by Match

Rob and Fab are disappearing into each other. Frank gave them the same hair and clothes; they work out every day to build the same muscles. It frightens Fab to think of how interchangeable they are: identical arched brows, defined pecs, cascades of hair. Sometimes, he'll see their picture in a magazine and do a doubletake, trying to think back. Was he left or right that day? Sitting or standing?

"Girl you know it's true, ooh ooh ooh, I love you." Fab sometimes catches himself singing the words under his breath, tunelessly, or humming it in the shower. As if it were a pop song he heard once on the radio, nothing to do with him.

He can't even hold on to his name. In Europe they lilted Fabrice, but here he's Fab, with the broad, twangy A of the Midwest. Fob. Rab. RobandFab.

In bed, Rob flings his arms and legs around Fab as if he's not cuddling but grappling, like a man trying to climb a recalcitrant tree. He sleeps soundly and long. Fab always wakes first, but knows better, now, than to leap out of bed. Rob holds on to anything he can reach. Once, Fab nearly tore the weave of a hair extension, feeling his eyes flood even before the itch of pain. Rob didn't wake. Fab used to wake quickly, in a sudden burst of alertness. He would lie still for a moment, then jump up for calisthenics, a jog, anything to move. With Rob, he's learned to wake as he imagines cats do: oozing awareness through his limbs, carefully sensing the heat and weight of another body pressed to his. When he opens his eyes, a smooth expanse of brown skin.

After years of one-room European flats with showers down the hall, it would be almost a pleasure, Fab thinks, to wash dishes in their virgin kitchen. He would like to dust the artfully selected knickknacks, dirty a crepe pan. Drag the garbage bin to the curb past the trill of bougainvillea, the hum of a manicured lawn. Instead they have a maid, or possibly a housekeeper. There's a cook, too, or maybe the cook and the housekeeper are the same person, Fab isn't sure. Frank hired the staff. Fab wants to believe that if they lived there by themselves things would be different. Perhaps if they could lie in bed together afterwards and bicker amiably over what groceries to buy, or whose turn it was to vacuum, sex would feel more real. Instead, when not actually fucking, they keep to themselves.

With the money, the house, and the fame, they have three-quarters of happily-ever-after, American style. Rob is dating a girl, but he doesn't bring her home very often. Fab knows she isn't even under consideration for the role of beautiful princess. Nearly a happy ending won't be enough.

Fab now understands that being a pop star means waking in the night sprawled atop silk sheets in a five-star hotel and realizing you own nothing. Not the mirror you smashed the night before after doing lines of coke (hearing your mother's voice hiss "Seven years' bad luck!"); not the naked woman beside you, mouth open in a lascivious dream; not the half-empty bottles of champagne and Courvoisier; not the fashionable, finely-tailored clothes your producer selected to flatter your body. All you own is that body, and you can tell yourself that it alone will be enough -- didn't you groom and sculpt it to please? -- but you know your body is only a shell for the voice. Without that center, the apparatus of your career will collapse into itself. And you will walk away from the wreckage of your stardom more beautiful in failure than you ever could have been in success. Nobody will want to look at you.

Fame means you are surrounded with people whose job is to protect you from the life you would have lived. They tidy the room, restock the minibar, make up the dark circles under your eyes, and hold out the pen for the underage groupie to sign a nondisclosure agreement. They do not question whether you deserve this. Your contract calls you a recording artist. Fame means no one will trust you to choose your own wardrobe, conduct interviews without coaching, or head out to the corner deli alone. People cleared away your life to make room for your art and left you blank as the backside of that mirror.

Their publicist is a quick kind of woman, the kind who gets a joke immediately but will always decide whether or not to laugh. Rob thinks she's arrogant and snobbish and refuses to speak to her. He's never worn fame well.

Fab thinks she knows about them, about the album, but guesses that if she does, she doesn't care. He notices she seldom meets their eyes, and when she does, it's a dispassionate, evaluating gaze. Promoters and d.j.s look at them like money; Frank looks at them like an overdraft, or a million-dollar check he knows will bounce. The fans look at them like milkshakes and honey, a sweet palate-coating blandness that drowns the memory of any other taste. Girls look at them like angels. She is the only one who looks at them like nothing more than themselves.

One day he asks her about it, as they wait in the greenroom of some forgettable West Coast radio station. Rob huffs sarcastically and angles his body away from them, but doesn't try to pretend he isn't listening. The publicist sits between them on hard and sagging upholstery. She turns her head but not her body to Fab. He studies her face, watches it slide through irritation and bemusement. It returns to carefully maintained indifference as she begins to speak.

"I do care about your careers. I care as much you pay me to care, and as long. I was never in it for the music. I'm in it for the money. And you'd be a fool to think I'd stand by you if your success couldn't support me anymore. It sounds callous, but let's face it. You I can take or leave. It's the music business that's for life."

"I see," Rob says flatly, and Fab can hear the unspoken "you frigid cunt bitch."

She continues, her voice flat. "You start out starstruck, yeah, get your first account, and you're excited about their career. Then they fire you, or you quit, maybe get a better account. Maybe you watch their career run down into nothing. And you learn to not care, because you'll always outlast your acts.

"The first thing I find out, every time, is who owns the master tapes. Because whoever has the masters, they're the money. Now, Frank Farian owns all of your masters, so you watch yourselves. You may be the talent, but he's the money.

"Mm. Listen. They're running the album giveaway right now, then they'll play another song, then you're on the air. If they ask you about the no black women in the videos, blame the European directors, but don't be nasty about it. No language. Rob. I've sunk a lot of time into making you wholesome family entertainment, here. Lunch after, with that women's magazine, then one newspaper, then you're free."

Fab thinks Rob knows too, about being famous, but he can't be sure. Rob doesn't like to talk about the future. Since moving into the Beverly Hills house together, they talk less and throw parties more often. These days, Fab spends a lot of time drinking and listening to Rob fuck groupies in the spare bedroom. He goes through girls steadily and doggedly, as if he knows there's a near-infinite supply but wants to have them all. Rob's too gentlemanly to cry the wrong names at the point of orgasm, but not enough to learn the right ones; he keeps quiet during sex. His gasps and moans could belong to anybody, be meant for anybody. Fab has excellent hearing.

It's late. Fab lies on, but not in his bed, listening to Rob's getting-ready-for-bed noises. Hears instead a half-stifled growl, then a soft *whump*! He guesses it's the sound of Rob punching a pillow. Not the wall -- they are still on their best behavior with the house, as if it's something they could drop and smash. Rob has always known exactly how strong he was. He would leave a dent. Fab hears him bark, a short, guttural expulsion of breath. Knows that if this were a hotel room Rob would, in a moment, overturn the furniture, throw lamps, rip the drawers out of the dresser. It's his house. He won't.

Fab will later tell himself many things: that he wanted to calm Rob down. Make sure he didn't hurt himself. Keep him company. The real reason, the one he doesn't think about, is this: Fab wanted to study the expression of Rob's face in the moment before he exploded. Still, he knows that the precise reason he walks down the hall to Rob's room is much less important than what happens after.

So. He leans against the doorframe in a dressing gown and the bottom half of his pajamas, at first waiting for Rob to notice him, then edging into the room, not speaking. Rob whips around, braids fanning and resettling around his shoulders, jerks his chin up and shrugs, quickly, in a gesture of utter contempt. His eyes look dull and smaller than usual. Fab knows none of this is meant for him, feels himself slipping into placating-Rob mode as if he's some makeup girl, some groupie. He doesn't think it's worth hating himself over anymore.

Fab eases into the room, moving in the way he would towards a feral cat, slowly and maintaining eye contact. He's mumbling nonsense at Rob, "hey, man, calm down, you want a drink I'll fix you a drink why don't you get some rest I know it's tough you must be tired," maneuvering him towards the bed, sitting him down.

Rob looks up at him. "Yeah, my voice needs a fucking rest," he says.

His voice is flat and cold, his eyes appraising. He looks at Fab the way he'd look into a mirror, with understanding that will never quite cross into forgiveness. Fab stands poised over him, toes to Rob's toes, so it's nothing for Rob to reach up, stroke from his ear down the line of the jaw, cup his chin. He runs the pads of his fingers across Fab's lips roughly, as if he's never seen a mouth before.

Rob runs a hand through his hair, rests it at the join of Fab's shoulder and neck.

"C'mere," he says. "Come here, Fab, Fabrice." He says Fabrice in German, repeats it. "Couple of pretty boys in a pretty house, marvelous dancing boy, come here."

He's still talking, jumbled phrases that don't make sense, still gripping Fab's shoulder, but that's not why Fab follows him into a kiss. Rob kisses slowly but ungently, parts Fab's lips and licks at his front teeth until Fab opens his mouth and relaxes into the kiss. Yet the kiss is not why Fab arches against Rob's body, or lets the other man lick his face, strip off his dressing gown, and lay him across the bed. Rob sweeps out of the room in watered silk that doesn't quite fit.

Fab thinks: Rob is going to fuck me. He puts it as crudely as he can (sodomy. dick up the ass.), trying to feel disgust, or even nervousness. Finds only relief, as if he's tumbling into the inevitable. This is something he's known since they met: one day, Rob will fuck me, and I'll let him. This red spark, hazy warmth isn't the reason, but he'll let it be the excuse. Fab drifts, hands smoothing down his torso and over silk-covered hips to his groin. He strokes himself without thinking, aware of his arousal only as a vague, dim sweetness.

Fab hasn't done this before but he isn't afraid. It might as well be Rob. They haven't got anybody else. In another bedroom, nearly a quarter of a mile away, a wannabe-rock star and b-list actress are fucking. Down on the Strip, whores smoke mentholated cigarettes and wait for their last tricks of the evening. It comforts Fab to think that in a little while they will be just two more bodies sweating in the half-darkness. Fab feels himself floating up out of bed, over the house, and he thinks he's finally figured it out, the cosmic connection between the musician, the movie star, the groupies, whores, tricks, the thousands of ordinary people kissing or fucking or simply lying together in the darkness. But in the moment before his body dissolves into the L.A. skyline, Rob leans over and touches his jaw, and Fab falls back into his body like the aftershock of an orgasm. He realizes he's hard, his cock slick with precome. So is Rob.

Fingers hiss up his thigh, dive under and suddenly in. Not my angel, Fab thinks.

"Lie still," Rob says. "I won't make you bleed."

He doesn't say if he's done this before. It hardly matters, not with his fingers cold and slick, his face hardened into a mask of intent. Within the pain, a deep flare of pleasure. This will have to be enough.

Before he was a pop star Fab was a gymnast. This is before America, before Germany. Years ago, in the haze of his first language, Fab was a gymnast who dreamed of French nationals and didn't dare dream of the Olympics. Performing with Rob feels like that always used to. It's the moment at the center of a vault, the apex of a pass on the trampoline, when there is nothing but the pure arc of your body. Fab opens his mouth and tries to let the music fill him, but feels empty instead. Empty like a perfect vault or a bad fuck.

"Girl you know it's -- girl you know it's -- girl you know it's -- girl you know it's -- know it's -- know it's true -- ooh, ooh, ooh, I love you."

Rob sucks him off once, in the kitchen. Drops to his knees without warning and clutches at the front of Fab's pants like it's the solution to a puzzle. It is the first time he's touched Fab in daylight. Fab wills himself to not twitch his hips or thrust down Rob's throat. He concentrates on maintaining exactly the same position -- next to but not leaning on the butcher-block island, right hand reaching for a magazine -- and stares out the French windows onto the back lawn. Rob works quickly but smoothly, as if he'd planned every tonguestroke, every intake of breath.

It seems important to keep everything separate, and Fab almost manages it, almost convinces himself that Rob isn't -- couldn't possibly be -- rasping his tongue across his foreskin. That his orgasm is a spatial accident, the trail of come at the corner of Rob's mouth a mistake.

Beyond the French windows, beds of flowers and distant palm trees shimmer like mirages of themselves. Fab remembers driving through the desert. Silvery lakes that mimicked the curves of tanker trucks oozed across the road ahead before silently imploding as their car approached. If he steps forward, he knows, the garden will suck itself inside out and dissolve into a West German alley.

Rob drops his hands from Fab's hips and stands without reaching for support. Wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Much later, Fab will remember that he was the first to look away. It is the only thing he will regret.


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