Don't Know What You Got
by Miss Kitty E
Joey was the first one to bring it up; he called you, and asked if you knew where JC was. You didn't.
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"No, he didn't say anything about a trip," you said, not all that flustered even though the last time you'd seen JC was three days ago. "God, Joey, you know him. He doesn't think. Try Alex or something, I bet he's just fucking around with The Canadians."
Joey huffed, and you could just see his face, a nervous crease between his brows. You're not surprised that Joey is turning out to be such a great dad when he cares so fucking much about people. "Nah, I'm sure it's just cool. It's just weird for JC, you know? He doesn't usually disappear for very long."
"He hasn't disappeared," you insisted. Disappeared entailed a lot of bad things, JC was just... not there. "He probably came home and messed around while you were gone, I bet you just barely missed him."
"He's not answering his cell phone."
"You know he doesn't when he's in the studio. So that's probably where he is."
"Yeah, you're probably right. You know, Justin, we gotta get together or something. I got eighty million new pictures of Brianna."
You rolled your eyes but didn't say anything. It still made you both feel a little weird to say "You're such a dad, Joey." So instead you said, "Great, man, I want one for my wall, call you about that okay?"
After you hung up, you sat back and looked at the floor for a minute, mostly just reviewing the conversation. The more you thought about JC the more you started to worry. Because what if JC really was hurt, was lost or taken or lying dead on his bathroom floor, it'd been three days. The more you wait, the worse it will get.
You suddenly can't stand not knowing, so you called Alex, and got no answer. You left a voicemail. You called JC, and left a voicemail, too. It didn't get Joey anywhere but at least JC will know it's urgent. You would have called JC's parents, even though his mother is sort of distant, maybe he went there for an emergency. But what would you say, "Mrs. Chasez, your son may or not be missing, have you seen him?"
You turned on the TV, determined not to think about it.
Two hours later, just as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" was ending, Alex called back, sounding a little tentative. You never talked to JC's friends.
"I just called to say I hadn't seen him. Not in a week. Is anything wrong?"
"I hope not," you sighed. "Listen, if he calls you please let me know, alright?"
"Sure thing. Um, later."
You hung up the phone and turned off the TV, trying to ignore the growing pit of worry in your stomach.
The next day, you went over to Joey's and together- using Joey's key –you went into JC's house.
Joey poked around downstairs and you went up to the second floor. You found his cell phone sitting on its charger next to JC's bed. On the read out it said that JC had missed 12 calls. You picked up the phone on the desk, and heard that there were messages waiting on it, too. You went into his bathroom and breathed a sigh of relief. Your worst scenario was that JC had slit his wrists, that you'd find him floating in blood red bathwater.
JC's huge, white bathtub was pristine and empty; you looked a little to your left and saw that JC's shaver was gone. You went to his closet, and flung the two doors open, half of JC's clothes were missing, and all of his luggage. You realized then that his keyboard and the notebook he kept in his nightstand were gone, too.
You met up with Joey in the kitchen, and told him what you had found, or rather what you hadn't found. Neither of you had found a note, neither of you had seen signs of a struggle. Everything was arranged and covered like JC was going on tour and didn't expect to see home for a few months. It wasn't completely unlike JC to meticulously ready for a trip and forget just one importantly thing like letting your friends know he was going on one.
You called Johnny, and Johnny flipped, yelled and grilled you about it. You stuttered under his interrogation, but nothing he asked could prove that JC wasn't gone. So he had you call the phone company pretending to be JC to get the passwords to his voicemail. You sat down and listened to all of the messages while Joey poked around a little more, but there was nothing of worth within them, no "Hi, JC, this is Carol calling back about your top secret trip to Tibet."
You called Johnny to tell him that and he seemed remarkably resigned. "It'll be okay. If he left without a fight he'll come back without a fight. He's probably eloped with some guy, or I dunno... He'll be back in a week, I'm sure of it."
You really wanted to believe him.
A week later, there was still no JC. And no call. You didn't understand how he could leave and not call. JC had to have seen or done or written something that he just had to share, he'd vibrate and thrum with excitement and call you up at four a.m. to let you know that he'd just come up with "the best hook."
You slept fitfully that first night when you went home with nothing but a promise from Johnny that he'd work on finding out where JC went and why. You kept waking up, almost every two hours, and you'd remember automatically that something was not right, and that hardly helped you go back to sleep. The next night was no better, but by the third you got used to the ache of not knowing.
Everyday, you all met at Johnny's compound; there was a lot to distract you there. You sat around the first few hours, tense and quiet because Johnny had come in to tell you that his secretary had called every travel agency in the all of Southern Florida and was working on the Northern half and still come up with nothing. He guessed that JC must have made the arrangement through someone else. You knew that wasn't right, there wasn't anyone trusted like that, he had done it all but under another name, or in another state.
You didn't mention it because you didn't know if the other guys had figured out yet that JC didn't want to be found.
You watched movies for a week, every DVD in the library. It was just the four of you on one big couch, because Lance said it made him feel better to be close to all of you. You sat against the arm every time, because didn't want to seem difficult. It was just that being with them only served to remind you that there someone was missing.
You were all worried. You just didn't know if you should be afraid.
It was a week and a half after you had realized that JC was gone that you got the proof you wanted that he was alright in the form of a little postcard. The postmark was French and the picture was of a café; you wondered if it was supposed to a famous, or local and obscure. Knowing JC, it was probably famous. On the back there were the words:
Needed to do some thinking. Love you all. Don't worry. I'll be back soon.
Everything except the address and the stamp was obscured with black marker.
You were sort of mad, an underlying outrage paired with all the relief. You were glad he was alright, you really were, but who the fuck was he to play these games? He scared the shit out of you, for what? The guarantee of privacy? Shit, all he had to do was ask. No one would have bothered him, not unless it was important. You know, just the usual check of "Hey, JC, you still alive, and uninjured?" At the same time it was typical JC, melodramatic, and complicated, and a pain in the ass. He had no fucking right to leave you like that, like you were something to be avoided, something he had to escape.
Johnny was probably a lot more put out than he let on, but there was nothing he could do about it, and he knew that. He told you to enjoy the break, work on your individual solo projects to your hearts' content, and to keep quiet. It was sound advice but it left you feeling a little empty. You wanted the search to keep going, because something could still happen to JC, only this time you wouldn't know for weeks and weeks.
Lance turned the postcard over in his hands, having finally gotten it from you. "International mail takes a while, he probably sent this the moment he was settled."
You realized that was true, but you were still mad at him for leaving.
The other guys seemed strangely satisfied with the postcard. They didn't go to the compound anymore and after spending the first morning there alone, neither did you. You tried to follow their lead and live your life normally, but it wasn't normal. For eight years JC had figured into your life in one way or the other. Now that he wasn't there in any form, not a voice, not a letter, not even a good-bye you were starting to realize just how much JC was a part of your everyday.
It wasn't that you went somewhere and he wasn't there, it wasn't that something was going undone, unsaid because JC gone, it was subtler than that. You went around feeling slightly off but unable to put your finger on why until something, or someone reminded you of JC and you became suddenly aware of the aching emptiness inside you.
You were lonely. Not because you had no one to hang out with, there was Chris, and Trace, and the few friends you'd managed to keep outside of the band. You and JC didn't necessarily spend a lot of time together, but the time you did share was important. It shook you free of whatever pretensions you'd been operating under, because JC could look at you and remember when you were twelve and stupid and scared.
Chris should have been able to do the same and probably did but there were never any silences to feel it. Chris was loud, and you were loud back. You fought and strutted when you played basketball, you shouted and laughed when you played a video game, you played music loud, sang along or made fun of it. It made Chris tiring to hang out with; you almost always left with a headache. He got tired of you, too. Chris' mind would switch from "having fun with friends" mode to "want to be alone" mode at the drop of a dime, and you'd have to go home to an empty house with several hours to waste before you fell asleep.
You hung out with Joey a lot more, he was always friendly, and he always wanted to go out to a club. He was fun to drink with, fun to dance with, but he never stayed by your side. He usually disappeared ten or fifteen minutes after you and he walked in the door. You had to drive in separate cars "just in case" he found some girl too hot to pass up. Joey got the best girls, because he could walk up to the older ones who had only a vague idea of who he was. Meanwhile, you were up to your neck in giggling blondes that would cry if you singled one out. You never did, and went home alone.
It was useless to call up your other friends, not unless you wanted to be shown off, and introduced as, "My friend, Justin Timberlake. You know, from 'Nsync?"
You called up Lance when you started to get desperate. He called you co-dependent and told you to get your ass out to have fun by yourself for a while. You called him a bitch and hung up, knowing you'd just skirted the edge of "playful."
You spent a lot of time hanging around your own house, thinking about how JC wasn't there.
You had started writing songs to be more like him. You were just starting to appreciate his passion, you hadn't at all when you were both young because in the nineties enthusiasm wasn't cool. But now, realizing that this was the only thing you knew how to do, you wanted to be enthusiastic like JC.
You had tried to write with him on several occasions but it never really worked. JC didn't know how to write well with people, usually penning something and handing it over to be tweaked. You didn't always want to write about the things JC thought was cool. After maybe an hour JC would close his notebook and say, "Look, you want to watch a movie?" or something like that. You would end up spending the entire night on the couch with JC, laughing so hard you couldn't breathe. The weird thing was now that JC was gone you couldn't write anything at all. Not a word. Wade was frustrated with you, you told him to fuck off.
You wondered now why you had never told him that you wrote not to upstage him, but to emulate him. You think you just thought he knew.
There weren't any more postcards after that.
Not two weeks in.
Not three weeks in.
The silence put you in a bad mood, and suddenly no one wanted to hang out with you. You knew no one had any patience for your moods, you just didn't know why. You didn't see why being "Justin Timberlake" robbed you of all right to maybe be a little unhappy sometimes. After all, Lance was allowed, and Chris, too. Joey was never in a bad mood, not really, but if he ever wanted to be in one, you knew no one would give him shit about it- not like they did you. Somehow, Justin Timberlake just didn't know what real strife and unhappiness was, even though you had struggled right alongside them.
JC had said it was because they thought you had somehow gotten more out of the deal. Had said this while putting his hands on your shoulders and rubbing his thumbs on the tight tendons of your neck. JC had gotten fewer songs than Justin on the last album, hadn't gotten a single at all. And yet you don't ever remember him ever telling to stop whining, even when you really were.
You tried to think of what JC would have said if you had missed someone like this while he was around, but you don't think you could ever miss someone quite like you did JC.
You realized a lot of things while JC was gone.
Like that he had always protected you.
Lou had always frightened you, just a little. Whenever you met, Lou would touch you; put a hand or an arm on your shoulders, tweak your cheek 'affectionately,' maybe try to rub your back if he thought you were "tense." Even when he kept his greasy hands to himself, Lou was always just a step or two too close. You had never learned to look him in the eye, not even during the lawsuit. JC had never seemed to have that problem, you remember he would stand next to you when Lou got too close, and look him right in the eye. He never left you in a room alone with Lou.
You didn't know why you remembered that now, now when Lou Pearlman was just a memory that gave you chills when you thought too long about it. It wasn't like you needed JC now to protect you, you guessed that you just wanted to know that JC was still watching over you.
Another thing you realized is that you had never been away from JC this long. Not since the end of MMC. Even then, JC had only been gone a few months really, before he moved right back into your life, into your home. You didn't know what to do with yourself, every time you looked at a picture of JC you wanted to cry because you were forgetting somehow. Even though JC was a part of almost every thought you had, you had to look at a picture to be sure of the color of his eyes.
You realized how pretty he was, thinking about him as you lay awake in your bed. Thinking about his hair made you want to touch it, brush it, pull your fingers through it. Maybe even wash it, while JC lay back in his big, white tub. When you thought about his slim waist, you wanted to put your arms around it, feel it small, and smooth, and right against you. You thought about his face, always tipped up because you were taller than him.
You realized you wanted to kiss it, kiss his mouth, kiss his hollowed cheeks. You wanted kiss JC.
Lance and Joey got in a fight a week before JC came back. You wouldn't have believed it if you hadn't been in the middle of it, trying to mediate. You failed horribly, because you were freaking out; Lance and Joey never fought, never, not over shit like this. Sure, sometimes Lance got mad because Joey was clipping his toenails on the divan, and Joey got mad because Lance drank the last beer, but never this. Never fucking like this. Lance was crying by the end, but trying to hide it. Joey punched a hole in the wall and didn't answer his phone for two days.
It had started because Lance was tired, and Joey was sitting spread eagle on the couch. He'd slipped under Joey's arm to lay his head on Joey's shoulder.
Joey had smiled like he always did when Lance treated him like a throw pillow. A moment later, when you looked up and smiled at them, Joey murmured, "No offense, Lance, but this is getting kind of gay."
"What?" Lance lifted his head, and shifted back to look at Joey. "What do you mean?"
Things somehow exploded after that. And you knew, just knew, that Joey would have never noticed, never question Lance's special preference if JC had been there with them doing the exact same thing. You tried to talk to Chris about it but he was busy.
"I'm really sorry, Justin, but I got a ton of shit to do right now. Call me tonight, okay."
You made some sort of affirmative noise and hung up, not intending to call back at all.
JC would have made time for you.
Five weeks after the first, you got the second postcard. All it said was, "I'm coming back." It had a picture of a parrot next to some tropical flowers. You swiped it after it was finished being passed around and kept it on your bedside table. You looked at it each morning to remind yourself that even if JC hadn't come the day before he might come today.
You were talking with Wade heard a slight commotion the compound's game room, but you looked over briefly, but didn't really think about it. Chris was probably just trying to wrestle Joey to the ground or something.
Then he heard, "Oh my god, JC, we missed you so fucking much."
Your heart stopped while you turned, then started again in double time as you left Wade in the rehearsal hall, breaking into a jog when you got in the hallway. You were impatient, even the six seconds it took you to burst through the door was too much. When you got there, JC was still all the way across the room, laughing at something Joey said, clapping his hands in that same over enthusiastic way. He looked at you, and smiled, you kind of wanted to run at him, crash against him, and jump up on him to unleash this puppy-like excitement you had inside. You didn't because JC was even thinner than before, and it just wouldn't work. You crossed the room and picked him up instead, holding him against you by the hips.
JC slid his arms around your neck and squeezed, then hung in the air, awkwardly.
"Get comfortable, I'm not letting you go." That was probably selfish of you to say, the other guys were happy to see JC, too. Still, the only reason you didn't make good on your promise was because your arms got tired.
You let JC slide down, wishing everybody would leave so you could kiss him. But you waited, waited for the other guys to say what they to say, waited for Johnny to end his lecture. You were still waiting for JC to stop apologizing when you looked over at the clock and decided that in five minutes you were going to take JC's hand and lead him out into the hallway and kiss him there, finished or not.
He finished in three, sitting back, nestling into the arm you had laying across the back of the couch.
"You must be tired," you murmured, looking at his face, at the curve of his lashes.
"Mm," JC scooted down even further, so he was resting the back of his head in the crook of your elbow. He opened his eyes and looked at you, smile just turning up the corners of his lips, "Missed you a lot, kid."
"Next time you go on a fucking spiritual journey, take me with you then." He laughed, and you said, "Come on, lemme take you home. We got things to talk about."
You took his hand and pulled him out into the hallway, but you lost the nerve almost the second they're alone.
In the car, a comfortable silence reigned, but it wasn't awkward. JC seemed genuinely glad to be back, and there wasn't any doubt that you was glad to see him; you kept looking over every few minutes to grin, in that big way you had, laughing at yourself looking.
"Justin, um," JC looked at you when you cut off the engine. "Did you want come in?"
"Yeah," you opened your door. "You know, for some coffee, maybe."
You finally did it in the doorstep of JC's house, felt all the fear melt into nothing when you put your hands on the small of JC's back and pulled until you were close enough to press his mouth to yours. JC cupped your face and made little breathless noises, even though it wasn't some earth-shattering kiss. Still, when you and he pulled apart, you were panting. JC fumbled with his keys, unwilling to actually turn around and look where he was putting the key. He got it eventually and you both spilled into the foyer.
"Um, coffee, right. I'll be right back," JC went into the kitchen, and you followed him. JC smiled, but looked only at his hands as he made the coffee, "What's um, what's been going on since I left. The real deal."
"Joey and Lance are fighting," you told him, watching him move around the kitchen.
"What about?" JC asked, not even seeming concerned.
"Joey accused Lance of coming on to him, ...Lance cried."
JC rested a hip against the counter now that the coffee was brewing, "They'll be alright. I'll talk to them."
"I don't know if that'll work this time."
He shook his head firmly, "It will because they don't like being mad at each other. Joey just needs to be sat down and told to chill out and apologize before he and Lance can't be friends anymore. It won't take much to make him, and Lance will forgive him, too. They don't know how to be mad at each other, we won't let them learn."
You put out your hand, wanting him to come to you, afraid to just go right up to him, like you'd frighten him away again, overstep your bounds. JC took it after a second, squeezing your fingers tight.
"I love you," you said as you slowly pulled him closer.
"Why? Because I know how to resolve Joey and Lance's little fight?" He laced his fingers with yours and made it clear that he was just angling for some sweet talk.
"Because you set the world right. You always do."