VMAs. Afterparty. She’s put on the performance of the night, but all she wants right now was to gulp down as much expensive champagne as she can before her mother catches up to her. Justin wandered off with Chris earlier, so she doesn’t have to worry about him giving her the evil eye, either. He drinks like a fish at parties, but if she has a damn martini he’ll look at her with big, disappointed puppy eyes until she puts it down.

 She doesn’t want to deal with that right now. She wants…well, she’s not quite sure what she wants.


What she doesn’t want, though, is some guy she vaguely recognizes from a rock group she hates—she saw their video late night on MTV and finally threw a pillow at the TV so she could sleep—leering at her from the other side of the bar, so she pushes up the thin strap of her dress and grabs her drink, walking away with her best estimation of “snob.” Which is rather difficult in high heels.


But apparently it works, because behind her she hears him ask someone, “When did Titney Spears become such a bitch?”


Her face burns, but she ignores it, sipping from her cherry-flavored drink. Wishing she could just get the fuck out of here, because she still feels naked from her performance; still feels raw and exposed and vulnerable.


When she was onstage she felt beautiful, but now, seeing all the looks she’s getting from boys and girls, men and women, celebrities and paparazzi alike, she feels ugly, stupid. The crowd loved her but now they’ll go home and scoff loudly to their friends, “Did you see what she was wearing? Did you see what she did? Slut!”


So, fuck it. All she wants right now is to get drunk as hell, and then stumble into her huge empty hotel bed, because remember, she’s supposed to be a role model. No sex before marriage. No underage drinking.


She laughs and gulps another throatful of her drink.


“Whoa.” A tiny hand comes up from behind her and grabs the cup out of her hand. It’s Christina, looking tiny and perfect, and Britney feels like a damn Amazon next to her, too tall and too big and too noticeable. “As the elder poptart, I feel it’s my responsibility to keep my peers from the evils of alcohol,” Christina’s warm low giggly voice says intimately into her ear.


Britney stares at her a moment, slightly shocked because, before tonight, she and Christina haven’t really talked in a long time. A long, long time, because they’ve both been recording and touring and yes, competing against each other for their audiences. But tonight the hatchet, if there ever was one, seems to be buried, so Britney laughs and leans into her old friend, feeling Christina’s skin, soft and warm and peach-scented, against her own. “Chrissy. Hey, sweetie. What’s goin’ on?”


Christina leans against her too and sighs. “I’m sick of this party, but my publicist says I can’t leave until later.”


Britney nods sympathetically. “You, too?”


They sigh together this time, breathe together, until Christina stiffens. “Oh God. There’s Fred Durst.” Her nails dig into the skin of Britney’s arm as she pulls her away, into what passes for a secluded corner in this packed, overlit room. “He’s been trying to get into my pants since I agreed to let him sing with me.”


Britney bursts out laughing, enjoying Christina’s scowl. Christina shoves her a little, good-naturedly, and she shoves back. “You’re not wearing any pants.”


Christina laughs too, gesturing to Britney’s skirt, split to her thigh. “Neither are you.”


“I might be.” Britney keeps a straight face. “Wanna find out?”


Christina doesn’t answer, but gives her a slight smile, and then sips Britney’s drink. “What is this?”


“Don’t know.”


Christina looks at her over the rip of the cup, eyes patient. “Then why are you drinking it?”


Britney shrugs and grabs it back, accidentally spilling half of it over her dress. “Shit!”


“Oooh…” Christina makes a face, then starts sopping up the fizzy pink liquid with a corner of her dress, inadvertently exposing most of her long pale thigh. “Oh. Oops. I guess both of our outfits are ruined.” Her eyes twinkle. “Hey. At least we got an excuse to go back to our hotels now.”


“You better tell your date.”


You better tell your date.”


The two girls stare at each other for a second, and then laugh. At each other, at themselves, at the whole situation. Its not where they thought they would end up at the beginning of the night.


Britney leans against Christina again, liking how soft and warm she is. The only other people she’s ever this close to are her mom and Felicia and Justin, whose skin is always too hot and rough with hair and smelling like expensive cologne. Right now Christina smells like a mixture of cherry and peaches, and it’s a nice combination. She briefly wonders if she can get this scent made into a body spray.


Then Christina moves, slipping beneath Britney’s shoulder and wrapping a slim arm around Britney’s waist. “Come on, Brit. I’ll get my driver to take you home. You seem kinda wasted, and I don’t think Justin will be leaving anytime soon,” she says ruefully, and Britney looks over Christina’s head to see him flirting with Beyonce Knowles.


She snorts. “Yeah. He’ll be busy for awhile.” All of a sudden it hits her and she stands up straight, rather than slouching against Christina, like she was before. “What about your boyfriend?”


Christina shrugs. “He took off earlier. To another party. With some industry guy.” Her perfectly tweezed eyebrows raise pointedly, and her fingers bury themselves in the cloth at the side of Britney’s dress, gently guiding her away from the wall, towards the exit.


“Oh,” Britney says fuzzily. People are looking at them now, and she smiles. She loves being the center of attention, feels beautiful onstage, so she raises her head high and smiles haughtily, stroking the bare flesh of Christina’s arm. Letting the flashbulbs turn her skin a glowing gold.


By the time they’re out of there, they’ve already become the most photographed pair of the night. Britney practically falls into the back of the limo, laughing, smiling, feeling glorious. Christina’s grinning too, her makeup mostly worn off, but she still looks beautiful.


By the time they start to drive, though, the feeling has mostly faded away, and Britney sinks deep into the seat, wishing she had kept her drink. She knows the stories that are going to circulate now—they fought in the limo, they fucked in the limo, Christina dumped her in some scummy alley and then went back to her hotel—and it makes her feel ill. The thoughts run back and forth across her brain, and she clutches her head, almost crying until Christina touches her on the shoulder.


That jerks her out of her circle of destructive thoughts, and so does the warm, worried look on Christina’s face. “You okay, girl?” Christina says, and her voice is so comforting and caring that Britney wants to stay in the limo with her for as long as possible.


She shrugs, though, and says, “I’m good,” even though she isn’t. “Just a little drunk. Maybe a little hungover,” she smirks, and feels a little better when Christina laughs.


“Aren’t you kind of young for that sort of thing?” she teases, and Britney finds herself blushing for absolutely no reason.


She tosses her long extensions. “I’m too young for a lot of things. Doesn’t mean I won’t do them,” she says.


Christina takes that in, nodding and sipping from a bottle of water. When she notices Britney staring she offers the bottle, saying, “You want some?”


Britney shakes her head. “Do you have any rum?” She likes rum. She likes the sound of the word, rum, round and warm, and she likes the smell of it, and the taste, when she mixes it with Coke.


“You shouldn’t drink anymore tonight,” Christina says decisively. She’s starting to sound like Felicia, like the big sister that she never had and never particularly wanted.


“I’m fine,” Brit says coldly, and thinks about the mini-bar at her hotel.


“No, I mean it,” Christina says, and she leans forward again, this time clutching one of Britney’s hands in both of her own. “You’re really young, Brit—we both are—and this is the decision point. You’re eighteen. You‘re legal. Do you go the showgirl way and drink to spite everyone, or do you act like yourself and do whatever the hell you want to do? Not what people expect you to do, not what people tell you not to do. What you want to do.”


Christina sounds so serious, and for a minute Britney wants to lash out at her, and say, “You’re not my mom or my big sister or my assistant, so back off me,” but she likes this, likes the warm soft manicured hands that are wrapped around her own, and likes ‘wild Christina’ telling her not to be a bad girl, so she just smiles and moves into the seat next to Christina, leaning her head on Christina’s shoulder. “Oh, Chrissy. Not much has changed since the Mouse Club, huh?”


Christina laughs, leaning her head against Britney’s. “Nope.” Then her voice turns serious again, and low and sort of scared. “And Brit. If I ever start to go off the deep end, I want you to do the same for me. All right?”


Christina? Doing something for someone else rather than for herself? Could never happen. But she seems to be scared of the idea, of being shaped by the will of others, so Britney makes her own voice low and calm and says, “Yeah. Yeah, I will.”


Christina sits up straight, and looks into Britney’s eyes. Her own eyes are wide and frightened, sky blue darkened by fear and alcohol. “Promise?”


Britney smiles in a way that she hopes is soothing, pulling the smaller girl into a hug. “I promise.”


They sit, wrapped around each other, the blond of their hair and the black of their dresses merging until the limo pulls to a stop. The intercom beeps on suddenly, “Miss Spears, your hotel,” and then turns off again immediately.


Christina pulls away first, brushing one of Britney’s long extensions out of her face. “Your stop, Brit. Have a good time tonight, okay, and don’t drink your minibar dry.”


Britney laughs, and says, “You too,” brushing a soft kiss over Christina’s cheek.


Later, she’s pretty sure that Christina is the one who turns into the kiss, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the long, soft limbs, the smell of peaches, the taste of cherries on Christina’s tongue. What matters is the birdlike arms wrapped around her neck and the soft moist heat of Christina’s mouth. What matters most of all is how she feels, wrapped in the arms of her friend, who is thinner and prettier and more talented than she will ever be.


She feels beautiful.


They separate with a moist sound, tongues still slicking each other’s lower lips, and they smile with down-turned eyes as they pull away from each other. Britney doesn’t look back at her as she opens the limo door, smoothes down her dress, makes sure her hair is all right. She just says a soft “goodbye” that is echoed by Christina, even softer, and she knows that they won’t see each other for a long, long time again.


That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is, she still feels beautiful.



Lovely image supplied by Halo