Just Like That by ephemera-pop

Happiness Staggering Remix by

Amoeba Music is amazing and perfect and if you don't get hit with a waft of warm patchouli air as you enter, then you're in the wrong fucking store, Chris tells him.

"Like you even know," JC says, tucking his hands into his jacket pockets as he sinks deeper into the sweet little loveseat that was made for this corner of his living room. His feet look like they're a million miles away, propped up on the coffee table like that, and he presses his legs together to bridge the gap between kneecaps.

"It isn't a trip to LA without a trip to Amoeba, I assure you of this fact. Your LP collection prostrates itself before my assurance. Are you having any of this or what?"

In order to take the joint from Chris, JC will have to move his hands again, and thatís just a hardship at this point. Every bone in his body is supremely comfortable and every muscle is lying flat and lax against his bones. He shrugs, elbows skimming the plush front of the cushions, and tilts his head back, pursing his lips with hopeful intent. Chris rolls his eyes and makes the sacrifice of a few steps, all the way from the maple cabinets to the corner, dragging the cherry end through the air, stopping a few inches from JC's mouth.

"Lazy motherfucker."

JC shrugs again; it's his weed, after all.

"I gotta cut up your food for you too?" Chris leans in, his body thick and dark over JC, and it's so viscerally familiar that for a moment, JC expects Justin to come skulking in and start up complaining that they never share, guys, he's old enough to smoke and if it ruins your voice, then how come they're doing it, huh?

"I miss Justin," JC says, and Chris pops the joint in his mouth on the "uh" of Justin, so the end of JC's very nice sentiment is a choked inhale and a frantic effort to not cough.

"Uh huh." Chris's gaze is calculating and speculative and amused, and he leaves the joint in JC's mouth for exactly one second too long before plucking it out again and letting his palm drift down to JC's abdomen, absent-mindedly flattening against non-existent floating ribs, a spectacular O of breath control. "You saw him last month."

I still miss him JC says in his head, the smoke roiling green and deep over his tongue.

"You fucked him last month."

JC shakes his head slowly, cracking his mouth at the corners. Chris always winds up at the lowest common denominator; it's Joey's influence, probably. Besides, JC knows that Justin was in Orlando over the holidays, riding around with Chris in the backseat of that ridiculous purple PT Cruiser while What's-his-face drove, talking like scientists about the hypothesis Chris had first postulated, the one JC was building on with every passing moment, the roundness of harmony and how it's just not cheap thrills if you love what you do. He knows that the spaces between them are filling with more than airtime minutes. He recognizes the smell of Lance's voice on Chris's skin, even weeks old, thick like barbecued ribs and smoked honey, dense like Sauvignon.

He blows out the smoke into Chris's face and Chris grins into it, like JC knew he would. People rag on predictability so much; it's so underrated. Change is good, blah blah, maxim of the day.

JC knew it all years before anyone else did. He hadn't set the wheels in motions; he hadn't even really been pumping the gas. It's just, they always say it's the journey and not the destination. But the towns and fields and roadside attractions you pass on the way, they're all leading to an ocean, down the road however far away. When you reach the end, if you don't want to stop in Santa Monica or Maine, you've just got to turn around and keep going and hope you wind up back home. He knew they'd get there eventually. "Were you going to play the record or what?"

"Dude." Chris's eyes go wide. "I was definitely going to play the record," he says religiously, but before he can leave JC's telephone booth of personal space, JC takes the opportunity to lick his smoke-heavy tongue over his lips, close enough to catch Chris's eye, close enough to let everything in. Chris smirks and drops in for a brief pass, the end of the joint perilously close to the tender flesh of JC's neck, the taste of every hotel room and award show lingering sweet in Chris's mouth. Sweet, but JC doesn't miss it. Nothing to miss.

"You're thirty-five," he says to the limp collar of Chris' Motorhead t-shirt as it recedes from his line of sight.

"So nice of you to notice."

JC rubs his thighs together, feeling the denim shift against his skin where Chris's proximity had left the illusion of warmth. "Your music sounds like you're twenty-five. The newest one on your MySpace."

"Just a way to pass the time," Chris says to the record player as he drops the vinyl down ($7.99 and shrink-wrapped, for god's sake. Chris had clutched it to his chest like his arms were shelter for an orphan child, protective and fierce, "are you experienced, C?" and JC had had to admit that he hadn't been experienced in years.) There's a precision in the way his back flexes when he fiddles with the arm of the record player and JC remembers why singing with Chris had always felt so safe.

"Bullshit."

"Only partially."

"I can always call bullshit on your ass and you will always fold because you are full of bullshit. A way to pass the time, fuck."

"Okay, tourbug," Chris says mildly. "You caught me out, what you gonna do? Feel me up while I sing again, feel the passion in my blood?"

JC only smiles at that, feeling wise, floating on knowledge, like he could look down at all the little people who weren't them, who didn't know that there was something in the future that spelled out okay, yes, again in steady palm-strokes across each of their chests, supporting that part of them that remembered what it was like to sing every single day and love it. "You love it when I feel you up," he tells the back of Chris's neck. "Play me some Mary, man."

JC had owned it on cassette tape. He remembers the smooth juncture of plastic, opening and closing the case nervously, his palm covering the yellow and purple and hoping maybe the colors would bleed into his skin and camouflage him completely if his mom walked into the backyard and caught him. It had never quite felt like it was worth the risk, smoking by the trees while the back porch light still burned. His pounding heart had always diminished the buzz.

Chris returns to the loveseat. The steady bass thud dogs his footsteps, a brief crash of cymbal as he settles, and the wind whispers when he pulls at the crook of JC's elbow, forcing JC to take possession of the joint, tugging JC's amused and stubborn fingers into a holding pattern.

The crescent-shaped scar at the base of Chris's left thumb is new.

"So?" Chris raises an eyebrow.

"So I'm thinking Orlando next month." JC hits it, shallow and smooth, and explains on the exhale. "See the kids."

Chris nods with a happy grimace. "Joey's monsters."

"The only monsters. And Justin."

"Oh, him again."

"And Lance." JC passes it back, considering. "Not Joey though. Just his monsters."

"Obviously not Joey." Chris's leg jumps, the way it always does when he's thinking about absolutely nothing important. "I mean, frankly, if I never see Joey again, it'll be too soon, because last time I saw Joey, and by last time I mean last week, it was nothing but bitch, bitch, moan. Moan, moan, bitch."

JC moans in agreement, a perfect third above the king having no wife, and Chris cracks, echoing him in fifths. Smoke hovers over JC's feet; he wriggles his toes against the foam soles of his flip-flops. Everything feels like Florida in the nineties, the early nineties, before any rush of anticipation. A steady cresting wave, though, pulling him forward with the whitecaps instead of towing him under.

He puts his hand to Chris's throat, his fingers spanning the intake of breath, the jump and pulse of the heavy artery. He feels the vibrations of Chris's voice like the shiver of sand rearranging itself incrementally, tiny grains into a vast stretch of beach.

Chris's eyes are closed. JC lets his eyelids droop until it's all black and nothing's there but the music under his palm, under his skin.

Justin had made such a ruckus, without even meaning to, so long ago now, but dig deep enough and the sting's still fresh. Justin's oddly-prompted broil — since when weren't they enough? JC aches remembering, because it hadn't been a punch or a bite; it had been a slow Indian burn that had wrenched Justin away from them and an ungentle number of years before Justin had been willing to put salve to the welts — and all of them had been unable and unwilling to contain him at the time. He had stormed away from them, hurling pots and pans around in the kitchen of the summer home inside of them, and there had been nothing to do but let the screen door bang for a bit. They'd had to clear out, all of them.

The music is tobacco-rich, slate and Seattle and salted gravel, the sweet and plaintive late sixties, mixed with Chris's clear harmony that reminds JC of so many cities seen and yet to be seen. He can't help himself, he brushes his thumb over Chris's chin and matches his high note that echoes the bassline and dances along with the guitar. This is walking in the front door without knocking, this is where they had to take you in. It's time to come home, JC thinks.