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.
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 taste in Medoc wines. 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 Fourteen
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 soon finds himself their father confessor an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' In a move that backfired severely, the boys, playing Cupid, dragged the reluctant object of the Major's unrequited affections, Luke deMaria, along, and after a damned uncomfortable lunch ended in a false peace of armistice, the Major was waiting for the next disaster:
When I returned, it was to find Dr Keyes, AJ, Chris, Luke, and a more than slightly bewildered Justin talking English lit in a corner of the lounge while the usual kicking-back went on around them, unremarked. Joey had gone off with Bri and Kev to watch my Patton DVD; D and Nick were nowhere to be seen - ahem; and JC and Lance had vanished, their places taken by a cuddling, couch-sprawled Josh-and-James, whose TV-watching seemed to be losing focus on a fairly regular basis, interrupted as it was by periodic making-out.
It was a markedly peaceful scene. I distrusted it more with every passing second.
Wisely. Everyone else jumped when Jake and Big John burst in with Lenore and an agitated member of the hotel management: I had no more idea than anyone else what was wrong, but I was prepared for there to be something.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
Joey had turned 'a whiter shade of pale' than anyone his age, who'd never heard of Procul Harem, had any right to do. He'd been dragged back to the suite, along with Kevin and Brian, their film forgotten, when Lenore had barreled in in crisis mode.
I just looked at everyone, frozen in various attitudes of consternation, alarm, humiliation and dread. The hotel management suit was wringing his hands - a gesture I'd actually never seen until then in what is laughingly called 'real life.'
'Let's take this slowly,' I said. 'There was a mixup with the overnight baggage from the train. Another guest received a bag from our batch. He contends it contains illicit substances. He further contends it is tagged as belonging to someone with the surname "Fatone." Am I correct so far?'
'Yes,' the assistant manager choked out.
'And so far the police have not been called in.'
'No, sir ... not so far.'
'Very well. Bring me the complaining guest, please. And Miz Lenore, kindly get Mr Steve Fatone in here.'
When they had both ducked out, I looked blandly into the middle distance and said, 'No one, and I mean no one, is to say word one. I shall handle this. Is that understood?'
They assented, hastily.
The hotelier returned swiftly with an elderly gentleman and his fluttering wife. With a quick 'On your feet!' tossed over my shoulder to the lads, I snapped her a small bow, nodded to the old man, and asked them to be seated.
When I spoke to the couple, I pulled out all the stops of accent and timbre. I'd seen the old man's tie, his blazer, and - most notably - a certain ring on his finger, and saw that we had a fighting chance. 'Ma'am. Sir. I am Major Custis Lee, of Virginia.' That snapped the old gentleman's head up.
'Shipp Lewis, young man, formerly a light-colonel in the 1st Marine Division. VMI Class of '49.'
We shook hands, rings clinking. 'Class of '88, sir.'
'Hmph. Last of the Old Breed. M'wife, Maisie; Maisie - Custis Lee. Now, Major: what finds you involved in this?'
'Sir, these gentlemen here with me are musicians -'
Mrs Lewis smiled merrily. 'Oh, dear, these are those boys our granddaughter so admires, aren't they, dear?'
'If your granddaughter is fond of 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, ma'am, then, yes. They are doing a promotional tour benefitting Amtrak ... and Army Recruiting.'
'Ah,' said old Colonel Lewis. 'That's why they have a dogface major along. You - tell me you're not Fitzhugh Lee's son ... I mean the Fitz Lee who was with the 1/7 Cav in Korea....'
'Well, sir, that is my late father.'
'Be damned. I think after Chosin, he and I were the only Marine and cavalryman who'd speak to each other. Well, well. Small world. Now. What have you to say about this, eh?'
'Colonel, I know nothing of the facts, as yet, as to your discovery at least. What I do know is that we have both a musician and a crew person of that surname; and that there's obviously some security breach if the bags of either, assuming this is the bag of either, has gone astray -'
'And that so far no one with any pretension to expertise has said these are drugs, and that no one can say, since the bags were obviously in the wrong hands at some point, who put them there, eh? I've sat on my share of courts-martial, son. All right. I assume that you shall get to the bottom of this, and take what steps you deem proper -'
'Sir, I wouldn't want you to do anything against your conscience -'
'Nor would I. Same token, you're obviously reliable, and making public trouble of this would embarrass the Services. I leave it in your hands.' He stood, and I cut my eyes around to make sure everyone else did too. He turned to the boys. 'Maisie, dear, I'll join you in a moment.' We all murmured politenesses as she left us. When he looked at the boys again, his face was stony. 'You youngsters.... If any of you are messing with this crap.... We had a son, Maisie and I, came of age in the Sixties, early Seventies. A rebel - I failed him, somehow, as he was growing up. He ... everything I stood for, he demonstrated against; everything he could do to show us up, he did. It was ... it was that time, in this country, and I suppose we should be grateful that only the one of our children went off the rails. But ... for three decades now, he's been back home with us. Yet he is never coming home. He took something - some tainted LSD, we're fairly sure. For thirty years - thirty God damned years - my son, our son we never stopped loving no matter what - has sat and rocked and smiled, and is not there: fed, dressed, taken to the head by us....' I could hardly bear to look at the pain in his old face. 'Don't ... if this is the case, and it is one of you ... don't you dare do that to yourselves, your families, those who love you. You have everything to live for, everything, and if you throw it away, well, God may forgive you, but I don't know who else will.' He spun on his heel and marched out, back straight, head up, and only a few of us were in a position to see the unshed tears.
There was silence for a moment. Then Joe spoke up, hoarsely. 'Actually.... Look, Major, don't let's actually get Steve in this. I ... I'll come clean.'
I crossed over swiftly towards him, just in time to keep JC from cold-cocking him. Joey flinched, not at that, but at me.
'What was it?' I asked.
'Uh, actually, weed and some "X."'
I just looked at him, stonily. Everyone was silent.
'Joe.... Did you or did you not hear me when I told y'all anyone who hid a problem rather than taking the help I offered was going to be smoked meat, time I finished with him?'
'M- Major, please, just don't yell at me -'
'Am I yelling, Fatone?'
'No, you sound like poison on ice, so never mind, yell, I'd feel better-'
'This isn't just about you, Fatone.' I looked at all of them. 'I was reflecting earlier before I came back from my walk that there was something wrong, false, superficial in this whole fucking situation. It's not even like those fucking Russian dolls with you people, is it - it's more like an onion, layer after layer, peel it away and nothing changes and you still end up with tears in your damn eyes. I laid it all on the line for y'all and instead of getting honesty in return, I got Public Personæ Mark II, the modified limited hangout version of your public selves. Well fuck that for a basis for dealing with y'all. I simply don't understand it -'
'You never do,' Luke snapped. 'Just like you don't understand why Joey there is practically peein' himself even though you haven't raised your fucking voice! You just don't get it, do you? The reason you're alone and unloved and all that you whine about is you are so fucking intimidating nobody dares get close to you!'
I just looked at him. 'Lucien, I have faults aplenty, but I am God damned if you or anyone has ever heard me whine.' I turned my back on him at the same moment he pointedly turned his on me. To the rest I said, 'For one hour no one - unless it is a life or death emergency as so judged by Lenore, Jake, or Big John - no one is to disturb me. I will be in my suite and I will try and make sure I am not too loud for anyone. In one hour we will all meet up here again and lock ourselves in until Colonel Keyes and I are satisfied that we have thrashed out every issue we need or can. I suggest y'all get comfortable: it's going to a be long damn night.'
In their room, trying to calm down, Josh and James were holding each other desperately.
'I am so sorry, man. I do care about Joe, goin' off on him wasn't the right way to show it at all -'
'Shush now. I need you, Joshy, don't do this to yourself and huddle up like a pillbug to where you ain't reachable. I need you and I think you need me and -'
'Oh, God, babe, you know I do. So much. So much. I'm sorry, I swear I won't just curl in on myself - hold on to me so I don't, 'kay? We can't either one afford that....' He paused, eyes downcast. 'I'm just ashamed of myself.'
'Don't. Don't go there, love.'
'But I am. I nearly slugged Joe.'
'Wouldn't be the first time.'
'Be the first in ages, since long before we really did become all brothers. He has a problem, we're supposed to work with him to fix it, not go apeshit in him. I know that, I fucking know that. But.... My fucking, ugly temper.... I hate that.'
'I don't. It's part of you. I hate the situation, I hate that you lost control, but I love you, temper and all, control and all, I love the passion that's always just below the surface - and I don't just mean, well, you know - but the way you feel and care so damn intensely, 'bout ever'thing. I know what the control costs you. I know you're this close to an ulcer or a heart attack, all the damn time. That hurts me, knowing that, but the sacrifices you make - God, I just love you even more for all that. You went off on Joe, fine - but it wasn't mean, it was because you care, about him, not some self-protective thing or what it would do to anybody but Joe, I know that and I bet Joe does too. Same as when the Major went off on all of us the other day.'
Bass paused a moment. ' 'Course, there was something else that bothered you a lot about that, wasn't there.'
Chasez couldn't meet his gaze. 'Yeah,' he whispered. 'You know there was.'
'Is this what he meant about trying not to be too loud?'
Kevin, with Brian in tow, was headed for the gym, to try and work out some of the tension before the meeting.
Jake nodded. They had met in the hallway by the Major's suite, where Jake was posted. From inside, the strains of J. S. Bach's Partita for Unaccompanied Violin, in D minor, could be heard.
'Well,' Brian said, 'I guess listening to music will calm his mind before the session.'
'I just figured maybe he'd be on his balcony with his pipe,' Kevin mused. 'As he was striding out, I heard him mutter something about feeling like Gandalf in Moria, and I thought about that scene where he takes over the night watch and sits and broods over a pipe....'
From inside, the music stopped, and started again a few bars back.
Jake just looked at the boys as the light dawned for them. 'Yep,' he confirmed. 'He ain't listening. He's playing. And you best hope it does work - it doesn't always. You'd also best run along now, and for God's sake don't be late getting back.'
'Jesus,' Kevin breathed, 'he sounds professional.' Jake just nodded, and jabbed a thumb in the direction of the elevator bank. They took the hint.
Joey had refused to answer the door - which in no way deterred Chris and AJ, who were swiftly becoming fast friends. They forced their way in through a communicating door to the next suite, one Joey had not thought to bolt.
He was huddled atop the counterpane of the bed, rocking slightly, dried tear tracks on his face. He started to shift and look up as Chris and Alex entered, but gave up and hunkered down, resolved to ignore them if they hadn't the common courtesy to leave him alone.
Wordlessly, the two exchanged glances, and, still silent, moved forward. Joe felt the mattress give on each side of him, and persistent arms wrapping him in a compassionate embrace. No words were needed; and Joey felt his eyes fill again with tears, and pain.
'It still hurts, doesn't it,' James said softly.
Josh nodded, mutely, against his lover's neck and shoulder.
When he spoke, he seemed to be talking all around the subject, though James knew better.
'It hurts. James Lance Bass, I love you so damned much.... You make so many more sacrifices for us all than I do. You talk about control.... I cannot manage the control you have. I cannot - you know I can't - I could never do what you do. All these years of secrecy and hiding.... Even from the guys, letting them make whatever guesses they might, but damn little of those, never enough to where we could get called on it. The way you somehow manage to keep your distance when I can't, to not look at me when I can't help looking at you like a lover, to play it off so we can all keep making a living. Preserving the image by going clubbing with Joe all the time while I'm known to be in "my own little world." Takin' all the "gay" rumors on yourself and never letting them spill over onto the rest of us, 'specially me - even ... God ... even allowing people once or twice to see you with other guys, when the heat was really on, so I was never outed. And baby, that I can still trust you even with all this, that we both know that we have never, can never stray, never play the other.... Even your drinking rep that's part of het-ing your image and that excuses whatever people think they see, when we both know that after the second Jack and Coke you're sucking down plain Diet Dr Pepper all night.... It all sucks so much to have to make these compromises. And then they start in on me -'
'But damn, love. You know how I feel about it. It doesn't hurt me the way I hurt when I hear things, all the cruel, casual shit, about you, but - it's the only thing they say about me that hurts damn near as bad, when they talk about me and drugs. I so hate that shit. I've been clean since ... well, since you saved me, before anyone even started the rumors, and now that they're not true I have to get labeled this way and it makes me fucking sick, James -'
Josh choked up, and was soothed with a series of kisses and gentle caresses.
'Josh. It's going to be all right. Now just rest a few minutes more, here -'
Josh kissed James, tenderly and with a sense almost of holy awe. 'In your arms ... it's the only place I can rest....'
'Shush, now. Let's get some rest before this. I imagine we're going to need it.'
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. What's the Major up to now? What's the backstory on JC? What machinations are ahead for Luke? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you by the Dade County, Florida, Election Commission, who have now discovered a whole box of ballots for FDR. Bad news for the Wendell Wilkie forces.... We now return you to our studios for a special post-election analysis, with Edward R. Murrow, Gabe Heatter, and H. V. Kaltenborn.