"after all the dreaming, I come home again"
"Yo, you want to come out with us today?"
Chris always wants to come out with Joey, or Justin, or JC, or Lance, or whoever, these days. There's never enough time to spend with the guys.
He sees Meredith one day, about six months after the last time he actually spent any time with her, and right after she fires Lance. She's out, to record, and they meet up at some luncheon by accident. She looks good, like she knows what she's doing, like she knows how things work. Chris is amazed, goes up to her and says, "Meredith, hey there."
She blinks, and Chris can tell that she is a little uncomfortable, but answers. Her voice is normal, her face is normal, and still Chris can't remember why she cried before the Country Music Awards. Yet the memory is there, of Lance trying to console her, and talking to him on the phone at the same time. The image is too disconcerting, compared to her now, and Chris takes off before she can prove the passage of time.
Chris hates the Reel Nsync, except that he really loves a lot of it.
"Do you remember that day, when Lou was so pissed at you and Joey for getting me and Lance a beer?" Justin snorts his Coke, as he starts telling the story, elaborating for those at the table - Wendy, and a few of the others - who weren't around that early. Chris glances around, sees Steve grinning widely. Chris remembers that Steve, from when they were first starting out, the guy who visited once and a while, and who always seemed to fit because of Joey.
Justin finishes, and Lance giggles, almost like he's sixteen years old again, like Moscow's turned back the clock and it shows, here in London, in between. "Lou was so mad, and Lynn almost grounded us both."
"Right!" Justin smacks the table. "And you were all, 'but I'm legal here and my mom wouldn't mind' and she almost hit the roof!"
Lynn, who's sitting on Justin's left, smiles amicably. "You both were too young. And you didn't drink for a while again."
"We never got caught again." Justin grins at her, and Chris feels a little sick to his stomach, because that was over six years ago.
It's been almost two months to the day since they had their last show.
Chris thought that this RV thing was a good idea, when he started. He pulled himself up to the RV dealership, and he found himself a little camper van, just a nice used caravan, and he purchased it cash after haggling it down three grand in price. All the gas is going on his credit card.
He thought it would be a great fucking idea.
The only cd he's got right now is one of Justin's Counting Crows albums, one of their bootlegs. He can sing along to all of it by now, can counterpoint and harmonize and knows every single painful note. Not because he likes the CD, but because it's Justin's.
"Chris," Lynn said to him, only last week, "we never see you anymore."
He answered her with a laugh, "We went out to eat last week, girl!"
The 'girl' is thrown in to make her feel a little younger, not the forty one old she actually is, not the woman she is now but the woman she was, when they ended up having a beer in the after hours biergarten, that one time in Berlin. Just the two of them, sitting at a table and getting to know each other, because everyone else was nice but they were grown up.
"Hey," he said to her suddenly. "Let's go for a beer tomorrow night."
The Reel Nsync, Chris tells Joey, is a little too revealing. Joey frowns. "You mean you don't like it?"
Chris feels a little funny. "No, I like it. I mean, do you remember, after that one trip where we lost all those bags? We had to wait at the airport all night for that one of Lance's, and he apologized all over the place but in the end the airline had to pay him for it and he almost cried, because it was his stuff."
"Jesus Christ." Joey nods. "I haven't thought about that in years. I mean, I remember JC running all over the baggage carousel, because I've got that on tape and like, I edited it onto the DVD. But Lance's bag." He shakes his head. "Yeah, I remember. He was sad for weeks afterwards."
"He lost like, half his life that day." Chris rubs his face, feet up on Joey's coffee table in New York, because driving to New York seemed like a good idea last night, anyway. His camper is a bitch to park in the city. "And like, he cried, and we all got him something to try and make it up, any old stupid thing just so he could have memories again."
"Right." Joey nods again. "So he'd have new things. It didn't work, though."
Chris hates his camper van. The stove doesn't work and already it smells. "He said it wasn't the same."
He decides to stay a few days in New York, with Joey and JC in Joey's rented condo. One night, he stays up all night, just because he can, but there's nothing different about the morning than there was about the night. Joey brings him orange juice, and they start reminiscing about the first time on TRL - not the performance itself, but the breakfast beforehand, where Justin and Lance made out, and then JC almost broke his wrist. Steve had been there, and almost killed himself laughing, and Tiny had to haul Justin and Lance apart right before Carson Daly showed up. Tiny was laughing too; he was one of the old crew.
"Wait up two weeks, man," Justin said, "and I'll come with you."
Chris shook his head. He wanted to do this trip on his own.
"I don't get you," Justin added. "You're like, going to find America but you've seen it all. The only difference'll be that you're doing the driving and there'll be no playstation."
"The only tangible difference, yeah." Chris folds his pants, and stuffs them in his duffel. Jeans, a lot of jeans, and jean-like pants that don't wrinkle and are cool in the summer. The one feature his RV had to have was A/C. He turned to face Justin, forehead wrinkled. "But I want a change."
Justin shook his head. He said wistfully, "I'm gonna miss you. I mean, I don't get you. I don't get how you could do it alone."
Another shirt went into the bag, but Chris wasn't very enthusiastic about it anymore, lips twitching and lines showing a little, right around the eyes.
Justin calls him that day, as he's hanging out, relaxing for the first time in ever. Chris misses him. Chris misses JC, too, who's living with Joey, staying wherever he is, but who had to go into the studio and hasn't been home much even though he's here, in New York. They're happy, Chris notices at dinner. They're really happy, he thinks, and then he can't remember when they weren't.
For a long time, Chris just wanted all the other guys to go away, just for a few days rest. They always sorted it out, but it seemed to be even harder, for Chris, because there were all these things about living with people in close quarters that he hated.
Justin wanted to break up with Britney because he didn't want to move in with her. "I couldn't handle living with her, you know?" Justin sighed. "I mean, sometimes it's just an accident waiting to happen."
"There's a lot more going on than that, y'know." Chris didn't say anything else at the time, because of course there was.
On-again off-again, and a month later and the same conversation, and Justin just shrugged. "I'm getting so much work done, man. Like, I can't believe how hard this is, but I'm getting so much done."
Chris risked a sideways glance at Justin, right then, to try and figure out whether he looked any different. He was startled to realize that Justin didn't, even though he was. "uh," Chris gulped. "Right. Yeah."
And then he went to New York.
"Hey, man," Joey says, coming in. "We're thinking about trying to get something worked out for Lance, next month. Y'know how he'll only be in town for a week, right?"
"Yeah," Chris answers. "I'm in, I'll make sure I'm home for that."
"You still planning on heading out to wherever tomorrow?" Joey tilts his head.
"I dunno." Chris shrugs, turns away. "So what's the deal for Lance?"
Joey sits down. "JC and I were thinking about trying to get Johnny to have a huge barbecue, if he's not busy. It should be enough warning, you think? I mean, Lance must be pretty lonely. I know I fucking miss him."
"He's been gone like, almost two months." Joey shakes his head. "Two months. It's unreal."
Chris says suddenly, "I'm going for a walk."
What Chris hates about the Reel Nsync is that, he can watch it and he can remember, in 3D, technicolor, and with a soundtrack.
"Chris," Justin said patiently, "you're insane. You want to buy a campervan?" He shook his head. "You can stay in a hotel. I mean."
Justin was about to say 'you're not poor' and Chris knew it. "I want to do it this way. Get some memories of America, you know. See it for real."
"It'll be just like when we were herded around in that horrible van of Lou's, way back, man. You're gonna hate it."
Chris says softly, "You were fourteen back then. God."
Chris always wants to come out with the guys because Germany was so far away.