What It Means
by Cody

"Have you been drinking?" Is the first thing Justin says when he opens his front door and sees you, takes you by the shoulders to steady you, looks into your face. You both know you're not drunk enough to need assistance, but you don't push him away. His face is close to yours and you feel. strange.

"You never drink," you say, mocking him, reminding him. "You never drink too much."

He just shakes his head shortly, dismissing the accusation in your voice. "This isn't about me."

"Little boy," you say, putting your finger to his chest. "Everything is about you."


You know he slept with Britney because he said so right in front of you. You were lying on the couch in the lounge of the bus, one arm slung over your eyes but not asleep, just kind of dozing. Chris and Justin were sitting indian-style on the floor maybe two feet away, playing a video game with the volume low so as not to disturb you. They acted like miscreant twelve-year-olds together, sure, but they were still endearingly considerate.

You guess they thought you were sleeping, because their conversation about football stopped abruptly, and they were quiet for a moment before Chris said, "So'd you do it?"

You could- hear, maybe? -tell Justin was nodding. "In her hotel room."

"How was it?" Chris was asking, but you were wondering Do what? With who? And then remembered that last night you'd gone clubbing with the rest of the guys, but Justin had gone out with Britney. You took your arm off your eyes and looked over at them, shocked as you realized what they must be talking about. They're still intent on the video game, didn't notice your attention. You held your breath as you waited for Justin's answer.

"It was..." Justin shrugged. "All right."

Chris threw a glance his way. "Just all right?"

He tossed his controller to the floor, leaned his elbows on his knees and pressed his fingers to his eyes. "I don't know. I didn't really. She cried a lot. and. I don't know."

Chris stretched an arm out to squeeze Justin's shoulder. "It gets better, man. I promise. The more you do it, it gets better."

Justin sighed, dropping his hands from his face. "That's what she said. We did it again after a couple hours and she said it didn't hurt as bad. But it wasn't..." He shrugged again, twisting his shoelaces around his fingers to cut the circulation and watch them go purple.

"Dude, it was the first time," Chris smiled a little, half reassuring, half patronizing. "What did you expect?"

Justin shook his head. "I don't know." He looked up at Chris now. "More." And then, for no reason, looked back at you. And froze.

You just stared at each other, and Chris turned and stared at you, too. Some part of your brain registered that This shouldn't be so awkward, and then you're up on your feet and going to your bunk. You slid under the covers, back facing the curtain, but it's pulled closed anyway.

You lost all perception of time staring at the wall, so you can't say how long you laid there before falling asleep. All you know is that when you went into the kitchen area for breakfast the next morning they were already there eating cereal. You poured yourself a bowl of Cookie Crunch and prayed they wouldn't bring it up. They didn't, and of course you didn't. Justin slid over in the booth so you could sit, and you nodded your thanks. He nodded back, and when he looked you in the eye you didn't turn away; you smiled. And as you did, you thought, Now that wasn't so hard, was it?


You thought maybe you could just forget it, pretend you didn't know. Pretend you didn't think about what he said, the way he sounded when he said it. Pretend you didn't obsess over his face, his voice when he said, "More."

A week's gone by, and you're halfway to convinced everything's fine when you found yourself alone with him in the bus lounge. The scene of the crime, you thought stupidly as he sat beside you on the couch. Chris was in his bunk on his cell, probably talking Fu-Man numbers or catching up with his mom; regardless, out of your hair for a while. Justin sat close, headphones on his ears, holding his Discman in one hand, thumb poised above the Pause button like he's waiting for a cue. He must've gotten it, because he pushed it suddenly and looked at you. Waiting. His body language almost audible, giving you a cue of your own and willing you to hit it.

So you did. "Whatcha listening to?"

You could feel the nervous energy coursing through him, could see it radiating from him like cartoon stink waves. "Violent Femmes," he said, looked at you with too-bright eyes. "Wanna hear?"

And he's being purposely obvious, because it's your CD, so you knew exactly what you're agreeing to when you said, "Yhea."

He handed over the Discman, mindful of jostling it too much and making the CD lose its place. You accepted it with equal care, and almost wanted to laugh at how blatant you're both being. You slipped the headphones on and pressed Play, and heard

I was with a girl, but it felt like I was with a boy.

You looked at him, wanting. An explanation? But he's not looking at you, he's leaving. You knew this song, you knew what came next, but you sat and listened to it like it's brand new, like it's him singing

I can't even remember if we were lovers or if I just wanted to. But I held her in my arms, I held her in my arms, I held her in my arms but it wasn't you.

You didn't move, didn't even think about following him. You just sat and stared at the Discman laying in your lap, listening to music that shouldn't sound like it's coming from some place far away, but did. It sounded like it's being played underneath something, muffled by your thoughts.

I will not kill the one thing that I love. In this world of wreckage, I look above. Help me Lord, help me understand what it means to be a boy, what it means to be a man.

And you'd always liked this song, and it'd always meant more to you than you wanted it to, but now. Now it meant so much you wanted to turn it off, but didn't. Couldn't. You felt hypnotized by your own hope, your own fear and suggestion.

I held her in my arms, I held her in my arms, I held her in my arms but it wasn't you.

You dissected it, pulling the lyrics apart line by line. I can't even remember if we were lovers, or if I just wanted to. And that was loud and clear.

It happened maybe a month ago, after a night of clubbing with the guys. Back at the hotel, you'd just taken off your shirt, about to jump in the shower before bed, when he'd come knocking. You knew he was drunk. He'd been drunk in the club and drunk in the limo, so it wasn't a surprise that he was drunk now, stumbling into your room when you opened the door for him.

It was a surprise, though, when he slid his arms around your waist and asked you to fuck him.

"Fuck me." His breath hot in your ear, his cheek pressed to yours. "God, fuck me."

"Justin?" You were stiff, scared.

"I want it." His fingers dug into the skin of your back. "I need it."

"Justin." You heard your voice tremble, didn't know why you weren't moving away because you wished you would. You both knew what you're really saying when you said, "You're drunk."

And apparently those were the magic words, because he slackened his hold on you and his head dropped in defeat, his forehead a light warmth against your cheek. "Yes. I'm drunk." His arms released you completely and hanged at his sides. "I'm drunk, JC."

You guided him to the bed, helped him get under the blankets. He went without protest, held tight to the pillow under his head. You could see how tense his face was, his eyes clenched shut, the skin around his mouth tight. You stroked his curls away from his face, told him, "It's okay."

He let out a choked sob but no tears fell. His voice was thin and strained when he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm drunk."

You sat on the bed next to him tentatively, laid down when he scooted over so you'd have room, pulling the covers over you. You didn't get too close, just close enough to rest a hand on his arm. You meant a dozen things when you told him, "I forgive you." And you slept with the lights on because you didn't want to get up to turn them off. That always made your eyes raw the next morning, but when you woke up the lights were off and you're alone.

There's a photo shoot first thing and you felt uncomfortable when you're posed beside him. Which was stupid, because it's not like you had sex with him last night. But you felt like you did. Kind of. Maybe not like you had sex, maybe like you made love.

I will not kill the one thing that I love. That line made something inside you roil. Because if that's true, then what was he doing with. Her. Or maybe.

Or maybe that was the point.

What Justin bedded that night wasn't a girl; it was a version of himself. A version made from plastic parts and ready to sell. The question to be asked now to know how to take this, was Is this from the boy the cameras love or the one I…You turned the CD off. Went to his bunk and tossed it in gently, knowing he's in there and not wanting to hurt him. But you didn't stop to talk.

You had nothing you could bring yourself to say.


Leave it alone, everything logical inside of you tells you. Because even now, when you've lived through two months of pretending it never happened and maybe in ten more it'll be forgotten, you know it's too early, wounds too fresh to reopen. Nothing to talk about. Leave it alone.

But your mouth doesn't feel like playing nice, and when Justin, still holding your shoulders and guiding you to sit on his couch, says, "Sit down, let me take care of you," you bite out, "Since when do you give a fuck?"

He blinks owlishly. "What?"

You're right in his face, leering, taunting. "Fuck me."

He lets you go, and you fall back on the couch bonelessly, spreading your legs. "God, fuck me."

He's flushing, his eyes wide in what seems like terror, maybe just disbelief. "JC," he whispers.

But it doesn't stop you. "I want it." You grin viciously. "I need it."

"Don't." He looks so hurt, you want to reach up and cup his cheek in your palm.

Instead you hear yourself singing, slurred and barely in tune, "I can't even remember…"

"JC." And now his voice is strong with emotion, and you stop. You stop and stare at him, as shocked as he is by your behavior. There are tears in his eyes but he blinks them away. His voice is soft again, pleading when he asks, "Why are you doing this?"

And you didn't know you had it in you to act this way. Don't know what makes that fierce grin return, convinces you that it isn't plain fucking heartless to sing, "I just wanted to."

Injury and insult on his face, in the way he stands before you, lost. You hold his gaze unwavering, unapologetic and contentious. You don't know why you're doing it. This isn't how you want to act.

But he isn't so defenseless, so pitiful as you think. You see the strength come to him, and he stands taller, regains composure and says, "I forgive you."

And then you're scrambling to sit up, reaching for him, pulling him to you. He lets you do it, sits down next to you and lets you wrap your arms around him tight. He holds you just as firmly, presses his lips against your cheek but not quite in a kiss, like he's scared of your reaction. You find his mouth with yours, desperate to reassure him. Desperate to have it all forgiven, all of it. To make it right.

When kisses get deeper, when hands become brave he pulls away to gasp, "I don't want--"

"I know," you say, tugging his shirt over his head, "Me neither."

"I want..." He helps take your shirt off, too, eyes fluttering closed at the initial meeting of bare chests. But he opens his eyes a moment later, so he can look directly into yours when he says, "More."


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