Dream Sequence
by Cody




I'm gnawing on the knowledge that I have been burned and I'm learning things that I should have already learned.

---

You can honestly say that in the beginning you never thought about the end. In the beginning, you were all too hungry to think about anything but Now. All you wanted was to get out there and say, Hey Everybody, look what we can do! It was good; it was pure. Give me money and fame, and who didn't want that when they're young? Who didn't want success?

Justin has no qualms about admitting it. Ask him what the one thing he wants the most is and hear him say, "Success. Complete Happiness." Because to him, they're so indelibly linked they're hardly two things at all. But it's different for you.

Because Justin's getting what he wants. And you're.

You're waiting backstage while Justin performs solo for The First Time Ever, which isn't true. You can think of plenty of times in the recent past when you've seen Justin perform solo. There'd just also been four guys behind him performing together. Didn't anyone remember Gone?

But that's sour grapes and you know it. He never acted like that, not really. He isn't selfish like you.

No, not selfish. It's not that you wanted him to fail; it really isn't. You're glad he's having so much success. You're just upset because.

It isn't you.

You're backstage and he's still on it. And it's not that you don't want him onstage, it's that you don't want to be offstage. It isn't fair. You put in the same time as him, the same hard work. Could it be he's just better than you, better in ways that neither of you can help?

Not better looking, is he? Look at your cheekbones, your eyes, your lips. Okay, sure, a big nose, but like his isn't big. You even grew your hair into curls, dropped the clean-cut look for tight, flashy designer clothes, and last year at that awards show when you got nominated for best dressed male and he didn't, you thought Maybe this is it. But it wasn't. The night came and passed, and everyone commented on how your jacket looked like one he would've worn.

You've got five years of life on him, so why does his song get nominated for the Grammy, why does he get three singles off the third album when you've never even had one? It's a conspiracy, damnit. But is it? Or are his songs just better? You console yourself that No Strings Attached sold better than Celebrity, and you had four songs on there and he only had one, but when you're honest you know that the strength of NSA's singles were what sold so many copies. When he tells you how much he likes your songs, you don't want to punch him, not really. You just want. To be good.

You want to be better.

Chris called tonight the "worst VMAs ever" and they are. 1999 was your first year performing, sharing stage time with Britney and a nomination but no win. It was thrilling just to be there. 2000 you got to perform alone; you did something no one else had ever done with that TV screens gag, won a bunch of awards and were an official Superstar. 2001 you got up on stage with Michael fucking Jackson, swept the awards and felt blasť about the whole affair, and your indifference made you giddy with satisfaction that you could have it so great that something this good could be no big deal. You performed in front of stadiums; you owned a mansion built into a cliff in LA; you went and wore and had whenever wherever however you wanted. As much as you say that it's all about the music, it felt good.

So, it's not that you hate that Justin loved the 2002 VMAs. It's not that you hate that he performed for the fourth year in a row. It's that you hate that you hated the 2002 VMAs. You hate that you sat in the audience and watched everyone else be stars. When you went up onstage to give away an award that you should've been taking home, you tried not to look too disappointed. You tried to flash a smile when Chris talked about how great Justin did. You tried not to wish it were you who had to catch your breath after wowing the world.

But if you've learned anything, it's that trying isn't always enough.

You've thought about the end since you first got big in Europe, because the minute you found a following people started warning you how easy it is to lose it. The public is fickle, everyone told you. And how true does that ring now, as you watch the shiny people on stage accept your trophies, bask in your applause? Because they still belong to you in your heart, the world just seems to have forgotten.

You fantasize about running up on stage and snatching the trophies away from the winners, or the presenter stepping back up to the mike and saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, I read that wrong." Or Eminem suddenly stopping his acceptance speech: "Look, I can't do this. We all know *N Sync really should have won. JC, my man, come up here. I love you guys!"

Maybe if you have another drink, you can wake up tomorrow and find this has all been a dream.

You know you're going to regret it even as you order another mimosa. You've had too many already and everything's become a little unsteady. That sounds like part of a song to you, but you don't bother trying to hold onto it. You feel bitter when think about songwriting.

You don't look for Justin at Puffy's after party. In fact, the moment you step through the door you deliberately make your way into the crowd to lose yourself in the anonymity of the crush. Take haven in too many people that don't outshine you, darkness and flashing lights that distract from your fading star.

But he finds you.

Just when you think you've found a nice place to hide for a few minutes in an unlit room, you turn and gasp and say, "Fuck, J. You scared me."

He grins at you; an aura of energy around him palpable as he steps closer, wraps sweaty hands around your bare arms, just above your elbows, and squeezes. "Hey," and his voice is breathy and inviting.

"Hey." You look past him, towards the door. "I wonder if anyone saw us come in here?"

"Shut up." He ducks down to kiss you, ducks just a little, but you think I used to be taller and hate yourself for being so petty. And what does it matter anyway, what you used to be? Memories have no weight. What's tangible is what he is and what you are. And he's bigger today.

You pull your mouth away from his and say, "We shouldn't do this here."

He doesn't say he doesn't care with words; he says it with his hands holding you tighter and his tongue licking insistently at your lips until you give in. You let him kiss you until you're both panting, and you think about locking the door and letting him have you right now and who cares who sees you walk out with swollen lips and flushed skin? But you step away and smooth your hair, because when it comes down to it, you do care. You worked too hard to get so much to do something so careless. You know the hell of unwanted publicity and avoid it like the plague.

He tries to come forward again, but you put a hand on his chest and smile to stop him. Maybe he doesn't care, though you think he must. Maybe he just doesn't care as much as you do. "You were great tonight," you tell him, because he was. "I'm proud of you."

His eyes touch deep inside of you and you let him kiss you just one more time. Just two. "Let's go back," you say, because he deserves to be at the party. It's not your night anymore, but it's still his. "I don't want you to miss it."

"I'm not missing it," he says, and you think he means it. He loves you more than he loves himself. And right now that's just another way he's better than you.

You stare at him until he smiles and acquiesces, turning to whisper before he disappears, "Don't leave without me."

Your brow lifts at the irony of him asking you not to leave him behind. You count to one-hundred-Mississippi before going to the door, checking discreetly in both directions before hurrying back to the main hall. You catch a waitress just as you return and take two glasses of champagne from the tray she's balancing. You drink the first one fast and sip at the second.

You know that tomorrow all you'll do is wake up.

lyrics credit "I Held Her In My Arms"--The Violent Femmes

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