Fandom/Pairing: American Idol; Kris/Adam
Summary: “Mostly the plan entails being with you. I’d say that’s where it begins and ends, actually.” A long epilogue to If It Kills Me, aka, the Plane Crash Fic, but really it can be read as a standalone with minimal confusion.
The divorce papers come on a Monday morning while Kris is in the studio. He hasn’t slept in twenty hours, keeping himself awake with only a steady stream of coffee and sheer force of will.
“I think,” he says to Cassidy, “it sounds better with just the snare. See?” He reaches across the board to adjust the knob, and then plays the track from the beginning. “Adding the kick drum is overkill.”
Cassidy nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I like that.”
Kris is relieved that Cassidy’s not going to push for more on this one. Sometimes the guy is like an eager kid wanting to play with all of the shiny new toys at his disposal. Kris can’t really blame him for that; he still remembers his first time sitting in on production, toying with all of the effects, marveling at the way they added to the bare bones of a song. It took him awhile to learn that sometimes less is more.
The sound he’s aiming for with Cassidy’s album is pure and acoustic and introspective. Something stripped down to showcase his emotive vocals and the poetry of his lyrics. The production can’t be heavy-handed—Kris leaves only light touches, letting the music speak for itself, raw and exposed and vulnerable. “Think Conor Oberst,” he’d said to Cassidy during their first session. “Minus, you know, the sounding like a drowned cat thing.”
He’s glad that Cassidy came to him for this, back when he decided to ditch his attempts at electro-pop and stick with the folk rock acoustic sound. Not that Cassidy had a wide range of options—but this is like a vanity project, almost, since Kris obviously didn’t take it on for the modest compensation Cassidy’s label would allow. He took it on because he likes Cassidy, because Cassidy is a talented songwriter, because it’s refreshing to put an album together that focuses more on the quality of the music than the reception it’ll have to various focus groups. Because Adam asked him to, and Adam never asks Kris for anything unless it’s important.
Kris is messing with the reverb on the track when his phone goes off. He’s fully prepared to ignore it, but Cassidy swats his hands off the board and says, “Man, take a break, you’ve been ignoring your real life for long enough.”
It’s sad but true, and Kris is feeling a little claustrophobic in the booth, so he takes his phone and lets himself out into the hallway to answer it. The call is from his lawyer.
“The papers just arrived,” she announces.
The weird electric edgy energy he’s been running on seems to be sapped from him all at once. Something else buzzes under his skin instead, darker and unsettling. He almost stumbles, leans hard against the wall with one shoulder.
“Everything should be in order,” his lawyer continues, “but I’ll read over it this morning to make sure nothing strays from the set provisions. Would you like some time before you come in to sign?”
“No,” he says, feeling numb and strangely detached. “No, I’d rather just… get it over with. Can I come in today?”
“Today?” she says. “That shouldn’t be a problem.” A short pause. “You’re sure?”
He breathes out and stares at the framed platinum record fixed on the wall opposite him. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m sure.”
After he hangs up, he slides bonelessly down the wall and to the floor, his cell phone pressed against the bottom of the chin. He knew this was coming. He doesn’t know why he’s so surprised.
The conditions are pretty painless. The truth is, Kris would give Katy pretty much anything she asked for—as far as he’s concerned, she’s earned more than her share, and he doesn’t really care about the money anyway. But Katy’s not asking for a lot. Neither of them have ever been big spenders, so there aren’t many assets to split; Kris gets to keep the apartment, at least.
He initials where he’s supposed to, and signs where he’s supposed to, looks at where Katy’s signature is written out at the bottom of the page in her neat writing and wonders idly if her hand shook at all when she signed her name. His doesn’t. He doesn’t know if that means anything.
But it’s still strange, seeing the end of his failed marriage spelled out in such formal terms. Irreconcilable differences. It doesn’t feel like enough to encompass how things fell apart. He guesses it’s all but irrelevant at this point, though, and signs each page quickly, shakes his lawyer’s hand and ducks out of the office building as quickly as possible.
He reemerges back onto the street, surrounded by Wilshire’s humming traffic and harried passerby, signs that the world continues on as normal even when his has changed so much. It’s been over a year since they first separated, but this is the final nail in the coffin. It’s really over. No going back now.
He gets in his car and sits there for awhile as dim car horns and the city sounds blast around him. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do now.
He calls Katy.
“Hi,” she answers softly.
“Hi,” he says. “So. I signed the papers.”
“Oh,” she says, and then: “How are you?”
She sounds so genuinely concerned that it makes him feel pathetic. How screwed up is it that she’s the one who filed for divorce, and she’s the one trying to comfort him?
“I’m… you know.” Except she can’t really know, since Kris hasn’t even decided how he himself feels about all of this. He throws the manila envelope in his hand onto the passenger seat. “What about you?” he asks. “Are you holding up okay?”
“I’m all right,” she says. “I’ve had better days. I’ve had worse.” She goes quiet for a moment. “It’s weird. I thought it would be harder. I mean, it is hard, but at the same time… not.”
Maybe Katy does understand.
“Yeah,” he says softly. He doesn’t want to dwell on it, though. No point now. “How about everything else?” he asks. “Are you still seeing that Owen guy?”
“That Owen guy” is Owen Jay Black, Katy’s casted love interest on the CW’s cult hit Hard Candy. He tried keeping up with the show, but the second Katy’s character started macking on other guys, it just got too weird for him. Two months ago Katy called and let him know she was dating Owen, just so Kris wouldn’t find out from the media. Kris hasn’t met the guy, but he’s seen the pictures; Owen Jay Black is his total physical opposite, tall and Hollywood tan, blond and blue-eyed.
“Yes, we’re still together,” she tells him. “I wouldn’t call it serious, though. I feel like I’m just learning how to do the casual dating thing. I never really did it before. I never had to, you know?” Katy laughs, just a little, underneath her breath. “Well, of course you know.”
He definitely knows. First there was Katy, and then Katy, Katy, Katy, until there wasn’t—and then there was Adam. But with Adam, it wasn’t like—there’d been a history there. It wasn’t like starting over from scratch. Kris’s love life has never followed conventional standards.
“What about Adam?” she asks. To her credit, there’s no trace of hesitation or bitterness there. He knows it can’t be an easy question for her to ask. But maybe she’s just a good actress, better than he ever gave her credit for.
“He’s still in Europe,” Kris explains. Adam’s been on his European tour for over a month and a half now, co-headlining with Lady Gaga, jumping from city to city promoting the album. “He’s good, though. Things are good.”
“Good,” she says, and he can almost hear her smiling on the other end. “I really hope you’re happy, Kristopher.”
It doesn’t come out the way you’d expect from an ex. And that’s what she is now: his ex-wife. It feels weird to think of her that way, but there it is.
Kris can’t remember which city Adam is in at the moment. He has enough trouble keeping track of his own life— trying to remember if he bothered to eat breakfast, if he picked up laundry detergent last time he was at Whole Foods, which radio station or magazine reporter he’s supposed to interview with between studio time. Thank God for personal assistants. If it weren’t for Louise emailing him grocery lists and prying him out of the recording booth long enough to field phone interviews, he doesn’t know how he’d get anything done.
He thinks Adam is in Berlin… or maybe it’s Copenhagen. He has no idea what the time difference is, but he gives it a shot and calls anyway.
Well, it doesn’t sound like he woke Adam up, so it can’t be that late. Or that early.
“Hey,” he says, unable to stop himself from smiling like an idiot. He can’t help it; even though it’s only been two days, it feels like forever since he last heard Adam’s voice. “You weren’t sleeping, were you?”
“Me?” Adam laughs. “You really don’t know your time zones, do you?”
“Shut up. I can’t even remember where you are.”
“Berlin. And no, I just got done with sound check. I’ve got some time to kill. What’s up?”
“Nothing.” Kris picks at a loose thread on the arm of his couch. He could really use new furniture. Maybe he should throw everything out, redecorate completely, start all over. A clean slate.
“Kris,” Adam says. Even five thousand miles away, Adam can see right through him.
“I got the papers today,” he admits quietly. “It’s done.”
The ensuing silence stretches out for so long Kris would think they’d disconnected if it weren’t for the sound of Adam’s breathing.
Eventually Adam clears his throat a little and says, “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” he says. He’s not going to lie and pretend everything is totally fine—he’s done that before, and it never fools Adam anyway, so it’s pretty much pointless to even try. Adam knows him too well. “She told me she’s still dating Owen Jay Black.”
“Are you jealous?”
“What? No. That would be stupid.”
“Emotions aren’t always rational,” Adam reasons, “and besides, you’re allowed to have a hard time with this, or be jealous, or whatever. I wouldn’t be, like, mad.”
“I’m not jealous,” Kris insists. “I mean—it’s kind of weird? But it’s not—I’m not—” He stops and hugs a throw pillow close to his chest. “I don’t know.”
This isn’t a conversation to be had with Adam. No matter how much he claims he won’t be offended, Kris isn’t sure he has a way to explain what he’s feeling—that yes, he is sad, that the reasons things didn’t work with Katy never had anything to do with loving her any less, that while he’s more okay than he has been in a long time with the direction his life is heading, it’s still hard and a little scary to think of a life without Katy, after having her in it for so long.
“You shouldn’t be jealous anyway,” Adam continues with a teasing lilt to his voice. “Who the fuck has three names? Pretentious try-hard douchebag.”
Kris smiles, cradling the phone against his shoulder so he can hold the pillow with both arms. “What does that make Neil Patrick Harris?”
“NPH can do no wrong. He’s free to do whatever the hell he wants. He could have five names if he decided to and I wouldn’t judge.” Adam pauses. “But seriously, Kris—do I need to worry? I don’t like you being alone like this. Especially with the press…”
Oh, great. The press. Kris hadn’t even thought of that. He’s been lucky enough to be out of the limelight lately, but he’s sure once news of the divorce being finalized leaks, it’ll probably kick up some of the same old “Is Kris Allen on a downward spiral?” shit he received in the aftermath of the island, getting caught with Adam, the separation.
“I can handle it,” he assures Adam. “I don’t know, maybe I’ll just… go somewhere. Get away for awhile. I could go to London. Eg keeps inviting me, and I do have some stuff to work with now.”
It’s too early to really be working on a new album—he did some shows earlier this year for his last, and is planning to do more in summer—but Kris can’t stop writing. Most of it will never go anywhere, but some of it he saves for later use—recorded melodies and snippets of lyrics scribbled down in notebooks. That part of his brain never really shuts off.
“That might be good,” Adam agrees. “Just… don’t do that thing where you get too wrapped up in your own head, all right?”
“Mmm.” Kris sighs, snuggling into the couch cushions, and closes his eyes. His bones feel heavy and tired. “I wish you could just be here.”
“Me too. But it’s only a month more,” Adam says, but there’s something hollow behind the words.
They both know exactly how long one month can be.
He waits until the production on Cassidy’s album is done, going so far as to all but live in the studio until then. The apartment is just too empty and depressing to go home to at night. Sleeping on a cramped lumpy couch next to the too-loud air conditioner isn’t ideal, but Kris has survived worse. It reminds him of how right after the island, it felt so foreign to sleep on something comfortable; there were times he’d wake up and find himself on the floor, curled up in a ball, without having remembered ever getting off the mattress in the first place.
The night after the finishing touches on Cassidy’s record are complete, he declines Cassidy’s offer to go bar hopping and opts instead to pass out stomach-first on the sofa in the studio’s break room. He stays that way until someone shakes him awake by the foot sometime later. He starts to kick out, still in that hazy, disoriented half-asleep state, until his disturber grabs his socked foot and holds it still.
“Easy, tiger,” the familiar voice says, laughing. “Geez, you’re violent in the mornings.”
Kris rolls onto his back and sits upright, rubbing a hand over his bleary eyes. “Chase? What are you doing here?”
“I tried calling you like a gazillion times. Guess you were dead to the world, man,” Chase says. He picks Kris’s cell phone up off the coffee table and tosses it into his lap. Sure enough, there are ten missed calls. “I was on this side of town and thought I’d drop in. Figured you’d be here, and sure enough…”
Kris pushes himself off the couch and rolls his neck in an attempt to get his bearings, and then walks over to the coffee pot. There’s some still leftover, and still warm, which means apparently he slept through someone coming in to fix it. He really was out cold; he just hopes he wasn’t snoring.
“It’s nice to see you, man,” he says, pouring a cup and turning to face Chase again. “It’s been too long.”
The kid looks good. Kris hasn’t seen him at all in the past two months—Chase has been off doing insane promo for his debut, which is selling like crazy, and the only time Kris catches a glimpse of him is when he turns on MTV or VH1 and sees his video topping all the countdowns. He still gets daily emails, though, usually random diatribes from Chase on the evils of Miley Cyrus, or why the new Neko Case record will make Kris “jizz in his pants,” or questions on how far he should push Jive on certain issues of artistic integrity.
It’s been nice—and, admittedly, rewarding on a somewhat personal level, given how much he had a hand in crafting the album—to see Chase get the kind of reception he has. It gives Kris renewed faith in the tastes of the general music-listening masses.
“Tell me about it,” Chase groans. “Jive’s running me ragged.”
“Yeah, but you love it.” Kris remembers the lead-up to his first album—it was insane, of course, and too rushed, and he almost killed himself between the Idol tour, the writing, the recording, and the promo. But Chase has a good personality for this, and he’s had more time, so he’s probably soaking it all in and enjoying the ride. As he should. It’s an album to proud of.
“Hey, so I’ve got an extra ticket to Mayer’s concert at the Staples Center next weekend,” Chase says. “Allison’s bailing on me. It’s the same night as her favorite cousin’s Communion ceremony.”
“Yeah, it didn’t do much to convince her when I said seeing Mayer live is a greater religious experience than anything that can be experienced within the confines of a Catholic church. In fact, I think my argument was counterproductive in the end.” Chase shrugs. “Anyway, you interested?”
Kris winces. “I would, but I can’t.”
Chase makes a face like he’s unsurprised by the answer. He’s probably grown accustomed to Kris’s semi-hermit lifestyle by this point. (Once he told Kris, “You’re like one of the abused puppies in those awful ASPCA commercials with the Sarah McLachlan song. You’re just skittish. You need to be rehabilitated and re-released into the wild.” Kris said, “They don’t release dogs into the wild. Also, stop comparing me to baby animals before I smash this guitar over your head.”)
“I have a legit reason!” Kris protests. “I’m going to London.”
Chase’s eyebrows shoot up. “This a business trip?”
“Mostly,” Kris says vaguely. “I’ve got some work lined up. But also… things with Katy are finalized, and it might get kind of messy with the press, so I thought I’d do the mature thing and go overseas and stick my head in the sand for awhile.”
“Sounds like a reasonable course of action,” Chase says with a thoughtful nod. His face goes a little more serious. “I’m not sure if ‘I’m sorry’ is the appropriate response here, but… you know you can talk to me, right? If you need to?”
It’s sweet of Chase to offer, even though he’s way too far in over his head to help with this kind of thing. Still, it’s the gesture that counts. Kris comes over and ruffles Chase’s hair.
“Talking to you has never been an issue,” he teases. “The problem is getting you to shut up.”
There are a lot of things Kris likes about London, but the transatlantic flight is not among them. And not for the obvious reasons—the number one question he’s asked most in interviews these days is how he deals with the constant plane travel. Isn’t he ever scared? Maybe he should be, but he isn’t. He doesn’t even think about it most of the time, though he makes a conscious effort to only fly commercial these days, since statistics show it’s safer. It’s a little harder for Adam, he knows, who pops two Xanax before any flight he boards.
What he doesn’t like is the hassle of going through security, the inevitable moment of panic where he worries he left his passport at home, airplane food, leg cramps from sitting in the same position for so long, and even after landing, hoping his luggage isn’t lost.
And jetlag. The jetlag is never fun. It still hasn’t worn off by the time Kris’s driver drops him off at Eg’s place in west London the next day. If anything’s going to snap Kris awake, it’s Eg.
“God fucking dammit!” The third faulty microphone of the day goes crashing across the wall. “Bloody piece of shite.”
Eg’s basement studio is as dark as the inside of a cave and always looks like a tornado just ripped through it, pieces of equipment strewn everywhere like wreckage. Kris picks a battered sitar off the floor and plucks at it experimentally until Eg finds whatever it is he’s looking for.
Eg is not the type to shoot the shit; he pulls up two stools, fumbles out a cigarette from his pocket, and gestures impatiently to Kris’s notebook. “Show me what you got.”
The one song Kris is itching most to work on is lyrics-only—and even then, just a chorus, no full verses or real melody yet. It’s definitely a ballad, though. He can hear it in his head: slow and sweet and yearning.
So say goodbye to the beaten path
Say goodbye to all you’ve ever known
You wrap my heart in vines, you cover me,
Please don’t ever let me go
Eg tools around with the piano, humming under his breath and every so often stopping to note where lyrics should be tweaked to fit the beats. The melody is genius, falling, gentle chords building slowly to a soar, but that’s not much surprise—Eg is like the Midas of the recording industry. Everything he touches turns to gold.
“All right, then,” Eg says, once they’ve hammered out the melody and laid down a rough track of it, “I think that’s enough for today.”
Kris looks at his watch, confused. “It’s still early, and the verses—”
“You shouldn’t rush this one,” Eg cuts in. He leans back in his chair and lights his cigarette with a flourish, silvery smoke drifting up, softening the sharp, bird-like features of his face. “Sit on it. Think about what you want to say. Come back in a week and we’ll flesh it out.”
He sends Kris off with the recording and an old keyboard that’s most definitely seen better days. Kris lugs it back to his hotel in Soho, sets it up in the room and orders room service so he has no excuse but to sit and work on it. He takes the plate of cod fillet and shuts himself out on the balcony, sitting cross-legged on the floor and gazing down at the street below with his headphones plugged in, looping the song on repeat.
It’s about Adam. He knows that much. It’d be easier if he had Adam in front of him, in flesh and blood, rather than having to rely on phone calls and text messages and conversations over Skype for inspiration. It’d be easier if he didn’t have to be so careful all the damn time, not knowing who else is in the room, not knowing how much he can say. They haven’t gone public yet. Adam’s choice, not his—Kris never felt the need to hide, Kris wasn’t ashamed, but it was Adam who insisted they wait.
“I want us to control this,” Adam explained. “I want minimal damage for everyone involved. This is too important for them to fuck up.”
Them being the media, of course. And Kris knew that “everyone involved” meant primarily Kris. Adam wants to protect him from the level of scrutiny he’d suffered, Kris knows, but he also knows that no matter how it’s handled, it’ll be there. Now that the divorce is finalized, they’re going to have to find a way to deal with it. He’s not worried. He’s not sure he’s prepared, either, but he’s not worried.
After everything else he’s gone through, what the media thinks of all this seems pretty unimportant.
He spends the night setting up the keyboard and teaching himself the melody until he’s got it down pat, and by then, he’s too tired to muster up any energy to write, so he burrows under the covers and falls asleep instead. The next morning, he plugs into his iPod and wanders the streets, looking up at the gray sky and thinking. There’s something incredibly peaceful to him about London, even in the bustle of Piccadilly Circus.
He’s sitting in the corner of a café on Old Compton eating an éclair and drinking tea when Adam calls. He smiles when he answers the phone.
“I was just thinking about you,” he says, looking out the window. It’s starting to rain, drops streaking down the glass pane in rivulets.
“Really?” Adam sounds pleased and a little amused. “Why is that?”
“I’m having tea,” he explains. “It’s not as good as what you make, though.”
“Please. You’re in London. Either you’re drinking the shittiest tea they have to offer, or you’re just flattering me.”
“And if I am?”
“Well, you know baseless flattery will get you everywhere.”
They talk for awhile longer—Kris about the session with Eg, Adam about the outrageous after party he just left. It warms Kris’s heart a little to know that Adam tore himself away, that it was important for him to make time for this. That he needs this contact just as much as Kris does.
For the next few days, Kris roams around the city, and plays on the keyboard, and litters his floor with crumpled notebook paper filled with discarded lyrics that just don’t work. He goes to the lobby bar and drinks a few light ales, and stands on his balcony staring out at the blinking city lights.
He’s grateful for the time and the space to himself, allowing him to dig deep, sort out his head until he can string his thoughts together in a way that makes sense. Sometimes a song will pour out of him all at once, or he’ll be doing something mundane and have that light bulb moment out of nowhere, and sometimes it takes awhile to pull it out of him, like unraveling a sweater by yanking on a single loose thread.
This is one of those times.
Kris dredges up all of the thoughts and all of the memories bouncing in his head and puts them to paper, pours his heart out, free-writing until his hand cramps up, and then sifts through it and tries to find the poetry in his words.
By the end of the week, he pieces together the entire song.
Inside some smoky bar
I was fighting with the ghosts
And trying to outrun my own
But no matter how many songs I write
You’re never going to leave me alone
Please don’t leave me alone.
Kris records the song with Eg’s accompaniment and emails the demo track to Adam under the name Vines. Adam calls him later and says that he loves it, of course, but that he wants to hear it with an acoustic guitar arrangement—“I don’t know, I can just picture you sitting in the middle of the stage playing it that way, you know?”—and maybe he could make it a little funkier, like by adding a glockenspiel or a harpsichord or something, but by then Kris realizes Adam is mocking him. Probably. It’s Adam, after all, so he can’t be entirely certain.
It’s frustrating to be so close to Adam—or, well, at least a lot closer than he has been lately—and not be able to see him. But while there is a small circle of people who know what’s going on—their families, Katy, their publicists, a few trusted friends— they can’t risk something happening, the wrong person finding out, feeding the rumor mill before they’re ready for it. Kris can’t even go to any of Adam’s concerts. Paranoid, maybe, but it’s the way Adam wants it, and Kris isn’t going to push.
He works with Eg a few more times, does some writing on his own, and otherwise tries to think of it as a vacation. Louise checks in daily to give him the rundown—the press response to the divorce announcement (which, thankfully, has been on the tepid side), interviews he’ll have lined up once he’s done with his “obligatory emo guitar boy period of self-imposed isolation” (her words, not his).
That makes him feel ridiculous, and makes him wonder what exactly he’s doing here, but he figures he’s allowed to indulge in a little ridiculous behavior sometimes. If anything, he should get credit for coping as well as he has—after all, he’s not totally ignoring the outside world, and he’s not falling apart at the seams. He’s not broken. A little cracked, maybe. But that’s okay. He’ll be okay.
The last stop on Adam’s tour is in London, playing the O2, and Kris finds it hard to concentrate on anything other than his anticipation in the days leading up to it. If the way Adam throws open his hotel room door and drags Kris inside is any indication, Adam’s been waiting for this moment, too, just as much.
He grabs Kris in a hug that’s too tight to be comfortable and just holds him for a few moments, both of them laughing breathlessly. Kris pushes his face into Adam’s shoulder and breathes in deep, wraps his arms tight around Adam’s back and tries to ingrain this in his memory, the feel of it, Adam, solid and real and right here, so he can remember it later. When he needs to.
Adam presses a kiss to the side of Kris’s neck, and then pulls back and kisses him hard. “I know we have a lot to catch up on,” he says, “but I only have an hour.” He raises one eyebrow suggestively.
They don’t waste any time scrambling out of clothes between frantic, open-mouthed kisses. Kris moves his mouth against Adam’s bare chest, traces truths across his skin the way he does on paper, in his songs. Adam fucks him slowly, like he’s savoring it, stopping every so often to readjust, to make it last longer. He intertwines their fingers, presses Kris’s hands back into the sheets, holds him down with mouth hovered over Kris’s, his eyes squeezed shut. Kris keeps his open the whole time. He wants to remember this. He wants to memorize the look on Adam’s face, the mix of sweet agony and pleasure.
They don’t speak at all until after, with Kris stretched out beside Adam, both of them catching their breath. Kris turns on his side to watch muscles shift under Adam’s skin, traces a hand up his abdomen, across his navel and above. His palm rises and falls as Adam breathes, and Kris can’t stop smiling. It’s been too long. Too damn long.
Wrapping his lips around a nipple, he sucks lightly, then harder until Adam groans. “You’re going to kill me if you don’t stop that,” Adam says, but then he cards his hand through Kris’s hair and holds him in place. “God, I missed this. Tell me I’m not the only one who missed this.”
“You’re not,” Kris assures him, pillowing his head against Adam’s shoulder. He winds his arm over Adam’s stomach and strokes the skin there with his thumb. He feels like he just jumped off a merry-go-around— he’s standing still, but the world is still spinning like mad all around him. “Believe me, you have no idea.”
Things haven’t changed much back in L.A. Kris spends the first few days catching up on the backlog of interviews he’d refused to take while in London, and goes into 19E’s offices for a few meetings, where various suits run down numbers he doesn’t really care about and discuss ideas for the coming months—they want to book him for one of the festivals. SXSW’s already got a full lineup, but they’re still in talks with Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, possibly ACL in October.
Adam’s schedule is less harried than usual; aside from some appearances and meetings, he has a few weeks free to unwind from the tour. Kris spends almost every night at Adam’s place. They have a system—Adam leaves so the paps will follow him to 7-11 or Walgreens or wherever, and then Kris drives in without being detected, and awhile later, Adam returns. Voila.
Except all of the sneaking around gets pretty annoying— not to mention time-consuming— pretty quickly, and after one night where Kris has to circle around the block for almost an hour before getting the all-clear, he’s had about enough.
“This is stupid,” he tells Adam.
Adam plucks some grapes from a bowl, popping them one-by-one into his mouth as he watches Kris pace back and forth across his kitchen. Which is really unfair, because it’s distracting, and Kris is trying to make a point here. A very important point. One that is difficult to focus on when Adam keeps drawing attention to his mouth like that.
“There’s no reason to do all this running around to keep it a secret,” Kris soldiers on, choosing to fix his eyes on the floor rather than Adam’s face, “not when everything with Katy is done now. The media is going to do what they’re going to do. I don’t care. It’s time already, and—”
“You’re right,” says Adam.
Kris freezes in his tracks. “What?”
“You’re right,” he says again, more slowly. “It’s time. Fuck it.”
It irritates Kris that Adam summed up his entire argument—which he carefully constructed while driving in endless circles around the neighborhood— in merely two words. Kris is not a man of many words, and he certainly isn’t one to go off on tirades, so it’s a little disappointing that his planned rant has been rendered pointless, since Adam apparently needs no convincing.
“Really?” he says. He thought this would be harder. Like, a lot harder.
“Yes,” Adam says. “Look, if you were anyone else, I never would’ve done this. You know how I am— I don’t do that closeted bullshit, not for anyone. I hate it.”
Kris’s stomach tightens. “I didn’t ask you to. I said I would—”
Adam holds up a hand to stop him. “I know. If it were anyone else… but it’s you, and I just—I didn’t want to make this any harder than it has to be. I didn’t want to drag you out before you were ready.”
“I am ready. I’ve been ready.”
“I know you are,” he says. “Or, you think you are. And I can’t… I can’t keep putting it off because I’m waiting for this magical perfect timing. This is as good as it’s going to get. You’re right—the press will say whatever they’re going to say; it doesn’t fucking matter. It doesn’t matter, okay? Just tell me you’ll remember that.”
“I’ll remember,” Kris says softly.
He closes the distance between them, pressing Adam back against the counter, bracing his hands on either side of Adam’s hips. Leaning in, he brushes his mouth across Adam’s— and even though it’s nothing more than a chaste kiss, soft and sweet and barely there, it feels like something more important than that. Something binding.
They make their public debut at a film premiere—it’s an opening at the Egyptian, some indie about a vineyard and a group of bohemians or something, and it stars Zooey Deschanel, who Adam knows through a friend of a friend. Kris isn’t sure what the appropriate attire for this event is; he lets Adam sift through the meager offerings of his closet, and somewhere amidst a sea of plaid, Adam finds him a white Oxford button-down and a skinny black tie to go with it.
They pose on the carpet but skip the press line, and though they don’t hold hands, Adam wraps an arm around Kris’s waist, and Kris puts his hand on Adam’s back, and they lean in close enough for it to be obvious—to the photographers, especially, who call out their names and barrage them with a hailstorm of light bulb flashes strong enough to blind them both for life.
The movie isn’t very good—or maybe Kris is just too unenlightened, or too distracted, to get it. They leave the theater before it’s even over, and go to this hole-in-the-wall Thai place half a block from Adam’s house for a late dinner.
“Are you ready to be the talk of the town?” Adam asks. He splits the last spring roll in half with the side of his fork and scrapes the bigger piece onto Kris’s plate. “You know it’s going to be a frenzy.”
“I know,” says Kris. “Valerie called me ten times today.” Five of those he let go through to voicemail, which he still hasn’t bothered to check. She’s his publicist and she’s just doing her job, but it’s just too tiring. All of it. Kris would rather play it by ear than have every second of his life be so calculated.
The next day, the blogosphere blows up, predictably, and Kris has to field even more phone calls. Not just from Louise and Valerie, but from his agent, and the label, and friends and family. At least he warned them all ahead of time. He didn’t want to spring it on them, and he’d been grateful when Katy gave him the same courtesy, so it was only fair.
“So it’s official then,” Chase says. “You and Adam.”
Kris cradles the phone against his shoulder and looks down at the dirty laundry stuffed in his overnight bag. He’s spent almost every night at Adam’s lately, wearing the same five shirts and five pairs of jeans in constant rotation, and they’re long overdue for a wash. Even by Kris’s standards.
“Yup,” he says, balling up a wrinkled plaid shirt and tossing it with the others.
“You sure sound excited.”
“And you don’t really want to talk about this, do you?”
Chase isn’t the only one who calls.
Allison says, “About fucking time, dude.”
His publicist says, “I have at least seven—no, wait, eight— offers on the table for an exclusive. I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.”
His father says, “As long as you’re happy.”
Kris does his laundry and packs some more clothes in his bag, along with more deodorant and a stack of books, and drives over to Adam’s place, makes his way past the swarming paparazzi and through the gates. And when Adam opens the door and smiles wide at him, and he smiles right back, he realizes that he really is. Happy.
Adam says he doesn’t want to do any People magazine, “Lance Bass, Mickey Mouse bullshit”; Kris doesn’t really want to do anything. He doesn’t see how it’s anyone’s business. It’s his life. Their lives. He’s not so naive to think that just because he wants privacy means he’ll get it—history has shown him that much, if nothing else—but he’d rather at least attempt to live his life as openly and normally as possible.
Whatever that means.
This plan works out okay until the first time they’re caught kissing in public—not in public public, just in a less-than-hidden corner of a restaurant close to Kris’s studio. It’s not much more than a peck, but it’s enough for the cameras with their insane zoom lenses.
A week after the photos leak, Kris’s father calls, while Kris is in bed reading his well-worn, dog-eared copy of Owen Meany. Adam is in the shower, singing so loud Kris can hear it through the door, over the running water—“I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years, nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, golden years, gold, whop whop whop—”. He sets the book on the nightstand and answers his phone, smiling.
His father makes small talk for awhile, discussing work and Daniel’s latest antics and the Hogs’ prospects for the season, but there’s something weirdly artificial about it—he sounds off, strained, quieter than usual.
“Dad, what’s going on?” he finally asks.
There’s a long pause. Too long. “I wasn’t sure if I should tell you this,” his dad says. “We got a letter today.”
“What do you mean, a letter?” Kris sits up and switches the phone to his other ear. “Is this about money?”
One of the first things he did when he had enough money was pay off his parents’ mortgage; last year he bought them a new car. Every Christmas on top of the other gifts he buys, he cuts them a check, since it’s the only time he can get away with it—whenever he’s tried to help them out otherwise, they’ve always stubbornly refused. But they’d ask him if they needed it, wouldn’t they?
He barely has time to consider the possibilities before his father explains.
“No, it’s not about money. We’re fine,” he says. “It… it was about you.” Another pause. “And Adam.”
“What?” Kris’s heart leaps into his throat. “What did it say?”
“Just hateful garbage. No reason to rehash it now,” his dad says, his tone all soft like he’s trying to calm Kris down, except it isn’t working because Kris doesn’t feel calm at all. “It’s just, your mother—it shook her up a little, is all.”
Kris takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes, his head tight with the beating of his own blood. “Tell her I’m sorry,” he says, when he can find words again.
“No,” his dad says sharply, “don’t. Don’t start down that road. She’s not upset because of you, she’s upset because she doesn’t want to see you hurt. You’re our son, and we love you. That hasn’t changed. You’re still our same Kristopher.”
But Kris isn’t sure he feels the same.
After he hangs up, he stares at his phone for awhile, then climbs out of bed and walks into the bathroom. He peels off his shirt and draws back the clear plastic shower curtain, not bothering with his boxers, and joins Adam under the warm spray.
Adam’s moved on to show tunes by now, is singing, “Open your door, I'll be your tenant, don't got much baggage to lay at your feet, but sweet kisses I've got to spare. I'll be there, I'll cover you,” but he stops abruptly when he turns and sees Kris’s face. “Hey,” he says, brow furrowing. He surveys Kris up and down. “Oh my god, you’re shaking. What’s the matter?”
Kris doesn’t say anything, just presses their foreheads together, gulping for air, hands slipping over wet skin as they search for purchase on Adam’s shoulders. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to think about it, about what the letter must have said, what his mother’s face looked like when she—
“Hey,” Adam says again, snapping him out of it.
He threads his fingers through Kris’s hair as Kris pushes his face into Adam’s chest. All he can smell is Adam’s body wash, strong and fragrant, overwhelming his senses. Overwhelming everything. The way Adam always does.
“It’s okay,” says Adam, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”
“We have to do something,” Adam says. “I mean—fuck. It’ll be worse if we don’t. You know that better than anyone.”
Kris remembers the island, and the craziness after, and knows Adam’s right about this. Sticking his head in the sand isn’t going to do any good this time around. It never does.
They go with Rolling Stone, since Rolling Stone loves Adam, and they’ve warmed up to Kris since the Idol days; they’re quick to jump at the opportunity—it’s an Adam-focused piece, no cover, just an interview promoting his album and a two-page spread. A female reporter named Talia comes to interview Kris at the studio. It feels like a good place to do it. He’s more comfortable there than almost anywhere else.
“Don’t worry,” Talia says with a reassuring smile as she sets up the tape recorder, “I’m only lobbing soft balls at you. Your people were very clear on that.” She shoots a glance at Valerie, who is lurking in the corner, eavesdropping on the conversation and poised to intervene at a moment's notice.
Kris relaxes a fraction. Times like these, he’s glad to have people like Louise and Valerie on payroll.
True to Talia’s word, the questions are fairly easy—how long have they been together, why have they waited until now, do they help with each other’s musical projects? And then the last: what attracted Kris to Adam in the first place?
“I don’t think it was just one thing, you know?” he says. “It’s a lot of things. But the thing about Adam is… he’s different when you really know him. Not that he’s fake or anything, but when you’re that famous—it’s like, you have to keep parts of yourself hidden, or else you’re never gonna survive. People’ll just take and take until there’s nothing left. So I feel really lucky, that I get to see those parts not a lot of others do.” He stops to weigh his words carefully. “People always talk about how we must be opposites, like, how we couldn’t be more different, but I don’t think it’s true, really. We’re a lot alike. I think we both care about everything too much sometimes. Adam has probably the biggest heart of anyone I know, and he doesn’t even realize it. He’s just an amazing guy. He knows a lot about himself, but I don’t think he knows that.”
Talia clicks off the recorder and smiles at him like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Well, I think we can get a good sound bite out of that.”
Jive pulls off the miracle of all miracles and books Kris for Bonnaroo, making him the first Idol alum to be bestowed that particular honor. Of course, the indie cred he received from turning out a stripped down, acoustic album only gets him so far—a small side stage on the first day in the mid-afternoon. Still, it’s a forty-five minute long set, and he doesn’t even want to imagine the amount of wheeling and dealing his management put into getting him this much, so Kris isn’t about to complain.
Mat Kearney’s in Nashville, too, and is playing Roo later in the weekend; he invites Kris and Adam to stay at his house in Hillsboro. Kris accepts the offer, since he’s tired of hotels, and shows up on Mat’s doorstep with a trout in hand—it’s become something of a running gag between them.
“Jesus, this thing is huge,” Mat says, shoving shit around in his freezer to make room for the fish. Eventually he fits it in and turns to face Kris. “So when’s Lambert coming in?”
“Not until tomorrow.” Kris pops open a Nestea and sips it, leaning back against the counter. “How’s life?”
Mat shrugs. “Not bad. I mean, it ain’t fuckin’ great, you know, but it could be a lot fuckin’ worse.”
They sit out on Mat’s sun porch and pass a joint back and forth, shooting the shit and jamming with their respective guitars, and it’s nice. L.A. is so different, and Kris has been so bogged down in the celebrity crap that it’s good to just be—away. This is how it should be, all the time: about the music. It’s too easy to forget that sometimes.
It’s hot as hell the next day from the moment the sun comes up, and only gets worse as the day wears on. By the time Kris arrives at the venue, it’s hit the mid-seventies and still climbing. The heat hasn’t affected the turnout, apparently, since the park is already packed with twenty-something hipsters clad in the latest of hobo-esque fashion and drinking beer from plastic cups.
Kris slips backstage and finds a corner to check his phone, where there’s a text from Adam, saying his plane just landed and he’s on his way. He listens to the band playing the stage—he doesn’t recognize the name, but they’re all right. The drummer sounds a little sloppy, and the singer has zero breath control; he starts to think about what he would do if he were producing the track, where he’d clean it up, and then stops himself. He thinks way too much. Besides, today is not a production day—it’s a performance day, and he needs to focus his energy on that. No sloppy drummer to place blame on today. Just him and his guitar and a keyboard.
Adam finds him ten minutes before he goes on, breathless and lit up. “Oh, thank God, I thought I’d missed it.”
“You haven’t missed anything,” Kris tells him.
“You ready?” Adam asks.
“For this?” A familiar, wicked grin slides over Adam’s face. “Always.”
There’s a nice-sized crowd for his set, and he plays his favorites off of Quiet Storm—We Won’t Make It Out Alive, Seventh Floor Heartbreak, Icarus, Cracked Up to Be, and Love at High Tide. And then he decides to debut Vines; instead of playing at the keyboard, he drags out two stools and his guitar and Adam, and they sit next to each other and sing it as a duet. It takes the crowd a minute to recognize Adam—maybe because he’s so dressed down in a dirty green v-neck tee and black jeans, no makeup on except for a little eyeliner—but when they do, a cheer carries across the sea of bodies.
“So say goodbye to the beaten path,” Adam sings, and Kris sings back, “Say goodbye to all you’ve ever known,” and together they sing, “You wrap my heart in vines, you cover me, please don’t ever let me go,” and Kris thinks how funny it is: despite how vastly different their styles are, their voices still harmonize this well, meeting somewhere in the middle, blending perfectly.