One of the nastier reviews called her a whore.
Justin peered around the corner and saw Christina pressing her assistant against the wall with the flat of her palm. She was already in stage make-up for the show, nails glittering with the oily stuff they always slicked on Christina's hands. "Allison," she was saying, "don't do that."
The woman tilted her head down, and there was red lip gloss smeared along her mouth. Justin thought she'd maybe put it on with one of those brush applicators, and missed. Or maybe someone had smeared it.
"Don't," Christina said again, and then dropped her arm. Allison saw Justin, then, and immediately set off down the hall. Christina looked over at him, thumb rubbing the palm that had just been under the woman's shirt. Allison's shirt.
Justin stepped into the hallway. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't know you were here."
She shrugged, delicately. Her hair was done up in tight braids, and now that she was facing him properly he could see black lipstick on her lips. It glittered too, shone like glass, like smooth black marble. Her eyelashes were black, eyes bright blue. "You know," Christina said, lips opening carefully to ennunciate, "black widow spiders bite the heads off their mates after sex."
Justin nodded. "Yeah, I did know that." Her hair looked like it was pulling the skin covering her face taut, slicked back and jet black too. Justin added, "it's almost time, right?"
"Yeah," and she glanced up at the clock above him. "Few minutes."
"Right," he said. They stared at each other akwardly. "You nervous?"
She rubbed her cheek, careful to avoid touching her eyes or her lips or any of the rest of her face that had make-up on it. Justin realized that she wasn't wearing powder, that her face was really that pale. "I'm always nervous before I perform. It's weird."
Even her shoes were black, black and red, with stiletto heels. "I like your shoes," he said. They were patent-leather, the color and gloss of her lips. "Though the heels look pretty dangerous."
"They just take getting used to," Christina said, and Justin just barely saw her pink tongue, as she spoke. Pink against white and black. She coughed, delicately, into her hand, and her fist was curled around short, dark fingernails. "You can wear'em some time."
He suddenly realized that she was standing with both her legs apart, in the middle of the hallway. She was wearing fishnets, bikini briefs, and the boots, and he could probably fuck her after the show. Justin swallowed. "They're probably too small for me."
She smiled, and her lipstick didn't crack. "We can get you a pair," she replied, and shifted her weight from foot to foot. He tried not to stare at her waist while she did it. "Special order."
"Right," he said again. The stage manager came to get her. Justin watched her stride away, feet clacking. Christina looked a bit like a spider, long legs and long arms, small body. Impossibly narrow waist. Unapproachable. She looked back at him, once, and her mouth curved.
Justin tried not to think of it when he jacked off that night, her nails and her assistant, and those black, black lips. He failed.
The more they toured together, the more Justin had to stop himself from comparing Christina's and Britney's live shows. Mentally, only, and maybe it was just from the fact that they all used to perform together anyway. In person, though, it was the exact opposite. Sometimes Justin had to remind himself that Britney and Christina were the same species.
Christina was pretty much incomparable to Britney, anyway. He looked over to where Christina was slathering some kind of sauce on a hot dog and bumping her hip against her production manager. Her hips were bony, and really sexy. "Hey," she called over. "You wanna get in on this action?"
He swallowed as she held up her hot dog, and winked, glittery eye shadow clear as day. He was kinda hungry, so he went over to the table and piled on all sorts of shit onto a hot dog. Just because he was hungry. The hot sauce burned his tongue, and Christina wolfed down three in the time it took him to take two massive bites, getting silver gloss on a can of soda.
"Burns a bit, huh?" she said, and wrapped a hand around the ketchup bottle.
Sometimes, Justin wasn't convinced he and Christina were the same species.
He didn't think she really was a whore, even if she was probably sleeping with her assistant, and possibly a few other people too. He didn't know what she was.
"So," Joey said.
Justin squinted. "So what?"
"So," Joey said, "Is she as easy as she seems?"
Justin scowled, unbidden, unconsciously. "You know."
Joey held a hand up, placating. "I like her man, you know that. Just wondered if the rumors were true or not, okay?" Justin kept scowling, and Joey took the hint and dropped the subject willingly.
Justin didn't realize until much later how angry he'd been all over the stupid rumor. Christina probably wouldn't even have been offended. Justin was offended for her, and she probably would have laughed it off. He didn't know what to make of that.
He also didn't know what to make of Christina, champagne bottle in hand, in his hotel room after Oakland. She danced into his room, in high heels, straight off stage and right into his lap. "Celebrate?" she said, making it a coy question, a promise, a temptation. Oh, the temptation.
The next reviewer called her a whore, too. Justin heard her and her assistant, Allison, talking about it one day in the hall. "No," he heard Christina say, "it's fine, like. Whatever."
"You'd think they'd have some fucking tact, you know?" and Justin held his breath. He didn't mean to eavesdrop. "What kind of insensitive asshole asks about your dad out of the blue?"
As they rounded the corner, Christina's smile brightened when she saw Justin, lips matte and neutral beige. "hi, you!" and she kissed his cheek, standing on her tip-toes because all she had on was sweatpants and battered sneakers. She was all beige, beige coat, no eyeshadow, nails a soft copper. Justin was startled. She said, "How was your interview?"
Justin tried not to grimace. "Uh," he said.
"Yeah, well," and she glanced at her assistant, who was always a few steps behind her, lashes dark. "They're all assholes."
He felt like an asshole when, as she and Allison kept going, he stared at her ass. Part of her tanned, tanned back was hanging out of her tiny shirt, and the sweatpants were falling down. It was obvious she wasn't wearing underwear. He figured she had to at least be comfortable enough to forgo panties. That was kind of really hot. Justin went back to the green room and jacked off. He pictured Christina's tight shirt and baggy sweats when he did.
They slept together the day before he saw the MTV diary special, probably the thousandth rerun on VH1 and still the first time he'd caught it. He felt like even more of an asshole, especially watching Linda Perry slap her ass easily, readily, as if she had the right.
"So," she said while he was staring, transfixed, at her crying, sad face on television. "You wanna do something?"
"Uh," and Justin grabbed the remote as the Christina on the television finished choking her way through 'I'm OK'. "Sorry. Yeah, sure."
She sat down with him on his hotel bed, and stared through clear eyes at him. "Honey," she said, "it was on national television. It's not, private."
He nodded, dumbly. He didn't get how it could not be private, all of it. Her father or her sex life, herself. None of it seemed to be.
They slept together the day he saw her diary special, too, right on his hotel bed. Justin came with a gasp, eyes wide open, staring at her face. She was naked, eyes closed and smiling. He didn't get it.
Justin started watching her sing the song on stage every night.
She didn't cry, but even through the layers of pancake makeup and vinyl, it was very raw. That was the only word he could think of to explain what hurt in his chest when he heard it. Raw. The hurt was new. Justin watched from the wings every time she did the song, because he knew that it didn't get any easier for her to sing it.
She said that to him. "I guess," Christina said, while they were lounging around in her room, "it really doesn't get easier to sing it? but it gets, lighter." Justin nodded, and pulled the covers up around her. Lighter inside. He knew what she meant.
His songs weren't hard to sing at all. Challenging, as far as material went sometimes - his voice needed constant training, and he had to be really careful of germs - but not hard. They didn't ever make his chest tighten.
She closed her eyes when she sang the song, just like when they slept together, and he couldn't imagine what she was seeing.
One day when she had to talk to some radio station and so he was leaving the hotel earlier, Justin called his mother. He almost told her that they were sleeping together, and then, stopped. He said, "you remember Reena? That older girl from, not the MMC auditions, but, fuck. Whereever? Reena."
His momma was chopping salad. Justin was listening to the wheels of the bus go around and around, waiting to get to yet another venue. "Uh," Lynn said, "Yes, Reena, I remember. She had red hair."
"Right. You know, how," and he flipped the phone to his other ear, give himself a little moment to work up to it. "You remember the rumors about her and her uncle?"
"Of course, honey." It sounded like Lynn had her full attention on him, of course she did. "The poor girl. She messed up her audition and he almost hit her in the parking lot."
"Did," and Justin swallowed. "Did anyone do anything about that?"
Lynn sounded like she was frowning. "A few of the parents talked to someone, told them what was going on." The chopping resumed. "I think her family moved not long after."
"Oh," Justin answered softly. "Huh."
"Have you heard Christina's CD?" Justin asked, finally. It was as close to admitting they were sleeping together as he was going to get. As he was waiting for her answer, the bunk was almost silent. Their busses didn't made that much noise, they paid fucking exhorbitant prices to make sure the ride was smooth, quiet, and unobtrusive.
Lynn finally said, "Yes, I have."
"Okay," Justin said. "I should go."
"Is there something wrong, Justin?" his momma asked him. "Because you can tell me, you know."
Justin knew he could tell her. Justin knew he could always tell her. "No," he said. "I'm fine."
Reena, Justin remembered, tended to back away when the dance teacher patted her shoulder, used to look around at everyone in the room before she relaxed at all. Like she couldn't get comfortable anywhere unless she made sure she knew where everyone was standing.
"How's the tour?" Lynn asked, suddenly.
"It's," and Justin turned over, rolled onto his stomach, and transferred the phone to his other ear, again. "It's good. I'm tired. People ask a lot of stupid questions."
"How's Christina doing?"
Justin wondered how much extra the bus cost, just to make sure the engine didn't do more than purr gently back in his personal lounge area. "Why didn't people say something?" Justin asked back. "Like. We all knew, except not. Not really. We pretended we didn't."
"Justin, what's really wrong, honey?"
"Nothing, no," and he tried to change his voice. "I'm just tired."
"Get some sleep. That bus'll rock you to sleep." He hung up. Justin wondered how hard it was for her to be quiet and smiling in interviews for so long, to be someone else for so long.
They slept together again, and Justin said to her, "I think you're beautiful."
She laughed at him, but not in a bad way, teeth white. "Honey, we both are."
He stopped reading reviews.
Justin pulled away from her, sheets rumpling. He finally had to say something, because he was that asshole who had to ask, out of nowhere, who didn't have that right. But he had to, because he saw her eyes closed every time. "Is it," he said, "are you all right?" Because she looked tired, tired and run down and she had to sing the song almost twenty times in the last month, and all her other songs, and every emotion in her seemed raw, and painful.
Christina looked up at him. "Yeah. I'm just tired."
"I didn't mean--" he started. "I meant, you get up on stage and you talk about everything that's happened in your life, and you don't," Justin said, paused. "You don't talk about it off stage."
Christina tilted her head. She didn't have any make-up on, because they were in Ohio in the middle of the afternoon, taking a break. She just looked like a girl. Justin felt like such an asshole. Finally, she said slowly, "What happened is not the sum total of me. A lot of the time, it's not important."
"Um," Justin said. She looked normal, she looked the same as ever. "You're all right?" He wasn't going to say "okay" because then she'd laugh at him.
"Yeah, man," and she smiled. "It, see. People ask that. All the time. And like, sometimes you're not, sometimes you are. Sometimes it's bad, and a lot of the time it isn't. I," she hesitated. "In therapy, I told myself, I refused to be defined by the past. And I won't be."
Justin nodded. The way she answered him, it felt like he could ask, that he could maybe know these secrets. That she was letting him know. That night he watched from the wings, while she sang the song, and it was as painful and as raw as it always was. Then he watched the encore, and she sang "Keep On Singing My Song". He felt his chest loosen, for her sake and his.