by Cody

Should be happy but I'm not.


You remember watching them do it, all of them. Janet, when you were first on tour with her. She had a kind of family with the people who worked for her, but you still didn't know how she did it. And people your own age, Usher and Britney and Christina. You couldn't imagine what it was like to be them. To be alone. It was so hard being there in the spotlight. You couldn't imagine what it would've been like to do it without the four people who'd come to mean the world to you by your side. You didn't want to imagine it. Because it seemed like it would just be so... empty. It's going to be so empty.


This is today and I'm lost in my own skin.


Jive writes you a bonus check when you sign with them for your first album. 30 silver coins. You buy a house.

Eight million dollars, twelve hundred square feet. The kind of house you should be living in. The kind of house you can bring all your new friends and impress the hell out of them. You buy new cars, a Porsche and a Viper. You wear shirts that show off your tattoo. You drop hints in interviews that you might be boning all kinds of hot chicks. We just met to discuss a possible collaboration, a sly laugh, but like I'd tell you the truth, anyway. You take pictures that look like you're about to whip out your package at any moment. And you do it all because you want to. And you want to because it's wanted of you. You were groomed for this from such a young age, raised to perform in every aspect, not just on stage, not just on camera. All the time. Everywhere. To be what you should be until you are because you are. Because all you know how to want to do is what you're told.

Chris borrows your Escalade and forgets a CD in the player. You're driving a few days later and press play and hear a woman singing, harsh voice and raw music that's nothing like what you listen to. I fake it so real I am beyond fake. Someday you will ache like I ache. It's the easiest thing in the world to just flip CDs like you never heard it. You wait a week before finally taking it out and seeing that it's Hole. You give it back and Chris asks if you listened to it. You hesitate before saying no. He tells you to buy it; it's a really good album. You nod and lift your eyebrows like maybe you will. You won't.

Michael Jackson leaving the Jackson Five. George Michael leaving Wham! Sting leaving The Police. They did great solo stuff, everyone tells you. You like their old stuff, too. Even Wham!

Lance is going into outer space. Joey's on Broadway. The world isn't over because you're taking a few steps to the right. Chris is depressed; Fu-Man's not doing so hot. The clothes are just too expensive and nobody's buying them. JC looks like he's trying to hide out in his facial hair. You're not sure who any of them are dating. You're sure you've been told, but all those little details of life that used to seem so important have taken a backseat to more pressing matters. Like what the singles should be off your album, what appearances you'll be making to promote it. The world isn't over but it's different.

It's all about you, and it's always been all about you, but now it's not the same. Because everyone's pandering to you, and there's not those four other yous to put you in your place from time to time. You order people around, actually telling people to "fetch" you things, and nobody calls you an asshole. It's not refreshing. It's not fun.

You'll be there, on stage at the VMAs, alone. For the first time in fucking years, really alone. Not just alone with the others backstage taking a short break, which really isn't alone at all. You think about facing album reviews. They love it, the glory is all yours. They hate it, and that's all yours, too. Both scenarios are depressing.

You wanted this, didn't you? Isn't that why this is happening? So you could prove to yourself that... what? It all seems so petty and vague. Now that it's done, you can't think of why you ever wanted it. You imagine winning a Grammy, fulfilling a five-hearted dream alone. The thought makes you queasy.

It's hard not seeing them all the time. At first it was cool; a nice change. You got to do whatever you wanted, however you wanted, and there were no opinions that counted besides yours. You still talked to them enough to not really miss them. You still saw JC a couple times a week. Had him there to smile at you, make you feel like this was just a game you'd play for a while before going back to real life, the way things always have been and always will be. You feel panicked, seeing how quickly the game is turning into real life and real life is turning into a memory.

You hear from Chris that JC is going to Russia to see Lance's launch. You hadn't even known he'd been considering it. You haven't seen him since the last awards show and he hadn't mentioned anything. When you ask him about it, he says he didn't want you to be worrying about him when you have so much on your mind. You don't know shit about politics, but you know it's dangerous to travel right now, especially overseas. You don't want him to go. You try to convince him to stay, playing the safety card because you know he's paranoid, but it doesn't work. He has to go and show his support, he says, Lance needs to have at least one of them there. You keep your mouth shut because you know it's true. Lance needs someone to be there for the most important thing he might ever do. You need JC to stay here for the same reason.

Time's running out. JC's still set on going to Russia and you can't let him go without doing it, but first you have to deliver. MTV and millions of viewers are counting on you. He and Chris and Joey come into your dressing room to wish you luck, and it's strange, because for the past three years you've faced this together, performing live at the VMAs, and its always been all of you wishing each other luck. All of You facing Them. This time, they're Them, too. Chris grabs your head in his hands and kisses your cheek with an exaggerated smack, stepping back to let Joey do the same. You grin at them, turn to JC. He cradles your face in his palms, strokes a little with his thumbs, and your eyes fall closed. He kisses you softly, the corners of your mouths just barely touching. It's enough. You go onstage and set it on fire; let the whole world fall deeper in love with you. When it's over and you're backstage grinning so hard your face feels like it might crack, you spot them. They're rushing towards you, clapping and whooping and arms opening for hugs. And his eyes shining so bright, so proud. And it just reminds you that the night is far from done.

As soon as you're in the limo after the show, you put your hand on JC's wrist and say, "I need to talk to you." He nods but doesn't ask why. He never needs to ask why, once you've pulled him into the bathroom at the first after party of the night. You scan the stalls quickly to make sure they're all vacant and then you just do it; put your hand behind his neck and kiss him. When you pull away, you waste time staring at him and some asshole comes in before you can talk. You have so much to say. JC just smiles at you, that smile he gets when it's really nice weather and everyone's getting along, and walks out. The night is a blur of annoyances, schmoozing and mingling and god, you really don't want to be doing this right now but you have to. You look around for JC but out of all of them you can only find Joey, making the best of the open bar and chatting up a set of twins that look like strippers. Around three, Chris finds you and tells you they're heading to another party. You go with them because you think JC went back to his hotel already; you can't find him. You're surprised when he's waiting in the limo, his smile soft now and his eyes still bright. When the limo pulls up to the next party, you reach out and take his hand, ready to ask, but you don't have to. He lets the others get out and sits still, and when the chauffeur looks in questioningly he tells him to drive to the hotel where you're staying.

In your hotel room now, just you and him. Now you don't want to say it because you'd rather use your mouth to touch him, taste him. He's hot and his head rolls back and his skin melts on your tongue and he's telling you things you've waited so long to hear. And even though you knew you needed to hear it from him, you still never realized how much until he's gasping it, his breath warm and damp and so true you can hardly stand it. Life has been so equivocal lately, and now you think, This is real, and it means so many things. You have to tell him, so you do. You can't bring yourself to tear your lips away from his, so you just mumble it into your kiss, but he hears you. You know he does, because he's smiling and laughing and sighing and still kissing you. And your heart swells, and you're not scared anymore. Because you're too happy to feel anything else. And because you know you'll never really be alone.


Your smile, it heals me. I never want to go away.


lyrics credit "The Kids Don't Like It" --Reel Big Fish, "Honestly OK" --Dido, "Away" --Goldfinger


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