I said "thank you, each and every one of you,
for loving me at my worst"
if this isn't love it's very close
can you hear the world is waking up?
can we be crazy for a few more years?
have I got them in me?
You think maybe the screams taste even sweeter at thirty than they did at twenty, if that's even possible.
You pivot, do a little two step, and then in the bridge, two girls in the front row beam at you, mouths closed firmly but eyes shining. You do a bit of a shuffle for them. In all the lights of the stage, sometimes it's hard to pick out people's individual faces, but theirs are happy and they fill you right up.
JC starts singing, and you lean over to try and touch their hands, over the barrier and the security - maybe a little less security than before. You're not sure whether you hit their hands, or just some random strangers' - but that's a stupid thought, because they're all random strangers, and it doesn't matter anyway because when you glance back down they're still smiling like this concert is making their whole summer.
The tour is making your summer complete. There's some spirit in the connection between a show and a crowd, something deep and full and resonating. It awakens everything in you, everything in everyone and sometimes it's way, way too much to deal with all at once, and this is one of those shows.
Before you actually went on-stage, Joey clapped you on the back. "Y'okay, J?" he asked, as you sat in the make-up chair. "You look miles away."
"No, I'm good." You were good. First show in six months, first show with the guys in almost a year, and you're good, you're excited and there's none of the negativity that the bullshit media like to babble on about. The taste of the tour was in the air, another tour that's just as good, and everyone's getting ready and it felt just right.
Joey sat down beside you, as the hair stylist started fussing with brushes and bottles and sprays. You caught his eye, and he rolled his subtly, and the make up lady complained when you giggled and messed the moisturizer she was trying to apply. Make up and hair style still, even though it's mostly standing and singing, or sitting and singing, or making up your own steps. It was something Johnny had asked, as a personal favor, just keep the makeup and hair for old times' sake, and no one was willing to argue.
Joey said to you, "How's the house out west?"
You answered, "It's awsome. It's - peaceful."
Joey nodded seriously, and you could have kissed him for it. The last few years have been a bit of a strain, now that Lance is semi-retired and you aren't. The two of you don't get quite enough time together but you get a lot. The mirrors were a throwback from five years ago, and reminded you of home. "He's spent the last two months building the pool to the exact specifications. Aside from that it's peaceful."
"Well, dude," and Joey's hair was already done, just a bit of gel, the make up and hair ladies are there just for show, "you're living in the middle of the Hollywood Hills, that kind of thing is expected."
"I kind of miss Orlando," you said, "but I still have my place there, with my studio, so we're living in both. He's decorating out west."
Joey swung back and forth, and two months ago the new single dropped, the new *NSYNC single dropped and people were still buying it. Two days ago, you turned thirty in New York, right at midnight, in the penthouse suite, and then the next morning you had breakfast in Hollywood with everyone out there. Lance baked you a cake only yesterday, once everyone had gone home.
"Look, you guys have to come and--" and Chris barged in, interrupting Joey, probably inviting you to New York again, even though you all just left. People were always inviting you places, and you were always moving. The mirrors were the same from five years ago.
Chris said, "boys, we have a mission," and outlined Anthony's revenge that would have been too childish when *Chris* was twenty. It never stopped him. Anthony even, and it amazes you a little that Johnny managed to grab him again. You miss all the crew that's come and gone.
"Are you coming, J?" and you thought, why not, things are always crazy. Why not as crazy at thirty, too.
"The thing of it is," and Chris is just grinning like hell into his mic, "Justin here, he won't want me to tell y'all, but he just turned thirty." You shake your head, trying to glare and only half-succeeding. Chris continues, "you think I don't remember you laughing at me, man?"
Lance and JC are sitting on the edge of the stage together, and JC takes a picture of the two of them with some girl's camera. The girl goes insane, smiling and waving, and they get up with a small wave, come back to center stage to sing again.
Joey then says, "and we were wondering if y'all would sing him happy birthday," and the crowd - okay, there are maybe less people than before but they're still going crazy and screaming, and you shake your head again, because, wow.
Chris adds, "and remember to say 'old fart'," and Lance pushes Chris, and you maybe love him even more for that.
There were some really rough patches, as there always are. You made two albums on your own, and Chris started one, and JC actually released one that people bought but not so much. There were a few things to sort out, including a less rigorous timetable. But it was the fifth album that cemented the band, after that the critics left you alone and you had a steady place.
You went to all of Joey's plays and musicals, listened to all of Chris's tracks, bought JC's album and liked it. You did all of that and a lot of people forgot about all five of you, but it didn't matter because you had real fans that got it, and they still did.
Lance, you and Lance had a few rough patches too.
Lance came into your bedroom, you've been sharing for years now. "Ready for the big move onto the bus, baby?"
You were pulling on your pants, fresh out of the shower. "Yeah, just lemme grab my bags."
Real nights in real hotels, at least once every ten days, that was the only stipulation you'd ever insisted on giving Johnny in over fifteen years. Real beds, and time for breakfast somewhere, even if it's on the road. Lance was playing with his cell-phone, you thought he was probably playing a game on it. "Um," he said, "we're good, right?"
You nodded, packing stuff away. "Yeah, I'm not mad anymore."
"Okay then. Good."
You weren't really mad to begin with, it was just fucking annoying, more shit about the pool and you didn't really care. "Okay," you said, put a cap on your head. "All ready. Let's head out."
Lance drove, you tried to make your hair stay flat. "So," he said, "we'll stick our shit on the bus, then we've got a few hours to kill at the venue."
"Let's meet some of the fans," you suggested, and Lance started laughing but you shook your head. You were earnest. "No, really. It'll be about noon when we get there, dude, we'll just be careful. Buy everyone donuts or something."
"Donuts." He grinned. "Okay."
You love Lance, you really really really love him. You don't love your new pool, in Los Angeles, but you do love who's picking out the tile, so you can deal with swimming in some blue and green monstrosity. "Let's stop for donuts, seriously. We'll buy a couple dozen, see how many people are waiting outside. Probably not that many."
"You just want me to buy you breakfast."
You leaned over, straining against the seat-belt and kissed him. "Yep."
Eventually, you find your voice. "Guys, guys. Please." You hold your hands up, and the crowd actually gets louder. "There's no need to rub it in."
While JC is pretending to console you, giggling all the while, and Joey and Chris are signing a few random autographs, you pick up a spare guitar from the band. That's new, too, you actually can play. A few chords ring out, and the guys stop fucking around, Joey says, "Whatcha thinking?"
You play a few chords from the last CD, slip into the Beatles almost by accident, and suddenly there's a hush, like you've caught some magic. The first few bars of "Yesterday" slip past, but then, no, that's not right at all, this is now and now is great.
Chris is suddenly right by you and he's taking the guitar away.
Chris and JC are only kind of an item, but you don't keep track anymore because it doesn't affect you unless they tell you, you never pry. Half of JC's CD was about Chris, and half was about himself. The combination worked well enough for JC to have options to release a follow-up, but so far he hasn't had any other material he wants to do alone.
Your CDs were 'eclectic'. That's what people call them. They sell, well enough, and you like them.
Anthony tied the three of you to part of the stage, after Chris tried to cut his hair, and while he did you asked him, "Is that another tattoo!"
He told you to fuck off, and left you there for almost ten minutes. Eventually JC rescued you, Joey complaining of a backache and Chris complaining his knees were killing him. You said, "Man, bitch bitch bitch, people are gonna think you're getting old!"
Chris almost got the ropes back around you while Joey held you steady. You giggled, giggled so much that you couldn't breath at all, and finally Joey folded to deal with something someone wanted. Chris let you go. "Man, I do ache. No bouncing for me tonight."
You touched his arm, concerned. "You okay?"
"Oh," he flashed you a grin, "yeah. Aching is no big deal. I got years and years left, man, just you wait. I'll outlive the rest of you combined."
Chris never released his album because he liked it the way it was, and didn't want - no, didn't need - to know how people would take the material. He loved the album, and JC loved the album.
"Years and years, huh?" you said, and tackled him. As he was trying to punch you, you added, "yeah, I bet you will."
Chris leads them in a roaring rendition of "Happy Birthday", instead.
The first line, you're threatening to choke him as he's singing. As the crowd gets louder and louder, JC and Joey jumping around and waving frantically, everyone stands up and joins in. The third line, when the whole arena sings "Happy Birthday to Justin" and not even Chris says 'old fart', your cheeks may burn and you might have to turn a bit away to keep people from seeing your face.
After they finish, you turn back to face the crowd, and the other four guys are staring you in the face, from center stage. All the faces, a sea of faces clapping and shouting and still, each of them has a face you can see and they're all happy, and you put a hand over your eyes. Your mic to your lips, your voice maybe cracks. "Thank - just. Thanks. Thank you."
You've said 'thank you' to the crowd after every number since you were fourteen years old. Thirty now, thirty and staring out to cheers. Over half your life giving thanks to the crowd, for the continual crowds, and you meant every fucking word, you mean it every time.