The Wallflower Remix2 by Music Diamond
"I love him," Joey said.
Justin stopped short. He felt oddly quiet and distant from the world, standing in the middle of an empty hallway of yet another expensive hotel floor, emptied just for them. In the corner of his eye, he could see Joey standing awkwardly at the door, half-hiding in the shadows of his room.
Justin thought he should maybe turn around, but instead he took out his wallet and fished out his key card.
"You've been pissed at me all week, and I understand, I do," Joey continued. "I know you don't believe me, but it's the truth. I know you think my shit's fucked up for doing this, and I agree with you. But I love him, and that's the god-honest truth."
"You love Kelly too?" Justin said, not needing to look to see Joey flinch.
"Of course I do," Joey sounded wounded, indignant. "She and Briahna. They're my life. And so is 'N Sync. And JC."
"I don't think fucked-up is the word to describe what you're doing here."
"I probably deserve that. But you've gotta understand, J." Joey's voice was pleading. He would have that sweet, darling teddy bear expression on his face—the one that begged for love and understanding. There were few things in the world that could override Joey's charm.
"JC," was all Justin said. It was all he needed to say.
"I can't stop. I've tried, J. I've tried to stay away. But then he's so—god, Justin, have you ever really looked at him? Because sometimes, when I see him, my heart just stops. I can't, I can't look away," Joey said. "Have you ever really looked at him?"
"Once," Justin said, so quietly Joey didn't hear.
"I love him, I love Kelly. And I can't choose. I'll never be able to choose."
"And you'll never leave her?" Justin asked, though he knew the answer.
"I could never," Joey seemed shocked by the very question, the very suggestion.
"If I felt about someone the way you claim to feel about JC, and if that person loved me as much as he," Justin started.
"You have Britney," Joey interrupted. "Of course it's simple. Of course it's—"
"I would leave Britney in an instant and never look back," Justin said flatly.
There was a pause and then Joey shifted uncomfortably. "I can't. I can't choose between two pieces of my heart, Justin. I guess that's. I guess that's where we differ."
Justin laughed, suddenly, harshly. "Yes. I guess that's why I have Britney. And you have JC."
"Have you ever wanted to tell someone the truth—the ugly, terrible, naked truth? But couldn't?" Justin asked. There was something in his throat. It felt a little like sadness.
"The truth about what?" Chris said, not taking his eyes off the road.
"About their life. About the situation they've put themselves in and refuse to leave. About the ways things could be. Different." Justin wanted to say, 'the truth about me,' but he caught himself.
"The truth about their situation, eh?" Chris smiled faintly. "Do I sense a line of thought relating to the current revival of…intimate relations between two particular boyband members we might be acquainted with?"
Justin started out the window at the passing scenery. It was all bland, manicured, identically green lawns and similarly designed houses. "Maybe."
"Believe me, kid, I know how it feels to have to hold your tongue around those two," Chris said. "It's all a vicious cycle. They're friends, they're swell, Joey's with Kelly, everyone's hunky dory. Then, Joey's not with Kelly anymore, and they aren't just friends anymore, but everything is love and sexy and hearts. And finally, they're not friends, Joey goes back to Kelly, and everything goes to shit. As always. And JC is surprised, shocked, every single fucking time. And he gets that look on his face—that kicked in the teeth or hit in the balls look. Like he was matched up against someone playing dirty while he was playing by the rules. Every single time."
"It'll never end," Justin said softly. "He'll never learn. But I guess when you're in love, you never do."
Chris snorted. "Takes two to tango, my friend. JC keeps going back and I keep wanting to tell him—you get back in the ring and you're bound to get fucked up because you know the fucking match is rigged. You know you can't win. And it's your damn mistake, your damn choice. Yeah, it's a shitty game, but that's why you gotta walk away."
"Why don't you tell him that?"
"I sometimes think it would be good for JC to hear it from someone. The truth of it, you know?" Chris paused. "But another part of me thinks he probably knows all this shit, deep down inside. He's not a stupid guy. And my telling him things he already knows—well, is it going to change anything, really? Can words—can anything really change the way you feel about someone?"
Justin watched more uninspiring scenery roll by and melt into strip malls. "I guess even the truth doesn't change some things."
Chris glanced over at Justin. "Hey, kid, sorry. I got a little into my own rant there. You got something you wanted to ask about?"
"No," Justin said. 'I think you answered my question."
"I don't think I understand love, Lance," Justin said.
Lance flicked efficiently through clothes hangers, pausing every now and again to examine a silk shirt, a suede jacket. "What about Britney?"
"Like I said, I don't think I understand love."
"What are you asking about, exactly?" Lance picked up a shirt, nodded to himself, and added it to the pile that the saleswoman assisting them was carrying.
"Loving someone who loves someone else."
"Oh," Lance said. "I see." He waved the saleswoman away. "I'll be by the dressing room in a minute." Lance waited until she had vanished and then turned back to Justin. "Confounded by the mystery that is JC, huh?"
"Something like that," Justin said.
"I know you don't approve of what Joey's doing, Justin," Lance said. "And I can't say I'm real happy about it either. But I really…JC isn't simply a suffering victim in this situation. Not to absolve Joey of guilt here—because, clearly, he's taking advantage of the situation as much as JC is."
"I don't think I follow."
Lance sighed. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that everyone has feelings they can't help. On the other hand, everyone does have a say in the way they act, the things they do. Good or bad, selfish or selfless. I wonder if love is enough to make a choice that could put Joey's family life—his daughter, the mother of his child—in jeopardy. Is love about giving in to what you want, consequences be damned?"
"Or is love not about you at all," Justin murmured.
Lance smiled a little sadly. "We all make choices, Justin. I think, sometimes, it's our choices that truly reflect the way we feel about someone—not the things we say about them."
"Joey said he loved me," JC said. He sat forward, putting his elbows on his knees and resting his face in his hands. "He said he loved me and I didn't say it back."
The cool leather back of the couch was solid, strangely comforting. Justin focused on how it smelled, how it felt against his back. "You didn't?"
"I thought maybe if I didn't say it—" JC stopped. Justin watched the long, clean curve of JC's back and the angled profile of his face. "It didn't change anything, really."
"Nothing seems to."
JC laughed softly. "You're right. We've tried it over and over again and each time, it's always the same result. Isn't—isn't being crazy defined as repeating something over and over and expecting a different outcome?"
"I don't know," Justin said. And then he added in a voice that JC wasn't supposed to hear, "Maybe we're both crazy."
"What?" JC turned to glance at Justin quizzically. "What are you doing that's crazy?"
It would be so easy, Justin thought. To try and make JC look back, never look away. "Nothing," Justin said, trying to force a smile. It might have come out as a grimace. "I was kidding."
"Hey, no, seriously—is there something going on with Britney? I've been—I know I talk about myself a lot, but you know I'll always. You can tell me what's going on."
"Britney's, no, Brit's fine. There's nothing going on to talk about there," Justin said. "The truth is—" And for a wild, crazy moment, Justin wanted to say it. Wanted to tell JC the truth. But he looked at JC's open, sympathetic face, the distance in his eyes—and Justin knew. "The truth is that this cycle you go through with Joey, we always talk after it's over and I keep expecting something to change too. But it doesn't."
JC turned away and bowed his head. "I guess it's good to know that I'm not the only one who feels like there's still some tiny, sick hope. I know how I must look to the other guys, I know the way I act after everything falls apart. And I'm sorry."
"About everything. I wish I could. I wish things were different."
There was a long silence. JC sat very still, head bowed, eyes closed. Justin reached out with his right hand before he knew what he was doing, wanting to touch JC's shoulder, just for a second.
"Have you ever been in love?" JC asked, and Justin froze, hand hovering above JC's back. "With someone that you know—you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they don't feel for you a fraction of what you feel for them?"
Justin stared at the place where the graceful line of JC's neck met his shoulder. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He put his hands on his knees, lightly. "I guess it's what you do about that inequality that counts."
"But the feeling, Justin. The feeling. Do you know?"
Justin didn't open his eyes. "I have no idea."