lean on me, when you're not strong.
When Chris called Joey on December 20th, he was just planning some things, and wrapping some gifts, and calling his mother to make sure he still had room in her house even though the rest of the family were also staying with her up in New York, over the holidays. She had just assured him that no matter what, the famous son would always get his own bedroom, and then his call waiting had beeped, and he'd said, "Just a second," and clicked over, and it was Chris.
"Come over, dork."
"Chris," he said, patiently, "I have a thousand gifts to buy before I go home in two days. I'd love to, but I can't--"
"Jeez!" Chris whined right over top of him, "You'd think this was an optional thing. I'll expect you in a half-hour. You can buy your family shit online. I'll show you how." And Chris hung up.
"--and I think that your cousin wants one of those blue sweater vests, from Roots, right? And Tina wants a new stereo, but your uncle already bought one, but she won't have any CDs for it," and Joey cut his mom off.
"Mom," and he couldn't believe he was saying this, but, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I have to go. Um. Work. I'm sorry - I'll call you tonight, okay, I promise I'll be there by the 23rd. It's just. Work. And."
She was already telling him that she loved him and that she'd see him soon, and then she hung up too, and Joey remembered the way his mom always cooked for hours and hours, days even, with baking and cookies and pies, and how his house smelled good for days around the holidays.
He got in his car, muttering, "Chris, this better be good."
But when he got to Chris's house, it surely was good. Lance was up on the roof - on the roof, for chrissakes - stringing red lights up around the chimney and laying white icicle lights on the shingles. Joey grinned. "Lance! What the hell is going on?"
Lance almost fell off the roof. "Hey, Joey!" He regained his footing, and yelled down, "Chris wants you in the house. They're baking right now, and watch the cords in the living room."
Joey walked right in, mystified; there was fresh evergreen wrapped around the banisters and holly decorating the walls. He saw Justin in the kitchen, wearing a red and green apron and looking so domestic that Joey almost laughed. A pan of - what, cookies? - was in his oven-mitt'ed hands. Justin leaned over, back arched, and said, "Hey, Joey! CHRIS! Joey's here!"
Chris bounced through the kitchen doors, and held out a mug full of weird red-looking juice. "Try this."
Joey, completely taken aback, sipped it. He said, automatically, "It needs Cuantro."
"Gotcha." Chris pointed at the living room. "Help JC."
Joey glanced in the living room next, and almost gasped. Chris had covered every single fucking surface with evergreen and holly. There were streamers of red beads and green leaves across the living room, and a twelve-foot - albeit bare - tree in front of the window. There were five stockings hanging from Chris's fireplace.
Joey kind of stood there in the middle of the room, and a mass of electrical cords in the corner said, "Hey, Joey, pass me that last string of lights, would you?"
JC stood up, wrapped in more extension cords than Joey had ever seen in his life. Joey moved forward, tripped, picked up the pointsetta he knocked over, and crouched beside JC. "Which string?"
There was a pile of about a bazillion white lights in a ball at their feet. JC grabbed one. "S'okay, I got it. Here, just take this and plug it into the wall for me, would you?"
Joey did as he was told, and immediately the entire living room was covered in twinkling white lights. "This is cheezy as hell," Joey said, sounding impressed.
Chris wandered in. "Yep. Ain't it great?" He stuck his mug back in Joey's face. "Here, try this."
"Good." Justin came in too just then, wiping flour from his cheeks. "Wow, Chris!" He beamed. This is great!"
"Isn't it, Infant?"
"Don't call me that!" That started the two of them play-fighting, which knocked over another pointsetta, and got dirt on the green and red rug.
JC said calmly, "If you fuck up these lights, that took me over an hour to do, I'm going to beat both of you."
They straightened up, with Chris giving Justin a kiss on the cheek. Then Chris slapped his forehead. "That's what I forgot!"
The three of them looked at him. Joey said, "What?"
"Be back. Y'all get dinner ready. We're doing the tree after we eat." Chris ran out of the room, and past Lance coming in the front door.
Lance raised an eyebrow. "Where the hell is he going?"
Justin shrugged. "Hell if I know - shit! The pies'll burn!" and he ran back to the kitchen.
Joey grinned, ruffling JC's hair. "Chris and him are cute, hey? All domestic."
Lance threw his coat on the floor, and pried off his gloves. "Yeah, whatever. Next time someone else is up on the roof. Jeez." He sat down, and looked around the living room. "This looks really good, C. What did Chris do all day?"
JC coughed. "Well, he was kind of--"
Joey sat down too, right in front of the fireplace. There should be a fire going. JC said defensively, "No, Chris did something! He made the punch."
"Uh huh." Lance called to Justin, "Get me some of that punch. Joey, you gonna build a fire?"
Joey felt a little foolish, twisting newspaper into strands and building a little fort out of twigs in the grate, but it seemed like the right thing to do. "Yeah, if there's any firewood."
Lance stood up. "I'll find some. Hey Justin!" he hollered. "Where's the wood?"
Lance wandered out, and Joey looked around. JC was sitting in front of the tree, quietly putting the last of the lights into a neat pile. There were still dozens of them, even though the whole livingroom was covered in them. The tree was still bare, though. "So, what," Joey said, "Are we gonna decorate the tree together, and then sing carols and exchange gifts, and wait for Santa?"
JC smiled softly. "Pretty much."
"Oh." A thought occurred to Joey. "I don't have any gifts. I mean, I do but they're not here."
"You could. You could put your name on mine." JC fidgeted with the nearest ornament. "Or you could. I mean. Your house isn't that far away."
Lance came in with a stack of firewood and dumped it beside Joey. "There you go. Me Tarzan, you make fire."
"Aren't you Jane?"
"Jane wouldn't have hauled her ass up on the roof to stick Chris's stupid lights on the chimney so 'Santa could find the house'. Justin! I still don't have any punch. Or cookies."
Justin came in with a plate of goodies just then, finger foods like sausage rolls and cookies and mince pies. "There. Heathens. Nothing more until Chris gets back or he'll kick my ass."
It was the four of them, and suddenly, JC crowed, "I knew Chris would forget!" and he turned the stereo on.
Justin looked disgusted. "Oh, dude, no." But Joey grinned as their own CD came on. "C'mon JC. Something else. 'A Country Christmas'-- I'm sure Lance has that in his car--"
Lance threw a piece of ginger-bread cookie at Justin, and JC ducked as it hit the tree. "Sorry, JC."
Chris bounced back into the room, waving a brown paper bag as he shucked off his coat right on top of Lance's. "Didn't think I'd be able to find some this late, but - success!" He pulled out a twig with some white things, berries maybe? and looked triumphant.
The first thing out of Justin's mouth was, "You are so not kissing Lance."
Chris just kept looking triumphant. "Mistletoe!"
"Oh," Lance drawled from the couch, "Can I please kiss Chris?"
"You gave him some of the punch already, didn't you?" Chris growled at Justin, and Justin backed up. Joey grabbed the twig out of Chris's hand, and Chris said, "Good boy, Joey, hang that sucker up right here in the doorway."
"Yessir." Joey stuck it up with a flourish, and Chris dipped himself in Joey's arms. "Uh, Chris."
"Kiss me you fool!" So Joey did, right on the nose. "Aww. Joey loves me." Chris hopped up to go check on dinner. "Justin, you used too much garlic!"
"I did not!"
Joey shook his head, and went to finish the fire.
Eventually, Justin brought out dinner, with a flourish, and Joey started to laugh. There was a pile of Chinese noodles right beside baked lasagna, and homemade sushi, and roast duck. Lance's eyes widened, and he said, "What the hell kind of Christmas dinner is this?"
Chris smacked the back of his head, and passed around plates and cutlery. They were all sitting around Chris's coffee table, which was the only clear spot left in the livingroom. "Shut up, be grateful. Justin's been cooking and baking for y'all to take home for hours today."
Justin went a little red, and cut into the duck. "It was nothing. I mean, I just - I know that it's not traditional, but y'all like this food, and no one likes ham except me, and I don't like turkey."
JC took a plate, and passed the stack to Joey; his hand touched Joey's briefly, and JC smiled. To Justin he said, "You - wait, you've been cooking for us all day?"
Justin shrugged uncomfortably. "Yeah." He was waiting for someone to snort or laugh.
All JC said was, "Thanks," and Justin smiled again.
They did the tree, and Lance and Justin argued about whether it should have green ("hello, it's pretty") or silver ("come on, tradition") or both ("what kind of tradition did you grow up in, ass-face?") or neither ("the kind that wasn't on a bus, moron") and Chris compromised by throwing it all on so that the whole thing shone like tinfoil. When they put the angel on the top, Chris almost fell into the tree, and Justin had to jump in and rescue him, which resulted in cooing and kissing, until Joey wrapped the two of them in the red garland.
After that, Chris said, "Okay, now, y'all don't get to exchange presents until tomorrow morning, because I've got this whole routine down, and Christmas morning I get to wake y'all up at six fucking o'clock because that's how it goes down in my house," and Lance said,
"If you jump on my stomach like last year I'm gonna punch you," and JC laughed so hard he almost snorted punch out his nose.
Joey held his hands up. He had a hundred thousand things to do and all of them had to be done in the next three days, and, and - "What, we're all staying?"
Chris said, "I have five bedrooms, duh," and suddenly Joey thought, that had something else to do with Chris's Christmas present, because he had guest bedrooms for everyone and didn't even realize it, and it was just really touching all of a sudden.
Joey coughed. "So, this is embarrassing, but I don't have all your gifts here, cause Chris, the ass, never told me that this was a present-exchange thing, and I was gonna drop by everyone's tomorrow, but, they're wrapped but at home, and--" and Chris was already beaming and reaching for his phone.
He muttered, "What's the use in having wads of cash if you don't do things with it?" and said to his invisible friend on the phone, "Yeah, can you pretty pretty please go and pick up some some presents from Joey's? There's a Christmas bonus in it for you.... no, some of Justin's baking.... yeah, come by tomorrow afternoon, there's gonna be a party, of course the bodyguards're invited... yes, dumbass, that means you.... you're a sweetheart!" Chris hung up and looked even more triumphant. "Lonnie's on it."
And it was just like that. So they went to bed.
In the morning, Chris didn't actually bounce on anyone's stomach, but he did get them up at the gawdawful time of six, like threatened, and overnight their stockings were filled, and the tree was still blinking brightly, and Joey thought 'this is all so cheezy' and kind of wished that he wasn't going to New York tomorrow.
They had waffles, and Chris made them wait until after breakfast to open more than their stockings, and JC fell asleep in the armchair really early on with a plate of waffles in his lap.
"Isn't he cute?" Lance said softly, and pointed to JC.
Joey was startled. "What? Oh, yeah! Uh. Yeah."
Of course, just then Chris threw an orange at JC, ruining the effect, but it was still kind of cute anyway.
They were all sitting around, opening each other's presents, and Joey had just thanked Justin for the really nice sweater. Justin had bought clothing for everyone, which for any normal person would mean that he'd just gone with the easiest gift, but they knew it wasn't true. Justin spent hours in clothing stores trying to find the right pair of socks, so an outfit each was a really really impressive feat. Plus, Justin had really good taste, so it was pretty much perfect, even discounting the Pez dispenser stuck in the bottom of the bag.
Chris, when asked what he'd gotten everyone, "What, y'all think you're gonna get something else outta me even after I let you stay here, make a green mess of my house--" and by then Justin had put his mouth on Chris's to kiss him, which shut him up.
Lance murmured blandly, "You know, I think Justin's a good influence on him."
Justin stretched out on Chris's lap, and Joey got a little envious, but then the dad in him went 'awwww!' at the two of them and he couldn't do more than just feel proud that two of his kids were finally happy together.
And Joey looked around at the piles of stuff, and his pitiful little gifts didn't seem like much. Oh, they were impressive, but not really impressive, not compared to the suit that Justin managed to find in just the right green, for him, and then he said, "Oh! - I forgot. If you guys want, I managed to get us in for the ball dropping in Times Square, for the 31st, and I have tickets booked from Orlando - and Mississippi for you, Lance - if you want," he finished lamely. "So."
They wanted. JC smiled at him a little longer than the other three.
Joey looked at his watch, and it was almost ten thirty in the morning, and they were singing Christmas carols, when he realized that he really really had to go and pack, because he was catching a six-thirty flight tomorrow. He said, "Guys, I um, I kind of have to go."
"Are you gonna come back for the party tonight, Joe?" Chris asked, with a threatening glare that said, 'if you don't I'm so gonna beat you up.'
Joey laughed. "Do I have a choice?"
Chris nodded. "That's my boy."
Justin gave him kind of a teary hug, and murmured to 'take care' and 'don't forget your baking', and Lance looked a little sheepish, and said, "You want a ride? I'd better get back to Justin's, too. I kind of. Forgot to get my stuff ready, and I think I'm leaving the same time you are." It was so unlike Lance to forget to do anything, ever, that Joey suspected the three of them were just as surprised by Chris's impromptu Christmas as Joey himself was.
He just replied, "Yeah, get your ass in the car, then."
So Lance and him made to go, and JC just stood quietly behind Justin, and once Justin and Chris went to put the extra food from breakfast away, and Lance went to start Joey's car, JC said, "So. It was a nice Christmas."
Joey chuckled. "It's only the 21st."
"So?" And that was possibly the most profound thing Joey had heard all month, and then JC was right in front of him, and they were standing in the doorway, and really close--
Lance yelled from the driveway, "You want a ride or not, Joey?"
JC looked up, and smiled a bit, and Joey looked up too, and saw the mistletoe. Then JC kissed his cheek, and then the corner of his mouth, and then put his hands in front of his face, wrinkling his nose and grinning more. Joey called to Lance, "Yeah, I got one."
Lance popped his head back around the front door, took one look at them, and grinned wide. "Gotcha. I'll see you two soon."
JC mumured, "Yeah," and the tree was really pretty, and the house was really green.