"Just this once," said Justin, pressing his paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet between his palms like he was praying with it. "It won't even be late."
"Sure, you say that now," she said, unbudgingly, "but these things can get out of hand before you know it."
"You know I'm not like that--"
"What I know," she said, "is that you have a book to finish and an assignment to start, and an important performance coming up tomorrow--"
"That's why everyone's going out--"
"--and you still need your sleep. You're staying in tonight."
"But even Lance is--"
"Lance is not my son. You are." She turned her back to fix her hair in the mirror for a moment, and Justin stuck his tongue out at her back. "I saw that, young man." He instantly turned it into a broad lick of his lips, and his eyes met his mother's in the mirror.
"Will you at least stay here with me?" he asked finally.
"Justin," she said with an exasperated sigh, but Justin could see her little smile. "You're supposed to be--"
"I'll do my work. I swear. But if you won't let me go out, you can at least not leave me all alone..."
He knew he'd won when she slipped her purse off her shoulder and let it fall with a heavy thud onto the telephone table. "All right," she conceded, "but you should going back to your own room after. You're almost grown now, no sense you staying with your mother."
Not grown enough to go to a club with the rest of the guys, he wanted to say, but instead he just gave his mother that boyish, impudent grin that he knew she liked so much.
Lance came back to the room at one-twenty-three in the morning. Justin heard the key in the door and blinked his eyes open and stared at the alarm clock until he could read the glowing numbers.
"Shhh," he heard Chris whisper loudly as the door cracked open. "You'll wake Justin up."
"You're the one stumbling into walls," came Lance's voice, soft and low. "Go to bed, Chris. Someone will roll you out again in the morning."
The Chris sounds went away and the door opened further to let Lance inside. Light spilled in, bright enough that Justin could see only a silhouette before Lance closed the door again.
"I'm awake," he said, rolling over onto his side, propping his head up on his hand and letting his eyes adjust to the dark again.
"Yeah, I figured you would be," said Lance, pulling his jacket off, then his shirt. Lance looked less like a girl in the dark. "Chris, man. Joey shouldn't've let him have that last drink before we left."
"No, it wasn't Chris," said Justin. "I was up anyway. Where'd you guys go? What'd you guys do?"
"Just this club," said Lance, "this club that Chris heard about. You should've seen JC and this guy... it was pretty unbelievable." Justin had seen the kind of guys that slipped out of JC's room in the morning, and wasn't surprised. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," said Justin, reaching out to grab the book that was sitting on the table between the beds, next to the alarm clock and Lance's retainer case. He looked at it for a moment, then huffed out a sigh and let it fall to the floor, bending the cover. "Homework. Watched some TV with my mom. Helped her put her hair up for the night."
"Sounds like fun," said Lance dryly. "One of these days she'll let you come with us."
"Yeah, sure, one of these days," said Justin faintly.
"It'd be more fun with you there. I could show you all this stuff, and wouldn't to be worried about you being bored back here. You'd like it, I think."
"I know I would." Justin fell silent as he watched Lance stretch then scratch low on his stomach, almost underneath his pants.
"I need to take a shower. I smell like club. If you think it'll bother you I'll just go to Chris's room, he's probably passed out by now."
"No, no, shower here," said Justin, moving his arm out from under his head and settling down into his pillow again. "It's your room, too, and you know my momma says I can sleep through anything."
"Your momma knows you really well," said Lance, then smacked the wall lightly with his palm as he disappeared into the bathroom.
He could always hear Chris's voice first, no matter how many people were in the group, that shrill cackle he let out when he was laughing at his own jokes. Chris was so cool. If Justin's mom wasn't on tour with them, Chris would totally let Justin come with them anywhere they went.
"Heeeyyy," Chris said as he swung the door to the hotel room open. "You coming with us tonight?"
"Yeah, right," muttered Justin, closing the book in his lap. Another week, another Shakespeare play. It was like he had a never-ending supply of them or something. Justin was going to be reading thees and thous until he was as old as Chris. "I'll be here. Like always."
"Aww, don't be like that," said JC, pushing past Chris and into the room. "I'm not going out tonight either."
"You're not?" said Chris."
"Not if we're not going to a club," said JC. "If you guys are just going to sit around and drink and not dance, I'm staying in. Spend some time with Justin."
"Well, suit yourself," said Chris with a shrug. "I'm gonna round up the rest of the guys. Don't wait up!"
"Thanks," said Justin once Chris was gone. "I'd be okay, though, JC. My momma'd stay with me if I asked her to, you know that."
"Your momma'd probably walk to the moon and back if you wanted her to," said JC, pulling his notebook out of that stupidly small backpack he carried around everywhere with him.
"But she won't let me go out with you guys at night."
"Only cause she loves you so much," said JC, ruffling Justin's freshly bleached curls. Justin hated it when people did that, like he was a little kid, but it was better than being left behind alone all the time. "She doesn't want anything to happen to you."
"What's gonna happen to me when I'm out with you guys anyway? She knows you'll look out for me."
"Maybe she just wants to keep you to herself just a little bit longer," suggested JC. "Not much longer and you'll be an adult and maybe you won't want to spend time with her anymore."
"That's crazy talk," scoffed Justin. "She knows I'm not going anywhere. She's my mom. I'm always gonna want to spend most of my time with her."
"Always," said Justin firmly. He couldn't imagine a day when he wouldn't, except maybe getting to go out to a club sometimes. He didn't think that was too much to ask.
"Okay, whatever you say," said JC. He didn't sound like he didn't believe him, but he did look at him funny. But then, that was just how JC was. "You're not missing so much anyway, unless you like watching Joey work his mojo on every girl that gets anywhere near him.
Justin had to grin a little bit. "One in every port, that's what my momma always says about him. More like five in every port, maybe."
"More like," agreed JC, grinning back at him. "Just wait a couple years and that'll be you." Justin wasn't so sure he wanted that to be him, when he thought about it. He was pretty happy with what he had. "So you wanna work on some songs, kid?"
It was what they always did, and it wasn't like there was anything else he really wanted to do with JC, so he nodded his head. JC smiled so wide his eyes crinkled as he opened his notebook to get started.
Justin was asleep this time when the shower started, waking him up almost instantly. Letting him know that Lance was back, that all of them were back but Lance was back in this room. Their room.
His mom hadn't let him go out with the guys again, of course, but there was a little piano lounge in the hotel and after much wheedling and whining on his part she'd taken him down there for an hour or so. And let him have a sip of her drink, and wiped a droplet off the corner of his mouth with her thumb afterwards, even though Justin was sure he hadn't spilled. He wasn't a kid, after all.
But he didn't mind. It was a pretty good night, when he didn't have to study or rehearse or work or anything. When he could spend some time with just him and his mom.
But being back here with Lance was pretty okay, too. Lance took forever in the shower, long enough that Justin started to imagine what he was doing. He didn't even turn on a light as he waited, just chewed his thumbnail and punched his pillow a couple times to make it less lumpy and pushed the sheets down to his waist because it was starting to feel real hot in there.
When Lance came out, hair dark and slick from the water and the dim light, towel wrapped around his waist, he looked like Justin imagined he would a couple years from now, a grown-up. The grown-up that nobody wanted to believe Justin was or could be, even though he was already taller than Lance, even though he was in way better shape. Lance didn't look as soft in the dark either, though.
"Justin?" he whispered as he crept nearer the bed. Justin snapped his eyes shut and didn't answer. He could just hear breathing and soft movements for a few moments, then an equally quiet, "sorry, missed you tonight". It sounded like it was closer, though, like Lance was maybe standing over his bed. Looking at him.
When he heard the sound of Lance throwing the covers back, he let his eyes open again, just slits until he was sure Lance wasn't looking, then all the way. Lance sat on the far edge of the bed, scrubbing his hair with the towel, then dropping it to the floor. His back looked long and broad and entirely un-Lance-like, and maybe it was just a shadow, but as Lance slid until the covers, Justin thought he saw a dark mark on the side of Lance's neck.
It took Justin a long time to get back to sleep after that.
He watched his momma put her red lipstick on in the mirror and smack her lips together until her whole mouth was shiny red. "You be good tonight," she said. "No sneaking out, young man."
"I wouldn't have to sneak out if you'd just let me go," said Justin. "Or at least take me with you."
"Not tonight, honey," she said, leaning toward the mirror and fixing her hair. It already looked good, though. "You know you have work to do, and Lou wants you to spend some time in the gym." She turned her head toward him and smiled. "Not that that's something I've ever had to coax you to do."
"I've already been," said Justin, crossing his arms over his chest. He knew it made him look a little sulky, but during the last photo shoot he'd been told it also made his arms look good. "And everyone else is going."
"You're not everyone else," she said, like she always said. "Maybe when you're a little older."
"But you could come with me," wheedled Justin, wrapping his fingers around his mother's wrist, holding it close to him. "You know, supervise. If that would make you feel better."
"I'm pretty sure the other guys wouldn't have as much fun if I was there," she said, laughing but not pulling her hand away. Justin wasn't sure that was true. He knew that when the group first got together, sometimes she went out to bars with Chris and some of the guys from the band, and they seemed pretty fine with it. "Besides, I'm already going out."
"But wouldn't you have more fun if you went out with me?"
"Maybe," she said, stroking his hair for a moment after he finally let go of her wrist. "Maybe when you're a little older."
She held his face in both hands and pressed a lingering kiss into his forehead, then picked up her purse and finally left. Justin glanced in the mirror and saw she'd left a trace of lipstick there.
Justin's head jerked up from the book he was reading to see Lance standing just inside the room. He hadn't even heard the door, but then he had the TV on pretty loud and hadn't been expecting to see anyone for hours yet.
"Yeah," he answered finally. "I thought you were going out?"
He was sprawled diagonally across his bed in just a pair sweatpants that rode low on his hips, but at least he wasn't naked or something. He was just indecent enough.
"I did," said Lance, throwing his jacket over a chair and pulling his shirt away from his body like he was too hot to bear it. "Wasn't having much fun, so I decided I would come back. Figured it's not fair you're always left behind alone."
"It's not fair," agreed Justin, tossing his book down. "There's nothing to do here." He looked up at Lance hopefully, and Lance was definitely looking back.
It was kinda funny, realizing that Lance's hair right now was almost the exact same color as Justin's momma's, that burnt, crunchy blond.
"I think you're old enough to go," said Lance as Justin watched his mouth, the mouth that wasn't red like his momma's but was nice too look at anyway. "I think you're old enough for lots of stuff. It's just not as much fun, going out without you all the time. Seeing the rest of the guys hook up."
"And that's why you came back?" Justin finally sat up on the edge of the bed, then reconsidered and got to his feet, so Lance wouldn't be looking down at him.
"Well, it wasn't to do homework," Lance said dryly. "You got much left to do?"
"Nothing that can't wait," said Justin, carefully not even looking at the book he'd tossed away.
One moment Lance was standing there looking amused, then next he was leaning in and giving Justin a peck on the lips. Shy and quick as a twelve-year-old girl almost, but not, because it was Lance and he didn't dart away afterwards. He stood there, waiting.
Everything was quiet for a moment, and Lance's cheeks colored like he'd been drinking. "You've got a smudge," he said finally, reaching for Justin's forehead with his thumb. Justin grabbed his wrist before he could reach it.
"Leave it," he said, and kissed his him back. Kissed him harder and deeper than Lance had dared to. Kissed him until Lance tumbled onto the bed with him, and homework and clubs and everything else were forgotten.
Maybe Justin wasn't older yet, but this was plenty good enough to last him until he was.