"You're a bigger idiot than Conner ever was," Lawrence had said, once.
After that, Owen closed the door behind him as he left, but gently, so that he didn't rattle any of Lawrence's weird shit on its shelves. The words still followed him out into the open air, through the cracks in the walls and how did Lawrence not freeze to death every winter? Maybe he slept in front of the fire. Owen had thought, sometimes, that might be nice, being a bit chilly, sleeping by the fire with someone he- Well. That wasn't going to be him and Lawrence, anyway, and Lawrence kept saying he was happy on his farm, no matter what his face looked like when he said it, so maybe it wasn't any of Owen's business anymore.
Besides, everyone knew Style Boyz were built for sunshine, and good times, and shit. Dick jokes and dope rhymes, mostly, and Owen'd thought that those parts held true even when they went their separate ways, but maybe not.
They both knew that what Lawrence had said was false, that time. Provably, repeatedly false, on nearly an hourly basis. But it was supposed to hurt, and it did, so Owen left, and that time they didn't talk for almost 7 months.
That had happened a lot over the years, but Lawrence usually forgot why he was mad by the time Owen was brave enough to talk to him again, whether it had been a few quick steps to knock on his door or a long-distance phone call. He'd never needed an excuse more complicated than "hi." Being an adult sort of sucked, sometimes.
And then sometimes, it was pretty awesome. And sometimes, Owen wasn't sure which parts were the awesome ones and which ones were the ones that sucked until it was too late and the moment passed.
When they got into the limo after the Pop Awards, Lawrence still had a bemused look on his face, and he stared off into space, or maybe at Owen's lapels, while they waited in post-show traffic. Conner was already on the phone with Paula, planning their next move in excited outbursts and pauses for high fives that only Owen was returning.
"She seemed, uh, cool," Owen said. Then he cleared his throat and tapped Lawrence's foot with his own, and said it again, when Lawrence finally looked up and focused on him.
"Who?" he said, the question in his gesture to Conner's phone.
"No," Owen said, though he supposed that Paula was cool in her own scary way. "The stage manager. With the, with the headset. She was hot, right, in that sort of librarian way."
Lawrence still looked confused while Owen tried not to fidget. Maybe there had been a lot of women between the stage and the limo. Maybe that still happened all the time to Lawrence, like when he drove in to town to buy groceries, women just came out of the woodwork to kiss him. Lawrence was sort of all-or-nothing, none of the polite, friendly distance Owen tried to hold with the fans he met.
"Oh," Lawrence said. "Uh, yeah, I guess. If you're into that."
Conner, attention caught by their discomfort, paused between his call with Paula and whatever was next on his list. "Yo, that was crazy, I bet you haven't gotten laid in years, you should totally hit that! Wait, did you get her digits? I bet my PA can totally get her digits, let me text her."
Owen doubted that Conner's PA could get anything, but Lawrence held up a business card, neatly redirecting this bit of Conner's planning, but not his niiiiice and fist held out for a bump. Conner nudged Owen with his elbow. "Lawrence gets the professional ladies, awwww, yeah!"
Lawrence swallowed hard and mumbled something, and his neck started to get all blotchy as he pulled at his collar. "I found it in my pocket," he said.
Conner just held his fist out for another bump and then leaned on the intercom up to the driver to give him the address of the after party that Paula thought was best.
Whoever was running the boards at the after party was managing the sound well for such an uneven space, enough to fill the room, but not so loud that the attendees had to shout to be heard while they milled around to celebrate and gossip.
Owen could have used a bit more noise and distraction, or even a DJ who was putting their own touch on a set instead of letting the original works play out. Anything would have been welcome to distract himself from the uneasy sway of his own emotions from excitement sideways to gratitude, down to uncertainty and back to hope. Conner was excited to have so many people come up to them, asking questions, and he was being more gracious than he'd been in years about people who wanted to reminisce about listening to the Style Boyz on the bus on the way to school, or watching them party at spring break while they dreamed of escaping their nowhere suburbs. More than a few people stopped by to talk to Lawrence about his lyrics, or weed, or more often both. With Conner on one side and Lawrence on the other, Owen drifted between their conversations, and after a while, he rested his head back against the wall and let the rhythm of the room and the sound of his two best friends wash around him.
Eventually, Lawrence's voice aimed in his direction cut through the chatter. "Nah, man, it's cool, I promise. Go on."
Conner bounded off with a promise of bringing more drinks and some fine ladies back to the table. It wasn't the sort of crowd where he was likely to find them, at least not single ones looking to hook up like Conner seemed to be after.
"What about your girlfriend?" Owen asked.
"When I called, you said your girlfriend was there."
That had been a big thing to Lawrence, fidelity, after his parents got divorced but, well, things changed, he guessed. People changed. It had been a long time since Lawrence dated anyone, at least that Owen knew about, because he hadn't liked how mixed up things could get on the road.
"Oh, right," he said. "She's fine," he said.
"I bet she misses you," Owen offered. "Did you call her?"
"Nah," Lawrence said, with a shake of his head. "She's not big on phone calls, and she goes to sleep pretty early."
"Country life, huh," Owen said, and Lawrence chuckled. "You'll see her soon enough, I guess." Even if they hadn't made plans yet, Lawrence had only packed a gym bag for their flight to LA, and he'd want more things; he's always liked to have his own stuff around him.
"Yup," Lawrence said. "Yeah, for sure."
Conner still had a show mostly ready to go, if he went back. All the music was still arranged for a live show, and they could probably even get enough of the dancers back, if he wanted them. "Strike while the iron is hot," Harry said, and when Lawrence looked back and forth between them, he said, "yeah you should totally do that," and he actually looked like he meant it. "Not the new album, though. That shit is terrible."
So Conner was back on the road by mid-September, and Owen went with him. Playing third-tier venues, mostly, but Conner seemed to like how close it got him to the fans - "All intimate and shit," - and Paula liked the illusion of exclusivity, and Owen liked meeting the local opening acts that Harry was rounding up, and he thought he was making some good contacts if he wanted to shift into producing instead of touring with Conner all the time.
It was like they had all the good parts back, but even if there wasn't a hole in their live show, it made Owen miss having Lawrence around more than he had in years.
He showed up in the comments on one of Conner's YouTube videos every once in a while, which the fans loved, so Owen knew Lawrence wasn't dead, and he didn't seem to be mad, or at least he wasn't mad at Conner, which should have been enough of a change for Owen to be happy.
He still tried calling Lawrence a few times, just to check in. It went to voicemail a lot.
The problem was, there was no way to sneak up to Lawrence's place, no way to casually stop by. It wasn't like Owen had ever had any problem with saying "I just wanted to see you," but beyond that, he sort of got stuck.
A lifetime of living down the street and three years of living in each others' pockets hadn't been a lot of help with whatever this new phase was going to be.
Owen even flew home for a couple days between gigs to see his parents, and to try and pump his mom for information about whether anyone had heard from Lawrence since the Poppies, but all that did was make his jet lag worse and fill his head with useless Hallmark movie plots.
Whatever else Conner was. he was always happy to see his friends, and Owen was mostly always happy to see Conner. He was good for a distraction anyway. He caught back up with the tour during a stretch of midweek shows around Miami, which meant that he happened to hit Conner's suite on the tail end of a four-day party in the rooms that had seemed spacious and well-decorated when he left.
If he'd been looking forward to see Conner again, Owen was less happy to see the baby goat who was standing next to the hot tub and slowly gnawing the cable off of what were probably Owen's headphones.
It was fine. He hadn't been able to wear them on stage anyway, under the helmet, so he didn't have as many pairs as he used to.
He did wonder for a minute whether the goat *was* Conner, particularly since it seemed to be wearing a mini version of the shirt Conner had been wearing on stage for his new "ballad" but Conner didn't usually wreck Owen's shit on purpose, and certainly not placidly. It wasn't like Conner to abandon a perfectly good hot tub, though.
On top of not being able to find Conner, Owen couldn't see anyone who looked like they might know where Owen was meant to be sleeping, and he couldn't remember the fake name they had booked under for the week, if he went down to the front desk.
He checked the hot tub for Conner one last time, and then doubled back to check that no one was passed out or already underwater, but with that clear, he headed for the bathroom nearest the door, pulling both the plush bathrobes off their hangers on his way, and curled up in the tub to catch a few hours of sleep.
The goat was still there in the morning, but thankfully so was Conner.
"No, see, there was this tabloid story about Conner Friel's secret kid, right? And I thought, hey, what if - you know they say all publicity is good publicity - what if instead of denying or no commenting, what if we said hell yeah, and that I was gonna bring my kid up on the fuckin' stage, give him the introduction to the world that he deserves as the son of a real star and then - BAM! - surprise, motherfuckers, fooled you with this one!"
"That seems like a lot of work," Owen said. "I think it's eating your jeans."
The show that night was. Fine. It was good, and Conner did his thing with the goat, and their hotel didn't get picketed by animal rights activists the next morning.
Over the next three day break between shows. Conner and most of his posse were talking about flying down to Cuba for what Paula was calling a cultural exchange, and Owen thought was an open invitation to make some more really offensive statements but hopefully not get arrested or start a war.
And then Conner said, "what about Puerto Rico, that's like Cuba, right?"
When Owen opened his weather app to check, even though he was pretty sure the weather in Cuba was about the same as the weather in Miami, or Puerto Rico for that matter, it was still defaulting to the forecast for Denver. Denver, which had a whole lot of snow in the five-day forecast, starting that evening, and Owen had an idea of his own.
If he hurried, if he caught a flight before noon, he could beat the storm into Denver and then maybe Lawrence wouldn't be able to make him leave.
"'Yeah, sure," Owen said. "Puerto Rico, Cuba, wherever. That sounds great," and then he went to pack.
Owen just stopped once on his way from the airport to Lawrence's house, to stock up on bottled water and beef jerky, equally freaked out that he might not make it there, and that he would make it but that Lawrence wouldn't be home. After that, though, the drive was easy, sort of pretty even, and the highway was barely slippery before he was pulling off the exit for the road to Lawrence's house. By the time he rolled to a stop facing the front door, he'd once again convinced himself that it was a great plan.
The fact that Lawrence didn't seem to agree, though, that might be a problem. Or maybe that was just his face. He'd let his beard grow back out a bit, and even across the narrow distance between them, it was tough to read his expression as anything but gruff.
"This was really stupid. Remember that time we went up to Mammoth for the weekend and you almost drove us off the side of the mountain on the way home?"
Shared memories were promising, and Owen could roll with that if it seemed like Lawrence wanted to. "Aw, man, and we had to stop and buy tire chains at that gas station, and Conner kept making you promise we weren't going to die like the Donner Party?"
"Yeah," Lawrence snapped, his suddenly flat tone taking the air out of the space. "Like that. Dumb as shit, and dangerous."
"We have cell phones now," Owen said, more weakly than he'd like in the face of Lawrence's disapproval. "I thought it could be like Christmas in the movies."
"You know, with the snow, and the hay bales."
"It's barely even fall. You're at least six weeks early. It never snows this early."
It was snowing, though, starting to come heavily enough that Owen could barely see the lights of the house through the windshield of the car anymore, and he had looked the enthusiastic lady at the rental car counter straight in the eye when he lied and said no, he was staying around Denver, so no, he didn't need an SUV. He was going to get into so much trouble.
"You can't be mad at me for both things," Owen said. "That's not fair."
"Well, you should probably come inside," Lawrence said. "Bring your bag, we'll figure something out."
When Lawrence said figure something out, he hadn't meant it any way Owen would've, because he didn't want to say more than a few words in response to anything until Owen went back to the night after the Poppies.
"I thought, like, that's the big moment, you know? Triumph on stage, someone waiting to kiss you in the wings. You deserved that. I'm happy for you, but it's cool, man. I know you weren't going to stay. It was a lot to deal with all at once."
"Fuck's sake, Owen," he broke in. "There's no girlfriend. There hasn't been a girlfriend in a long, long time, there isn't going to be a girlfriend, and if you would just-- I could probably-- I thought you were just being funny about it, but no. It's enough to have Conner no-homoing all over the place, but at least when he's on the phone he doesn't want to talk about who he's banging, or who I'm banging, or who he thinks I should be banging, but you kept pushing, and I got tired of lying about it, and lying to you, and lying about you, so I stopped."
"I just wanted to make a gesture," Owen mumbled.
"Great," Lawrence said. "Gesture noted. Look, just stay here, we'll talk about how to get you home in the morning. I'm gonna go sleep in the barn."
"No," Owen said, and then louder, when Lawrence didn't turn around. "No wait, hold on, you're wrong, I-"
Lawrence stopped and sighed, but he didn't turn. "You can not be serious right now, dude, what the fuck?"
"What if," Owen said, trying to process what Lawrence was saying, and what he hadn't said but appeared to think Owen already knew. "What if, no, I swear, I'm not no-homoing you. I think you're- you're my best friend, just like Conner is, but it's at least a little homo," Owen said. "Or, or something, fuck, if you're. If that's what you- I didn't- I just need a minute okay? Don't go." He held his hand out, not quite sure what he'd do if Lawrence took it, but needing to make the gesture. "Can I, can we just figure this out?"
There was no fire in the fireplace, and if he stuck around for long enough for this to go where he thought it maybe could go, he was definitely going to talk to Lawrence about investing in some home improvements so that they didn't both end up either frostbitten or looking like they walked out a lumberjack magazine, but for now making out on the couch, that might keep them warm, he supposed. They had time.
Owen hadn't actually asked whether Lawrence's whole weed thing was the fully legal regulated type or not, but he didn't seem worried that someone was pounding on his front door first thing the next morning. Lawrence kissed him more or less on the ear and said "be right back," so Owen just pulled a throw pillow over his head when Lawrence got up to answer the door.
Between the pillow and not giving a fuck, Owen couldn't hear much of the conversation beyond that the other guy seemed really, really worried and much, much louder than Lawrence, and then he heard what sounded like his name.
And then Conner goddamn Friel burst into the room, caught sight of the clothes on the floor and Owen half-naked under the blanket and yelled, "Awwwwww, shit - Parent Trap!" as he leapt over the back of the couch. Owen dodged to protect his junk from Conner's knees.
"You had nothing to do with this," Lawrence said. "Other than being a total dick to us both for years."
"Well, you can't parent trap yourself," Conner shot back. "So it must have been me."
"No one parent trapped anyone here," Lawrence said, turning back to squint out into the sunlight reflecting off the snow. "Did you drive yourself here? Where's your car?"
"Sponge dropped me off," Conner said. "He took Conner Jr. with him to go get me a coffee. Shit, I should tell him to get everyone a coffee. Owen drinks coffee, right? Parent Trap coffee special!"
"I don't think that is a thing," Owen said, reasonably confident that he was now more of an expert on Parent Trapping than Conner was, but also worried because he was pretty sure the nearest coffee shop was at least an hour away.
"How do you still not know that?" Lawrence continued, mostly to himself at this point.
"Hey, you like goats, right?" Conner looked around the room, curiously. "I don't think I ever said how nice your place is. I bet goats would be really happy here."
"And you didn't even know where he was," Lawrence muttered. "You literally said, 'I lost Owen, is Owen here?' when I opened the door."
"This is so great!" Conner continued, unperturbed. "I am going to be so supportive of you guys touching each other's dicks, right? I am amazing at this. I am the best Best Friend."
"Nice work," Owen said, wondering how he could get Conner and Lawrence to swap places, or better yet, get Conner entirely out of the house and Lawrence back to the bedroom. Step one was probably tugging the rest of the blanket free so that he could walk around without freezing his dick off. Lawrence was still standing in the doorway barefoot and with his union suit unfastened to the waist, and it was kind of hot in a rugged way that Owen had absolutely no interest in imitating.
"You should go see your kid," he said, passing on subtlety and moving to push Conner to his feet. Conner was the only one of them dressed appropriately; he could totally wait outside until Sponge got back if it meant that Owen didn't have to answer any embarrassing questions. "We're very grateful, you're very smart. You should get Sponge to take you to buy some new kicks to celebrate before you fly home. Bye."
"Wrap it before you tap it, Lawrence," Conner called through the door after Owen shut it, voice carrying pretty well through the walls that separated them. "You don't know where that boy's been! Unless you checked the tour schedule! So maybe you do! And actually Owen is very responsible!" Owen tugged Lawrence along with him, not that he needed much encouragement, and shut the bedroom door while Lawrence turned up the radio. He had more important things to focus on, and Conner would give up eventually. Probably.