May - June 30, 2003

Disclaimer: Fiction, fiction. I don't own any of the songs quoted by Chris and JC, either. Written for the Sweet Teddy B Does the Twist challenge, aka The Berrigan. The challenge was to take a fairly moody Ted Berrigan quote and based on that, write a story with a happy ending. Lots and lots of thanks to Merry for hitting me keeping me awake so I could finish this. Lots more thanks to Trixie for answering questions and to Cody for letting me borrow and rearrange a house. Do not archive this story without permission.

Go looking

"As my strength and I walk out and look for you." — Ted Berrigan

When JC came back, he drove straight to Justin's house. He'd emptied out his fridge before he left, and thought about putting a dust cover over the piano, except he wasn't really sure what a dust cover was and when he cancelled his maid service for a while they said they'd do a brief checkup for free anyway. Still, empty fridge, no sheets on the beds, and he knew for sure Justin's house would have people and food and news. Gossip. Whatever. People for sure, anyway, maybe all of them. He'd cheated and turned his cell back on even before he drove into LA proper, but no one had called.

He parked next to an unfamiliar BMW and left his stuff in the car, except for the messenger bag with his notebooks and sound-activated tape recorder and seven pens, two of which worked. Most of the time. The front door was standing open, and when he walked up, something rattled on the floor and Chris said, "Dude! He's blocking the light — that totally ruined my shot, that doesn't count!"

"Hey, Chris," JC said. "Hey, Frits. Are those Justin's car keys?"

"Well, mostly," Chris said. "See, the idea is, if you can throw the keys into a sneaker from here, you get a point, and if you can throw the keys into the sneaker of whoever owns the car, you get five points."

"And Justin's got the most cars," JC said.

"And the most sneakers," Frits said.

JC nodded. "Okay. Anyone else hungry?"

"There's pizza," Chris said, waving his hand towards the kitchen. "Unless Trace finished it."

"Mm," JC said noncommittally. He didn't really want pizza. "Justin around?"

Chris shook his head. "He should be back pretty soon, though. He's off doing his community service thing."

JC blinked. "What?"

"Dude." Chris apparently had a new favorite word. He grinned. "You missed it that Justin got arrested? It was all over MTV."

"Chris," JC said patiently. "You know I told you—"

"Yeah, yeah."

"—that I was going away to get in touch with myself and my creative side and—"

"Yeah, you did."

"—that I was going to isolate myself and just find my way back to the songwriting vibe and—"

"Several times."

"—and that I wouldn't have a TV or a radio or anything."

"Yeah, okay. Still, now you know. Justin got arrested and he's doing community service."

"Huh." JC scratched the back of his neck under the ponytail. "What'd he do? I mean, what did he get arrested for? He and Lynn smoke up again?"

"Disturbing the peace."

"Huh. I mean, okay. Loud party?"

"Not exactly. But sort of. And then he kind of resisted arrest."

JC smacked Chris's arm. "Tell me, already."

"Oh, you're gonna love it," Chris said. "He broke into your house—"


"Well, okay, no, he has a key. But he got into your house and drank all your Chateau Latour—"

"What? And he can't have. That's like five cases."

"—and then, this is the best part—"

"Shut up," Justin said from behind JC.

"I'm telling a story here," Chris said, bouncing a set of car keys on the flat of his palm. "A true story."

"And I'm telling you to shut up."

JC turned around. "Hey," he said, but Justin walked straight past him to glare at Chris.

"Not a word."

Chris grinned and moved to stand behind Frits. "He walked around the neighborhood and sang—"

"Shut up."

"—Space Cowboy at the top of his lungs, which is pretty damn loud, and when the cops got there—"


"—he told them it was a poetic masterpiece, and he jumped up on the police car and did the dance. It took three of them to drag him down."

"Whoa," JC said. "Dude." Apparently it was contagious.

"I'm gonna go get a beer," Justin said, went past JC without even saying hello, and disappeared towards the kitchen.

* * *

JC got to the house around three in the afternoon. He parked just inside the fence and sat behind the wheel and looked for a while at the house and the walls and the complete lack of phone lines or electricity cables or a satellite dish or, well. Anything, really. That was good. This was a getaway, just him and the music.

He opened the car door after a while, and warm air rushed in. When he got out of the car, the ground was hard under his feet, southern California end of summer hard and dry. JC reached across and picked up the big cooler from the passenger seat, checked his pocket for keys, and walked over to the house. The door opened easily enough, and he looked inside. Clean, neat, quiet. He patted his pocket again and heard the crackle of the list the agent had given him of what to do with the solar panels, propane refrigerator, water tank, and other arcane things. He checked his cell phone to make sure it was off, and then checked for reception, just to be on the safe side, in case he fell down the hill and broke his leg or something.

Everything was very, very quiet. JC put the cooler down just inside the door and stepped back. He could hear cicadas, that dry light chirping sound, not too close and not too intense. The cooling car engine ticked a backbeat. JC snapped his fingers and tapped his toes, trying to catch it, but the sound just seemed to fade against the high blue sky. He tugged his hat off and pulled the elastic out of his hair. He felt sweaty and tired.

When he turned around, he could see trees and brush and hills and sky. JC wondered if there were bears out there. He pulled the door closed behind him and got off the low porch and followed the path that went round the back. Around the back corner of the house was a small pile of cinder blocks and roof tiles. He peered suspiciously at them. He couldn't make out that either blocks or tiles had been used in the actual construction of the house. Spiders might live in there. Or snakes. Not that he had anything against spiders or snakes. It was just that sometimes they could be so sudden, right under your foot.

JC went on along the path, past a shed (no cinder blocks) and up the hill at the back of the house. Cicadas fell silent as he walked past them and started up in his wake again. This had to be the path up to the water tank.

The water tank looked like a water tank. JC couldn't say he'd had a very clear idea of it before he saw it, but this was definitely it. He climbed up the ladder, lifted the lid, and looked in. Quite a lot of water in there. He climbed down again, took two quick steps back to regain his balance, and scratched his shin on something. JC wondered if he should have brought a book about how to tell all the different kinds of dry, dusty brush apart. He stood and looked around for a while, then he went back down the hill again.

The shed had to be where the pump was, and hopefully he didn't have to go there at all. JC got the agent's list out of his pocket and looked at it. He was here to write songs, to get some peace and quiet, to vibe with nature and himself and clear his head of clutter. Everything should be up and running, nothing for him to worry about. This had been a good decision; he could clear his head, get a break from the way his life was always so full of people, do some work and touch base with himself again. The house was ready and waiting for him, and right now he didn't have to do a thing except sit down and forget about the rest of the world and write songs. Nobody around at all. Just him.

He went to check on the batteries.

* * *

There were four open pizza cartons on the kitchen table, all of then with a few slices left. JC looked at the congealed cheese and made a face. Justin stood over by the drinks fridge, twisting the cap off a bottle of beer. JC went over to get a beer, too. Justin walked over to the kitchen table. JC drank some beer and it made him realize that he really was pretty hungry. He went back to the kitchen table. Maybe he could stick a couple slices in the toaster oven. Justin went to the door and stared at some postcards tacked up on a notice board.

Chris came in. "Beer!" he said happily.

Justin kept staring at the postcards. "You know where it is."

"I won," Chris said to JC. He went and got himself a beer. "Course, Frits doesn't really have the hang of how to count the points yet. It's a pretty sophisticated system, you know?"

JC snorted. "I'm sure."

Chris walked back to the door, beer in hand, and slung his free arm around Justin. "You up for a round of pool bingo, J? Or tickle the Chasez, cause I think he just dissed me."

JC walked over and grabbed the back of Chris's neck with beer-cold fingers. "Hey, no tickling!"

"No," Justin said, slipped past JC, and left the kitchen.

JC stared after him. He turned and looked at Chris. "Do I smell funny?"

Chris nodded gravely. "Been wondering for years how to tell you, C. You know how it is, even your best friends..."

"Oh, shut up," JC said. "How long has that pizza been sitting out there?"

Chris checked his watch. "Not that long. You might wanna heat it up, though. Or call out for something else, cause it wasn't really that great."

"But it's already here," JC said.

"Stuff in the fridge, too," Chris said, waving his hand. "There's a huge salad from last night, with avocado and jumbo shrimp and that stuff I can't spell."





JC opened the fridge and stared down into the salad bowl. "Tomatoes?"

"Fucker. So how did that solitary song-writing thing work out for you?"

JC shrugged and got the bowl out. He put it on the counter and started hunting for a clean fork. "Okay. It's really different from writing with other people."

Chris grinned. "Yeah, I know. No one there to pick up the slack."

JC jumped up to sit on the counter and started picking the shrimp out with his fingers. "That's not what I meant." He chewed and swallowed. "Well, maybe it is what I meant. But I got some stuff done."

"Cool." Chris looked thoughtfully at JC. "You know Justin hates when you do that."

"Yeah, I know." JC picked out another shrimp. "I thought maybe if I annoyed him enough he'd at least yell at me."

"Might work better if he was in the same room," Chris suggested.

JC sighed. "I should have stayed out in the woods," he said. "Just me and the music, you know?" Then he frowned. "It got a bit lonely, though."

* * *

The temperature dropped sharply at night. JC went outside and looked at the stars, clear and close and somehow more personal than they'd ever felt anywhere else. The night was quiet until he heard a rustle in the underbrush that sounded like it was coming closer. JC shivered a little and went back inside. He thought about building a fire for warmth and inspiration, but when he stumbled across the unpacked cooler on the floor he was distracted by thoughts of food. JC veered towards the fridge, admiring the convex curve of the front — not retro, just seriously old. The real thing, he thought and grinned to himself.

The fridge was stocked with food, just as the agent had promised. Everything he'd asked for, just about, though he didn't remember putting quite that much beer on his list and he couldn't see the dill pickles. He got out the huge turkey and swiss sandwich he'd brought with him to eat on the road only he hadn't been hungry, and picked out a bottle of Evian and a can of Dr Pepper. The sandwich still seemed okay; the bread hadn't gone soggy or anything disgusting like that.

JC ripped open a bag of corn chips and started eating those, too. He felt too restless to sit down, and walked around the house sandwich in hand, turning lights on and off, pulling the curtains this way and that, bouncing up and down on the bed to test it. It sagged a bit in the middle, but no worse than many hotel beds. He got up again before he spilled any mustard on the pillow.

This wasn't like being in a hotel, though. The house felt very real, with pictures on the walls that weren't the usual bland safe hotel choices, and shelves packed with someone's personal taste in books, and rag rugs on the floor where you could almost pick out old Sunday bests and work shirts. It really was like being in someone's home, and he wasn't sure if he liked it or not. Hotel rooms were familiar in their sameness. This made him feel as though at any moment he might stumble across someone's open diary.

When he'd finished the sandwich, JC washed his hands and dried them carefully and went to plug in his keyboard. The rhythm lingered in his head from earlier in the day, the crickets and the car engine and the way his footsteps sounded on the hard ground. Maybe he could do something with that. Or eat some more corn chips. It occurred to him to wonder if he had ever been so far away from other human beings, ever. No people for miles around, much less in the same house, in the same room, sprawled right next to him, talking and laughing, leaning up against him bright-eyed and smiling.

JC opened his notebook.

* * *

JC dug out the last shrimp, ate it, and licked his fingers. "Lance and Joey not here yet?"

Chris looked up from his attempts to write an obscene limerick with Justin's fridge poetry magnets. "Lance'll be here late tonight, Joey's coming in tomorrow morning. I think."

"Okay." JC hopped down from the counter. "I'm gonna lay down some stuff in J's studio, if he's got everything running. I did a few things I don't even know what they're gonna sound like, I couldn't layer my voice on that tape recorder."

"Yeah, okay," Chris said. "Maybe I can get Frits to try the pool bingo, though he's not really built for—"

JC grabbed Chris's arm. "You're coming with me. I gotta catch up, man, I've been out of touch for like forever. You gotta tell me what's been happening."

"Nothing much," Chris said, walking ahead of JC out of the kitchen. "Trace isn't dating that girl any more, Briahna has a new haircut that makes her look six months older, there's a new burger at BK, Justin got arrested. There was a rumor Ricky Martin went to Canada to get married, but it's probably not true."

"Yeah?" JC picked up his messenger bag from the hall floor. "To whatsisname, right?"

"Probably," Chris said, rolling his eyes, "except for the not true part," but then he put his arm around JC's waist as they went towards the back of the house. "I've been taking it easy, myself. Coming up with new and exciting games like pool bingo and sneaker—"

"Yeah, how did you take it so easy you couldn't even keep Justin from getting arrested?" JC scowled, putting his arm around Chris's shoulders. "You're his best friend, Chris, you keep saying, you couldn't even—"

"Hey, hey." Chris squeezed JC tighter. "J's a grown man, dude, I'm not paid to look after him. You can't blame me when he does something stupid." He snapped the fingers of his free hand and sang, "The night gets red and oh, the stars so blue..."

"And then I go and spoil it all, by — Chris!" JC poked a finger into Chris's belly. "Stop distracting me."

Chris grinned. Then he turned serious as they reached the door of Justin's home studio. "Yeah, but listen. I really mean it. You can't just upset Justin and then be surprised when he gets in trouble and blame me for being a bad babysitter or whatever."

JC dropped his arm, stopped, and stared. "I upset Justin? I wasn't even here, I was in a house in the middle of nowhere!"

"You were here before you went away," Chris said, and yeah, he was definitely rolling his eyes again. "I don't know if you were having," Chris's fingers came up for air quotes, "*creative differences* again or whatever, but something made Justin a cranky, cranky boy, and he's been like that the whole time you've been away. It's a new record for a Timberlake sulking fit, and I'm kinda tired of it. He won't even go golfing with me."

"Huh." JC opened the door. "No, we didn't, nothing like that. Or I didn't. Actually he told me that he didn't always love my lyrics or something like that."

Chris frowned. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, he was being all, smiling too big and saying I can't lie, I gotta tell you, about it."

Chris frowned even more. "But that doesn't make sense. He tried to upset you, you should be sulking and getting arrested, not Justin."

"No thanks," JC said, pressing the light switch. "But I won't go golfing with you, if that helps." He went around and turned the equipment on, petting the mixing board a little. "Plug in that keyboard for me?"

Chris plugged in the keyboard. He went over to JC and looked down at the notebook JC was just flipping open. "Did you write any more songs about falling in love with aliens?"

"Aliens aren't trendy any more," JC said. "I wrote a bunch about reality TV shows, though."

Chris looked at him. "I can never tell when you're kidding about this stuff."

"I'm not kidding," JC said. Chris twitched. "No, I am kidding." Chris untwitched. "No, I'm not—hey! I said no tickling!"

"And when did I ever listen to you?" Chris grinned.

"Not often enough. Listen to this," JC suggested, and picked out a loop of melody on the keyboard.

"Nice," Chris said. He listened, and then he hummed along, and then he sang, "For that guy I bleached my hair, but Joe wasn't a real mill-ee-o-NAIRE!"

"You're killing me," JC said and tried a bit of eye-rolling of his own.

Chris grinned at him. "Softly? With my song? Sorry, your song. And you can tell EV-ry-bodeee—"

JC hit him over the head with the notebook. "Chris Kirkpatrick — now with extra sugar!"

"It's a natural high," Chris said. "I'm just happy."

"Yeah?" JC looked more closely at him. "So what have you been up to all this time? I mean really, not just poolhall bingo or whatever."

"Pool bingo," Chris said. "It's this thing where... yeah, okay. Um. I might be dating that girl."

JC blinked. "Yeah?"


"For real?"


"Is that why Trace won't come out of the room?"

"Pretty much," Chris said and shrugged. "Also Justin told him if he loved something set it free, and then they laughed like very bitter hyenas and had a wrestling match and fell in the pool and then they got really drunk and Trace threw up on Tara's new shoes. So mostly he's not coming out of there cause he's scared of her."

JC grinned. "She around?"

"Somewhere," Chris said, waving a hand aimlessly. "I think she went out somewhere with Lynn. I'm sure they'll be back. Play that thing again."

"No singing," JC said, and played it again. "But she's staying here?" Chris nodded. "And you're staying here?" Chris nodded again. "And Trace is staying here?" Another nod. "And Lynn is staying here?" One more nod. "And Frits?" Chris seemed to get tired of nodding, and flapped his hand in a yeah, yeah gesture. "Anyone else I should know about?"

"Well, there's this guy called Justin," Chris said. "But it looks like you won't really have to see a lot of him."

* * *

The first night he built a fire, he fell asleep in front of it feeling all warm and toasty and then woke up at four in the morning and thought his toes might be turning blue. The room was so cold, it was like sleeping outdoors. JC staggered up, stiff-limbed and achy, and went into the back room and checked that the gas heater was on and burrowed under mounds of covers in the bed.

He woke up overheated and with a headache, and had two cans of Dr Pepper for breakfast. He'd settled into a half-hearted routine, sleeping late, breakfast on the porch and then a slow rambling walk. Afternoons he spent back on the porch again with his notebook and his keyboard or his guitar. It was slow going, a hook here and a chorus there and a scrabble of words that might eventually become lyrics. JC felt that he wanted to write something other than just regular old love songs, but it was really hard to do a song all about the way the stars looked at three in the morning, or what it felt like to laugh and run and dance and sing. Love kept sneaking into it somehow, and then he had to cross it out.

To clear his head, he went up the hill at the back of the house, up and up, breathing deep of the fresh, dry air. A bird was singing somewhere. JC passed the water tank, waved at it, and kept going. When he got all the way to the top of the hill, he turned around and looked back. It was like looking down from an airplane coming in for landing. Toy house, toy car, toy road just a thin dust-beige ribbon glimpsed through the dark green density of evergreens. He couldn't see any other houses. He knew there were neighbors, but neighbor seemed to be a relative term out here.

JC couldn't decide where to go next. He didn't really want to go back to the house, but he didn't want to get lost, either, and he couldn't remember where the path down the back of the hill was supposed to lead. He got his notebook out and sat down cross-legged on the ground and wrote, I don't know what happened, stared at it for a while, and crossed it out. I don't know what didn't happen. That didn't go with the loop of melody, the rhythm was wrong, and he crossed it out, too.

He adjusted his hat to shade his eyes from the sun. I don't know why

I don't know


Nothing really happened

Girl the stars look beautiful

A small pointy rock was digging into his ass. He got up again. He was pretty sure that if he went down the path to the left, he'd come to the road and he could loop back to the house. JC tucked the notebook into the back of his jeans, stuck the pen through his ponytail behind the rubber band, and started walking. The same bird was still singing, or the same kind of bird, anyway, with very small variations on its seven or eight notes. JC wondered if birds ever got tired of singing the same song over and over.

He didn't want to write the same song over and over. There had to be other stuff. Songs about trees, songs about dancing, songs about life being pretty cool, songs about the end of the world, whatever. A song about beautiful things you couldn't touch, maybe, like rainbows and kindness and supermodels on the catwalk.

JC kept walking. The path turned steep, and his feet skidded a bit on the dry ground. Songs about falling and breaking both legs out in the high desert and getting eaten by wild animals, that was different. He could come back as a ghost and haunt whoever rented the house next, appearing in front of the fire and singing Bye Bye Bye.

The bird sang on, unimpressed.

* * *

"Okay," JC said and yawned. "I think I'm hungry again."

"I think you're sleepy again," Chris said. "I like that one with the stars and the ballroom." He flipped through JC's notebook. "And the two-step one. And hey, what's this?"

JC grabbed the notebook back. "Kitchen. Now. Food."

"Okay," Chris said, leading the way back out of the studio. "We probably can't have a song about having sex onstage on the album anyway."

"That's not," JC said. He scratched the tip of his nose. "That's mostly not what the song is about."

Chris just snorted. "Dude, you fuck the stage every time you go out there. You don't have to be singing about it, too. But that other song looked interesting."

JC went after Chris. "What other song?"

"The one about, uh, I'll never say anything, I won't put it into words, or something. A song about being silent, isn't that kind of an oxymoron?"

JC hummed the beginning of Sounds of Silence, and Chris countered with breaking into words are very unnecessary and they stood outside the studio door and sang at each other until JC started to giggle. "See," he gasped, "you can sing about silence."

"Okay," Chris said. "But this all is kind of breaking new ground for the band. We need the sappy romance, dude. Didn't you write any love songs?"

"No," JC said, clutching the notebook. "Well, maybe one. Anyway, you'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs."

Chris grinned. "Well, look around you and you'll see it isn't so!"

They started singing again, and sang all the way to the kitchen. Justin was there, sitting at the table and eating cold pizza. He looked up when they came in. "Oh. You're still here."

"I'm staying the night," JC said. "My house is totally, I don't even have sheets. Isn't Lance supposed to be here now?"

Justin shrugged. "He got delayed. He's coming in with Joey tomorrow."

"Okay." JC looked more closely at Justin. Justin's eyes weren't shining, and he wasn't smiling. He really, really wasn't smiling at all. "You don't mind that I'm staying, do you?"

"Course not," Justin said. "Why would I mind? Make yourself right at home." He shoved the pizza box towards JC. "You want the pizza I'm eating, too? Here. Go on, take it."

"Take it," Chris echoed, flinging his arms out dramatically. "Take it, take another little piece of my pizza, baby!"

Justin stood up. He wiped his hands on a paper towel and dropped it on the floor. "Whatever," he said. "Just pick a room. If there's someone in it pick another one. I don't care."

"Wait," JC said, getting between Justin and the door. "Are you mad at me or something?"

Justin snorted. "No, why on earth would I be mad at you?"

"That's kinda my point." JC shifted to let Chris past. "Like, you broke into my house and drank my wine and got arrested, and now you're mad at me? What, you didn't like the way it tasted or something?"

Justin glared. "I didn't break in. I have a key. Or do you want it back, is that what you're saying?"

"Meow," Chris said from behind JC. "Baby's got claws."

Justin glared even more. "Chris, stay the fuck outta this, okay? C, I'll buy you some more wine since you're so fucking upset I had some of it."

"I'm not," JC said. "I just, I don't get what's going on here." A thought struck him. "Did Johnny, um, have a lot to say about you getting arrested?"

"No, he was really happy about it," Justin said. "Called me up and suggested I should trash a couple hotel rooms too."


Justin took a deep breath and ran a hand over his head. "Listen," he said. "Forget that crap. I'm sorry. Lemme show you where you can stay tonight before I go to bed." He walked out of the kitchen.

JC looked at Chris. Chris shrugged. JC went after Justin.

He wanted to say something, but he wasn't sure what would be a good idea to say, so he just walked half a step behind Justin and didn't put his hand on Justin's shoulder or anything. He didn't think he could, anyway, not with this huge strange awkwardness taking up all the space between them.

"Here," Justin said, pushing a door open. "Sheets and everything. You know where stuff is, help yourself to whatever in the kitchen, and. Yeah."

"Yeah, okay," JC said. "That's fine, I'll be fine. Justin, are you sure—"

"Sorry about your wine. I really will replace it, I promise." Justin sounded tired. "And I'm sorry about what I said about your songs. And I'm sorry for."

"For what?" JC said when Justin didn't say anything.

"For all the other stuff, before you left, and." Justin looked at JC. "And you don't know what I'm talking about, and that's a really good thing, and we're never gonna talk about this again, okay?" He stepped back. "Night, C. See you tomorrow."

"Wait," JC said, but Justin was gone.

* * *

When he got back to the house again, he was sweaty and dusty and had a blister coming up on one heel. JC left his shoes on the porch and his jeans inside the door and his shirt in front of the fireplace. He drank most of a bottle of water standing right at the fridge, then walked into the shower and stood there with cool water trickling down his back, wiggling his toes and using up the last sliver of Imperial Leather soap.

He dried off eventually, put on clean underwear and a sleeveless shirt and went to look in the freezer. The first thing he saw was a pint of mango sorbet, so he grabbed that and a spoon and went out on the porch without bothering with flip-flops or more clothes or anything. No one was going to come by and see that he wasn't wearing any pants. Hell, he could probably go for a walk naked if he wanted to, not that he wanted to because a lot of the underbrush was really sharp and scraggly, but he could.

JC sat on his favorite porch chair and ate some mango sorbet and wiggled his toes some more. As he cooled down more and more, he stretched his feet into the sunshine. It felt like small teeth of light biting into his skin. He almost dropped the sorbet in his haste to write that down. Teeth, sunlight, skin. More sorbet. He felt tired, but not unpleasantly so, and the contrast between the chill of the carton in his hand and the heat of the sun on his feet made him very aware of his skin.

A breeze curled around his ankles. JC put the spoon down and stretched his hand into the sunlight, heating it up. He put the mango sorbet down, too, touched cold fingertips to his throat and then hot ones, shivering at the contrast. The sun was coming around the side of the house, licking slowly up his calves.

There was no one here to see him. There was no one else here to touch him, either. No one sitting close enough.

JC pushed his shirt up over his chest. He dragged his cold fingertips down over his left nipple, then his hot fingertips, then the cold ones again. It felt good, the sensation of touch clearer and sharper than usual. He tipped his head back and scratched his nails lightly across his throat, paused to take his shirt off and throw it aside, and continued to graze down his chest and stomach, feeling the muscles twitch a little. Then he stroked with his fingertips. Hot, cold, hot. His cold fingers were warming up fast against his skin, though, and he reached out and dipped them in the mango sorbet. Not just cold, but wet and sticky. He slid down to lie in the sunshine and breathed in the deep, heady scent of mango and sugar.

Closing his eyes, he touched himself through the boxerbriefs and watched waves of yellow and orange roll across the inside of his eyelids. It was good, it was really good. He slid one hand under the cotton, sticky fingers, warm now. Slow, regular strokes were the best and he rocked up, heels digging into the broad planks of the porch.

It was good, and he wanted someone else to touch him. JC breathed deep, in and out, and thrust into his sticky hand, and the sun was kissing him all over and sometimes fast was better than slow, and he came in a skitter of red sparks.

He made a contented sound and stayed where he was, soaking up more sunlight, until its teeth grew too sharp and he felt much too sticky; then he got up, and went to take another shower.

* * *

JC sat on the bed, which had sheets, and got out his notebook again. He turned on the bedside lamp and flipped the notebook open to the last written page. The words were spiky, and in some places the pen had gone right through the paper. JC stared at the words for a while, traced the lines with his index finger and hummed under his breath. It wasn't done. It needed something more.

He bounced on the bed a little, but he'd slept in this bed before, so it wasn't very exciting. Notebook in hand, he got up again, walked around the room, and then went back out. It wasn't as though he had to go to bed just because Justin thought he should, after all. The house had an unsleeping feel to it, there were voices somewhere, movement.

In the kitchen, Chris had rearranged the fridge magnets to say

timber lake is sad puppy
tail point down and whine ing hard
want s a hand to lick

and below that someone else, probably Justin, had commented

squeak y freak s get no meat to eat
get out of the house you louse

JC grinned. He got a Sprite from the drinks fridge and went on through the house. There were even more shoes in the hall. He followed the sound of a news show, but found only an empty couch in front of the tv. JC looked at the anchor for a while, and then he flopped down on the couch and grabbed the remote and hit mute. This was a great couch, deep and comfortable. It was just right to sprawl on and have someone else sprawl right next to you, maybe after the late movie, talking in a low voice and sitting really close, almost with his head on your shoulder. Just right, right there, bright-eyed and smiling.

JC blinked. He put the notebook down on the coffee table and took a long drink from the can of Sprite. He looked at the couch, at the empty place right next to him, and then he put the can of Sprite on the table and got up and walked to Justin's bedroom.

The door was open, and Justin was standing over by the window, staring out. JC coughed, and Justin turned around and his brows drew together a little. "Yeah? Was there, is there a problem or something?"

"I didn't realize," JC said.

Justin stared blankly at him across the room. "Didn't realize what?"

JC walked in and closed the door behind him. "When I was here before, when we were, you were. I didn't realize what was happening."

Justin's brows drew lower. "I thought we weren't going to talk about this."

"Well, that's what you said," JC said, waving it aside. "But that was before I realized what it was we weren't going to talk about."

Justin looked pained. "Now I don't even know what we're talking about."

JC went over to Justin's bed and sat down and bounced on it a bit. "It's like with the beds," he said. "No, wait, that's not it. It's like all the time I spent in that house, I was totally alone. And I think that was good, it was good for me in a lot of ways. I got some writing done, I got some thinking done."

Justin crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. "That's great, C. And you're in my bedroom because?"

"Because I was thinking, or not thinking, but like... I kept remembering the last time I wasn't alone. When I was here, when I was with you. And I wrote a song, and I came back here, and now I've figured it out." JC smiled. "I'm sorry it took me so long. See, I just didn't know. Like, maybe I knew," JC touched his chest, "but I didn't know," he tapped his head.

"Okay," Justin said. "So now that you've figured out I was doing everything but throwing myself at you, are we gonna have the painful just friends talk? Cause honestly, I can live without that. I can give myself the speech and pretend it was you, you know?"

"There's no speech," JC said. "There's a song here," he flipped through the notebook, "you could look at that, or. Wait. No, on second thought I've got a better idea." He went up to Justin, wrapped his right hand around Justin's left wrist, and kissed him.

* * *

The mango sorbet had melted by the time he came out on the porch again, and all that was left was a carton full of mango slush. JC sat down with his notebook and three pens and hummed a little to himself. He'd put on pants and flip-flops this time. He opened the notebook and uncapped one of the pens and thought a little.

The thing about love

The whole porch was in the sun now, and it got hot sitting close to the wall. JC went back inside for a bottle of water. He stood by the open fridge for a while, for the cool air, but he could hear his mom telling him to step away and close the door already, so he did.

Love has

The chairs on the porch were indoor chairs, really, kitchen chairs with straight backs, except for JC's favorite, which was like a rocking chair only without the rocking part. He'd padded the seat with a folded blanket that he always meant to take in at night and always forgot about. Every morning, the blanket was cool from the night air, and a little damp.

Everything I don't know about love

He got up and walked around the house, twice, humming to himself. The second time, he realized that the tape recorder was still inside the house, so he went inside and got it, and then he went back out and walked around the house again. Some other bird was singing now, some bird that only knew three notes, stripped down and simple and pure. JC sang the same notes over and over, too, fitting them together one by one.

When he got hungry, he opened another bag of corn chips. One pen broke and splotched him with blue ink from knee to hip, but he didn't care. Another pen pretended it was acid and ate through the paper. Maybe that was the subject, he thought. Maybe.

I'm ready, I'm waiting

Love is coming.

* * *

"I can't believe you got arrested," JC said, kissing Justin's sweat-damp shoulder.

"Uh, yeah. No. You know." Justin's voice dropped half an octave after sex, smooth and low and liquid like syrup. "It was kind of stupid."

JC shook his head. "Why my house, anyway? You couldn't just get drunk at your house?"

"No, the thing is. I really missed you, even though, it's kind of stupid, even though I knew when you were there, you weren't there in the same way I was." Justin rolled over and slung an arm around JC, breathing warmly against JC's cheek. "So I went to your house, cause I thought maybe you were more there there, even though you weren't there."

JC nodded. "I don't think I was, really. I am now, though. I'm here the same way you are. I just had to go away first."

"Mm." Justin wriggled closer. "Sleep now?"

"Mm." JC closed his eyes. He was really there, right there, right next to Justin. He was close enough. "Sleep now."

Justin chuckled, right next to JC's ear. "And it really wasn't true about your lyrics, you know. I like them." He paused. "Some of them."

"Thanks." JC bit Justin's shoulder where he'd kissed it before. Justin made a pleased sound. JC bit him again. "You like that?"

"Like I love your lyrics, man," Justin said and kissed him. "Some of them."

* * *

Love is coming

Love is already here.

* * *

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