we invented the remix 5

pulling the wool over love's eyes by ninjetti: the what's going on mix by joyfulseeker

Justin is dreaming.  He knows he is, because he is standing in a field like the ones he used to see outside the window when he was five and driving to visit his grandparents.  Grain, yellow-topped, shines in rows all around him stretching into the horizon, but he is at a remove from it, and Justin is alone.

Britney has made superhuman adjustments to her schedule to be here, and now they are sitting in Justin's house at opposite sides of his kitchen table, eating lunch.  Britney has her hair drawn over one shoulder, the sun picking out strands of deeper yellow and reminding him of his dream from the night before.  She brings up her hand as she talks, fingers picking and sectioning off hair to slide behind her ear in a delicate gesture, and sunlight flashes off the many tiny metal bracelets on her wrist.  She is pretty like a picture in Justin's kitchen, put together for the day.

"What's that, baby?" Justin says, and then: "I was thinking, maybe we could go out tonight, Chris was telling me about a club with a good VIP."

"Oh, Justin," Britney says.  "No, baby.  No."

"What," Justin says, and Britney is sliding back her chair, rising from the table, and taking their dishes to the sink to wash.

"I just don't think," she begins, back to him, and her tone of voice says she is picking up the threads of an earlier conversation.  "Honey, you know this isn't working."

"What," Justin says again, getting up as well and walking toward her.  "Brit, come on, you know I'll get those."

"No, Justin," she says, turning, putting a hand to his chest and shoving hard, and then she is walking past him out of the room.  She has her bags sitting next to the door in the foyer, and Justin hadn't even noticed.

"What's this?" he says.  "I thought you weren't leaving 'til tomorrow."

"I changed my plans," Britney says.

"Why?" Justin asks, and he's not just being obtuse, despite the way Britney's mouth presses tight at the corners.

"It's not working," she repeats.  "I'm sorry, baby.  It's not."

"No," Justin says.  "No, it's.  You're happy, right?  I'm--I'm happy.  With you," he adds, and then frowns at how it sounds, weaker than he wanted.

"No, baby," Britney says, and then she is leaning over and picking up her bag and extending the handle on her suitcase.

"Wait," he says.

She walks over and reaches up to kiss him on the cheek, then wipes away the smudge of lipstick with her thumb.  "I'll be in New York on the fifteenth," she says, and Justin nods numbly, because they synchronized their calendars before this, and Justin already knew.

"Brit," he says.

"Bye, baby," she says, and the door closes behind her.

Justin taps his fingers against the mixing board absently, until JC reaches over and presses them flat.

"You know that drives me batshit," JC says, not looking away from Chris, singing with Joey in the booth.

"What," Justin says.

"That thing where you tap just out of time, man, that's so not cool.  You're messing with the vibe."

"No, what," Justin says, then looks down at his foot, tapping noiselessly against the carpet, and just almost half a beat behind.  "Sorry," he mutters.  "I didn't know.  You know how it goes sometimes."

"JC's never been out of time in his life," Lance says from where he's sprawled out on the sofa behind them.

Justin swings his chair in a swift half circle, then back, dashing a glance at Lance.  Lance has his hands folded lazily across his stomach, and Justin's eyes skip from eyes to chest to groin to floor before he grunts and spins back to face the plexiglass window.

"Can't all be like JC," he mutters darkly.

"Shush, shut it," JC says, flapping a hand at them both.  Justin looks back at Lance, who rolls his eyes at JC, then glances at Justin.  He jerks his head toward the door, and Justin nods.

"So what's the deal?" Lance asks once they're out in the hall.  It's a converted office building with added soundproofed padding tacked up everywhere inside the studio, so the hallway outside is white and bland.  Lance paces in a circle for a moment, swinging his arms, then turns to face Justin.   Justin squints at the dull grey carpet, rubbing a hand over his hair.

"I," he says, but he's got a publicist with a press release.  The guys need to know.  "Brit and I, we had a talk.  We figured it wasn't gonna, you know."  He glances up.  Lance's face is a caricature of surprise, eyebrows shooting toward the ceiling, mouth rounded.  He always overacts.  "Don't look so surprised, man," Justin says.

Lance shakes his head.  "No.  I am."

"Oh," Justin says.  "I thought, you know."  He has sat around with Joey and Lance dissing Chris and JC's failing relationships as they said things like, "Can't they read the writing on the walls?" and, "Just a glutton for punishment," shaking their heads sadly, and he thought he'd known what was going on in the conversations that stopped whenever he entered the room.

"I just," Lance says, and stops.  He shakes his head.  "No.  I didn't know."

"Well," Justin says.  "It's not a big deal, right?  It's just, yeah.  She's telling folks today."

"Oh," Lance says.  "Wow."  He shakes his head again, a slow motion from side to side.  "All right.  Come on.  Let's go back in.  Joey and I'll take you out tonight.  Give you something else to think about, huh?"  He claps his hand on Justin's shoulder.

"You really didn't know," Justin says, leaning into Lance's hand a little as they turn back toward the door.

"I didn't, I swear," Lance says, his hand sliding up to the nape of Justin's neck.

"Fucking liar," Justin says.

"I thought it'd take longer," Lance admits.

"Well, that's something," Justin mutters, and lets Lance open the door for him.

Justin is in a field, but the colors are subtly wrong, stalks dark and tarnished instead of vibrant, and everything feels out of focus, though with a creeping sense of the familiar.  He flails around, trying to see, but the skies get darker and darker, or maybe just his vision tunneling around the edges, and it's so hard to move.  He wakes up shoving at the covers, heart beating fast in his chest, and he lies back on the pillow, his sleepy mind still trying to make a connection. 

He rolls over, fingers grazing the empty pillow next to him, and he remembers.  Britney, New York, alone.  The dream shifts into the past with every breath he takes, even as he still feels panic from the clouds rolling in clawing at his throat, and he soon gives up, closing his eyes and attempting to sleep.

Big day tomorrow.  Big day every day.

When he wakes up the next morning, the dream has faded to hardly anything at all, and he can't remember what was real and what he's making up.  He talks to his mama after lunch, and he's in the middle of telling her how the recording is going when he suddenly recalls, puts it together, this dream and then the dream from the morning Brit left.

He stops suddenly and his mom makes a noise, then, "Justin, honey.  You still there?"

"Yeah, Mama," Justin says, still looking out the window at the feathery ornamental grass his landscaper planted in the far-right corner of his backyard.

"You dropped off for a minute there," she says, voice light and teasing.

"Sorry, got distracted by something outside," he says, and returns to describing the newest track he and JC laid down the previous day.

He's out at a strip club with Lance, the rest of the guys having begged off with a variety of solid-to-flimsy excuses, and Justin thinks that he should be having a better time.  The current girl, who had been introduced as Rhonda by the anonymous DJ over the speakers, is gyrating in front of them.  Lance is bobbing his head in time to the music, leaned back in his chair like he does this everyday while Justin is hunched over his drink, elbows braced on the table, reminding himself to pay attention to the stage.  Lance bought him a lapdance earlier, and the glitter from her skin is smeared across his forearm.  Justin keeps rubbing at it, but it doesn't come off.  He'll be picking it out of his sheets for days, he knows.

He is aroused almost despite himself, turned on by the tawdry ambience of sex, sex, sex, the naked women and the men who sit coiled in their chairs.  Lance leans over and says, "I arranged a surprise, man," speaking close to Justin's ear over the pounding bass, and Justin leans into him, their shoulders brushing.

"What--" Justin starts, and Lance jostles him with his elbow.

"You'll see," Lance says, then reaches up to slide a folded dollar into the palm of the dancer in front of them.  She gives an elaborate kiss, dancing closer, giving him a show, and Justin thinks it's funny, because Lance is probably the least interested party in the room except for the other dancers.

"Do you even like this?" Justin asks.

Lance shrugs.  "Skin is sexy," he says, "even if I don't wanna touch it," and Justin has a brief flash of Britney standing naked in their bedroom, face contorted and makeup smearing down her cheeks as she shouts, "You don't even want to touch me?" and he downs the rest of his drink, ordering another.

He is just drunk enough when a waitress comes by with Lance's surprise--two cans of reddi-whip cream, one naked woman--to take the can with enthusiasm.  He throws his arm over Lance's shoulder as they shake and spray, and the girl giggles when he bends his head to her breast.

"Spending a lot of time with Lance," Chris says, when they've stopped moving and turned off their engines.  He takes off his helmet, letting it dangle from his handlebars, and runs a hand over his head to settle his bandana.

Justin makes a kissy-sound, kicking at the ground with his other foot.  "You jealous, baby?  That I'm gonna make Lance my favorite?"

"Oh, yes," Chris breathes, pitching his voice even higher than normal.  "I told my mama that you were passing notes about me in class and she's gonna call the teacher."

Justin laughs, shaking his head.  "Man."

"No, though," Chris says.  "Is there a naked woman you two ain't ogled together in this city?"

"They got them nude beaches over at Canaveral," Justin says.  "We haven't gone there yet."  He shakes his head.  "I think he's just trying to cheer me up."

"'S it working?" Chris asks.

"Yeah, sure," Justin says.

"Okay," Chris says.

"Does it look like it's not working?"

"It makes good copy," Chris says, and Justin grimaces.  Chris lifts his hands.  "Just saying."

"Yeah, yeah," Justin mutters.  "No, you know.  It's Lance's version of being sweet.  He's just not too good at it."

"Sure," Chris says easily, then turns his head, attention caught by a flash of motion at the other end of the road.  "C'mon, baby boy," he says, sliding his helmet back on.  "Let's go.  I promise not to get you drunk in public." 

He starts sleeping on the other side of the bed, convinced that something in the way the shadows from the window fall is giving him his bad dreams.  It doesn't work, though, and he starts to recognize the feel, though the details elude him, always.

JC says: "What do you think they're about?" when Justin mentions it at midnight one night when they're in the studio.  Chris is asleep behind them, snoring on the couch with his arm draped on the floor.

"Maybe my unconscious mind just likes fields," Justin says.  He inches up a level and replays the track.

"Maybe," JC says.  "No, not like that.  Too fast, man."

"I feel like I'm looking for something, though," Justin confesses.  "It's like, you know those dreams I had in Germany?  After my mom went home?"

JC nods.  "So you think it's because Britney left?" he says. 

Justin shakes his head.  "I was having them before."  There's a piece of masking tape on the board, lettered in black sharpie, and Justin peels up the edge with his fingernail, then smoothes it back down.

"I had a dream about Oreos," JC offers.  "Like, night after night, just, Oreos."  He shakes his head, reminiscently.  "Made me buy a big bag of 'em, and then the dream went away."

"I'm not gonna buy a wheat field," Justin says, and JC blinks.

"No, of course not," he says.  "I was just sharing.  Although, Lance would say that real estate was a good investment."

"Lance would not say that agricultural real estate was a good investment," Justin says.

"No, so, but what do you think you're looking for?" JC asks, circling back unerringly.

"I don't know," Justin moans, putting his head down on the edge of the mixing board.

"Are you doing anything to find out?" JC asks.

Justin thinks back to all those nights out with Lance, the girls' smooth bare skin and the crappy drinks and Lance's shoulder under his, the smell of Lance's cologne in Justin's nose as he drapes himself around Lance's neck.  "Yeah," he mutters.

"Okay, well, that's good," JC says, patting his back.

"JC," Justin says, and then he thinks, I don't think I'm straight, and he doesn't say anything.

Chris is sleeping on the couch behind them, and JC is not really paying attention, and like all the other times Justin has thought about saying something and hasn't, he stays silent.

After a moment, JC says absently, "What?"

"Nothing," Justin says.  "Hey, let's work on this song, yeah?"

Lance takes Justin dirt-biking, and plays one-on-one basketball with him, and lets him win at videogames, and after a while, Justin just wants it to stop.

"He's freaking me out," Justin says to Chris, kicking at his foot.

"Good Southern boy don't like Lance's version of courting?" Chris says absently, kicking Justin back.  He is leafing through a magazine.

"It's unnatural," Justin says.  "Also, I've been consoled enough, I think."

"Yeah," Chris agrees.

Justin snorts.  "Thanks."

"What?"  Chris says, looking up from his magazine.  "Say you're depressed and I'll buy you a beer."

"Yeah, well."  Justin taps the table in a staccato rhythm, nodding his head in time.  "Do you think he is?"

"What," Chris says.

Justin twitches his shoulder and says through dry lips, "Courting."

Chris looks at him steadily, magazine forgotten in his lap.  "Would you want him to?"

No, Justin wants to say, but he ducks Chris's gaze and looks out the window instead, where feathered yellow grass is waving in the breeze, bleached against the green stalks.

"Maybe," he says finally, and the only sound in the room is Chris shifting in his seat.

"So maybe you should let him know," Chris says.  "Don't make any difference to me."

Justin let out a breath.  "Thanks."

"Whatever, baby boy," Chris says, batting him over the head with the rolled up magazine, and it feels like Chris's version of a blessing.

Lance comes over later, standing in the doorway to Justin's kitchen as Justin fiddles with reheating chili from a can.  He has his hands braced high up on either side of the doorframe, and he looks nervous, though Justin isn't sure anyone else would see it.  He wonders what someone said.  Probably Chris, though not necessarily.

"Hey," Lance says.

Justin looks down and wipes his fingers carefully on the dishtowel hanging from the handle on his stove.  "Hey," he says.

"So I was thinking..." Lance says, and Justin smiles.

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