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Bubble Boys

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After being on the bus for about four hours, Justin felt the low hum of the wheels on the road in his bones. It was a slow, deep monotony, a sound whose frequency never changed, lulling him asleep and keeping him awake at the same time. After awhile it seemed to be coming from his brain.

He sat slumped against the couch, unable to move, arms crossed not to prove a point but because it was comfortable. Lance and JC's backs were to him, hunched over the Playstation controllers. They were playing Bust a Move. They had to match three bubbles of the same color to make them disappear. Whoever cleared his bubbles before the other person's screen filled won. The game was the same from level one until the end. All that changed was the speed of the bubbles. Watching it was like watching a tank full of fish that only swam in one direction.

Lance cleared a bunch of bubbles that blipped up onto JC's side of the screen. "Screw you, Lance," JC said.

Lance swatted him. "Don't talk to me that way."

"Well, you're kicking my ass."

"I always kick your ass."

They took their hands off the controllers long enough to swat each other. Justin rolled his eyes.

"Why don't you play something that's actually interesting?" Justin asked.

Neither turned around. Justin watched the back of Lance's head as Lance said "What's your problem?"

"Nothing," Justin said. "This is just...boring." He recrossed his ankles and sunk deeper into the couch.

"Then go do something else," Lance mumbled. Justin narrowed his eyes, imagining them drilling daggers into Lance's head. Turn around, Justin thought. See the look I'm giving you. But they continued, oblivious.

His attention shifted to JC's neck. It was always smooth and freshly shaven. Slender. Long. Like JC himself.

Justin couldn't put his finger on the moment he'd started to hate JC, but lately everything about him had been annoying. He hated the way JC kept his neck perfectly shaved. The way he couldn't leave his shirt untucked, not even a little. The way he got a scrape or smudge on his shoes and had to lick a Kleenex and rub it against the shoe to clean it off. The way he left his toothbrush balancing on the back of the tiny bathroom sink on the bus, making everything around it white from the dried toothpaste, when he should have put it away like everyone else.

He shouldn't hate one of the guys. It kept him awake at night worrying about it, lying in his bunk watching the ceiling inches from his face, wiping away random tears. He shouldn't hate one of the guys. But he couldn't help it.

"Can I play?" Justin asked suddenly. Maybe if he tried to understand what was so fun about it, it wouldn't annoy him. Maybe if he got a little more on JC's wavelength.

"Just wait," Lance said. His voice trailed off. Another minute and it was like Justin had never even asked.

He hated the way JC and Lance were always playing this stupid game, and making stupid jokes to each other. They were private jokes about people they'd seen in the hotels, or about games they'd played. Justin wanted to scream at them.

"You guys have been attached at the hip lately," Justin said. "What's with that?"

The backs in front of him were still. Lance glanced at JC. JC glanced at Lance. Then they shrugged in unison and turned back to the game.

"Nothing," JC said. "It's a good game."

Justin bit his lip hard. Like that was even close to what he meant.

He figured being with someone every day for a year, touring in closed quarters and moving from one hotel to the next, was bound to take its toll. He'd been with these guys every day for what seemed like decades. Even if he wanted to get away from them, he couldn't. There was no breathing room in sight. He'd been seeing JC every day for even longer. He had to get rid of the shattered nerves, the burning in the pit of his stomach.

He got up and stepped past them, wandering down the narrow hall to his bunk. He pulled back the curtain and rolled into the top bunk easily, barely having to climb.

He pulled the curtain back into place and stared at it. It was thick, dark velvet that only let in light around the sides and bottom. It enveloped the small space in darkness. He heard laughter from the next room and closed his eyes, rolling onto his back.

He wasn't even sure why he was on this bus. He could be on the other one with Joey and Chris, but after every venue, he'd stubbornly gotten on this one. Maybe it was so he could get closer to JC again and get rid of the burning in the pit of his stomach.

Eventually his hand trailed down his stomach, over the fine, nearly invisible hairs around his belly button and under the waistband of his pants. Jerking off when he could hear JC and Lance in the next room made his pulse quicken, an added element of voyeurism that made him touch himself with a little more enthusiasm. He didn't even need to hold an image in his head. He kept his mind blank, and as he heard JC in the next room shriek "You're kicking my ass," Justin pressed his head back into the pillow and came.


Another day, heading to another town, the same monotonous sound of the rubber on the road. It made no sense to look out the window, because the scenery was the same from one state to the next - cars with a new batch of state license plates, little green Interstate signs, long patches of fields with little houses in the distance, huge concrete overpasses.

Justin opened his eyes and stared at the back of the curtain. The bus was silent. Lance and JC must be asleep too. He lay quietly, straining his ears, and heard the quiet rustle of blankets. Then he heard the metallic scrape of someone's curtain opening - it sounded like Lance's, but he could be wrong - and a pair of feet land softly on the floor.

The person padded across the floor of the TV room, fumbled with the coffee maker. Justin knew it was JC. After touring with the guys for so long, he could tell them apart just by listening. Each member had his own set of movements, his own set of body sounds.

He waited, listening and trying to keep his breathing even. He didn't need to see or hear to know what JC was doing. He was putting fresh grounds in the coffee maker, rinsing out the pot, putting it back on the heating pad.

Justin heard something shatter, followed by the sound of JC muttering "Fuck!" Justin pulled back his curtain immediately and rolled out, landing easily on his feet and walking barefoot into the living area. JC was holding his hand over the sink, little drops of blood squeezing out of a crack in the pale skin.

"What did you do?" Justin asked, walking over quickly. The coffee pot was in several pieces in the sink.

"I don't know," JC seethed. "I just picked it up and it broke. It was really weird."

Justin took JC's hand and pulled it a little closer, examining a cut between JC's index finger and his thumb, deep enough to make a thin red line across the skin.

"Hang on," Justin said. He crouched in front of the cabinet and opened it, finding the First Aid kit. The contents of it were neatly placed, barely touched at all. Inside were a couple of strips of gauze, different shaped Band Aids, tiny scissors, a bottle of peroxide. He took out the bottle and wrapped his fingers around JC's wrist.

"It can't be infected yet," JC said. "I just did it." Justin looked at him and saw JC focusing on his hand, his jaw set, his determined grimace pulling the skin tight over his sharp cheekbones.

"You can never be too sure." Justin unscrewed the lid with one hand and poured a little on JC's cut. JC inhaled.

"Does it hurt?" Justin asked. He wanted it to. He wanted JC to react.

"Not really," JC said. He smiled weakly and Justin's heart sputtered. He wished he would stop smiling so often.

Justin found a butterfly-shaped Band Aid and took his hand off JC's wrist. He ripped it open and pulled back the tabs. "Give me your hand."

JC obeyed and Justin fastened the Band Aid, JC's skin smooth and soft under his fingers. He wanted to cover JC's hand with his own, run his fingertips along each crease and knuckle and feel the delicate bones underneath. Maybe it would help him understand. When it was done he sandwiched JC's hand with his, running his thumb across it, feeling the rush of veins and the framework of fine bones under the skin.

Justin smiled. "Good as new."

"My hero."

"That's me."

JC pulled his hand away and stepped closer, wrapping his arms around Justin's shoulders and pulling him into a hug.

Justin hugged back timidly, carefully resting his hands on JC's waist, afraid to breathe.

"You've been weird lately," JC said. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Justin mumbled into his shoulder. "I just think the road's getting to me. I think this bus is getting to me." His heart pounded against his breastbone, the steady beat spreading until it pulsed heavily in his throat.

"No problem." JC retreated and stepped back, running his thumb over the Band Aid. "Just let me know if you want to talk."


Lance appeared in the doorway suddenly, leaning against the frame. He had sleepy eyes and his hair was sticking out in some places and lay matted to his head in others. "What's going on out here?"

"Nothing," JC said quickly. "I just cut my hand and Justin doctored me up."

"Oh." Lance nodded, pausing like he wanted to say more, and went back to his bunk.

"I didn't really want coffee anyway," JC said. "I'm going to head back and keep napping." He stepped carefully through the TV room and back down the hall.

Justin stayed frozen in place, trying to regulate his breathing. He looked back at the shards in the sink, the two big chunks with a brown handle attached to one, and the smaller slivers of glass around it like little islands surrounding the mainland. He wished he could see a trace of JC's blood on the shards.

He looked around the TV room. The Playstation controllers were tossed on the floor next to each other, cords overlapping and buttons worn. On the couch was a People magazine, a Weekly World News, someone's socks. Justin walked over and sat down on one of the stools, picking up a controller and hitting the power button on the TV. Bust a Move appeared immediately with the neon request "One or two player?" Justin hit one and started playing. He sucked at it.