ONE OF THE BOYS
“This chili is incredible,” one of Lara’s coworkers moaned. “Where did you get it?”
“See the big guy, with the smile? Joey?” Lara pointed with her pinky. “He did all the food.”
“Is he a professional? Like a chef or something?”
Lara smiled. “No. This was all just for fun.”
“I need to get the recipe.” Jen made a beeline for Joey, and Lara laughed.
Five of Lara’s friends from the office had come to the party. Matt and Barb, two of the photographers, Jen and Beth, clerical staff, and Aaron, who wrote like Lara. She had introduced Chris and his friends around without saying much, and no one had said anything about recognizing them. Lara had figured that would happen; they’d been out of the true public eye for a while. Lara had simply told the truth and said she knew Chris from childhood, and these were his friends.
That idea was short-lived, however. “Lara.” Beth, her office BFF, grabbed her by the arm and tugged her aside. “Is that…” Beth swallowed deeply. “Is that JC Chasez?”
“Uh, yes. I introduced you. He’s Chris’ friend.”
“Yes, he’s Chris’ friend because they were both in freaking NSYNC!” Beth hissed in a whisper. Lara smiled.
“I’m assuming you’re a fan.”
“Hell, yeah. I watch the dance thing all the time.” She sighed. “He’s hot.”
“Yes, he is.” Beth’s eyes wandered over to JC. He was on his fourth beer, and was deep into some sort of conversation with Lance where his hands waved around a lot and Lance tried not to get hit in the face.
Lara wished she could tell her friend how hot JC really was, but she didn’t have sex and tell. “Nice, too.”
“I bet. He seems nice. They all do.”
“Who’s nice?” Aaron wandered over with a beer in his hand. “Happy birthday, Lara. I don’t know that I said it when I came in.” He kissed her cheek and Lara blushed crimson. She caught Chris’ eyes and saw him frowning at her. He looked…jealous.
“Uh, thanks, Aaron. Beth was just saying my friends are nice,” Lara said.
“Yeah, they are. I was talking to that blond guy, Lance? He had some investment ideas I’m gonna look into.”
“You’re at a party talking about investments?” Beth made a face.
“Yeah,” Aaron said defensively.
“Good times,” Beth said, and went to the food table.
“Speaking of good times,” Aaron said softly. He looked into Lara’s eyes and she blushed again. “There’s an Austen exhibit downtown next week. Would you like to go?”
“Uh, well…” Lara was shocked. She’d had no clue that Aaron like her more than just a friend. “Um, I’ll see what’s going on, but I’d love to go sometime.”
“Isn’t it time for cake?” Chris growled to Joey.
“I think she wants cake,” Chris said, his eyes never leaving Lara and the tall brunette looking into her eyes.
Joey followed Chris’ gaze and grinned. “I think she wants that tall dark drink of water she’s talking to.”
“She does not,” Chris snapped.
“Chris, why shouldn’t she see someone? It’s not like you’ve given her the option of DATING you,” Joey pointed out.
“Fine. Cake.” Joey threw up his hands, far too used to dealing with Chris’ stubbornness.
“Thanks so much for coming,” Lara said, hugging Jen at the door. The others from her office had left the party around eleven, and Jen was the last to go. “I’ll see you at work.”
“It was a great night,” Jen said. She waved the chili recipe in the air and Lara laughed.
Lara went back to her apartment, surprised to see the four guys sprawled out in the living room. “Um…isn’t the party over?”
“Technically.” Chris patted the floor next to him. “Sit down.”
Lara’s eyes widened at the pile of gifts on the table. She had opened gifts after the cake. There had only been gifts from the people in the office, and she was fine with that. Lance, JC, Joey and Chris had pretty much set up the party for her, and she was thankful enough for that.
“They’re presents,” Chris said slowly. “You get them for things like birthdays and Christmas. You open them, ooh and ahh, and say thank you.”
“Jerk.” Lara got herself a drink and sat down. “You guys did enough. I didn’t expect gifts from you.”
“We didn’t give them with everyone else, because…well…some of them are things that would have seemed weird,” Lance said, and Lara looked confused.
“Mine’s the one in the red paper,” Joey said. Lara tore through the paper and gasped at the gorgeous leather case. “I know your laptop case is pretty much shot.”
“Joey, it’s awesome. Thank you.” Lara crawled over to the chair and hugged Joey.
“These are from me.” Chris slid a stack of three boxes slightly to the side. “This one’s from JC,” he held up a small box. “And I don’t see one from Lance, because he’s a cheap bastard.”
“Shut up, Chris,” Lance said, smiling at Lara. “I have something, don’t worry.”
“Play nice, boys.” Lara picked up one of Chris’ gifts and opened it. “A Phillies shirt? In California?” Lara laughed, but was a little confused. She had six Phillies tee shirts and didn’t really need another one. She unfolded the white tee and froze. “Oh my GOD.” Her fingers shook as they ran over the signatures. “You…this…”
“The whole team,” Chris said. “And if you’ll look carefully, you’ll see Chase Utley’s is right over your heart. Just think…if you’d have been WEARING this at the time, his hand would have been on your boob.”
“Chris…wow. Thank you. THANK you.” She hugged the shirt, and hugged him. “Wow.”
“Note to self, next year, get Lara Chase Utley for her birthday,” JC murmured. “I’d get more than a hug.”
“Shut up,” Lara and Chris said at the same time, and laughed.
Lara laughed again at the cute stuffed zebra from Chris, and her eyes widened at the third gift. “Is this…”
“Yes. First edition.” Chris took the copy of “Gone with the Wind” from her and pointed out the date. “I know you have like five copies of this book, but I didn’t think you had a first edition.”
“Chris, this is great. You know everything I like.” Lara leaned over and kissed his cheek. She blushed a bit as he looked into her eyes. “Thank you…so much…” She licked her lips and he looked down at her mouth.
“I, uh…of course I do. I’ve known you forever.” Chris looked away and Lara blushed again.
“Mine. Open mine,” JC interrupted, trying to diffuse the tension.
“Okay, okay.” Lara picked it up and shook it. “Well, it’s not your greatest hits cd.”
“Don’t you have that already?” Lance asked, laughing. She made a face at him.
“Well, I…” Lara stopped talking as she saw “Cartier” written on the box she unwrapped. “JC…”
“Oh,” Lara gasped, opening the box and holding up a beautiful sapphire necklace that matched the earrings he had gotten her months before. “JC…”
“Figured you should have the set,” JC said, shrugging. She threw herself onto the sofa and hugged him.
“Kiss up,” Chris muttered quietly.
“Thank you, JC. It’s gorgeous.” Lara kissed his cheek, then got up to gather the wrapping paper. “You guys…thanks.”
“Wait.” Lance put down his bottle of water and stood up. “I didn’t give you my gift.”
“Um, okay,” Lara said, looking at the table. “I don’t see…”
“It’s not something you can see.” Lance walked over and took the crumpled up wrapping paper from her, letting it fall on the floor. “And I’m not being egotistical about this gift. It’s something you’ve talked about and we’ve all joked about since we met you.”
“Um…okay,” Lara said again. She swallowed hard as Lance stopped right in front of her. She couldn’t look away from his green eyes.
“Relax,” Lance said. He cupped her chin in his hands and tilted his head.
“Ohmygod,” Lara whispered as his lips met hers. She thought it would stop with a chaste kiss, but his tongue slowly slid across her lips, requesting entrance. She moaned and wrapped her arms around him, allowing the kiss to deepen. Her foot actually kicked up in the back as he nipped at her tongue a bit, then pulled away.
“Happy birthday.” Lance smiled at her. Lara let out something like a squeak, reaching up to touch her lips with a shaking hand.
“What was that, Bass?” Chris almost yelled.
Lance shrugged. “I used to kiss girls. It’s like riding a bike.”
“Um, Lance, you may have broken the wiring in her brain,” Joey commented. JC got up and put an arm around Lara’s waist.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Lara whispered. In a million years, she never thought that would EVER happen. “Um, thank you, Lance, that was, yeah.”
“Well, that’s flattering.” Lance actually blushed a bit. “Was that a bad idea?”
“Yes,” Chris said, at the same time Lara said, “No. Of course not. I just…never…wow.” Lara bent down to retrieve the wrapping paper. “Just gonna, throw this. Yeah. Away.” She stumbled out of the room on shaking legs.
“Wow, Lance, I didn’t know your kisses did that,” Joey said, laughing.
“Neither did I.” Lance started gathering bottles and cans to hide his red face.
“Leave it, Lance. I told her I’d come back tomorrow and clean, and I meant it,” Chris said, watching JC leave the living room.
Lara was standing over the trashcan, paper still balled up in her arms. She was staring at the wall. “Um, Lara?” JC said, and she jumped. “Gravity’s amazing. If you let those things fall, they’ll end up in the garbage.”
“Of course.” Lara shook her head and giggled a bit. She shoved the paper down into the trashcan. “Sorry.”
“Wow. When I kissed you, that didn’t happen,” JC observed, leaning against the counter.
“You weren’t a dream I’d had for years. A hot fantasy now and then, but not the dream,” Lara teased. JC winked and finished his beer. “How many have you had?”
“Enough that I need to stay here tonight,” JC said. “I can’t drive.”
“You could ask first,” Lara said, pretending to be annoyed.
JC moved to lean her against the counter. “Can I stay here? Please?”
“In the other bedroom, yes,” Lara ordered. JC sighed and leaned his forehead against hers.
“You’re not as easy as I thought.”
“Damn skippy, and don’t you forget it.” Lara poked him in the stomach.
“You know I’m just kidding, right?” JC said, and she nodded.
“Yes, I know. You ARE that gentleman, underneath. You respect my decision.”
“That’s right.” JC kissed her nose and pulled away just as Chris entered the kitchen.
“Well, we’re…” Chris fought the urge to punch JC in the face. “We’re leaving.”
“Oh, okay,” Lara said. “I’ll walk you guys out.” JC followed her.
“Thanks for a nice night,” Joey said.
“Don’t thank ME. You all did it,” Lara said. She hugged him, then Lance, reaching down to pinch his gorgeous ass.
“I’ve created a monster,” Lance moaned, but kissed her cheek. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” She turned to Chris and gave him a long hug. “Thanks for the gifts, Chris. They were really great.”
“You deserve the best,” Chris said. He kissed her cheek. “I’ll be back early tomorrow to clean up.”
“I’ll believe THAT when I see it,” Lara teased.
“There’s a lot of things about me that would surprise you,” Chris said, and she stared at him. “I took the extra key from the kitchen. See you tomorrow.”
“Oh, shit,” JC said, snapping his fingers. “I have something else for you in the car,” he said to Lara. “I’ll go out with you guys.”
Lara went back into the kitchen and started wrapping up some of the food. JC soon returned with a large box and some bags. “What’s all that?”
“Figured you might need it. Chris mentioned you like the holidays, and love decorating, so…”
“Oh my God, that’s great!” Lara almost shrieked. The box was a three-foot Christmas tree, and the bags were full of decorations. “JC, thank you.”
Lara pulled ornaments out of the bags. “I remember one time, in elementary school, we had to string popcorn and cranberries. Chris’ hands were stained with cranberries, and he had Band-Aids on each finger because he kept poking them with the needle.” Lara laughed at the memory.
JC opened the box of lights and started to unwind it. “We should test these.” His long fingers wove through the strands. “So…Chris.”
“No, I’m Lara. How drunk are you?” Lara asked, laughing.
“Not very, but enough that I shouldn’t drive,” JC told her. “What do you think about Chris?”
“Uh, he’s crazy and smart and funny and you should know all this, you’ve known him forever,” Lara said, looking at him strangely. “He’s my best friend. I love him.”
“Where’s all this going, JC?”
“I want to know when it changed from friend love to love love.” JC got up and plugged in the lights. “Oh, good, they all work.”
“JC, what is all this? Are we in high school?” Lara shook her head and laughed.
“You’re in love with Chris, Lara.”
“No, I’m not,” Lara whispered.
“Yes, you are,” JC corrected.
“I…” Lara thought of Chris’ broad smile, his beautiful eyes, the way his arms felt when he hugged her. “Yeah, I am,” she sighed. “And he will never see me as more than his little sister. One of the guys. That’s what he always says. One of the guys. I used to have SUCH a crush on him, when I really WAS one of the guys. I tried everything to get him to notice me as a girl. At the prom, when we were dancing, he looked at me and I thought he’d finally figured it out, but he never did.”
“Chris is dumber than a box of nails, you know that,” JC said. “When it comes to subtle, anyway.” JC took her hand. “Lara, he’s in love with you, too. It’s so obvious. Why do you think he’s always mad at me? He’s jealous.”
“Then why doesn’t he say anything?”
“Why don’t you?” JC asked, raising an eyebrow. “He probably thinks you only see him as a friend.”
“Because you don’t have a good reason.”
“Fuck you, Chasez.” Lara got up and went to the fridge. She got out a bottle of Coke, and reached for the bottle of Jim Beam. JC’s eyes widened. “Shut up. I need something strong.” She mixed herself a drink and took a large gulp. “This is a lot to wrap my head around.”
“Before you get shitfaced, can I have a pair of sweats or something? I’d rather not sleep in these jeans.”
“Sure.” They went to her bedroom and she dug out a pair of sweats for JC. They were a bit short, but did the job.
JC tugged his shirt off and tossed it on the floor. “Sure we can’t have a little roll in the hay for old time’s sake?”
“Yes, I’m sure we can’t,” Lara said, giggling as he took her hand and pulled her towards the bed. “Mmm, not that it isn’t a tempting thought.” She ran a hand over JC’s bare chest.
“Woman,” he growled. “You’re making it hard to be a gentleman. You better not get too drunk or I’ll take advantage of you.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” Lara kissed his neck and walked out of the room. JC sighed and counted to ten before following her.
Lara went to the kitchen and topped off her drink before coming into the living room. JC was sprawled out on the sofa. She curled up next to him, sipping at her drink. “What am I gonna do, JC? I mean…I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“I don’t think you will, baby. He really does love you. In every way possible. He…” JC decided to take a bold step. “He told us.”
“What?” Lara stared at him.
“He did. He’s afraid to tell you, and no, I’m not just saying that.”
“Damn.” Lara took a large gulp of her drink. She finished it off and set the glass aside. “I’m afraid, too, JC. I don’t want to get hurt again.”
“Chris won’t hurt you,” JC said. “You know that.”
“Not on purpose,” Lara agreed. She sighed and burrowed down closer to JC until he was laying flat on the sofa, and she was curled up almost on top of him.
“You’re lucky I’m a gentleman,” JC said. She bit his chest and he hissed. “Ow!”
Lara giggled. “Thanks, JC.” Her eyes fluttered as she yawned.
“You’re welcome.” He kissed the top of her head, and they soon nodded off.
“Well, if nothing else, I can start a cleaning business,” Chris said, showing up with a box of garbage bags and a bag of donuts. “Chris Kirkpatrick, Housecleaner to the Stars.” He quietly let himself into the house with the key he’d taken the night before. He knew Lara was normally an early riser, but it was eight-thirty, and the party had gone fairly late.
Chris groaned as he surveyed the damage. There were empty plates and cups all over the place, and he thought he saw chip crumbs on the floor. “Fuck.” His eyes moved over to the sofa, and he said it louder. “FUCK.”
JC was stretched out on Lara’s sofa wearing only a pair of sweatpants. Lara was curled up against him, holding his hand by her face. JC’s other hand was cupping around her backside. The bag of donuts hit the floor and JC’s eyes fluttered open. “Hey, Chris. The fuck you doing here so early?”
“I could ask you the same thing but I guess it’s kinda obvious,” Chris snarled.
“Mmm? Jayce, who are…” Lara’s eyes fluttered open. “Chris! Hi! I didn’t know you were coming over?” Lara sat up and fell off the sofa. “Ow.”
“I TOLD you I’d be over to clean up today,” Chris said. He didn’t offer to help her up. “Wow, and I thought Lance’s gift was good. Gotta hand it to you, JC, sex is definitely the best birthday gift ever.”
“What?” JC stared at him.
“What happened to not interested in JC? What happened to it would only be sex and I want more?” Chris said to Lara. He couldn’t keep the bite from his tone. He felt like a knife was twisting in his heart. “Guess what you MEANT was, I want more SEX.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Lara snapped. She stood up and got in Chris’ face. “You have NO right to act this way. I’m your FRIEND. I bet you don’t go calling Lance and telling HIM who to sleep with or not sleep with!”
“I already know Lance is a slut. I didn’t know YOU were.” The minute the words left Chris’ mouth, he wanted the ground to swallow him whole.
“Chris…” JC whispered.
“You shut the fuck up,” Chris said without looking at him. “Lara…”
Lara closed her eyes, willing back the tears. “Christopher, who I fuck or do not fuck is NOT your business. That crosses any line of friendship. Get out.”
“Get.Out.” Lara’s blue eyes were dark as she stared at him. “Nothing you can say will do any good. Besides, maybe I want to fuck JC again. You’re interrupting.” Her smile was cold. “Three’s a crowd.”
“God…” Chris whispered. He turned on one heel and fled, still holding the box of garbage bags.
Lara jumped when the front door slammed. “Damn.” She ran a shaking hand through her hair. “That…”
JC jumped up and put his arms around her. “I’m so sorry. I should have gotten us up to the bedrooms. I…”
“Why are YOU apologizing?” Lara said. “He’s the one that…that said…” She burst into tears.
“Shhh. Come on.” JC led Lara back to the bedroom. “C’mere.” He crawled on the bed and pulled her up next to him. “He didn’t mean that.”
“The fuck he didn’t,” Lara sobbed against his chest.
“Look what he walked into. Of COURSE he’d jump to that conclusion, especially with what happened between us before. And I kinda have a track record of hooking up with people,” JC admitted.
“But…he had no RIGHT to say what he said, act that way.”
“Honey, he’s jealous. That was pure bitter jealousy.”
“So?” Lara pulled her face away from his chest. “No right to say that to me, OR say that stuff about you. God, I’m so pissed off right now.”
“Are you? Or are you hurt? And worried that he thinks things about you that aren’t true?”
“I…I don’t know.” Lara fell back onto his chest. JC sighed and rubbed her back, saying nothing.