ONE OF THE BOYS
Saturday morning, Lara came ambling into Chris’ TV room with a cup of coffee. “You’re up early,” she said, carefully sitting the cup on the table.
“Yeah…couldn’t sleep or something,” he shrugged.
“Everything okay?” Lara frowned.
“Sure,” Chris said lightly. “Bad dreams or something.” The truth was, he was very concerned about this date with JC. He had seen JC sweet talk more sophisticated women than Lara into his bed, and Chris was worried about how the night would turn out. He knew that Lara was a grown woman, and if she WANTED to fall into bed with JC Chasez, she was allowed, but…that was the problem. Chris had realized at about two in the morning that HE didn’t want her falling into bed with JC Chasez. It really didn’t have anything to do with JC. Chris liked JC, and if Lara wasn’t one of his dearest friends, he wouldn’t have cared. However, she WAS a dear friend…and he noticed that she was becoming dear to him in new and different ways. He had never thought of her as, well, a WOMAN, before. She was always the kid who had played kickball and army men with him, the kid with the knobby knees and dirty pigtails. This scared the hell out of him. He wanted her to go back to Pennsylvania that day…and at the same time wanted her to stay with him forever.
“Sorry to hear it.” She plopped down on the sofa with him. “Whatcha watching?”
“USA network is running a movie marathon of stuff from the eighties,” Chris said, smiling at her. “Right now it’s Top Gun. Next is Lost Boys.”
“You’re kidding!” Lara hooted with glee. “Oh, man, that’s awesome. Please tell me we’re staying right here until it’s time to get ready for the party!”
“Are you kidding me? Of course we are. Nothing like watching Top Gun on a big screen TV,” Chris said, his smile faltering slightly at the mention of the party.
“Yeah, the beach volleyball scene,” Lara said, her mind drifting.
“You’re one to talk.” She stood back up. “I’m gonna make sure there’s a full pot of coffee. Want anything?”
“No, I’m good,” Chris said absently, watching her long legs in her short pajama bottoms as she walked away.
An hour later, she was curled up on the sofa with him, her head in his lap. An hour and a half later, she was gently snoring. He reached down and gently played with her hair. She sighed in her sleep, snuggling down deeper onto his lap. Chris groaned quietly, his head falling back onto the sofa.
“Hey.” Chris knocked and went into Lara’s bedroom. “What are you wearing?”
“Chris!” Lara gasped and tightened her towel around her chest.
“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry.” Chris immediately threw his hands over his eyes and turned his back to her. “I should have waited…I thought you…I’m sorry.”
Lara laughed as she quickly threw on her robe. “It’s okay. It’s fine. You just scared me. Okay, I’m decent.” She tied the belt of the robe.
Chris slowly turned around, one eye closed and one eye open. “Okay. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s fine. What were you saying?”
“I was wondering what you were going to wear to this stupid thing.”
“Not this,” Lara said, looking down at her robe.
“I’m sure they wore robes in the early sixties,” Chris said, and she laughed again.
“I have a little dress thing. It’s really cute, and I bought it just because I liked it…and it ends up it does look pretty retro.”
“I don’t know what to wear,” Chris grumbled.
“God, Chris, what are you, six years old? C’mon.” She led the way to his room and immediately went to his large closet. “Okay…” Lara pawed through his clothes. She pulled out a few hangers and put them back.
“You’re trying to get into my pants,” Chris said, leaning in the doorway.
She laughed. “Like I’d have to try that hard. You’re a man.”
“Hey, I’m fairly choosy.”
“What, you want them breathing first?”
“That’s JC,” Chris said before he thought. She glared at him over her shoulder. “And I AM pickier than that. Didn’t used to be. I’d bang whatever groupie offered, if we’re being honest here.”
“I did. We all did. Except Lance, of course.” Chris thought for a moment. “No, that’s not true. Joey and I were the whores. JC and Justin were a LOT more particular. The bombshells I told you about.”
“Well, maybe I should dye my hair blond before the party, then,” Lara said, pulling out a few shirts.
“Don’t you dare. You’re gorgeous just the way you are.” Chris could have punched himself for letting that slip out, but the sweet expression on Lara’s face when she turned around calmed him a bit.
“Thank you, Chris.” She handed him two shirts, both of which covered in a wild Hawaiian print. “Wear one of these, with a tank underneath…and shorts. Not cargo shorts, just shorts. Sandals.”
“Thanks, Mom,” he said.
She shook her head. “I have to go do my hair. I think JC’s gonna be here to pick me up in about an hour.”
“Hey.” Chris put the shirts down and put his hands on her shoulders. “I want you to know…I just…I worry about you. I know you’re an adult and everything. But I know how sensitive you are, and…”
“Chris, I’ve been through a lot of things since we saw each other last,” Lara said, looking up at him. “I’ve been through a ton of heartbreak. I’ve lived through a broken engagement, remember? I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve broken someone else’s. All this is, for me, is a date. I’m not looking for a future with JC Chasez. I don’t even know him. An attractive man asked me out. It doesn’t happen often. I said yes.” She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him. “But I appreciate you looking out for me, really.” She smiled up at him. “It’s nice to hear that you realize I’m an adult now.”
“Believe me, I’ve realized it,” Chris said, sighing as he hugged her back.
The doorbell rang as Chris was coming down the stairs. “Your suitor is here!” He yelled up the steps. He had decided that the best way to treat this, the best way to cover his feelings, was to tease her and make fun of it all like he always had.
“Shut up!” Lara yelled back.
Chris opened the door. “Hey, Jayce, she’ll be right down.”
“Thanks.” JC wore a pair of tight black pants, a black wifebeater, and an unbuttoned smoky grey shirt. A black hat tipped rakishly over his forehead. Chris suddenly felt oafish and old and chubby next to him. What else was new. “You sure you’re okay with this?”
“JC, I’m not her dad. She can go out with whoever she wants. You two are my good friends. I’m glad you’re able to give her a good time.” Chris inwardly winced at his choice of words.
“Sorry. I’m coming,” Lara said breathlessly, hurrying down the stairs. “Hi, JC.”
“Hey,” JC said, giving her a double-take.
She wore a two-piece outfit. The top was knotted a bit below her chest, and the skirt was high in the waist and short in the hem. The bright blue fabric ruffled as she hurried down the steps. “What?” Lara stopped walking.
“Go right back up those steps and change, young lady,” Chris said in a fake paternal tone. “You are NOT leaving the house dressed like that. Everyone can see…everything.”
“Oh, Dad.” Lara kissed his cheek. “Shut up.”
“Home by ten,” Chris ordered.
“We’ll see you there soon,” JC said, laughing as he opened the door for Lara.
Once the door was closed, Chris leaned against the wall, pounding his head against it.
“Wow…he doesn’t mess around,” Lara said, gaping as they entered Lance’s house. “Be My Baby” was piping throughout the house, and beautiful people in interesting outfits were all over the place. Lara recognized a few celebrities and sighed.
“You okay?” JC took her hand.
“Yes, it’s just…surreal…” Lara said, laughing.
“They’re just people. And you put them all to shame.” JC spun her around. “You look amazing. That outfit is great.”
“Thank you. I love the hat,” Lara said, lightly running a finger over it. “You always could work a hat.”
“You looked?” JC was amused.
“When I wasn’t drooling over Lance, yes.”
“Who was drooling over Lance?” A low voice said behind them. Lara turned around to see Lance smiling at her.
“Duh, me, of course,” JC said before Lara could respond. Lance sighed patiently.
“JC, I’ve been telling you this since I was sixteen. You’re NOT my type.”
“Are you sure?” Lara said hopefully, and JC looked terrified. Lance burst out laughing.
“Ah, so you’re one of THOSE fans.”
“WHAT fans?” JC asked.
“You remember, JC…the ones who insisted that we were all hooking up somehow.”
“Not ALL of you. Just you and JC. Or maybe you and Justin. Or maybe JC and Justin?” Lara’s eyes grew wide, and Lance laughed again. He knew she was putting on a show for JC.
“Me and Justin? Euww,” JC said, wrinkling his nose. “That’s just sick.”
“You look great,” Lance said to Lara.
“So do you,” Lara sighed. He wore a pair of black jeans and a tight red tee.
“I probably should have dressed up more, as host, but I wanted to be comfortable.” Lance looked behind them. “Chris coming?”
“Soon,” Lara said.
“Food’s out back where I showed you, drinks are everywhere…enjoy yourself,” Lance said. “Basket for keys by the door. JC, I have your usual room reserved.” Lara looked confused. “I have lots of places set up for people to crash if they drink too much. JC usually crashes here at my parties, so I keep one of the smaller bedrooms set aside for him.”
“Lush,” Lara said to JC.
“Talk to Lance about that. HE’S the alcoholic,” JC teased.
“Shut up, JC.” Lance looked down at the bottle of beer in his hand and blushed a bit. “Gotta mingle. You two have fun.”
They wandered through the house, JC introducing her to people he knew. “Want a drink?” Lara asked as they passed by one of the small bars Lance had set up everywhere.
“Sure…grab me a beer or something,” JC said.
Lara fought her way through a small impromptu dance floor to the bar. “Whiskey sour and a beer,” she told the bartender. A merengue started through the speakers, and she couldn’t help but dance a bit as she waited.
“No one should dance alone,” a voice said as someone took her hand.
“What? No!” Lara protested as Joey Fatone led her to the dance floor.
“C’mon. You look like you know what you’re doing. I was on Dancing with the Stars, remember? I rock a merengue.” Joey took her in his arms and started dancing with her.
“Joey,” Lara said, laughing. She had taken a few dance classes, and did know the merengue, but it had been a while.
“Shush.” Joey spun her around and back again.
Chris entered Lance’s house, blinking at the large group of people he found in the first room alone. “I swear, the man knows EVERYONE,” Chris muttered to himself, amazed at the amount of people Lance could get to a party on such short notice.
“Chris!” Lance smiled happily. “How are you, man?”
“Good. This looks great, Lance,” Chris said, his eyes scanning the room.
“Lara and JC are here somewhere,” Lance said, starting off through the crowd. Chris could only hurry after him. “Oh…there she is,” Lance said, laughing.
Chris looked over Lance’s shoulder and saw Lara dancing with Joey. Her short skirt flared up when she spun, and her long ponytail whipped around. “Yep, there she is. Joey…” Chris shook his head.
“He’s really good,” JC observed, walking up to them.
“Didn’t you watch him on the show?” Lance asked. JC shrugged.
“Yes, but in person, it’s different.”
The music ended and everyone in the room applauded. Lara blushed, burying her face in Joey’s shoulder as she laughed. Joey caught sight of his friends and brought her over. “Here, JC, sorry I stole your date.”
“That’s okay,” JC said with a grin.
“Sorry! I ordered our drinks, they’re…” Lara waved at the bar, trying to catch her breath.
“I’ll go get them.” JC headed for the bar. “Chris, want anything?”
“Beer,” Chris said, and JC nodded over his shoulder.
“Hi, Chris,” Lara panted, brushing her bangs from her forehead.
“Hey,” Chris said, unable to keep from smiling. “Having fun?”
“Did not see THAT coming,” Lara said, laughing again.
JC handed Lara her drink. “Here you go.”
“So, how have things been going in the studio?” Chris asked JC as Lance went off to speak to someone else.
JC shrugged. “He showed up. He’s brilliant, as usual. Professional, driven…same shit, different day.”
Lara looked confused. “JC is in the studio with Justin, producing. He didn’t show the first few days,” Chris explained.
“He’s grown up,” JC said, shrugging again. “Part of it was just like old times. And he really does know what he’s doing and how he wants things to sound. It’s just weird sometimes.”
“I bet,” Lara said sympathetically. “He’s really talented, that’s for sure. And I know you’ll only make him sound better.”
“Thanks,” JC said. “I hope so.” JC looked across the room and smiled. “Hey, Chris, there’s Tammi.”
“What?” Chris almost spit out his beer.
“Over there.” JC discreetly pointed.
“Who’s Tammi?” Lara asked.
“Someone Chris went out with briefly,” JC said. “Then he screwed it up.”
“I did NOT. She wasn’t sticking around, I didn’t want to get into anything serious across the country,” Chris muttered.
“Well, she’s here NOW,” JC pointed out.
“Get over there, stud!” Lara said, giving Chris a gentle push.
“You two need to shut up,” Chris mumbled, but he headed over to say hello.
Lara finished off her drink. “I need another one.”
JC stared at her. “Thought you didn’t drink.”
“Not often. We’re at a party. I’m not driving.” Lara stuck her tongue out at him. “Are YOU gonna be my dad, now, too?”
“Absolutely NOT.” JC took her hand again. “Let’s go out and get something to eat. There’s gotta be drinks out there, too.”
JC led her through the crowd. “Oh, wait.” Lara stopped in the kitchen and opened the silverware drawer. She slid something out of her purse, then shoved the purse into the drawer. “Then I know where it is, and it’s safe.”
“You’re so smart,” JC said with fake adoration.
“One of my many talents,” she said lightly, the one drink already loosening her tongue a bit.
They went out into the yard and filled up some plates with food. JC went to the bar and got them a few more drinks. Most of the chairs were taken, so Lara plopped onto the ground, carefully stretching her legs out in front of her so her short skirt didn’t give anyone an inappropriate view. “Here you go,” JC said, handing her a very full cup. “I had him make a double, so we wouldn’t have to go back right away.”
“YOU’RE so smart,” Lara said, fluttering her eyelashes at him.
“Ha ha.” JC carefully sat down with her and they began to eat.
“Really? On the ground?” Chris said, making her jump. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Here I am,” Lara said, brushing off her hands.
“Lara, this is Tammi. Tammi, this is Lara, my friend from a long time ago.”
“Hi,” Tammi said, giggling as she shook Lara’s hand. “So nice to meet you. Chris was just telling me about you.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about you, too,” Lara lied, and Tammi flushed. “So nice to meet another friend of Chris’.”
“I haven’t seen Chris in FOREVER. Of course, not as long as it’s been for you,” Tammi gushed. Chris rolled his eyes and Lara swallowed her laughter.
“Well, I’m so glad you two could hook up.” Lara smiled politely, leaning back against JC. “Want to join us here? We’re having our own little picnic.” JC slid his arm around her so his hand rested at her waist.
Chris frowned slightly. “No. We’ll sit somewhere else.”
“SO nice to meet you,” Lara said to Tammi.
“You, too!” Tammi chirped over her shoulder as Chris led her away.
“That was interesting,” Lara said, taking a huge gulp of her drink. “She doesn’t seem Chris’ type.”
“We all thought that,” JC said, finishing his sandwich and pushing the plate away. “And that’s why I think he didn’t work too hard to keep it going.” He looked at her plate. “You finished?”
“Yes. Let’s go…” Lara looked at the house. “Let’s go see where the movie’s at.”
They threw away their empty plates and headed back into the house. The theater room was surprisingly full, with people sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. “You’d think everyone’s seen this a million times…” JC said.
“So? It’s awesome.” Lara sighed as she leaned back against him and he put his arms around her. “Hungry Eyes. One of the best movie songs EVER.”
JC gently swayed her back and forth, whispering in her ear. “I been meaning to tell you…I got this feeling that won’t subside…I look at you and I fantasize…you’re mine tonight…”
Lara felt a wave of goosebumps cover her from head to toe. “Well…” she cleared her throat and tried again. “Well…I’ll keep that in mind,” she said bravely, finishing off her drink. She grabbed JC’s bottle of beer, which was empty as well. “Another?”
“You trying to get me drunk and seduce me?” JC giggled, refusing to let her out of his arms.
“Do I really have to try?” She asked softly, looking up at him.
“Damn, woman, you’re right. You DO have skills, even without flour on your nose.” Lara poked him in the chest. “Yeah, let’s get something else to drink. Lance is paying for it all. Let’s take advantage of it.” They went back into the house. JC introduced her to a friend of his that he worked with in production sometimes, and left them chatting as he went for more drinks.
“Lara.” Chris appeared at her side, saying hello to the person she was chatting with. “Excuse me for interrupting. Dance with me?”
“Where’s your friend?” Lara asked, amused.
“You’re my friend. Dance with me.” Lara could smell the beer on his breath.
“Jeez, Chris, you’ve been knocking them back.”
“Like that’s your first drink.” Chris took her empty cup and tossed it. “Dance. Now.”
Lara could only laugh and follow him. He pulled her into his arms as a slow song came on. “Aw, Chris, it’s just like the prom.”
“Oh, please. I looked like a monkey that night.”
“You looked very handsome,” Lara corrected, leaning her head on his shoulder as they swayed.
“These arms of mine,” Chris softly sang to her. “They are lonely…lonely and feeling blue…these arms of mine…they are yearning…yearning from wanting you.” Lara sighed. She had always loved Chris’ voice. Her stomach started to swirl, however, when she really listened to what he was singing. “And if you would let them…hold you…oh, how grateful I would be…these arms of mine…they are burning…burning from wanting you…”
“Chris,” Lara whispered, looking up at him. He stopped dancing, his eyes dark and unreadable as he looked down at her. “Chris, what…”
“Come on, come on baby…just be my little woman…just be my lover…I need somebody, somebody to treat me right…I need your arms, loving arms to hold me tight…”
Lara licked her lips and looked at him. She trembled a bit in his arms, feeling like she was seeing him for the first time. “I’ve been drinking. I feel…I…”
“Keeping my date warm for me, Chris?” JC said, walking up to them with a few more drinks. Lara took hers and greedily gulped at it.
“Yes, JC, that’s what I’m doing.” Chris stepped away from her and melted into the crowd.
(“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes; “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen; “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding)