Kris steps off the plane in L.A. and breathes in the stale coffee and bathroom cleanser scent of LAX, watches women totter by in four-inch spike heeled boots and cropped leather jackets, thinks: Here. It’s nine thirty on a Tuesday night and he’s packed a tux and good shoes and he’s ready for this. Not that it matters if he’s ready.
Adam is all bright, jittery smiles when he meets him at baggage claim, a hand on his elbow and then arms around his shoulders, pulling him in. Hugging Adam always feels easy, no matter how long it’s been. He hasn’t seen him in three months, not since their paths crossed on the road, one night in Austin and too much beer, Adam still wearing his stage make-up and pants tighter than latex, Kris laughing into the table top, saying, I hate you, man, I hate you and meaning the opposite.
“I can’t believe—” Adam starts to say in the car on the way to his house, then stops, tapping fingers on the wheel. He’s not wearing nail polish or make-up and he looks young, younger than thirty, and also older, like someone who’s spent too much time entertaining others and not enough time being still.
“How’s Q?” Kris asks, and Adam tosses him a wry smile.
“When is Quentin ever not okay?” Adam says. “I mean, really.”
Quentin is a pretty cool dude, it’s true. He’s even-tempered and soft-spoken, the kind of guy who sits at a table and listens and always says exactly the right thing.
He’s like you, Adam said once three cocktails in only a few months after they’d started dating, then looked away like he couldn’t believe he’d said it, and Kris felt empty, punctured, sad.
“How are you?” Kris asks, and Adam laughs, that high, nervous laugh Kris recognizes from when they were on the show. Fifteen minutes before they’d go on and Adam would be quietly hysterical, fiddling with his hair backstage and laughing at everything Kris said, even when it wasn’t funny.
“I’m all right,” Adam says, and Kris thinks, No, you’re not. But he remembers this, too: how before he and Katy got hitched he’d spent whole nights lying beside her in bed thinking, What am I doing, how can I be doing this, what the hell.
Adam’s house is insane – not huge, but over-the-top in every way that Adam is over-the-top, colorful and glittery and filled with kitschy furniture in leopard-print and neon. There are period rooms – one that’s like Ziggy Stardust embodied in inanimate objects, complete with a disco ball and sparkly paint and fake fur rugs. Kris loves Adam’s house. He could never live in it, but visiting is like being in some bizarre glam rock theme park. Plus, he knows this is what Adam always wanted: a space of his own, beautiful because it’s his.
And now it’s Quentin’s, too. When Kris walks in the whole place smells of delicious food, garlic and onion and spice, and his stomach rumbles. He didn’t even know he was hungry. Quentin’s in the kitchen making pasta and some amazing bolognese sauce, stirring the pot and humming. He smiles and waves.
“Thought you might like something to eat,” he says. “I know they don’t feed you on planes anymore, the bastards.”
Quentin’s small and wiry, compact, with brown hair and wide brown eyes. He inhabits space like it’s been designed around him, not like Adam, who seems to shape space to fit him. Adam slides his arms around Quentin’s waist and kisses his cheek, and they have an entire conversation in murmured half-sentences that Kris can’t hear. Kris fiddles with his cell phone and finds he has a text from Katy: hope you had a good flight. call me when you can, sweetie.
“I’ll leave you all to catch up,” Quentin says, turning off the stove and pulling some dishes out of the cabinet. “You help yourself, okay, Kris?”
“You don’t have to—” Kris starts to say.
“Oh yes he does,” Adam says. “I can’t talk about him when he’s here.”
Quentin rolls his eyes, then gives Kris a quick hug.
“Don’t believe anything he says,” he whispers in Kris’ ear, and Kris grins.
Adam’s already serving Kris pasta, ladling sauce into a bright green dish, and he gestures for Kris to sit at the island in the center of kitchen.
“I feel like such a prince,” Kris says.
“Well, you are, honey,” Adam says, and places the plate in front of him. It smells divine.
“It’s okay, you know,” Kris says. “If you’re not all right.”
Adam’s eyes flick up to meet Kris’, surprise etched in the sky blue shimmer. “I – don’t know what I am, honestly.”
It’s the first time he’s ever heard Adam say that. Adam has never been unsure of who he is, not as long as Kris has known him. Adam gives the impression that he was born sure, though Kris knows that’s not the case, knows that Adam had his share of frightened years filled with tight clothes and bad lovers and jobs that went nowhere and meant nothing.
“That’s normal,” Kris says. “It’s totally normal to feel weird about it. Getting married is weird.”
Adam laughs. “True enough.”
“But it’s Quentin,” Kris says. “Marriage is scary, but Quentin isn’t scary. Right?”
“Quentin is about as scary as a koala,” Adam says. “He’s a sweetheart.”
“So then…don’t be freaked out,” Kris says. “Or – be freaked out, but don’t let it take over. You’re marrying an amazing dude. Don’t forget that part.”
“I’m not going to,” Adam says. “That’s not what’s got me all—”
He makes a fluttery gesture with his hand that seems to translate to unsettled, strange, off-balance.
“Then what is it?” Kris takes a bite of pasta and thinks if Quentin would agree to cook like this for him all the time, he might marry him too.
“You remember that one time at the mansion?” Adam says. “When we talked about who we’d dated before?”
Kris remembers. Kris had asked him, Have you been with a lot of people? and Adam had laughed in the darkness of their room and said, Define a lot.
“I feel like – I don’t know, I keep asking myself why Quentin would want to be with me,” Adam says. “Why he’d want to be with me forever. Because he’s got this life, here, and it’s stable and quiet and all I do is bring all this fucking…noise into it.”
“Your music is not noise,” Kris says.
“I don’t mean my music,” Adam says. “I mean – yes, my music, that too. But everything – the media crap and the touring and all my theater friends and all their nonsense, and he just…he puts up with it, but why should he put up with it? How long can you put up with that?”
“I don’t know if he thinks of it like that,” Kris says. “I think Quentin likes your friends. I think he likes what you do.”
Adam had called Kris after he and Quentin had gone on their first date, his voice high and excited the way it got whenever he didn’t know how to wrap his mind around a situation, how to process it. He’d said, Kris, he’s so nice, he talks to me like a person, he designs restaurants for a living, how cool is that? I don’t know what to say to him but he makes me feel like…like things are going to be okay.
Two years ago, Adam had needed someone to make him feel like things were going to be okay – six months after his first album had come out and the buzz was starting to die down, people were talking about album number two, about the post-Idol slump. Kris and Adam talked every day back then, no matter where they were, no matter what they were doing. Sometimes the conversations lasted for five minutes, other times for hours, Kris’ neck beginning to cramp from having the phone tucked into the crook of shoulder, Adam telling him, It’s still about the music, it will always be about the music.
These days they talk less. It only matters on the days like the one when Adam called and said, Guess what, man, and his voice had wavered and Kris knew.
“The thing is, I don’t know if he’d tell me,” Adam says. “I don’t know—”
Kris reaches across the island and takes Adam’s hand, lacing their fingers together. Adam looks down at their hands and Kris can see his breathing speed up, can see the way his shoulders knit inwards like an injured bird.
He lets go.
“He loves you,” Kris says.
He wants to say, You don’t get it. Because Adam never has. He doesn’t understand how special he is, how unique, and how it has nothing to do with his unbelievable voice.
He wants to say, There’s no way anyone couldn’t want you. But he doesn’t know how to say that without fucking things up a little bit more, without leaving another scratch on Adam’s flawless veneer.
At the rehearsal dinner Allison runs up to Kris and throws her arms around him, hugging him so tightly he can’t breathe. She’s wearing spiky little heels and she looks more like a woman, her face less round, hair shorter and angled in towards her face.
“I haven’t seen you in forever!” she exclaims. “Where have you been all my life, hot stuff?”
“Are you legal yet?” Kris teases, and she punches him in the shoulder, hard. Allison is not afraid to hit boys. She told him this once when he was making fun of her for the stomp-y thing she does when she sings. She stuck out her tongue, then said, Yeah, it’s awesome to hit boys because they can’t hit you back.
“I can’t believe he chose you to be his best man,” Allison says. “He must not have many friends.”
“There was a very selective process,” Kris says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Children, don’t fight,” Adam says, wrapping his arms around both their shoulders. “We all love each other here.”
“Kris is being mean to me,” Allison says.
Adam gives Kris a sharp look.
“I was not!” Kris squeaks. “She’s crazy. She’s been smoking the drugs.”
“Allison,” Adam says, scandalized. “Do you have drugs that you are not sharing?”
“After the ceremony,” Allison whispers.
“Oh God, but I need them now,” Adam says. “Xanax? Do you have a Xanax? Quentin’s mom is here. She keeps trying to talk to me about children.”
“Anything in particular about—”
“Having them, asshole,” Adam says, tweaking Kris’ nose. “I just want to get this marriage thing over with before we start planning a fucking family.”
“Your mom told my mom that she thought Quentin could get you to do anything,” Kris says. “Like adopt a rainbow tribe of children like Brad and Angelina.”
Adam rolls his eyes. “Drugs. Seriously, where are they?”
“Our mothers talk to each other too much,” Kris says.
“I agree,” Adam says. “Come with me.”
“You better come back!” Allison shouts after them.
He takes Kris by the arm and tugs him out a side door of the restaurant. It’s warm outside still, breezy, and the air smells like that strange SoCal combo of sunscreen and exhaust.
“Are you making a break for it?” Kris says. “Because I totally left my dinner jacket in there.”
“No, no,” Adam says, and fumbles in his pocket and unearths a cigarette. He lights it with a practiced flick of his wrist.
“I thought you quit,” Kris says.
“I did,” Adam says. “Special occasions only. This qualifies.”
“It does,” Kris says. “This is so a special occasion.”
Adam exhales heavily, then begins to cough. Kris claps him on the back until he can breathe again, saying, “Okay, maybe not that special.”
“I hate everyone,” Adam says darkly.
“Are you going to die?” Kris asks. “Don’t die.”
“I might die,” Adam says. “Why am I doing this? Why do people get married? Why don’t they just fuck each other and enjoy it?”
“I think that’s part of the whole marriage thing too,” Kris says. “It’s like a nice bonus for sharing your money and stuff.”
“I don’t know if I can take it,” Adam says.
“Here, I’ll give you the test my brother Dan gave me before I got married,” Kris offers.
“Hit me,” Adam says.
“Do you love him?” Kris asks.
“Yes,” Adam says. “A lot.”
“Is the sex good?” Kris asks.
“Your brother asked you this?” Adam lifts an eyebrow.
“It’s important!” Kris exclaims.
“You’re telling me,” Adam says. “Yes, the sex is good. Very, very good. Even though he can be kind of toppy when—”
“Too much information.”
“When you think about the future, do you see you two being together?” Kris says. “Do you feel like your life would be incomplete without him?”
Adam fiddles with a silver and black bracelet on his wrist. His eyes are soft and a bit hazy, and it’s an unfamiliar look on him. Adam’s the nicest guy in the world, but there’s a permanent sharpness about him, an edge that has nothing to do with his nail polish or eyeliner or faux bondage accessories.
“Yes,” Adam says. “Yes to both.”
The door swings open, and Quentin steps out, looking flustered. He takes one look at Adam and pales.
“Oh no you don’t,” he says, and takes Adam’s half-smoked cigarette and flicks it into the gutter. “It is not that special of an occasion.”
“It’s a very special occasion, baby,” Adam says, thumbing over Quentin’s cheekbone, but Quentin wraps his hand around Adam’s wrist and says softly, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Adam murmurs. He still looks dazed, and Kris wants to hug him so badly, to tell him this isn’t the end of the world, that he’s got nothing to be afraid of. But he knows this moment belongs to Adam and Quentin in the way that this whole weekend belongs to them. He’s just along for the ride.
Quentin squeezes Adam’s wrist and presses a kiss to his cheek, a gesture that seems instinctual, familiar and perfect. He leads Adam indoors, and Kris thinks: he lets him take him places. He can’t remember ever seeing Adam follow or let someone else take the lead. Adam is the first letter of the alphabet. He’s the one out in front, always.
“Hey,” Kris says just before they get seated for dinner.
“Yeah?” Adam asks, turning towards him.
“The test,” Kris says.
Adam bites his lip, looking confused.
“You passed,” Kris whispers.
Adam’s mouth is a shaky sweet curve, his eyes bright.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Adam is saying, because Brad is trying to wrap himself around him like some sort of tiny twisty spider monkey. Brad’s wearing pants that look to be made out of the same material as Slip ‘n’ Slides, along with a satin shirt with lace edging on the sleeves, and Adam’s wearing some jacket that seems to be entirely composed of sequins, and yeah, Kris can see why they used to date.
“It’s my last chance,” Brad says. “My last chance, Lambert – stay still, goddammit.”
Adam’s laughing, and one of his friends hands him another cocktail, and now Kris has officially lost count of how many Adam’s had, which makes him sort of a failure of a best man. The very least he could do is try to keep Adam from getting alcohol poisoning at his bachelor party, especially since Adam’s fucking insane and is having his party the actual night before his wedding.
What could go wrong? Adam had shrugged, and Kris had just closed his eyes and tried to breathe.
“You are such a slut,” Adam says, shoving Brad away.
Brad makes angry noises, then says, “You are so boring now, oh my God. It’s because of that Q guy. He is so straight-laced he’s barely even queer.”
“Oh, trust me, he’s queer,” Adam giggles.
“Now who’s slutty?” Brad demands.
Adam refuses to rise to the bait, instead looking at Brad sweetly from under his eyelashes as he finishes his drink, then licks his lips.
Kris feels a familiar shiver in his stomach. He stopped trying to understand it a long time ago, after he spent several months living with Adam and realized that labels don’t matter around people like him, that Adam transcends these things because he’s magnetic and luminous. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Everybody’s a little in love with Adam, and Adam’s a little in love with everyone, a lot in love with this world.
Kris is a lot in love with Adam in this moment, watching him flirt with everyone in sight, down cocktails like they’re orange juice, dance and laugh and smile. His boots are made of snakeskin and his eyes are made of glass and tonight he didn’t cover up his freckles. Kris thinks maybe he’s realized he’s handsome with them, that maybe Quentin’s finally been able to convince him of that.
Kris thinks this is one thing Quentin can give Adam that Kris can’t, one of so many things.
“Just Kris,” Adam says, throwing his arm around Kris’ shoulders and leaning on him heavily.
“Okay, dude,” Neil says. “It’s not like I want to drag your drunk ass home anyway.”
“I’ll take care of him,” Kris says, and only sort of regrets this when Adam buries his face in Kris’ neck and snuffles.
Neil gives him a mock salute. “Car’s waiting outside.”
“Awesome,” Kris says, and drags a half-conscious Adam out to the limo that’s sitting at the curb. A less-than-thrilled driver holds the door open. Kris pushes Adam into the back seat and climbs in and over him, landing in a tangle of limbs against the driver-side door. Adam’s slumped against the seat, eyes closed, humming something that sounds suspiciously like Prince under his breath. Adam hums in tune even when he’s wasted, that bastard.
“You are going to feel this tomorrow,” Kris says.
Adam blinks, staring at Kris with an unfocused gaze. “I love the way you talk,” he says. “It’s so…calming.”
“Thank you kindly,” Kris says, struggling to fasten Adam’s seatbelt as the limo lurches away from the curb.
Adam’s hand falls to the back of Kris’ neck, just resting there. “S’fucked up,” Adam says.
“What?” Kris asks.
Adam’s eyes suddenly go very wide. “Can we stop?”
“Are you going to be sick?” Kris asks.
“No, no – I – where are we? Are we near the beach?”
Adam starts jiggling the lock on the door. “I know we’re near Redondo, just get him to pull over—”
“Adam – Jesus—”
The limo driver rolls down the glass partition. “What the hell are you doing?” he snaps.
“Can you pull over?” Kris asks weakly. “Near the beach?”
“Whatever, you’re paying for it,” the driver says, and rolls up the window.
Moments later they’re stopped on the side of the road, Adam tumbling out of the car the second it grinds to a halt.
“Adam, what the hell—”
Adam yanks off his boots and tosses them into the car, then sheds his jacket. He’s stumbling down over the sand before Kris can stop him.
“Where are you going, you idiot?” Kris asks, tripping after him, but the wind picks up and carries his words away. Adam’s wading into the water with no regard for his dress pants, and Kris wishes he wasn’t such a good friend, because he’s exhausted and there’s a wedding tomorrow and now he’s got to keep the groom from drunkenly drowning himself.
He kicks off his shoes in the sand. The water is glinting in the moonlight, sky glowing from the smoggy lights of the city. Adam’s standing knee-deep in the water, and Kris catches up to him just as he loses his balance and falls on his ass.
“Hey, are you o—” Kris reaches out for Adam, but he’s crouched over in a sitting position with the water running over his legs and he’s laughing, laughing like he doesn’t know how to stop.
“Oh, fuck me,” Adam says. He holds up a hand. “Not really. I’m going to be a married man.”
“I know,” Kris says. “Try not to accidentally kill yourself before that happens.”
“That would suck,” Adam nods.
“I’m not trying to be judgmental, man,” Kris says. “But you are freaking me out right now.”
“You are, like, the opposite of judgmental,” Adam says. “You have never been judgmental, you have always been amazing and perfect and the best friend you could possibly be, even though I am a total freak show and kind of a mess—”
“You are not a mess,” Kris says, definitely. “You always have your shit together.”
“That is such a lie,” Adam says. “Quentin would tell you that’s a lie.”
It shouldn’t hurt to hear Adam say that. Quentin is Adam’s fiance—of course he would know things about Adam that Kris doesn’t, see things Kris hasn’t seen. But Kris wants – Kris wants to feel like he knows the real Adam. Because Adam knows the real Kris.
“Aren’t you freezing?” Kris asks. “This water is friggin’ cold.”
Kris has never been in the Pacific Ocean, he realizes. Even being out here in L.A. for all those months, he never went to the ocean. The closest they got to water was that pool at the mansion, a tiny controlled body of water fenced off like their whole lives were fenced off for those months, held captive in that gilded cage.
It’s good to be out, free in so many ways.
“I think the alcohol has made me numb,” Adam says, but his teeth are chattering.
Kris stoops down and curls his hands around Adam’s arms and pulls. “C’mon, rock star. Get yer ass up.”
Adam is not as helpful as he could be, and Kris is seriously winded by the time he’s got Adam upright again. He can’t feel his feet anymore, and his skin stings when the water runs between his toes.
“You know why I chose you,” Adam says. His voice is hoarse and slow, sleepy. He wraps wet fingers around Kris’ wrists and doesn’t notice when he shivers.
“Chose me?” Kris says.
“To be my best man,” Adam says. “It’s because you are – you’re – you are the best man. You are the best man I know.”
Kris is trembling from cold and Adam’s words. He knows Adam is drunk, that in the morning he may not even remember this. But he also knows Adam means it, because Adam’s looking at him right now in the same way he looked at him the night before the finale three years ago, when they stood in the ice room at the hotel and Adam held his hands and whispered, It doesn’t matter who wins, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
Kris knows – has always known – that Adam is more talented, more of a performer, more of a singer, more charming, just more. And there were times when he’d feel it like a stab in the chest, this lightning bolt of pain that didn’t go away when he talked to Katy or played his guitar or listened to The Beatles for hours.
But it’s Adam – strangely – who is the only one who’s ever tried to make feel Kris like the best. Adam is the only one who’s ever made Kris want to be better than some naïve hick college kid with no ambition, some guy who sat around and waited for things to get better because he didn’t know how to make them better himself.
He tugs Adam into a hug, the first real one they’ve had since he arrived in L.A. days ago. He can feel Adam breathing against him, long, sighing breaths, and maybe he’s crying, Kris isn’t sure, but he’ll hold on until he’s still, until he’s warm, until Adam pushes him away.
The ocean laps at his feet and the air smells like salt and somewhere he can hear birds, even here, even in this city of sunscreen and exhaust, and he thinks: Yes, this, this. This.