"I could hear you from the next room," JC said.
Chris knew it was true. Not that he'd been trying to get JC's attention or anything. He was just loud. More than once Chris had gotten his way just by being the one willing to shout the loudest and the longest. Sure, it helped to be smart, and quick on your feet, to know what you wanted and not be afraid to go after it, but sometimes what mattered most was sheer volume. Sometimes you just had to remind people that you were there.
Quiet people made him impatient. More than that, angry. Justin used to pipe up in this little baby voice when he was tired or homesick, this thin quiet little voice that drove Chris absolutely batshit. He hated the sight of Lynn or Joey bending down over Justin, straining to hear just what it was that Justin didn't want to do that night. He hated it more when no one heard, when Justin sat on the floor and mumbled to himself. Chris put up with it for a good three or four months before he couldn't take it anymore.
Lynn didn't speak to him for three days, and Joey just about hit him, but Chris thought that was a small price to pay to get Justin to knock it off. An afternoon of repeating everything Justin said in his pitiful little baby voice, announcing it loud and full to everyone like an echo right out of Justin's nightmares, and Justin ended up running out of the room but Chris was damn sure he wouldn't be pulling that shit again.
Of course, Chris didn't leave it there. Justin was his friend. Chris wouldn't have bothered otherwise. He gave Justin a couple of hours to cool off, then tracked him down in his room, lying face down on his bed pretending to do his math homework.
"Hey," Chris said, leaning in the doorway.
"Don't " Justin started to say softly, then choked. He sat up and looked at Chris. "Fuck you." His voice was loud and strong.
"Peace offering," Chris said as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He handed Justin one of the beers he was carrying. "If your momma walks in, that's mine."
"You already have one."
"I guess I'm double fisting, then."
Justin giggled, then looked down and fiddled with the cap. "I'm not talking to you. I'm mad at you."
"Fine," Chris said. "I don't care if you don't talk to me or if you yell at me, just don't pull that poor little me shit with me." He deliberately whined the last few words and was gratified to see Justin blush. Justin bit his lip.
"J," Chris said. He reached out and grabbed Justin's beer out of his hands. Before Justin could say anything, he wrapped the hem of his shirt over the top of the bottle and twisted the cap off. He handed it back to Justin. "Look, J," he said. "It's just that crap doesn't work. It's not gonna get you what you want."
"Shut up," Justin said. "I don't it's not some crap I pull, it's just how I sound. And it does too get me what I want, so what do you know?"
"It doesn't," Chris said.
"It does. I didn't have to go back for that second rehearsal last week "
"It gets you what you ask for," Chris said. "It doesn't get you what you want."
"How do you know?"
"You want people to like you," Chris said. "Nobody likes a whiner." He watched Justin chew on his thumbnail and consider that. He could tell by the flush that rose in Justin's cheeks again that he hadn't missed the glance Lou and the new choreographer had exchanged when Justin had started bitching that afternoon.
"You don't whine," Justin said, "and lots of people don't like you."
Chris smiled smoothly. "That's not what I want."
"I'm still gonna be mad at you," Justin said. "For at least today, and probably tomorrow."
"You go right ahead," Chris said. He got up and headed toward the door. "I'll leave you to it."
Four days later, when Justin started yelling because he was hungry, damn it, and it was three o'clock and they still hadn't broken for lunch, Chris walked over to where JC and Joey were standing. "Oh yeah," Joey said. "This is much better, Kirkpatrick. Thanks."
"It is," Chris said.
"You're out of your fucking head."
"I don't know," JC said, "it's kind of good to know he can kick up a fuss when he needs to."
"Right," Joey said. "That's a real load off my mind."
When Joey headed over to where Lance was trying to calm Justin down, JC said quietly, "They don't need to know yet, maybe, what he might have to kick up a fuss about." Chris looked over sharply and met a glance he knew very well in JC's eyes. Before he could say anything, JC took off across the room, yelling, "J, I've got a Snickers with your name on it!"
"What did you want?" JC said.
"Nothing," Chris said.
"That doesn't sound like you."
"I was just -- you know, hanging out. Making a little noise."
"Now that sounds more like you," JC said. He didn't smile.
The most maddening thing about Lance was that he wasn't always quiet. He could be perfectly polite to adults, and make small talk with the best of them, and Chris could even enlist him in a prank or two if he caught Lance at the right moment. But let someone start in on him, not just Lou but their latest rent-a-choreographer or a bitchy makeup girl or anyone, anyone at all, and Lance clammed up. Shy, Joey said, and Chris said, Coward. But he didn't quite believe it. Not when he leaned against the wall and watched Lance stare at the floor. Lance's fists clenched so tightly his knuckles went white and Chris didn't believe it at all.
Chris was the only one who watched. Everyone else turned away when it happened, Joey in anger and Justin in embarrassment. Chris thought it was distaste that lifted JC's chin and curled his lip, distaste and maybe even a cold contempt. But then one afternoon Lou got right up in Lance's face and said, "You need to decide if you want to be here, and you need to decide right now. Do you? Do you?"
Chris saw JC's fingers twist in the hem of his shirt, wrapping the cloth tighter, tighter, and he knew it wasn't distaste he saw in JC's face. It was something else. Something familiar.
There was something familiar, too, in the whispered answer Lance gave Lou, his eyes still on the floor and his fingers twisting in on themselves. Chris couldn't hear the words, but he didn't need to. Chris knew what it was like to want something so badly that you didn't trust yourself to say you wanted it, that you didn't trust the world to hear you. Lance whispered again, and Lou nodded. JC's fingers poked through a hole in his T-shirt that hadn't been there before.
Lou walked away, and Lance sighed and squared his shoulders. "Hey," he said, "hey, let's go again. I'm ready." He stepped aside, more smoothly than he could when they were dancing, to avoid Joey's ready arm and Justin's ready smile.
"You sure?" JC said, and Lance shook himself out from the shoulders and mumbled. Chris recognized that too. He knew the temptation to shrug and say you didn't care, to convince the world that it didn't really matter, to convince yourself.
Chris also knew what happened when you gave into that temptation.
He didn't bother trying to tell Lance. Everyone else got there before him. "You should speak up," JC said, and Lance nodded and nodded and then kept his mouth shut tight and took it the next time he got yelled at for fucking up a step.
"Look," Joey said, "you know we're all behind you, but you've got to say something first. Otherwise it just looks like you're -- that we're --"
"You look like a baby," Justin said, "if somebody else says it for you."
"I know," Lance said, his hands spread wide and his smile spread wider and his accent spread widest of all. "I know." He knew, he knew, but he just shrugged when Lou grabbed his chin and asked him if he was serious about the group. Chris knew he had to take matters into his own hands.
He thought Lance would be easy. Months of living together and even if Lance was quiet, Chris still knew some things about him -- what he wouldn't eat, what TV shows he loved, what songs he hated. That was all Chris needed.
It was probably reflex more than anything else, Chris thought, that prompted Lance to shrug when Chris asked what he wanted for lunch. Probably reflex, but that was all Chris needed. Lance didn't say anything when Chris brought him back a ham sandwich coated in mayonnaise. Lance didn't even think anything of it then, maybe, just tried to wipe off what he could with a napkin. Chris knew what he was doing, though, and eventually Lance just left the sandwich abandoned on his plate. Chris smiled.
If it had been Justin or Joey, it would have been over quickly. A few missed meals, ten hours of driving while Chris made sure to play every band they'd ever mentioned disliking, and they would have given in. Lance, though whatever Chris had thought at the beginning, Lance was a stubborn bastard. Maybe that should have made Chris respect him more, but it just made him even more determined. Three days in and Lance was starting to look a little unsteady on his feet, but his lips were pressed in a firm line and Chris wasn't about to back down.
Finally Joey cornered him when they were getting ready to go out for the night. Joey watched as Justin and Lance disappeared into the room they were sharing, and then said, "Kirkpatrick, you and me? We need to talk."
"I'm always happy to talk with you, Joey," Chris said.
Joey said, "C, could you give us a minute?"
"Why?" JC said.
"Joey wants to kick my ass for fucking with Lance," Chris said. JC sat down on Chris' bed.
"C," Joey said.
JC said, "It's my room too."
"I'm not going to kick his ass," Joey said. He turned to Chris. "I'm not going to kick your ass. Just lay off the kid, all right? I don't know what you think you're doing --"
"Don't you?" Chris said.
Joey looked at him. Chris leaned against the wall and looked back. "All right, I do," Joey said. "But you don't need to, not this way."
"Somebody has to," Chris said. "And there's no other way."
"Just let me," Joey said. "Let me do it."
"Well, sure, Joe, I would, except you're not doing it. And you're not making him do it. You're doing everything for him instead. Which is fine, as long as you're willing to follow him around the rest of his life --" Chris stopped. Joey looked away. Chris sat down heavily on his bed. "Joe --"
Joey met his eyes. "What?"
"Joey," JC said before Chris could say anything else. Joey and Chris both turned to him. "Joey," JC said, quietly, and both Joey and Chris looked down, away from him. "You should speak up."
There was a silence.
"Just let me do this," Joey said finally, eyes on the floor. "Okay? Let me."
When Joey left, JC touched Chris' sleeve. "You should let him."
"Yeah, but C, he's not gonna be able to."
"I know," JC said.
Joey couldn't do it.
He tried, Chris gave him that, he tried his best. "But come on," Chris said as he watched Joey pace up and down the room, "you thought they were gonna to listen to you? 'We've got to decide whether to keep Lance, so let's ask his very bestest friend -- he'll give us an unbiased opinion.' They're not gonna take you seriously, man."
"So what do you think we should do?" Joey said, turning on Chris. "I did what I could. What are you going to do?"
Chris looked over at Lance, who was standing staring out the window, his fists clenched at his sides, his lips pressed firmly together. "I don't know," Chris said.
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Justin said. "You have to know. We have to make them keep him. We can -- we can say we'll all quit, if Lance goes. We have to. We have to stay together -- we're like -- we're like brothers. We've got to do something."
"Why?" Chris said. Joey shoved him. Justin gave a squeak of disbelief. "I mean it," Chris said. JC studied his hands and tangled the hem of his shirt around his thumbs. Lance was still looking out the window. "I mean, it looks like we're the only ones who give a damn. Why should I bother, if Lance can't even --"
"I want it," Lance said, wheeling to face Chris. "Okay? I want to stay, I want to do this, I want it more than I've ever wanted anything and there's no fucking way they're going to let me. I heard what they were saying. I'm out, I'm out and all I ever wanted was to be in. All right? Are you happy now?"
He stormed out of the room with Justin following him. Joey shoved Chris again. Chris shoved back, but not hard. "Are you happy?" Joey said. "Cause they won't listen to me because I'm so biased, but they'll listen to Lance? You heard him -- he's out. Now he can't even pretend he doesn't care, cause you made him say it. And what does it change? Nothing!"
"It changes a lot," Chris said. Joey turned his back on him and walked out. Chris picked up his jacket.
"Wait," JC said. "I'm coming."
"Go find Joey," Chris said. "I can do this."
"No," JC said. "We should do it together."
"Look, it might not even work," Chris said.
"How do you know?"
"Cause we'll fight for it," JC said. "And when people fight for things, for real, they win."
Chris put a hand on JC's arm. JC looked at him. "They do," JC said.
"C," Chris said. He let go of JC and ran a hand through his hair. He waited until he didn't feel like yelling anymore. After all, it wasn't JC he was mad at.
It was a long wait.
"JC," Chris said finally, calmly, "history would prove you wrong there."
"No," JC said, just as calmly. "It's just -- people hardly ever really fight for things. For things they want. I mean, they think they do, and they say they do, and they may work hard and do stuff like that, but lots of times, most of the time people won't -- if they did, they'd -- but they won't. I don't think they know how to fight. Not really."
"They don't like to," Chris said.
JC nodded. "Yeah, that too." He walked toward the door. "I do, though," he said.
"You like to?" Chris said.
"I know how," JC said.
"Chris," JC said softly.
Chris looked up. JC didn't say anything else.
"In or out," Chris said sharply. "Don't just stand in the doorway mumbling." JC stepped into the room and closed the door. "How're they doing out there?"
"You know I fucking hate that," Chris said.
"I'm being quiet," JC said. "You said after the -- after tonight, all you wanted was some fucking peace and quiet."
"I know what I said," Chris snapped. "And I'm tired of the quiet, all right?"
JC's glance flickered over to the corner of the room, where the blue ceramic shards of what had been a very ugly lamp lay on the carpet. "I guess you are," he said. "I could hear you from the hallway." He looked at Chris. "So you wanna talk?"
"No," Chris said.
"But you were -- I could hear you from --"
"No," Chris said. "I was just ... I was just making some noise. I don't want to talk."
"Okay," JC said. He sat down sideways on the couch, facing Chris, and pulled his legs up under him. There was a soft rustle as his knees brushed against Chris' thigh.
"What do you want?" Chris said.
JC didn't say anything.
"Okay, enough," Chris said.
JC didn't say anything.
"Look, is this one of those weird spiritual things you're always reading about, where we're supposed to just sit together and, like, commune, and once we're truly bonding I'll hear your voice in my head and you'll hear mine and we won't have to talk out loud ever again? Cause you know what, I got no problem with talking out loud, and I've got quite enough voices in my head already, thank you."
JC didn't say anything.
"Are you asleep with your eyes open?"
"Chris," JC said.
"Don't shush me."
"You said you didn't want to talk."
"Oh," Chris said. There was no arguing with that. He sat. JC didn't say anything. Chris didn't say anything. He looked at JC.
JC was cross-legged on the couch. He was wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants he must have gotten for Christmas one year, because they were dark green with red stripes running down them. It must have been a few years ago, because they were a little short on him. Chris could see his bony ankles. JC's fingers were worrying at the hem of a threadbare black T-shirt with something written on it in German. Chris couldn't quite translate it. He knew it was rude, though. The T-shirt belonged to Joey.
JC didn't say anything and Chris didn't say anything. Usually in the hotels they stayed in, Chris could hear sounds from other rooms. Not so loud that Chris couldn't sleep -- the walls were thick enough to absorb most of the noise, so all that was left was the murmur of the TV or the rumble of someone's snore, the soft echo of some separate life. He'd always found it comforting. Tonight, though, all he could hear was the faint rhythmic tap of rain somewhere beyond their windows, as regular as a heartbeat. Even that faded eventually. JC didn't say anything and Chris didn't say anything. The silence fell around them. Chris thought he could feel it resting against his shoulders, pressing down on him.
"JC," he said.
JC looked at him, his eyes wide and calm. "What?"
"JC," he said.
JC looked at him. He didn't say anything.
Chris closed his eyes. He felt the silence pushing him. "JC," he said, and his voice sounded loud and brittle in the quiet room. It sounded like something that had broken, into pieces sharp enough to cut someone.
"Chris," JC said, and his voice wasn't loud like Chris'. It was soft, but just as brittle. "Say it," JC said.
Chris clenched his fists and whispered.
JC didn't say anything.
Chris opened his eyes. JC was looking at him, his eyes wide and calm. "So what?" JC said.
"But we ..."
"What will we do?"
"We'll go home," JC said. "We've always known it. We don't get a contract, we go home."
"We'll break up," Chris said. "If we do. I know we will."
"But -- what will we do?"
"Justin and Lance are kids," JC said. His voice was soothing and smooth, almost singsong. "They'll go back to school, and they'll try again later. Justin at least, and Lance, Lance too. And Joey, you know Joey. He'll land on his feet, Joey. He always will."
"What about you?"
"Whatever happens," JC said, and his voice was low and level and it was still smooth, like something that had been glued back together very carefully after it had broken. It wasn't soothing anymore. "Whatever happens, it won't be the worst thing that's happened to me."
Chris didn't say anything.
"Whatever happens," JC said, "it won't be the worst thing that's happened to you."
Chris didn't say anything.
"I know," JC said.
"JC," Chris said. He didn't have anything else to say. The silence was weighing on him, heavy and dark as the night outside.
JC said, quickly, loudly, "We'll be all right." He closed his eyes and caught his lip in his teeth for a moment. "We'll be all right," he said again, just as loudly.
"I know," Chris said softly. "I know."
JC opened his eyes.
"But, JC, I don't want ..."
"What?" JC said.
"I don't want to go home," Chris said.
JC didn't say anything.
"I want," Chris said, and stopped.
"What do you want?" JC said.
Chris closed his eyes and whispered.
JC kissed him.
When Chris put his hand up to JC's jaw, JC pulled away. Chris opened his eyes to see JC walking away from him.
"JC," he said, and JC locked the door and turned the light out. Chris couldn't see anything, but he heard JC walking back toward him. JC's fingers closed around Chris' and lifted them back to his jaw.
"What?" JC said, his breath against Chris' lips soft as a whisper.
"What do you want?"
Chris couldn't see JC's smile, but he could feel it, sharp and smooth. His own lips moved to match it.
"Be quiet," JC said, "and I'll tell you."
written for nyn, for [Don We Now Our Gay Apparel]