JC is the only one of you who looks good in makeup, and he’s girl-pretty even without it. Lance is pretty, too, but in a more transient way, a way that will fade into a more masculine grace eventually, and you are pretty is a babyfied blond way.


But you will grow up eventually. JC will be pretty forever.


He has curved cheekbones and a sweet mouth that can be darkened with lipstick without looking absurd. His body is long and lean, all bones and tight muscle and pale skin that you know is smooth and silky to the touch. His eyes are always wide and innocent-looking, except when they are crinkled up in mischievous laughter, and you sometimes have the absurd urge to kiss the lashes.


He looks beautiful in the dress, too, long and oddly angled and graceful, before they force the shoes on him. High heels are evil, you think and smile. Britney calls you to tell you this often, and bitches you out when you taunt her with the fact that you still get to wear sneakers.


You and Britney talk about other things, as well, but usually only when you’re buzzed on liquor from the minibars of various hotels. Britney’s cool like that; she didn’t get offended when you half-drunkenly told her that you maybe think that JC is prettier than a lot of girls, including her. In fact, she agreed with you, and then told you that, now that she’s surrounded by dancers and makeup people, she knows a lot of people who are “like you,” and she’s okay with it.


At first you didn’t know what she meant, but now, looking at JC, eyes still lined in black, face serious and coated in foundation and powder, you think that maybe you do.


But you’re not sure if you’re okay with it, and you’re not sure if you only like JC because he is pretty, girl-pretty in a way that even most girls aren’t. Its safe to think he’s pretty because he looks like a girl right now, but even for all of his prettiness, he is still a boy, and you are deeply, deeply aware of it. You have watched him change costumes backstage, and he has a man’s muscular arms and six-pack.


You don’t look, but with the tightness of JC’s dress, you can easily see a bulge between his slim thighs.


Chris, apparently, is looking, because he teases JC about it mercilessly. When he asks you if JC was this easily excitable on the set of MMC, you blush and stammer until Chris narrows his penetrating black eyes, then grabs you by the shoulders, saying, “Sorry, sorry. Look, I forgot that you were just a kid for a moment there, okay?” You know that he is probably trying to tell you something, but you’re too busy trying to remember.


Chris also teases you, because you too are girl-pretty in your long dark wig and makeup. You thought about that as you sat in the makeup chair, staring at your own pretty face in the mirror, but you decided not to give it too much thought. Even with makeup you are still recognizably a boy, you are lean and masculine. You should be a boy, but you have a man’s hard body and dark eyes.


You and JC have the same roots, and you at least had a moment of simple childhood, while he was being fucked over by the industry, right before joining the group. But his eyes are still clear and guileless, while yours spark with knowledge of the thoughts that people have about you. You indulge people’s fantasies consciously, it’s a part of your job; JC isn’t even aware that people have fantasies about him. He still thinks that it is all about the music.


You wonder if that will ever change for him. You hope it won’t.


Because it’s a part of his appeal, a part of his beauty. JC is all streamlined, all-American beauty, with just a hint of feminine exoticism thrown in. JC is innocence with eroticism, a boy with a girl’s pretty face.


You are still thinking about all this when everyone else is gone, and you are alone in the makeup trailer, just you and JC, fixing up your eyeliner. When he looks over at you, you smile automatically, and when he comes closer to you, your hand rises to touch his cheek before you’re even aware of it. “Hey,” he says, suddenly understanding, trying to pull back, but you still him and merely run your hand over his face. Curve of eyebrow, nose, lip. Indentation of cheekbone in smooth flesh. He is like a statute, still but strumming with tension underneath his skin.


When you touch your lips to his, he doesn’t breathe in. Your eyes are closed, but when you pull back you see that his are open, and wide, and confused. He is still pretty.


You want to lean in again, to reassure him that everything is okay, but the director yells for you before you can, and you run on set before he sends someone after you, to find you stroking your group-member’s smooth skin.


* * *


All through the shoot that day, you can’t keep your eyes off JC. He seems drawn into himself, but he could just be in character. JC always gets absurdly serious, even about things like this.


You’re dancing right next to him, goofing off, smiling so hard that you think your face will crack open. He doesn’t even look at you, but you look at him; his long eyelashes, the way the wig falls above the graceful arches of his shoulder blades. He looks so pretty, but he smells like cologne; like a man.


When the girls in their tiny bikinis surround you, you think that you should be looking at them, the way that Joey and Chris are, but you don’t. The curve of JC’s legs are right there, and you can just barely see hair pressed against the opaque black net of his stockings.


He doesn’t look at the girls, either.


* * *


The next morning, you walk into the kitchen to see JC sitting at the table, eating toast with cinnamon and sugar and drinking coffee. His lips are shiny and red, and for a moment you think that he’s wearing lip-gloss, but then you see the way his teeth catch his bottom lip, gnawing when he draws in a deep breath.


He is pretty without makeup, too.


When you sit next to him, he moves to get up, but you still him by grabbing his arm, your fingers digging into the muscle there. He is quivering with tension, like a guitar string, like a nervous cat. Liking that thought, you stroke the back of his neck, feeling the short soft hairs there.


He calms, if only slightly, and you draw him back to his chair, smiling your wide, infectious smile until he just has to smile back, even if he doesn’t want to. He smiles.


“What’s wrong?” you ask, dropping your fingers from his neck, down his arm to hold his hand in your own. Your hands are too big, too heavy; his are long-fingered and perfect, with slight calluses on the pads of his fingers from typing, playing piano, guitar.


He shakes his head at you, as if in warning. “Justin, we can’t do this.” His earnest blue eyes are calm, but just barely, and his hand is still in yours, not touching but being touched, although you can feel his fingertips quivering in your own, like a trapped bird.


“Do what?” you ask, but you know. You just don’t care, and so you move closer to him, sliding your chair next to his and letting your hand tighten around his with intent. Your eyes focus on his mouth as he licks his lips nervously.


When you lean closer, you expect him to pull away, but he doesn’t. Your lips touch his again, but this time it’s a real kiss, scorching through your early-morning drowsiness like a pot of black coffee. You dart your tongue out to taste him and feel his shuddering breath against your mouth as he shrinks back, only to dive back in and nearly attack your mouth, abusing it with tongue and teeth.


You are bigger, but he is faster and much stronger, and he has you out of your seat and pressed against the table before you can even process it. You hear his coffee cup roll off the table and shatter, but you don’t care because his tongue is stroking yours, searching and probing your mouth for something that you’re not aware of, and you are sitting on the table with him between your legs, pressed against the hardness between your thighs.


You think of yesterday and almost bite his tongue, and he growls, nipping at your lower lip. His hand slides up your leg and you moan, moving against him. This kiss, this experience is hot, lurid, almost pornographic.


There is nothing pretty about it.


Right as you think that, JC breaks away, breathing hard, and his lips are still moist and red, but this time it is your saliva coating them, your teeth that have coaxed blood into plumping the soft flesh of his mouth. He is still holding you by the shoulder and the thigh, but when you reach for him, almost whimpering, he lets you go.


You know exactly how you look, sitting there, lips pink and swollen and parted, wet; hair sleep-mussed; the bulge of your erection obvious in your loose-fitting sweats. “JC—”


No,” he says again, and this time his voice is harsh, his eyes dark, lips twisted almost cruelly. “Look, we can’t, and that’s just. All.”


A thought strikes your mind, and you realize what he’s saying. “Look, I’m not some kid, JC,” you shout, and by the way he rolls his eyes you know that you’ve just disputed your own point. But still, he knows you, and he knows what you’ve been through. “Come on, Josh. You know I’m not.”


“You are, okay?” he yells back. You’re both standing now, and at your frustrated growl he grabs you by the neck and slams you against the fridge, pressing you into it with his own body until you squirm. Grabbing your chin in one hand, he forces you to look into his eyes, dark blue and totally enigmatic this close up. “You are, you little brat. You’re too young and too fucking pretty for this, and I just can’t.”


He shoves you back against the fridge, and leaves you there, speechless, as he picks up the shards of his coffee cup, JC is the only person you know who can stop to clean up after a fight, and then regain his second wind of anger to storm out of the room.


When he’s gone, you sit at the table and pick at the remains of his toast, not knowing what to do. You want to call Britney, but it’s too early where she is. When Chris comes in, he gives your forlorn form a quick glance, then goes to fill up his coffee cup. He comes over to sit next to you and sits silently for a while.


Finally you look at him. “What? What brilliant Chris-advice do you have you give me?”


He looks at you through the lenses of his glasses, and you’re suddenly reminded that, while you may be mature, you’re still not Chris. “Look, Justin. Just…go for girls right now, okay? You and Lance, you’re the young pretty ones, and we’re all going to be getting talk, but you two’ll get it the worst. Just make it easy on yourself and Jayce.”


“But I just don’t know why—” You stop and look down at the plate in front of you. You feel like your veins are filled with saltwater, spilling out into your eyelids and you mouth.


Chris puts a gentle hand on your shoulder. “He’s gonna get talk, too. And, like…you really are too young.” When you open your mouth to protest, he says quickly, “And even if you’re not, he wants to think about you that way. He, like, needs to see you that way. Okay?”


You think about the light in JC’s eyes that you never, ever want to go out, and you think you understand. “He wants to keep me pretty.”


“Yes,” Chris says. “Yeah.”