All they have to do is sit there and smile and the girls come flocking. I'm not even sure they know it. I mean, they know it--the girls are kinda hard to miss--but I don't think they know how it happens, or that it just happens to them. Sitting and looking pretty isn't an option for everyone.
They call me a flirt; they joke about it all the time. Am I? Hell yeah. I have to be to get even half the attention that they get. All that effort and I still fall behind in the numbers, though. The pretty boys always get the girl.
JC had a brunette on one side and a willowy redhead on the other, all laughing at a joke unheard by me. Justin was going for blondes tonight; he'd danced with a half-dozen of them now and couldn't seem to make up his mind which one he wanted to take home. Lance was talking shyly with a petite girl in the opposite corner of the room, probably unaware of the dozens of eyes that followed him longingly.
"You think too much," said Chris, clapping a hand on my shoulder and sinking into the seat next to me, placing his beer on the table in front of him.
"I think because the stuff in my head makes sense," I said, flashing him a trademark grin.
"As opposed to the stuff that comes out of your mouth?" He smiled back, and I knew by the absence of laughter and twinkling eyes that he'd come to sit beside me on a more serious errand than mere banter.
"Yeah," I admitted ruefully. I'm not a stupid guy, but expressing myself isn't exactly my forte. I waited for a moment to see if he'd say what was on his mind, then hit him with a pre-emptive "What's up?"
We understood one another too well to bother going a few rounds of 'nothing' and 'no, really, man', so he sighed. "They're doing it again."
Justin had spotted a new blonde by the bar, this time at least closer to his own age. All he did was lean against the bar, turn his head, and smile at her, and she was following him onto the dance floor. I wondered if this was the one I'd spot security sneaking out of the hotel early the next morning.
"They always go for the pretty boys," I said with a resigned but good-natured sigh. It had been going on for so long now it didn't do more than temporarily get my spirits down.
"So I've noticed," said Chris, taking a long chug of his beer.
"Hey, come on," I said, flashing him that grin again. "What do you have to worry about? You've had a beautiful, smart, sexy girlfriend for, like, forever. Leave some for the rest of us, would ya?" I'd been half-heartedly flirting with my waitress practically since we'd walked into the bar, but so far I'd gotten little more than a smile and a semi-intentional flash of cleavage. It wasn't my night.
He nodded and sipped the beer again. "We broke up."
"What? When?" I asked him quickly, wondering why he seemed to calm about the whole thing. They'd been together for so long we even had a pool going on when he'd pop the question.
"About six months ago," he replied.
"I...I don't get it," I said. The last time she'd hung out with the group was only about a week ago, a couple of cities back. They'd seemed so happy. Six months? That was a long time ago. Half a year ago.
He finished his beer in one gulp and wiped his hand across the back of his mouth. "It was easier that way," he said finally. "You know, to let everyone think that we were still going out. She's my best friend outside you guys, Joe. I didn't want her out of my life."
"But then why did it happen? Why did you break up?"
I looked away from him for a moment and down onto the dance floor again. JC's entourage had grown to include a young, statuesque woman with close-cropped brown hair. She looked promising, knowing JC's current tastes.
Chris was shrugging when I looked back. "Life on the road, I guess," he said. "We didn't see each other often. We both had such separate lives. And...I don't think I loved her anymore. Not like that, anyway. Now she's free to have a relationship with someone who can give her what she needs, and she can still come and hang with us. She always did like you guys, you know."
I smiled. I knew that. "Maybe that's why the rest of us never had anything that really worked out," I said, thinking back to the relationships the other guys had tried, and failed, to sustain over the years. "We've given up."
"You had a couple," said Chris, looking thoughtful. "Remember Cheryl, from Cleveland?"
"How could I forget?" I said, smiling. "But that lasted, what, three months? Hardly record-breaking material."
"But it was something," he persisted. He hesitated for a moment. "And there was David, from when we were touring Europe the first time."
I was glad I hadn't been drinking. If I had been, Chris probably would have found it all over the front of his shirt. "What...?" I began shakily, and found I couldn't finish my question. I shook my head, trying to clear it of the panicked voices that had suddenly cropped up. "How did you know?"
"Joe," he said kindly, laying a hand on my arm to help quell my involuntary shaking. "It's no big deal. We all knew. He was a nice guy; I'm sorry it didn't work out for you guys."
I forced myself to relax a little. I hadn't gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that I was dating a guy during that tour--we weren't as big then, and none of us had really given as much thought to the consequences of our actions as we all did now--but still I'd been sure that no one had known. No one had ever said anything. No one had ever asked.
"Well," I said finally. "He was nice, but it wasn't, you know, passionate. I think we both knew from the start that it was going to end when I came back to the States." Chris nodded, a small smile returning to his lips. I wasn't the only one who'd begun to relax a little, now that it was out in the open.
"Yeah," he agreed. "That's the same thing that JC says about Claudia. I wonder if they still keep in touch."
"I have no idea," I admitted. I had almost forgotten about Claudia, the woman JC had met in Germany a couple years ago. He hadn't mentioned her in ages. "Chris...are you doing okay? I mean, about Danielle?"
He nodded, seeming unsurprised by my question. "Yeah. It's funny...it doesn't feel like much has changed. I guess we'd become just friends a long time before we actually acknowledged it."
"Just friends who occasionally had sex," I amended, giving him a bit of a grin to lighten the mood.
"Yeah," he agreed. "That part I miss. But hell, I'm more than capable of taking care of the occasional urges by myself, if you know what I mean." I did, all too well. "I'm getting myself another drink. You want anything?"
"Yeah, whatever you're having," I said, leaning back in my chair and stretching my arms out. We must have been here for a couple hours now. Normally I would have been out there on the floor with the other guys, chatting up the girls, showing off my moves. I didn't even bother to signal my waitress to get the drinks when Chris said he wanted more. It just wasn't that kind of night anymore.
I ended up with a beer, which was just fine by me. "How come you didn't tell us sooner?"
"Because I'm a coward?" he said. The light was coming back into his eyes, slowly. Maybe he was borrowing some from mine. "I just didn't want to deal with the questions and all the curiosity. I didn't want the other guys pushing me to date again, or just screw around. I didn't want things with everyone to change."
"Do you ever think about screwing around though?" I realized what I'd said and rushed to correct myself. "I mean...think about dating again, or just getting some relief that isn't in the bathroom at 2 in the morning so none of us will know?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "Yeah, sure I do. I mean, I'm still a guy, you know?" He grinned, a real, honest-to-god grin. "But that's just not me. I want something real, and I don't want to do the long-distance thing again. I know it doesn't work for me. So...I guess I wait a while."
We were both silent, watching the dance floor, for a long time.
"Thanks for the drink," I said finally to break the silence. It had ceased to be comfortable and had begun to verge on awkward. "I needed it."
"Yeah, I figured," he said easily. "How come you aren't down there too?" He saw me watching them again; he probably knew I'd been doing it all night.
"Too much effort," I said, knowing he would know what I meant by that. Thankful for it. My smile took a bit more effort than I expected it would as I turned my gaze back to him. "Maybe tomorrow. The ladies won't be able to resist my charms for long."
Chris laughed then and I realized that I'd been missing it. "They seem to be resisting them just fine from where I'm sitting!" he said, playfully shoving my arm.
An evil thought crossed my mind and my body acted on it before I had a chance to think. Before I knew it, half of my beer had just emptied over Chris' head.
"Oh fuck!" he said, jumping up and away from the upended bottle. "I can't believe you just did that!"
I laughed. I couldn't help it. He looked at me in outrage and for a moment I thought he was serious, then he sat back down and joined me in my hysterics. I drank the remaining beer and pushed the empty bottle away from us. Chris slicked his beer-soaked hair back and grabbed a couple of bar napkins to wipe his face and chest. He was mopping the back of his neck by the time we'd both quieted down again.
"See if I ever buy you a drink again," he said, but the threat was hardly frightening, followed as it was by a fond smile. I smiled back and looked at the dance floor one more time.
Lance had taken his lucky lady by the hand and was leading her out of the bar, followed discreetly by someone from our security. I imagined he would walk her home and stand on her front porch for a few minutes making cute small talk before giving her a chaste kiss good night. After she went inside he would walk another block and around a corner where he would be picked up by the limo and whisked back to the hotel.
JC's harem had thinned to the tall brunette I'd predicted. He had one arm wrapped around her waist and was kissing her neck hungrily as he drew her towards the door. He wasn't as innocent as Lance, but he wouldn't be bringing her back to the hotel. I pictured him getting a blowjob from her in the back of her parents' SUV, the one she'd borrowed for the night, steaming up the windows for an hour or so before leaving her. He'd come back to the hotel, have a quick shower, and probably watch TV with Lance for a while before hitting the sack.
Justin had nabbed his blonde. They weren't so much dancing now as fucking with their clothing on. One of our guys tapped him on the shoulder and Justin nodded at him. He whispered something in his blonde's ear and she laughed as they headed out of the club. They'd be coming back to the hotel and would probably be screwing until dawn. We'd all ignore the sounds coming from Justin's room and, in the morning, when she wasn't there, none of us would mention it. I wondered if he even knew her name.
The pretty boys had all gotten their catches for the night.
I turned towards Chris sheepishly. I couldn't believe I'd almost forgotten he was there, especially after he'd gone out of his way to keep me company tonight. "Sorry, man," I offered.
He shook his head, but it wasn't a rejection of the apology so much as an indication that it hadn't been necessary in the first place.
"I know I'm not one of the pretty ones," he began slowly. "But I was wondering if you wanted to come home with me tonight anyway?"
It took my brain a moment to process that. "Chris?" I asked, my dozen questions all expressing themselves in that single name.
He knew what I was asking, but didn't seem sure how to answer. He just shrugged, tilted his head a little, and smiled at me again.
I thought I'd given up on flirting tonight. I was wrong. I'd been flirting with Chris all along. Finally, I smiled back.
"I think I'd like that," I said, surprising neither of us. I reached out and squeezed his hand quickly before following him out of the bar.