we invented the remix 6


straight out from underneath by withdiamonds: the so put me down, punk mix by phaballa


It's been a while since you've seen Justin, a couple years maybe and he's not that different, just taller and not so skinny anymore and his hair is awful, bleached and wet-looking with gel, but basically, he's the same. You're not the same. You're almost seventeen and you don't look anything like the little kid you used to be. You don't wear jumper dresses and overhauls anymore, either, and your mom said that maybe next month you can get your boobs done if you still want it. You're pretty sure you'll still want it. Everyone wants you to grow up faster and look like a woman and be sexy and things, and you want that, too. Waiting takes so long sometimes, it makes you want to scream.

Justin says, "The thing is, is that I'm not—well. We're friends, right?"

You look at him. You haven't been friends in a long time, haven't really kept in contact since the show, but whatever. Your momma says that sometimes it's easier to just let people make their own assumptions as long as you know the truth in your heart, so you shrug and say, "Sure. Of course, Justin."

He smiles. His smile is still the prettiest thing you've ever seen, and no, you were maybe never friends. You always wanted more and you thought he did, too. He kissed you at a party once, a secret kiss sitting on the floor of the front hall closet at Ryan's house, coats hanging around you like a curtain. You remember it was warm in the closet and Justin had soft lips and his hair curled around your fingers when you touched it.

"I'm dating Lance," he says. Just a simple statement of fact and you're not surprised, exactly, because Justin was always a little like that, but you're kind of surprised it's Lance, because Lance isn't. Well. He's not who you would choose, anyway, and you're a lady so you'd never say anything bad, but. He wouldn't be your choice, that's all.

He takes your hand. "But I still want to, you know. Hang out and stuff. Get to know each other again. Lance is a really—I care about him a lot, you know? And he gets it, so it won't be a problem."

You smile and nod and try to look like you know what's going on, because Fe says it's important to seem like you understand things even if you don't, and you can always figure it out later. Justin smiles, too, and kisses your cheek. His lips are still soft and his fingers are warm around your wrist.

Later, your momma and Fe explain everything to you. "Of course he's your friend, but everyone's going to think you're together, and that's what he wants and what the record company wants because no one can know he's with Lance."

"So I'm like. A fake girlfriend?"

Fe won't look you in the eye. "You just be you, and don't worry about any of that other mess."

               

When you were fourteen, you went to a school with uniforms and you had a real boyfriend called Reggie. Your momma always said that good girls save it for marriage but you could see just how well that worked out for her, so you made your own rules and thought love was a better criteria. Love should be enough, you thought, and when you were fourteen you had sex in the back of Reggie's car where you couldn't even get undressed all the way, but it was still special and good. You really loved him and then your momma found out and pulled you out of school. You wanted to be angry at her, but then you got the record deal so in the end, it was all worth it.

               

Sometimes, you think you maybe like Lance better than Justin and you feel bad for thinking that maybe Lance wasn't very cute when you first met him, but Lance is smart and fun and never talk to you like you're stupid. You spend a lot of time together on tour because you have the same boyfriend and you're the only one that knows that. Lance makes the whole thing seem normal and fun and like an adventure. When you leave tour to do your own thing and get ready for your album to finally drop, Lance talks to you whenever Justin calls you, and you find yourself getting impatient with Justin's boring attempts at conversation about how he misses you and all that when you know it's not really like that; Justin's only kissed you five times and you think he only meant it maybe three times. You just want him to get off the phone so you can say hi to Lance.

There are a lot of rumors and reporters asking you about Justin, but you just smile and say that you're not dating anyone and that's the truth. Your album is a hit and you're about to go on your own tour so you don't get to talk to Justin or Lance very often now. Sometimes you fly out for a visit but it's always rushed and awkward and you spend most of the time in a hotel room with Fe anyway, so you're never really sure what the point of it all is because you could be doing that on your own tour.

Larry says that Justin is good for you, though. Larry says that in the winter, you'll go to Hawaii and film a concert and NSYNC will be there, too. He says that you'll be eighteen then, and you and Justin can be boyfriend and girlfriend for real.

Sometimes, you think Larry is a fucking idiot.

               

Justin takes you out for your birthday and it's not your real birthday because you were doing a show then, but he takes you out and it's pretty fun even though Fe and Lynn Harless are sitting a few tables over. Justin's hair finally looks okay and not gross anymore, and you wonder what it would feel like if you touched and if it would still curl around your fingers.

"I'm really glad we're friends, Brit," Justin says. "It can't be easy for you. I mean." He laughs a little. "You probably wish you could have a real boyfriend or something."

You just look at him and don't say anything about the choreographer you met last month who you haven't had sex with yet but you've gone pretty far because you're not in love with him and that's definitely your rule, but he's cute and nice and he thinks you're a good dancer, so yeah. You're supposed to be a virgin, that's what Larry and your momma are always saying, but you never though Justin would believe that. That's just stupid.

"It's not so bad," you say. "I mean, I really like you and Lance. But Larry says my career comes first and we can go public next month, so that'll be better. Or something." You shrug.

"You just seem lonely sometimes, is all."

"Yeah." You don't know what else to say, but Justin smiles and that seems like enough for him. Later, he knocks on your hotel room door and you were almost asleep, but you climb out of bed and see him through the peephole. Fe is snoring in the far bed and she won't wake up for anything, so you drag him into the bathroom and cross your arms over your chest, feeling weird and awkward in your t-shirt and sweatpants and glasses. Justin's never seen you in your glasses before and he touches the frame next to your cheek with one finger.

"Justin! It's after midnight. What's going on?"

"Nothing," Justin says, and kisses you. The bathroom light is too bright and his fingers are hot against the back of your neck. His other hand slides down your waist and tries to go further before you jerk away, fingers covering your mouth.

"I don't understand," you say, and that's another rule broken.

"I really like you, Brit. I don't want you to be lonely. This is just, it sucks, you know? It's a shitty situation and it sucks and I hate that I put you here in the first place."

"Oh." You think hard, have to think of what to say. "I. I like you too, Justin. I just, there's Lance, and it's not right without Lance, so." You bite your lip. "Lance is my friend, too. I don't want to hurt him."

"No, you're right," Justin says, taking a deep breath and shoving his hands in his pockets. "Maybe, well. We can figure something out. We can fix this."

"Sure, Justin." You curl your toes against the cold tile of the floor and wish boys weren't so stupid

               

You're allowed to spend as much time as you want with Justin in Hawaii because you're about to admit that you're actually together, which you think is pretty ironic because now you'll be telling the one lie everyone thinks is true. Justin says, "I'm talking to Lance today, everything's going to be totally cool." You're not sure what he means, but with Justin that never really matters. You just smile and eat your grapefruit and stare out the window at the ocean. Everything is so blue here.

Now when you look at Lance, it's pretty crazy to you that you ever thought he was weird looking. Lance is all golden and pretty and you've never seen eyes that color before, but you sort of want to touch them to see if they're real. At the beach, Lance smoothes suntan lotion over your back with soft, gentle hands, and says, "You know you don't have to do this, right? Just because it's what Justin wants?"

Justin is off down the beach, throwing himself into the water, and you think about that night in the hotel bathroom. You don't love Justin, you think, or at least not like that, but Lance is special. Different. He treats you like glass, like a lady, like something to be respected and cared for. Lance doesn't like girls, you know that. But he likes you, or he likes you enough, anyway, and when his fingers brush along the back of your hand, you get it, suddenly. Lance always helps you get things. You almost feel smart around him.

"I wouldn't do anything just because of Justin," you tell him, making a face and lying back on your towel. You turn your head and smile at him. "You're my best friend, Lance."

When Justin comes back, grinning and shaking cold water onto you until you shriek and threaten him with sand, Lance says, "We should get out of the sun before we get burned."

               

Lance's lips are hot against your skin and you can barely think of anything else because it's Lance and you never thought—you never let yourself think about it. Justin between you but with his eyes closed and his face pressed against your neck, all you can see is the wide green of Lance's eyes and you just wish he was looking at you.

               

Sometimes, you think Justin has some really stupid ideas about relationships and love and how things work.

"He's just really selfish or something," you tell Fe, staring out the bus window and wishing you could call Lance. You're not supposed to, it would look weird, Justin says, but you think he just doesn't want you getting too close. He doesn't want to get left out. You think maybe that's all three of you, but Justin would never think of that.

"Men are just like that, baby. Just another thing we have to put up with. And you love him, right?"

"I don't think I like being in love," you say, and Fe just laughs.

               

The thing with Wade just happens. You don't mean to because Wade is Wade and he's Justin's friend even if he was yours first, but Wade has spiky dyed blond hair and a deep voice and sometimes, if you close your eyes, you can almost pretend he's someone else and you definitely know he's not Justin.

Wade says, "You're so beautiful" even when you've just come off stage and you're sweaty and gross and your hair feels like a giant knot tied to your scalp. Wade says, "You're amazing," and his hands slide over your skin so so gently, like he really believes it.

After, you lie side by side on the scratchy hotel bedspread, his calf pressed against your ankle but otherwise separate, a foot of space and ugly flower pattern between you. This isn't the first time you've broken one of the rules and it won't be the last time because sometimes you think, well. It's not like it was at school with Ronnie or whatever his name was. Maybe you've never been in love after all, but at least this feels honest, even if it doesn't feel right. At least this feels honest.

"You know about Justin and Lance, right?" Wade says. His fingers brush against your arm and you roll away, swing your legs over the edge of the bed and stare at the painting hanging on the wall opposite, some stupid farm girl feeding chickens or something. You really hate hotel rooms, and sometimes it's hard to remember what your own house looks like anymore.

"I knew all this time," you say, and head for the bathroom without looking back. Your skin feels like plastic, like all the make-up and sweat and lotions and whatever else gets poured on you everyday has hardened into a shell. Like you're some sort of fucked up egg gone rotten because you never got to hatch or something, and you really need a shower.

               

You're never sure how Lance ends up in your room that afternoon with Wade, and you're not even sure if you care why, you're just happy that he is. It's Justin, of course. It's always about Justin—they had a fight or they fucked other people and they never really learned how to make their own rules so it's a big deal—but whatever, because when you open the door and Lance is there, you couldn't give a fuck about Justin. You're too happy to care.

It feels like the last time and the first time all in one, and you know that it probably is because Lance always makes you feel smarter and helps you get things, so you know. But there's nothing between you now except skin and breath, and you want to crawl inside him and just stay there. Wade's fingers digging into your hip are barely noticeable when all you can see is green, green, and the feel of Lance, the softest warmest hardest part of him in your hands.

               

You think about that afternoon a lot even years later, probably more than your doctor would say is healthy, but it's not like you'd ever tell your doctor about that because it's none of her fucking business and there are some moments you need to keep for yourself. It was sunny, you remember, and the hotel room had real curtains with sheer layers that let the light filter through in warm stripes across your skin. You think it must've been beautiful.

Sometimes you forget. Sometimes you're taking the pills everyone says you have to take and you forget the exact taste of his skin or the way he'd say your name, soft and low and private, like it was just for the two of you. "Britney Jean, everything will be okay," he'd say, and no one ever calls you that anymore.

JC is the only one you talk to anymore and he thinks you should be sorry. "You sort of broke them up," JC says, and you snap back, "They broke themselves up, it was never about me."

You might be done with the rules for now, you think, and it's maybe time to make some new ones. Larry gives you some books to read, like The Secret and some other stupid new age stuff that only reminds you of Justin. Your doctor gives you a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and tells you to read it by your next session, as homework. You look at it in your lap, heavy and dull-looking, and say, "It's like a thousand pages long."

"Well, you have almost two weeks. You're a smart woman, Britney. I'm not letting you off the hook."

It's just as long and boring as it seems, but you work your way through it and find yourself writing notes in the margins sometimes, because you really are trying to make some new rules and Eleanor did her own thing and never let anyone forget it.

You finish the book with two days to spare. Your dad looks at you and shakes his head, says, "I never thought I'd see that," but you ignore him and dig around in his desk for a sheet of paper and a pen because it's important to write these things down or else you'll cheat like before, and it won't be like before.

Your momma always said you'd know what was true in your heart, and what you know is this: be yourself, and don't apologize for it. Be yourself, and don't let anyone use you. Be yourself, and don't give in when you know something's wrong even if it's easier. Be yourself, and don't worry about any of that other mess.


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