You try not to be jealous when Justin's album explodes, but you fail. Because this is what you do, it's your life, and while you understand that you can't be the best at everything all the time, this is the first time that you've had proof. You buy a copy, because Justin forgot to send you one, like he said he would, and listen to it on infinite loop. In the car, in your stereo, in your Diskman, until it's even embossed on your brain while you sleep and you're dreaming up concepts for the inevitable music videos.
None of them have matched so far.
He calls you on occasion, mostly from the road, from someplace where the music throbs in the background. Always the same beat, no matter where he's calling from. You hear Christina's voice, sometimes, even over the music and Justin finds a way to get off the phone with you. You smile and ask him to tell Christina hi and get off the phone.
And then you sit in the dark for hours and just think. It isn't that you're truly jealous, not in the way you think at first. There is just a part of you that resents being second to an abstract concept. And you know that if he loved you like he said he did, you'd be with him.
But you remember that you'd begged off, citing your own album and some places you wanted to go and visit. He respected your wishes, and told you to come out anytime you wanted. You didn't. But you still felt lonely, wanting him to call and beg for you to come see him. He hadn't, and you know better, Justin was never one to beg anyone to do anything.
You run into Howie at the grocery store, both of you are reaching for the same bag or Oreos and you feel a little silly, because who does that anyway? But you haven't seen him in years, and for some reason, it's good. Someone who gets it, a kindred spirit of a kind. He smiles sheepishly at you.
"Hi." You repeat and you both stand there awkwardly, staring at the Oreos you were both reaching for.
Howie makes a little small talk with you, something you've never been much good at, but there's something about him that anchors you to the conversation and you do all right, by your own estimation. He grabs the Oreos off the shelf and says something you don't quite catch, your brain strangely focused on the crinkle of cellophane and the soft press of Howie's fingers around the cookies.
"Huh?" You ask, blinking as though coming out of a trance.
He smiles slightly at you. "I'm making Enchiladas." He says. "Do you want to eat with me?"
You nod. You've really got nothing better to do right at the moment. So, you follow him to his place and find you vaguely remember it from watching Cribs one time. You don't think any member of Nsync has ever shown their house, but you can't remember for sure. Howie gives you the tour anyway and you half play a game of pool while dinner fills the house with delicious smells, and your stomach rumbles and you realize how hungry you are.
Howie finds you leaning on a cue stick and staring out of his great bay windows that overlook the ocean.
"It's ready." He says quietly. You follow him out to the kitchen where you eat steamy, spicy enchiladas covered in cheese and sour cream and make more small talk about everything and nothing at all.
Somehow, you end up in his bed that night. You know his didn't plan on this, his hands and fingers are clumsy and awkward and he has to go dig condoms out of a hidden drawer in his bathroom. There is something in you that feels guilty.
And something else that feels whole.
Justin calls you that night, you know because it's his ring tone that pulls you out of a satiated sleep. You carefully extract yourself from Howie's arms and retrieve it from the puddle of clothes in the doorway to his bedroom. You consider answering it, but you don't, instead, you shut it off and crawl back into bed.