by silveryscrape 






Chris flopped over in bed and glared at his cell phone, which was vibrating its way across his night table. That’d teach him to unload his pockets, sober, at four am. When he was drunk he knew to bury his phone under the couch cushions, way out in the living room, before bedtime.


After a minute the phone stopped rumbling. Chris lay looking at it with his face mostly buried in the pillow. Well, fuck.


He surged up abruptly and threw an arm out toward the night table, whacking it and sending his phone skittering off into space. He could see it, revolving across the hardwood floor, seemingly still in one piece. Sober. Sober, right? JC had not been. He had smiled sleepily at all of them with a strand of shiny red garland around his neck, blinking a lot. Joey hadn’t been, either, grinning that evil grin at JC and Chris and Lance, clearly plotting. Lance had really, really not been sober. He had sung Christmas karaoke all night and danced with a bevy of beautiful blonde model types. Danced. With models who were women. So, yeah, Lance. Drunk.


Justin had not been drunk. Justin had not been there. And Chris had not been drunk, strangely, although he couldn’t say why. He had had fun, him and his boys mostly together for the holidays. Fun. Justin would have loved it, the shiny red garland and the plotting and the karaoke and the models. He would have grinned all over his face at Chris and shaken his head and gotten them both a drink, and he and Chris would have mocked them all mercilessly, with love.


Chris heaved himself up in bed and went after the phone.


Plunking down on the floor, he scooped up the phone to read the display. Who the hell... oh. He regarded the number, gnawing his lip and frowning. Then he hit a button and held the phone to his ear gingerly, as though holding a poisonous snake.


She picked up immediately.


“Oh, thank god you called me back. Chris. I don’t know what... he needs you.” She sounded strung out and teary, and Chris rolled his eyes, huffing out a small breath.


“What’s up this time, Cam,” he said, making an effort to keep the asshole from his voice.


“Chris. I know you think... he’s not sleeping. Can you come?”


Well, that was abrupt, even for her. But she sounded genuinely upset. Of course, she always did. And just like always, Chris would fly out and everything would be fine, Justin would be delighted to see him and they’d go to Denny’s or whatever and eat crap, and then Chris would fly back, swearing never to answer his phone again. But it was Christmas, this time. He was going home tomorrow. And Justin was planning to go to Spain, with Cameron.


“Cameron...” he started. She interrupted him.


“I know it’s Christmas. I know you have plans. Chris, we have plans. But he... please come, please.”


No. No, dammit. But he found himself making dramatic protesting whimpers into the phone and pounding a fist on his forehead, and while she babbled her thanks and instructions and asked how soon, Chris lay back on the cold floor and thought about what he could tell his mom about Christmas and how much he hated Justin.





** ** ** ** **





No one met him at the airport, of course. Chris rented the gaudiest pickup available just for the hell of it and roared out into midafternoon traffic. Justin was at home, according to Cameron. That was enough to worry Chris right there. He had been so thrilled about his Christmas plans, paddling around in the ocean off Ibiza with Cam and renting bikes like tourists, then meeting his mom and Paul and Trace and everyone at a villa on the island for the present exchange thing and much partying. And then up to England and the tour again, but instead of all that, here he was in LA. Holed up in his house was the way she’d put it, and even given her usual penchant for drama, that sounded bad. Sounded not-Justin.


The house seemed abandoned when he pulled up and squinted through the windshield. Usually there were vehicles all over the place, windows open blaring music, various friends and strangers wandering around doing god knew what. This time, though, no one. The curtains were mostly pulled and not a sound, and the only car visible was Justin’s newest Mercedes.


As Chris sat in the cab of the truck checking out the scene, the front door opened and Cameron swung out, duffle slung over her shoulder. She stopped short when she saw him. Then she hunched a little, adjusting the strap over her shoulder, and slowly came down the walk toward the truck.


“Cameron, what the fuck,” Chris said, rolling down the tinted window. “You’re leaving? You’re walking? Where is he?”


She shrugged. “In there.”


Her face crumpled. She turned away and hurried to Justin’s Mercedes, digging a keyring from her jacket pocket.


“Cameron!” Chris yelled. “Cameron, Cam! Hey!”


He pushed open the truck door, but she had already shut herself into Justin’s car. She started up and backed erratically down the driveway, coming close to clipping the rental truck as she squealed into the road. Chris watched her speed toward the gates of the community. Then he turned back to the quiet house. He felt tired. This was going well already.





** ** ** ** **





Once inside, Chris stuck his head through the entryway to Justin’s huge living room. It was dark and empty, without a trace of holiday spirit, a vast expanse of white leather and metal. He wandered through the space, yelling at the top of his lungs.


“Justin. Oh, Juuuuustin. Justin.


No one answered. It was freaky, being in Justin’s place alone, feeling an absense of that essential Justin noise, a total lack of that vibrancy he brought with him everywhere. Especially freaky since he was supposed to be here.


Maybe Cam was on to something this time. Not overreacting, for once. Chris was standing in the middle of the deserted living room, indecisive, wondering if he should check the hundreds of thousands of other rooms in the house, wondering what he would find, when a muffled crash came from somewhere. Chris could hear Justin’s voice, sounding put-upon in the extreme.


“Motherfuck. Cooperate, you fucker. Son of a... shit.


Another crash, and Justin yelping, and suddenly everything was okay again. Justin was there, filling up the place with cuss words, and Chris grinned, heading over to witness the disaster, whatever it was.


Justin appeared to be pinned to the glass doors leading to one of his patios, flailing beneath the shaggy limbs of an enormous pine tree. It was easily three feet taller than him. The tree looked to be consuming Justin, enveloping him within its evil, fragrant clutches, and Chris hooted with delight.


“Dude! What are you doing to that tree?”


“Chris!” Justin yelled from the depths of the Christmas tree. “Fucker, help me.”


Chris dove in. Between them, they managed to wrestle the tree through the patio doors and into the living room. Justin pointed out the corner he’d selected and cleared of furniture, beside the totally useless California fireplace. They propped the tree there. Then Justin said “why are all the lights off?” and went around the place switching on every lamp and flicking every light switch. When his orbit of the room took him back to Chris, he stopped. For a while Chris and he stared at each other seriously.


Finally, Chris spoke up. “Dude, I’m pretty sure your girlfriend stole your car.”


Justin shrugged, grimacing. “Women. What’re you gonna do.”


Chris snorted. Then they were hugging, laughing, pounding on each other while Chris said “I know you’re not that much of a punk. Are you?” and Justin said “you came, man. I didn’t think you would. Cam said you would, but I didn’t think so.” Chris pulled back, holding Justin at arm’s length. Justin just smiled at him.


"Cam said I’d come. But you... what’s going on, J?”


Justin looked down, and Chris found himself ducking a little to see his eyes. Not that he could ever read Justin when he wanted to hide. Figuring Justin out had become a sort of hobby over the years. He couldn’t even count the number of times he’d made Lance’s eyes roll, speculating about why Justin did half the shit he did. According to Lance, he could buy all the vowels and all the consonants and still get it wrong. Chris wondered if Lance’s eyes were rolling right now, wherever he was. Justin was smirking at him.


“I’m good, I’m okay,” he said, gripping Chris’s arm and shaking it. “Cam’s just... look. You want a beer or something? I wanna get this tree decorated tonight.”


He turned away, heading for the kitchen. Chris let him go.





** ** ** ** **





They spent the afternoon and early evening decorating the inside and outside of Justin’s huge cow of a house. Justin appeared to have bought out the holiday section of every Walmart in the greater LA metropolitan area. Chris watched safely from the ground as he scrambled up and down the ladder and across the roof, draping endless strings of lights in the late afternoon heat, pelting Chris with ornaments and colored bulbs when he made loud comments about low flying planes and the FAA. Inside, Justin seemed determined to subject every single room to his holiday cheer.


“This is madness, dude,” Chris complained as Justin loaded him down with an armful of scratchy silver stuff.


“Decorate, bitch,” Justin said, hoisting an enormous wreath onto the pile in Chris’s arms.


“I’m serious! What the fuck, man. Why are we doing this when you’re gonna be leaving again in a few days?”


Something flickered in Justin’s face. He smiled at Chris. Chris watched, fascinated, as he turned away to arrange a series of demented-looking angels on the mantel of the useless fireplace. Maybe Lance could help him with this one. Maybe he should be taking notes. Justin turned back, his face calm and amused.


“Tonight we’ll do the tree. I’ll make eggnog and we can do the tree. Okay? Then we can talk.”


He poked Chris in the side, urging him toward the kitchen pantry or whatever, the site of the next decorating barrage. Chris eeped and curled up, crunching the silver stuff and the wreath to him.


“Fucker!” he said, kicking out at Justin’s leg. Justin laughed and twisted out of the way fluidly. Then he grabbed Chris up in a big bear hug, decorations and all, and kissed him on the head.


“I’m really glad you’re here, man. Really glad.”


He swung Chris around until he shrieked. By the time he finally let go Chris was certain, Lance or no, that something was up.





** ** ** ** **





Justin proved to be a fascist when it came to decorating the tree, all “you can’t put two red ornaments next to each other” and “everyone knows tinsel has to go on ONE STRAND AT A TIME.” But he made the killer eggnog, so rummed up that Chris hissed after the first gulp, so Chris supposed Justin could be forgiven for being a complete pain in the ass.


Plus, it had turned out to be a lot of fun, just hanging out with Justin in front of the tree without a million other people around. No cameras. No Cameron. No fake holiday bullshit. Chris had almost forgotten what it was like.


Although, really, it would have been great spending the holiday with his family, doing much the same as he was doing now with Justin, including the deadly eggnog. Chris realized with a strange twist of his stomach that he would have spent a lot of the time at home thinking about Justin anyhow. It was almost as if he missed him.


Well, of course he missed him. Justin was his bro. His bro who was teetering at the top of a rickety step ladder, trying to hammer what looked like a fluffy blue alien down onto the top of the monster tree, cursing and smacking at it recklessly. Chris could hear the ornaments on the tree jangling together. He thought he’d better intervene.


“Justin. Justin.”


Justin swung around to look at him and almost toppled off the step ladder.


“Yes?” he said pointedly. Chris couldn’t help but smile.


“Get down here and order me a pizza,” he said, waving his hand through the air imperiously. Justin snorted.


“Order your own damn pizza,” he said, climbing down. He pulled his cell phone from his front jeans pocket. “What do you want on it?”


Chris waited until Justin started speaking into the phone to begin a long, rambling list of ingredients and instructions, snickering and ducking as Justin tried simultaneously to negotiate “stripes of black olives” with the pizza clerk and whack him on the head with the fluffy blue alien.





** ** ** ** **





Finally, they sat in the dark on the white leather couch, pizza rubble strewn about them, sharing another pitcher of Justin’s eggnog, just kicking back and taking in the sight of the huge tree adorned to within an inch of its life with bows and glittering ornaments and tinsel and lights.


“It looks good, man,” Chris offered generously.


Justin looked pleased.


“Thanks,” he said. They fell silent again, but Chris thought Justin seemed tense. He had a kind of breathless quality about him, his hands clenched on his thighs.


Chris waited as long as humanly possible. Then he elbowed Justin gently in the side, and after Justin got done yelping, said, “well? Get on with it.”


Justin glanced at him quickly, then lowered his gaze.


“I’m not sleeping, Chris,” he said, apparently talking to his hands.


“I know you can’t sleep, man. That’s what Cameron always says. You called me because you have insomnia? I missed Christmas with my family because little Justin has insomnia? Dude.”


Justin glanced up, his eyes piercing.


“No,” he said, watching Chris closely. “I’m not sleeping. I don’t sleep. I haven’t closed my eyes in, like, two weeks.”


Chris shook his head. “You need the tour doctor, man, not me. Stress, or whatever. How am I gonna help you get more sleep? Please.”


Hello, Chris! Not listening to me! I do not sleep. None. No sleeping.” Justin sighed with exasperation and flopped his hands out in appeal. “Okay? Okay? Jeez!”


“Calm down,” Chris said automatically, then stopped. He peered at Justin. Justin raised his eyebrows and waggled his head a little, sarcastically, and Chris found himself remembering all the times Cam had called him up in a panic.


“Whoa,” he said. Justin nodded. Chris thought some more.


“What?” he said, finally.


Justin made an outraged noise and smacked him upside the head.


“Listen up, Chris. Every so often, maybe a couple times a year, I stop sleeping. Like, I don’t sleep for, like, two weeks straight. Then I start sleeping again and then, whatever. Got it now?” He looked at Chris with his head tilted to the side.


“Um, no? I mean yes. No sleep at all?”


Patiently, Justin said, “yes, Chris.” 


“Bring that eggnog pitcher over here one time,” Chris said decisively. Justin laughed and filled his glass. They sat for a moment, silent.


“It’s not insomnia? Like, a type of sleep deprivation?”


Justin shook his head.


“No, it’s more like a really long day. I don’t feel sleepy or get all loopy or anything. But it is kind of strange, I guess.”


“I guess,” Chris said.


He filled up both their glasses. This was a revelation that called for alcohol, he felt. Justin slumped farther down into the couch’s ugly pillows.


“How come I never noticed this before? How come you never told me this before?” Ha! The crucial questions. Chris was wildly impressed with his own interrogation techniques. Eggnog really seemed to make him smart.


Justin shrugged. “It’s pretty much just the last couple of years, mostly since you... I pretty much just hang out, when it’s going on, just stay in my room or whatever if too many people are around. Or go out all night and nobody realizes.”

“Hmm,” Chris said, but Justin seemed to be finished. Clearly, Chris was going to have to be extra crafty to get the rest of his answer.


“Who all knows?” he said abruptly, then grimaced. Yeah, that was crafty. Excellent. Justin narrowed his eyes.


“Just Cameron. Well. And JC. Because he never sleeps either,” Justin said.


He up-ended the pitcher into Chris’s glass, and got up from the couch. Chris looked up at him with a curious sense of relief.


“JC, too? He has this thing, too? Maybe it’s like a disease, man! Maybe you’re okay.”


Justin smiled a strange, trembling smile at Chris. He turned and walked out of the living room, carrying the pitcher.





** ** ** ** **





Justin came back with the full pitcher and a bowl of chips after awhile, and although Chris tried to apologize or something, fumbling through “dude” and “I mean,” Justin just set the pitcher and bowl down on the coffee table, moving aside several ceramic reindeer and a Santa, and bopped Chris gently on the head as he settled in next to him on the couch.


“JC doesn’t sleep because he’s a strange and freaky night owl, and he does have insomnia, which you already knew, which is why he sleeps all the time in weird places during the day. Which you also already knew. So.”


With that, Justin calmly poured them both some more eggnog, toasting Chris and downing his glass all at once. Chris could only do the same, shuddering. Justin had been extra generous with the rum this time.


“What does JC think about this?” Chris asked, hesitantly. But Justin seemed willing to go on talking.


“JC asked if he could pray for my chakras, or some kinda thing. It sounded fairly non-invasive, so I told him okay.”


Justin was slurring his words. Or maybe Chris’s hearing was slurred. Yes, that was it.


“It doesn’t seem to be helping.”


“No.” Justin shrugged. “Maybe he’s not doing it right. Or, you know, it takes awhile.”


“Maybe.” Chris leaned over to grab at the eggnog pitcher, losing his balance and catching himself with one hand on Justin’s ugly coffee table. Best eggnog ever. Chris had an idea.


“What happens when you, like, get fucked up and pass out? Don’t you sleep then?”


Justin turned his head slowly, licking his lips and blinking slowly. Chris had never noticed that before. Drunk JC blinked rapidly, while drunk Justin blinked like a grampa turtle. Hee. Grampa turtle. He was the funniest fucker alive.


“Well, sure. But I can’t go down that road, you know. All getting fucked up because I have trouble sleeping.”


Chris thought about that for a minute. Then he nodded seriously.


“Yeah, but dude, you’re forgetting one thing. It’s not that you have trouble sleeping. You don’t sleep at all.”


Justin looked sad at that, and Chris felt like smiting himself. He said, “aww, man” but Justin interrupted.


“How does that make a difference? Still. Can’t just be fucked up all the time. Believe me. I’ve tried.”


Chris smiled. “We all have, man. But, yeah.”


He felt that summed it up nicely. He was the wise turtle, himself. Satisfied, he patted Justin on the knee heavily. Justin leaned against him.


“It’s cool, though. Really,” Justin said. Apparently, he felt that summed up his side, too, because he fell silent, staring into the depths of the Christmas tree.


After a few minutes Chris realized that the best way for him to think about this would be to lay his head in Justin’s lap. Justin squirmed a little, but soon Chris had him prodded into a comfortable shape.


“Night, J. Oh, sorry.”


Chris could just hear Justin huff an amused breath and feel his hand scrabble affectionately through his hair, but then it got very dark, all at once.





** ** ** ** **





When Chris pried his eyes open the next morning, he found he was still on the leather couch, wrapped cozily in a quilt, head on one of the surprisingly comfortable ugly pillows. Christmas decorations sparkled in the bright morning sunlight, filling the room with color, and Chris realized with a sense of amazement that today was Christmas Eve. He felt happy, like he hadn’t been in years, excited by the season and the holiday.


He craned his head up off the pillow, scanning the room. Yes. There was Justin, crosslegged in front of the tree, chin in hand, appearing mesmerized by the lights.


Chris hauled himself into a sitting position. “Dude! It’s Christmas!” he said giddily.


Justin turned to him and smiled slowly, coming out of his trance.


“It is not, you dork. Christmas is tomorrow,” he said.


“It’s Christmas! Christmas Eve is Christmas! It’s in the rules!” Chris bounced a little in his quilt nest. He felt he needed an intervention. Excited was one thing, but he was about one second away from saying “yay.” JC would love it. Joey would snort and nod knowingly. Lance would never forgive him.


Justin’s smile widened and he pushed himself to his feet. “Denny’s?” he asked, stretching his hands into the air and yawning.


“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Chris chanted gleefully.


“God have mercy,” Justin muttered, shaking his head, but he was still grinning.





** ** ** ** **





They spent the afternoon just fucking around. It was the best Christmas Chris could ever remember, even if it was only Christmas Eve, gaming on Justin’s insanely large system, tossing the basketball at each other in the backyard, swimming in the pool and drinking Justin’s eggnog from the magical bottomless pitcher. 


Justin even cooked dinner for them. Chris was amazed, and said so repeatedly until Justin banished him from the kitchen, yelling “get OUT” at him laughingly and beaning him in the head with a chunk of celery. Chris made a strategic retreat to the living room.


Once there, he paused for a minute to look around. It was beautiful. Justin had lit a fire in the California fireplace, cranking up the air conditioning to keep them from suffocating. Then he had gone around lighting candles before heading for the kitchen, sneering as Chris mocked him for being all girly and atmospheric. But firelight and candle flames and Christmas finery had combined to fill the room with dancing shadows and color and light, and he had to admit that he felt the stirring of a truly strange joy, like some atavistic sense of how childhood was supposed to be at Christmas time, or some deep primeval glow from the lizard part of his brain. Only one thing was missing.


Chris moved over to the marvel of engineering that was Justin’s stereo.  


He thought he could hear Justin’s snort all the way from the kitchen, as Ray Charles started growling about how cold it was outside.





** ** ** ** **





Dinner was surprisingly good. Justin had baked them a chicken. They ate from plates held on their laps, unwilling to leave the tree for long, it seemed.


“Tomorrow, presents,” Justin said, grinning. Chris smiled back, because that really would be a sight to see. No doubt Justin was as maniacal about wrapping presents as he had been about decorating. Plus, they would all be for him. He had not thought to bring Justin anything. He supposed he should feel worse about that, but in truth he felt greedy and excited as a child.


After dinner they settled back on the couch, plates left aside on the ugly table to crowd Santa, the reindeer, and Justin’s ever-present eggnog pitcher. Chris had loaded every Christmas cd he could find, a considerable bunch, into Justin’s player. Now, pleasantly stuffed and woozy from a continuous infusion of eggnog, he lay in a lump against the couch cushions, watching Justin and humming Christmas tunes.


Justin looked pretty woozy himself, staring into the fire, blinking. After a few minutes, he yawned.


Chris sat up. “Dude!”


Justin smiled.


“Any day now, I think,” he said.


“Oh,” Chris said, and collapsed back into the cushions. “J, I gotta tell you. You don’t even seem freaked out by this.”


“No. Not anymore. I mean, it is what it is, you know? After awhile it goes away. Cameron’s the one who’s all freaked out. Always calling you and shit.”


“Yeah,” Chris said. “Always calling me. But you don’t.”


“Well, I didn’t think,” Justin said, then stopped and looked at him with something like surprise, Chris thought.


Quickly he said, “it’s cool; I understand.”


But he didn’t, really, as per usual. But whatever. Justin made a vaguely disgruntled noise. When Chris turned to look at him, Justin had a glowering look on his face, a kind of irritated expression. But he got up to refill the eggnog Pitcher of Doom, and when he came back his expression had changed into something thoughtful, or maybe it was more like he was plotting something. That was it; he had a Joey look on his face. Chris watched him suspiciously as he put some new discs in the player, but it was only more Christmas music and Justin settled peacefully next to Chris on the couch, clutching one of the ugly pillows to him. Chris decided he was just being paranoid.


“I’m not a freak, you know,” Justin said at last, conversationally.


Chris looked at him in shock.


“What? You are, too, a freak! But not because of this. This is just a sleep thing, just a thing. Nobody better tell you anything like that, or I swear.” Chris made a wild slashing motion.


“Okay, all right,” Justin said, laughing. “I just... I didn’t want you to think that. That’s why I never. You know. Told you.”


“Ah,” Chris said, finally. How astonishing. Justin... cared about what he thought. Well, he knew that already, of course. But now, for some reason, it was different.


After a long time of thinking it over, Chris realized he should make an effort to transcend his own inner Grinch. Justin had made a really nice Christmas for them, bizarre as it was turning out. Looking straight ahead at the fire, he said, “Justin.”


Justin stirred a little. “Yup,” he said, sounding groggy.


“Christmas is better with you around. I mean.”


Chris closed his mouth. That was plenty of that. Beside him, Justin made a “hmmm” sound. Chris risked a look at him. He was staring at his hands. Well, yeah. But then he looked up, and his eyes were so amazingly blue that Chris found himself babbling on.


“Christmas hasn’t been good like this since... for a long time.” Lord, shutting up now. Please.


Justin tilted his head and closed his eyes. He smiled a private little smile.


“I know,” he said. “I think... I think that’s why we’re here.”


He opened his eyes and turned toward Chris. Chris gaped at him.


“So clueless,” Justin said fondly. Then he curled a hand around Chris’s neck and leaned over and kissed him.


Chris froze. Justin’s lips were warm and soft, insistant, and he tasted so good, every bit as good as Chris had ever imagined. He couldn’t do this, not with Justin. God, better than his dreams. The little noises he was making. But Justin didn’t want this; Justin was his friend. His friend who was sliding his tongue into Chris’s mouth and a hand over his ass. Very good friend, then. Chris pulled back.






That was Justin attempting patience, Chris thought. He was gorgeous, all flushed with his mouth half open and his eyes half closed, draped across the couch cushions, giving him the “you are stupid” look. Chris was sure of that look. With dim surprise, he realized Justin was right.


He pushed the ugly pillow between them to the floor and launched himself across the couch.





** ** ** ** **







Justin’s tone was filled with soft wonder. Chris pulled his face from Justin’s neck and looked at him.


“I’m. Feeling kind of. I’m going to sleep for a little while, okay?”


Justin smiled at him brilliantly, and Chris could feel his heart fill up with light. He smiled back, as best he could, and folded Justin up in his arms. Justin took a minute to arrange all of his gangly limbs on the couch. Finally he put his head down on Chris’s chest and sighed.


After a few minutes of listening to Justin’s deepening breathing, Chris spoke.


“Are we just gonna keep doing this, whenever you get like... this?”


He grimaced. Smooth as ever.


“Okay,” Justin said sleepily. Then he closed his eyes. With his eyelashes lying against his cheeks, he looked like one of the demented angels on the useless mantel. Chris tightened his arms.


A long, long time later, he said, “okay, what? What did that mean?”


Justin hummed and lifted his head.


“Chris,” he said in a low voice, staring at him steadily. “It means you’re the freak, and Merry Christmas, and I guess I’ll keep waiting if you need to, but damn. All right?”


“Oh,” Chris said. “Well, no.”


Justin put his head back down without a word. Suddenly panicked, Chris twisted up a handful of his shirt and jerked. 


“I mean, yes! I mean, I don’t need any more time! I mean, Justin,” he said shakily. Justin let out a huge breath.


“Chris. Okay, good. Good. You freak.”


He wound himself more closely around Chris, settling in, and yawned into his chest. Soon Chris could hear his faint snores.


For the rest of the silent night Chris lay awake, watching Justin sleep.






The end.


December 2003 





...and there's this, too 




back to my fiction