Standard Disclaimer: If descriptions of same-sex acts, feelings, &c are held to be - by any governmental entity asserting jurisdiction over you, or by your religion or moral framework - illegal, immoral, unethical, or fattening, read no further. If you are underage according to your local laws, read no further. If you have somehow managed not to notice until now that this is a gay site, read no further (and look into either corrective lenses or remedial English classes, because you've managed to miss about a dozen different warnings to get here at all). I need hardly say that the events and personalities depicted in this story are wholly figments of the author's rabid imagination, and in no wise should be taken to imply that any actual member of any boyband, or any celebrity known to mankind, or any real person, is or conceivably could be gay - least of all the members of 'N Sync or of the Backstreet Boys, all of whom are of course straight, well-dressed, intelligent, articulate, cultured, sweet-natured, and kind to their mommies. Major Lee also of course does not and cannot possibly exist - and I am certainly not he. (In fact, bits of him are borrowed from a lovably pompous writer pal of mine who has no idea he's gay....)
Equally, it should be evident that I have no contact with or knowledge of any of such musicians, pop stars, their agents, associates, staff, or families. It should also be relatively clear that this is hardly my first time writing fiction, though it is assuredly the first time I've written in this genre or for this nifty little site. Oh - a word about that. Obviously, intellectual property rights are held by me, and no cross-posting to any site that charges any fee for entrance or activity is allowed without prior written consent from the author. And two quick words about the story: first, of all the subgenres out here, Celeb/BoyBands was the least likely for my gay fiction debut. Some readers - who refuse to read it - seem to think that it's all wannabe fantasy, and that using characters made to order is all we can manage as writers.... But there are a number of superb and highly original stories in this genre, and I too wanted to tackle the challenge of breathing originality and freshness into what could so easily be formulaic. After all, the challenges are there: believability, the heightened pressure of closeted relationships for young men whose growing up has been anything but normal, often the collision of worlds and backgrounds.... The other warning is that this series is not going to move urgently into hot monkey sex; it will build, and it will I hope be something more than quick stroke-lit. Now enough prologue: let's get to the tale....
Sentimental Journey: Chapter One
It was a screw-up that I thought not even the government could manage. And I was right: it took two governments to screw this up. Thanks to Canada's VIA and dear old Amtrak, my train trip - and that of ten other people - spun completely out of control.
Thank you, Amtrak and VIA! Because we are all glad it did....
'Tell me again how we got into this mess?' The members of 'N Sync and BSB were in a special train car at the Amtrak station in Washington DC, on an early autumn afternoon, waiting to take a whole new sort of tour.
Kevin, Lance, and JC crossed glances: they were the responsible ones, as always.
'Nicky, stop whining, 'kay?' Kevin Richardson didn't mean to be abrupt with young Nick Carter, but for all Nick's resentment at being cast as the 'baby' of the Backstreet Boys, the young blond did bring it on himself by his demeanor. 'The suits strike again, and -' Kevin's Kentucky drawl got lazier - 'that's all she wrote.'
From across the aisle, Nick's counterpart in the whiny-little-brother business, Justin Timberlake, joined in, in his appalling self-invented version of street-English. 'Bu' it's shi', man, trains an' all -'
Lance Bass and Joshua Chasez spoke simultaneously: 'It's a tour, Just -.' Lance blushed and motioned to JC to go on. 'Just, man, it's more comfortable than the bus and just as fast, and better'n planes all the time, too. But what's really, um, "money" - to give it to you in "crunklish," or "blond ebonics" -'
The members of both bands cracked up.
'- Bro, we're getting paid for traveling this way, get it? Amtrak and Canada Rail or whatever are paying us to make trains cool again. It'll pay for another Mercedes for ya,' he grinned.
Justin bounced in his seat, gleefully. 'Coooooo'! That is soooo money! Major phat! Da bomb!'
Lance sighed - and noticed Kevin and Brian Littrell shaking their heads ruefully. Just then, they heard a booming bass voice with a thick Virginia Tidewater accent emanating from the platform outside - a voice that made Lance's sound like a treble. At first, they would have sworn it belonged to one of their favorite bodyguards, Jake, a huge, fatherly Black man from Southside Virginia. They moved to the windows to look outside.
'Whoa....' AJ shook his latest wild 'do. 'And you dudes bitch about the way I dress.' He was looking at the argument on the station platform.
It was a three-cornered discussion, surrounded by the bands' security, several high-ranking Army officers, porters and rail officials. But the center of attention was a man in his thirties, confronting an obvious higher-up with Amtrak and one of the record label's interchangeable 'suits.'
He didn't look to be in his thirties, the man with the orator's voice. He was about 5'6", and might have weighed 140 pounds, tops, perfectly fit and muscled like a gymnast, most of his weight seemingly in his chest and shoulders, and he stood as if he belonged among the colonels and generals. His short, side-parted hair was reddish-gold, but his aggressive eyebrows and trim military mustache were twenty-four karat. It was only the wrinkles around his eyes that told you this face was older than it seemed: wise eyes, profoundly deep and a complex and changeable blue-grey.
His attire, which had attracted AJ's attention, seemed perfectly normal to Kevin and Brian: they'd seen that sort of thing before, and had the man's class pegged immediately. Had it been summer still, they knew, he'd have been in seersucker or madras, with white bucks; now that the nip of autumn was in the air, the Virginian wore a tweed hacking jacket, a tattersall shirt, and cuffed widewale corduroys with little pheasants embroidered on them. He was shod in perfectly polished tassel loafers, with no socks.
'AJ,' Kevin grinned, 'that, sir, is a full-bore squash-playing Southern preppie, all grown up.'
The accused preppie was prodding the Label's suit-of-the-day with the stem of an expensive English briar pipe. The band members listened in awe, automatically rooting for the man: they detested the suits.
'Sir,' the Virginian said in a voice like a pipe organ, 'I don't give, sir, a twopenny damn about your arrangements, nor do I care whom you may be or represent. I have a ticket for this very train, arranged between the War College, the Canadian Defence Ministry, VIA, and Amtrak, and I am boarding it if I have to walk through you to do it. Now, by God, unless you want me all over you like the dew covers Dixie -'
Inside the train carriage, Howie D, Chris, and Joey were rolling on their seats, high-fiving each other. This was a joy to watch, and their bets were on the soldierly Virginian. Lance, JC, Brian, and Kevin exchanged slightly concerned glances, though, and Nick and Justin were both showing signs of nerves.
'God DAMN it Major! Our bands' arrangement with Amtrak -'
'Mr Finley! Major! Please!' The Amtrak higher-up was pallid. 'There is a suite the Major can have that won't impinge on your, um, boys, and it's the other side of the security suite ... I don't know how this mix-up occurred, but I'm sure it can be straightened out at the next stop - now, please, I don't want us any worse behind schedule -'
The man they called the Major had looked over to the train car and seen the boys crowding the window. 'Good God in the foothills,' he exclaimed. 'D'you mean to say I have to bunk in with a bunch of teenagers? What is this, a school band trip?'
The 'N Sync and Backstreet members all broke up helplessly at that. He might be a nice guy, this old fart, but man was he out of it.
Well, there was never any doubt in my mind that I was boarding that train as scheduled. Whoever that civilian horse's ass was or thought he was ... well, suffice it to say that he never stood a chance. And board I did.
Almost as soon as I was seated, the train pulled out, heading north. I got my materiale squared away and sat down with my notes and a copy of Goerlitz's History of the German General Staff, 1657 - 1945. Idly, I wondered what all the fuss was about, and who those young men were - and why they were traveling in this fashion.
North of Baltimore, I dozed off. That was something I generally avoided, but I had not been sleeping well since resigning my commission a year before, and giving notice at the Army War College in July. I wasn't concerned about my career: The Roots of 'Total War' in the Modern Age: Jackson, Sherman, Forrest, and Grant was doing very well at the bookstores. What was interfering with my sleep was my conscience, and my unstated reasons for breaking all ties with the defense establishment.
I was awakened by shouting. Youthful voices. 'No I cannot deal with it! Not when it's you guys! Fuck it - I thought I knew you guys but I obviously don't. You fuckin' screw us all up though, and I'm gonna -'
'So you're a 'phobe? Is that it? You're in the wrong business if you are!' That was a deeper but still youthful voice, and one that retained a faint hint of a Southern accent under its standardized newscaster-American - Deep South, I'd say: bass-baritone, but a little less than macho....
'Fuck that shit, man! You freakin' dumbfucks from down South - man, what is it with you? Too many reruns of Deliverance on cable? I bet you do it too - and you two over there are cousins, I guess you go out to the barn an' -'
An older voice, with an accent as familiar as a Virginia shad-planking at home, gravelly, deep as a water-well, and angry, shut them all up. 'You boys might remember you ain't alone on this train!'
'Oh, fuck,' was the last thing I heard from the compartments beyond, then the slamming of a door.
I thought for a moment, then took out a card and knocked. The smaller compartment that separated me from the teens and twenty-somethings was, if I'd understood correctly, occupied by a security detail. I knocked again.
The door swung open and a very large, massively built Black man of about forty looked stonily at me. He was probably armed. He hardly needed to be. His eyes widened, first in horror that his charges had almost certainly been overheard, then in recognition. He'd obviously been on other duties while I was on the platform back in DC, and had been unaware of whom it was who was unexpectedly occupying the other compartment.
'M- Major Lee-'
'Sergeant Johnston. I will be damned. A right long way from Iraq, isn't it - not to mention Isle of Wight.' Jake Johnston and I had both grown up there, in the country between Smithfield, Virginia and the town of Isle of Wight, in Isle of Wight County.
'My God, sir-'
'None of that, Jake. I work for a living now.' (It's an old Army joke.) 'My compliments to the gentlemen ahead,' I went on, handing over my card, 'and could they be at ease? And Jake - whatever the issue is, tell them I'm on the same side as the Southern boys.' Jake laughed.
'I dunno as you want to be, Maj- er, Doctor Lee. But I'll pass it on.'
'Jake, what are you doing guarding a bunch of children anyway - especially that damnyankee as was shoutin'? Since when did chaps' - a Virginianism for 'mere children' - 'need security details?'
'Sir, that I am not in a position to tell you just now. But likely you'll figure it out soon enough.'
'Very well, Jake. You go on then. If duty leaves you free, I hope you will dine with me this evening.'
'I'd like that right fine, Doctor, though I bet they won't have peanut soup, a ham from Todd's, or spoonbread.'
'Even so, Jake, it will be a pleasure - as long as you drop "Doctor" along with "Major," and call me Custis as you did when we were growing up.'
Jake came into the suite looking very grim. His partner, Big John Sullivan, a former Marine and ex-New York cop, went back into the communicating room, like clockwork. Sullivan and Jake were both kicking themselves for letting the boys raise their voices unwarily.
'Well,' said Jake, glaring at AJ. 'Hope you're happy. I don't know how much all the gentleman heard, but he heard something. Sends his compliments and a request that y'all pipe down. He also wanted me to say that whatever y'all are arguing about, he sides with the Southerners.'
'He wouldn't if he knew what it was about,' said AJ, viciously.
'Don't know about that. Major Lee's always stood up for the underdog.'
'Yes, Lance, he's been for the underdogs ever since he was a little chap.'
'You know him,' mused Kevin.
'Grew up with him, served under him in the Cav, having dinner with him tonight.'
Kevin stood up and motioned to Lance and JC, who between them ran N'Sync the way he ran BSB: the elder brother figures. 'I think he sounds like a man we can talk to.'
'Come on in,' I said. I assumed it would be Jake, and it was - escorting three of the most gorgeous young men I had ever seen in my life. (Yes, that's why I was now a total civilian, by my own choosing. As a three-dollar bill, that's me.)
'God,' thought Kevin. 'He's like - a grown-up, ultra-humpy version of Brian - and why the fuck am I thinking about my own cousin that way?'
At the front of the car, Justin Timberlake and Nick Carter were trying desperately to play an N64 game. Their hands could barely keep a grip on the control consoles. Usually, either would have sold his soul to UBI Soft to win, but the question now was who would lose first.
Jake introduced the young men. Dark-polled Joshua Chasez, 'JC,' rangy, seriously cute, slightly gawky as if his growing wasn't quite done, with a disturbing resemblance to someone I couldn't quite think of, and with blue eyes I could have looked into for days; humpy James Lance Bass, the bass-voiced Mississippian, with emerald eyes under the lashes of a Southern belle, and a curiously muscled face, wide through the jaws, dominated by a strong nose, a set-up which oughtn't to have been attractive together, but somehow was; and the pride of Kentucky, tall, perfectly built, with chiseled, classic looks, Kevin Richardson, who was simply a bronzed, hazel-eyed Greek god - and sex on wheels.
They shook hands with me in turn, and I'd have sworn Lance's hand trembled in my grip.
'Oh man,' thought Lance. 'God let me age like that for JC.'
I tore my mind away from my flashing thoughts by dint of sheer effort. It was unfair to these fine young men to think of them this way. Degrading, somehow, though they would never know my thoughts.
'Gentlemen. How can I be of service?'
'"Ping,"' JC thought. 'It's impossible, but my 'dar is pinging. Probably just wish-dar though....'
'Sir,' Kevin began. I cut him off.
'Mr Richar- or rather, Kevin, if I may? It's Custis. Custis Parke Lee. I'm not all that older than you, at least, and I don't care to stand on formality.'
'Jake says you're his old CO,' Lance said, shyly. 'We thought, perhaps....'
'No formality, um, Lance. I'll brief you now, with the short version.' JC flushed slightly when I used the term 'brief.' I hoped for both our sakes he hadn't been checking me out when I said it - for one thing, it was all I could do, in a suite with these three, not to show hard. (Besides, I'm boxers all the way.)
'Background: obviously, Virginia. VMI. Army Reserve. Law school at William & Mary. Active duty - combat, not JAG - in the Gulf. Cavalry and don't you forget it,' I grinned. 'Then back to Reserve status. Military historian. Until recently, adjunct professor at the Army War College. PhD from AMU, the American Military University. Now wholly free of Uncle Mule and all his works, and my own man at last. And taking up y'all's space thanks to an Amtrak clusterfuck. So: civilian, not a physician, no longer a professor ... means "Doctor," "Prof," and "Major" are each a no-go. "Custis," then, please, from now on?'
'Okay - Custis.'
'Thank you, JC. What's on y'all's minds? Other'n my being in the way?'
'You're not in the way, sir - I mean, Custis.'
'Kevin, I surely am. Here y'all are, saddled with me on some trip, and all your logistical and support staff are stuck in the cars behind with me bottling them up - I can figure out a train consist fairly quickly, son: don't take me right long to look at a hot horseshoe - and I'm wrecking your privacy, for which I am right sorry. I'll be making other arrangements once we reach New York, really - not fair to y'all to have raised Sam Hill in the District, but that horse's ass in the cheap suit right annoyed me.'
Kevin cleared his throat and looked down at his boots. 'Actually, s- Custis, we're kind of glad to have you as a buffer between us and everyone else. If AJ had hollered like that and it been one of the suits back here, the shit woulda hit the fan big-time. Jake says we can trust you....'
In the security compartment, Sullivan was worried. 'Jake, you sure about this? We'll both be out on our ass, he turns out to be a prob.'
'He's my old CO.'
'Oh.' Sullivan was USMC to the bone. 'Then your word's good enough for me.'
'Sergeant Johnston's about the best there is, Kevin. You know the saying: the clerks run the Courthouse, the secretaries run the law firms, and the sergeants run the Army.'
'Hey, that's right - you went to law school, you said so.' JC was obviously excited. 'Doesn't that mean whatever we say stays here with you?'
'Weeeel.... I am a member of the DC Bar, and Virginia, and Maryland. Not that I ever practiced. But if you want attorney-client confidentiality, fine. There's no conflict of interest between y'all, is there?'
'N- no, I guess not.... But we'd want to, need to, hire you for both bands.' Kevin was thinking hard.
The young men looked at each other. On the platform was one thing, but after the introductions....
'Do you really not know who we are?'
'I'm sorry, Mr Chasez -' yes, I sounded frosty, but the question struck me as swell-headed.
He caught on quickly. 'Sorry, please, I didn't mean it like that.' I looked at him and couldn't help but thaw.
'No, it is I who ought apologize - Joshua. Go on.'
'Uh, well, Lance and I are two of the members of 'N Sync, and Kevin is with the Backstreet Boys.'
'Well, I'll be damned. I'm sure I've heard your material - rather unavoidable, isn't it?' I smiled, to underline that I was teasing.
All three blushed a bit. Then Kevin took the bull by the horns. 'It is right now. Within a week, we could all just as easily be nobodies. It's -'
I stopped him. 'Kevin. Lance or Josh. I need one dollar from each of the bands, please.'
Lance caught on first. 'Oh - a retainer. Yeah.' I tucked his and then Kevin's singles into my pocket.
'All right now, gentlemen. Those old enough may join me in a bourbon. All of y'all - talk to me. What is going on?'
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Will the Major counsel the lads? What is the problem that threatens these young men? Will Lance ever learn to throw overhand? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Studebaker Motor-Car Company. We now return you to our studios high atop the Algonquin Hotel.