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Department stores were nice. Normal. Human. Big freezers of pre-cooked food, cheap house-wares and clothing, electronics and tools. Everything that people have made essential, lined up on shelves under florescent lights. JC liked to wander through the rows of merchandise, every now and then plucking something from a shelf and tossing it into his cart, that rattled on squeaky wheels and wasn't custom-made or impeccable in any way. It was a cart that shook just as hard for hundreds of other people, wasn't any less disagreeable for him.
The things he bought weren't expensive or designer, they could be afforded by the average person. The average person, whose lifestyle seemed as exotic and unattainable to him as his was to them. Even though the only time he could come to a store like this, a 24-hour Super Wal-Mart, was in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, that didn't matter. It didn't matter when it was three forty-five a.m. and he was comparison-shopping for hedge clippers, pretending that he needed to check prices, didn't have a gardener, wasn't thrilled to be in such a public place alone. He picked out a moderately priced set of clippers, scissored the blades experimentally, as though he had any idea at all what to look for in a pair. With a small noise of approval, he put them in his cart and moved on.
He walked slowly down the aisles of the nearly empty store, concentrating on the rhythm of his shoes hitting the linoleum. Was it just his imagination, or did his footsteps really sound as aimless as he felt? He thought about all the things that he could buy for the one whom was sleeping in his bed. There was nothing he lacked, but there were things he needed, if only because they were necessities.
Soap to keep him clean when I've made him dirty. Food to keep him fed when I know he's hungry. Clothes to keep him warm when I've left him cold.
I hope I never leave him cold.
But I might.
Justin was so young, and it scared JC. He knew that he needed Justin because he wanted him. Justin was wine and candy, everything pleasant and beautiful, and vital because JC wanted him to be. He feared that Justin wanted him because he needed him. That to Justin, he was bread and water, desired as an afterthought of being essential. JC had known him for years, helped guide him into adolescence. And it wasn't over. Justin was just in the middle of growing up. He was still a child in so many ways, and JC wondered if it was wrong to love him this way. Not just physically, but emotionally, because Justin was so attached, and the mixture of the platonic bond they'd shared for years with romantic love would make him indispensable to Justin in a way so real that it kept JC up at night.
He'd seen the quiet longing in Justin's eyes since the first time they'd met, but back then it had been a childish crush, and JC was only amused. Years passed, and JC watched as the admiration in Justin's gaze faded and the lust intensified. Justin grew taller, smarter, stronger, until JC was no longer perfection on a pedestal, but an equal, whom was made of flesh the same as his and could be touched. JC saw the changes, and let it happen. But sometimes he worried that he'd let himself love Justin too soon. Should he have waited just a while longer? A few years, maybe, until Justin was an adult and JC could be sure that he wasn't more than he should be in the grand scheme of Justin's world.
And sometimes, JC felt like he was sick to want Justin at this age. He told himself that Justin didn't have the body of a child. That Justin had grown up fast, was mature in ways most boys his age weren't. But there were times when Justin was so very young and needy, and JC wondered if there was something wrong with him, because those were the times when he loved Justin the most. When they lay in bed and Justin asked in a small, soft voice, to be sung to sleep. Or when Justin was upset and held JC achingly tight and cried in a way he would never let himself cry in front of anyone else. Or when he was silly.
Justin let himself be completely authentic with JC, on a level surpassing what he showed even his family or Lance, Joey, and Chris. He let himself get utterly sad or angry or happy. He would sob in JC's arms, whimper and tremble, vulnerable and unashamed. He would rage and scream, throw things and curse, let hate slur his words and flush his skin, and not worry that he might scare JC away.
And sweet, there were the times when he would be playful and childish, giggle like a child and grin like a fool. Nonsensical and na´ve, and laugh too loud, whisper or shout for no reason. There were times when they were alone, maybe sitting on a couch watching tv, Justin laying with his head on one armrest, his feet on the other, his back across JC's lap, and he'd look up at JC and smile, weave a hand into JC's hair and laugh and say something young. Something like, "Tell me why you love me, and then I'll tell you," or "Aren't we happy? Isn't it so good?" And what could JC do but smile back, and kiss him, and love him so much his heart throbbed and almost hurt?
Sometimes they talked about how difficult it was to keep their relationship from everyone. JC hated that Justin had to keep a secret from his friends and family, especially his mother. But JC knew that they would all say Justin was too young for him and they shouldn't be together because they work together. In a few years, then they could tell everyone. Justin liked to talk about it, imagining how everyone would be happy for them, and then they could get a place together and share hotel rooms when they toured. JC hated to bring Justin down, but didn't want him to be disappointed later. So one day he interrupted Justin's musings and told him that maybe everyone wouldn't accept them, and they had to be prepared for that. Justin just shook his head and put his arms around JC's neck and told him, before pulling him into a kiss, "Even if everyone in the world hated me for it, I would still love you." Then he'd laughed and said, "If they hate us, good. We'll run away and go live in the mountains, and you'll write me songs and I'll sing them to you." But JC knew, even if Justin didn't, that Justin was built to be loved by the world and wouldn't be happy singing for an audience of one. He thrived off of the adoration, the stage, the fame. He needed the fans to worship him just as much as the fans needed him to worship.
Wrong or right, JC loved Justin. He was just intimidated by what that meant, the responsibilities and risks. He worried that he was too old, Justin was too young, this would be unacceptable in the eyes of so many people, including ones that counted, if anyone found out. Could their relationship really be right if they had to keep it a secret? Justin maybe needed him too much, and what if it didn't work out, where would that leave them? Would Justin be able to handle it? Justin was so young, maybe what he wanted would change, and would JC be able to excuse him if that happened? What if JC's devotion faltered? Would Justin ever forgive him, would JC ever forgive himself? He wanted Justin to have everything, and feared he didn't have enough to give.
JC checked his wristwatch. He should be leaving soon, before people started showing up. Suddenly he couldn't wait to get home to Justin, despite his concerns. Justin, who was flawless in his imperfection, who was worth the risk. Justin, who was right now sleeping in JC's bed, like a Botticelli portrait come to life, wanting to see JC when he awoke. JC would give him that, would give him anything. Was it any sort of sacrifice at all to please Justin, when he asked for things like JC's company, his touch, his love? JC abandoned his cart in the middle of an aisle and headed for the exit, pulling his car keys from his pocket and jingling them impatiently. He didn't want to take the time to buy anything, when every second was another second without Justin. There was nothing in the cart, in the store, in the world he wanted more than to be with Justin, curled up close and naked beneath warm blankets, and press his lips to angel skin. He wanted to lie down beside Justin and watch as the morning light confessed his beauty. He wanted to see the sun cling to Justin's fluttering eyelashes as he awoke, and hear Justin sigh as JC kissed his chest, and then lay his head down to listen to Justin's heartbeat. He wanted to hear his name in every beat, and press Justin's hand to his chest, so he could feel JC love him. He wanted to lay with Justin in the quiet of a sleepy world, and know what heaven is.