?" Chris grinned. "You loved it. Right up until the moment you puked it up all over your mom's carpet."
"Oh God," Justin said. "Oh God, I was so fucking sick that night. I thought I was actually going to turn inside out, I was puking so hard. I've never felt that disgusting in my life."
"Well, let me tell you, it was a treat to watch, too. And in addition to it being disgusting, I seriously thought for a while there I was going to have to take you to the hospital. And that would've been fun - hi, yeah, I was hanging out with my fourteen-year-old friend - yeah, ten years younger than me, why do you ask? - and I fed him a bunch of liquor and then he was throwing up all over, so I took his shirt off and - okay, I'll come quietly, officer."
"But I pulled through," Justin said. "No hospitals. No arrests. Happy endings all around."
"Sure," Chris said, "happy ending for you. You were curled up asleep on the bathroom floor. I was trying to clean your mom's rug, wasted off my ass myself, while JC screamed at me for, I swear, twenty straight minutes without taking a breath. Then he woke me up at eight the next morning to do it again, just in case I forgot what he said when I slept it off. You want a taste of hell, try listening to C have a hissyfit at the crack of dawn when you're hung over. I was trying to rip my own ears off by the time he was finished."
Justin said, "He wasn't mad at me."
"No," Chris said. "He's always been a soft touch for you."
"That was a long time ago," Justin said.
"Yeah," Chris said, "it was. You've been drinking like a fish for ages now. And as of today, you're even all legal and everything."
"Yeah," Justin said. He sighed.
Chris glanced over at him again. "What?"
"Nothing. I just. Damn, I wish I hadn't gotten so drunk last night. I wish I hadn't said all that stuff."
"Why?" Chris said.
"I told Diane to take her clothes off!"
"Okay," Chris said, "yes, we all wish you hadn't said that. But, you know, big night and all, everyone understands going a little wild. No big deal."
"Yeah, but I said a whole bunch of other stuff, apparently. Like, to. People," Justin said. "And I don't even know what I was doing, why I said it."
Chris didn't say anything, but the way he didn't say anything was very eloquent to Justin.
"I don't know," Chris said, "maybe you just got tired of waiting."
"What do you mean, waiting?" Justin said. "Didn't we just have a conversation about how I've been drinking for seven years?"
"I didn't mean waiting to have a drink, Justin," Chris said sharply.
"Well then what do you mean?" Justin said. "What am I waiting for?"
"I don't know, J," Chris said. "What are you waiting for?"
Justin didn't say anything.
"Look, J," Chris said finally, "maybe you should just -"
"I don't want to talk about it, all right? Can we just not talk about it?"
"Sure," Chris said after a moment long enough to let Justin know he thought Justin was being stupid, "sure. It's your birthday, after all." They rode in silence until Chris pulled up to Lance's house. "You ready to start the walk of shame?" Chris said.
Justin squared his shoulders. "Let's do it."
"It won't be that bad, J," Chris said.
When Lance's mother caught sight of Justin, she shimmied down the hallway toward him, pretending to unbutton her blouse. Chris laughed, and Lance said, "Mom. Please, Mom, you're not funny," and Justin smiled weakly and blushed and wished for the floor to open up and swallow him. Diane hugged him tightly when she reached him, and Justin said, "I am so, so sorry."
"Oh, honey, everybody goes a little crazy on their twenty-first birthday," she said. "Just don't make a practice of it, okay?"
Kelly brushed off his apologies with a smile. When Justin kissed her cheek, she grabbed his ass while Joey said, "Hey, hey, last night was bad enough!" Justin laughed along with everyone else, but privately he thought Kelly had been more annoyed than she'd let on. He was pretty sure she'd left a bruise.
At the club, Justin didn't drink at all. He was too busy thinking. Chris slid down to sit next to him and said, "Hey, if I'd known you were just gonna sit there, I'd have made you be the designated driver." Justin mumbled something about feeling sick, but he could tell by the way Chris looked at him that he didn't buy it. When Chris got up to dance, he put a hand on Justin's arm and said, "Just remember one thing, J." Justin looked up at him. "Everything you said last night - to me, and Lance, and Joey, and. All your secrets?"
Justin nodded miserably.
"Everything you said, we already knew."
"What?" Justin said. "Why should I -"
But Chris just turned and walked away. JC floated over, brushing past Chris, and sat down next to Justin. "Why're you all on your lonesome?" JC said. He had had a couple of drinks, and Justin knew that tended to make him chatty. Maybe it would make him chatty enough.
"C?" Justin said. "The secret I told you last night - it wasn't that I'm one hundred percent love, was it?"
JC laughed. "Baby, at this point, I don't think that's much of a secret."
"Oh," Justin said. He scraped a finger against the sharp edge of the table.
"What's wrong, J?" JC asked. He put his hand around Justin's finger and pulled it gently away from the table.
"It's just - I did so many stupid things last night," Justin said. JC's smile faded. "I don't mean. I just don't know what I told you, and I don't want you to be mad at me." Justin had a hard time meeting JC's eyes while he said it. He knew JC wasn't mad at him. He wasn't sure what he wanted JC to say to him.
JC looked at him. "I'm not mad at you, Justin," he said, "and you know what you told me last night."
"I don't remember," Justin said. "I really don't remember."
"I know you don't," JC said. Justin looked down.
"You don't need me to tell you your secret," JC said. Justin looked up. JC smiled at him.
Justin got up and found Chris. He rolled his eyes when Justin told him what he wanted, but it was Justin's birthday. Justin gathered everyone back at the table for a celebratory drink, then said, "You know, I partied really hard last night, and I'm really kind of paying for it now. I had a great birthday and all, but if it's not too lame, I'd kind of like to cut out, if nobody minds."
"You sure?" Joey said.
"You did party enough for three birthdays last night," Lance said.
"I'll take off too then," JC said.
Chris drove them home. When he got to Justin's house, he said, "C, this is where I'm supposed to make up some excuse about why I can't drive you back to your place, but I honestly can't think of a damn thing, so would you mind just going on into Justin's house there?"
"No problem," JC said, and slid gracefully out of the car.
Justin caught Chris' eye in the rear view mirror and scowled at him. Chris grinned back. "Happy birthday, baby," he said.
When Justin went inside, JC was sitting on the couch waiting for him. Justin sat down next to him, then stood up. JC hooked a finger in Justin's belt and pulled him back down. "Look, you went to a little trouble to get me here," he said lightly. "Maybe you should sit down and enjoy it."
"What I said last night?" Justin said.
"Stop worrying about it," JC said.
"It's just - you know, and I don't. I hate that."
JC laughed. "Justin," he said.
"I need you to tell me," Justin said.
"J, you don't," JC said. "I know you know."
"I just," Justin said. "I want you to." JC didn't say anything. "It's my birthday," Justin said.
"Okay," JC said slowly. "Okay. I'll tell you just like you told me. Okay?"
"Okay," Justin said.
JC got up and stood in front of Justin for a moment, then put a knee on the couch on either side of Justin's legs and straddled him. JC's tongue darted out and licked at Justin's throat. He shivered. "I'm kind of drunk," JC whispered, his voice a little hoarse. "Not real drunk, just kind of drunk. Just enough drunk." He put an arm around Justin's neck, as if for balance. "Hi," he said. "Hi, hello, hi. I've been looking for you. You're my friend, and I love you. I love you, and so I'm gonna tell you a secret. You wanna hear my secret?" Justin watched JC, his eyes wide. JC pressed his lips to the corner of Justin's mouth and murmured, "Say yes." Justin nodded. JC's lips moved slowly along Justin's jaw until they reached his ear. "You can fuck me if you want," JC whispered, and Justin gasped. That wasn't what he'd been expecting. JC laughed softly. "I know you're in love with me," he said, and Justin made a low sound in the back of his throat before he remembered that JC was just repeating what Justin had told him last night. "I love you," JC said, and Justin closed his eyes.
There was a silence. Justin kept his eyes closed, his head tilted back against the couch, feeling JC hover over him. JC said, "You don't remember that?"
Justin opened his eyes. JC was sitting back a little, watching Justin with dark serious eyes. "You don't remember that at all?" he asked, and Justin looked down and shook his head.
"I'm sorry," Justin said.
"Oh, you shouldn't be sorry," JC said. "It's your birthday."
"It's just, I was drunk," Justin said. "I was drunk, and I was saying all sorts of things, and I don't -"
JC leaned in until his forehead rested against Justin's. "Just remember," he said, "all the secrets you told last night?" Justin nodded, his skin sliding against JC's. "We already knew."
"Right, I know," Justin said, and then, "oh."
JC kissed him.
"Do you remember that at all?" JC asked. Justin shook his head. "That's because it was the first time," JC said, and kissed him again.
When they stopped, Justin was lying on his back on the couch with JC on top of him. JC's shirt was draped over the coffee table. "So all the secrets last night," JC breathed, "they were all true, right?"
"Yeah," Justin said, "yeah, C, I love you."
"Right, I know," JC said. He ran a hand down Justin's side. "I meant the other part."
"The other part?" Justin said. "But - wouldn't you know if you were?"
JC laughed a little. "You sure you aren't still drunk?" he said. "I meant the first part."
"Oh," Justin said. He thought for a second. "Oh, yeah, that," he said. "Yeah. That part's really, really true."
"Good," JC said. He got to his feet and pulled Justin up beside him. He brushed his lips against Justin's gently.
JC said, "This, you're going to remember."