For someone who made his living singing, Joey had become a connoisseur of silence.
The silence was thick and clammy as a wet sponge, weighing down his tongue and making him break out into a sweat as Kelly waited on the other end of the phone. Say something say something say something, his brain chanted insistently.
"Are you sure?" Not that, he thought, not that, as a short, angry laugh hit his ear.
"Yeah, I think I'm pretty sure. And if I wasn't sure before, I've had plenty of time to get a second opinion in the three days it's taken you to return my calls."
"Sorry, sorry, Kel, it's just. Kind of a surprise."
"Yeah. For me too."
Say something say something say some - "Do you know what you want to do?"
Kelly laughed again. "Well, what I really want to do is go back in time and kick both our asses before we sleep together again, but I don't think that's going to happen."
"I mean, you know -"
"No, I don't know, Joey."
"It's just - I was wondering. It's not like we were planning this, we're not really, you know, together, so I was just. Wondering. How you might want to. Handle this."
Kelly's voice was sharper than Joey'd ever heard it, even in the worst of their fights when she was screaming. "You want to think real carefully, Joe, before you say something you'll regret and I won't forget."
"I just. You know I'll support you. Whatever you want, you've got to know that, Kel."
"I know, Joey."
"This just, it's not great timing, you know? It's not exactly gonna be great for the career."
"You know what, Joe? This isn't exactly great timing for me either. I know no one's going to believe it, I mean just think of how I'll be able to cash in on this. I'll never have to work again because my baby's daddy is a big star. But I had some plans of my own, too. And they didn't include being tied to you for the next eighteen years. But it's happened, you know? And we've got money, and we're healthy, and I can't see not having it."
"I know, Kel. You're right. Of course you're gonna have it. We're gonna have it."
Kelly tried to laugh again, but it sounded suspiciously like a sob to Joey. "Come on, Kel. Kiddo. It'll be all right. Like you said, we've got money, and we're healthy and young, and our parents will be thrilled. It'll be great. We'll be fine."
Kelly sighed, and Joey was afraid his words had sounded as hollow to her as they had to him. "I just keep thinking, poor little baby."
"Poor baby?" Joey said. "This baby will be the most spoiled thing in the world. Hell, I'm jealous of this baby."
"Yeah, there's a lot to be jealous of. Its parents can't talk to each other without fighting. Its mother goes on crying jags every fifteen minutes, and its dad is in love with one of his band mates. That's a lucky baby all right."
Joey was quiet.
"Jesus, Joe, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. You know I don't think - you know I don't care about that. I'm just so freaked out about this whole thing. I'm so sorry. God, if I could take it back -"
"It's okay, Kel. I know what you meant. It's just. Not like that, between us."
Kelly was quiet.
"It's not, Kel. I don't know what it is, but it's not. Like that."
"Poor Joe. Always the last to know." Joey didn't say anything and Kelly sighed. "Look, call me tomorrow, okay, and we can talk about some of the logistics. I haven't told anyone except my mom, and I won't till I talk to you again."
"And Joe. I really am sorry. About everything."
"Don't be, Kel. Everything will be all right. You'll see."
"Take care of yourself, Joey."
Joey snapped his phone closed and walked into the darkened bedroom. As he sat on the bed, Lance rolled over and mumbled sleepily.
"Shh," Joey said, running a hand through Lance's hair. "Go back to sleep."
Joey sat against the headboard, listening as the even pattern of Lance's breathing filled the silent night.
Chris sat quietly, one eyebrow arched. Joey shifted uneasily.
"Say something, for God's sake."
"What did Lance say?"
Joey looked down. "I haven't told him. Yet."
Chris crossed his arms and looked at Joey.
"I just. You don't understand how hard this is. He's going to be so. Jesus." Joey swiped at his eyes. Chris moved over to him, putting an arm around him.
"Hey, hey Joe. Come on. It's not the end of the world."
"It's just so fucked up."
"Come on. It'll be all right."
"No, it won't." Joey was so relieved to finally say that to someone. Joey knew Chris wouldn't let him off the hook, but he wouldn't be vicious about it. "I never told him, that me and Kel, you know, again. And it's going to screw everything up. Lance, and the band "
"Fatone. The band will be fine, that's the least of your worries. But you've got to tell Lance right now. It's insane that I know before he does."
"It's not insane. You're my best friend." It was funny, Joey thought, how Chris' silence could be as crisp and biting as his words.
"I can't do it. Not yet."
"Every day, you're making it worse, Joe. Hell, every minute."
Joey had nothing to say to that.
He knew without Chris telling him that time was his enemy, that every hour that passed mired him deeper. Every day, every minute he thought about telling Lance, felt the words heavy and bitter on his tongue. He scripted conversations with Lance in his head, but always abandoned them because he couldn't dream up what Lance would say.
But he knew he was lying to himself. It wasn't because he couldn't picture Lance's reaction that he couldn't bear to think of telling him. He refused to keep rewriting the scene because he could never imagine a happy ending. And that frightened him beyond words.
Justin was never second on his list. But the Infant walked in on Chris berating Joey quietly one afternoon, and refused to leave until he knew what was going on. His demands grew so loud that Joey finally told him, afraid to draw too much attention when Lance was down the hall.
It was almost worth this whole mess, Joey thought, to see arrogant, unflappable Justin's jaw actually drop in horror, to see him shocked silent. Justin's lips worked for a solid minute before he could generate a response.
"But Joey. Do you want. I mean why?" Not just the words but Justin's tone, strangely vulnerable, reminded Joey of their early days, and his voice was gentle as he answered Justin.
"I didn't exactly plan it, Just. But it happened, so you know, making the best of it. I always wanted kids anyway, so it'll just be a little sooner than I thought."
Justin looked young and confused as he tried to figure out what to say next. Joey could see the thoughts flickering behind Justin's eyes, the new album and the next tour and the fans and the media, and he was grateful when Chris put his hand on Justin's shoulder.
"I believe the proper response is 'Congratulations,' Jup. Where are your manners? I know your mamma taught you better than that." Chris laughed lightly, and Justin took his cue from the older man.
"It's just that's. Whoa. Great. Great, Joey. Yeah, congratulations. Really, man, that's just great news."
Justin smiled bravely at him. Joey remembered that the cool arrogance that irritated him had been learned in the hard school of early fame, that Justin had learned to feign happiness until it felt just like the real thing. Justin put his arms around Joey and hugged him hard.
"Is this what you want, Joey?" Justin whispered in his ear, and Joey found himself unable to reply. Justin cradled Joey in his strong young arms. "You don't have to tell me," Justin murmured, and Joey relaxed into the comforting silence.
Joey knew it was stupid, knew it was begging for trouble to put off telling Lance. But his silence was such a small thing between them, a tiny shard of ice in the vast warmth he felt whenever he was in Lance's presence. He couldn't bear to lose that warmth, to be left alone with nothing but the jagged slice of cold in his chest. Maybe, he kept thinking, maybe with enough time he could find some way to melt that ice a bit, to soften those sharp edges. He didn't want to hurt Lance.
Or maybe, he thought as he watched Lance sleeping in the late night stillness, maybe he was just a fucking coward.
God bless JC. He burst into Joey's living room crying, "Justin told me - is it true, Joey?" and when Joey nodded carefully, JC threw his arms around Joey's neck.
"Oh, Joe, oh Joe, oh Joe," he repeated, his voice awestruck and so simply happy that it brought tears to Joey's eyes. At least someone had an uncomplicated welcome for this baby, he thought wistfully.
JC sat on Joey's couch for an hour, patting Joey's arm and chattering away. He talked about his own childhood, promised songs about the baby for the next album, ascribed to Joey many honorable and fatherly qualities that Joey didn't really think he possessed, and rambled somewhat confusingly and, Joey suspected, inaccurately about the quality of education in the United States. Whenever JC reached the end of a tangent, he would say, "You're going to be a dad, Joey," and put his hand to his own chest, beaming proudly.
JC was sharing his views on baby names when Lance walked in, Justin at his heels.
"Congratulations," Lance said, striding right up to Joey. Before Joey could put out a hand to stop him, Lance turned and left. By the time Joey managed to reach the front door, Lance had driven away.
"Jesus, Justin," Joey shouted, furiously storming back into the living room, "what the hell did you think you were doing? Didn't I ask you to keep this quiet?"
"I didn't think that meant Lance. I thought he knew," Justin yelled back, bristling.
"You didn't tell Lance." JC's voice was low and taut. Joey sat down, feeling suddenly defeated.
When Joey knocked on Lance's door an hour later, JC answered. He stared at Joey in a silence ferocious with accusation and rage. The one thing JC could never stand, Joey remembered, was cruelty. He admitted that to an outsider, even one as close as JC, this could look cruel.
"JC, please let me explain," Joey said desperately.
JC shut the door in his face.
At seven the next morning JC slammed into Joey's bedroom. Joey hadn't been sleeping anyway.
"You sit there and shut up and listen to me. I love you, Joey, even though I don't like you one little bit right now. I love you, so I'll tell you this. You need to find some way to make this better, fast. I don't know what you're planning to do but you better fix this. Because if you broke him, Joey, I will never fucking forgive you."
Joey winced at the sound of profanity from JC, who thought swearing was ugly.
"I'm sorry, C."
"You certainly are." JC's voice was crisp and cool.
"I didn't mean it, I didn't mean any of it. I kept trying to tell him, but I knew it would make him so mad. I couldn't stand to hurt him."
"Didn't you think not telling him would hurt him? How did you think he'd feel, hearing it from Justin?"
"I didn't think," Joey said.
"You thought, all right. You just didn't think about Lance."
"I didn't. I'm so sorry. I fucked it all up. I wish I could. I hate. I want." Joey squeezed his eyes shut. There were no words.
"Oh, Joey." JC's voice didn't soften, but he sat on the edge of Joey's bed. Joey bent forward and rested his forehead on JC's thigh. He felt a hand smooth his hair. He stared at the deep blue of JC's jeans, soaking in JC's silence, tinged with pity and contempt.
JC took up residence at Lance's house for the next few days. When Joey knocked every morning and every evening, JC would shake his head and say, "No, Joey," before Joey could speak. On the evening of the third day, Lance answered the door, head down. He was so pale Joey thought he could see through him, to the veins and bone that lay beneath his skin.
"Lance, I'm so sorry," Joey said. Lance raised his eyes, and Joey's voice froze in his throat. Lance turned and walked back into the house. Joey stood in the open doorway for a moment, then followed.
Joey found Lance leaning against a wall in the kitchen, his arms crossed, looking out the window into the backyard. Joey stationed himself across from Lance. He took a few deep breaths. He knew this might be his only chance.
"I'm so sorry, Lance," he said. Lance didn't move. "I wanted to tell you, I kept meaning to tell you, but I didn't want to hurt you. It was all a mistake, and I'm so sorry, and I'll do anything to make it up to you."
Lance didn't respond, didn't look at him, but he didn't walk away either. Joey took that as a good sign, and kept talking. Suddenly words were gushing out of him, apologies and explanations and reassurances and promises. Lance kept staring out the window. Joey started to lose his temper. "Jesus, Lance," he said, his voice rising, "what do you want from me? I'm trying here. I'm sorry. You could at least talk to me."
A soft choking sound, almost imperceptible, came from deep in Lance's chest. Joey looked at him. Lance was shaking, small tremors running through his body, his fingers digging deeply into his biceps.
His silence was brittle, and Joey was afraid of what would happen when it broke.
Joey tried to leave Lance alone, to let Lance come to him on his own terms, but it was so hard. When Joey entered a room, Lance would get up and leave, Justin or JC trailing like a shadow behind him. Joey would look at the empty chair and feel a wave of shame and pain and an emotion he had no name to give.
The worst times, though, were the ones when Lance wouldn't leave, when he'd stubbornly remain in his seat. Lance would continue his reading or his conversation, concentrating so intensely that his fists would clench with the effort. Joey attempted to remain unobtrusive, talking desperately and quietly to Chris, staring down at a newspaper. But he was drawn to Lance like he was a magnet, glancing at him helplessly, then turning away, only to find himself looking at Lance once more. As Lance felt Joey's eyes on him, his voice would falter, his knuckles whiten as he drove his nails into his palms. Finally Joey would flee to the chilly silence of his bedroom.
Chris kept him company during the long nights, counseling patience and pouring whiskey.
"You don't understand, Chris. It's so tough, man."
Chris made a sympathetic sound and downed a shot.
"I'm so sorry, and I want to make it up to him so much, but how can I when he won't even fucking talk to me?"
"You messed up, Joe. Real bad. You've got to wait for him now. You've got to let him decide what he wants to do."
"It's just. I've never been very good at waiting. When I want something, I want it, you know?"
"You think that's maybe the problem, Joe?"
Finally Lance's silence broke him. He drank a shot of whiskey to steady his nerves, and the thought that he had to steel himself to see Lance drove him to three more.
Head buzzing soothingly, Joey knocked on Lance's door. Lance opened it and looked at Joey wordlessly.
"Lance, I need to -" Joey's voice cracked and he watched Lance's face crumple. Lance reached out with both hands and pulled Joey inside, burying his head in Joey's chest.
"Lance," Joey whispered frantically. "Missed you, missed you, I'm so sorry."
Lance shook his head violently and covered Joey's mouth with his own.
Something felt strange to Joey as Lance tugged him toward the bedroom. Not Lance's hands expertly opening his jeans as they fell back onto the bed. Not the satin expanse of Lance's back sliding beneath Joey's palms. Not - oh, God - the wet heat of Lance's mouth on him.
It was the quiet, he realized as he thrust into Lance and watched him throw back his head, bite his lip. He missed Lance's voice purring dirtily in his ear, Lance's moans urging him on, Lance's whispers making Joey's name sound sweeter than any of the love songs they sang.
Joey dropped his head close to Lance's ear and whispered, "Talk." Almost before the word was out, he felt Lance's hand pressing against his lips. He watched Lance shake his head and closed his mouth around Lance's fingers.
When they had finished, Lance rolled onto his side. Joey followed, wrapping his arm around Lance's stomach. Lance stiffened slightly but didn't move away. Joey put his lips to Lance's shoulder and whispered, "I love you." It was the first time.
"That was the last time," Lance said.
When Joey woke up, he was alone. He pulled on his pants and walked downstairs. Lance was sitting on the couch.
"Joey," Lance said. Joey closed his eyes against the sudden leap of joy he felt, hearing his name in that voice after so long.
"I'm so sorry," Joey said, sitting next to Lance. "You have no idea, and that's my fault, I know, but I'll make it up to you, I promise -"
"Joey," Lance said again, and Joey looked up eagerly. "I meant what I said last night."
"You're mad, I know. You're right, I'm mad at myself, I'm so sorry -"
"I don't want you to tell me you're sorry. I don't want you to say you'll make it better. I don't want to hear any of it. I won't listen to it."
"No." Lance's voice wasn't angry, just quiet, and that gave Joey hope.
"Lance, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have - it was a mistake, with Kelly, and I should have told you. And I definitely should have told you first about the baby. But - it doesn't have to change anything, not between us, not really. It won't change anything."
"I know it won't change anything."
"Then what -"
"Nothing's gonna change, Joey. I've never been first with you, and now you'll have a baby and I never will be first. There'll always be someone you put before me."
"You were always first with me, Lance. What, you think I put Kelly before you?"
"No, I think you put yourself before me." Joey dropped his eyes, and Lance continued, his voice still clear and steady. "You did what you wanted, and I waited for you to want me."
"I love you."
"Not enough." There was a sharp cold edge to Lance's voice.
"I love you." Joey knew it was wrong, knew he shouldn't have said it even before Lance jumped up and snarled, "No!"
Joey clapped his hand over his mouth, watching as Lance stood, back to him, hands opening and closing. The only sounds Joey could hear were Lance's deep breaths and his own voice pulsing urgently inside his head, over and over, Don't say it don't say it don't say it -
"Joey." Lance turned toward him.
Joey looked at him, hand still covering his mouth.
"Joey, I want to talk to you again. I want to be your bandmate. I want to be your friend. I want to be happy for you and I want to love your baby."
Joey took his hand away and said, carefully, "I want that too."
"Then you can't tell me you love me. You can't tell me you're sorry. You can't come to me at night saying you want me."
"But I do." Joey's voice sounded foreign to his ears.
"I don't -" Lance closed his eyes briefly. "I don't want to hear it. Not if I'm going to be around you every day. Not if I'm going to be your friend. I can't. I can't be always waiting around for you to say it. Waiting for you to want me. Waiting for you."
"You won't have to wait any more, Lance. I promise." And those words felt familiar in his mouth.
They must have sounded familiar to Lance too, because he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He looked at Joey, and Joey met his eyes, trying to fill his glance with the words Lance wouldn't let him say. Lance reached out and put his fingers to Joey's lips, just for a moment. Joey whispered against Lance's cool fingertips. Lance let his hand fall.
"You can be my friend, Joe. Or you can say that again."
Joey left without another word, closing the door quietly behind him.
And it was worth it, Joey thought later, looking down at his daughter sleeping in her crib. Lance's voice drawling "Joey, man" into his cell phone. Lance's arm slung easily around his shoulders. Lance giggling and threatening as Joey flipped him upside down. Lance cradling Brianna in Kelly's living room, looking down at her and saying solemnly, "Hi, baby."
It was worth Joey's silence.
Joey ran his finger down Brianna's cheek. She twitched and kicked awake, scritching irritably. Joey picked her up before she could begin crying full out. "Love you, love you," he murmured against her head. He bounced her gently, humming softly, and she laughed and babbled. Joey sat in the rocker with Brianna clasped to his chest, and soon her satisfied cooing filled the silent night.