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"ATOTR" Part 107

And yet I'm still not done. I've been busy, see? lol

By Micki Bailey

She’s a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She’s a good girl, crazy ‘bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too

I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
Gonna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for a while

And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin’
— Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

“Yeah, man. So have a seat. Make yourself at home. C’ll be down in a few. Just chill,” Justin spurts out quickly as he scoots down the staircase, two steps at a time, and bursts back into the kitchen where he’d left Joey only minutes earlier.

After the fact, he sees that Joey has already taken a seat — a stool at the island counter in the middle of the room — and had made himself quite comfortable. It feels bizarre, he thinks, to be playing Welcome Wagon to a visitor in JC’s home when he’s a houseguest himself. But, then again, he reminds himself, JC isn’t the average, run-of-the mill host himself — or at least hasn’t been these past few days, and understandably so too —
and Joey most certainly can’t really be classified as a “visitor” either. Not when they all practically live together for the duration of the tour anyway, right?

“Is he still in the sack, J? It’s almost noon, dude. What’s he doing? Phoning in the rest of his life from the safety of his bedroom?” Joey chuckles.

Justin glances at a wall clock, shrugs, seems unconcerned. Except for the subtle undertone of defensiveness for his friend in his voice. “Eh. Ya never know with Jace, we’ve sorta figured out. He could be awake and just not stirring around up there. He’s okay, though. Yeah. He, like, puts on the headphones and rocks out to tunes for hours at a time. Or sometimes he’s up there writing. He said yesterday he’d knocked out a couple of songs of his own. So hey. Who knows? Maybe he’ll throw his hat into the solo ring too when we’re done with this cross-country gig,” he says and smiles playfully, good-naturedly. As if nothing about anything is odd at all.

“Hmm. Anything’s possible, I guess. He’s sure as hell got the talent. Voice, dance moves, looks, the works. It’d be a shame to waste it, yo.”

“I keep telling him that same shit He SO should give it a shot. If he put his mind to it, he could seriously go places in the biz. Know what I’m saying? You want something to wet your whistle, man?” Justin asks, all in one breath, shuffling around the kitchen with a learned familiarity, brimming with fresh, late-morning energy. “Some OJ maybe? A SoBe? Red Bull? Beer?”

“Got a bottle water in there?” Joey answers as Justin swings open the fridge door. “Man, it’s too early for a beer.”

“Famous last words you’ll never hear Chris Kirkpatrick say,” Justin snickers and reaches in. “Cold, refreshing H-2-O. Coming right up, dude.”

“CK booked it back out to Reno for the break, man. You heard? Dude’s got that gambling bug infecting his blood, I’m saying.”

Justin nods, muttering into the chilly fridge. “Yeah, I heard. Whatever floats his boat. He racked up some serious currency in Vegas. He’s lucky with the cards, man. And he doesn’t even cheat. Haha.”

“So you and Cass shacking up here this week, J? In the home-sweet-home Chasez household?” Joey says, absently folding one of the bright yellow daffodils perking up out of a champagne flute full of water on the counter in front of him.

“Yeah,” Justin hushes, spinning around with two plastic bottles of spring water. “Jace offered his hospitality and room and board. Said we could crash for the break since we’re in the process of house-hunting out here and all.”

“And since he’s all by his lonesome in this big ol’ fucker. Man, if you two weren’t here, it’d be a damn tomb up in this place.” Joey glances around, maybe hearing faint echoes of continually drifting silence.

Justin frowns and drinks from his bottle. “Yeah, Cass promised Lancers we’d keep an eye on him after he up and decided not to go to Chicago and stay with his folks for a few days. So this has worked out so cool. Jace has got a little company around — if he wants it — and we’ve got a nice pad to hang out in.”

Joey swallows, looks amused. “And did you and the missus find a house?”

Instantly, Justin grins and lights up the kitchen. “A bitchin’ one, man. You should see this layout, Joe. Tons of room. Every a-list extra and amenity you can even fucking imagine. A huge-ass pool and enough grounds for a golf course, if one should so desire. Haha. And major secluded too. Privacy out the ass. Up in the hills with lots of trees and a big brick wall all around it. It is absolutely da bomb.”

Joey listens and chuckles, swinging his thighs together as his feet are propped on the bar stool rungs. “Sounds like a perfect palace for the princess.”

“The queen, Joe. The queen,” Justin snickers again and winks. “If it’s Cass you’re talking about.”

“And what does the queen say about the palace in question?”

Justin sighs big, but without any fading of the hopeful enthusiasm. He hunches one broad shoulder and bites at the inside of his jaw. “She’s almost right there with me. I’m working on her, man.”

“Riding the fence is she? ‘Sup with that? ‘Cause the crib is so damn big? Did you forget to mention to her that you can afford to hire a maid now, bro, and she won’t have to be cleaning the joint up?”

Justin twitches his mouth, wrinkles his nose. All a little apprehensively. He knows it’s not really the size of the house itself his girlfriend is a little wary about.

“I think she’s wigging over what a big-ass, real-life commitment it’ll be, Joe. You know. Two coasts. Two houses. Both of them with her name legally attached to them.”

Joey chugs back more water and watches his buddy in silence for a moment, tapping his fingers on the counter. “Hmm. Well, maybe you oughta give her a little incentive, Timberlake. You know. Something concrete to work with and go on while she’s settling this thing in her mind.”

“Like what?” Justin mumbles, staring at the sparkling-water-and-spring-flowers-filled glass and fidgeting with its circular crystal base. He’d bought these for her yesterday. And, Christ, how she loves the simple things like daffodils in a champagne flute.

“Like taking that ‘commitment’ and ‘attached’ business just a wee step further.”

“Huh?” Justin hums, although he’s fairly certain he knows where Joey is going with this one.

“Like promising her that she ain’t the only one making the big-ass, real-life pledge here, bro. Like assuring her that you’re serious about the little undertaking too…….this house
and this girl…….You are serious, aren’t you, J?”

Justin’s cloudless eyes dart up from the flowers to gaze at Joey. And Joey thinks for a second how they look so young and yet so old at the same time.


“Are you as sure about her as you are about this house? Is she The One?”

“Totally. And The Only.”

“Then make her believe that, man. Let her know where exactly you stand in this journey you guys are taking together. You know? Don’t make her just guess and assume. Smooth out some of those anxiousness wrinkles for her.” Joey smiles, a little wryly, a little wisely. “A lil’ security to bank on. That’s all she probably needs. I’m telling ya.”

Justin sighs again, thinking. “But. You and Kel aren’t married, Joe. I mean you haven’t taken
that big commitment yet.”

“No. True. Not yet anyways. But that’ll come in time. Maybe. When we’re both ready. Point is…….Kel and I both know we’re each other’s everything, from here on out, for better or worse, ‘til death do us part and all that jazz. We just know. Whether we’ve said it in front of God, a priest, and a church full of peeps or not, it’s still true, man. No matter what else goes down. It’s, like, carved in stone or whatever. We’ll be together. We know it. Down in here.” Joey grins as he presses a closed fist to his chest, just over his heart. “So do this. Make your girl believe you feel that way about this thing you two have got, that she’s yours and your hers for the long haul. And she’ll be okay. Trust me.”

“Think she’d marry me, Joe? I mean, like, if I asked her to?”

Joey looks surprised. His forehead bunches up, crunching his thick eyebrows together. “What? Are you crazy, man? That girl loves you like out of control wildfire! You doubt that shit?”

“But she’s smart, man. And so very wise and practical. She figures stuff out. She knows what’s what. She doesn’t just settle either. And life with a celebrity pop star and all the baggage that comes with that shit might not be her idea of a dreamy future.”

“Is she
your idea of a dreamy future, buddy?”

“You know she is. I just told you so, man.”

“Then take the leap, punk-ass! What are you now? Eighteen and a half?”

“Twenty-one. Bite me, asshole.” Justin sneers and rolls his eyes.

Joey laughs. “Ah, man. That’s still so young. But if you wanna tie the knot with her, if you’re sure, then take a chance. Be a man. Ask her. At least let her know you’re putting it out on the table…….as an option for the future. Capeesh?”

“Yeah. Capeesh.” Justin turns around nervously and snorts. Sighs. Takes another long drink of water. As if he’s in the process of some deep capeesh-ing. “And how’s Baby Bri, my favorite little one, doing?”

“Man! That kid gets crazier and crazier! Running all over the damn place. A fucking handful at 12 months. But I love the little monkey like you don’t know. She’s
my princess. Know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, she’s precious, man. And growing up so damn fast too, eh? I wish I, like, had more time to spend with her.”

“Hmm. Careful what you wish for, dude. Maybe you and Cass should put in some babysitting duties with her when the tour winds down…….Get yourselves some on-the-job practice and all that jazz,” Joey murmurs, lifts his bushy eyebrows again, and laughs.

Snidely, Justin eyes him and grins. “Pushy motherfucker, aren’t you?”

“Say, where
is the fine-ass Ms. Lyman anyways, dude?”

“Upstairs in the guest bedroom we’re using. On the phone still with her boss at the publishing house in Orlando.”

“Ah, the girl’s doing her some bidness,” Joey snickers again. “She
is the smart one in this family.”

“Yep. From the sound of the conversation, she’s got another big editing assignment they’re setting up. She likes to stay busy. No worthless idleness for that one, I tell ya.”

Joey nods. “Good for her.” Then he shifts his weight on the bar stool and looks upward for a second, toward the ceiling. “And what about him? How’s he been doing? Seriously. Is he just blue and depressed and withdrawn completely?”

Justin faces him, the muscles in his face moving slowly beneath the taut skin. “Hmm. Not always. He keeps to himself a lot, but he comes out too. One of us will, you know, send him an e-mail every evening to let him know what we’re doing for dinner…….and he eventually bounces downstairs, looking for some company…….He’s doing okay, Joe. He just misses Bass. That’s all. And I mean didn’t we all expect that?…….It’s almost like his heart’s too heavy or something…….for him to be dragging it around and trying to be social and all that.”

Joey ponders this, humming. And he finds Justin’s gentle protectiveness of JC oddly charming, very characteristic of Justin. And JC too, for that matter. If just figures. Those two go way back.

“Yeah, man. I get it. I can sympathize with the guy. Him and Lance are pretty much inseparable all the way down now. Good thing the Bassman gets back tomorrow. So C can get laid again.”

“Aww, it’s more than that, Joe,” Justin blurts out, eyes narrowing seriously. “Way more. You gotta know that.”

And before Joey can gently counter that he’s joking, that yes, he
does know that, that he’d be a fool to think it was all just a sex thing for them, that he’s seen the rare and far-more-than-physical thing between those two many times before, he and Justin are joined in the kitchen by the home’s owner. Who looks a little disheveled and shabby-casual in a bohemian sort of way, bright eyes adjusting to the light between the squints and slow blinks, long lanky body, draped in an oversized sleeveless T-shirt and baggy jeans, shuffling toward them with easy, controlled tightening and relaxing of limbs.

“Umm. What the fuck’s going on down here? A circle jerk?”

“Yeah, Chasez. And you’re late to the party. As usual. Too much jerking and yanking going on up in your room already, huh, dude? With you and all your whack personalities?” Joey chuckles, wriggling on the seat beneath him.

“Hey, man! I was
lounging up in my room. I’m on vacation, in case you forgot,” JC rasps again, stretching languidly. “Not that it’s any of your damn business, Fatone. What are you doing here anyway? I thought I had at least one more day off. You know, away from you.”

Justin stands between them — only a little cautious as he listens to their juvenile banter — and watches as Joey laughs, shakes his head, and rolls his eyes. Then he turns a bit to glance at JC and tries to carefully warm up his friend’s mood and ease it into the daylight.

“Dig some coffee, Jace? Cass made a fresh pot about an hour ago. It’s still hot.”

“Yeah, yeah. That would rock,” JC mutters, twisting his neck to one side for a soft

“I dropped in to see if I could get you outta that hole you’ve crawled into, dude,” Joey answers, nervously bonking the empty plastic bottle on the bar. “You look like you could use some ever-loving sunshine. Doesn’t he, J?”

Not wanting to get yanked into the middle of this and realizing that he already is, Justin shimmies over to the cabinets to find a coffee mug. “Gorgeous day outside too, man. Cassidy’s gonna groove on this springtime weather year-fucking-round when we move out here, I’m saying.”

JC listens, fidgets a little, and runs fingers through his curly, tousled hair, still unsure as to what’s going on, what he’s awakened and come down here to. “I’ve got skylights in the b-room, man. I get all the sunshine I need. But thanks for your adoring concern, Fatone. I’m damn touched.”

Joey snickers, bullheadedly not backing down. “Bro, throw on some of those cute Capris or whatever, drag out your most comfortable flippy-flops, and let’s hit the pavement. I’ve got an awesome hot rent-a-ride outside just begging to take us ‘round town. You should see this baby, C. A scorching-yellow, fully loaded Hum-Vee. It is swee-eet.”

JC sighs and then smirks, skepticism only adding to his raw, unkempt beauty. Taking the cup Justin is handing him, he narrows his eyes at Joey.

“Did Lance fucking send you over here?”

“No, man! I swear! I haven’t had any sorta contact with Bass since he left for the USSR! And since you brought him up, Chasez, when exactly is the boy coming back anyway? Do we know yet?”

“Ah, yeah. Jace knows. Exactly,” Justin mumbles behind JC and giggles. “Down to the half-second.”

JC ignores him, pouring hot coffee. “He’s meeting us in Denver tomorrow afternoon. Supposedly, his plane lands right before sound check. He won’t miss the show.”

“Sweet. But dude’s gonna be tired as hell with that killer jet-lag. Poor bastard,” Joey hisses.

“Yeah, but see? It all works out fine. Like in the movies. Check it out. We’re off the next day,” Justin adds in helpfully, grinning. “Lancers can rest up and decompress, especially with all that TLC from Jace, ya know.”

Joey glances over at their host again, makes a sort of hopefully determined expression with his mouth and his eyebrows. “So whatcha say, C? Got time to kill before then, right? Let’s you and me go for a ride. And, you know, maybe talk.”

JC’s eyes shoot up from staring at the inside of the coffee mug he’s drinking from. Suddenly, he gets the point of the scenario he’s ambled into. And suddenly, he rejects it.

“Nah, man. No can do today,” he grunts sharply, pulling his shoulder around and starting to dismiss the whole matter by slinking off toward the hallway outside the kitchen door. “I’m, like, busy.”

“Ah, c’mon, Chasez! Don’t go breaking my heart, dude!” Joey calls out to him, sitting up straight from his slouching at the bar and fighting hard not to lose this battle. “It’ll be a blast! See, man, I don’t know the LA area like you do! You can show me around! C’mon! I’ve got some killer weed to smoke too, man. This stuff’ll rock your world!”

Justin sighs and bolts after JC, who hasn’t slowed down his already slow retreat from the room. He catches him in the small back alcove by the arm JC is recklessly waving Joey off with.

“JC, stop. Wait. Dude came all the way over here just to spend a little quality time with you, man. Kelly and Bri went back to O-Town for a day or two. But he wanted to hang back and see you. Can’t you give him that much?”

JC stops but bristles against him, grumbling. “He just wants to kiss and make up. For Lance’s sake. Fuck it.”

“No, man. Not just for Lance’s sake. For everyone’s sake. He’s your friend too, Jace. It’s as much for you as it is for Lancers. He wants to make things right between you two. Don’t you
want to bury the hatchet? Hmm?”

JC shrugs and huffs. All of eight years old. “You knew about this shit, J?”

“No. Not ‘til he showed up on your doorstep, man. I promise. I think he just did it. Like all on his own. Like he wants kinda bad for you two to get this worked out and back on the right track.”

“Fucking asshole,” JC hisses. “He knows he was fucking wrong for it.”

“JC, c’mon. What happened was ages ago now. Let it go. Forgive the guy. Don’t just blow him off. Wouldn’t Lance want you to give him another chance?”

“Lance is a nice person, Justin. I’m not.”

“Yes, you damn sure are. Now cut that crap out and shut up. You’re letting me and Cass intrude on your privacy and freedom this weekend, aren’t you? That’s not nice?”

“I like having you guys here. You’re not intruding.”

“Fine then. Just do this little thing, Jace. Give Joe a little bit of your afternoon. Listen to what he might have to say. And Lance will have a pleasant little surprise to come home to, won’t he? Please?”

JC smiles a small smile in the shadows of the hallway, thinking of Lance. Yes,
that small smile. He sighs once again, giving in.

“Okay, J. You played your ace card, didn’t you, you slick fucker? I’ll give it a shot and see where the bitch goes. For you. And for Lance.”

Justin laughs softly and slides his arm around JC’s shoulders for a quick hug. “And for yourself too, Jace. Mostly for yourself. Besides, what else have you got to do today anyways? Lay in bed again and stare at your damn skylights a few more hours?”

“Eat me, Timberlake,” JC chuckles and nudges sideways into Justin’s frame. “And if you breathe a word to Lance that that’s how I spent my fucking down time, I’ll break you in half, man.”

Justin snickers again. “Dude. I don’t havta tell him. He
knows you.”

“Okay, Fatone. Get your dancing shoes on, man,” JC says, glancing at Joey briefly as he strolls back into the kitchen. “You wanted a tour guide? You’ve fucking got what you asked for. Lemme just get some caffeine in me and grab a shower. And what’s that shit you were talking about some kick-ass weed? You need to roll that out too, man.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“And what’s the sassy chica up to out here on such a sunny LA afternoon?” JC simpered like liquid satin as he walked, barefoot, across the long deck that stretched the full length of the first floor of his house. “Soaking up some rays, checking out my awesome view of residential glam-ooor paradise?”

Cassidy finished the sentence she was writing on the manuscript page before she looked up. She had heard the glass door slide open behind her, and she was sure it wasn’t time for Justin to be back from his crazy-spontaneous and over-indulgent shopping spree yet.

“Um, where do you see any sassy chicas, JC? Your meds got you hallucinating again or what?”

JC laughed, soft and feathery, a cool, lighthearted sound. And she was glad to see him merry all the same. Even if she could already detect the saucy, sarcastic mischief all over him. He hadn’t been showing much — okay, any — of his lighter, kittenish side in the past several days. Not since Lance left. Not until today.

“Not chicas, Cass. Just one. Chica. Singular. You.”

“Hmm. I see. And I’m sassy, you think? Nice, JC.”

“Think? Girl, you’re the Queen Mother of sassy. The total embodiment of that shit,” he giggled again.

“Well, thank you. Coming from a smartass like yourself, that’s quite a compliment. I’ll take it.”

Casually twirling her red stainless steel rollerball ink pen between two fingers, she watched him saunter by her deck chair and lean against the railing. The warm breeze ruffled his hair, and he had apparently kicked off the leather sandals she’d seen him leave the house in earlier.

“So what are you doing anyway? Writing me a fan letter? A raunchy, sexed-up one you’ll send me with one of your best thongs stuffed inside the envelope?” he murmured into the wind and snickered.

Cassidy rolled her eyes and tried to ignore the faint heat moving to the surface of her cheeks. “Yeah, JC. Right. Don’t you have enough ladies’ thongs and panties and g-strings of your own? Why would you need chicas like me to send you ours? Probably be too big for what you’ve got to go in them anyway.”

“Sassy bitch.”

“You beg for it every time, Chasez,” she retorted sharply, instinctively. And her eyes, beyond her control, dropped down his long body to catch the gentle sway of his hips and the way those worn jeans fit so snug around them and his barely-there ass.

This was the first time they had been completely alone together since her dream about him. “Completely alone” meaning without the slightest chance of Justin or Lance or anyone else happening up on them. And she wasn’t jittery eyeing him now, out here on the deck of his house, seeing not the JC in front of her, several feet away from her, but the dream JC instead, the one who was all up on her, against her, inside her, making her bite down on her bottom lip so hard it bled to keep from screaming out in intense wicked-lovely pleasure. No, not jittery at all. Just check her out. Cool as an icicle. Nope. You wouldn’t see a damn sign of jittery whatsoever.

And when he slowly turned his head to give her his sultry smile and those see-right-through-you demonic-blue eyes, she had to remind herself — twice — that he didn’t — couldn’t possibly in a million years — know what she was thinking, remembering, shoving out of the spotlight in her mind. What the hell was he doing out here in the first place? Okay. Well, it was his house and his back deck. Damn.

“If I’m always begging for it, then why don’t you ever give it to me, Cass? Hmm?” he breathed out like a hum, playfully seductive and laced with taunting.

She rolled her eyes again. So that he couldn’t possibly read them behind her dark shades. “Like you’d know what to do with it if I did, JC. Please. Be real. We’ve been down this road already.”

JC lifted one dark, svelte eyebrow. “I used to do girls. How soon you forget.”

“I didn’t forget,” Cassidy said quietly. And she hadn’t forgotten. In fact, being out here on this patio landing this afternoon had brought back some stomach-churning memories of some old photos she’d run across on an Internet message board sometime back — photos a stalker with a long-range camera lens had snapped of JC and Bobzilla sitting together all cozy in this very spot. She shuddered. And changed the subject.

“Um, anyway. You’ve been with Joey since you left earlier?”

JC nodded, long fingers strumming the flat surface of the deck railing. “Yeah, man. Kel and the kid went back to Orlando last night with his parents. The kid had a checkup doctor appointment or something. So Fatone stayed out here. And get this. The homo rented a bad-ass Hummer to ride around in. Can you believe that shit? Big show-off prick. I swear,” JC snickered, leaning into the solid railing with his right hip. “So we cruised around the city some, got some lunch, did some talking, just hung out. You know how it is.”

“That’s funny, JC. You calling him a homo.”

“Yeah, well, you know.”

“Hmm. Sounds like fun. Guy stuff and all.”

“Yeah. It was good. I missed doing that shit. With Fatone. He can be cool, ya know, when he wants to be.”

Cassidy watched JC shrug nonchalantly, freely, and knew that was probably as close as he was going to come to admitting how relieved he was to have his and Joey’s “prickly issue” resolved and behind them. “So no more hard feelings or whatever for you and him then?” she had to ask.

JC shook his head, sighed. “Nope. We’re cool. Or what’s that crap your wannabe-ghetto boyfriend is always mouthing off? We’re tight again. It’s all good in the ‘hood. Ain’t no thang.”

She laughed out loud, almost knocking the thick manuscript off her lap of propped up long legs. “Oh, JC. You are so…….dope. Not.”

“Okay. And shut up.”

“Well, anyway. Good deal about you and Joseph. Lance will be pleased to hear you boys kissed and made up.”

At the sweet-hiss sound of the name, JC’s whole face brightened with a warm glow. The smile eased like slow syrup across his lips.

“And maybe he’ll stop nagging the hell out of me to do something about it.”

“You’re a stubborn ass that needs to be prodded sometimes, JC. Duh.”

“He e-mails me every day, you know,” JC whispered, proudly, clutching at the railing and beaming like a fool.

“Yeah. He told me. He’s so looking forward to coming home tomorrow. I mean, well, coming stateside again.”

“Hmph. He’s not the only one,” JC laughed nervously, rocking against the wooden barrier between himself and the populated hills below. “And FYI. ‘Home’ is the right word. He’ll be home when he’s back with me.”

Cassidy smiled. JC was right, of course. They were completely home when they were together. No matter where they were.

“Well, that’s what he’s always saying. How he can’t wait to get home again. With you…….You really love him, don’t you, Jace?”

“A little.” JC grinned, his eyes full of life, full of love.

“He loves you a little too.”

“I sort of thought so. Cool.”

She dropped her feet to the smooth planks now, a tiny bit self-conscious of her bare legs and the goose bumps on her skin from the lively wind. JC had been glancing down at them, but it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. Like over in Russia.

“So what are you so damn focused on there?”

“What?” her throat hoarsed out, as if she hadn’t been listening. Perhaps part of her brain was taking a vacation too.

JC’s squinted eyes darted to the manuscript on her lap, then back to her own gaze. “What’s that there you’re so busy on?”

“Oh. This. A research book on flowering trees indigenous to the southwest United States. I’m editing it before it’s printed. Dull City, let me tell ya. But the money’s decent. Gotta get paid, don’t I?” She grinned.

“You brought your work on the road with you, girl?” He made a silly, *areyoufuckingcrazy?* face.

“Actually, I picked this job up on the road. The publishing house I get most of my freelance assignments from in Orlando has a sister company in Berkley, as it turns out. I went by there, at the suggestion of my boss, while you guys were playing in Oakland, and they had this available. Convenient, hmm?”

“Neato! So when you and J finally move out here and you get into the smooth groove of being a transplanted Southern Cal Peach, you’ll have plenty of cheese-earning things to do, eh? Working on it all already, aren’t you, Cass?”

Cassidy laid her head lazily over the back of the long chair and swung her soft hair against her shoulders. He’d said what he’d said with a joking little ring tone, but they’d both felt the underlying practical seriousness of the question.

“I think we’re going to go for that house, JC. The one not too far from here. Justin’s obsessed over it. Totally crazy about it.”

“Hmm. Are you crazy about it?”

“More so than any other property we’ve looked at. So yeah. I think so. It really is an awesome place,” she said quietly, soft and unsure.

And she didn’t go into it further, didn’t try and explain the inexplicable reservations and hesitations she was having, the reservations and hesitations that creeped up out of the place in her where reservations and hesitations always creeped up from. She didn’t tell JC — because these inner battles were all her own, for her own psyche’s growth and maturity, if that was what they can be called — about the back and forth thought processes that go on constantly like an autopilot machine, the inevitable weighing of pros and cons, the analyzing of every little significance and every little consequence, the sorting through each tiny detail, especially in a situation as enormous and as altering as this one…….making the move, at least part-time, out to LA. With Justin.

“Then jump on it, babe,” JC went on, encouraging, noticing but not flagging her unassertive pause. “From all the yapping J did about that crib last night, sounds absolutely ideal for you guys. Plus…….we’d be neighbors! Woo hoo! Imagine that! That should be the top fucking selling point right there, Cass! Being my neighbor!” JC giggled spastically, tapping one bare foot on top of the other.

“Okay, JC. Whatever. What that should be is the number-one reason for a 12-foot security fence.”

“Ah, man. Hardee-har-har-har.” He grabbed at his abdomen, pretending to bend over double with a fit of laugh convulsions. “Oh. And. Nice gams, by the way. Want a beer?”

“Um……what?” She came close to gasping, pretty sure she was having one weird auditory hallucination after another this afternoon. Christ. What was up with him? And why the fuck did it seem like he was deliberately fucking with, er, toying with her when he couldn’t possibly have motive to? Typical JC, she guessed. Typical JC in a really, really kicked-up good mood.

“I said…….nice gams. As in your legs,” JC repeated, lowering his gaze and wry grin to her bottom half again. “And would you like a beer? I’m stepping inside for one myself. It’s, like, happy hour, as Lance would say if he were here.”

Beneath her khaki shorts and thin cotton tank top, she shivered with a warm, forbidden flush racing through her. “Thanks. If that was another of your weird compliments, JC. And yes. Please. A cold one would be nice. If you don’t mind.”

Maybe a shot of something way stronger too. I think I’m needing one right about now. Christ.

* * * * * * * * * *


Part 108



MB Fiction

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