by Cody

It took about three weeks of working with Justin before he registered on JC's radar. Registered as in, was a real person and not just another background prop on the set. It was pre-season for the MMC and they were in training like any other team; a Disney-style boot camp, with hours on end of singing and dancing and smiling and eating catered lunches of deli foods and Hawaiian Punch. The cast was segregated into two distinct groups: the older kids and the younger kids. It was only natural, and everyone was fine with the arrangement. Except for a certain shinybright twelve-year-old who seemed hell-bent to break on through to the other side.

But his weren't philanthropic motives to cast aside labels or merge the masses or any of that selfless bullshit; he wasn't trying to crash through barriers and bring all his preteen friends along with him. Rather, he wanted to hop the age gap like a backyard fence and leave the rest behind, keep the older group elite while being a part of it. To be able to drift back and forth between the groups would make his fellow young mice jealous, but his main motive was that his favorite new hobby entailed following the older guys around like a puppy. One guy in particular, whom as mentioned didn't notice for almost three weeks, and only did then because Tony started making fun of the way Justin wriggled between JC and whomever was nearest to him as much as possible, hung on JC's every word and laughed too hard at his stupid jokes.

"Look at him glaring at me," Tony murmured one day, when he and JC were sitting against the side of the studio in the back lot after rehearsal, waiting for their girlfriends to come out so they could go to a movie.

"Who's glaring at you?" JC didn't look up from drawing on the sole of his shoe with a Bic ballpoint.

"Your one-man fan club," Tony said, and that made JC glance up and in the direction of Tony's discreetly tilted chin. He saw three of the younger boys sitting on the curb, and one was staring right at them. He had fluffy hair and pudgy baby cheeks and yes; he was glaring, but when he noticed JC looking at him, he immediately grinned and waved.

JC waved back, but looked down again before the attention could be construed as an invitation to come over. "Why is he my fan club?" JC got plenty of letters written to him through the show's address, but he was pretty sure none of them were from that kid...Justin, right? "And why was he glaring at you?"

"Because I'm near his precious JC," Tony laughed. "He's jealous."

"Gimme a break," JC said. "He's what, twelve?"

"Didn't you have crushes when you were a kid?" Tony asked, as the backdoor opened and Keri and Jessica came out, and Tony got up and held out his hand to help JC stand. "You guys take forever," Tony told the girls, "and you don't even look any better."

The girls squawked at that, slapping Tony on the arms as he laughed his head off, and usually JC would've joined in the fun, but he was thinking about what Tony had said. He looked over his shoulder, and Justin was still watching him. JC raised his hand in goodbye and Justin, after a moment, did the same.


Of course JC had crushed on people when he was a kid. Plenty of people. Teachers, other kids his age, some of his friends' older siblings, even an ancient librarian that he'd loved dearly because she was so strange looking. Her face was tiny and wrinkly, her eyes black beads, her lips and nose and tall body razor thin, and her coloring so dull it was like she was a pencil sketch. He remembered being ten and walking from his house to the library hoping, hoping, hoping she'd be there, and then feeling trembly and odd when she was. He'd always find some flimsy excuse to speak to her, and her voice was so vulnerable and meek he felt she might shatter at any moment. He didn't want to touch her like he wanted to touch the boy his dad paid to mow the lawn or the girl with the long, dark hair that walked her dog past his house every day, but he did want to kiss her. Wanted to brush his lips reverently against her pink-gray cheek and it would feel like paper and sound like dry leaves.

At the next rehearsal JC was hyperaware of Justin's behavior. The way he was always right next to him, a silent presence content to simply listen and watch JC interact with others, not caring if he was ignored as long as he was close. He brushed against JC more than once, fleeting pressure that might've been accidental but probably wasn't. Because from the way Justin stood by the side of the stage when JC sang, face rapt and admiring and possessive, darting nasty looks at anyone who dared talk during and clapping hard and loud afterward, JC was fairly sure Justin's crush was the kind that wanted to touch.


JC didn't make a conscious effort to pay more attention to Justin, but it was inevitable that if someone latched onto a person like a second shadow, eventually he would be drawn into conversations. The older kids grew quickly fond of Justin, who was goofy and charming and only sometimes annoying. Justin wasn't dumb; he knew when to leave and go hang out with the younger crowd. Like when the older kids started talking and then cut off abruptly and glanced at him; that was a cue to withdraw. Or when the dating couples went into the dark spots backstage during lunch and didn't come out until they were called back onset.

But Justin didn't always go sit with Ryan and Britney and Christina like he should. Sometimes he followed JC and Jessica, crept after them on the toes of his sneakers, getting as close as he dared. Wrought with excitement and envy and maybe a little guilt, his eyes would strain in the dark and he'd feel lightheaded from trying to breathe quietly while his heart raced. They would kiss and touch, and make noises, and Justin would watch until he got too paranoid about being caught and then slip away, catch up to Ryan and TJ and hope they wouldn't notice if he looked as flushed as he felt.

Justin had kissed plenty of times, even touched tongues with Christina once in a closet during a game with the younger kids of Seven Minutes in Heaven (though she'd denied it later). He'd touched her butt, too, and she'd touched his butt and even his dick, briefly and over his pants and not on purpose by the way she startled back, but still. He hadn't bothered trying to touch her chest because there was nothing there. He'd also been in the closet with Britney during the game, but she'd looked so nervous that in the end he just kissed her cheek. She'd blushed tomato red and they just stared at each other until Ryan opened the door. That was as far as he'd gone with any girls at the show, and he wondered what they'd say if he tried to take them to the dark places backstage.

Still, when the older crowd was hanging out in the back lot during lunch and Matt finished his soda and suggested they use the empty bottle for a quick game, Justin's closet-experience, however meager, was what gave him the nerve to say, "Me, too."

Everyone laughed, and Jessica said, "That's so cute! Let's let him, you guys!" and Justin felt momentarily bad for agreeing with Dale when he'd said she was bitchy. Then he got over it, because really, she was bitchy. She probably just wanted to let Justin play in hopes that he'd do something stupid so she could laugh at him. But he didn't really care as long as he was in. He felt a spike of excitement as they all sat in a circle, feeling more like a part of their group and less like their mascot little brother than ever before.

They started with Matt, since it was his idea, and worked around the circle clockwise. Jessica looked horrified when it got to her and she spun it and landed on Ilana, but the boys catcalled and laughed wildly and made them kiss because the rule was whomever it lands on no matter what. When it got to Justin, he spun it hard and wished harder. Prayed to god like he only really did before an audition; a prayer he meant desperately and not just something he recited before meals or bed. Please, please, please, he thought, I won't ever copy homework again and I'll stop cussing and-- the bottle stopped and it was-- Shit! Fuck! Fuck!

The bottle was aiming right at JC and everyone was kind of tittering, not really wanting to laugh because at this point no one had failed to notice the way Justin worshiped JC. And no one was completely sure of the nature of Justin's esteem. JC looked at Justin, and Justin looked back, expectant and guarded and very, very young. JC leaned forward, and everyone was deathly quiet, which only made Justin more aware of the crazy ways his insides were twisting, and he held his breath waiting, closed his eyes and--

JC dropped a quick, dry kiss to the middle of Justin's cheek. His eyes flew open as JC pulled away, and whatever he'd been expecting, that wasn't it. "Look at his face!" Jessica giggled. "Justin, are you okay?"

He wanted to tell her to shut up, but just looked at her blankly. Then Rhona reached for the bottle and the moment passed. He was maybe a little relieved when lunch was over.

For the rest of the day, he acted different. Didn't avoid the older kids, but didn't sidle up to JC or stare from just offstage while he performed, either. JC wondered if things would change, if Justin would treat him like any other person from now on. He wondered if he would be glad if he did.


Justin began spreading his time more evenly between the age groups, made an effort to blend them. It worked quickly and it worked well; the older girls adopting the younger set to coddle and advise and the older boys generous with the noogies and dirty jokes. So things had changed, but it wasn't bad. Though the groups were still definitely separate, they were now definitely combined, too.

When JC had been one of the new faces on the set back in the fourth season, all the kids were around his age and they'd gotten to know each other naturally. This season, the sixth, the freshest crop was younger and it would've been easy to never get close if it hadn't been for Justin. He'd forced them all to be friends because it was more convenient for him, and it made the chemistry during the show better. They ad-libbed and played pranks on each other and went en masse to the back lot during lunch, the girls gossiping over magazines while the boys played basketball. Ryan and Justin were especially competitive, both harboring hopes of future NBA stardom.

Justin was perfectly pleasant to JC, treating him exactly like he treated everyone else, and JC had come to the conclusion that whatever had been going on, be it a crush or hero worship or whatever, was over. He was suddenly able to turn around without bumping into Justin, lean close to someone without having them glared at, tell a lousy joke and have no one laugh. He found himself kind of missing the attention. It had been flattering, even if Justin was just a kid. Because it was obvious that Justin was destined to be gorgeous and popular when he got older, was already gorgeous and popular but just very young, and it was flattering that someone like that could find someone like JC so appealing. It had crossed JC's mind more than once that if Justin were his age he'd be the one trying to get Justin to notice him, wanting to be around him. He found himself thinking a lot of what Justin would look like in a few years, what he would do with his life, whom he would date. He sometimes even pictured them meeting years down the road, when Justin was eighteen and he was twenty-two, maybe. They'd run into each other at a coffee shop or something, and Justin would recognize JC first, come up to him and say, "Do you remember me?" And it would take JC a minute before he placed the familiar face, because Justin would still be Justin but he'd be so much older...


As abruptly as things had changed the first time, they changed again. Not changed back, just changed. A lunchtime basketball game and the lingering summer; the boys took off their shirts so they wouldn't get too sweaty. JC pulled his t-shirt over his head and as he threw it on the sidewalk, he glanced up and there was Justin, staring at him. Justin with his exposed chest smooth and childish; every baby muscle defined much in the way JC's were, not due to development but rather skinniness. Each part of Justin's torso was like a smaller version of JC's; his arms with slight swells of biceps and his little nipples and belly button. It was all the parts of a man, only child-sized. All the parts of a beautiful man, and it was...confusing. Made JC feel oddly guilty when he looked at him, so he just didn't. He kept his eyes on the ball and the basket and the sky and the court and anything that wasn't too young to be admired. When Justin brushed by him, JC's blood zipped and sizzled and he felt dirty and helpless. It wasn't that he wanted to do anything; it wasn't that he would ever do anything with someone Justin's age. He was twelve for god's sake, but wouldn't he have to be blind not to know that, yes, Justin was a good-looking kid? Or maybe JC just wasn't normal, was a bad person. But he couldn't really believe that.

When they went back on the set after lunch Justin watched from the sidelines as JC, Dale, Jessica and Rhona sang. JC made a lame joke between skits, and though Justin didn't laugh, his eyes bore into JC. All day he felt it, like a weight pressing against him, Justin's gaze. It made him shiver uneasily. As he walked out to his car after rehearsal he studied every child he passed. It calmed him down, because when he looked at them he only saw children. By the time he was turning the key in the ignition he was pointing out to himself that he hadn't looked at any of the other younger boys during the game, didn't feel anything unnatural towards them. So, okay, it was all right, he wasn't a sicko. His attraction to Justin was a harmless result of Justin's interest in him. Yes, it was an attraction. His attention was often focused on Justin, on and off the set. At home he thought about him, during commercials when he watched TV and at night when his mind drifted as he fell asleep. It didn't mean he wanted to have sex with little kids, because he didn't. It was just this...thing.

Everything was good with him and Jessica. She was fun and had cool friends and he was glad to have her, even if she was moody and always kept her clothes on when they had sex. It was like she was scared of her body, went tense if he put his hands near her waist, so he kept them on her breasts or shoulders, places she was comfortable being touched. He knew it was because she wasn't reed-thin like Keri, and he wanted to tell her he didn't care but had this feeling that it would do more harm than help. He imagined how he would feel if Jessica ever told him that she didn't care that he wasn't as cute as Tony, and yhea, it wasn't pleasant. But every couple had their problems, and it wasn't like they were in love or anything, so it was fine.

The season would be over soon, and a bunch of the older crowd were going on tour again to promote the MMC album and that was gonna be so fucking awesome, and he wouldn't have to see or think about Justin at all. It would just be him and his girlfriend and his best friends out on the road, partying and performing and having the time of their lives. He could leave all this weird shit behind.


The wrap party after the last show of the season was crazy. Tony and Keri were emotional because they were going to be apart all summer. Tony was going on the MMC tour and Keri wasn't. Even worse, the producers and Keri's manager had agreed that she wouldn't come back next season so she could pursue her acting career full-time. They were going to try the long distance thing, but were scared that it wouldn't work. "You're going to meet so many girls...I know how you are," Keri was crying softly, her face pressed against Tony's chest. He stroked her big, curly hair and sighed.

There was a time when JC might've been glad to see them break-up, but not anymore. He valued his friendship with them too much to want anything but for them to be together. True, when he'd first come on the show they had both caught his eye, and he was a little resentful when they instantly gravitated toward each other, but time had convinced him that they were a matched pair. All his concern and good wishes couldn't keep him interested in the melodrama for long, though, and he wandered through the crowd, accepting hugs and kisses from his fellow mice.

He made his way over to the refreshment table and was reaching for a pig-in-a-blanket when Justin sidled up to him. "Hi."

He jumped a little, surprised, and forced a smile. "Hey, man. You ready for a break or what?"

"No." Justin's eyes were round and earnest. "I mean, I'm excited to go back home for a while, but I'm gonna miss work."

JC nodded, turning back to the food. "Back home to...Tennessee, right?"

"Uh-huh." Justin stepped imperceptibly closer. "Too bad you're gonna be on tour, or else you coulda come visit me. Are you guys gonna be in Tennessee at all? Near Memphis?"

"Um, nope, don't think so," JC said, though honestly he hadn't a clue.

Justin's shoulders slumped. "That sucks. I coulda come see you."

"You'll see us plenty next season." JC pasted on a big smile, like he did for cameras. "Okay, well I better go find Jessica."

"Sure." Justin looked down at his feet, actually scuffed his shoe like people do in movies. "Guess I'll see you next season."

JC felt bad for a second, but just said, "Okay, then. Bye," and walked away.


Justin had forgotten how great it was in Millington, but maybe it only seemed fun because he knew that when the break was over he could go back to Florida. And honestly, if he could be in Florida working all year 'round, he would. But since he couldn't, this would do. Fishing and romping through the woods with his friends and getting spoiled by his grandparents and receiving a box of fan letters in the mail every week from Disney. They shipped him all his letters and mailed out form replies, so all he had to do was read them if he felt like it or else throw them out.

Sometimes girls sent him letters that smelled like perfume and had pictures inside. Some of the girls were really pretty and some were really ugly. He kept the pretty ones and showed them to his friends. The ugly photos, he just threw away. "This one's so hot," Trace would say on occasion, usually about a redhead, "You should write to her."

"Maybe," Justin would say, but he never wrote to any of them. There were letters he wanted to write, but he wasn't sure if he'd get a reply.

Or if he did, it might be a form letter.


Touring was JC's favorite thing in the world, and this time around was even better than the last. Dale had a fake ID and supplied booze the whole trip. Tony kissed him one night when they were really trashed. He'd just broken up with Keri for the third time that month and it was nothing really, but it was everything too, and the next day they put it behind them and didn't talk about it. They were such good friends by now that all it really told JC was maybe. If he'd gotten to Tony first or if there was no Keri, maybe. And that was enough. Because he already had Keri's maybe, since last summer when she and Tony broke up before the first tour and JC took her to the movies and they ended up making out from the moment the lights dropped until they came on again. Two days later she was back with Tony and JC hadn't minded. All he'd ever really needed, he realized, was the maybe.

Tony and Keri broke up a whopping nine times that summer, waffling back and forth between this-just-isn't-working and I-miss-you-so-much. JC and Jessica only broke up twice, the last time for good. JC wasn't heartbroken. He was really ready for someone who would get naked when they fucked.

Walking onto the MMC lot the first day back to work, he saw Ryan going into the building and was shocked. The younger cast, he'd forgotten all about them. Forgotten little loudmouth Christina and appeasing Britney and happy Nikki and yhea, Justin, too. He'd only thought of him a handful of times the entire summer, the very first week on tour, at night in bed. He'd had these really shameful fantasies about kissing him. Not with tongue or anything like that, but just...a sweet kiss. Just putting his lips to that pink, small mouth, and how innocent it would be. He'd be Justin's first kiss, and Justin would be eager and anxious and say, "Did I do that right?" and JC would laugh and hug him. But soon JC became so busy with the tour that he forgot all about Justin, and thankfully. It wasn't right to want to kiss a twelve-year-old, no matter how sweetly.

And now he was going to go back in there and see Justin. And didn't know what it said about him, that he was thrumming with anticipation.


Justin was happy to be back. He'd cried a little when he left his family in Millington, but being back reminded him of all he'd missed. The mood on the set was different this year. A lot of people had turned eighteen over the summer and the producers said there were going to be changes. First of all, the name was officially changed from the Mickey Mouse Club to the MMC, and the term "Mouseketeers" was out the window. More people besides Keri weren't coming back because they'd landed acting gigs, and there was a cool new set with revolving seats for the audience. It was gonna be basically all comedy skits and musical numbers, and everyone was happy about that. Once the novelty of Wow, I'm on TV! wore off, it was kind of lame to be on the Mickey fucking Mouse Club.

Britney had come back this season less prude than last, and let him kiss her a lot in the boys' dressing room closet. Christina had let him kiss her some, too, but both girls still didn't have any boobs. Nikki had always had boobs, but this season she seemed built like a brick house. And even though she was just months older than him, she acted like she was one of the older kids. The guys had noticed her too, and she was currently in the corner with Tony, Dale, and Marc hanging on her every word.

Justin sat in one of the new swiveling chairs in the audience and waved to everyone as they showed up. They all commented on how much he'd grown and how curly his hair was (he'd stopped blow drying it straight). No one mentioned his pimples. He hated them, hated himself for having weird hair and ugly zits and fat cheeks like a damn baby. But his face had lost some of its roundness over the summer; that was true. And Ryan was still shorter than he was. So it wasn't all bad.

Justin got distracted playing keep-away, tossing a hair scrunchie back and forth with TJ while Britney jumped after it and squealed hilariously. So he didn't see JC come in, didn't realize he was there until he turned around and saw him talking to Nikki, leaning close with a private smile. He stopped in his tracks. That was the same smile JC used to give to Jessica.


As soon as JC came through the door, he went straight to the guys to say hi and there was Nikki. She looked years older than she had just a few months ago, and her fucking tits, man. She was really happy to see him, giving him a long hug and pressing her entire body up against his. "Oh my god, JC, you look great!" she told him.

"You look great, too," he said, trying not to stare at her chest. "What did you do during downtime?"

She started talking about all kinds of stupid stuff, but she was nice and happy and had a killer rack, so he didn't mind listening. When she finally shut up he asked her if she wanted to take in a movie after rehearsal. She said yes.


Justin was glad to see JC, but didn't want to get too close for fear he'd notice Justin's acne. So he stayed about three yards away at all times but smiled at him whenever he got the chance. During lunch JC didn't join the basketball game in favor of sitting next to Nikki on the curb. When Ryan made a bad pass that went their way, Justin rushed to retrieve it.

"Hey, man," JC said. "How was your summer?"

"Great." Justin held the ball between his hip and arm. "How 'bout you?"

"Rocked." JC turned an eye-crinkling grin towards Nikki. "But I'm glad to be back."

Matt was calling for Justin to hurry up, so he mumbled, "Me too," and went back to the game.


New season and new show format but some things stayed the same. People still went off into the dark parts of backstage to make out; Justin still occasionally spied on JC. What was different was that Jessica had been eons older than Justin, completely untouchable. But Nikki was his age, almost. And though he'd never gone into the closet with her, he knew Ryan had last season, and that she let him french kiss her a lot.

She let JC do even more. She let him put his hands under her clothes and would do the same to him and they always had hickeys. Justin found himself constantly aware of how Nikki looked and acted, the knowledge that she and JC were probably having sex...Real sex, naked together and JC having sex. JC having sex.

Justin spent more time with Nikki, sat with her to watch when JC performed, hung out with her during school sessions, scooting his desk close and teasing her about being so pretty or how she giggled. She liked the attention, was a natural flirt. She'd laugh and hit him and tell him he was bad. He would grin and feel a rush. It was like acting, and he was playing the part of...

And then one day, standing backstage with no one else around, they were hidden behind the walls of the set watching JC and Tony sing. It was dark, and they were close and Justin imagined that this was how JC felt when he stood near Nikki. That JC would feel her heat and smell her hairspray and step closer, like this. And put his hand on her shoulder like this, and she would turn and look at him just like she was doing now. Looking up at Justin so friendly and accepting, he moved in and she just let him. Just stood there and let him kiss her with an open mouth and a tongue that darted in, wondering how long ago it was that JC's tongue had been in there tasting the same wet warmth. Justin hardly noticed his hand rising, moved by memories of JC in dark corners, and came to cup Nikki's breast. The breast JC had held just like this. It was a soft heavy weight in his palm for a moment, and then Nikki was pushing him away and saying, "Don't."

He stared at her like she was speaking in tongues. His mind was reeling. He blurted, "JC."

She shook her head, stepped back to put some space between them.

He heard Ryan call his name from the direction of the dressing rooms. He flashed Nikki a weak smile and ran away gratefully.

When he saw her later, she acted like nothing had happened. He wondered if she knew that, between them, nothing had.


JC wasn't sure of how exactly he ended up sitting on the floor of the boys' dressing room writing a song with Justin. He'd just been chilling with his Math notebook and started scribbling lyrics, anything to put off doing homework for a while, when suddenly Justin was next to him giving suggestions. And good looks and charm and everything aside, Justin had a great voice. The music was in him, like it was in Tony and Dale and JC himself. It was just a part of this kid, and JC couldn't help but connect with anyone who shared that passion.

"This is really good." Justin looked over what they'd come up with. "We should write together again, maybe."

"You know what? We should," JC said, and was pleased that he hadn't thought about anything while writing with Justin except for the words and the tune that just flowed through them. They had an undeniable natural vibe.

"Is this like how you do it with Tony and Dale?" Justin asked, because the three of them often wrote songs and performed them for the cast during breaks. JC nodded absently, humming to himself as he reread the lyrics. "Do you do it with Nikki?"

JC looked up, seemed almost confused by the question. "What do you mean, write? Do I write with her?" His lips quirked vaguely. "Um, no. I don't write with Nikki."

Justin's head bobbed earnestly in understanding. "Yhea, so...so, we should do this again. I have some stuff I've been working on at home, actually...maybe you could...we could kinda mess with it?"

"Sure thing. Bring something with you tomorrow and we'll see what we can do." JC glanced at his wristwatch and hefted himself to his feet; he was due in the dance studio.


"How come we started filming for this season right after summer, but last season it was the beginning of the year?" Justin wondered during another songwriting session on the dressing room floor. It had become a rather frequent pastime.

"I don't know. They had to pick the new crop and everything." JC shrugged. "Plus, this is our last season. Once we wrap, production's down for good."

"What? Says who?" Justin paled at the news. He was finally really friends with JC. A friend like Tony and Dale were, almost his equal. Someone that he was willing to create music with and talk to about important stuff, like what they wanted to do when they got older (both wanted to stay in entertainment) and who in the cast they thought was hot. Justin was sort of dating Britney, meaning he kissed her as often as she let him in the closet of the boys' dressing room, and he'd even put his hand inside her pants a few times. She wouldn't call him her official "boyfriend" because her mama said she was too young to have one. He didn't care as long as he had something to contribute when the older boys discussed their sex lives.

"Says everyone. I guess they haven't told the whole cast yet?" JC saw Justin's expression and reached out to ruffle his hair. "Don't worry about it, dude. You'll have gigs thrown at you, no problem."

"But...my mom'll make me move back home when the show's done. I know she will." Upset wasn't even the word; Justin looked fucking devastated.

"Well..." JC wasn't good at giving comfort, always felt awkward witnessing other people's emotions. "I'm sure it'll work out," he finished lamely, placing a hand on Justin's shoulder.

Justin looked up at him with everything in his eyes and JC froze with realization. It was one thing to suspect from a safe distance, another to have it thrust into his face, too blatant and way too close and he didn't know what to do with it. Justin swayed closer, and JC saw it play out as though he was floating somewhere above, looking down at himself. Fucking move, his brain was screaming, but it was like he was paralyzed. A remarkably soft and hesitant mouth met his; it was exactly what JC'd imagined it would be like to kiss Justin.

And yes, he had imagined it, and if that alone didn't make him a bad person then this certainly did. Because he enjoyed the trembling of the lips touching his, the shoulder he held. And the way Justin's eyes fluttered open as they parted slowly, that was beautiful. He looked up at JC expectantly, scared and hopeful, and JC felt at once so powerful and so helpless. He said, "We'll keep in touch, okay? No matter what."

That seemed to be the perfect response, because suddenly there was that glittering smile Justin was known for, and his boyish laughter sounded so achingly young.

Someone was calling them on set for the next skit. JC used his hand on Justin's shoulder as leverage to get to his feet, and they ran to the stage together.


It wasn't some grand romance, that's for sure. JC didn't exactly act as though the kiss never happened, but he never brought it up either, which was fine with Justin. He didn't quite know what it meant; all he knew was that JC didn't hate him for it. They goofed around same as always, worked on songs sometimes.

JC was still dating Nikki, and Justin was still dating nobody but kissing Britney on occasion. His main concern was with making memories of this experience, because it would be over soon. His mom had already decided they were moving back to Tennessee after production wrapped. Meanwhile, Justin went to every audition possible hoping to land a gig that would keep them in Florida. So far nothing had panned out.

Justin didn't want to enroll in regular school next year. The idea of classes all day and no singing or dancing and having practically no friends wasn't appealing. He'd probably never see any of his MMC friends again, and everyone at his new school would be boring losers, and all his teachers would be bitches, and he'd fail all his classes. But maybe he could join the basketball team, and Trace could introduce him around, and his castmates meant it when they said they'd keep in touch.

He really hoped that was true. Especially with Ryan and...JC. Maybe JC would write him letters and call him on the phone. Justin imagined himself in Tennessee playing basketball in his driveway with his new friends; his mom would yell out a window, "Justin, phone!" and he would run inside and grab the receiver and say, "Hello?"

And JC would say, "Hi, Justin. I miss you." Maybe, "Why don't you come visit me? You could stay at my place and not bring your mom." Maybe, "Remember that time we kissed? I do..."

Justin blushed, breaking out of his daydream. He would save it for later, when he was alone in his bed at night.


The last show was in the can and everyone was celebrating. JC had never been to a party with so much crying. Tony was busy with Keri, who'd come to cry with everyone about how sad it was that this was over forever and ever amen. JC didn't see what was the big deal. Sure, it was sad and all that, but it wasn't like nobody would ever talk again. He and Tony and Dale had plans to move out to LA together, were leaving after the weekend and JC couldn't fucking wait. They were gonna make it big or die trying, by any means necessary.

Nikki and he were quasi-broken up, but he was fairly sure she'd still put out before he left. He wasn't too upset about that either; he wanted to be unfettered in LA. The land of Beautiful People, and he was ready to fuck his share. He'd made out with a hot Asian guy at a club on Citywalk last weekend, and in his head LA was a place where he'd be free to be with whomever he wanted and not have to worry about close-minded people. In LA, he'd be able to take hot guys from clubs home to his hot girlfriends, or vice versa, and no one would blink an eye. Here he kissed some guy a bit and got called a fag afterward by drunken assholes in the parking lot. Things would be so different in California, so much better.

He was leaning against a metal pillar backstage taking a break from the crowd and commotion when he noticed Justin approaching. He briefly considered pretending he didn't see him and walking away before he got close; then figured what the hell. He was leaving tomorrow anyway, and truth be told, he kind of wanted to be alone with Justin for a minute. Just to say goodbye...

"Hi." Justin gave him a small smile. He wasn't crying but his eyes were shiny and pink, like he was about to start or had just stopped.

"Hey." JC smiled back, reached out and put his hand on Justin's arm. Casual, nothing wrong with that.

"So you're leaving for LA on Monday, huh?" Justin spoke softly, looking up at him through his eyelashes.

JC hated himself for wanting to pull Justin close and kiss him. Kiss him for real, like he'd kissed that guy last weekend, and see Justin's reaction. Would he get scared and push him away or would he love it? He was so young and pure with his precious little boy crush and JC felt this horrible temptation to corrupt him, expose an angel to the raunchy, dirty side of attraction.

"JC?" Justin's voice shook him out of his wicked thoughts.

"Um, what?" JC said, looking away.

"Here." Justin's hand came up, and in it was a folded square of paper. "This is my address and phone number in Tennessee."

"Oh, sure." JC took the paper from him; it was damp with sweat from Justin's hand. He wondered how long Justin had been clutching it, waiting for the chance or possibly the nerve to give it to him.

"You meant it about keeping in touch, right?" Justin's eyes were such a vibrant blue it almost hurt to look in them.

"Of course," JC nodded, sliding the paper into his pocket. He glanced around them, no one near; they were well hidden, he knew. This was his favorite spot to sneak off to during rehearsals for some privacy, usually with a girl. But here he was with Justin now, and he was leaving for LA soon and would probably never see him again, so what did it really matter if he just...?

So he did, he just pulled Justin to him and kissed him. Not rough or deep at all, but with a sweet, firm pressure. He kissed him a few times, just enough to feel a little lightheaded and breathless, and then kissed his cheek and stepped back.

Justin's eyes opened gradually and went wide as saucers, gazed up at him full of stars and disbelief. And JC didn't know what he'd thought Justin would say, but he was surprised when it was, "You can call collect if you want. My mom said it's okay."

JC restrained his laughter but couldn't help his grin. "Look, I gotta go find Dale, he's my ride." He smacked Justin's arm affectionately. "You take care of yourself."

"You, too," Justin said solemnly. "I'll miss you, JC."

"Hey, right." JC raised his hand in a wave as he walked away, "I'll miss you, too."


Justin woke up early the next morning to catch a plane back home to Tennessee. His mom dragged him all over the airport, harping on him to pick up the pace. He was still tired but couldn't get to sleep during the flight, try as he might, so he just closed his eyes and thought about the wrap party. He'd thought about it late into last night, and that was part of the reason he was so exhausted now.

The flight and ride home was a blur. He stumbled through it all like a zombie, didn't bring in any of his bags when they got to his house. His stepdad would bring them in for him, so why bother? He started towards the den to watch TV, then paused and yelled, "Any calls for me?"

"Nope," his stepdad yelled back. "You just got back, son. I doubt any of your friends are even up this early during summer break."

Justin knew it was ridiculous to hope that JC had called. He probably wouldn't call for at least a week, if not more. Not until he'd had some time to miss him. JC would miss him and he would call, Justin believed, and not just because JC had said so. He wasn't naive enough to think that people meant everything they said. But there was this feeling inside of him, something that told him they'd meet again. Like his favorite song from his mom's Elvis records. He made his way to the den, but instead of turning on the television he knelt beside the record collection, rooted through it until he found what he was looking for. He lifted the top off the old record player, pulled the LP out of its cover and laid it on the turntable gently, counted the rings like his mom had showed him and set the needle down carefully. He turned it on and waited.

There it was, the haunting melody, velvety voice crooning promisingly, Like a river flows surely to the sea, darling, so it goes, some things are meant to be.


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