We lay on our stomachs on the bed, holding hands and watching TV. I don't even know what the show was; some sitcom that I'd never seen a single episode of before today. I didn't really matter, since we were just killing time until Danielle came out of the bathroom to confront us.
Chris had given me a bit of a heads up on what to expect, once we'd stopped kissing long enough to start thinking again. Danielle was still going to play his girlfriend, but with me and Chris being together it was a whole new ballgame. It was a subject we hadn't even touched on in the last two weeks. Mind you, there were a lot of those.
The door opened and she stepped out, still combing her long blonde hair. We both looked at her, easily distracted from the show, but neither of us moved. She looked at our clasped hands and smiled a little, then took over the chair and lounged in it for a long moment before speaking.
"Chris," she said. "You've been one of my best friends for a long time. We've been partners in a lot of ways, and I'm not going to let you down now." I figured the speech was for my benefit; she's already had the chance to say all these things to Chris. "Joey, I've known you a long time, too. You've always been a great guy and a good friend to us. I'm not going to let you down either."
"So, what's going on?" I asked.
"You guys..." she started, then shook her head. "Chris tells me that you guys aren't actually dating. Well, fine, I don't really care what you call it because in my eyes you're pretty much together." I opened my mouth to say something, but she held a hand up. "Don't talk yet, Joey. So, seeing that you're together, and both famous pop stars, and both men...it's probably not a good idea to let the public in on this."
"What, you think we were planning on making an announcement?"
"No, I think you're going to hold hands in front of the wrong roadie one day and the next it's going to be on the cover of the Inquirer," she said bluntly. "I don't care how careful you are, guys, you know it's going to happen. We've seen it happen before. Hell, look at Justin and Britney."
"But they aren't even..."
"My point exactly," she said. "They aren't even going out, and the press is greedy for them. That's why you guys need to be careful. Have you even thought about what being outed as gay would be like for you? For all of you?"
"We aren't gay," I protested.
"Whatever. It's not going to matter."
I noticed how quiet Chris was being throughout this whole conversation. More evidence that he'd already had it.
"Danielle," I said. "No offence, but don't you think this is a conversation I should be having with Chris?"
She sighed. "This is a conversation you should have had with Chris before you decided to see each other a second time. I don't care how many times it's come up hypothetically, guys, this is the real thing. I couldn't believe it when Chris told me you'd hardly even talked about it."
"Well, thank you for caring about us, but..."
"Joey," she said, way more gently than she'd been speaking before. "I've had friends go through this before, much lower profile friends who were outed accidentally, when they weren't ready, and went through hell. I don't want to see it happen again. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that, yes, you and Chris are ready to be outed as lovers, then I'll back off. But I bet you can't."
Damn right I couldn't.
"Chris and I have already taken our relationship into just-for-show territory. The stakes are higher now, but it's still the same thing." She walked over to Chris and took his other hand in an almost sisterly gesture. "I have the best times when I'm with you, Chris. I wouldn't want to lose that anyway. So this isn't just a favor; it's something I want to do."
"Thank you, Danielle," I answered for the both of us.
"And dammit, you guys are going to have the important conversations with each other," she said sternly. "Don't keep putting them off. Whether you realize it or not, you're being viewed by your friends as a couple."
"Nah," I said. "They know the score."
"Do they?" was all she said, but we both heard the implied 'Do you?'. "Listen...you guys have a concert to do tonight; why don't we all meet for a bite to eat afterwards."
"Uh, okay," I said.
"I have to get to my meeting soon anyway. So...think about what I was saying." She gave us each a kiss on the cheek before leaving the hotel room.
"You got off easy," said Chris once he was sure she was gone. "Dani's great, but damn can that girl lecture your ear off. I'm not some little kid."
"No, you only act like one," I teased him, trying to lighten the mood. He frowned a little, so I stopped and just held him for a while. I wanted to tell him that I knew we weren't little kids, but that maybe we needed to hear that, but the words didn't come. I was pretty sure that deep inside, though, he was thinking the same thing.
We were both pretty quiet as we got ready to head out. No need to sort out what outfit looked best--wardrobe would take care of all that when we got there--so we cleaned up and headed up and didn't talk at all about what Dani had said to us.
The rest of the evening went pretty much the same, and if the guys noticed that Chris and I weren't talking or joking around as much as usual, the didn't say anything. Right before we went on, Chris grabbed and held me for a long, long time, resting his head on my shoulder. It was nothing suspicious, but it was still intimate.
"Thanks," I whispered and rubbed his back discreetly, and the rest of the night went a little smoother.
Justin moaned a bit about us not going clubbing after the show, but it felt like it was pretty much for show. Deep inside, I think he was glad to be going somewhere he could just kick back and not have to continue 'performing' for another few hours. So he wasn't going to be picking up someone tonight. He'd live. He still had two hands and a healthy imagination.
We met Danielle at a cozy restaurant about two blocks from the arena. There was a small crowd of teenyboppers outside who'd followed us there, but inside the diners were mostly middle-aged and uninterested in the young men who'd just stepped into their restaurant.
She went immediately up to Chris from the table she been waiting for us at--set in a corner and away from the rest of the diners--and planted a firm kiss on his lips. In my mind I'd been expecting it, but the rest of my cringed a bit at the sight. The rest of the guys looked startled and I realized we hadn't spoken to them about that afternoon at all.
"Um, what's up?" asked Lance, clearing his throat awkwardly.
"It's expected," Dani assured them, gesturing at Chris' lips and then her own, like some secret code. "Sit down, we can talk." She sat on one side of Chris and I sat on the other, the rest of the guys grabbing whatever was closest. I was feeling just the mildest bit possessive, but I hoped it wasn't showing. Chris wasn't 'mine' after all.
"I'm guessing that this lug," she said, smacking her palm lightly against Chris' forehead, "didn't tell any of you what's going on." Chris blushed a bit and pushed her hand away good-naturedly. He other hand groped for me under the table and, making sure we were safe, I took it into my own with a secretive smile.
"The lug tends to forget things like that," agreed JC, but his glare was reserved for me.
"Well, now that Joey and Chris are together..." she began.
"Hush," Chris interrupted me, squeezing my hand to punctuate it.
Danielle just rolled her eyes. "All I wanted to let them know was that I was still going to appear in public as your girlfriend," she said, speaking almost directly to Chris with her eyes on me. "I think they're already clear on how much they're going to be covering for you."
"Great, so, uh, if we're all clear on that can we move on to something else?" I asked, looking at everyone in turn. It wasn't that I was mad at Danielle, or Chris, or anyone else, but I felt really, really strongly that this was something I needed to be talking to Chris about before anyone else. And since we weren't ready to be talking about it yet, we weren't ready to talk to anyone else about it either. I tried to put that in my eyes as I looked at Chris, and I think he understood. He squeezed my hand again, anyway, and didn't let go.
"How long are you in town for?" Lance asked Danielle, after giving me a half-curious, half-frustrated look.
"Just today," she said with a sigh. "I had a meeting late this afternoon and have to be back for tomorrow morning. I swear I'll catch up with you guys again soon, it's just been crazy lately."
"I'm sorry I haven't been there," said Chris.
"Oh, don't be," she said. "After all the two am business calls I've gotten from your hotel room, only a fool would think you aren't busting your ass, babe."
"God, I know that feeling," moaned Lance, sharing a look with Chris. "Sleep is optional."
"Amen," said Chris. I think all of us were thinking the same thing.
The meal was nice. I think Danielle is still sometimes awed by the amount we can pack in after a show. But hell, a show takes a lot of energy to put on, especially when you have endless interviews, practices and meetings beforehand. Today had been a light day, but there have been others that we haven't stopped moving from the moment we roll out of bed, pre-dawn until we drag ourselves off the bus at our next city.
"I think you need a girlfriend, Joey," said Lance thoughtfully after a long bout of silence.
"I need a what?" I repeated, wondering where the hell that had come from. Lance had probably been speculating about something in his head for the last while but we were only privy to his concluding sentence.
"A girlfriend," he repeated. "Like Danielle is for Chris."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I protested. "We are getting way ahead of ourselves here. The last thing I need right now is a girlfriend."
"Joey? With a steady girl?" said Justin. "Nah, no one'd buy that, bro. He ain't the type."
"I agree," said Chris. "As long as he's still into flirting I think we'll be fine. And there's no sign he'll be stopping that any time soon." I hope I was the only one who heard that tiny bit of sadness in his voice. I wished I hadn't heard it either.
"Enough," I said. "Nothing changes, all right?"
"What's your problem?" asked Lance. It was more curious than accusatory, but it still stung.
"I just don't want anyone messing around in my personal life right now except me," I said. Then I looked at Chris, who was still holding my hand. "And him. When I want to talk about it, I will, but right now it's just no big thing, all right?"
Suddenly I wondered if they noticed we were holding hands the whole time. They must have; I'd been gesturing wildly with my left hand and the right hadn't moved. Nor had either of us lifted them to eat. But nobody had said anything...I wondered if they even cared.
"We," said Chris quietly.
"Huh?" was my articulate response.
"When we want to talk about it we will," he said to me, then turned to everyone else. "I agree with Joey. For now. Is that cool?"
"Sure," said JC. "No problem." He had taken the whole conversation in stride pretty easily. It made me wonder what he was really thinking about the whole thing. He knew more than anyone about what was going on with me right now. More than Chris, even, I think.
"Sure, whatever," said Justin, still picking at his dessert.
"Whatever you guys want," said Lance, giving us both an uneasy smile.
Danielle didn't say anything, but she gave us both a significant look that brought to mind our earlier conversation. We knew how she felt about things; she didn't need to go through it again. Especially with an audience.
"Well," she said finally. "I hate to eat and run, but I have a flight to catch." She stood up to leave and Chris dropped my hand to join her.
"I'll walk you out," he said, putting an arm around her waist. He let his hand rest on my shoulder for longer than was necessary as he waited for Danielle to grab her coat, which made me breathe a little easier about the unexpected move. It was harder than I'd thought to see them together, even when I knew there was nothing going on. I didn't have to wonder why. I kinda knew why. I snuck a look at JC to see if he was watching but he was talking softly with Justin, who was gesturing towards one of the waitresses.
"Excuse me," said Lance, standing up. I knew he was off to pay the bill; he always seemed to be the one to take care of stuff like that. I watched as Chris and Danielle disappeared out the entrance and turned back to watch Justin and JC again. A moment later Justin got up and went to talk to the waitress he'd been eyeing. Maybe he wouldn't be going home alone tonight after all.
"Joey?" said JC, looking around the table and realizing we were alone.
"This might not be the time to bring this up, but if you ever want to talk about this again, well, I just wanted you to know that I'm here to listen."
"Huh," I said. "I sounded like that much of a bastard tonight, did I?" I smiled, to let him know I wasn't entirely serious.
"You sounded...conflicted," he said. "So if you want to talk..."
"I might," I interrupted him. "Thank you." JC wouldn't have been my first choice to talk to, not before, but after today I wondered if he might not be the best.
"Ready to go?" asked Lance, returning to the table abruptly.
"Yeah," I said, grabbing my jacket. "Very. We doing anything else tonight?"
"Why don't we stay in?" suggested JC. "I don't know. Watch a movie or something. I'm kinda tired."
"Oh, there's a surprise," teased Lance. "Sounds good to me. Do you think Justin'll be joining us?" We all looked at where he was still having a rather animated conversation with the waitress.
I shrugged. "At least he's off the blondes for a while. She looks nice."
JC eyed them a little more critically. "I think he'll be coming back to the hotel with us after all," he said after a moment. "It doesn't take that long to say yes."
Sure enough, Justin came back to the table shortly after that. "She's taken, man," he said, a little dejected.
"And you didn't go for it anyway?" asked Chris, coming up from behind him.
"Hey, what kinda dog you think I am?" he protested.
"You don't want any of us answering that, Just," I said. "Come back with us. We're having a boys' night. Action movies and junk food."
"Boys night," he mocked. "Sure, I bet that's good for you, Joey..."
I cuffed him on the back of the head as we all started out of the restaurant. "You really don't wanna be going there."
"Agreed," said Lance. "I don't want you going there. Let's get out of here."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a couple of familiar, burly men get up from opposite corners of the room to follow us out--security, naturally--and was reminded that we were never truly alone. Danielle was right; it was something the two of us needed to keep in mind.