14th and Edward

by Chris J

"This is my corner."

Joey looked up from tuning his guitar to see a curly-haired punk standing over him, arms crossed over his chest, trying to look menacing. He just grinned up at him.

"Didn't look much like your corner when I got here," he said, going back to the guitar. It was old and battered but it was his baby and she always sounded good for him.

"It's always my corner. Me and C. You gotta go somewhere else."

Joey looked up again from his seat on the pavement. "Looks to me like you need to go somewhere else today," he said patiently. "I staked out this spot at dawn and I'm not going anywhere."

The kid didn't seem to be budging either, so Joey feigned disinterest in him and took a moment to take in what was around him. He glanced at the other corners of the intersection, at the streets beyond them. At a pair of children playing in the dirt piled up against a building, like it was a sandbox. At a woman with a sandwich sign, lettering too tiny to read, probably telling her life story and begging for pity. At blue eyes and brown eyes and startling green eyes, all hard from life on the street but still lit from down deep with a spark of hope.

"Hey," said another boy, startling Joey when he got closer, thin and lanky with soft, flyaway locks of hair. "What's up?"

"He's in our spot, C," said the kid with the curls, his pouty scowl more amusing than intimidating.

Joey just shrugged, giving them both an amiable grin. "I really don't see how you can lay claim to it," he said, strumming a soft chord. "Since I'm already the one sitting here.

Johnny had told him this was the best corner, when he'd let Joey crash on his sofa the night before. Told him he's have to get there bright and early to stake his claim. And so he had.

"It's ours," whined the brat, but the other one nudged him away.

"We were late this morning," he conceded. "And you're new around here so you wouldn't know, but we always sing this corner. We're known for it."

"And I'm hungry," added the brat. "And how are we gonna get breakfast money if we don't got our corner, huh?"

Joey might have shrugged that one off, too, if they two of them didn't actually look so skinny and, well, kinda pathetic. "Make you a deal," he said, against his better judgment. "I play, you sing, and we split the hat." He looked from one to the other, waiting.

The punk kid scowled but the other one was nodding his head. "Deal," he said. Either he was the smart one or the easy one. Either way, the peace was kept. "I'm JC. This is Justin. Thanks, man."

Joey nodded at him with another amiable, unconcerned grin and went back to his guitar. "You guys know any Indigo Girls?"

"Course we do. What do you take us for?" said Justin, leaning back against the wall behind him. Then he swayed under JC's hard nudge and shut up.

"Then that's where we'll start," said Joey with a satisfied nod. "Be better with a second guitar, but we'll make do." He started strumming Closer to Fine and was both pleased and surprised when they both chimed in almost right away with a couple of the most beautiful voices he'd heard in a while.

He guessed, though, that a person didn't have the pull to have a permanent spot on the most coveted corner in town without a lot of something going for them.

As his fingers played the familiar song, he let his eyes wander again, over the street, over the people that were beginning to fill it. He didn't know the faces here, not like he would have back home, but they still drew him, here and there. It was always something in the eyes that was familiar to him no matter where he went. Like the boy with the green eyes who sat on the curb now, chin on his hand, staring back at them.

He watched another young man stop next to them, smiling as he listened, even tapping his foot a little and obviously not caring that he might've looked silly. From the obviously recognition in JC and Justin's faces and voices -- happy recognition at that -- he was not an unfamiliar face.

"My favorite!" he said as they finished, giving Justin a loud smack on the cheek. "How did you know?"

"This guy's idea," said JC, gesturing vaguely at Joey's head and watching the other two with what seemed like tolerant amusement. He blanked when it came to introducing them though, turning looking at Joey with his mouth slightly open but no words coming out.

"Joey," he supplied, with a nod at the newcomer.

"Joey, this is Chris," said JC with obvious relief. "Our patron saint."

Saint Chris was busy rummaging around in his backpack while Justin stared adoringly at him. "I could only grab a couple sandwiches today," he said apologetically. "I don't get paid again until Friday and we're kinda running low on stuff. " He pulled them out and handed one to Justin, who scarfed it down quickly.

JC took the other, with a guilty look at Joey which he just waved off. "I had breakfast," Joey said, though they looked good. "Crashed at a friend's last night."

JC nodded and ate quickly as well before dusting off his hands and wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist. "Thanks, Chris," he said.

Chris just nodded as well and closed his backpack again, and Joey wondered at how it always seemed to be that the people who had the least, gave the most. "You sing, or just play?" Chris asked.

"I sing," said Joey, plucking at his guitar as he waited for JC and Justin to be ready to go again. He wasn't watching Chris anymore; instead his eyes met those of the green-eyed boy across the street, who gave him a tentative, lopsided smile.

"Good," said Chris, dropping his backpack to the ground. "You guys mind if I stick around long enough to do our song?"

"Since when do I mind if you stick around?" said Justin. When Joey finally looked back at them, Justin was all but clinging to Chris's arm, positively lovestruck. He shared an amused glance with JC before slinging his guitar around to his back.

"So what's your song, then?" he asked. He was also amused at how JC and Justin had just invited someone else along to sing with them without asking him, but Chris hadn't asked for part of the hat which made it fine by him.

"Billy Joel," said JC, snapping his fingers in front of Justin's face. "A capella. Don't worry, you'll know it." He gave the other two their notes, and a moment later they started singing.

Of course Joey knew it. Everyone knew The Longest Time.

As he started singing, adding a strong baritone line to the three tenors, Joey looked across the street again. He smiled as he realized the green-eyed boy was mouthing the words along with them. With only a moment of hesitation, he motioned for him to join them. And with only a moment of hesitation of his own, the boy did.

No one was more surprised than Joey when he opened his mouth and started singing aloud, adding a clear, strong bass to the mix and filling out the harmonies in a way the none of them could have anticipated.

When they finished the song, there were actual bills in the hat.

"This is ... " Joey looked down at the green-eyed boy, who'd seated himself at his feet.

"Lance," he said, in his surprisingly soft, deep voice.

"This is Lance," finished Joey. "He's going to be singing with us now."

"That was great!" said Chris, obviously knowing he had no say in it.

"Any time," said JC, beaming at both of them, then at the hat. "Any time."

Justin looked each of them over in turn, and Joey watched his eyes as he weighed them, considered them as though the decision was his alone. Then he nodded. "Yeah," he said, grinning happily at them. "Fucking yeah. Let's go again."

And so they did.

Birthday story for Karen, and affectionately known as busker!sync. August 31, 2001

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