A Walk Through Winter
by Miss Kitty E
JC liked to write on pristine paper; he'd throw away any piece that was rumpled or smudged. He liked his notebook to be neatly organized. He wrote with only certain kinds of pens, never pencil, so that any mistakes had to be scratched out. When was satisfied with what he had, he rewrote the whole song, so that it was nicely spaced out, handwriting neat and uniform. It was sort of silly, to be so rigid about the creative process, but it filled up time, and JC really sort of liked it when everything looked like it took no effort at all. Then he could act like Space Cowboy was written in one sitting, like a song of that caliber should be, instead of agonized over for a week and a half.
Today he had his crisp notebook, his favorite kind of pen, and an idea that refused to make any kind of journey onto the paper. He wrote out idle words but none of them seemed to string up to make sentences. His mother had gotten him a Word of the Day calendar and he wanted to start using some words with complicated meanings. He had a list of his favorite words; mock was a good one. Mock me if you have to, but you'll see that it's true. You're the one for me, and I'm the one for you. He wrote it down. Now all he needed was a line about fate, a line where he pleaded for her to become 'his baby,' something with a nice, long vowel sound for Justin to riff on. He closed his notebook. Standard. Everything he wrote was standard.
He wished it were an effort to write pop. He wished that he could take songs to the record label and have them act a little scared, want to make a few changes. They never did though, they cooed excitedly over his songs and suggested people to help him with the melody. He sighed and pushed the notebook off his lap. Pop songs. All he was ever going to write was pop songs. Words clicking together because they rhymed pretty well and made some kind of sense in the context of love or hate. He could resolve right this very second to write a song that was complicated and meaningful but he knew he couldn't do it. Pop was a poison in his blood. He sighed and looked out the window.
He tended to make cities the examples of their state, and since JC had always thought Cleveland was a perfectly ugly place, he assumed all of Ohio was probably much the same. It wasn't really. Cleveland had factories, and a big gray lake, but this place had trees. Thin, white trees, like birches. Probably not birches, though, he didn't know anything about trees. Snow covered the ground, smoothing over jagged edges and covering up the dirt, the dead leaves. From time to time there was a frozen pond just like in every idyllic winter landscape JC had ever seen in his art books.
He wanted nothing more, suddenly, then to drag his fingers through the snow to see how deep it was. He wanted to walk through the trees and be surround by them, by quiet. JC wasn't by any degree of the term in touch with nature. Joey had fonder memories than he of lakes and jet skiing, camping with his family on the shore. JC liked his cities, liked people, and clubs, and music. He sometimes wished he lived in New York City, where he could walk to places, use the subway, and people watch. He really didn't like driving, which was sort of a necessity in LA and Orlando.
Maybe he should move to New York, he thought. Central Park had trees right, and that was a big, beautiful, green space, and the Guggenheim Museum was right across the street and all. Yeah, a place near the park. He would look in on it, when he got home after this tour, but until then, he really wanted to see those trees. Maybe try to draw them, maybe just stand in the middle of wonderful nothing and listen to the wind. Something soul cleansing, at any rate. He stood up and made his way to the front, tip toeing around the tangle of Nintendo controllers from the last marathon. He knocked on the door to the cab, before opening it.
It was sort of a shock to see the road gliding beneath the nose of the bus. Sometimes JC forgot the thing was even moving.
"What's up, pup?" the driver asked. Ed was really nice.
"Could we stop?" JC felt silly for asking suddenly.
Ed glanced at him quickly before returning his steady gaze on the twist and turns of the road. "There's nothing out here at all, though."
"No, I know. I kind of..." he sighed. He didn't think Ed would laugh necessarily, but he probably wouldn't understand. "Could we just stop? Five minutes?"
Ed shook his head slowly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Chasez, but we're already like six miles behind the other buses cause of a fuckin' horse and buggy. I mean a fuckin' horse and buggy. We're almost to Cleveland. Thirty-five minutes at the most, I promise."
"Oh. Okay." How could he forget? Every five-star hotel provided a forest for their guests. Cleveland would be just as well. He could try to center himself while standing under the trees in the parking lot. Right.
He took care not to slam the door, but kicked the game controllers out of his way.
"Something wrong?" Chris was rooting through the fridge. He pulled out a beer, and opened it while looking at JC.
JC sat down on the couch, and thought about lying. He couldn't think of anything though, so he just admitted, "I miss trees."
Chris took a drink, and lifted his eyebrows. "I'm sure they miss you, too."
"Fuck you, I just. Look," he gestured to the window. "Trees. Real trees. Not plastic. Not manicured. Real trees. Covered with real snow. It's beautiful and it's going by at 67 miles per hour." JC had glanced at the speedometer while talking to Ed.
"Why does that bother you?" Chris sat down across from JC, sipping periodically.
"It doesn't usually. Today it does." JC looked out the window, and watched the trees go by. They were already starting thin out as the road became highway.
"You know what I miss?" Chris asked.
JC looked at his face, scanning for the joke. "What?"
"Beaches," Chris said in all seriousness.
JC frowned, "Beaches? We go to resorts all the fucking time. We did a concert in the Keyes."
He shook his head, "That's like plastic trees, though. Cause like, the beaches I grew up with? Dirty, and crowded. There were just hot dog vendors, and places to buy sunglasses. There wasn't any alcohol allowed on the beach so all you could was stretch out and flirt with the girls walking by. Can't talk to people on the beach now, cause they want your autograph, they want a picture. Better just to stay inside, swim in the pool."
"You were really tan when I met you." JC realized that part of the reason Chris moved to Florida and not LA was the beaches. Blue water, instead of gray ocean.
"That I was," Chris said smiling. "But now I'm as pale as pale can be. No beaches."
That was really sad, JC thought, sad like seeing beauty, and not experiencing it. Winter forests gave way to concrete and plaster. They pressed through the throng to the hotel, s biting their cheeks. JC shivered when they were finally inside, an ache has started inside, and he ould smell depression on the horizon. As he walked to his hotel room, reading the numbers on the doors, someone grabbed his arm.
"Hey, come on." It was Chris, and he was pulling JC back towards the elevator.
"Where are we going?"
"Well the bikes are here, so I thought we'd go for a ride. Find some trees."
"A ride? Chris, it's snowing out there," JC planted his feet. "I'm not even wearing a jacket."
Chris looked him up and down, "Five minutes then. Put on some layers, and find a leather jacket. Leather's good for crashes. Which we won't have, but if we do, it'll save your pretty shirts. Sorry. I'll go get the bike ready. Call me on my cell and I'll tell you where we're parked."
JC blinked and watched Chris continue down the hall. He went back to his room, and opened his suitcases. He had a thermal shirt somewhere. He found it wedged in with the "mid-weight" clothes. He stripped down to bare skin and put it on, then a long sleeve shirt, then a sweater. He pulled out his leather jacket from the garment bag, and tried to put it on, but his sweater was too thick. He took off the sweater and hoped the thermal was really as warm as it promised. He found a toque and pulled it low, hurting for a cap to avoid being recognized, but it'd be cool. He picked up his cell phone and punched Chris' number, he walked down the hallway, listening to it ring.
"It's me." JC punched the button and waited for the elevator doors to spring open.
"C3. I'll be waiting." He hung up, and JC thought it would have been nicer if Chris had kept talking, but he wasn't about to call back. He walked in silence instead to where Chris was waiting for him, already straddling the bike.
He grinned at JC, holding out what was probably Justin's helmet. "Okay, hop on."
JC took it, but looked at it like he didn't really know what to do with it. "Chris, I dunno."
"We'll be fine, I promise."
"But the snow-"
Chris waved his hand dismissively, "Light flurries, and it's not even snowing anymore. So shake a leg. Remember, you gotta lean into the turns."
"I know," JC said irritably. "I have a scooter."
"This ain't a scooter, JC."
"I know that, you fuck, I'm just saying I've ridden on something with less than four wheels before. I've got a license for it. I took that class."
Chris put up his hands defensively, "Alright, alright."
JC put on the helmet and let Chris adjust the chinstrap. He jerked when Chris slapped down on the visor, and translated the movement into mounting the back of the bike. He held loosely onto Chris waist, listening to the rev of the engine. He yelped when they darted forward, and holding onto Chris became clutching. They made the first turn and JC felt like he was falling. He wanted to close his eyes but it was worse when he didn't know what was coming. He tried to think about the trees, tried to remember the spot that was just right, but the was too difficult when Chris gunned the engine and started weaving through traffic. He thought about breathing instead; in for five counts, out in five.
Three hundred and six breaths later, he tapped Chris's shoulder and they slowed down. He whipped off his helmet and looked around, took a deep breath and nodded approvingly. He slid off the back of the bike and took a few steps up the embankment. "This is perfect." He grinned back at Chris who was still sitting on the bike. The engine was off, and the kickstand was down, but still he waited.
"Hey this is your spiritual thing, not mine. Someone might steal the bike."
"Take the keys."
"They could hot wire it."
"We're in the middle of fucking Nowhere, Ohio. No one here knows how to hotwire a Harley."
"They're a wily people." Chris said, he did get off, but only to lean against his bike.
JC walked over and grabbed Chris' hand. "If they steal it, I'll replace, I promise." The crazy thing was JC actually had enough money to make good on that promise.
"We'll be stranded here!" Chris was following him, but slowly.
"We've got cell phones, and there was a house down the road. If they've got a teenaged daughter we'll be saved."
"Sounds suspiciously like that Stephen King novel if you ask me."
JC laughed and continued dragging Chris along. They topped the first hill and as they walked down it the sounds of the road faded almost completely. Somewhere on the climb up the second snowy incline, JC was no longer pulling, just walking hand in hand with Chris. JC took in that sensation, Chris' gloved hand curled around his own, along with everything else. The only sound was their breathing, and the crunching of their shoes in the snow. Behind them, they marred it with heavy tracks, but before them the snow was a fluffy, white blanket, laid on the ground and wrapped around the trees as cold comfort. The air didn't just feel wet and cold, but smelled of it. JC thought of those special people who could see music, taste words.
He felt like that now; sound was texture, smell was tactile. JC drank it up. He hadn't realized how dead he'd made himself, screaming girls, deafening club music. He'd forgotten how to hear. A million faces, a million miles a day. He'd forgotten how to see. Hands reaching out to touch him, their air kept at 72 degrees exactly for the sake of their voices. He'd forgotten how to feel. He marked the moment in his mind, December 27th, 2001, JC Chasez craved for sensation instead of hiding from it.
"What are you thinking about?" JC asked.
Chris shrugged, "That Justin's probably going to be mad that I forgot all about how we were gonna look in on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He wanted to know if they had our CD in the gift store. Someone told him they didn't."
JC mulled that over for a while, "You and he do a lot together."
"I gotta take care of him."
"He's not a kid."
"I know. But. He's pretty stupid. And it's nice to take care of some one."
"Have you ever thought about..." JC decided not to ask.
JC shook his head, "It's nothing."
"I know what you wanna say. I should settle down and have kids, right? That's not really me, you gotta know that." Chris has probably been hearing that all his life.
He bit the inside of his cheek, he could let Chris think that he was scolding him on being commitment-phobic, or he could maybe... open his eyes? "I think you should ask yourself why you like taking care of Justin so much."
Chris looked confused, "What? You mean..." he trailed off and JC didn't clarify. "Oh man, it's not like that. You know it's not."
"It could be, though."
"It's not. I don't sleep with my friends."
"Why not?" JC always fell in love with his friends. There's no love without trust, and the only people JC could really trust were his friends.
"Because relationships fail." JC winced at the cynicism in Chris' voice. "That's what they do. Friendships don't until you mix them up with sex."
That was true enough so JC didn't say anything else. They trudged on. On the top of the second hill the trees were denser, and JC stopped in his tracks. "It's beautiful."
"It's cold, you dipshit." Chris didn't really sound annoyed. "It is nice though," he said a little later while JC was walking around touching the bark, watching it flake off under his fingers. JC looked over, and thought maybe Chris had been desensitized for too long, too.
"I should have brought my paints. Or. My sketchbook at least." JC sighed, he really wanted to remember this place, exactly. Not only the position of the trees but what he felt.
"Um, here." Chris walked up to him, pressing something into his hand, "I brought this just in case. I didn't know what the fuck you were planning on doing out here but I figured you'd probably want to remember it."
It was a camera: the disposable kind you get from the gift shops. JC grinned, his cheeks felt sore from the cold, but he couldn't help but smile. He stood in the middle of all the trees, and the quiet, and started taking pictures. He slowly turned a full circle capturing all 360 degrees of the scene. He'd paint a series, one for each picture. He'd need lots of warm grays, and dark browns. Chris started to move out of the final picture, but JC made him stop.
"No, you're a part of this, too."
Chris went back to leaning against his tree, and let JC take the picture. "Done yet?" he asked while JC wound the camera.
"One last one," he said. JC laid on the ground, and took a shot of the black branches dancing over gray sky. He sighed happily, and still on his back, listening to Chris laugh until he realized he was probably ruining his leather jacket.
He got up and Chris came over, still laughing, clapping him on the back. "You're a freak." He looked at JC, "And you've got snow all over your hat." He stood in front of JC and started brushing it off.
JC liked attention, and under Chris's hands he felt pampered, indulged. Chris really shouldn't be so nice to him. Carting him out to wilderness, hiking through snow, brushing snow gently off of the curls sticking out from underneath his toque. "Oh," he said, too late to be talking about the snow. Chris was taking care of him. But.
Chris was done, but he didn't move right away. JC heard the crunch of snow under Chris's feet as he started to shift away and all he could think was that things shouldn't have to go back to normal. He changed everything the easiest way he knew how; he kissed Chris. Cold lips on cold lips, and a sudden streak of heat when Chris opened his mouth a little. Chris returned his gloved hand to the back of JC's neck, and they kiss until the change is permanent. Chris pulled away and takes JC's hand, and they follow the trail of their own tracks back to the road.
JC didn't like the silence, didn't like being left to sort out his thoughts alone. He thought, maybe Chris's silence means the kiss didn't mean the same thing to him. Oh of course, fuck, that whole thing about sleeping with friends. JC felt like a complete idiot.
"I'm sorry," he said. He felt his breathing pick up, and he really wasn't going to cry, was he? "I know you don't sleep with friends."
"Who said you were my friend?" Chris asked him, stopping. He looked up at JC, "You're just some hot guy I know."
JC smiled, and Chris kissed him this time, tugging him down to the right level with their clasped hands.
The bike was still there when they returned, and they motored off back to Cleveland. JC leaned into the first turn and felt like he was flying.
Fic Index - Main