02: rain, ice cream, joey

by Chris J

It was late, and Justin was sure he wasn't going to make it. He'd been waiting hours for him to show up, but the weather had just gotten worse and worse and the roads were nearly impassable now. The rest of the guys had already made it--they had showered and gone to bed almost immediately upon arrival--but Chris was nowhere to be found.

He tried his friend's cell phone again but he got the same recorded message. Either Chris had turned it off, or they were even further out in the middle of nowhere than he'd planned. Or Chris had forgotten to charge it again--now that was a likely possibility.

The rain battered against the glass window so hard for a moment that Justin though it might have started to hail. This weekend retreat had seemed like such a good idea when they'd planned it--the five of them out in the country, no fans, no press, no pressures. But from day one everything had started to go wrong. Their original reservation had been lost. Joey and JC's rental car had broken down. Lance had sprained his ankle at practice two days before the trip. And now Chris was missing.

Some vacation.

Justin sighed and pulled the chair closer to the window, looking up the road for any sign of headlights. He couldn't see anything past the first corner, though, and barely to that, so it was a futile task. Finally, after fifteen more minutes, he left the window and started pacing.

It was a nice enough lodge that they'd ended up getting--there were five bedrooms, the kitchen was fully stocked, and the living room was huge. He already had a roaring fire going in the fireplace and had considered the notion of sleeping in front of it tonight. He was really starting to get worried, and wanted to know the moment Chris arrived. Or called. Or...whatever.

He finally went into the kitchen and got himself a cup of coffee, dropping a healthy dose of kahlua into it to calm his nerves. Coffee wasn't exactly his favorite drink, but on a night like tonight, it seemed just about right.

He was about halfway finished, still pacing from time to time, when a knock at the door almost sent the mug shattering to the floor. Carefully, he set it down on an end table and licked the spilled drops off his hand as he answered the door.

Chris dashed inside and immediately began dripping on the hardwood floor. Justin shut the door behind him and almost chuckled in spite of himself, in spite of the fear, even panic, he'd begun feeling. Or maybe because of it.

"What did you do, man...walk?" he asked as he helped Chris strip off his drenched coat. The clothing underneath wasn't much drier.

Chris shook his head. "Do you know how far away I had to park?" His voice quavered involuntarily, and Justin caught it. He looked at his friend closely as Chris stripped off his sweater. Were his eyes redder than normal? Was there more than just rain that was wetting his face?

"I was worried," he said, instead of asking. Hoping that Chris was comfortable enough with him to tell him was going on. They'd been friends for a long time, but when the heavy stuff came down, it was usually one of the other guys he went to.

"I'm sorry," said Chris. "I guess I lost my way." He shivered and kicked off his shoes, moving further into the room and closer to the fire. His jeans were far too wet for him to be wearing them, but Justin wasn't about to suggest he take them off, too. He was already down to a white T-shirt; he didn't need to be running around in his boxers, too.

"The other guys are sleeping," offered Justin quietly, picking up a blanket off the batch of one of the couches and laying it over Chris' shoulders. "I waited up."

Chris smiled faintly. "Thanks," he said. They stood there in silence for a few minutes, then Chris began shifting uncomfortably. "Shit, I need to take these off," he said, dropping the blanket to the floor momentarily as he began to unbutton his jeans. "I left my luggage in the car. I figured it'd bring it in when the rain stopped."

"Well," said Justin, shrugging and trying not to watch as his friend stripped off his clothes. "I think I can handle the sight of you in boxers. I've seen you in less. Are you going to be warm enough?"

"Warmer without than with," he said, tossing them over the back of a wooden chair and picking up the blanket again. "Thanks for waiting up, Just. It was nice to see a friendly face when I got here. You can go to bed now if you want...I don't mind."

"I don't mind staying up," countered Justin. "Unless....you want to be alone?"

"Well, yeah," admitted Chris. "No. I don't know." He shrugged defeatedly and sat down on the couch closest to the fireplace, leaning heavily on the arm.

"Chris...what's wrong?" Justin asked finally. Tentatively.

Chris just shook his head and looked into the fire; this time Justin could see for certain that there were tears in his eyes. He'd never seen Chris cry before. Not once, not in the whole time they'd known one another. He always balanced his anger, his hurt, his frustration with humour. But not this time.

Justin contemplated his options--he could leave now, leave Chris alone with the obvious pain he was feeling, or he could stay and try to help his friend, despite his clumsy protestations that he wanted to be alone. There really wasn't much of a choice there at all. Justin sat down next to him and for a moment just quietly let Chris know that he was there.

It worked.

"I went to say good-bye to Dani," he said finally, his words strangely halting. "I was going to give her a quick kiss and tell her I loved her and that I would see her soon. I...didn't expect to find her in bed with someone else."

"Oh God," breathed Justin. He could almost feel the hurt coming off Chris as he spoke. Justin'd been cheated on before, and he knew it made him feel like crap, but he'd never had a relationship as serious as Chris and Danielle's. He'd never been cheated on by someone he actually loved.

"We fought. I left. I drove around for a while..." Chris paused to sniffle and wipe his eyes. "I should have called. I'm sorry. I just didn't think..." He shrugged helplessly.

"Don't worry about it," said Justin, unsure of whether he should put a comforting arm around Chris' shoulders or just leave him in his own private space. "You're here, you're safe, and you had other things on your mind."

Chris nodded and sniffled again. "I just can't believe...I don't want to think about it...it's over between us now. Over. For good."

"Chris...is there anything I can do?" asked Justin. How the hell did you go about healing a freshly broken heart? What were the right words to say? Were there any?

Chris laughed, a harsh, self-mocking sound. "I think I need to wallow in this for a while," he admitted. "It just...it hurts...and I can't make it stop..."

Justin reached out and squeezed Chris' knee, a silly, juvenile and perfect idea coming to him. "Come with me to the kitchen," he said.

Chris came along agreeably, wrapping the blanket tighter around his shoulders. Anything that helped him think about something other than Dani was probably a good idea right now. Justin sat him down at the table and went over to the freezer.

"The freezer? Justin, isn't it cold enough?" asked Chris skeptically.

Justin's arm came back out holding a gallon of rocky road ice cream. "Comfort food," he said with a smile, popping off the lid and bringing the whole container, along with two spoons, back to the table. "Trust me on this one. Dig in."

Chris took one of the spoons and fed himself a tiny taste of the ice cream. "I hope you don't think this is going to make me forget," he said, but his voice already sounded lighter than it had.

Justin shook his head. "I know it won't. But it always makes me feel better. Chris..." he said, fumbling for the words he wanted to say. "I know I'm not Joey or JC...I don't have all the advice that they always seem to be able to pull out of somewhere...I guess I'm saying that I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."

Chris just nodded in acknowledgement and took another spoonful of the ice cream.

Justin took a deep breath. "When I found out that Jason was cheating on me, I ate a whole container of this myself. It didn't change anything, but it made me feel a bit better."

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Jason cheated on you? I thought you said he just couldn't take having a long distance relationship...?"

"Yeah, I did say that," said Justin. "And that was true, too. I just...I didn't want to say, you know? I was embarrassed. I didn't want to admit that he'd found someone better than me...and that's what I thought had happened."

"That doesn't exactly help," admitted Chris.

"Wait...hear me out," said Justin. "I've never told anyone this before, man. After that, I mean, after thinking that for a while, I started to realize that I was wrong. He cheated, so he was the one that wasn't good enough. I was better than him and I would find someone better for me."

"You will," agreed Chris, suddenly seeming very hungry.

"I don't know if that was the right thing to say or not," said Justin, taking his first bite of the ice cream. "But I thought maybe it'd help to hear it. I mean...it wasn't like me and Jason were anything like you and Dani...but...well, you know."

"It helped," said Chris, laying his spoon down for a moment, pausing to take a good look at Justin.

Justin felt awkward under his gaze, wondering what his friend was measuring, wondering if he measured up.

Finally he broke, needing to do something, anything, to escape those piercing eyes. He lifted his arm and gestured towards the corner of Chris' mouth. "You've got a little...yeah, there...a little ice cream..." Chris stuck his tongue out and tried to lick it off, but failed. "Here," said Justin. "Let me."

He reached out and wiped the melting ice cream off with his thumb. Chris' lip was cool and soft, and Justin couldn't help but give in to the urge that overtook him. He leaned forward and kissed Chris softly.

"You didn't deserve what happened," he whispered. "And you'll find someone better than her. I promise."

Chris finally, finally smiled. "Thank you," he said. "I think maybe you're right."

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