Sentimental Journey

by Ian McDuff

Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at A kudos apiece to all who have written already. 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. 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 Three

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. And when the band members, especially AJ, fall out over the inadvertent outing - to the group - of Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, JC Chasez, and Lance Bass, the Major mediates the issue:

AJ sat silent, unable to meet my eye. Finally, when he did speak, it was in tones of remorse. 'Uh. Yeah.' He stuck out a hand to Kevin on one side and Joey on the other, and after an eternal second when things hung in the balance, both clasped hands with him as AJ started silently to weep.

'AJ. This may take time. We will deal with that. You deal with it, too. But when even your rage is rooted in love and concern, there's hope. Just remember - and for the duration of this tour, both bands are your brothers - these brothers of yours are the same people they've always been, except freer now and truer, and you're seeing all of their selves now.'

AJ actually grinned through his tears. 'I don't want to watch and see all of them, though....'

'Smartass. Anyone else have any problems with the gay members of the tour?'

'Not now,' said Chris. 'I'm cool with it. 'Cept I owe Joey another twenty on a fuckin' bet.' Everyone indicated they were on board.

'Hey, Major?' AJ again. 'I noticed you didn't raise your hand when I took the straight poll?'

I looked at them as they tried to pretend they weren't watching every move I made.

'Bone,' Kev began, 'nobody thought he and Jake and John were included when you asked -'

I cleared my throat and looked squarely at AJ. 'Good eyes,' I said after a moment. All ten of the young men did a double-take. 'When I got honest with myself about it, not that I'd ever done anything or would, the only honorable course was to resign my commission. I did so.'

And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:

I wasn't destined to get much sleep that night.

Jake and I had gone to dinner after the train arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (a town I'd found myself surveying in wonder: what the hell had Dick Ewell wanted to capture it for, just before Gettysburg?). The boys and their crew had gone straight to the hotel, at which I also was now staying: we would work out a revised tour schedule the next day. Well, I'd wanted to be there for them, and so had suggested that the Army co-sponsor the tour; now I was stuck as liaison. So much for being back in civilian life.

Jake had explained the situation over dinner, after I'd done some hurried shopping.

'Way it is, Major - damn it, I mean Custis - and the Label figured, OK, every one horse town west of the Mississippi has MTV and the 'Net, but they have a long ways to go to a concert venue. Take the boys to the sticks though for a capella teaser shows and meet-an'-greets, the kids'll order the CDs over the 'Net. So Amazon went to Amtrak and here we are, pumping up money for everybody. Then a swing through Canada and some nice downtime, late autumn early snowfall, at Lake Louise and Banff, shooting vids and cutting a new, quick turn-'round Christmas sampler with both bands. All goes well, they'll bring all the families up there and have the holidays there. Now here you are....'

'Yes. As you know, I was taking a route that allowed me to see some sites - that's S-I-T-E-S - that I wanted to get a refreshed feel for, terrain and topo. And thinking more and more about what Soviet military doctrine used to call "permanent operating factors," including the logistics infrastructure of early roads, canals, and rail. Then the conference in Banff, and I was planning to stay and knock out a few chapters until Christmas or New Years before heading home to Southside.'

Jake grinned. 'So we are stuck with you.'

'Regret it?'

'Shit. Best thing could have happened to the boys. Security detail, we see everything, and it was tearing us up. They're good kids, man. Gay, straight, who gives a fuck. But they were fallin' apart. You've helped already.'

In Josh's and James's hotel suite, the two young lovers had company. Nick and Howie and Justin were seeking guidance. Kevin was there, too, worried as ever about his charges.

'How did you know, though?' Nick asked again.

James Lance Bass smiled - a transforming smile, worlds removed from that fake grin the world insisted on seeing.

'Nick ... lordy, boy, you just know. Something happens, the most ordinary thing in the world, walking down the street or eatin' breakfast or fishin' at the pond, and the pieces suddenly fit and everything makes sense. You've always known - but now you know what it is you know. It floods you. You see everything in a new light, and it hits you: you're gay.

'It's what you do then that makes the difference. After it hits you, after the panic attack and peein' your britches,' James grinned.

'Right,' said Josh. 'After that. 'Cause it'll have you shitting green corn at first.'

Everybody laughed. Justin, who was after all from Memphis, looked at Josh and said, 'It must be love if a Maryland boy's talkin' pure Mississippi.'

Josh grinned, then looked directly at his friends. This was important. 'OK. Whatever.... But after you calm down. Then you have to decide. Deny it to everyone? Yourself included? Ignore the whole new light that makes everything look the same but diff'rent? Or what?'

'I denied it,' Justin said flatly. 'Even today I denied it. I don't want to be ... gay. But that's like not wanting to be a mop-top: I ain't got no choice.' His voice broke and his first instinct was to turn to the friend who had walked him through life since their MMC days. 'JC.... Oh, shit, JC? Is it always this bad? 'Cause I'm scared.'

Josh disentangled himself from James, there on the couch, and got on the floor next to Justin, who was sniffling now. 'Hey. Hey. We're here for ya. And there's a lot about this that's scary. But there's somethin' scarier, and that's to lose the light. It doesn't have to be bad - it's, man, it can be so good.'

James too had joined the others on the floor, and wrapped Josh and Justin in a hug, his free arm pulling the others in as well. 'Just. All y'all. Just be true to yourselves, and that's what counts.'

Jake and I were walking back from dinner. We'd long since finished discussing the current situation, and assuring ourselves that Jake really was cool with my bombshell ('Damn if I'd ever thought, but hell, Custis, we go back so far ain't hardly a bump in the road to me....' Bless him); now we were reminiscing as you'd expect. 'Damn,' Jake laughed, 'the look on his face was priceless! I just wish I could have told you at the time.'

'Sergeant, I knew it at the time. Sort of officer you think I was, anyway? Only downside was, I think I was home 'bout three months 'fore I finally stopped spitting Iraqi sand....'

AJ, looking perfectly recognizable and perfectly ridiculous wearing an ineffective disguise of a Yankees cap and mirrored shades (in the lobby at 2300 hours? Right. Really impenetrable and inconspicuous disguise), sidled over to us as we entered.

'You want to talk at me, son?'

AJ nodded.

'All right.' We went up to my suite. I sat him down, tossed him a beer, fixed myself a brandy, and tried to dismiss Jake, who - back in bodyguard mode - simply ignored me. 'OK, son. Shoot.'

'I hate you,' AJ smiled.

'Shit,' I chuckled, 'you bet with Joey too?'

'Naw. Just pissed. You made me look at myself, and I didn't like what I saw.

'Maj- um, Custis. Lookit. You were right. I've had gay friends. I'm cool with that, cool with the whole thing, Mister Free Spirit - and then, bam, it comes to roost and I freak. OK, so it weirds me out to find out this way and this hard and all at once, and it's, like, suddenly I wonder whether we are brothers, we been hidin' so much so long.... But still. Fuck. I can't believe I acted like that. You're the wise old adult - so, what the fuck is wrong with me, to make me blow up that way?'

'I think you've pretty much answered that question whilst you were asking it. It's mostly about trust and security, and maybe a little about careers and a wee teense about "they been checking me out in the showers or what?".' AJ grinned. I went on. 'But mainly it's about trust, security, familiar landmarks and dynamics suddenly gone unfamiliar on you. It's disorientating. But when - not if: when, and you'll be surprised how quickly - when these are rebuilt, they'll be on a better foundation than the mere sand they were on, because it'll all be built on the whole truth this time. "Mighty is Truth, and shall prevail." You read me, mister?'

AJ flipped a floppy, civilian's idea of a salute. Jake shook his head and sighed.

'Thanks, Custis.' AJ got up and drained his beer. 'Oh, yeah. Kev wanted to see you. Want me to get him?'

I looked longingly at the bed I was obviously not destined for till God knows when. 'Send him in. Oh, and AJ? Get an Orioles cap. And never wear a lid indoors.'

The others looked at Kevin as he and AJ departed, AJ for his suite, Kevin for Custis's. 'Kevin,' James said, 'if we're buggin' you -'

'Nope. Just want to talk to Custis about things. Then do a bed check, see if Joey and Chris got back - or got lucky.' They all laughed.

When Kevin had gone, Nick, Howie, Justin, Josh, and James started a round of yawning. The floor was getting uncomfortable, too. Josh and James exchanged a glance. 'Who wants to stay?' James asked.

The other three exchanged glances. 'Slumber party, girls,' quipped Howie.

'Why not. C'mon.' Josh leapt up, and pulled his lover to him. After a quick smooch, he grinned at them over James's shoulder. 'What's officially Lance's bed can probably handle two short, stocky guys and a beanpole.'

'Hey,' Nick said. 'Drop the weight thing, pal.' Josh apologized: he'd forgotten Nicky was a bit sensitive about that these days.

Howie thought his chest would explode with sheer satisfaction as he looked up at the ceiling, his arms outspread on James's bedspread, with Nick snuggled in on one side and Justin on the other. He could feel them relaxing into him. There was no real sexual charge, not right then, but the room was awash in affection. He looked over to the next bed, where Josh and James, the 'JC and Lance' of millions of fantasies, were spooned together in their unutterably cute 'company' jammies, James holding Josh with a familiarity that tugged at his heartstrings.

'OK,' said Howie. 'We all know about knowing, 'bout comin' out to yourself. But.... How did you guys know, recognize each other, figure out you were in love -'

'How did you ...' Nick asked softly, 'how'd you have the balls to make a move?'

Kevin sank wearily into an armchair. I offered him a drink.

'Better not,' he said. He was exhausted, but seemed more at peace than he had earlier. 'Sorry to be pesterin' you, s- uh, Custis.'

'Christ, Kevin, am I that old that every damn one of you wants to give me a title?' We laughed.

'Hey,' he said, 'I know what it's like. And I tell you what, it's nice to have a father figure to come to for a change.'

We were silent for a moment.

'Am I that already?'

'Yep. To me. I think to all of us. And it is so damn good to have that feeling.'

'Especially for you. It's hard being a single parent. JC and Lance - or rather, Josh and James - have it easier.'

'Because they're together?'

'Not per se. Because they have the two of them to do and bear what you have to do and bear alone. And I imagine you can't quite see having Kristen along to help, which is a pity, but even the announcement of your engagement broke millions of girls's hearts - and no doubt more than a few guys's. No doubt your appalling handlers have had their comments on that.... But while I am here, I am always around to help.'

Kevin choked up a little. 'Thank you. Thank you so much. You've saved us already, I think. Much as we can be saved....'


'I'm sorry.' His voice was ragged with long strain. 'I just.... At least we're not breakin' up over this. This way we can always be friends.'

'But why would y'all be breaking up, bar that?'

'Oh, c'mon, Custis. We're yesterday's news. We're too old, too bland, we've got hot new bands closer in age to our demographics on our heels -'

'And your point is? Kev. Listen to me. Bubblegum -' he winced, but I'm just a blunt old soldier - 'bubblegum is so much less than what y'all are capable of. I haven't been a fan, but, son, I've done my homework. There is actual talent there. And y'all're the ones whose mission statement on the official website talks fluff about moving in new directions and reaching fans of all ages and that happy horseshit.

'Yes, y'all could break up. You and Bri may want to produce or manage or what have you, but both of you would make good crossover candidates, and you, with a shave and a style change, could be a hat act. Bluegrass to Western swing.... But. I'd hate to see y'all go off in different orbits, Lance and JC in Vegas -'

We both laughed.

'Or Provincetown and Fire Island, as Howie said,' I went on. 'Or - God forbid - Joey, Chris, and AJ on Broadway?'

Kevin had a great laugh and a great smile. I thought what a shame it was so few ever saw them. I got up and walked over to the packages holding the results of my afternoon's shopping. 'Here,' I said.

He looked into the package. CDs and sheet music and fake-books.


'Think about it. Joey's dad's group is still getting royalties. They've had more years of air time than y'all put together have had months. Sure, Frankie Avalon was a flash in the pan. But look at Smokey Robinson, or the Commodores, including Lionel as a solo act: the Inkspots, the Mills Brothers, the Tams, the Drifters - guys who moved beyond bubblegum - have lasted. Add that to your experience that will allow you entree into the business side, the prospect of years of appearances, a position twenty years from now as oldies legends if you just transcend your current rut - it does feel like a rut, does it not? I thought so - and ask yourselves, all of you, which path you want to follow: the Monkees? Or the Beach Boys?'

Whilst Kevin and Custis talked, and evolved a surprise, the healing continued in James's and Josh's suite.

'How did we have the balls to get together, Nick?' Josh smiled. 'Well, thank Old Bull-balls Lansten behind me here.'

James slapped him, lightly, then kissed it away. Justin snuggled in closer to Howie and threw an arm across him to caress Nick. It all felt so right, at last. 'Yeah, we all know Poofu's hung like a horse. But how -'

James, whose blush almost backlit Josh as he held him, chuckled. 'Well, it started when....'

It all started for Joshua Scott Chasez and James Lance Bass some years before, after North America had begun to embrace the boybands the way Europe had done.

JC muffled his sobs into his pillow. Another city, another hotel, but every pillowcase in North America tasted the same damn way, of cotton and starch. If only he could talk to someone, even cry on someone's shoulder.... But that was the whole fucking problem, right? The Mommies? They'd freak. Especially ... well. And let one of the guys see? He couldn't. He just couldn't. Joey and Chris wouldn't understand. Who would? And Lansten - he could never, ever, reveal this to him. It would destroy everything.

Justin.... Justin looked up to him. Justin relied on him. No way could he destroy that faith. He had to be strong, somehow. But God, it was too much to bear alone. Well, duh - that was the whole problem after all wasn't it - wasn't it? Shit. This was so fucking unfair....

Whaaa'? Shit. Shit. He finally gets to sleep and it's break-fuckin'-fast time? Does God hate him or what?

Stumbling back out of the shower, throwing on whatever is around, dragging ass down to the Mommies' room. Lynn and Mrs B. Smile. Act nice. Act normal. Yeah right. Normal would solve everything, but that ain't gonna happen. Make sure no one has any idea. Stay cool. Disconnect....

Yeah. Disconnect from that? Even looking like a grumpy five year old woken way too early on the first day of school, Lansten made his heart lurch. That goofball smile. Those eyes. That smolder when he was doing the Mona Lisa look. Jeez. No way, no way could he explain throwing wood at the breakfast table in front of the Mommies. Think of something else. Sister John Baptist whacking his knuckles with that damn ruler. Anything.

'JC? JC!'

'Huh? Ma'am?'

'JC, you need to pay attention. "There is no 'I' in ' 'N Sync,'" dear.'

'It's my fault.'


'Mama, it's my fault. OK?' Oh shit, he knows! Josh you are such a fucking loser dumbshit, he's figured it out! We are sooooo fucked -. 'I don't know why, but ... JC, man, what have I ever done to you to make you treat me this way? I know Chris resents me being here, even existing, I'm not the one who should have had this job, right, Chris? But I never meant to cause that problem, any more'n I want to cause this one. But we snap at each other, we go around at each other's throats all the time, you sit there with hate on your face starin' at me like a tree full of owls....' Oh my God. No. No. Don't you see, Lance? I have to push you away because, because if I don't I won't be able to control myself, you make the back of my fucking knees feel loose just by walking into a freaking room, man.... 'Whatever it is, I'm sorry, I am so goshdarn sorry....' Oh God take this pain away from us both, he's crying, his voice is shaking, his hands ... God I just want to hold those hands and kiss his tears away ... Blessed Virgin Mother, please! I can't stand seeing him cry, and my whole chest hurts that I'm doing this to him.... 'We've got four great guys here that people love, guys who work together so well, and one dime a dozen bass singer no one ... no one would miss ... basses are pretty interchangeable. So. There is no "I" in 'N Sync, and there's not going to be a me, either. N-not if I do this to y'all just by being here. Mama, Miz Lynn, y'all excuse me from the table please. I'm going to go pack.'

Everyone is babbling, Christ, it's like I dunno - Lance, I've got to find Lance, I have to.... Mrs B is freaking - good girl Lynn, you tell her, Lance and I have to work this out ourselves, keep 'em all in there.... Fuck, he's not in his room.... Elevator. Lobby. He can't have left.... Back stairs....

Lance. 'LANCE!'

'JC, I, I meant it, I'm sorry, whatever it is, I'm - oh God, JC, please - don't hit me, OK? I don't want to fight with you, I can't fight with you -'

'Go ahead. Punch me out. I deserve it. I never wanted to hurt you, Lansten, never. I just - I....'

'You what? You just what?!? Huh? Do you know how you've made me feel for months? Do you?'

'Do you know how you've made me feel? I'm gonna say this once, then you punch me, then I leave, OK? No one will want me around anyway - oh God this is gonna tear Curly up, but I can't fuckin' take anymore! I've had two fuckin' choices for months, OK, push you away, pretend to everyone but myself we're barely friends, or ruin five lives, especially yours, by, by, damn it, by doing what I'm going to do right now after which you can beat the crap outta me an' at least I'll have known one time what it's fuckin' like!'

Oh. My. GOD. At least - talk about dying happy. It'll be worth it when he kicks my ass. I am finally kissing my Lansten ... oh Jesus he feels so right, he tastes, my God, he tastes like love and candy, shit that sounds lame but it's true, I guess this is what love does to you, and he feels so firm and taut and hot and oh Lord I'm about to ... my God he's, he's, he's kissing me back, I think my heart's about to come outta my chest and fine he can have it God damn he's got a grip my God Almighty he's hugging me back and is that thing for real? Jesus Christ he's huge and it's humping mine and shiiiiiiiiit.... 'Lansten, oh God, Lansten, I'm, I'm -'

'JC, oh, ah, babe, I'm about to -'

Oh fuuuuck ... that ... that ... can't stand, can't fuckin' breathe.... I have never come that hard in my life.


'J- JC.... I, I, oh God man I am so sorry, I didn't mean to-'

'I did. Don't you get it? I wanted this. You. Damn it, Lansten, I have been crying myself to sleep for months because I wanted you so bad and because ... because ... it's not just wanting you. James Lance Bass, I love you. I'll go now, but at least I've had this one chance-'


'Lance? Don't you think I really mean-'

'Yes I do. And that's why I, um, swore. Sorry. But you ain't going anywhere, Joshua Scott Chasez. Or if you do, I'm going with you. I have been in love with you since I first saw you. I know, massive cheese, but I can't help that, it's true. If somebody'd had the sense to room us together months ago, there'd have been two sets of soppin' pillows come morning....'

'Or one set of damp sheets.'

'You are baaaaaad. Kiss me again. Let me hold you. I just want to do that from here on out. Please?'

'Oh, Lansten, babe, my man. My man. You are such a romantic.'

God. Sapphire and jade, locked together, and the whole world shining with a jeweled light - did I just accuse Poofu of being the romantic?

'Me? You're the one who managed to have our first time out by a hotel dumpster, hottie.'

Oh shit. Some romantic I am - but God he is so irresistible when he laughs. And ... ooooh, yeah. God he's even a better kisser than the first time....


'Mmm. Yes, lover?'

'Oh. Wow. Uh....'

'D- do you want to be ... I mean ....'

'I love you, Josh. Hell yeah I want to be yours. Your boyfriend, your man, your lover....'

'Oh God, thank you - James. Forget the Lance and JC that everyone has a piece of, who we gotta be - fuck all that shit. Please, James, yes, be my love. Please.'

'For- f-'

'Forever. Yes.'

Oh man I am the happiest, the luckiest - uh-oh.

'Hey, boys.'

Oh shit. 'Jake! I, um, we, uh-'

'Your mamas don't pay me. I guard y'all, remember. I'll tell 'em you're ... working through your problems. And had best room together until you do. I suggest y'all get on up to one of y'all's rooms and, um, clean up. I'll make sure you're not disturbed until about one this afternoon.'

Breathe, Josh, breathe. It's going to be cool. 'Jake. Man. I mean-'

'He means thanks. C'mon, sweetie. I wanna say that while I can, before we put the masks back on. Right now, let's, um, go work through things.....'

'Rrrowl, tiger.' Man, what a guy....

Kevin rose from his chair, with a real smile that seemed to surprise even him.

'Custis, this is brilliant. God must have -'

'Don't you dare -'

He snickered. 'Humble as well as cute. What I was going to say was, God must have sent, not "spent," you to us.' We shook hands as I thanked him, and he turned to go. At the door, he said, 'You weren't freaked when JC and Lance dropped the mask the first time. Because you're gay, or what?'

'Not because I'm gay, exactly, except insofar as that was how I just knew they were, and were a couple - and a damn cute one, too. Point is, it was no surprise - and even if they'd not forgotten where they were, and hadn't shown affection in front of me, my research would have removed any surprise before I met with all y'all.'


'Kev. I'm not talking about 'Net speculations and rumors. But - son, for the love of God. Even in the publicity stills, where the suits are herding them like sheep and sweating every possible angle, who're always together, who are always touching, not explicitly, but touching nonetheless, who're in each other's personal space every time? A hand, an arm, a lap even, sharing a coat? When every 'N Syncer but one is looking in one direction, who is looking at a bandmate? Josh looking at Lance while the others stare out of the frame, James looking at JC as JC and the rest look offstage? And then the Merry Christmas Happy Holidays video, the unscripted hug at the end of Music of My Heart? Their love is so obvious it lights the sky, Kev. You can't hide that under a bushel basket, suits and spin doctors notwithstanding.'

Chris and Joey were back at their room, as was Brian in his. Brian was on the phone to Leigh Anne; Chris and Joey were having the slightly buzzed bull session any two guys their age would be having.

'Yo. Joe.'


'You ... you really trust the Major? I mean, what he knows, he's kinda got all of us by the balls, man.'

'Chris. Man, the thing is, you see, but you don't notice. You sure you were a psych major?'

'Fuck you, Fatone.'

'Naw. I'll pass.'

'Yeah, gas: you fart one more time and I'm smothering you with a pillow.'

'Better have Kryptonite in it, little guy. Anyways, point is - I know, everybody thinks, "Joey, big dumb Joe, fun guy but no smarts." But I see things. And I'm always noticin'. Why I win these bets. Major's cool. And it's his ticket as a lawyer, too, he runs at the mouth. But he wouldn't anyways. An' not just 'cause he's in the closet too; 's because he's just made to be honest, built to be.'

'Why'd he have to stay in the closet anyhow? Not like his livin' depends on being a poster in every teenie's room.'

'No, but it depends on being taken serious. Maybe in England it would work, but you think anybody'd take a gay military historian serious?'

'Oh. Guess he's over the barrel too.'

'Yeah. But it's what I said. He's the sorta guy, wouldn't matter anyways, 'cause he don't know how to play except fair. Good guy. You watch.'

'Hope you're right.'

'Wanna bet?'

'Aw, shut the fuck up and go to sleep. And Joe - no fartin' in bed!'

There was silence for a moment over in James's and Josh's room. They were lost in memories. Justin, Sweet D, and Nicky were dealing with feelings of their own.

When Justin spoke, his voice was husky. 'Man, that was....'

James stammered a bit: 'W-well, um, Josh, er-'

'Sorry guys. I guess I told more than I meant to.' Josh had managed to embarrass himself.

James licked his ear to show he wasn't upset. The others sighed.

'Nooo,' Nicky mused. 'Just hope it's as good when, if, well, ya know, findin' someone finally.'

'You ... you didn't know how Lance was gonna take it?' asked Howie.

'Shit,' said Josh. 'I thought I did know: figured I'd be pickin' up my teeth for a week. I just couldn't not try.'

'I have trouble readin' Southern guys,' Howie said.

'Hey,' Nick said, 'Florida's the South.' Just and James both snickered.

'Not really,' said Howie. 'Not our part: it's like Omaha an' San Juan and New York put together. What I mean - well, like the Major. He's so damn nice and so damn tough at the same time I'da never known he was a chupaverga like us, he hadn't spoke up. That's why I always ignored the shit about Lance everyone gossips about. He's bigger'n he looks - I did not mean it that way: shut the fuck up, guys - and two octaves below me and I thought maybe the rest was just all manners and magnolias. I mean, and Lance, tell me if I'm outta line sayin' this, but except that Rosie segment I never saw you as effeminate at all.'

'Fuck,' Josh chuckled, 'James can't be gay anyway, gay guys can dance - ow! Bitch.'

'Yeah, bitch,' James said sweetly. 'My bitch, you are, and don't you forget it.'

They laughed. Justin raised one last question before they drifted off, though. 'I never thought Lansten was a fem either, but I'm having a little trouble thinking of him as, um, you know....'

'The top?' Josh giggled.

'Um, well, yeah.'

Lance pried his tongue out of Josh's ear to answer. 'Hey, Josh and I - equals in everything, I mean ... it's not about turns or keeping score or power trips. He knows he can fuck my bootie anytime he wants, and sometimes I wish that were more often than it is. (No, honey, it's OK, I'm not pissed - c'mon....) It's all about each other's needs.'

'And if I've been neglecting you, lover, I'm sorry.'

'Hey, sometimes I don't communicate, hon, it's not your fault. Anyway -'

'Anyway,' said Josh with an audible smile as he turned out the lights, 'once you get used to that firehose it's hard to give it up.'

'Oh, shit,' Justin groaned, 'that one was too much information! TM fuckin' I....'

'Night, boys. We'll keep it down,' James laughed. 'You guys hold down the threesome noise too-'

Nick had pretty good night vision, judging from the bull's-eye he got with the pillow just then.

'Who else do you see?'

I looked steadily at Kevin. 'Well, I wouldn't be altogether shocked if Nick found Howie a pretty good substitute for his crush on you.'

Kevin nodded, with some relief. Then his face changed. 'Oh, shit, though. That leaves Justin as a wild card, or third wheel, or something. That poor kid....'

'I know. But - sure, it's easier for a couple within the same band. But surely someone of Justin's stature will find what he's looking for.'

'Mmhm. Maybe you?'

My jaw dropped. 'The stress is getting to you,' I said. 'That's simply -'

'Custis. Relax. Don't you find Just attractive?'

'Doesn't everyone? Sort of the point. He's just a child, for starters, and regardless of the fact that by next year I doubt I'll ever see any of you again -'

'Like hell,' Kevin grinned, 'you're our friend now. Family.'

'Well, thank you. Still, even if I were capable of thinking of Justin in that way - which as a "friend" and as "family" I can't, anymore than you could Nicky - and leaving aside the ethical fact that he's technically a client, fact still remains he's young enough literally to be my son, and he's so far out of my league -'

'Christ, Custis, look in the mirror! If I weren't promised - I mean ... damn, dude, nine years ago, before I remade my commitments and finished my explorin' ... we'd be screwing like rabbits now if I could get you to!' He paused and studied me critically as I blushed. 'Man,' he said softly, 'you need to see what the rest of us see. Whoever he is - 'cause it's blazing clear, Custis - whoever has your heart.... It's none of us, I guess?'

I shook my head. It wasn't.

'Is he gay? And single? And a friend?'

I nodded.

'And you won't approach him because - why?'

I couldn't speak.

Kevin came over to me and lifted my chin, gazing deep into my eyes. 'Custis, you turned us all around in, like, twelve hours. Let us help you right back. You are a great - and hot - guy. No one is out of your league, and - assuming he's street legal? 'Kay. I figured he was: you're far too decent for the other - then, age and whatever don't matter. I mean, shit, you look like you're in your twenties, trust me. I'd be more concerned 'bout whether he could ever measure up to you, 'cause you are special, man. Special. And I can tell you think he is also special - what's his name?'

'Lucien,' I choked out. 'Luke to most folks.'

'Well, Custis, please - we want to return your help. We owe you so much. Anything we can do.... I hope he's worth it.'

'He is. He would be -'

'Will be,' corrected Kevin. 'Just - don't break Justin's heart, if, if it turns out he falls for you.'

'Never.' And, as I thought to myself, as if that were possible.

'I know. 'Night, Custis.'

I shut the door, and crawled miserably into bed.

Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Where will Cupid strike next? Will the Major ever find true love? Will the Red Sox ever break the Curse of the Bambino? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the America First Committee. We now return you to our broadcast studios and Lowell Thomas with the news.