Lance gave me a pat on the back when he left me in front of my hotel room door. It had been a nice, if quiet, dinner. He hadn't pushed and I hadn't badgered, but by the end of our conversation it was patently clear to me that I'd overdone it, just a tad. That maybe it hadn't been necessary to put down all relationships on the road. That maybe there were better ways around answering the question than to lie quite as much as I had.
I didn't see Chris in the room when I went in, but the doors to the balcony were open and the light curtains were flowing inward a little with the night breeze. I stripped my shirt off--it smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and the few drops of vodka I'd spilled on it--and threw it aside, away from the rest of my clothing.
I stared at the balcony for a moment, watching for signs of motion, and thought about the situation. I wouldn't have gotten pissed off by what I said, but then I'm not Chris. From the beginning, Chris was the one that had approached me. Chris was the one that had first known he wanted this. Chris was the one who'd been waiting patiently for me to catch up with him, I realized.
After a moment of consideration, I pulled a small bag out of the side of one of my suitcases and grabbed a joint. I didn't have much left; if me and Chris had another fight I was going to have to make a few calls in the next city we stopped at.
I went out onto the balcony and leaned heavily on the railing, staring out over the nighttime cityscape. I knew where Chris was now, behind me and to the right, but I didn't acknowledge him just yet.
I lit the joint and took a deep drag, holding it as long as I could then breathing the smoke out slowly into the night air. Finally turning around, I offered it to Chris. I was almost surprised when he silently accepted. I mean, he knew I smoked up from time to time, and I knew he did, but it wasn't anything we'd ever done together before. So there we stood, both leaning on the railing now, passing the joint between us until it was spent.
It had the desired effect; it helped ease a bit of the tension that had built up between us.
"So that was pretty close today, huh," I said.
"Yeah," he agreed quietly. "Someone almost realized you cared about someone."
I think that stung even more than he meant it to. "Seriously, Chris, we almost got caught. That wouldn't have been good. But," I added, steeling myself for my apology, "that doesn't excuse what I did. I'm sorry."
He shrugged, too nonchalantly. "You did what you had to," he said.
"No," I argued with him. "I went way past that line. I got scared, Chris. I'm not ready to be out. And I hurt you. And I'm sorry." I looked at him then and tried to let him see the sincerity in my eyes.
"Apology accepted," he said, without much feeling.
"Please, Chris. I mean it...I feel like an idiot and a jerk and I don't know what to do to make things right."
He put an arm around my back and pulled me closer for a quick hug. "How about this, Joe," he said. "Next time you feel the need to vehemently deny anything's going on, can you not hit on the intern in the same breath?"
"I just wanted..." I stopped and shook my head. "No, no excuses. I'm sorry, Chris. I'm so damn sorry."
I was surprised to see him smile at me. "Maybe," he said slowly, "just maybe, I overreacted a little bit. Maybe I need to remember that you're a flirt to the core." I wanted to say something, but he put a finger to my lips to shush me and continued. "It was just hard to take, after the other stuff you said."
I sighed unhappily. "It's such a no-win question now," I said. "I say yes and then they start digging and maybe come up with the truth. I say no and not only am I denying you, but then I have to fend off a whole new round of advances."
"None of which you seem to mind much," said Chris, but not meanly.
"Come on, man," I said. "We both look. Admit it." He just smiled. "It was so much easier before. It was like it is for the other guys. You see someone, and when it starts getting serious you can say 'yeah, I'm taken' like you did with Dani, you know? But us, we can't do that."
"Does that mean you think we're getting serious, Joe?"
"Well...aren't we?" I said, a little flustered. I hadn't realized quite how I'd phrased it until he called me on it, but...well, it was true. We were. If we weren't, then why was today such a big deal?
"Yeah," he said. I pulled him into my arms and hugged him. I didn't dare kiss him here on the balcony, not when there was a chance someone could see, but I needed a physical intimacy in that moment that matched the emotional one.
After a few moments, Chris pulled away, looked me in the eye, and said, "I need something to eat."
I laughed in agreement, took his hand, and led him back into our hotel room. I shut the balcony doors and latched them, taking one last look out over the city, before turning back to Chris. He looked like he was looking right past me for a moment, then our eyes caught.
"We don't have anything in here, do we?" he said. It was a rhetorical question, but I nodded anyway. "There's a vending machine at the end of the hall, let's go." He grabbed my hand again and we practically ran out the door, almost bowling over JC in the process.
"Hey," I said, turning to face him and stumbling backwards a few steps as Chris continued to the vending machine determinedly, my hand still clutched in his.
"Guys. Hands," said JC, frowning. "And Joey...shirt."
"Shit, sorry," I said, taking my hand back from Chris' and rubbing it slightly. I was suddenly conscious of the fact that I was shirtless, then I decided that I didn't much care. "I thought you were going out tonight, JC? What, she just give you a quickie and send you on your way?"
JC scowled. "It wasn't like that, Joey. You guys heading over to Justin's room?"
"Hmm?" I asked, distracted by the noises Chris was making as he hunted for more change in his pants pockets. I turned back to him for a moment. "I think you've got enough there, man."
"Yeah, but I don't have any Doritos," he complained, banging the machine before giving up. "Shit."
"Justin and Lance are watching movies tonight," said JC, as though I hadn't completely lost track of my conversation with him. "They left a message on my voicemail. I figured you guys were going over there."
"Oh, uh, okay, sure, sounds good," I said, reaching out and grabbing a small bag of pretzels that had dropped out of Chris' grasp as he rejoined us. "We're watching movies now," I told
JC knocked on Justin's door a couple of times and tilted his head towards it, as if trying to hear if anyone was inside. I don't know why he bothered; we could hear the TV and Justin's laughter from where we were standing. Lance opened the door a moment later, letting us in and seeming only a little surprised that Chris and I were there.
"You guys kiss and make up?" he asked me quietly as JC went to sit down next to Justin on the couch. Chris had claimed the bed and had already ripped open a bag of chips, spilling a few of them, then eating them quickly so Justin would never notice.
"Yeah, I think so," I said. "Well, the making up part, anyway. Chris!" I said, louder, so he could hear me. "Come here."
"No, you come here," he said, not even making a move to get up.
I rolled my eyes and went over to his side. "Lance said we should kiss and make up," I said, unintentionally loud enough to get everyone's attention.
He frowned. "I thought we already did that."
"We didn't kiss," I protested.
"Oh!" He reached an arm around my waist and dragged me onto the bed, kissing me thoroughly. "That better?"
"Much," Lance answered for me, grinning knowingly as he sat down in the chair. "So how was your evening, JC? Not have a good time?"
"It was just dinner, guys. Fuck, would you lay off?"
Chris turned to me. "Man, he definitely didn't get laid."
"Nope," I agreed with him.
"I wasn't going out to get laid," said JC.
"You weren't?" Lance asked, raising an eyebrow. "Then what were you going out for? And don't try and tell me someone slipped you their number and you decided to get to know them as a person, first."
"It could happen!"
"Not to you, JC."
He sighed. "That wasn't a fan's number. I just scribbled it down on a scrap of paper when my mom called last night. See, there's this new neighbor of hers, and she has a daughter..."
"I think we can see where this is going," said Lance.
"Was she cute?" asked Chris.
JC shrugged. "She wasn't my type," he answered diplomatically. "She was nice, though. We talked over dinner."
"Man, coming from you those words are the kiss of death," laughed Justin. "What, was she butt-ugly?"
"No, no, she was fine," argued JC.
"Fat?" he pushed.
"She was, um, maybe a little pudgy? No, just, uh, soft," said JC. "Look, the dinner is over, I'm back with you guys, and I don't want to talk about this anymore. All right? You all got that?"
"Hell, the dinner probably made her whole year, JC," said Justin, still laughing. "You did your charity bit. We gonna watch a movie?"
"Justin, you are such an ass," said Lance. He sounded seriously pissed. "Grow up, would you?" Justin just glared back at him for a moment, then turned back to the TV silently. "C, you gonna go out with her again?"
JC looked a bit surprised at the question. I was, too, after everything that he'd said about her. "Um, maybe next time I'm in town," he admitted. "I told you, she was nice. She'd make a good friend."
"You give her your number?"
'Yeah, I did," he said quietly. Justin was sitting right next to him, so it was impossible to think he wouldn't hear, but I think JC was trying anyway. "I guess we'll know within a couple days whether I need to change the number again or not."
"But you don't think so."
"No, I don't think so," he said. "Is the subject dropped now?"
"For now," said Lance, smiling at him. "Justin, put in The Wizard of Oz."
Justin and JC both looked at him strangely. "The Wizard of Oz?"
"Yeah, that's what I'm in the mood for," he said.
"I think we're going to have to take a vote on this," said Justin. "Chris? Joey? Wouldn't you rather watch something with guns, blood, murder and mayhem? Or at least with naked breasts and fart jokes?"
Chris looked at me and I looked back at him. We both grinned stupidly.
"We're off to see the wizard," sang Chris.
"The wonderful wizard of Oz," I sang back.
"Because, because, because, because, becaaauuuusssseeee, because of the wonderful things he does," we sang together, in JC and Justin's astonished faces.
"I win!" said Lance, throwing his hands up in the air victoriously.
"Those aren't even the right words," muttered Justin as he sighed and put in the tape.