The truth was, JC was more than a little pissed at the comment that flew from Justin’s lips as they stood on the stage.  Something about it, the bitter, jaded, narcissistic tone, took all the joy out of winning the award.  They were looking for respect, not trying to lose it by seeming like—the worst of all evils—sore WINNERS.  As if it was expected.  As though they were far too good for some piddly award given out by the world’s youngest looking old man.  And he was embarrassed.


It was widely recognized that the American Music Awards were the bastard child of the Grammies.  For awhile, they were given only to American artists, but somewhere down the road that title leaked out and became any artist in general, hence U2’s nomination.


JC liked U2.  A lot.  He enjoyed what they stood for, envied their respect, was insanely jealous at their easy sincerity, and the fact that no one questioned it.  He wanted to be like them.  Large.  Humble.  Biggest band in the world…not the one with the largest marketing team or the best publicist or the coolest merchandise.  And so when Justin made that off-the-cuff comment, he wanted to sink shamefully into the floor.


Awwww…quit yer booin’.  U2’s gonna win Grammies.”


Laden with innuendo.  Angry.  Bitter.


Justin was right, in some ways.  The booing had hurt, especially from an audience so young and enthusiastic.  It wasn’t like MTV, where the hippest or the best dressed got you in the door, and maybe to the podium.  Yes, the AMA’s were the bastard child of the Grammies, but they were still family…and somewhere, beyond the Ford commercials and the self-aggrandizing, there was an iota of respect.  And he was right that U2 would win Grammies, and he would have to smile and put on his loser face and try not to cry, because he wanted so badly to have that little gold statue.  He supposed that was the difference between U2 and *NSYNC, among other things.  *NSYNC wanted the award.  U2 could give a shit.  But that didn’t mean Justin should have said what he did.


JC had stared at him, discomfort crawling over his skin and taking residence in the pit of his belly.  He tried to smile.  He really, really did.  Even more so when Justin realized his comment went over like a lead zeppelin and the audience tittered with disapproval.  That smile was one of comfort, one of solidarity…but he was still angry, and miffed, and shocked.


They hustled themselves right off the stage, amidst dirty looks from the trophy girls and shaking heads from the producers.  They sat through the rest of the awards show in strained silence, and the tension got to be so much for JC that he forgot to sit like a good boy, and sprawled haphazardly on the velvet-upholstered seats.


The afterparty was quick…a smile here, a nod there, a drink or two to take the edge off.  Congratulations and well-wishes seemed…strained.  Forced. 


“Look at those ungrateful bastards.  Their fifteen minutes are coming up mighty quick.”


He could almost hear their whispers.


Finally, after a few tequila sunrises and a jaegermeister or two, JC was ready to go.  He found Justin in the corner, arm wrapped around Britney, eyes vacant and unfocused, a thin ribbon of drool decorating his chin.


“There’s my man,” He slurred, waving grandly, splashing those within close range with a healthy dose of Cristal.  “The bleeding heart.  The hopeless romantic.  The closet queer.  What would Bono think of THAT, JC?  Would he enjoy knowing that those lyrics you write and those dippy songs you concoct come from an entirely DIFFERENT kind of heartache?”


JC could feel the hot tears smoldering in the corners of his eyes.  He could feel his blood rushing chaotically through his veins, feel the burning shame well up in his cheeks.  He said nothing.


“Too bad, C.  We ain’t never gonna get your precious Grammy.  Ain’t nobody gonna respect us, EVER.  Jus’ gotta deal with it, I guess.  Suck it up…or do whatever it is you do with that boy-toy of yours.”


JC turned and walked away to the sound of Britney’s bawdy giggle and Justin’s derisive snicker.  He would not cry.  He would not cry.


He made it into the cold silence of his hotel room just seconds before the tears slipped down his cheeks.  Blindly, feet stumbling awkwardly across the floor, he made it into the bathroom and flipped on the light.


A jaded man of twenty-five stared back at him, face haggard and broken, eyes rimmed with lines, cheeks hollow and drawn. 


I hate you, he muttered to himself.


He thought of the nights spent in front of the mirror, being pleasured by some foreign body or not-so-foreign friend, all of whom wanted to see the way he moved, to get inside him, to steal from him what they could, just to make themselves feel better.


He thought of his younger days, of his strict upbringings, of the shameful nights he spent under the covers, his hand pumping furiously against his sweaty arousal to try and alleviate the ache that never seemed to go away, no matter what he did.


JC swallowed.


When he noticed the pill bottle standing squat in the corner, smooth white cap half-on, half-off, it seemed like a perfect solution.  Just a few, he thought, to take the edge off.


He shook six small white pills into his hand, studying their uniform shape, fascinated by the thin flakes of powder that settled into the creases and lines in his palm.  He tossed them quickly into his mouth, bringing his head under the faucet to drag in a great gulp of water.


Nothing.  He felt nothing.


Twenty minutes later, the bottle now empty and the world swimming hazily under his eyes, JC sighed.  Respect.  He truly was a tortured artist now.  Honest.  Real.  Pain beyond pain.  This would earn him respect.  This would make them respect him…this…would…



© 2002 ~A.