by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org. A kudos apiece to all who have written already, and the chatroom crew. Warm fuzzy feelings and all that. Seriously, thanks for the egoboo, guys.
Special News: Today's matinee features, for your enjoyment, two, yes, TWO episodes of your favorite serial (not to be confused with Justin's favorite cereal). So sit back and enjoy the show, as soon as the newsreel is over....
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 and of the Backstreet Boys, all of whom are of course straight, well-dressed, intelligent, articulate, cultured, sweet-natured, and kind to their mommies. No celebrity so much as mentioned here should be construed as having these assigned fictional habits, preferences, personality, or preferred cut of steak. 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 - though, yes, we're getting there: patience; 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 Ten
In Our Last Episode: Thrown together by Amtrak, the members of BSB and 'N Sync fall in with dashing young military historian and lawyer, the Virginia aristocrat Major Custis Lee. The Major, who soon finds himself their father confessor and, um, fairy godfather, becomes an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' Little does he know what they have planned:
'There're all of Luke's contact numbers and addresses, then.' I smiled. 'And here I'd been afraid y'all needed to talk detox.'
They fell silent.
'Um, Chris, could I talk to the Major alone,' AJ muttered.
'I need to too,' Chris said quietly.
'Well, shit,' I said, and (as we say in the South) 'set' them back down.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
'I don't understand,' said Justin. He and Howie and Nick were gathered around Josh and James - who were assuredly lost in their Josh and James world, the masks of the public 'JC' and 'Lance' long forgotten.
'Justy,' James sighed, 'even we don't understand it all, looking back.' He and Josh, whatever the pains involved, owed it to their friends who had just come out to tell them unflinchingly about the lessons to be gleaned from their own relationship. It didn't mean they had to like it.
Josh still had his eyes closed, shutting out the world, but he took over the story before James could be further pained.
'Guys.... It was a wild first few hours. I mean, I got up the guts to admit to James that I loved him, and instead of his kicking my ass, next thing I know we're in clench mode.... It shoulda been happily ever after, and bam, suddenly the world hits us in the face. You heard him. I did the big renunciation scene. And I really meant it, and I really thought it was right, and I wasn't just being a fucking drama queen.... Jesus. For months, we were like monks, and I mean that every way a good Catholic boy can mean that: having to stay friends, neither enemies nor lovers, was like lashing ourselves in penitence, and the chastity - oof. We were the two most pious little virgin fairies you ever saw, too, trying to find a way out of this dead end. I can now tell you where every church and confessional in North America and Western Europe is, and the heck with cologne, the only thing I smelled of was incense, while James wore out three Bibles and got calluses on his knees. Then - we were in New York....'
JC reeled in, drunk and slobbering.
Lance had thought he was, as so often, sobbing his heart out in some cold, Gothic church. But drunk, in the middle of the afternoon?
JC stood swaying in the middle of the room, trying to focus on his roommate. He saw it, there in Lance's lap, as always, a Protestant Bible. Lurching forward, he batted it to the floor.
In a flash of fury, James stood up, almost knocking JC on his ass without trying - though that would come next if there wasn't an explanation, and fast.
' 'S all bu'shit,' JC bellowed. Lance winced, just from the fumes.
'Joshua Scott Chasez,' he started in, grimly.
'Shu' up! Jus' sh' the fuck up! It's all a lie! He don't care, He won't help, He don't even fuckin' exist or we wouldn't be like this.'
'Josh, you're drunk, and I'll overlook that, but just you mind what you say, here.' Lance's voice was half an octave deeper even than usual, and his Mississippi accent far more pronounced.
'Fuck that. And fuck you. 'S all shit, don't you unnerstan'? Shit! We make our own lives. An' I'm going to make mine, to where it don't hurt like this, and so are you.'
'I beg your pardon, friend, but I don't -'
'You wanna spend your life hurtin' because of a buncha lies in an old book, or you wanna live with me and us love each other? Huh?'
Lance looked at his beloved in horror. 'Josh, don't even try and ask me to choose between my God and my faith, and you.'
Enraged, JC staggered towards him. 'Did you ever fuckin' care? Last chance, faggot, me or - or that shit.'
Lance shut his eyes in pain and set his jaw. He would not break, he would not do it.
'Huh? Or were you just lying to me all along to get me into bed? How pious is that?'
Lance broke, and gave in. His left took JC in the breadbasket and his right hit his jaw when JC bent, winded, at the middle. JC went down like a sack of sweet potatoes.
From the floor, JC looked up blearily, in fury and loathing, and turned his head and was violently and copiously sick. He crawled to his feet and spat.
'Answers that. Fine. Just fuckin' fine with me. We make our lives, no god, no fate, we do - an' I'm gonna make mine, without you since you don't care enough to make yours with me. An' ya know what? That's good. Better'n good. I'm gonna find me a girl and be normal, lots an' lots of girls, and maybe I'll love one and maybe not, but I'll sure as hell fuck 'em and get a nut when I wanna, for a change. What do ya think of that, huh, faggot? What you think of me now?'
When Lance spoke, it was in a voice of icy poison.
'I think you're drunk. I think you'll know better later. I think you owe me and God and yourself one heck of an apology. I love you, I always will, but I don't much care for you just now. And if you don't get your senses back, then ... then I know what I will think of you. That you're a drunk, a prick, an asshole, and a carpetbagging Yankee son of a bitch.'
And the last thing JC heard before he passed out in his own puke was the thunderous slamming of a door.
Chris and AJ had rejoined the others. They looked over at the corner where James, Josh, D, Nick, and Just were huddled, talking softly.
'Damn, but those two have balls,' said AJ. They couldn't hear any details from where they were, but all it took was a look at the faces of the couple telling the stories and the three listening in horror to know that, in one of Chris's lamer, retro phrases, 'some heavy shit was goin' down.' (As the Major would note often, he himself hadn't cared for the Sixties when they premiered, much less in re-runs....)
Chris shook his head as if to clear it. 'Yeah. Even to help my buds work through things, I sure couldn't spill my guts like that.'
'Uh, speaking of which, guys, how'd it go with the Major?' Kevin asked.
'Oh. Uh, good, as far as personal stuff.' AJ wouldn't meet Kevin's eye.
'And,' said Chris, with what cheer he could muster, 'we did get some 411 on the mysterious Luke.'
That got everyone's attention. Even the corner huddle broke up for a moment. 'Oh, shit,' said Josh, 'and I forgot to run that by James.'
Kevin stood up and motioned everyone in tight. 'Keep your voices down. We just thought it would be nice to bring the guy the Major has it so bad for out for a bit.' He looked over to the doorway. 'Jake, promise you two won't say a word.'
Jake just looked at them.
'Oh, he knows we're planning to invite Luke, just not that we're, well, playing matchmaker.'
Jake sighed. 'I purely hate this divided loyalty shit. All right. Just don't push it.'
He and James exchanged glances, and nodded. James spoke for them both: 'I can't see what precisely is wrong with it, since you did get Custis's okay ... but I still have a bad feeling about this somehow.'
Luke deMaria sighed with relief. Another day done, an end to coat and tie and manners. And - much as he hated to admit it - no guilty feeling that he was neglecting his friend. With Custis out of town, the pressure of being loved, and being unable to return that love, was off. He changed into sweats and collapsed in front of the TV. Then the phone rang.
Jake and Big John had gone off duty, replaced by the deceptively small, dangerous as a Damascus blade Lebanese-American, George Haddad, and massive, bland Brigham Taylor, the Mormon power-lifter, both of whom had been presented to the Major for approval whilst Kevin, Josh, and Joey had made their phone call. D, Nick, and Justin were saying goodnight to James and Josh.
'Guys, you really don't have to - I mean, we appreciate, hell, we treasure what you're doing for us, but it has to hurt, and -'
'Hush, D. Talking ... finally talking is what got us through our bad times and to where we are. Lordy, if we hadn't crumbled and finally talked, I don't know what-all would have become of me, or Josh.'
'And it's what friends and bros are for, you three. 'Kay? That's the point. Always, always talk it through - and James, hon, once again, I'm sorry I got so caught up I never had a chance to talk to you about asking Luke to join the Major and us.... No, I really am, shush now, because if you've got a bad feeling about it - you and Jake too - I'm suddenly worried.'
'Sugar, you rely on me too much. I trust your judgment.'
'See what they mean?' Justin grinned at D and Frack. 'You two need to talk things through like that all the time....'
James laughed and bopped Justin with a pillow.
'We hafta start calling each other sweetie, too?' Nick asked.
'Naw,' said Justin, 'it's a Southern thing, you wouldn't understand. Even macho Southern guys say that stuff.'
'I doubt the Major does,' Howie snorted.
'Well, hello, babe,' I said. 'You doin' all right?'
Luke's voice on the phone was even breathier than usual. 'Jesus, Custis, is it true?'
'Is what true?'
'I just got a phone call from three jokers claiming to be with 'N Sync and Backstreet! Fine, that's a neat prank, but they tell me, I don't believe 'em, call you! What the fuck?'
'Oh. Well. You recall that train trip I'm taking? Well, somehow your railroad fucked up and merged my trip into their joint promotional tour - weird, isn't it: the Post Office gets the Moody Blues, Amtrak gets boybands....'
'Patience, there, handsome. Upshot was, we're traveling together, and I got Army Recruiting to join Amtrak as an underwriter. So, yes, the call was legit.'
'What? And what is the deal with my joining them? And how can I get time to, even if I wanted to? And -'
'Hello? May I remind you you are a staffer for the Transportation Committee? As in Amtrak? You have a perfectly legitimate excuse for this junket.'
'But why would they call me - oh.'
'What? You don't sound happy.'
'They obviously know I'm ... well, I assume they called me because of you.'
'Partly. Is that a problem? You're out, remember, quite forcefully and openly, Mister Activist.'
'As being gay, sure, not as being your personal pinup.'
That left me speechless.
'Custis? I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it came across. Hey, I'm thinking of you, too - I mean, you are not out....'
'I am to them.'
'What? Oh my God. You have never - why would you -'
'They needed to know. They needed help. It needed to be done, so I did it.' I have a simple creed.
'They what? Needed to know? Why? Are you telling me some of them are gay?'
'I'll let them tell you. Suffice it to say they want you here for you, not as some adjunct to me or as my hopeless fantasy.'
'Damn it, C, I didn't mean.... Fuck. And they want me for - oh boy. Custis, I have to think about this.'
'I understand. Sorry. Didn't mean to put you on the spot. Just call and let them know when you make a decision. All I'll say is they could use a role model their age. Other than that, I'll stay out of the loop.'
'That is so George Bush, Custis. Um ... I'll call you later, 'kay? I have some thinking to do.'
'Understood. You take care, now.'
'Uh ... you too. See ya.' He hung up with a clatter of haste.
Doing the right thing for these boys is turning into a bitch kitty, I mused.
Sentimental Journey: Chapter Eleven
And now ... the tour per se begins.
We were shunted to a siding outside Clairton, Pennsylvania - a Pittsburgh exurb that not even Chris had so far managed to make famous: the boys, picking it up from us, and purely for devilment, and Lenore and I simply out of ignorance, had persisted in calling it 'Clarion,' to which Chris, in the end, merely sighed hopelessly. I could tell you everything that ever transpired at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield to the south, explain how it happened that that FFV George C. Marshall ended up being born in Uniontown down the road, or recite the story of how Fort Duquesne became Fort Pitt and thence Pittsburgh, but - Clairton? Sorry.
It was just before dawn, and it suddenly occurred to me I had absolutely no way to do my PT that morning. Not good. People may say what they like about Justin-in-the-morning-before-breakfast, but he's a lamb compared to me on a day I cannot exercise. Oh, I could do my pushups, situps, jumping jacks (hey, you people do whatever's fashionable, but I'm Old Army), and the like, but I couldn't very well make my morning run. I resolved to fix that forthwith.
That was my second mistake. I really ought not try and do things that require thought before coffee.
All around Clairton, posters were going up; and the local radio stations were having their worlds rocked with the news. This was to be a test case for the 'word of mouth,' tell-'em-as-we-roll-in, surprise announcement component of the whistlestop tour. Everyone - Amtrak, Amazon, the Label - had thought it was such a 'neat' idea ... except the boys, who weren't sure they wanted to know how many fans they really had without mass advertising, and Security, who were horrified at the lack of planning. As Jake had said to the Major, it told him where everyone's priorities were and just how little those who were profiting by them really thought of the boys. But of course no one had consulted with or listened to the boys, or the detail.
Which is why, with a potential disaster shaping up from the neglect of elementary security precautions, the Major had made a phone call the day before; and why, as the special train rolled into Clairton and headed for an open area that could accommodate a crowd, various firefighters, state troopers, store clerks, lawyers, dentists, cops, clerics, and ordinary citizens rolled grumbling out of bed and started dressing in camo. The local 'Blue' elements of the 'Blue and Grey,' the 29th Infantry Division (Light) of the National Guard that covered Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, and the Major's own Virginia and West Virginia, was rolling out, with the local elements of the Army Reserve forming up to meet them. It was, thanks to the Major, and to the only division that had regiments on both sides at Gettysburg, going to be the most orderly appearance in boyband history.
I may have done the right thing in mobilizing the troops for the Clairton appearance. I screwed up massively when I called a relative of mine to get some quick action on getting a car with weights and a treadmill added to the train consist.
'Custis! Of course - I'll see to it myself. You know, I suppose somebody ought to swing by from here and make sure our oversight of Amtrak doesn't overlook any oversights.' Cousin or no cousin, the man held the record for bad puns printed in the Congressional Record. 'In fact - I can think of someone you've worked with before. Why don't I send young deMaria out?'
'Cuz - I really don't think -'
'Wouldn't those boys accept him? Be honest now, as you always are of course, with your Robert E. Lee complex and all.' I hate being chortled at when I'm half-asleep.
'Well, they would, in fact ... Lord, I don't want to go into this ... they actually already phoned him and asked him to visit.' Don't ask why, Good God, do not ask....
'Well, well. I always wondered about those boys,' chortle, chuckle, wheeze. (Why the hell I ever made that phone call....) 'Ask and they shall receive,' he said, and rang off.
'Oh, shit,' I muttered. 'What a way to run a railroad.'
At 9:03, Luke deMaria found himself trying to stay standing in the Committee Chairman's office. Not an easy task, as he suddenly felt like collapsing.
'Lucien, my boy, I'm sending you on a junket. Hope you like boybands.'
'Oh, God, Senator, please, no -'
'Oh, sit down, Luke. Listen. I'm tired of Amtrak blowing a hole in the budget, and I want credit for turning it around. Besides, you've worked beautifully with my young cuz, and Custis is somehow tangled up in this trip, doubtless fuming all the way. He said -'
Luke struggled to keep his temper. Way to stay out of the loop, Custis. You conniving prick. 'You've talked to him?'
'Surely did. Just this morning. He wanted a priority addition to the train, a car with weights and treadmills. Dear God but that boy is seriously Army. Anyway, that's when I had the idea of sending you -'
'It was your idea? Senator. Sorry I interrupted.'
'Don't fret. And of course it was my idea, I don't need staff to think for me all the time, son. Besides, I understand the boys want you, for whatever reason....'
'I wormed that out of Custis, poor fellow: he simply cannot lie. Though he didn't seem at all happy about it. Which brings up a couple of points. One, I assume this means the band members will at least be comfortable with you.' Luke winced. The Senator ignored it. 'Two, you and Custis have always worked well together in the past: don't fuck that up now. And three, I expect plenty of autographs and posters and shit for my twelve-year-old.' The Senator grinned wickedly, waiting for the reaction.
'Senator? I thought your daughter was sixteen now.'
'Mandy? Sure she is. Tripp, however, is thirteen in two weeks, and queer as a coot. Poor bastard: hard row to hoe, I imagine. Anyway, he has major crushes on these puling boybands. I expect you of all people to be sympathetic about that: not but a decade since you were a confused adolescent young gay, right?'
Luke was about to throw up from sheer nerves.
'So. I want lots of souvenirs. My major contributors would shit, but, my son is my son, and that's all there is to it. Your flight to Pittsburgh leaves Reagan at 12:37. Go home and pack.'
At 10:00, the fields around the railroad right of way had become a fair and festival, with latrines, ropes, chairs, water stations, and everything the fans could reasonably want at short notice set up and squared away. The reserve components had done their usual superb job, and I told them so.
At 10:30, the sides of the show-car fell away, the bands stepped forward, and pandemonium broke loose. Happy, secure, safe pandemonium. I felt good about that. I wished it made me feel better about the whole Luke situation.
As his flight to Pittsburgh left DC, Luke sighed.
What would they think of him? What would they think of the Major as a result?
He stretched his long limbs and pondered. Why in the name of God were things so screwed up anyway? He forced himself to consider it objectively. Item: himself. He was 26, and looked 20. He had issues about his appearance, but he knew everyone else did not. What he considered gawky and silly looking, others - notably the Major - seemed not to. He stared at his hands, considering what they said of him. The olive, long, corded, oversized hands of an Italian fisherman, looking, he thought, remarkably out of place, protruding as they did from an Armani suit and silk shirt of midnight blue. But ... education, post on the Hill, whatever came his way, he still saw himself as the misfit, the exile from that Gulf Coast community that stretched from Panama City through Mobile to Biloxi and his native Pass Christian, a tight community of Italian seafarers whose unique patois still touched his tongue with its combination of Italian and Deep Southern. Even his only grandmother from Outside the clan was, equally, from outside the mainstream of the South: a Cajun from the bayou country. The idea that he should even know a Lee, be drawn from the quaint, half-foreign fringes towards the center of the South's idealized self-image....
Item: Custis. Sometimes he wondered why the Major couldn't just drop it, and him. Though he never pushed. He was a gentleman, which Luke had never had time to be on his way up. Sometimes, though ... he'd once really, intentionally hurt the Major by saying, bitterly, 'It's not me you have a thing for, it's just because I "remind you of the young DiMaggio".' Way to go, he thought ever afterwards, in useless penitence: insult the man and his love for baseball.
What made it worse was knowing that, if they'd met any other way, it would have been he who was the Pursuer. The Major had fallen for his mind when they worked, without meeting face to face, on matters that involved the Transportation Committee and the Major's expert testimony on logistics: the Major had fallen for him, basically, over the Net, just from his personality. By the time they met face to face, not even Luke's - well, if he was going to be honest with himself, slightly nelly voice and demeanor; okay, more than slightly - anyway ... by then, the Major had lost his heart too far to care about that, while Luke, frankly, had had the Major so far up to here: the annoyingly omnipresent courtesy, the fatherly tone, the relentless high-mindedness, the terrifying intelligence and intimidating knowledge: Luke was so sick of the Major's perfections that the deep voice and the superb body that he would normally have turned into a puddle of drool over, just left him cold.
And - to round off the self-examination - it didn't stop him, either: he found it impossible to resist flirting with and teasing the Major, even though every nerve ending in him cried out for him to stop, even though he despised it and himself, and could not have said why he did it....
By the time he deplaned and was whisked to the hotel at which the Major and the bands would be staying on the QT, Luke had managed thoroughly to disgust himself, and work up a substantial resentment against the Major, the bands, and the Transportation Committee, its Honorable Chairman in particular.
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Will the course of real, true love run smooth for Our Lads? How huge a problem is Luke going to be? Will AJ ever discover Brooks Brothers? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Bundles for Britain Committee and by British Security Coordination, New York, New York, Sir William Stephenson, Director. We now return you to our studios for the latest episode of The Jack Benny Show, followed by Lowell Thomas with the news.