Joey paced from one end of the stage to the other and back again, and it didn't take him enough time at all. He was used to the industrial-sized stage of the Pop Odyssey tour, not this rinky-dink thing that would have been more at home housing community theatre than any kind of gather of pop stars.
"I'm getting tired just watching you," muttered Lance, licking his thumb to turn the page of the magazine he was leafing through. He hardly even looked up. "Do you have every inch memorized now?"
"I thought you did you best thinking in the can."
"Fuck you," Joey said mildly, giving Lance the finger. "Didn't say I was thinking well. Do you ever wonder what women really want?"
"Every day of my life," said Lance fervently, flipping another page as though looking for the answer to that very question. Joey wondered if he was reading Cosmo.
"I mean seriously, though," he persisted. "Take Kelly, for instance -- "
"I'd rather not."
"Shut up. See, she says she doesn't want a relationship, but then she doesn't want to let me go, either. Which I don't mind 'cause, you know, Brianna, but ... well, maybe that's her reason, too. So when she wants a week at the spa -- like, say, at this moment -- she has someone right there to watch our kid."
"Speaking of the rugrat," Lance spoke up again. "Who'd you foist her off on this time?"
Joey whirled around and grinned at him. "JC," he said happily. "More like I couldn't get her away from him. He even wanted to change her diaper. Freak."
"Careful," warned Lance idly. "Keep complaining about it and he might stop doing it."
"Oh, I'm not complaining," said Joey quickly, striding back to the other end of the stage again. "I love that he loves her. I think I have more pictures of JC and Bree together than Kelly and Bree. But ... not the point. We were talking about Kelly."
"We were," agreed Lance.
"It's just really awkward meeting people, when everyone thinks she's my wife or something. Even you guys act like we're married."
"You do live with her. The two of you have a child."
"Yeah, but we're not together," he said, exasperated. He paused where he was and stared down at his feet, looking at the path he'd kicked up in the thin coating of dust. While he knew it was from the construction going on, it still made the place seem faintly run-down, not shiny and poppy like so many places they visited were. It was hard to believe what the crew would transform this place to look like by that night.
"Anyway," he said, when Lance remained silent. But then, abruptly, he just started pacing the length of the stage again.
"Okay," said Lance, slapping the magazine down. It *was* Cosmo. "Okay, I'm asking. What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm thinking," he repeated, then paused to reassess that answer. "I'm getting a feel for the stage. Seeing what it tells me about how we should do this show." He took a deep, cleansing breath. "You know. Finding the right space in my head."
"Once and always," Joey shot back, then took another deep breath and found the place near the center of the stage that felt the most comfortable. "To be or not to be," he projected out to the back of the theater, "that is the question ... "
"Geek!" said Lance again, and laughed. "You're not impressing me. Even I know Hamlet's soliloquy."
"Maybe you know it," said Joey, "but can you perform it?"
"Whatever," muttered Lance. "You're being a serious dork about the stage, though. It's just a stage. A place to perform."
"See, that's your problem," said Joey, leaning his head back until he was looking up into the rafters. "It's never just a stage. You just aren't seeing the possibilities. Look, it even has balconies."
"Which will be draped with black cloth and won't emerge again until after the show."
"You," accused Joey, "do not have a poetic soul."
"Guilty as charged," said Lance, crossing the stage purposefully and grabbing a piece of Joey's sweater in his fist. "Come on. They have a lot of work to do in here before tonight."
"Hey, hey, hey!" said Joey, quickly prying Lance's grubby hand away. "Watch it! JC gave me this sweater for my birthday!"
"You weren't saying that when Chris spilled grape juice on the pants *I* gave you," complained Lance, but he let go and kept his hands to himself the rest of the way to the wings.
"Well, you're not JC," Joey goaded him, making a point of examining his sweater for stretch marks. Lance was very lucky there weren't any. "Plus, really, the grape juice added a little something to the pants."
"And this is why I never let you pick out anything for me in wardrobe."
"But we were talking about Kelly."
"No, actually we weren't -- "
"We were talking about Kelly," Joey insisted, groping for a light switch. He couldn't believe they were holding a charity show here, it seemed so amateurish. But amateurish venues had their charm. At the very least, they would traumatize Timberlake, which made the whole thing worthwhile right there. "Do you think I've lost my chance to find the love of my life?"
"You're such a girl!"
"I'm not!" said Joey, poking Lance's side. Then doing it again because he knew it pissed him off. "There's nothing wrong with wanting love, wanting a little old-fashioned romance."
"I'm romantic," protested Lance, then tugged on Joey's sweater again until Joey shoved him off. "Turn back," he muttered. "There's press outside that door. Thought they won't supposed to be here for hours." He gave Joey a brief grimace that Joey understood all too well. "Smile for the cameras," he muttered.
Joey put on his smile as easily as slipping on a mask; he could hardly even feel the muscles working at it anymore. His face was in better shape that just about any other part of his body.
"Well, all the world's a stage ... " he murmured finally as they headed back in the other direction.
"More like a zoo," said Lance, shaking his head. "But. As I was saying. I *am* romantic."
"Romantic, huh?" repeated Joey, slapping Lance's hand when it seemed to be reaching for his sweater again. "So what's the last gift you bought Laura, then?"
"Romance isn't about gifts," scoffed Lance evasively.
"What was it?"
He sighed. "A palm pilot."
Joey groaned and put a wrist to his forehead dramatically. "Romance is dead. There's no hope for me."
"It was what she wanted!"
"No, Lance, it's what she said she wanted. What she really wanted was, like, a weekend on a secluded beach somewhere. Or for you to feed her a bowl full of strawberries. Or maybe just that one perfect compliment that made her feel all glowy inside. Palm pilot! It's a wonder she hasn't given up on you."
"It was color!"
"No," said Joey again, emphatically. Lance was truly hopeless. "No, no, no. Romance is ... Romeo and Juliet."
"Okay, here's where you lose me," insisted Lance, "because Romeo and Juliet? Killed themselves."
"Well, yeah," Joey had to concede. "But they really, really loved each other. Or romance is ... Hero and Claudio."
"Hero was a shallow little twit!"
"Beatrice and Benedick then," Joey quickly amended. "You can't tell me that wasn't romance."
"Hmmm ... bickering, challenging, smoldering ... that one I can get behind, actually. That's my kind of romance."
"Hardly," sniffed Joey, giving Lance a disdainful look that he was sure Lance could see right through anyway. But there was still something inherently satisfying in giving it. "Benedick would never have given Beatrice a palm pilot."
"Well, maybe that's because it was hundreds of years ago," said Lance. "That's all storybook romance anyway, Joey. You go out in the world looking for that, you're only going to be disappointed."
"I'm already pretty disappointed," admitted Joey. "Do you think I am? Gonna find love?"
"That's just about the stupidest question I've ever heard," said Lance, elbowing him. Hard. "But the answer is yes. Love -- real love, not the fake kind you're fantasizing about -- is gonna come and chomp you on the ass someday. Happy?"
"Huh," said Joey thoughtfully, elbowing Lance back. Harder. "That's exactly what JC says when I ask. Well, except for the "ass" part."
"Well JC's a smart guy," said Lance, "unlike some people I'm standing here with right at this moment who live with their head in the clouds."
"I'm smart!" said Joey, groping for another light switch. "I'm just a different kind of smart than you. And what do you think real love is anyway? Electronic devices?"
"Yes," said Lance dryly. "It's all about the electronic devices, Joey, and you just missed the boat entirely."
Lance sighed. "Real love isn't hearts and flowers, Joey. Real love is ... knowing the other person well enough to know what they really want, not what you think they want. Real love is making breakfast at 4 a.m. even though you're dead tired, because you know you're not going to see the other person again for weeks. Real love is going to the opera and not falling asleep."
"I never fall asleep at the opera," muttered Joey, eyeing the room instead of paying much attention to Lance's ramblings. His ideas of love were ... as practical as he was. What was so romantic about that, anyway? He wandered to the bottom of a spiral staircase and tilted his head back to look up, all the way up. "Ooh, I bet I know where this goes ... " he said, then started sprinting up to the top. He could just barely hear Lance following slowly behind him.
In the grand tradition of drama geeks everywhere, when faced with a balcony, he made a dramatic entrance and was speaking his lines before he even reached the railing. "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?"
When he looked over the side, though, instead of an empty stage he saw JC standing there, gently rocking the sleeping baby cradled on his shoulder. At the sound of Joey's voice he turned his head up toward the balcony, and smiled.
"Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?"
For longest moment Joey could only stare, his mouth hanging open, his heart thumping in his chest, understanding slamming full-force into his brain. He whirled around to face Lance. "Love is diapers," he blurted out. "Love is screaming babies at 2 a.m. so I can get some sleep."
"And don't forget sweaters," said Lance, giving him a knowing grin. "Chomp chomp."
Joey just grinned back and gave Lance a smack on the ass before he sprinted back down the spiral stairs and onto the stage, to go meet his Romeo.