they say goldfish have no memory
i guess their lives are much like mine
and the little plastic castle
is a surprise every time
it's hard to say if they are happy
but they don't seem much to mind

~Ani Difranco, “Little Plastic Castle”~


Christina sometimes likes to think about what might have happened if they hadn’t become famous. Not just her and Britney—although her favorite part—but all of them. The boys, too. If they’d done the Mickey Mouse thing, NSYNC had gotten together, and then they had all just…stopped. Stopped trying to shoot for the glowing, blinding Hollywood lights and just stayed normal.

She has a feeling that she’d like it. Just the seven of them, still down in Orlando. Meeting at some outdoor café at the end of each week, talking and laughing for awhile before returning to their normal lives of part-time jobs and junior college, maybe even getting together to watch TV or go to the movies on a Saturday night.

Like real friends. Not like personas, shoved together by publicity and duets and label parties, but just a bunch of people who drifted together the way that friends do, through vague shared interests and a strong sense that these people were just home.

She and Britney could walk there hand-in-hand, their hair up in loose ponytails or hacked off altogether, naturally soft and mahogany-colored, untouched by any chemicals except the ones in their shampoo. Christina’d first thought up this sort of fantasy after she heard that Ani Difranco song—“from the shape of your shaved head, I recognized your silhouette, as you walked out of the sun and sat down”—but she knew that Britney would never actually consent to having her hair cut off, let alone shaved.

So Christina could be the bald one. Cut off the frizzy curls; cut off the straightened, straw-like mass of baby-platinum. She’s seen Britney run her hand over Justin’s shaved head and marvel at its softness, and maybe it would be the same with the two of them.

Because Justin would be out the picture, except for in a peripheral way. He would meet them at the coffeeshop and smile and wave, and then go back to flirting with Lance, the way he never let himself anymore. Too obvious, Britney had remarked in passing, with only a little shrug, and Christina’d had to stop herself from being jealous, because it seemed like Britney should have cared a little more that Justin had to let Lance go.

But in this reality, it would be different. Maybe he and Lance would even be dating. Holding hands, kissing a little, their mouths only separating when the waiter brought them their drinks.

She and Britney would sit down next to them. They’d study their notes for midterms without letting go of each other’s hands, and nudge each other’s sandaled feet under the table, looking up every once in awhile to catch each other’s eye with a wicked smile.

JC and Chris would be part of the background noise, like the traffic and the hum of the cappuccino machine behind the bar. They’d be talking about whoever’d be playing at the café that night; Chris in ragged jeans and black liner smudged beneath his eyes; the glitter in JC’s hair catching the light when his shoulders shook with laughter. They’d discuss chords and hum along with the singer, and maybe JC would even grab his acoustic guitar and go up onstage during open mic, Chris’s hand lingering on his as he walked away from the table.

Joey would be there too. Kelly in the seat next to him, Brianna on his lap, gurgling and squirming. They’d discuss their next date night loudly, waiting for one of the others to volunteer to baby-sit, which one of them always would.

At the end of the afternoon, they’d fight over who the check went to. Half because they’d all want to pay, half just to prolong the evening.

Joey would want to pay, because he made the most, working at his dad’s deli, and the others would brush him off because he had a family to feed. Britney would want to because she’s just that way, and the boys would tease her about how she always has to be the feminist ideal, the uberdyke who can’t let a boy do shit for her, and Christina would smile proudly.

Lance would be the one to end up paying, of course, just because he’s stealthy enough to steal it away while they’re arguing and slip the money to the waiter, while Justin rolls his eyes, smiling secretly at how cute his boyfriend is. When they’d all finally notice its gone, Chris would bitch loudly and insist on paying next time, even though they’d all know it would happen exactly the same.

Then they would go their separate ways. Christina and Britney would walk back to their apartment hand in hand, kissing each other under streetlights. They’d fall asleep wrapped in each other’s arms, chewing on each other’s fingertips and murmuring soft words like the ones they speak over the phone to each other, here in the real world, continents away from each other.

Christina thinks she’d like it a lot, but she’s not sure if Britney would. So she doesn’t think about it much, only enough to add little details every once in awhile. A pet kitten for her and Brit, a gig at the café for JC, every Saturday night. A life.



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