Kind of Sad
by Cody

And it's been a while, but I can still remember just the way you taste.


It was laughable, really, that he had taught Justin Timberlake to kiss. Laughable because Justin probably never thought at all of their...what, affair? That word, affair, made it seem so meaningless and ephemeral, and when he was being completely honest with himself, he had to admit it was. They never spoke about it, ever, which sometimes made it seem like a saccharine dream that epitomized sweetness but left a bitter aftertaste in its wake.

He remembered every detail of its development; every step of its conception and creation; its birth and life and death. Like a favorite child, he pulled the memories onto his knee and held them close, stroked and treasured them. It made him feel pathetic, because he should be the adult in this situation whom had moved on and could look back on it all with a soft smile and painless nostalgia. He shouldn't care anymore.

It all started, in his mind at least, when Justin's aunt had gotten sick and his mom left the tour to be with her. Justin had been worried for his aunt, sure, but also thrilled by the freedom his mom's absence entailed. The first night, they went clubbing and Justin danced till his feet hurt and threw up in a urinal because Lance couldn't guide him to a stall in time. The next morning Justin was hung over and looked like shit, but grinned like he'd just been drafted in the NBA. "I don't know what you're so happy about, you puked a boot last night," Lance told him, but he was grinning, too.

The second night they smoked some shit Joey had procured in the club the night before and decided to get matching tattoos. The fact that Justin was underage and they knew they'd catch hell from his mom for it, and that JC's courage faded with the high and he chickened out at the last minute, in an odd way, only served to make the experience that much better. Four-fifths freshly inked, they went back to the hotel and gathered in Justin's room, propped their sore ankles up on pillows and teased JC, who sat alone on the couch and didn't even try to retaliate. Chris felt bad after a while and was about to say something, but Justin beat him to it, getting off the bed to plop down on the couch, lean his head onto JC's shoulder and say, "You're the smart one. We'll all hate ourselves in the morning." And they'd shared smiles like secrets. Chris watched, wanted to go over and join them, but didn't. They looked so right together, both lean and lovely. He wouldn't look right.

The third night, Lance wasn't feeling well and they all decided to stay in and keep him company. Twenty minutes after the last slice of pizza was gone, so was Joey. No one held it against him. There were two single beds in the room. Lance snored softly in one; JC was sprawled out on the other. Chris sat on the couch with Justin's head on his shoulder as he read the subtitles on the television aloud. He wasn't sure what they were watching, some random sitcom, but he used different accents for each character and smiled as softly as Justin laughed. He lost his place when the characters started talking over each other, and they lapsed into silence. He felt Justin shifting to look up at him and he looked down, questioning.

"I had this dream the other night," Justin whispered. "We were in the dressing room about to go onstage, and then Lou came in and told us to go home 'cause they'd released the single in the U.S. and everyone hated it. He was like, 'Go home, nobody likes you.' Just like that. We failed. I failed." Chris didn't know what to say to that, so he just slipped an arm around Justin's shoulders and pulled him closer. "But then, last night, I had this dream that we made it. Like, made it big. We were all rich and famous and everything." Justin ducked his head. "But, it was like. I was the one everyone loved the most, you know? Like, they loved us all, but I was like, the Main Guy. Like, the star." He looked up at Chris, blushing and smirking, "and it was fucking awesome." Justin looked down again, at the hands he had puddled in his lap, and Chris studied short, bleached curls, shocked. There was no doubt that Justin was talented, no doubt that the kid was cute, and he guessed that at Justin's age everyone believed they were meant for greatness. Chris thought of JC's voice, rich and elastic; the tilted eyes and full lips that were like something out of a poem; the way he hit the stage like a bolt of lightning. Justin, the Main Guy. Right.

After that, it became a ritual for Justin to everyday share his dreams of the night before with Chris. Most of them dealt with failure or success. All of them dealt with, in some form, sex. But those parts of his dreams were always just blurs of craving and skin. One constant throughout all of them: a pair of eyes. "Beautiful eyes," Justin would say, and blush, though he spoke unabashedly of long tongues and perfect thighs. Later, Chris would look in the mirror and blink at himself experimentally, wondering.

Puberty sneaked into Justin's bedroom one night when no one was looking. All at once, he grew into his giant hands and feet, his face maturing without losing its baby softness, muscles reminiscent of some ancient Grecian statue. It happened so fast and so subtly that it didn't happen at all. There was just a scrawny kid one minute, and the next, a man. A dazzling man. Signs wanted him; screams shaped his name; hands reached toward him frantically. JC just smiled, and Justin smiled harder. Chris tried not to look more jealous than he was surprised. This new man oozed charm and talent; sex appeal rolled off him in almost visible waves. Unlike JC, whose allure appeared unintentional, Justin's magnetism was deliberate and unapologetic, which shouldn't have made it better, but did.

Those dreams that Justin seemed compelled to share were what brought it all about. Dreams, and then, maybe the drinks had something to do with it. A slurred confession that the Beautiful Eyes weren't female. Chris's lips curved knowingly when he asked if Justin had ever kissed a guy. Justin's eyes went wide as he shook his head no, and for a moment Chris glimpsed that scrawny kid who dreamed of failure and couldn't hold his alcohol as he leaned in and let his eyes fall closed.

Justin wasn't a good kisser. He was too rough and sloppy, too fast. Probably because girls had always been too grateful to be touched by him to take the time to show him how to do it right. Chris brought his hands to lightly stubbled cheeks and angled the kiss, going in slowly, over and over, until it was like kissing himself. He spent the next twelve days teaching Justin everything he knew; how to kiss and lick and touch warm flesh; how to take it all into his mouth without discomfort and what to do once he was down there; how to go in gently at first and then build a rhythm that left them trembling. Justin was with this like he was with everything life presented him: eager to be taught and quick to learn. Chris didn't have to teach Justin how to leave afterwards without waking him up; Justin figured that out on his own.

Then the tour was over and they were back in Orlando, home. Chris slept a lot for the first three days and didn't think much of it when Justin didn't call. He was probably catching up with his family, his friends, resting. By the end of the week, though, Chris started to wonder. Not because he thought Justin might miss touching him or anything stupid like that, but because they were friends, liked to hang out together, and they never went long without talking. He thought about calling Justin, but didn't. He didn't want to call and get the answering machine because then he'd have to leave a message, and he wouldn't know what to say, and it would be weird. He couldn't call and not leave a message because then his number would show up on the Caller ID, and Justin would wonder why he hadn't left a message, and that would be even weirder. So, he didn't call. And the next day, he didn't call again. And the next day, he dialed right up to the last digit before hanging up. Which was depressingly pitiful and he told himself he wouldn't call at all unless Justin did first, while Chris was out, and he had to call him back, or something.

After two weeks, enough was enough. Chris didn't call, but he did drive to Justin's house. Happened to be in the neighborhood, decided to drop by, casual. He didn't care if Justin wasn't home, wouldn't bother him at all, he'd just keep driving along and...Justin was home. There was his car in the driveway and JC's beside it. Chris parked behind it, feeling relieved JC was there because that would make it easier. Not that there was any reason why it would be uneasy. He didn't bother ringing the doorbell because the back door was always unlocked when Justin was home, so he just let himself in.

Noise, music, coming from the living room. He followed it. Guitars and a man's voice, slow and heavy; Chris recognized the song. Justin didn't listen to this kind of music often. He liked hip-hop, rumbling beats that got the adrenaline pumping. This song, melancholy in a way that was angry and mellow and passionate all at once, streamed through the air, draping mood. The room wasn't dark because it wasn't far into the afternoon, and the curtains were open, but there were no lights on. Chris reached to flip a switch, but his hand froze when he saw. Those beautiful tilted eyes fluttering closed; those full lips parted; that rich, elastic voice moaning; his body, as svelte as Chris had always imagined it would be, a smooth tumble of curves and ridges, writhing beneath a sheen of sweat. Long artist's fingers skimming planes with a reverence that left Chris tingling, hands from memory and skin from envy. He stared, and he wanted to hate it but he couldn't. Impossible to hate this kind of beauty upon beauty. So he stared, and he coveted, and he loved. And then he slunk away in shadows, feeling quiet to the core.

The sun was bright hot, relentlessly cheerful, and he felt like ice that couldn't melt. He sat in his car, reached to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio came to life with the engine, and there was that song, following him. He leaned to press his forehead against the steering wheel, scorching from the sun, and it almost felt good. His eyes stung, boiled over. His mouth opened, harsh breath enveloping him in more stifling heat. Jagged laughter sputtered, hurting him as it came. It was laughable, in the way that life and love are sick and brutally funny. And then also, it was, you know.

lyrics credit "It's Been A While" --Staind


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