Kirkpatrick Canon in A Plus by zvi
After *NSYNC's dissolution, Chris buys a Chicago bar and celebrates personal success.
Joey didn't go to Johnny's to sign the papers. He was touring with 42nd Street. He sat at the desk in a hotel suite in Chicago. Sun streamed over the papers, bright and sunny, as he read the words that would make official what had been true since, shit, since Lance didn't go to space.
"Baby, are you ready to go?" Kelly called from the next room. "Brianna's been waiting to go to the park."
"Be right there, you guys!" He signed quickly and shoved the papers into the stamped, addressed envelope. As he walked out of the suite and into the hallway, he said, "I've got to drop this off with the concierge, and then we can go."
"That won't take a long time, will it? It'll get dark soon!" Brianna looked up at him with round, open eyes.
"No, baby, I'm just about done."
Chris feels a physical pain when he signs the final papers dissolving *NSYNC. He hies himself to a doctor who says she can't see anything physically wrong and Chris should maybe find a shrink. The shrink helps Chris with his
mental problems , and then suggests a life coach, so Chris scan figure out what the next step is.
Chris says no to the life coach, because he already knows the next step. He wants to run a bar. So, he goes to Chicago, which is both a great town and not tied to his past. He finds the perfect bar in the perfect place, and he is successful in a reasonable amount of time. It dawns on him that he did this by himself, without being one of five. He writes a letter to his mom about it that includes the line, I am an individual, free of the Borg collective. He puts the letter in a box with all 7 seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Lance walked up the red carpet holding on tight to Will's hand.
"Can you stop holding my hand?" hissed Will through a smile. "I hate that sort of thing, you know that."
Lance turned and placed his mouth so any pictures would show him kissing Will's cheek. "You know what we're doing—what I am doing. So you know the answer to that."
Lance had wanted to come out right after the *NSYNC dissolution final papers were signed. But he wasn't sure how to do it. He finally took a poll of the guys. "Man, don't," C had said. "We're second, maybe third-rate celebs, right? So, don't have a press conference or anything, just be out. Take a pretty boy or two to an award show, start kissing guys in public. The cameras'll do your work for you."
C's advice had seemed like the best bet, but standing on the carpet about to head into the AMA's, Lance suddenly wasn't so sure. His stomach cramped, and he let go of Will's hand.
Will put his arm around Lance's waist, and said, "Babe, I don't mind PDA's, I just hate holding hands. It makes everything all sweaty." He pointed with his chin at a woman in a hideous yellow feathered thing. "There's that chick from Fuse, you want to try her?"
Lance leaned gratefully into Will for a microsecond, just long enough for his boyfriend to feel it. "No, if they want an interview they'll talk to us. Just keep walking, keep smiling, and keep holding on." He turned and kissed Will on the mouth, really fast. He smiled when he heard someone call his name.
Chris signs the papers for the break up because everyone else is done with *NSYNC. He could keep going, but he doesn't have to. He got what he wanted out of the gig—enough money so his mom and sisters never have to worry again—and now he's got to figure out step two.
Step two takes a detour for three, four, five years. It turns out he's got lots of rage issues, lots of abandonment issues, just a lot of issues, which are unhealthily (but unsurprisingly, since they were major life lines personally and professionally, reminds Dr. Schroeder) fixated on Joey, Justin, JC and Lance. But he does work it out, without turning to pot and cupcakes, which is what happened during the hiatus.
And then he's ready to do this thing he's always thought about dong, in that kinda, sorta, back of the brain way he's wanted to do for a long time. He looks at major American cities and eliminates any which are too strongly associated with him or the band. (He's over his issues, really, but he doesn't want to open a celebrity bar and he doesn't want to work anywhere he's got bad memories, which leaves out most of his life until after the NSA launch.)
It takes him a while, but he finds this perfect place, in a border section between a poor neighborhood and one that was gentrified. It's not too far from downtown, the space is perfect, and the building was a bar about seventy years ago before the area went to hell. Now, it's coming back, and Chris wants to be part of that.
He buys the place up, fixes it, and finds an experienced bar guy to run it. Kirkpatrick's isn't an instant success, but it's only about eighteen months after they open that Chris is sitting in the back office, drinking a Shirley Temple, and running over the books when he realizes he's in the black and will keep going that way as long as people keep coming like they have been the past three months. He smiles and throws back the Shirley Temple and walks out to the bar. "I need a drink. Something creamy and strong. Surprise me."
"What happened?" asks the bartender as she pulls down three or four bottles and pulls out some milk from the chiller.
"Nothing really," says Chris out loud, but inside he says, I made this!
JC nodded as he listened to the playback. "I think this is the one, man."
Stefanie smiled real big. "Yeah, you did it, JC." She leaned forward and kissed his nose. "I just, I want to sing, and I want people to hear it, you know? I think this could be a real single, and could make it happen for me."
"Oh, baby." JC sat back in his big, squishy producer chair. "You know this isn't necessarily the one? I mean, your label may not even want this for the single, and if it is the single, radio may not want to play it, and if radio does—."
Stef's laugh was short and sharp. "Shit, JC, I think I know a little bit more about how not to make it as a pop star than you. RCA killed Oxygen, and Yellow Brick was…a joke we played on ourselves, dude. Some people know how to do the independent thing, but not me and Renee."
JC shrugged uncomfortably and laid his head back, hands digging into the soft brown leather of the chair. "Hey, man, the big success, it's like lightning. No telling when or where or how."
Stef rolled her eyes and snorted. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Popularity's unpredictable. Stacy joined BEP five years ago and their shit blew up. Renee and I get signed by a major because some A&R guy didn't get the message Yellow Brick was going nowhere, managed to sell 1.5K, and we're contractually blocked from working together or calling ourselves Wild Orchid for another ten years. I know this is a crap shoot." She turned his chair so he faced her dead on, locked her eyes to his. "I can't get off this fucking horse. This music is the thing I do."
"I know about that." He reached out one hand, blindly patted the console. "What do you think this is for?"
She smiled and snorted again. "You want a pizza? I'm hungry. Let's get pizza."
Chris puts the pen down and rubs his stomach.
"Are you alright?" asks Johnny. He's holding one hand out, as if he expects to have to catch Chris, or ward off vomit, or something.
"Yeah, yeah. I, I just, I've had something with my gut the past couple days. I think I'm going to get my doctor to check it out."
Johnny frowns and puts a hand on Chris' shoulder. "You know, Chris, you know that our relationship isn't just business, right? I'm your friend. So, let me know if the doctor says it's something bad, ok?"
Chris stands up straighter, enough to get rid of Johnny's hand without shrugging it away. He does like Johnny, does think of him as a friend, but still, "This is just a stomachache, man. She'll probably tell me it's indigestion."
Johnny nods, but like he did when a gag was underbudgeted or they were about to hire too many dancers, in that way that meant, You're wrong, boys, but it's your money to waste.
Chris picks up his Kooshball and drops it. "It's weird being at your last therapy session. It feels like I don't need to be here. I mean, we've decided that I don't need therapy after this hour is up, so why did I need to come today?" He looks up in time to see Dr. Schroeder nod at him.
"Well, it's a sort of capstone on the relationship, a chance for us to assess the progress you've made and confirm that you've accomplished your goals. Sort of like graduation from school." She smiles, and Chris is vaguely startled to see her braces, the way he is every time she shows her teeth to him.
"And one more chance for you to talk to me about the life coach?" Chris deliberately raises one eyebrow at her, then looks away.
Dr. Schroeder says, in her mildest therapeutic voice, "You live better when you have goals, and you've fulfilled the major life goals you had, of taking care of your family financially and being artistically successful. I just think it would be helpful if you worked on setting some new major goals."
Chris nods, but thinks to himself, Gonna buy a bar. Gonna get drunk for free every night. Except not really because I don't like getting drunk and it's not free even if it's my bar.
Chris is standing inside the downstairs in a hard hat when he shouts, "Hold up! Wait! Stop!" A bunch of tall, muscle-y guys turn back to look at him and he grabs his clipboard reflexively. "Look, where's your foreman?" A guy who is slightly less tough-looking than everyone else points to another guy Chris didn't see because that guy is kneeling next to the bar.
He walks over and sticks out his hand. "Hey, I'm Chris Kirkpatrick. I'm the owner."
"Mike Del Rossi, foreman." He doesn't take the hand.
"Look, Mike, can you get your guys to stop working on the stage, work upstairs or something?"
Mike stands up. He's got three or four inches on Chris, and the loom is not quite deliberate, but it's there. "We're following the plan, Mr. Kirkpatrick. If you've got a problem—."
"No, I mean, yes, I mean—." Chris takes a deep breath, starts again. "Watching you build it, I realized the plan is wrong. So, I need to talk to the architect to get it fixed, and it's got to be cheaper to have you do other work than have you do wrong work, then have to pay to get it torn out and put back in. You and your guys haven't done anything wrong, you've been fast and the work looks really good."
Mike looks at him for a moment and shrugs. The shrug says, It's your bar.
Chris takes a table on the opening day. He sits all night, nursing an orange juice that he's pretending is a screwdriver. He sees Joe, the bartender, get rushed around ten-thirty. It's Friday and there's a band and a free drink special, so he gets behind the bar and helps her with simple stuff, like rum & coke and beer.
He talks with the band when they take a break. He asks them about the stage, and they are very appreciative. "It's almost big enough to have dancers or some shit," says Fritz, the lead guitar.
Chris looks at the stage and laughs. "Not really. But Natalie," that's the singer, "can run around as much as she wants."
Fritz laughs and gets back on the stage, and Chris retreats to his corner. He's watching the crowd, a bunch of young people from the neighborhood, some poor and some wealthy. He serves malt liquor and hard lemonade right along with a few import beers and the top shelf liqueurs, none of it watered and all of it reasonably priced. He's hoping this same mix will come back, and as he looks at the people sitting around and nodding their heads, he thinks, This just might work.
Trace flitted around the room, touching the fruit, straightening the styling implements the hairdresser had left out, plumping the cushions.
"You're not the one getting married. Chill already." Justin picked a non-existent piece of lint off of his tie, and checked his appearance one more time. A dozen people had looked him over, and he'd looked at himself maybe fifty times already, but you never knew when a hair would fall out of place or you'd pick up a stray thread. There was something reassuring about a tuxedo cut to flatter his long length and a simple tie. He looked good, hair cut long enough so he didn't look buzzed but too short for any curl. Mouth pearly and beautiful.
"You ready to be Mr. Cameron Diaz, dude?"
Not that anyone was going to be looking at him. "I'm more than ready to get married."
Trace came up next to him, put a hand on his wrist where it lay on the drawer. "That ain't what I asked. I always thought you'd be as big name as anybody you hooked up with, but…."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I got to go to the studio and record if I want a record for anybody to buy." Justin closed his eyes, turned around. "I been busy. You know that." He looked at the picture on the dresser, his son Taylor smashing his little fist into that very first birthday cake. "Cam's wedding present to me is a live-in nanny. I've got—"
"You've got something to write about? Thank fucking god!" Trace gave a fast, hard squeeze around Justin's shoulders.
"Since I've got enough money I don't have to make crap just to pay bills, I'm not gonna—"
Trace bumped his hip into Justin's thigh. "Not gonna make shitty music. I may have heard this speech from you a time or fifty in the past few years, dude. I'm just saying, it's been a while, and what remains of your adoring public will be happy to hear something new."
"I haven't just been holed up with Taylor. I've put my face out there, that recurring spot on White Lipstick, those movie gigs, you know?"
Trace shrugged, adjusted his collar. "But Cameron's always gonna be a bigger actor than you, since she's, you know, an actor."
He elbowed Trace hard.
Trace grunted softly and pushed back. "Watch it, dude. I got stories I could tell Cam…."
Justin checked his reflection one last time, then pulled away. "You got nothing that could hurt me, man." He threw his wrist out under Trace's nose. "Is it time?"
"Yup." Trace patted Justin's ass. "Go get her, man."
Lance gets to Kirkpatrick's first. When he gives his name to the lovely young woman behind the bar, she responds that her name is Joe, she'll have his rye and ginger in a second, and he should take a seat at the table over there.
He follows her chin to a table that's clear of the traffic between the bar proper and the kitchen, but has a clear view of the small, empty stage. He is soon joined by Justin, JC, and Joey. It's awkward, a little. He's still friends with all of the guys, but individually. They haven't been together as a group for a long time. He forgets how to be one of five, and he doesn't know what to do with himself.
"That's a nice stage," says Justin.
Lance blinks at him, and thinks, We've been reduced to making conversation.
Joey nods. "Yeah, it's high enough and wide enough, and the wait staff doesn't have to pass between you and 90% of the audience."
JC shrugs. "The tables are packed a little too close for me. No room to dance."
"Depending on the band, we pull some tables out or we pack in some chairs. Not everybody makes 'em shake their asses." Chris smirks at them from behind Joey's shoulder. "You guys are making small talk about my fucking stage? Losers."
Lance shivers and sees Joey jump. Then Joey turns and pulls Chris into a hug. The rest of them push out of their chairs and pile on, and it's a good little while before they all separate.
"Damn, man," says Justin, "I haven't seen you in a minute."
"I've been here, fuckers. But I can't—I'm not ready to leave the bar on its own and go off adventuring."
Lance puts a hand on Chris' shoulder and squeezes. "You've got good people here? You don't have anybody working here you don't trust?"
Chris covers Lance's hand with his own and nods rapidly. "Yeah, yeah. I trust my guy, Billy. He could take care of everything. It's just—this is my baby." His smile is small, but he's showing a lot of teeth.