Disclaimer: Fiction-ous; no libel or slander intended regarding real people. Lyrics by Ani Difranco, from 'superhero', and yes, I know it's a crime.



sleepwalking through the all-nite drugstore
baptized in flourescent light

Chris makes them pull the bus over at quarter to three to buy some chocolate milk. Really, he wants off, out, and away, and they knew it and he knew it but the chocolate milk would have to do, vocalized. Inside, the lights are harsh and flush and transparent, and their dairy case has no chocolate milk so he gets diet soda instead, and Justin gasped and stays on the bus, because he couldn't handle it anymore.

Really, only Lance gets off, is the only one willing to indulge Chris, because this week, Justin is JC's and Chris is Lance's.

When they pay, Lance says, "Got what you wanted?" and Chris answers,

"You have no idea," and looks at the dark windows. They get back on, and roll off.


i found religion in the greeting card aisle
now i know hallmark was right

The next night, it's Joey who wants to stop to buy some postcards of silly people in silly hats because he has a thing for them, and because he has no stamps. And this time Justin gets off the bus with Joey, and it's JC and Chris together, and Lance alone sleeping, and Justin mopes and kicks his shoes against the floor.

Joey tosses him some chips, and then some bottled water for JC, and Justin picks up a new comic, one that he hadn't heard of but that Chris liked, and asks, "You think, he'd like it?" and Joey says,

"If you don't know, J," and they pay and Joey rubs his eyes and pretends not to notice Chris staring out the window as they come out.


and every pop song on the radio
is suddenly speaking to me

Chris drank a lot of tequila, back in the days Before.

They pretended not to notice, they all did, and then they joined him, and then he stopped, little by little, and they pretended not to notice when he turned the CDs up loud and long and wailing.

It becomes a ritual, pulling the busses over at quarter to three in the morning, or as close as they can get. Day three, anyway, and JC decides he wanted some soda, and they stop. Chris gets out, and then they all follow, and Chris smiles a little.

He says, "Hey, Lance. You wanna get a new tape?"

Lance shrugs, and the two of them start looking through the collection in the dirty plastic case. Justin stares at them for a bit, and then JC stares at Justin, and then Joey says, "I want some gum too," and JC gets it for him, and by then Chris has turned around.

They're going to get some gawdawful tape, Justin thinks, and then Chris is going to play it non-stop, and Justin's going to think about it each time he goes to sleep and wakes up, and the lyrics are going to hurt, he just knows it.

"C'mon, J. You don't want anything?"

"Watching my weight."


yeah, art may imitate life
but life imitates t.v.

Thursday, JC thinks, dazed, and says, "I want a newspaper, pull over, man, I want a paper or something," and last night they stayed in a hotel, and the night before that even, so no one got to tromp off the bus at three in the morning, and JC kind of misses it.

Joey and Chris are watching some special about monkeys on the Discovery channel, and JC rolls his eyes, turning it off. "You've watched that three times."

"Hey!" Joey says, but JC hauls them up and they go in the gas station, Chris bitching about missing the monkeys mating, and so Joey says, "You are the monkey mating," and Chris hits him.

Sometimes, when they're on MTV or whatever, live performances, Chris pushes the rest of them. Just a little, a fraction of what he normally does, but he pushes, to see what he can do until someone stops him. Today he says, "I want a monkey," and JC looks at Justin from the corner of his eye.


'cause you've been gone exactly two weeks
two weeks and three days

It's Saturday again before they stop, and Chris just says, "pull it the fuck over," and disappears into the store without anyone else.

Lance and Joey share a look, and then get out to stretch their legs. Justin and JC are sitting on the steps, and Joey lights a smoke, and Lance paces a little, taking a breath of Texan air -- Texas? New Jersey? some where.

They all knew the minute Justin and Chris weren't, anymore. Joey said, "uhoh," and JC just frowned, and Lance closed the door behind Chris, who had walked right out of the hotel, Lonnie jogging to keep up with him. The story later was, no one wanted to talk about it, and that was that, they didn't get any more news. It was weeks ago.

Sometimes, Lance thinks that the only times they're honest with each other are in gas stations, and presses a hand to his forehead.


and let's just say that things look different now
different in so many ways

"You can't fight tradition--"

"You don't really want to stop, Joey, you just want to make sure Chris is okay, and Justin is okay, and you want to spell JC, who's having a hell of a time of it, we both know."

Joey puts his head in his hands. "Maybe I should switch with Justin--"

"No, please, no, dude."

Lance looks up as the bus slows, pulls to the shoulder underneath a sign that's buzzing, 'car wash, a dollar'. Lance wonders, as he steps down onto ashphalt, whether taking the bus through a few times, letting it go through the spin cycle and then wringer, whether it'd get rid of this new veneer and then, would things look normal again.

He thinks not.

Joey opens the door for him; the rest of them are already inside, except JC, who apparently pleaded exhaustion at eleven and went to sleep. Lance eyes his watch: four thirty three. He looks at Chris, who is looking at Justin, and Justin, who has an ugly shirt on and bags under his eyes. He wonders whether something that's not easy is, worth more, in return, and grabs a map of Arkansas.


i used to be a superhero
no one could touch me
not even myself
you are like a phone booth
i somehow stumbled into
and now look at me
i am just like everybody else

It's a surprise when JC finds Chris sniffling as he's bent over, trying to decide what ice cream to buy for Justin. Ever-concerned, JC puts a hand on his shoulder, and Chris nods, turned away, and then Chris stands up with the Rocky Road, and JC says, "He hates that," and Chris says,

"I know."

JC tilts his head, and then grabs some cookie dough as well. They go up to the counter, Chris sullen, and JC ignores the red tinge, ignores it so well because he's used to this, so fucking used to this by now. They get all the way outside to where the driver is coming back from the bathroom before Chris clutches JC's sleeve and says, low, "I can't do this yet."

JC hands the bag to the driver, and pulls Chris to the curb, and they sit down. "You can't what?"

"I," he waves a hand. "I can't face that, this is it. I mean, I thought I could, and I thought I had been, but dude." He laughs harsh. "I bought Rocky Road."

JC nods, and stares at his fingernails. He says, slowly, "Maybe, you and he are just, not--"

"It was me." Chris stands up, and slouches as he walks to the door of the bus. He says it again as they get on board. "It was me."

JC doesn't know what it was, but Chris seems determined, and also, very sad.

When they get on, JC follows Chris to the couch, and hands him a spoon and the carton of Rocky Road. Justin has already gone away. JC says, hesitently, "Maybe, you should talk about it," and feels stupid, because guys don't say lines like that, especially Chris, and it's not like JC's going to know what to say anyway.

Chris bites into his ice cream, teeth clicking on the spoon. "It was like, you know in those superman movies, where the hero goes into the phone booth and does a quick-change, and then, wham bam, he's no one? Secret identity?"

JC nods, slowly, because he doesn't see how that has to do with ice cream or fucking, but obviously Chris does.

Chris says, "Okay, so, like, Justin was the phone booth, right? Completely turned around."

The ground beneath them starts moving, slowly, and JC realizes they're moving forward, they're rolling again. He waits for Chris to say something else, but Chris doesn't, and again, Chris seems determined, and sadder than before.


if i was dressed in my best defenses
would you agree to meet me for coffee

The first words out of Justin's mouth are, "Jesus, I'm tired," and Lance fills up a cup of coffee for him without another word.

Justin smiles, a small smile of thanks, because Lance really does know what he needs, sometimes, even though Lance can be cold, and distant, and not because he's thinking something else, but because that's who Lance really is.

Chris comes in, this time, and says flatly, "Joey wants to go."

Justin nods, and swallows, and pays for his water -- it's tuesday, he thinks anyway, and he asked for this stop, this time, and feels guilty for it. Lance puts two cups of bad gas-station coffee down, and gives the guy some money, and when Justin looks up, Chris is already gone.

"Here," Lance says, and Justin says,

"thanks." They get on separate busses, and Justin doesn't feel tough enough for this.


if i did my tricks with smoke and mirrors
would you still know which one was me

It's not a lie to say, Joey barely knows Chris anymore.

It's not really a lie to say, he doesn't know Lance either, but he didn't start out knowing Lance like a brother. He knows Lance a hell of a lot better than he does Chris, who is hollering about almost running out of gas and not even moving when they finally do stop.

Justin was half-way to out the door, Joey sees, when Chris pushes past him, and jumps out and then just stands there. Justin sends his back a look of such -- loathing? lust? hurt? -- that Joey frowns to see it, too.

Chris moves, sags, and leans against the cold metal of the bus as Justin goes into the convenience store, stiff-backed and grim. He's not sure which one of them is which, anymore, and thinks, it must be a three am trick of the light.


if i was naked and screaming
on your front lawn

It's the first time Chris has gotten really, really drunk in a long time. He started the minute they got offstage from the show, and because they'd be driving the whole night and most of the next day, he was happy, oh so happy, to be full of alcohol and piss and blood and feel it soak in, feel the headache, the grim tightening of his throat, and swallow it down.

He yells, "Hey, Jayce, grab me a case of beer. I'm almost out."

Justin mutters, quiet, "Jesus, Chris," as he leaves.

Normally, Chris is itching to get up, into that damned store that they haven't missed any night at all since him and Justin stopped fucking. He's thinking about it as fucking, because anything else is too harsh, too desperate, on his system. He toasts the end of everything, and drinks, and stares moodily out the window at highway and trees and farmhouses.

He wonders, suddenly, achingly, whether Justin even remembers what he looks like with no clothes on, whether it's as pleasant a memory for Justin as Justin, naked, for Chris is not. If that even makes sense at all.

He says, "dosvodanya," drinks, and tries to decide whether crying or staying stoic serves his mood more. JC comes on, carrying a twelve-pack of shit beer that he dumps at Chris's feet, and Chris feels his chest tighten. He misses Justin, a lot.

He felt too exposed, when they were together, too naked, but he misses him.


would you turn on the light and come down
screaming, there's the asshole
who did this to me

"Guys, let's please not have this fight here."

Lance puts a hand on Justin's chest, and then on Chris's, and they both nod, and go out of the store. Joey smiles apologetically at the cashier -- is it Friday already? -- and follows them. Lance pays, JC grabs a pack of twinkies, and they all meet outside for a conference.

Lance looks at his watch. It's stopped.

Chris starts. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." They all know he's not really sorry, but it's just about all they're going to get so Lance sighs and nods.

Justin says, "I'm not sorry." Chris narrows his eyes, but Justin continues, "No, I'm not, okay? All I did was call you an asshole. I wasn't exaggerating or nothin'."

"Let's just go." Chris suddenly looks a hundred years old, a thousand. Tonight, Chris is JC's, and Justin is Lance's, and when Justin follows Lance onto the two-man, Joey shrugs and follows JC.

Lance goes to his computer as the engine rumbles to life. Justin just lays down on the couch, putting an arm over his face, and settles down to sleep. He didn't buy anything. Lance says, "I can turn the light off if you want."

Justin says, "Nah," and then, "It doesn't matter."


stripped me of my power
stripped me down

Joey doesn't wake up when they pull over in Cleveland. His head says silent, quiet, soothing and calm as they find their gas station, as they buy their junk food, and as they get back on. Lance goes to bed, and he doesn't even notice.

He wakes up, however, just as they're pulling out. He glances over, happens to look out the window, and sees Justin, and then Chris, and thinks, 'uhoh', but all Justin does is touch Chris's cheek, once, and then walk away. Chris is looking down.


i used to be a superhero
no one could touch me
not even myself
you are like a phone booth
i somehow stumbled into
and now look at me
i am just like everybody else

"Justin, you're going to have to let it go eventually."

Him and Lance are flipping through magazines, because the bus really needs gas this time, so they've got a while to wait. Justin holds up Teen People, and then Rifles Monthly. "Which one, dude?"

"Justin." Lance frowns. "Not the gun one. Look. No one knows how hard it is, and we all accept that, but."

Justin is shaking his head. "No, I think the gun one." He pauses a minute. "You know, I don't want to know how many people want me. Hundreds, you figure?" Lance snorts. "Thousands, okay. It's, weird."

Lance nods. Justin puts Teen People down, frowning, brow creased as if he could stare at the cover with Destiny's Child and figure out what's wrong. "See, Chris, never let me remember that."

"He didn't let you?"

"Nah." Justin shrugs, picking up a Harrowsmith. "I mean, I could rag on myself, and other people could, and Chris just wouldn't take shit. And then, people would start with the superstar shit, and he wouldn't take that either."

Lance says, quiet, "You miss him."

Justin looks at him as if Lance is incredibly stupid.


yeah you've been gone exactly two weeks
two weeks and three days

JC looks at Chris, completely the same man as when they started this shit, and then looks at Justin, so different, and wonders who was waiting for the other to come crawling back.

Lance taps JC on the shoulder; he turns around. "Oh, huh?"

Lance asks, "What're you looking at?"

JC says, "I, dunno."


and now i'm a different person
different in so many ways

It's probably the first conversation they've had, late at night, since they, stopped. Chris is feeling all shades of akward, but he's putting on a brave face and biting his lip ferociously. Justin just asked if he was okay. Chris thinks, and Justin makes a little bit of a face, says, "Okay, that wasn't supposed to be a stumper, dude."

"Oh." Chris laughs nervously. "Sorry. I was just trying to think, answer for real."

"Oh," Justin says. "okay. Take all the time you need."

Chris nods. "Okay. Um, are you okay?"

Justin looks at him, and Chris thinks back to some question MTV asked once. Justin had said, "When you lose someone like that, you end up a completely different person, I think," but Chris can't remember who lost who, or what Justin had lost.

Chris twists his hands around. "I guess, no, huh."

Justin says softly, "I feel different."


tell me what did you like about me
don't say my strength and daring

But then, Joey walks up to them, and Justin backs off.

Chris says, suddenly, "What did you like about me, Justin?"

Justin shrugs. He doesn't want to be having this conversation; scared. Chris knows it, and backs off too. Joey watches the two of them, and Chris adds, "I liked, shit, I dunno."

Justin understands; he doesn't know where to start.


'cause now i think i'm at your mercy
and it's my first time for this kind of thing

It's obvious, now, to Joey, that Chris has been waiting for Justin to give him some kind of signal, a sign, to just come back. Joey knows Chris. Joey knows Justin. Joey knows that Chris probably won't get it, because Justin doesn't always know Chris.

They're buying ding-dongs for the whole gang, who are playing poker. Joey says to Chris, "Is it hard? I mean. You see him all the--"


Joey feels stupid. "Are you gonna do something about it?"

Chris sighs. "Like what? --this sucks. This stuff."

"You could say, I'm sorry."

"What if I'm not?" The cashier rings up their purchases -- four dozen ding-dongs, for ante, and some cheap beer, and a tube of toothpaste to stick in JC's bed later.

Joey puts a hand on Chris's shoulder. "Oh, damn, Chris-- I thought you would have been better at this."

Chris hangs his head. "I'm not sorry I love him, okay, and he's not sorry he doesn't."

Joey stares. Chris grabs the bag of disgusting food, gives Joey a small smile, a smile that says, 'hey, what can I do', and starts to leave.


i used to be a superhero
i would swoop down and save me
from myself
you are like a phone booth
that i somehow stumbled into
and now look at me
i am just like everybody else

i am worse than everybody else

They've gone what feels like forever, After, and this is the first night that Joey really feels, completely helpless. Chris walked back on the bus like nothing happened. Joey followed, dazed, and now they're playing poker with ding-dongs and JC has chocolate on his chin.

Joey gets up, to get another beer, and says, "Hey, Lance, help me out okay?" and then he drags Lance away for a minute, and he hisses, "Chris says that he loves him."

Lance looks at Joey, patiently. "Duh."

"But," and Joey feels slow, "Chris says that Justin doesn't love him."

Lance nods. "Duh."


Lance grabs their beers. "Listen. Chris thinks it. He stumbled into this amazing guy, and Chris is just normal, and he, fuck. Joe."

Joey's starting to get the picture.

It hurts.

Chris is sitting there, more subdued than normal, and calmly eating a snack cake. Joey says, "How can he be so normal when he can't see anything?"

Lance shrugs. "I don't know."

They play some more rounds, and Joey digests, and then they clear out, and it's conveniently Justin and Chris. Joey stares at the two of them, for a minute, and then shivers and leaves.

Chris says apologetically, getting up, "I, won't even think of an excuse."


"Um, okay."

Justin sits down, and looks at Chris. "I really mean that, whatever. You can stay, if you want, or you can go."

Chris laughs, shakily. "I used to be so good at this."

"Dude, you were never good at this." But Justin's grinning.

"true." Chris sits down, then. "Neither were you, really."

"Mmm. I think I always had it too good." Justin scratches his stomach, yawns. "Too easy."

Chris nods. "You might have." He turns to Justin. "You know, I don't think I'm okay. So that you know. God," and Chris sounds completely sick to death with himself, just disgusted. "I've got it bad, just like everyone else."

"I'm not okay either," and Justin leans back, looking at Chris fondly, before draping an arm on the back of the couch. "I think," he says conversationally, "you've got it worse than everybody else."