"I should start doing crunches,” Chris said.
JC glanced over at Chris, who was standing sideways in front of the mirror wearing only his black leather pants. “What? Why?” He picked up two shirts from the assortment he’d spread out over the bed. “Which one of these goes better with these pants?”
Chris looked. “God, not the pink one,” he said. “Wear that one. With the gold.”
“It’s fuschia,” JC said, but he tossed it back onto the bed and pulled the mesh shirt off its hanger. “Or magenta,” he added. “I have a hard time telling the difference.”
“I like that shirt,” Chris said, as JC pulled it over his head. “Anyway. Don’t we have an Ab Roller somewhere?”
“It’s slinky,” JC agreed happily. “And yeah, I think Justin ordered one off QVC one time. I don’t think he ever took it out of the box. Why do you want an Ab Roller?”
“For what it’s for,” Chris said. “What’s it say, firm, tighten and tone?” he poked at his stomach, then sucked it in and studied his reflection. “I have a pot belly, man.”
“No you don’t,” JC said. “Chris Farley had a pot belly. You just have a normal belly.”
“Ah,” Chris said. “You don’t think that I have a big gut, compared to Chris Farley?”
“Right,” JC said, nodding.
“Funny,” Chris said, “how that doesn’t cheer me up.”
JC pulled a ripply silver shirt out of the pile on the bed and held it up to Chris, blocking his view of his stomach. “You should wear this,” he said.
Chris rolled his eyes. “I don’t wear lamé, JC,” he said. He grabbed a white t-shirt off the dresser and pulled it on. It had “FU.S.A” written across the chest, under a stylized drawing of the American flag. JC wrapped his arms around Chris’ middle and squeezed gently, resting his chin on Chris’ shoulder. Chris felt so good in his arms, always warm, a little soft, so solid and there.
“What brought this on, all of a sudden?” he asked. “Did someone say something to you?” He frowned at the thought.
Chris sighed and relaxed into JC’s embrace, covering JC’s hands with his own.
“Relax, C, nobody said anything,” he said. “They didn’t have to.” His mouth twisted. “I’m perfectly capable of seeing the obvious.” He pulled away from JC, moving to stand beside him. He gestured at their reflections. “Look at you,” he said, smoothing JC’s shirt over the tight muscles of his stomach. JC squirmed. “That tickles,” he said. Chris poked his side, and he jerked away, laughing. “Stop!”
“You’re such a spazz,” Chris said. “I’m serious. Look.” He caught JC’s hand and drew it, palm down, over his torso from his chest to the waistband of his pants. “Feel that? Nice and flat, maybe curved in a little. Now feel this.” He did the same thing on his own body. “Convex. As in, curving outward. A pot belly.”
“But Joey’s is the same way,” JC said. “You don’t think he has a pot belly, do you?”
“There is, in case you haven’t noticed, considerably more of Joey to carry it off,” Chris said. “When you’re short, it shows up more.”
“There’s nothing to show,” JC insisted. “Are you sure nobody said anything to you? Was it that one wardrobe girl? Ashley somebody? I bet it was, she’s always bitching about something. She told Justin that his hair made his head look like a giant blond mushroom. With highlights. I’m gonna get Nathan to kick her ass.” His hands fluttered protectively around Chris’s middle. “Don’t listen to her, Chris. She’s- she wears Electric Youth perfume.”
“JC. JC!” Chris caught his hands and held them, pulling JC close. “Nobody said anything. I promise. I’m just in a weird mood or something. Hey.” He hugged JC, his hands sliding over the supple fabric that clung to his back. “I won’t talk about it anymore, kay?”
JC nodded, his eyes unsure. “You’re OK?”
“I’m OK,” Chris said softly, kissing JC’s chin, in the soft shaven place right next to his carefully cultivated strip of hair. “Let me get my shoes on, and we’ll go.”
JC nodded, and didn’t say anything more about it. That night, at the club, he hovered, and any time anybody talked to Chris he watched them sharply out of the corners of his eyes.
Chris called Justin the next day while JC was playing his keyboard with the headphones on, and asked if he could borrow his Ab Roller.
On the infomercials, it had looked easy to use, comfortable, like some kind of rocking chair, but when Chris pulled it out and screwed it together and actually tried to use it, one day when JC was at the studio, he discovered that the padded arm and headrests only masked the fact that it was a torture device. He struggled through three sets of fifteen reps, because that’s what Justin had said was good to start on, and he figured Justin should know. When he was done, he drank two bottles of JC’s Evian that were in the back of his fridge, and stuck the Ab Roller in the utility room, under a pile of sheets that needed washing, so JC wouldn’t find it. What JC didn’t know couldn’t upset him. Plus, Chris had only just gotten him to stop glaring at Ashley from wardrobe in misplaced solidarity.
He was sore as hell the next night, and made a sharp pained noise when something JC did pulled at his stomach muscles. JC apologized four times, looking horrified and almost as if he might cry, and Chris felt like a shit when he lied and told him he’d pulled a muscle carrying a box down from the attic, especially when JC insisted on giving him a massage to make him feel better.
He found it inside of two weeks, in the laundry room, when Chris was at Justin’s for an afternoon of basketball. It was a constant source of amusement to the others, but JC really enjoyed doing laundry. He’d offered to do Chris’ for him once, but Chris said that he wasn’t the kind of guy that made his lover do his laundry, and had seemed kind of upset when JC said he really wouldn’t mind. That night, he pushed Chris to his knees and said “suck me,” in a raspy kind of voice. Chris seemed to feel better, after that, but JC didn’t bring up the laundry thing again. He just did it when Chris was gone, and as long as he left some for Chris to do every once in a while, Chris didn’t notice. Sometimes, when they were getting ready to go out, Chris would say something like, “wow, I have more underwear than I thought,” and JC would smile to himself.
He did a load of darks, and a load of towels, and was about to put in a load of whites when he noticed the sheets in the corner. He shook his head. Chris really should have put some Spray’N’Wash or something on those, so the stains wouldn’t set. He pulled the top sheet off to see how bad it was.
When he saw the Ab Roller, a lot of things suddenly made sense, like the careful way Chris had been moving and the mysterious disappearance of his Evian stash. He thought about being pissed at him for lying about it, but he remembered the way Chris had looked that night when he’d tried on his favorite leather pants and they’d been hard to button, and just felt sad and kind of helpless. He wanted Chris to be the way he’d always been, not some strange new Chris who would work out all the time and debate the efficacy of creatine powders with Justin like Lance had taken to doing, lately. He didn’t want to lose the way that Chris’ shoulders were comfortable to fall asleep on, and Chris’ stomach was a great pillow, moving softly under his head while they watched TV and Chris toyed with his hair. He loved Justin, but he didn’t want Chris to look like him. Justin had bony shoulders, and his stomach was firm and bumpy.
He put the sheets in to soak and put the Ab Roller on the coffee table. When Chris got home that night, he was sitting on the couch in front of it, writing in one of his notebooks.
“Hey, JC, what—" Chris said, coming around the corner into the den. “Oh,” he said, looking at the Ab Roller. “Um.” He looked at his feet.
JC looked up. “I wish you’d told me it bothered you so bad,” he said. “I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t do it in front of me. It’s just, you never used to worry about shit like that before, and then all of a sudden you’re standing in front of the mirror like some kind of Special K commercial, and… I thought something must have happened.”
Chris sighed. “It wasn’t anything bad, really,” he said. “Just, I was filling out some forms for insurance or something, and I realized that the next time I did it, I wouldn’t be able to put a two at the beginning of my age anymore. And it just-- got to me, I guess, cause things that you can get away with when you’re twenty-five-year-old just make you look like an idiot when you’re thirty, you know? I don’t want to end up like William Shatner, everyone making jokes about how I’m fat and old and still think I can be a teen idol.”
“Nobody will think that,” JC said. “I know they won’t. But I want you to be happy, Chris, so you can Ab-Roll all the time if you think it will help. Just-- don’t go getting all bony and lumpy like Justin.” He squeezed Chris a little tighter, in emphasis, and Chris turned his face into JC’s neck. “I like you how you are.”
Chris laughed a little, and JC thought he sniffed a little, too, though he couldn’t be sure. “How am I?” Chris said, muffled by JC’s t-shirt.
“Squishy,” JC said, without thinking, then froze. “I mean. Um. I meant that in a good way,” he said, weakly.
Chris raised his head, eyes bright. “I can do squishy,” he said, and JC laughed out loud in relief.
“It’s a good kind of squishy,” he said later, as Chris licked a line down the middle of his back. “Oh, God.” Chris on top of him was hot and soft and heavy, deliciously so, and JC tried to tell him that, but he wasn’t able to be very articulate, not when the part of Chris that wasn’t squishy at all was resting so temptingly against his ass, poised to fill him but withheld until the tantalizing brush of skin made him sob with desire.
They lay together, after, breathing soft, heavy air, JC spooned up behind Chris the way he liked to sleep, with one arm under Chris’ pillow and the other slung over his waist. He toyed idly with the sparse hair on Chris’ bare stomach, stroking the soft skin without intent to tickle or arouse.
“Chris?” he whispered, his voice sounding loud in the quiet room.
“Don’t do the Ab Roller anymore,” JC said, cupping his hand protectively over the curve of flesh beneath it. “Please?”
Chris chuckled; JC could barely hear it, but he felt it shake Chris’ body.
“OK,” Chris said. “I won’t.”