Proximity to Reality

Warning for possible trigger for consent due to sex under the influence. (AU.)

She locked the bathroom door, wishing she had a chair she could shove under the doorknob like they did in movies, just to ensure that no one in the building would come in and see what she was doing. Slowly, she opened her purse, taking out the small box with its aggressive pink and black letters: results in less than three minutes, guaranteed.

Her hand started to shake and the box fell to the sink. She dropped her purse, and its contents clattered to the floor as she backed up, finally hitting the wall. No, no, no, kept running through her mind; she just couldn’t understand how she got from–that, from what they had, to this.

The worst thing was, there was only one night where it could have happened. After the breakup, after she’d moved from their tiny studio to her even-tinier room in the apartment house with its shared bathrooms and crappy hot plate, she’d gone cold turkey. No sex again until marriage, or death, whichever was going to come first. At least, that had been the plan. But three weeks ago, Justin had called. The boys were all coming over, everyone was down in the dumps, did she want to come, for old times’ sake?

Fuckers. She ground her eyes into the heel of her palm and cursed them over and over again. Just one beer, they said. Just one toke. Fuckers. Then she ended up in their stupid love pile, and she was so strung out she can’t even remember who she fucked.

She does remember Christina’s eyes looking on headily, and JC shaking his hair in her face, making her arch forward and drag him down to–ohgodohgodohgod.

Britney fingered the thin gold chain around her neck and bit her lower lip. She took a deep breath and stepped forward to the sink, opening the thin paper box and taking out the pregnancy test. She took a long look at herself in the mirror–short, straight brown hair, smudged eyeliner, all the gloss gone from her lips. Fuck. She looked like she’d been crying, which she had, but still. Whatever. She could do this. She could.

JC stares at the espresso machine, running his finger along the polished metal. The coffee shop is running slow, which is strange for a Tuesday morning, but it gives him time to think. His mind has been occupied for the last couple weeks, working on a couple of songs and mostly thinking about–


Justin, JC frowns, can not be ejected from his mind. It isn’t as though Justin hasn’t largely occupied his mind for, well, his entire life, but things have changed and he isn’t quite sure how to process what happened.

When they had sex, he reminds himself firmly. Sloppy, drunken sex in the bathtub where his back was pressed none too gently against the wall but he didn’t care because Justin was practically licking his tonsils and eagerly groping every available inch of skin and working to make even more accessible.

JC shakes his head, his wild hair whipping around as though it has a mind of its own. He sighs and turns around, resting his back against the counter, carefully ignoring the twitch near his spine that is *still* there, weeks later.

AJ comes out from the back to check out the tables, and JC catches the quick glance thrown in his direction. He knows AJ has a thing for him, and to be honest he’s crushing a little too, but he has a strict no work/play interaction rule that he’s stuck to ever since he lost a job for dating his co-worker a few years ago. He still talks to Tony, sometimes, which is nice even though they stopped dating a long, long time ago.

So, he appreciates AJ’s inked skin and smooth back and tight ass, and doesn’t do anything about it.

When AJ comes back, he tells JC to take a break while he watches the counter. “You look like you have something on your mind,” AJ says softly. “Call him. He hasn’t been in here in like, a month. Call him. You’ll feel better for it.”

JC starts at AJ’s subtle mention of Justin, but nods and runs his hand through his hair, blowing out a breath slowly. He grabs his cell from his pocket and heads out back, then outside. He slides his back down the outside wall, crouching near the pavement, then speed-dials Justin’s apartment.

JC hadn’t called him in three weeks. JC never let that much time go between checking in. Justin stared at the phone, willing it to ring.

It didn’t.


He ran a hand through unkempt curls, aware that he was shaking. There hadn’t been any message when he got home, and the only number on the caller ID was Brit’s. He looked down at the futon, trying to ignore Lance’s sprawled figure, working to remember what had happened. It was still a blur. He remembered beer and blunts and Britney taking off her clothes, inviting him to put on a show. He remembered Chris laughing, asking if there was enough to share, and Lance groping him.

He thought he remembered whispering to JC, leading him into the bathroom of the studio, kissing him. But he wasn’t sure that had really happened.

Fuck, it must have, or JC would have checked in by now.

He was on autopilot, thinking of every bad thing that could be happening to JC, or every shitty thing that might be going through his mind, as he lugged his fresh laundry into the studio and started to put it into the appropriate drawers.

Shirts, jeans, underwear, socks–he smiled at the pairs of slightly pink ones, still not white even from six weeks ago when Chris, the fucker, stuck a new red shirt in with his whites. He was ribbed so hard, even JC laughed–and his smile faded. God, why did he even go? He was gonna study for his summer exams that night, and granted he did pass them all which meant he was a bona-fide college junior now, but. God.

He was hanging up his button-down shirts when he heard the phone ring, and he ran for the living room just to see Lance pick up the phone. He gave a bleary “Hello?” scrubbing his hands over his eyes, but they became much clearer when he figured out who it was on the line and looked up at Justin. “It’s for you,” he said, his voice still rough and deep with sleep, and handed him the phone mouthing, “IT’S JC!”

Justin grabbed the phone from Lance, trying to sound cool and collected as he said, “Hello?” into the cheap pink cordless Brit had left behind.

“Um, Justin?” JC’s tentative voice returned.

“What’s up?” Justin leaned against the wall, hoping against hope the casual stance would somehow transfer through the phone line.

“Nothing…nothing much. I was just wondering if you wanted to get lunch tomorrow. Or this weekend. Or whenever you have time, really, ’cause I know you’re busy with school, and midterms are coming up–”

Justin broke in before JC could start rambling too much. “Sure. Where you been, man?”

He heard a muffled sigh from the other end. “Just. Busy. With, like work. And some writing. Just–stuff.”

“You heard from Joey or Lance?” Lance looked up when he heard his name, and Justin tossed him a joint to keep him from thinking too hard about what he’d just heard.

There was an extended silence, and Justin could just see JC playing with the frayed cuffs of his jeans, or tugging his fingers through his loose, curly hair, or one of a hundred other JC mannerisms he had memorized. “Well, Joey came in to my work the other day. I haven’t seen Lance, uh, in awhile.”

Justin stifled a giggle, looking down at Lance, who was intent on the neatly rolled joint tucked between his lips. “He’s probably off somewhere getting shit-faced. What’d you write?”

“Just…some stuff. Like, there was a love song. And I had this one instrumental that just kept running through my brain, man, like a harmony with this sweet bass beat that just kept going–it was a voice, through a vocorder, I thought Lance could maybe pull it off, with this crazy drum solo right in the middle, I know Joey could lay it down with the new set he’s been playing on. It was heaven.”

Fucking JC, and his fucking musical pipe dreams. They’d been through this before, though, and Justin didn’t want to deal with it right now, not when JC’d called him after three weeks and asked him to lunch. A thousand questions about that night wanted out, but he wasn’t going to make an ass of himself asking, so he just made some agreeable noise before changing the subject. “So, where do you want to hit for lunch?”
JC got quiet, like he’d realized he’d started talking when he didn’t want to, and Justin sighed, kicking the doorframe lightly.

“I don’t know. You pick,” he said softly.

Lance could be bribed away with a small bag and some rolling papers. This was Justin’s one chance to get JC alone, and he wasn’t going to let it pass him up. “Come over here, and we’ll order pizza.”

From the time it took for Jayce to answer, Justin knew he was thinking it over really hard, which was a bad sign. His mind raced through options of what to say, to convince JC this wasn’t a bad idea, when he heard, “Um, maybe Anton’s instead? I kind of want the chicken marinara.”

“Anton’s does take out. Besides, this way, no tipping.” He had him, Justin could hear him taking the bait–there was just one thing that would tip him over the edge, and Justin wasn’t averse to playing that card to get him in the apartment. “Cold beer, good weed, and I wouldn’t say no to going over some of those new tunes.”

Justin waited eagerly, counting off the seconds on his hands until he hit one and then heard, “Okay.” Justin punched the air, causing a sleepy grin from Lance. He almost didn’t notice JC asking “What time?” as he danced around the living room.

“Let’s make it 11. We can watch the Sentinel while we eat. I think you’d look good with Blair hair.”

He heard JC smile. He just…did. JC said, “Eleven, okay,” and they said goodbye and hung up the phone.

Justin was still wiggling his ass ten minutes later when Lance rolled his stoned out eyes at him and said, “Knock it off, dude, he’s coming over and you can confess your Big Gay Love and you can have 3 beautiful Romanian children, okay? Make me a peanut butter sandwich, especially if you want me to vacate so you can get your weirdass love on.”

Justin rolled his eyes and got out the peanut butter.

Around eleven, Lance was walking down Wooten onto Green. Half an hour earlier Justin had been bitching at him out of nervousness about how he never went to class, never got a job, yadda yadda. All of it was true, but it didn’t make it any less annoying.

He pushed the door open into the cool darkness of K.P.’s, heading straight to the bar and over to land a kiss on Christina’s cheek. She swatted at him a little, but he saw the smile in her eyes and ignored it.

“Where is he, Chrissy?” he asked, shoving his hands in his back pockets. She tilted her head towards the back as she cleaned a glass with a bar towel. “But be careful, bebé. He’s doing paperwork, and you know how he hates paperwork.”

He nodded, saying thanks before heading to the office. He half-turned when Christina called at him, “Do you want your regular?”

“Yeah, sure. Bring Chris’s piss-beer in too,” he said as he opened the office door.

It was a good thing he’d taken care to pull on the jeans Chris liked, the one with the rips in the knees and just below the back pockets, because Chris was huddled over a messy-looking book and an angry-looking computer muttering choice curse words and scratching things out with a well-worn pencil.

Lance slid into the black leather couch and crossed his legs, sighing a little at the updraft. Going commando kicked ass.

“Rolling Rock is not a piss beer,” Chris said, glaring at him.

Lance rolled his eyes. “Rolling Rock is a total piss beer. I don’t know why you drink it–you own a bar, for christ’s sake. Drink something better.”

At that moment Christina brought in an uncapped Rolling Rock and Lance’s rye and ginger, handing the rye to Lance with a smile and gingerly placing the beer on the desk, a look of disgust on her face. Lance looked pointedly at Chris.

When the door closed behind her, Chris glared at Lance over the tops of his glasses. Fucking Chris. He knew that turned him on. Bastard, Lance thought as he shifted in his chair.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Chris asked, pushing away from the desk slightly. Ah, Lance thought as he hid his smile, that’s the plan. So much for work. He needed a break anyway.

“Well,” Lance said as he nonchalantly slouched further in the chair, the result of which sent his legs sprawling and wide, “I fucked my Physics teacher, so she’s passing me. And my Chinese lit class only requires the work, which I get in on time. The professor for my Comm class is a harder sell, but we’ve got a study date on Thursday, and I know I can,” he casually adjusted himself, “convince him of things.”

“My stats class,” he continued, running a hand through his hair just enough to tousle it, the way Chris liked, “well, I turn in the work on time and correct, and the prof knows better than to ask how it happens. And my theories of business class?” Lance gave a smile that could sweeten the most sour cream, “I like that class. So I go, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, neither of which are today. I came to see you instead.”
Lance fucking loved the way Chris’s eyes darkened, how he sat back in his chair like everything Lance had was expected, not gifted. Someday, maybe, Lance thought he might want to be serious about this whole on-again, off-again thing that was more on than off. Just–not today.

He got up from the chair in a move too fluid for average humans and slid into Chris’s lap, shivering as strong hands made their way beneath his shirt and up his back. “If you want,” he whispered in Chris’s ear, between slight bites and soothing licks, “I’ll even balance the accounts for you.” He caught Chris’s eyes and dived in for a kiss, deep and sexy and so, so smooth. “After,” he said, almost breathless, “we’re done here.”

She and Justin had been high school sweethearts. Prom night, they’d spent half the time talking about how many kids they’d have, and what they’d name them.

Two boys and one girl. Trace, Christopher, and Lynn. They were going to go to Ireland on their honeymoon, after a big church wedding. They were going to save themselves for that trip, and it was going to be hearts and flowers and all the rest of that crap she couldn’t make herself believe in anymore.

She had to talk to Justin. Maybe he’d remember what happened, who all she’d…

Bile rose in her throat, pushed up by nausea and regret, and Britney puked up her half-bowl of Top Ramen with all of her wasted dreams.

When she was done, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slumped against the bathroom wall. She hadn’t left her apartment the last three days, and no one called. She couldn’t figure out which was more depressing.

She pulled her hair back, tying it loosely with a black band. She didn’t look in the mirror, just washed her face and stumbled into her bedroom, flopping into bed and pulling the covers tight around her. She hadn’t been to class in three days–one of those classes she has with *Justin,* the fucker, and he still didn’t call. She doesn’t have the energy to pick up the phone, barely has the will to drag herself out of bed to eat and piss, and she knows that this is all very wrong and bad, but she really just does not care right now because she is twenty years old, a junior communications major in a damn good school she’d worked her ass off to get into and she is pregnant, like the stupidest whore on Belvedere.

Instead of doing her homework, she doodled cells dividing. One. Two. Four. A clump. This was what was inside her. Dividing. Growing. Half her, half whoever. Her notebook margins filled with her efforts at visualizing her situation, each one darker as she pressed the pencil down harder and harder, trying to make it seem real.

She eventually gave up on homework, shoving her books and papers beneath her bed so she wouldn’t have to see them. It worked for a while, until she started thinking about how she was probably going to fail out of college if she didn’t do her homework, and it would be just another way of disappointing everyone.

Now, though, she just huddled beneath her comforter, curled up in a tight ball and trying to get her lips to form that word, the one she’d never thought she’d have to say.


God, could she do it? She could barely even think the world, let alone speak it–fuck all having one done. She didn’t know who to turn to here.

“Get the fuck outta here, cantamañanas! And don’t come back, or I’ll kick your rich, scrawny whiteboy ass myself!” Christina screamed, throwing her towel angrily at the counter. Fucker tried to grab her ass, as if she was just some hoochie down on Fourth. Cabrón.

“Well, gee, X. I usually try to get the customers to stay,” came an amused voice from the back. Christina rolled her eyes.

“Why don’t you try defending the honor of your employees sometime, Senor Cabeza de güevo? Don’t you remember the sexual harassment lesson? And stop calling me that,” she snapped at Chris.

“What? X? Nah, don’t think so. You need anything? Want me to forcibly eject a few more patrons?” Chris teased her from his tilted chair.

Christina flipped him off and grabbed the bottles on the bar. She muttered under her breath, “Stupid culo and his stupid nicknames. Acabo de salir, why do I work here anyway when I don’t even get a decent amount de el respeto–”

“Hey X?” Chris called. “Remember that time I told you I could
speak Spanish.”

“Yeah, thanks, Chris. I remember.” She huffed and ran a hand through her hair. Her mother had gone off at her for three hours when she came home and it was dyed black, but she liked it. Tossing the empty bottles
in the recycling bin, she gave a defeated sigh and yelled, “You want your mee cerveza?”

“It’s not piss beer!”

“Fine. Rolling Rock, mee cerveza, whatever. You want one or not?”

There was a grunt of assent, so Christina grabbed a bottle out of the fridge and twisted the cap off, heading back to the office. Chris would
nurse that beer all night, until there was an inch left and it had gone flat and even nastier than it already was. He’d just give her a cheesy grin when she took it back to wash it out and put it away.

“Thanks, X,” Chris said absently, thumbing through three different accounting books and chewing on the end of his pencil. Christina patted his shoulder, inwardly cursing herself for not calling him on the “X” thing again. Two too many “Chris’s” her fine Latina ass.

She leaned over his shoulder, eyes glancing around pages of numbers before darting back to Chris’s intent face. “Anything else you need, novio?”

Chris shook his head no, and she ran a hand through his hair, scratching her nails at the base of his neck. “Call if you need me,” she said over her shoulder.

“You got it, X,” he said, flipping pages.

Christina rolled her eyes and headed back out front.

Britney ended up going to one of those Crisis Pregnancy places, which only freaked her out more. She thumbed her cross and stared at the phone. She had to be brave, call Justin. Dialing was hard, even though she had the number programmed in. Listening to the ring was harder.

“‘lo?” Justin answered through a mouthful of tuna sandwich.

It was tempting to hang up. So tempting. “Justin?” She heard her voice break.

“Brit! Hey. Where you been, baby? It’s been like a week and a half, and Klinger’s been seriously riding us in Interpersonal class. You’re gonna need another month just to catch up on homework.”

“I haven’t been feeling too good. Justin?” she paused, wondering what to say. “That party…at your place.”

She heard Justin go still, like a tuning fork being grabbed. “Yeah?”

“Some stuff’s still kind of fuzzy. I, um.” Brit stopped, and collected her thoughts. “I don’t remember it as well as I should.”

“Well, we had all of Chris’s inventory leftovers to drink, B. That’s probably why.”

“How much, umm. How much do you remember?”

Justin gave a short burst of laughter. “I remember the margaritas, and the white Russians, and Blade Runner, but pretty much anything after that is a crazy blur.”

Phone cradled between ear and shoulder, she raised her hands in prayer. “Did I…who…” There was no easy way to ask the question.

“What, B?”

“Did I do anything stupid?”

“Well, there was a little table-dancing–we were all drunk out of our minds, Brit, of course you did stupid stuff. Once Lance broke out his ‘good weed’ we were all completely off our nut.” He paused. “Is there something you wanna say? ‘Cause you’re beating around the bush like that time in high school when you wanted to go to the prom, even though I was going to be all anti-prom, but you got me to go anyway and I wore those great black Pumas–sorry.”

“Just, I just want to know what I did.”

Justin got quiet. “Like what?”

He would have to be difficult. “Sex.”

“Um. Like how? ‘Cause we all got a little–I mean, with the weed…”

“You *know* how.”

He sighed. “Okay, look. I know we’ve been broken up for awhile, and we’re still good friends, so when I tell you we slept together I don’t want you to freak out, ’cause we’re all finally good, you know? Everyone’s good.”

She laughed. She couldn’t help it. “Yeah, good. Just you?”

“Um, I think there was some stuff with Christina. I don’t know, ’cause it was Joey and you and her on the couch and by that time me and–well, I was somewhere else, and Lance and Chris were getting all freaky in the corner.” There was a soft bang through the phone. “Jesus, I can’t believe I remember all that–oh, christ, Brit, that’s Jayce, hang on.”

Typical of him. She kicked her pile of discarded school books.

She figured he’d put the phone down on the counter, because she could hear muffled voices and a door being opened and shut. A few minutes later he came back to the phone.

“Sorry, sorry–I can only talk for a few minutes ’cause C’s here for lunch and he finally called me after, like, forever, so anything else? You need the Klinger assignments? I took notes–they’re shitty, but they’re notes.”

“Yeah. I need them. I also need to know who the fuck knocked me up.” She was shocked at her own bluntness.

He dropped the phone, and she heard a tinny JC say, “Justin? Justin, what’s wrong?”

A few scratchy noises later, JC picked up the phone and said, “We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Chris and Lance are standing outside a tattoo shop, and they’re not even drunk.

It was a dare, a really stupid dare, but Chris saw the way Lance’s eyes went dark when he defended his balls and agreed to get a tattoo, so there’s no way in hell Chris isn’t going through with it now. He doesn’t know why someone saw fit to make 24-hour tattoo parlors, probably for stupid shit like this, but here it is and here they are and Lance holds the door open for him when they go in.

There’s some crazy-ass designs on the wall, and a young punk with a bullring through his nose and a clichéd green mohawk watches them from the corner of his eye while flipping through a Tattoos for Women magazine.

Lance points, grinning, at a nun with a devil eating her out, and Chris mouths a loud “NO” and glares deathrays at him. His eyes flicker over everything, and he feels like a tool for getting some generic shit off the wall, but he doesn’t have anything in mind really so it’s this or welsh on the bet. And Chris doesn’t welsh.

His eye catches on a tribal-looking angel haphazardly taped in a back corner, and he heads over. Tribal, okay. Cliché city. But, armflesh, less pain, he rationalizes, thinking that his arms should be perfect for it then. Flesh city.

He motions Lance over, and he feels him sidle up to Chris’s back, nonchalantly slipping his hands into Chris’s pockets. Chris has a weird reverse flashback to highschool, only he was the one slipping his hands into his high school girlfriend’s pockets. He decides he likes the feeling and leans back against Lance’s chest, nodding towards the flash he’d been eying. Lance murmurs in his ear, “I like it,” and after a warm moment they break apart, the backs of their hands touching as they walk to the counter.

Chris waits while the baby punk goes to get one of the artists, knocking his foot against the plywood counter. Lance looks over and smiles at him, and Chris has the sudden realization that there are many, many things he would do for this man, far beyond the call of tattoos. He shivers as the knowledge travels up his spine, and then feels a warm hand in the small of his back, calm and grounding.

Jesus. This was not what he signed on for when he and Lance became fuckbuddies, but, okay. He’s flexible, he can go with it.

A guy about his height with a soft smile and dark hair pulled back in a ponytail says hello, asks who’s getting the tattoo and which one they chose. Chris points out the flash he decided on, and the guy pulls in from the wall and beckons them back into one of the studios.

From Chris’s point of view, he can’t see any ink on the tattooist. He’s pretty clean, and Chris shifts in his chair, wondering why the hell he’s getting this done by someone who has no ink. Then the guy turns, bends to get a pen and trace paper from his cabinets, and when his shirt rides up a little Chris sees a spectacularly elaborate tattoo spanning the guy’s back, done in shades of black. His eyes slip up to meet Lance’s, and they share an impressed look.

The tattooist turns back and Chris gives him a quick grin. Chris pushes his shirtsleeve up, and the guy presses the trace to his forearm. Chris isn’t sure whether to be pleased or not-so-pleased when the transfer covers his forearm without having to resize it, but he just shakes it off and prepares for the slow buzz. It’s still a surprise when the needle first touches skin, and he curses himself for jerking.

Lance has pulled a chair up next to him and slides a comforting hand up Chris’s calf to rest on his knee. Lance’s eyes are focused on where the needle meets his skin, and Chris would roll his eyes if it wasn’t so hot how Lance is getting turned on by this. Chris closes his eyes and tilts his head back, inwardly groaning at how fucking whipped he is.

Later, in bed at Chris’s apartment, Lance carefully, gently removes the surgical tape and gauze, gazing raptly at the reddened skin. Chris is pleased with the job–the guy was really good, he doesn’t even think it’s going to scab over as long as he takes care of it, which is almost guaranteed with Lance’s close attention on it all the time.

Cautious fingers trace just outside of the tattoo, and Chris shivers again, but this time for a different reason. Lance has settled Chris back into the pillows, and he savors the attention, making soft noises when Lance follows his fingers with his tongue. This is good, this is so good, totally worth the hundred bucks he plunked down for this thing, and hell, if it means he has something to remember Lance by, he has no qualms about his new ink.

Lance looks up from his ministrations, smiling at Chris with a rumpled softness, and Chris knows he will be good and well-fucked come tomorrow morning. His hand slides up to cup Lance’s neck, and when he pulls him down for a sweet kiss, there is no resistance.

Three days after the bomb was dropped and she’s sitting in a pale tan waiting room clutching Justin’s hand and chanting to herself, “I can do this, I can do this.”

Justin’s looking more nervous than she is, and she wants to tell him to stop bouncing his damn leg, read a People or something and look at all the pretty people who couldn’t even dream of her problems.

The door opens, and her head whips around, and her breath falls short when she hears, “Ms. Spears?” and before she knows it she’s up and out of the chair, running for the bathroom because she doesn’t want to ruin these nice walls. She can’t do this, it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s not her, this is not her and she knows Justin will take care of things while she’s vomiting across the hall. She thinks this must happen all the time, and realizes what it’s like to be a statistic.

Time passes and there’s a warm hand running up and down her back, telling her that it’s okay, but it isn’t and it never will be again and she’s going to be a *mother* and she still has to pass chemistry.

Justin presses some pills into her hand and she swallows them dry. He wipes at her eyes and strokes her hair, and she thinks she might still love him, just a little.

When he drives her home, she stares blankly out the window and the cars whoosh by her but she doesn’t notice. The only thing she registers after she’s home in her little boxy apartment, put to bed with gentle hands, is that Justin stays even when she knows he wants to go, and she thinks he might love her just a little bit too.

Joey is banging the heels of his Docs against the hollow stage, watching as Wade and Nick carefully balance the fixed lights to attach to the overhead grid. He’s always amazed that they can keep their cool when Darren is barking orders from stage left. Joey finds it hard enough to concentrate on his lines when Darren’s just giving simple stage directions.

“Joey, love of my life,” he hears from the back of the theater. He turns his head in the direction of the voice and replies, hopping off the stage, “Lance, my very gay friend! How you doing?”

“I’m good, I’m good,” Lance says, leaning in for a small peck. “Thought I’d swing by, take you to lunch.”

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” Joey says. “Let me grab my jacket and we’ll get the hell outta here. If I stay, Mandy’ll make me help her with costumes again, and you of all people know how utterly awful I look in a dress.”

Lance treats him to a wide grin. “Oh, I don’t know. There’s probably a market for mouthy Italians in drag, somewhere.”

Joey chuckles and bumps his shoulder again Lance’s, saying, “Stay right there, dickass. I’ll be right back,” as he trots towards stage right to grab his leather jacket.

As they walk to the bus stop, it’s the usual argument of Italian versus Mexican, even though they both know they’ll end up at Lexington’s, a small cafe hidden away downtown where they’re affectionately known as regulars.

It’s Saturday afternoon, which means when the lunch crowd slows at one everyone knows to meander to the corner outside where they can push the tables together and make themselves comfortable while Willa serves them like she always does. They’ll stick around until the dinner crowd starts to fill the place, and then either go their separate ways or meet up at one of the bars on Lincoln later.

When Lance and Joey arrive, Justin’s already there and the umbrellas have been raised to block the bright afternoon sun. He waves at them, and they make themselves comfortable in the thoughtfully plush chairs.

Lance angles his chair so that he can plop his feet into Joey’s lap where a warm hand will cover his calf. Lance orders coke and Joey orders a beer, and they both watch Justin’s leg jump wildly with impatience until he finally snaps and screams, “What?!” at them.

Joey grins into his hand and Lance puts on his serious face before saying calmly, “Are you worried about something, Jup?”

Justin rolls his eyes. “You know perfectly well what I’m worried about. This is the fourth doctor’s appointment in two weeks. I’m really nervous, okay, and it’s finals week, and we’ve got apartment showings all next fucking week. I’m just a little bit stressed,” he says, drumming his fingers onto the table.

Lance claps his hand over Justin’s, squeezing gently. “It’s fine. You know JC would call if there was something important, and Britney’s just been going in for routine checks. She’s huge now–it’s totally normal. Really.”

Justin shifts in his seat. “I know, I know,” he mutters. “It’s just–” he cut himself off, his eyes lit up and he surged out of his chair. “Britney! Are you okay? Is everything okay? Is the baby okay? JC, is she okay?”

Britney grins and JC rolls his eyes. “Everything’s fine, Justin,” Britney says Really. Evan’s okay. I’m okay. And JC’s okay, thanks for asking.”

Justin breathes a sigh of relief, sagging into JC’s welcome arms. “Good. Good good good.”

“What neuroses has Justin subjected us to now?” Chris asks, smirking, as he walks up. He bends down to kiss Lance, punching Joey in the arm as he passes by.

“Oh, the usual,” Joey says.

“Nothing to worry about, then, the world’s all right,” he says, plopping into a chair.

Justin flips Chris off, carefully guiding Britney to a chair and sitting JC on his other side, slipping his hand into JC’s and sharing a soft kiss.

“Where’s X?” Lance asks Chris.

“I’m right here, asshole. I told all of you to stop calling me that stupid name,” she says, plunking her overweight bag on the table, rocking it unsteadily.

“It’s been months, babe, I think it’s sticking,” JC says, munching on a piece of bread.

“Si, fine, whatever,” Christina mumbles, swiping Chris’s water glass for herself and downing it thirstily.

Willa comes out to take their order, and they fall into noisy conversation, catching up on the week.

Life, Britney thinks, never turns out as expected.

She runs her thumb along Evan’s cheek, feeling the soft skin beneath hers, and smiles at how he’s already developing Justin’s curls. She didn’t expect this, Evan Brian Spears, and she didn’t expect to fall in love so fast and so hard. Her mom told her that’s how it happened, and she believes it wholeheartedly now.

She walks from Evan’s room to the kitchen, pausing to pull a blanket over Justin and JC’s still forms on the couch, flipping off the television before making herself some tea.

She certainly didn’t expect to be living with her ex-boyfriend and father of her child, and his boyfriend. Evan has a mom and two devoted dads, which was heaven if only because it meant she got nights off once in awhile.

She turns out the light and pads to her room, setting her tea on the nightstand and opening her economics textbook, tucking the baby monitor in beside her.