Adaptation by Chris J

The third time he breaks up with someone because she loves the camera more than he does, Justin knows that something has fundamentally changed. He really does like Tammy, other than the fame whore thing, which is the real shame. She's bright, beautiful and willing to do what it takes to be together around his schedule. It doesn't matter to Justin them that she's a few years older than him. But Justin starts to wonder why it doesn't matter to her.

"You're too trusting," Chris tell him as he pulls Justin into his lap and strokes his curls like he's still a little boy. "I know you think you're pretty firmly rooted in reality, but then you go and do something like put yourself way out there, wide open. It's like an invitation for people to screw you over."

"She was nice."

"She called her friends five minutes after the first time you had sex."

"I know." Justin sighs and buries his face in Chris's shoulder and waits for the comfort he knows he can count on. "I shoulda ended it then."

Chris just laughs like he always does and shakes his head and strokes Justin's hair some more. "No red-blooded male would ever break up with someone within five minutes of orgasm. Don't beat yourself up about that."

"You think there's something I ought to beat myself up about more?"

"Yeah, maybe," says Chris gently, touching the back of his neck. Justin hates honesty sometimes, even when he craves it. "You gotta watch out for yourself, Justin. You gotta look for the signs."

When he was younger, Justin had been famous then, too, but everyone had been nice to him. Everyone had been there to help him out. There'd been no Tammys or Gretchens or Marias, then -- only afterward had they all started coming out of the woodwork. Something's different about now, Justin knows, and he's still fumbling his way through what.

"What were the signs with Lindsay, then?" he asks Chris. Chris who seems to know everything, when it counts. "How could I have known?"

"You met her at a party. An industry party," he says, like that's rule number one and everyone knows that. Justin doesn't know that. He'd met all kinds of nice people at cast parties for the show, even met his first girlfriend at one. That was where he used to make most of his friends

"She was nice."

"She gave you a blowjob in the bathroom. You were fourteen."

Justin grins at him. "Well, like I said ... "

Chris gives him a bat to the back of the head and laughs again, but it sounds different this time, like he doesn't think that's so funny at all. "You can't be a horny teenager forever. Not if you want to survive."

Justin does. It's top of the list of things he wants to do -- survive, in every way a person can mean that word. And Chris is one guy who knows how to do it.

"You keep reaching out, to all these people you hardly know, Justin. There's nothing wrong with meeting people, but you can't rely on everyone like you do. If you don't have something solid with someone, any support you think you have can just start to crumble away."

Justin's seen it happen to many times not to know that already. "I'm not stupid, Chris," he says defensively. "I'm not naive."

"You're a pretty grounded guy," admits Chris, "but you're young. You're young and pretty and going places, and people are out there to take advantage of that. You've got to know who to trust."

Justin doesn't, hasn't quite figured that part out yet. And so he curls further into Chris's embrace and feels his fledgling roots begin to grow inward, toward the people he loves best, toward the only kind of solid ground he knows.

Random story inspired by the picture used for the title. April 21, 2002

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