DISCLAIMER: The story that follows is a work of fiction. Some characters may be based on real people, but this story should not be considered accurate or truthful representations of any actual person. This story is not intended to reflect the behavior, work habits, personal hygiene, sexual proclivities, or preferred pizza toppings of any real person, living or dead.

WARNING: This story deals with homosexual themes. If this offends you, read no further. If accessing this story causes you break any laws applicable in your area, read no further. If you are under 18 years of age, read no further. If you are looking for 1) a Latin prefix meaning "again"; 2) a three-letter word for brown; 3) a preposition to show possession, origin or material; and 4) a nickname alien creatures may use for the inhabitants of this planet: re-, dun, of, Earther. Arnt fonix grate?

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Part 16 - Saturday Night

The phone rang when I was going through my hastily written score one last time before making copies. Jumping up and heading into the studio office, I got it on the fourth ring.

"Hello?" I asked into the receiver.

"Ben," Mike's voice said, "I thought you might be in there. Working on the songs?"

"I was," I told my brother. "I just finished. We can play them after dinner."

"Which is ready now," Mike interrupted. "Do you know what time it is?"

I glanced at my watch. 7pm it said. I'd been in the studio for almost three hours, ever since I'd finished the rooms on the second floor and helped Ethan to begin the laundry. Laundry was really supposed to be my job, but Ethan had said he'd do it so I could work on the music. Three hours alone in a room was a long time, but it hadn't seemed so long to me. I'd had time to get "Show Me the Meaning" done as well as clean up the scores of the other two songs.

"Ben," Mike started talking again, "before you come in, swing by the studio and bring Kevin and the others with you. They're still working, and I don't want to interrupt them with a phone call."

"Oh, you'd rather let me interrupt them by knocking on the door, huh?"

"Exactly," he said, the smile almost audible in his voice. The phone clicked as he hung up.


Grabbing my handwritten score pages, I stepped out into the hallway. Turning right, away from the offices, I reached the door into the other studio's control booth in just a few steps. The blinds were open and the lights were on, but no one was inside. But through the pane of glass in the other door, I could see three men around the Bösendorfer baby grand in the studio itself.

With no one in the booth, I knew they weren't recording, so I tapped on the glass. Three heads turned my direction, and I could make out Kevin at the keyboard and Dave and Howie standing over him. Howie smiled at me and waved me in. I turned the knob and stepped into the room.

The big studio was a large room. The room itself was sixty by sixty, with three levels in the flooring. The middle level was a twenty-feet-wide, L-shaped strip, on the same level as the hallway and the rest of the first floor. Outside this L was another L-shape, twenty feet wide and one step higher. Along the east wall, a ten-foot-wide swath of this highest level was occupied by six soloist booths. In the center of the middle L—off to my right as I came in the door—was a twenty-by-twenty square, one step lower and against the control booth..

The room was intended to hold large bands or small orchestras, but only once had we ever had clients even remotely large enough to fill it: a small orchestra from the university in Commerce had driven down one day to make some recordings here. We hadn't made much money—Dad had practically donated the time—but it had made him happy to have the room full of people.

This was the room that scared Dad the most. He'd felt we'd need accomodations like this to compete with other professional studios, but the cost of building it had been daunting. Until it was paid for, every day it went unused was costing us money, and because of our remoteness it was empty a lot. But, considering what Dad had said that afternoon about how much we were making from the Firm, maybe that wouldn't be a problem for much longer.


"Hey, Ben," Howie said. "Come to listen?"

"No, actually I came to bring you to dinner," I said.

"I should eat later," Kevin said, not looking up from the keyboard. "I gotta get this down."

"No, you need a break, Kevin," Dave said. "This will still be here after dinner."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Kevin said. He sounded a little disgusted.

"Is everything okay?" I asked, hoping I wasn't butting in.

Dave opened his mouth to say something when Kevin looked at me and said, "Ben, would you listen to this? I want to see if you have any advice."

"Uh, sure," I said. I stood along the curve of the piano, next to Howie, and said, "Let's hear it."

Kevin began to play the intro. It was sweet—a few simple chords underneath a charming little melody, very Christmas-y. He did a pretty good job, but something didn't sound quite right. Before he finished the few bars, I'd set the paper down onto the piano and stepped around Howie to stand at Kevin's right shoulder. "Let me hear it again," I said.

He played the short piece again. This time I watched his hands, his wrists, his shoulders. When he finished the second time, he looked up at me.

"You're trying too hard," I said. Both Dave and Howie laughed a little, and Kevin let out a good-natured growl. "What?" I asked, confused.

"I've been telling him that exact same thing for almost an hour," Dave said.

"And it doesn't help!" Kevin said.

"Okay," I said, "let me show you something." I gestured that I wanted to sit at the keyboard, and Kevin stood to let me. Once I was settled in, I looked at the sheet music and started playing what I'd just heard Kevin play.

"Aw, crap," he said, "you're already playing it better than I do."

"But, Kevin, you can sing and dance and charm women out of their underwear," I smiled at him. "All I do is play the piano."

"So, what are you doing that I'm not doing?" he asked.

I finished and turned to look at him. "You're playing the notes just fine, but not the music." He shook his head slightly: he must have heard this before to. I looked for another way to explain it. "Think of it like dancing. You don't just stand this way..."—I raised my arms stiffly and froze, then moved them a couple of times, freezing in each position—"and then this way and then this. Dancing is about the way you move from one position to another."

I began playing the piece again, this time playing woodenly, like I'd heard Kevin do. "Music is the same way. You have to get the right notes, but the music is also in how you get from note to note, how you move through the phrase." I switched my playing to be more fluid, more melodic. Then I stopped and stood up. "Now, play it again. But this time don't play C-F-G-B-C. Play the phrase." I reached over his shoulder to demonstrate again.

Kevin started playing again. It was a little more melodic but still kind of stiff. "Relax, Kevin. Don't worry so much about individual notes—you've got those down. Now relax and play the phrases."

He did seem to relax a bit. At least his playing improved a little: it became more like music. "See," Dave said, "it's better already. A couple more times and you'll have this down."

When Kevin finished, he looked at me. This time he was smiling. "Thanks, Ben."

"No problem, bud," I smiled back. "Just stay relaxed and be musical."

"And thanks for the dancing metaphor," Dave said. "I think I can get a lot of use out of that."

"Actually that's one of Mom's," I admitted. "She used that a lot with me when she was teaching me to play. I've used it on people and it seems to help. If it doesn't, there's always Plan B."

"Plan B?" Dave asked.

"Get 'em drunk," I said. "The phrasing doesn't always improve, but they sure as Hell don't worry about the individual notes as much."

We laughed. "C'mon," Howie said, "let's get some dinner."


I grabbed my sheet music and we headed down the hall. "Y'know," Kevin began, "this would be easier if Ben just played the intro instead of me." I looked over to see him smiling at me. On his other side, Howie was smiling too.

"Well, I don't think we can do that," Dave said slowly. "Don't get me wrong, Ben. You're really good. But you're not under contract to the Firm."

"We could get a contract," Kevin said. "We've done this before."

"Yeah," Howie added his support. "Remember when John cracked his thumb last spring and we had to get a stand-in for three shows."

"But, Ben, are you union?" Dave asked.

I shook my head. "No, I'm not." I'd forgotten all about the musician's unions. "But it doesn't matter," I went on, "because I don't really want to play the intro. Kevin's gonna do just fine."

By then we were at the office. The others turned toward the dining room, but I told them I was gonna copy the music before I came in. I flipped the power switch on the copier. I thought I was alone, but as I waited for the copier to warm up, I heard Kevin behind me.

"Ben, I really do wish you could play on the song."

I turned and looked at him. "It'd be fun to play on an album," I said, "but it's not gonna happen. You're gonna do a great job."

Kevin didn't reply right away. Instead he looked down at the floor and paused a second before speaking, "I know I haven't been really nice to you the last few days. I'm really sorry I judged you like I did."

"You were protecting Brian," I argued. "Like I said last night, I'd have done the same thing."

"Still, though, you're a great guy, and I shouldn't have been so mean to you."

"Kevin, you don't have to keep saying that. As far as I'm concerned, everything's okay between us."

He smiled—I'd forgotten what a great smile he had. Behind me the copier made a little beep, telling me it was ready. Turning away from Kevin, I put the pages in the hopper and pressed the buttons to make it collate the three copies. "So, are you gonna have to work a long time after dinner?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he said. " 'depends how long it takes me to get this right. Besides, Dave made a few changes to the other song this afternoon and he wants all of us to hear it."

I had an idea. I turned back toward him and asked "What about tomorrow?"

"I don't know," he said. "I don't think we have anything to do, although I think Brian wants to go to church in the morning."

"You going with him?"

"Probably." He didn't sound sure. "Normally it's better if we don't go places in groups—fewer people recognize us that way—but I don't think Brian wants to go by himself."

"Get Robby to take you," I suggested before smiling. "We're all good Catholic boys, but Melissa's Baptist and Robby's been to her church a few times. And, knowing Robby, he knows all the exits to the building."

Kevin smiled. "Good idea. Thanks."

"But tomorrow afternoon," I said, returning to my idea, "you wanna go horseback riding again. It's supposed to be sunny and a little warmer than today."

"Sure, we can invite the others to go too."

"Well, some of the others anyway. We don't have enough horses for everyone."

Kevin laughed. "Don't worry about that. You'll never get Howie or AJ on horseback."

"But Stacey told me that was what she and AJ had planned before it rained this afternoon."

"AJ! On a horse!" Kevin laughed. "It must be love!"


Judging by the size of the spread in the dining room, Mike must have thought everyone ate as much as he and Nick did. And it was a good thing that Mom had helped him out—on his own, Mike would have absolutely trashed the kitchen making that much food.

Drinks, large aluminum plates and a stack of partially baked 14-inch pizza crusts were on the sidebar with a pot of Mom's extra thick sauce. Down the center of the dining table was an array of plates and bowls full of all kinds of pizza toppings: five kinds of meat; four kinds of grated cheese; black and green olives; green, red and yellow bell peppers, anchovies, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, pineapple—whatever you could think of. Rather, whatever Mike could have thought of, and he was a pretty imaginative eater. I halfway expected to find a jar of peanut butter with everything else.

The pizza party was a pretty simple idea. Everyone put a crust on a plate, covered it with whatever they wanted, and then toasted it in the oven.

Dinner tonight had spread out into three rooms. Mom was sitting at one corner of the dining table, talking to Ed, Brian and Howie. Dad sat nearby talking to Ms. Shaw and Dave. Through the opening to the game room, I could see AJ, Stacey, Ethan and Robby sitting in front of the big screen TV. AJ and Ethan were playing some computer game while their pizza got cold. The doors to the kitchen were open, and inside Mike and Nick were eating at the island. Nick was sitting on a stool, but Mike was standing so that he could see into the oven. Everyone but Dad, Dave and Howie had a pizza in front of them.

"C'mon," I said to Kevin, "this is making me hungry." I led him to the sidebar, handed him a plate and took one myself.

"This is pretty cool," Kevin said, eyeing the food down the table.

"Yeah, we do this about once a month," I told him, "though we don't usually need this much food just for us. In college, Ethan and I shared a house off-campus for a year. We used to have these parties where we made crust and sauce and everyone we invited had to bring one ingredient. Everyone thought we were geniuses."

"But," Mike said from the kitchen door, "what they didn't know was that these two spent maybe a dollar a person for flour and tomato sauce and kept all the other ingredients after the party. Then they'd make pizza for days with food other people paid for."

Kevin laughed as he spooned sauce onto his crust. "Sounds like a genius idea to me."

Turning to the table, Mike said a little more loudly, "Dad, your pizza's ready."

"What about mine?" Dave laughed. "After all, I'm the only one who had to work today."

Mike said "Hey!" and I pretended to cough while Kevin said, "Excuse me?" Dave just laughed some more.

Dad was about to get up when Nick brushed through the doorway past Mike and brought the pizza out to Dad. "It's not my fault," he said. "Mike's the one who burned it."

"Nickolas Gene Carter," my mother said, looking straight at Nick, "I thought we discussed this. Don't let the hair colour fool you: you're not my son and you don't have to work in the kitchen." She tried to sound firm, but she couldn't help herself from smiling at the end.

Nick just stared at her. "How'd you know my middle name?" he asked.

Mom's smile turned enigmatic. "Don't think my sons are the only ones in this house who can read a Web page," she said.

"Wow, that is burned!" Dave said about Dad's pizza.

"No, it's not," Mike defended himself. "He likes them like that."

"It's the only way to eat pizza," Dad said. "I guess I got used to burned food when I married Margie and now it's all I can eat." He was talking to Dave but strictly for Mom's benefit. He smiled in her direction as he teased her.

"Margaret," Ed added with a sly smile, "if Stephen doesn't appreciate your cooking, come back to Florida with me."

"What about us?" I asked.

"You come too," he continued the joke. "We'll form you into a band and outsell the Backstreet Boys."

While Kevin and Brian were saying "hey!" Robby laughed from the game room. "A blond, brother boy band!" he said. "Just what the world needs: Hanson with pubes." This got a smile from AJ and Ethan, but Mom diplomatically pretended she hadn't heard him.

"We don't have to go to Florida," she said to Ed, casting a glance at Dad. "We'll get rid of Stephen and you can run the studio."

"You won't get rid of me that easy," Dad joked back.

"Sure, we will," Mom went on. "Michael, poison his food."

"Consider it done," Mike said. "But when Ed becomes my new Dad, he has to buy me a Jeep."

It may have gone on a little after that, but my pizza was done so I headed into the kitchen to put it into the oven. Kevin was right behind me.


Dave and Howie's pizzas were done before Kevin's and mine. While we waited for them to brown, we stood in the kitchen and talked to Nick and Mike. Actually, Mike, Kevin and I did most of the talking—Nick mostly just ate.

"Nick, you're eating like we've been starving you all week," Kevin said.

"Yeah, for once Mike's not keeping up with you, bite for bite," I added.

Nick wiped a little string of melted cheese from his chin while he chewed then swallowed. "Mike's already had two."

"Two slices?"

"Two pizzas," Nick replied.

"TWO!" I said while Kevin laughed. "God, Mike, are you some kind of pig or something?"

"I'm not a pig..." Mike said indignantly.

"That leaves 'or something,'" Kevin said quietly.

He got a grin for me, but Mike ignored him and went on. "I had to sample everything, to see if it was good. It's part of my responsibility as a cook."

We laughed. "Had to come up with a new excuse, huh?" I asked. "It's about time: that 'I'm a growing boy' routine was getting old."

"I am a growing boy!"

"Well, careful there, growing boy, or you'll starting growing out." I poked him in the stomach.

"Hey," Brian said from the doorway, "is there room for one more pizza in the oven?"

"Sure," Mike said, "pass it here."

As Brian passed the aluminum plate with his pizza to my youngest brother, I glanced to see what toppings he'd used, partially out of simple curiosity and partially wondering if I'd be experiencing garlic and anchovy breath later that night. But there weren't any toppings: just crust, sauce and cheese.

"Brian, why didn't you put anything on your pizza?"

"I did," he said. "I put cheese."

Kevin and Nick laughed. "That's the way he eats pizza," Kevin said. "Cheese and nothing but cheese."

I shook my head. "What a waste!" Brian just grinned.


When our pizza were toasted and cut, Kevin and I joined Dad and Dave at the table. Mom was talking to Howie and Ethan at the other end of the table, and Ed was now on the couch, taking Robby on at the computer game and doing a pretty good job. Ms. Shaw was no where to be seen, but her plate was still on the table where she'd been sitting.

We arrived in the middle of a conversation, but Dave and Dad were discussing a fishing trip they were planning for Sunday afternoon. "No, it's not far," Dad was saying. "It just takes about forty-five minutes to get there."

"Then let's go right after breakfast," Dave suggested.

"Where are you going?" Kevin asked.

"Lake Fork," Dad said. "Ed and Dave asked me to take them fishing tomorrow. You wanna come?"

Kevin hesitated. "Actually, Brian and I are going to church in the morning."

Dad smiled at him. "Next time you're here then," he said simply. Turning to me, he added, "I guess there's no use in asking you."

I shook my head as I swallowed my mouthful of pizza. "None whatsoever," I said. "You might wannna ask Ethan though."

When we moved to Texas ten years ago, Dad was determined to teach us to love the outdoors. For a while there, he'd taken us camping, fishing or hunting at least twice a month. But those trips had slowed once he'd realized that we didn't love it as much as he had growing up here. None of us had liked hunting, although Mike had enjoyed spending a lot of time hunting animals with a camera. And fishing was just boring to us: only Ethan ever liked going fishing with Dad. I think it was the long periods of time spent being quiet that he liked, which was odd considering how quickly Ethan got bored with just about everything else.

"Maybe I should," Dad said, looking toward where Ethan sat in the game room.

"Maybe we should invite Phyllis too," Dave said.

"Invite Phyllis where?" Ms. Shaw said from the doorway into the hotel.

"Fishing tomorrow," Dave told her. "Stephen says there's a good lake nearby, and it's supposed to be a beautiful day."

"Well, I'm not much for fishing," she said, "but it'd be nice to spend a day outside and away from the phone. Count me in."

Dave laughed a little. "Of course, you'll have to leave your cell phone here too."

She smiled. "I think I can arrange to forget it when we leave." Turning to my father, she added, "What about Margaret? And Ed?"

"Ed's coming," Dave said.

"And I haven't asked Margaret yet," Dad finished. "She doesn't like fishing, but she might want to paint something at the lake, since it's supposed to be sunny."


I glanced toward Mom, but her chair was empty. Ed was back in his chair, sipping from his beer bottle and watching AJ and Robby play some different computer game. Howie and Ethan were in the game room too. Through the kitchen door behind me I heard Mom talking to Mike just before Nick appeared at my shoulder. He sat on my right, in what was normally Robby's chair.

"Mr. Corbyn?" he said quietly, getting my father's attention. "I hope you're not too mad at Robby for the joke he pulled this morning. It really wasn't a big deal."

Dad smiled at him. "I think I guessed that when it came up at lunch, but I appreciate you saying that, Nick."

"And, I know you don't want these practical jokes to go on," Nick went on, glacing for a second toward the game room before turning back to Dad, "but could I play just one trick on Robby, just to get even?" His voice was still quiet, but it had an almost whiny, pleading tone. Nick was laying it on thick.

Dad chuckled. Leaning a little toward Nick, he said softly, "As the guy who runs the studio, I can't tell you what you can and cannot do: you're not my son. And as Robby's father, I say 'Go for it." Just between you and me, I think it would be good for Robby to be on the receiving end for a change, especially since he can't retaliate."

A big grin crossed Nick's face, and everyone within earshot was smiling a little. Dad must have known we were all listening in. As I got up get another bottle of beer from the sidebar, he winked at me.

Mike was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Just after I got to the sidebar, Nick walked up to him. "What'd he say?" Mike asked.

"He said 'yes'," Nick answered.

"Cool," Mike said. "I'll go get it." Turning to me, he added, "Benji, come upstairs with me."


I sat on the corner of Mike's bed, drank my beer, and watched him search his room. So far he'd been through the drawers of the desk and now he was digging though a box of stuff at the bottom of his closet.

"Mikey, what are you looking for?"

"Hold on," he said. "I'll show it to you as soon as I... Yes! Here it is!" He jumped up and came over to sit next to me on the bed. He was holding a small box with a separate lid. Sliding the lid up, he held the box over for me and showed me that it contained a large, winged cockroach.

"Oh, God! That is disgusting!"

Mike laughed. "Doesn't it look real?"

"You mean it's not?" I took a closer look.

"No, the body is made of rubber, but the wings and antennae are made of brown cellophane. Listen." He poked a finger into the box and rubbed it. The cellophane made a crisp rustling sound. "It sounds real too."

"Where'd you get that?" I asked, poking the fake roach for myself.

"Spencer's," he said, naming his favourite novelty store in Dallas.

"Well, it won't matter how real it looks or sounds," I told him. "Robby's not afraid of bugs."

"Maybe not," Mike said, closing the box again. "But what if he finds this in his ice cream after dinner."

I smiled, considering the possibility. "How are you gonna do that?"

"I'm not," he said. "I'm just supplying the roach. Nick's gonna do the work."

"Well, let's get back downstairs," I said. "I wanna see this."


I started to stand up, but Mike stopped me. "Not yet. I want to ask you something." Something in his voice sounded serious, so I sat back down. Mike looked into my eyes for a few seconds before he asked, "How did you know you were gay?"

I hadn't even seen that question coming. We'd talked about this before, but it'd been a couple of years. Why was Mike asking about this now, this week? What did he really want to know? While I paused pondering all this, Mike's face began to register worry. I was taking too long, so I just answered him.

"Basketball games," I said.

He looked confused. "What?"

"Basketball games," I repeated. "At our basketball games in junior high, all my friends were checking out the cheerleaders while I was checking out the players' legs. That's simplistic, but that's pretty much when I first began to think about guys instead of girls."

"But you weren't sure until college, right?" he asked. "What took so long?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess maybe I didn't want it to be true, so I tried not to think about it. Then in college, I finally found some people who were out and not ashamed of it, so that made it more okay."

Mike looked at the floor. His shoulders fell a little, and I put my right arm around them."Mikey," I said softly, "what are you thinking about? Why are we talking about this?"

He turned to look at me again. "Nick kissed me last night," he said softly. I tried to keep the surprise off my face, but I don't know how successful I was. "We were upstairs playing Nintendo last night. Then I made some joke about him—I don't remember what—and he started wrestling with me and trying to tickle me. Then I was on my back with him over me. We were both laughing, and then we weren't: we were just staring at each other. Then he kissed me."

Mike paused here and stared hard at me, seemingly searching my face for either approval or disapproval. With my right arm, I hugged him to me. "Mikey, don't be afraid of this. It was just one kiss."

"No, it wasn't," he said. "When he pulled back, I kissed him. And we kept kissing—making out really—for about fifteen minutes."

I paused before asking, "Then?"

Mike looked at me again. "Then we talked. Nick said he liked me and he liked kissing me, but he knew I wasn't gay and he didn't want to force me to do anything."

"And what did you say?"

Mike's eyes were watery now and a little desperate as he looked at me. "I told him I liked kissing him, but I didn't think I wanted to do anything else."

"Then don't," I said simply. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, and it sounds like Nick respects that."

"But I do want to!" he exclaimed. "At least, I think I do. I liked kissing him, and I wanna do it some more."

"Then do it," I said. "You don't have to do anything, but you can do something if you want."

"But I don't want to be gay!" He started to cry a little, and I pulled him into a hug.

"I know that feeling, Baby Brother," I said softly. "But it's no good. If you are, then there's nothing you can do. And if you're not, that doesn't mean that you're not gonna be curious about guys. And lots of guys experiment with other guys and then are straight the rest of their lives."

Mike pulled back enough to look me in the eyes. "Really?"

"Yeah," I said. "It's not black and white, straight and gay like a lot of people try to make it. Even Nick is into men and women, isn't he?" Mike nodded. "Don't let fifteen minutes of kissing a guy ruin your life, Mikey."

"But what if I want to do more?"

"Then you can. But you don't have to. Anyway, you have to remember that whatever you do or don't do is not going to change who you are. You'll always be our baby brother and we're still going to love you and respect you and pick on you just like always."

He smiled at me and wiped his eyes. "Thanks, Benji," he said.


On the way back toward the kitchen, I asked him quietly, "So, do you know what you're going to do?"

"Not yet," he said. "Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. I guess I'll know when the time comes."

"Just be careful, okay?" I asked him. "If you need to talk or if you need something..."—I trusted that we both understood what I meant—"...then find me."

He looked at me for a second with a slight smile in his eyes, then said, "I will."


Back downstairs, everyone was done eating. Robby mentioned that he'd bought one pint each of everyone's favourite ice cream for dessert, but all he got in reply was moaning. Everyone was too full for dessert just then. So instead most of us sat around the table and talked. AJ, Stacey and Ethan watched as Robby and Kevin were playing in the game room now, and Mike and Nick had sequestered themselves in the kitchen. I heard sounds that seemed to be cleaning up, but I knew they were up to something with the phony cockroach too.

I was sitting in my usual seat, listening to Dad and the other plan their fishing trip, when Brian came and sat next to me. "Had enough to eat?" I grinned at him.

"Yeah," he said, "I love the food here. It's real food, y'know: not fancy cuisine, not fast food, not airplane cardboard with some kind of mystery gravy. I'm really gonna miss the food."

"Is that all you're gonna miss?" I teased him very quietly. I regretted saying it as soon as I saw his eyes dart around to see if anyone else had heard.

When he saw no one was paying any attention to us, he relaxed a little. "That's not all I'm gonna miss," he said just as quietly. "I'm gonna miss the bigscreen TV too." His grin was big now, and I returned it.

We heard a noisy celebration from the game room. Kevin had evidentally skunked Robby in some game and was celebrating. Everyone at the table was attracted to the noise. As Brian turned to look at his cousin good-naturedly taunting Robby just a little, I noticed his profile: the strong jawline, the high cheekbones, his relatively little ears. I remembered kissing his ears that morning, and I was sorely tempted to do it again. In fact, it was hard to keep my mouth off of his skin.

When Brian turned back to me, he was serious again. "Listen, Benji," he started—his eyes darted around again—"if you don't mind, I'm gonna sleep in my own room tonight."

I was disappointed but not surprised. "Brian, it doesn't matter whether I mind or not. Do what you need to do. I'll be okay." And I meant it. I would be okay. But I would also be disappointed—too disappointed, really. I'd have to think about why I felt that way. After all, as nice as it had been to sleep with Brian, he wasn't my boyfriend.

"Thanks for understanding," he said, interrupting my revery.

I looked at him. "I'm not really understanding," I told him. "How are you? Did your talk with Kevin help?"

"Yeah, it helped a lot," he said. We paused our conversation long enough for Brian to tell Mike that he didn't want any coffee as Mike circled the table with a freshly brewed pot. Once Mike had moved on, Brian went on. "I told Kevin how I felt and why. He understood mostly, but he also said I should take a little more time to be clear about things, which is pretty much what you said the other night."

"I think he's right," I told him. "This is big, and you shouldn't rush anything."

Brian smiled slightly. "I won't," he said, "but I have a lot to think about and pray about. There are things about this that I've thought of, and some that you or Kevin thought of, and there's probably a lot more things that haven't occurred to me. I just need some time."

"I understand," I said. I was trying to be the comforting, reassuring friend that Brian needed, but inside I was starting to be upset. And that, I decided, was because I didn't like seeing Brian upset. I could see how confused he was, and the big brother in me wanted to make it okay.

"I don't know about the rest of you," Robby said to the room as he walked past us, "but I'm ready for ice cream."


Mike and Nick stepped out of the kitchen. Quickly, Mike asked everyone whether they wanted ice cream and what kind they wanted. Most of us were still too full, but six people wanted ice cream. Mike returned with pints of Bluebell for Nick, Howie, Robby, Ed, and one for AJ and Stacey to share.

Beside me Brian said something about calling home and started to get up. I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back down. "Stay here," I whispered, "you're gonna want to see this." He didn't ask any questions, but he did glance from me to Mike, then from Nick to Robby. His eyes wide, he glanced at me with a little smile and settled into his chair.

Robby had taken his usual chair beside me and was really digging in to his Mint Chocolate Chip. Robby was mostly civilized, but he ate ice cream like a caveman would have if he'd had ice cream. Everytime he dug the spoon into the carton, he'd shovel away as big a heap as he could and shove it into his mouth, where it would melt before Robby inhaled it and went back for another spoonful.

Across the table, Stacey made some joke about how hard the ice cream had frozen, but I noticed Robby wasn't having any trouble. His pint was soft and creamy and perfect for eating.

Nick was still in the doorway to the kitchen, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Mike come back from the direction of the game room, with Kevin and Ethan behind him. Glancing around, I saw a lot of eyes unobtrusively watching Robby eat, and I wondered how many of them were in on the joke.

Robby shoved another spoonful into his mouth, then a confused look came over his face. Reaching up with his left hand, he touched his lips and pulled out a small, translucent, papery brown thing. Looking at it, his eyes grew wide before he looked down into the carton. From it, the wet head of a very real-looking cockroach with one wing remaining stared up at him.

"Aawwgh!" he yelled. He dropped the spoon onto the table and tried to jump back from the carton. But the hind legs of his chair stayed where they were, and instead of moving the chair just tipped backward. There was a heavy thud, and Robby was lying on his back on the floor, the chair still under him as if he were sitting.

"Robby, what's wrong?" Dad said, the concern in his voice sounding real but his wink to me and Brian giving his complicity away.

Robby floundered a bit getting out of the chair, but eventually he got to his knees beside the table. "There's a cockroach in my ice cream!"

"A cockroach!" some people repeated, trying to sound shocked.

"Yeah!" Robby was looking at the ice cream again. "And I put part of it in my mouth."

"What did it taste like?" AJ asked him.

"Yeah," Howie added, "did it taste like chicken? Everything else tastes like chicken."

"I didn't know Bluebell made cockroach-flavoured ice cream," Ed said.

"Well," Ethan chimed in, "ffirst Bben and Jerry's ddid it, so Bbluebell had to ccopy them."

There was a short pause while we waited for Robby to catch on. As the expression on his face told us he had, we started laughing one by one. Eventually, even Robby laughed. "All right," he said, "very funny, very funny. Who did this? Mike, was it you?"

Still laughing, Mike shook his head. "I just supplied the cockroach. It was Nick's idea."

"Nick!" Robby turned around to look at Nick beaming at him.

"Yeah, Nick," he said. "You know: the guy with the purple hair? I wanted to mess with your food; Mike suggested the cockroach, and I put it in there."

"How'd you get it in without disturbing the ice cream?" Ms. Shaw asked, still chuckling.

"I put the carton in a pan of warm water," Nick explained, "to soften the ice cream around the edges. I dumped the whole thing out into a bowl and buried the roach in from the bottom. Then I dumped it back in, poured in what had melted, and put it back into the freezer."

"Very nice!" Dad voiced his approval.

"How'd you make sure Robby got that one?" Kevin asked.

"We marked the carton," Mike said. "There's a little tear in the edge of the lid."

"Okay, you got me!" Robby was standing up now, and he extended his hand to Nick. "You got me good. Just wait until you see what I have for you!"

"No, no more jokes," Dad said. "You're one-all, and I say the game is over."


Just about everyone pitched in to help with the cleanup, so it got done pretty quickly. The engineers and the Boys headed into the small studio to listen to the latest changes Dave had made to the Whitney Houston track. I asked them whether she got to okay all the changes too, but Dave explained that her people had already approved the arrangement and the gross outline of the overall sound. As long as he stayed within the confines of the contract—who sang what, whose voice covered over whose, how much time she got alone in the song—he was free to make small changes here and there.

"But," Dave had explained, "I still want these guys to hear it. After all, they're our guys, and she's just some other label's soloist who happens to be far, far away." I got the idea that there was little love lost between Dave and Whitney Houston.

Ms. Shaw was in the studio too, but Howie told me later that she spent most of the time on the telephone to Orlando. Mom and Dad had gone upstairs right after dinner, though both had said they'd be back down later. Stacey, the little brothers, and I worked on the kitchen until it was spotless, then headed for the small studio.


We had time to set up Mike's trap set, tune Robby's guitar and Ethan's bass and even play through the three arrangements one time each before Brian, Howie, AJ, and Nick appeared from down the hall

"Okay," AJ announced loudly, "we can get to work. The stars have arrived!"

"AJ," Robby asked with a grin, "are your eyes really brown, or are you just that full of it?"

"Aw, c'mon," AJ said, "you know I'm not really that kind of jerk."

"What kind of jerk are you?" Mike asked innocently.

"My kind!" Stacey said. She was sitting on a stool beside the piano. Reaching out and grabbing AJ's shirt collar in her hands, she pulled him in and kissed him hard. I was a little jealous at not being able to do the same with Brian, even though I really wanted to. I glanced at him, but he was staring at the floor, his brow furroughed in thought.

"Now we can see what kind of breath control AJ has," Nick said.

"Bbut ccan he fflutter tongue?" Ethan said slyly.

"What's that?" somebody asked.

"Something fflute pplayers ddo," Ethan said, grinning toward Stacey. In the two years that she'd worked for my dad, Ethan and Stacey had playfully flirted with each other from time to time, but nothing had ever come of it. Ethan had told me privately once that Stacey wasn't really his type, which usually meant that she wasn't good-looking enough for my brother. And Stacey had told me once that she could never see getting involved with Ethan: he was too irresponsible for her to take him seriously

"So," Brian said, "what song are we gonna do first?"

"We just ran through 'Show Me the Meaning' once," I told them, "so why don't we do that one?"

"Aren't we gonna wait for Kevin?" Mike asked.

"He said not to," Nick told us. "He'll be done pretty soon, so he said to go ahead and practice, just don't record without him."

"You really helped him this afternoon," Howie said to me. "He's playing the part really well now. A lot more relaxed."

"About recording," Robby said slowly, "there's a little snag there. I'd forgot that Dad loaned our extra mike's to the high school for some choir program Tuesday night. The only mikes we have now are in the big studio. I was gonna suggest that we just play and sing and have a good time tonight. Then—if you still want to—we can record a couple of songs tomorrow night, once you're done with the big studio."

Brian shrugged. "Sounds okay to me." Nick and Howie nodded.

"Tell me again why we're recording songs," AJ said quizzically.

"Just for the fun of it," Robby replied.

"Robby can burn the songs onto a CD," Mike helped out, "and you guys can keep it as a souvenir of being here."

"Cool," AJ said just before he broke into a yawn.

"Are you sure you guys want to do this?" I asked. "It's been a long day."

"Oh, yeah, sure," AJ was quick to say.

"I've been looking forward to this for two days," Howie said. "It's been a long time since we got to sing just for the fun of it."

"All right then," Robby said. " Let's do it."

Once everyone was ready, I played the first chord and let its sound die in the air. The Boys got their pitches, blending perfectly. Then we waited a second or two, letting the previous sounds disappear in the silent room.

AJ counted off silently with his hand as the other Boys watched him. "Show me the meaning of being lonely," they began. It was eerie and beautiful to hear it live, but something was missing.

As Robby played the guitar, I said quietly, "You can really hear Kevin's absence, can't you?"

Behind me, Nick said, "It's weird to sing this without him." Brian was still nodding his agreement when he began the first verse. It was a bit of a surprise hearing Brian sing. I'd heard the song over and over, but I still had not idea who was singing what part. He was standing maybe three feet away on my right, and his voice sounded as clear as on the album but with the added warmth of his being close.

AJ was on my left, standing in front of Stacey's stool with her harms around his waist, and when his voice joined Brian's I was sitting in the middle, listening to them like stereo speakers. Then they all came in for the chorus, Howie was more-or-less facing me and Nick was behind me. Even though Kevin's voice was absent, the sound was incredible. I smiled at Howie again and mouthed the words "surround sound."

When the chorus ended, they were silent and Robby played the guitar bridge. I didn't hear it though, because Nick asked quickly, "Who's gonna sing Kevin's part?"

Brian's smile said he had an idea. "One of you guys do it."

"Ben knows the words best," Robby said quickly.

"Which part is Kevin's?" I asked. I'd heard the song over and over that afternoon, but I still couldn't be sure which line was sung by whom.

"Here, here!" Nick said excitedly behind me.

The entrance was coming quickly. I scrambled to remember the words and sang, "Life goes on, as it never ends."

I avoided looking up. Now that I'd started, I was really shy and self-conscious. I didn't want to make eye contact until I was finished. When I'd sung the third line, I felt Nick's hands on my shoulders and looked up. He leaned in, and we sang the next two lines together.

The third line was his alone—that much I did know about the arrangement. I reached up with my right hand to play the strings on the electronic keyboard, and I saw Brian grinning at me. God, what a great smile! Behind him, Howie smiled and said quietly, "He sings, too." Then the chorus came up again, and the four of them sang together. When Howie's solo started, his voice was a surprise too. So was the intense expression on his face.

They finished the song. It sounded great—even without Kevin—but afterward most of the compliments were for me. "Good voice," AJ said.

"Yeah," Brian said, leaning onto the piano. "It sounded great."

"My voice is okay," I said, "but you should hear Mike sing. He's got the best voice of all of us."

"Well, then, let's hear it," Nick said.

"Yeah," AJ added, "you guys sing something for us."

"Do the lullaby," Stacey suggested.

Brian made his really cute confused look again. "Lullaby?"

"It's not really a lullaby," I explained. "It's a song called 'Hush.' A band called Jellyfish recorded it for their second album, before they broke up. We liked it, so we learned the song."

"Yeah," Mike said, "except we took out all the music. We just sing it a cappella."

"Sing it for us," Howie said.


Mike got up from behind the trap set as Ethan set his bass back on it's stand. Robby kept his guitar strap around his shoulder, but he unhooked the amp cord and walked with Mike and Ethan toward the piano bench. Brian stood up, and Mike took his seat. After looking at everyone, I played a four-note chord on the piano to establish pitches and then we sang.

The song had originally been written with one solo voice, with three other voices behind over a lot of strings. But we'd first sung this while camping, so we'd left out all the instrumentals. And we took turns on the solo line: Michael had the first half of the first verse, and the rest of us sang underneath. Then Robby sang the second half, and Ethan and I divided the second verse between us.

My favorite part comes when Ethan has the melody: we all sing the words "make them come true" together in really sumptuous harmony. Right after that, I took over the melody for a couple of lines, but then Mike took it back at the end. His choirboy voice finished the song as we sang softly beneath it.

The Boys were really quiet when we stopped. Finally, Howie said, "That was beautiful."

"Yeah," AJ said. "Your voices really blend together."

"And Ben's right, Mikey," Nick added. "You do have a great voice. It's really high and clear."

"You know who he sounds like?" Howie asked the others. "He sounds like Chris Kirkpatrick."

AJ and Brian were agreeing with his opinion, when Robby put his hands on Mike's shoulders and said, "Yeah, we keep hoping puberty will start and his voice will change, but, so far, nothing."

"What I like," I heard Ed say from the doorway, "is the way their voices blend so well together. That's kind of sound is almost impossible to teach." I turned my head toward the door with the other guys. Ed was standing in the doorway, his hand still on the knob. Behind him I could see Dave and Kevin. I could see Dad through the window, just to the left of the door, with a proud daddy grin on his face.

"So how did you get these guys to blend like that?" Robby asked Ed as he was coming into the room.

"Oh, we beat them," Ed said deadpan.

Dave grinned. "There is no better voice coach than a leather belt."

"Unless it's a bamboo cane," Ed added, finally smiling.

"Now, isn't that funny?" Dad said, following the others inside. "That's exactly how I taught my boys to sing, except I used a riding crop."

"Is this a guy thing?" Stacey asked, her East Texas a little twangier than usual. "All this talk about beating each other?"

"No, it's just a joke," AJ said, wrapping his left arm around her waist. "Ed's kidding. They didn't really beat us," he added, just before rubbing his butt absently with his right hand and putting on an expression as if he was having unpleasant memories. We all laughed.

"Seriously, guys," Kevin said, "that sounded great. At least, what I heard sounded great. Can we hear it again?"

"One time," Robby said, "then we're all gonna play and sing. This is supposed to be a party."


When we finished "Hush" a second time, the guys were more specific with their praise. Ed offered a couple of suggestions for smoothing out the harmonies and AJ suggested another way Mike could sing the last line to make it more "interesting." But, all in all, they were very impressed, and my brothers and I were really excited. Dad looked like he'd explode with pride.

"Why don't you stutter when you sing?" Nick asked Ethan.

Ethan shrugged. "Mmost ppeople ddon't."

"Yeah," Robby supported him. "A lot of people who stutter when they talk can sing perfectly fine."

"Or better than perfectly fine," Howie said to Ethan. "You have a really good voice."

This time, Ethan grinned. "Somebody has tto have bbe the bbass tto these gguys."

"You guys should form a group," Brian said.

I rolled my eyes, knowing what was coming. Robby was grinning big and looking from one of us to the others. Ethan had a sort of secretive, knowing smile—probably imagining all the women being a professional musician would get him. Mike got a little hyper. "See," he said. "That's what I been telling you guys for years."

This was a conversation we'd had many times over the years. We'd even played at it for a while in high school: Ethan, Robby and I had banded together, learned maybe ten songs and even played a four or five parties—that's when Mike first wanted to learn to play drums—before it became obvious that we were just too different to play together for long.

Since then, Robby had started or been in four or five different bands. But he never could find a group of guys as eager to work at it as he was Of all of us, Robby was probably the most driven to be in the music industry, but he still loved recording more than performing.

In college, Ethan and I had played with a friend's band for a while before responsibilities had forced everyone to give up and do some homework.

"You're right," Ed nodded. "You have the potential to be a good band if you wanted to."

Now Robby and Mike were really excited, and the Boys were being very encouraging.

"And what would we play?" I asked them.

"We'd write our own songs," Mike said.

"No," I began to correct him, "what kind of music would we play? You like R&B. Robby likes country. Ethan like metal, and I..."

Robby interrupted me. "You wanna be Harry Connick, Jr."

I smiled up at him weakly. "And you wanna be Tim McGraw."

AJ laughed. Pointing at Brian, he said to me, "Look, if 'Mr. Contemporary Christian' and I can work together, you guys sure can." I looked over at Brian. He nodded, smiling.

"I don't wanna be Tim McGraw," Robby said quietly. "I just wanna sleep with Faith Hill."

"Who doesn't?" AJ said, laughing. Stacey poked him in the ribs. Behind the piano, standing where Ed and Dave couldn't see them, Nick and Brian quietly raised their hands to anwer AJ's question, grinning at me.

"Anyway," Howie said after a second or two, "you guys have a lot of talent. And you know you get along, and you certainly look good. You'd make a great band with the right kind of help."

"Not to mention," Brian began, "you live in a recording studio." He nodded toward Robby then toward me when he added, "You've got one guy who can work all the recording equipment, one guy who seems to play everything, and one guy who takes songs apart and learns to play them for fun!"

"And one guy," Nick interrupted, looking at Mike, "with this beautiful voice."

Mike blushed a little as Brian went on. "You've got all kinds of advantages that other guys in bands would kill for. I can't believe you're not taking advantage of them."

"And where would we get this help?" Mike grinned at Howie.

"We could help you out," AJ said, looking toward the other four Boys. He smiled at us and went on, "We know a few people."

"I could help you out, too," Ed said. "I've seen a lot of bands with less going for them than you four guys. If you ever decide you're serious about doing something professionally, call me first, okay?"

"Even if you don't become a performing band," Dave began, "you could still be one Hell of a studio band. Stephen, your location here is a real drawback when everyone has to bring musicians all this way, but if you had a great studio band like these guys here, your studio would get all kinds of business."

Dad was considering this suggestions when Robby said enthusiastically, "Enough talk: let's make some music."

"Ddad, gget your gguitar," Ethan said.


A few minutes later, Dad was sitting on a chair with his acoustic six-string on his knee. Robby had turned the amp on his electric way down so as not to overpower Dad or Ethan, who was tuning his flute with my piano. When everything was ready, Dad asked, "Whadya say, men? 'Songs from the Wood'?" When we nodded, Dad smiled at Ed. "Now, you're gonna hear us do harmony," he told the producer.

Dad wasn't a small guy. His speaking voice fit his size: a nice baritone, like me. But when he sang, he used a higher pitch, sounding more like Robby. Dad always sang lead on this song, pushing Robby down to the baritone part and me down to approximate the bass. Ethan's voice was the lowest of any of us, but he needed to be free to play the flute so he just filled in where he could. Mike, as always, had the tops of the chords, above the lead. Fortunately, the original had been six-part harmony, so there was always plenty for us to do.

Dad loved this song because it brought back a lot of memories for him: gigs in smokey coffee houses and foggy outdoor concerts in San Francisco when he'd been a part-time college student and a full-time hippy musician. My brothers loved it because everyone got a chance to show off: Robby's guitar part was intricate, Mike kept us together as the song changed personalities, and Ethan's flute was always something different to have in a rock'n'roll song.

I loved this song because it changed so often: it began with a cappella close harmony, then shifted into a light pop song, becoming more and more "rock" until it was faster and heavier. It teased you a couple of times with the a capella beginning, then rocked a bit more before it did get soft and acoustic at the end. Always the multiple melodies danced in and around each other, with intricate orchestrations. A daydream of mine was to one day write a whole album based on the themes taken from "Songs from the Wood." To some, it was really dated, boring crap from the sixties. To me, it was real music by real musicians..

It had taken weeks for us to learn this, but it'd been worth the effort.

When we finished, all Brian could say was "Wow." I smiled at him. That reaction had been worth the effort too.

"What was that?" Howie asked.

"That," Ed broke in, "was Jethro Tull. A little before your time, but something you should check out."

"I've heard the name," Nick said, "but I've never heard his music before.".

Dad laughed. "There is no him," he said. "Well, there was—he invented the plow or something. But this Jethro Tull was a group from England. They first hit it big in the 60s, but they still tour and do shows."

"They don't have a lot of new fans nowadays," Dave said, "but they still have a lot of loyal old fans."

"Hey, watch who you're calling 'old'!" Dad joked. He took his guitar strap from his shoulder as he stood and held it out to Ethan, who took it.

"Well," Ed began, "I'm glad to see that you're bringing your sons up right." He grinned at us. "Not enough of them know about the greats." He winked at me where most of the Boys couldn't see.

I grinned back at him. "And did you're parents raise you on Gershwin and Cole Porter?" I asked him.

"No," he said, "they raised me on Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams."

"Yeah, boy!" Robby said.

Dad laughed again. "Well, let's leave the boys to what they call 'music' nowadays. I believe we promised the women a game of Trivial Pursuit."

"Can I play?" I asked.

"Ben," Mike said, "we need you in here!"

"'s Trivial Pursuit!" I whined a little.

Ed laughed. "Tell you what, Ben. We play again tomorrow night after dinner."

"You got it. Come prepared for me to kick your butt." It was a little disrespectful way for me to speak to someone I didn't know well, and I'd probably hear about it from Dad later, but Ed seemed cool about it. He laughed again.

"He will too," Robby affirmed. "He was a Liberal Arts major."

"They have to know a little about a lot of things," Brian added, laughing a little.


We spent almost two hours in the studio. We began with "Show Me the Meaning" since we'd done that one already and we wanted to hear it again Kevin. It'd been fun to sing with them, but the song sounded much better with Kevin in his proper place. After that we played "Don't Want to Lose You Now." That was the one we'd had the most trouble with when we'd played it before the Boys had arrived. For some reason, the instrumental parts were hard for us: each of us could handle his respective part, but we had to really concentrate on hanging together. I was so busy listening to the various instruments that I was only vaguely aware of who was singing what. When we finished, I could see an embarrassed look on Kevin's face.

"Okay," I decided to spare him having to say anything, "that sucked. But we'll get that one. We can play it a couple of times tomorrow before we record."

"Tomorrow? Why are we recording tomorrow?" Kevin asked, and Robby told him about the microphones.

"Let's do it again right now," AJ said. "We're not going anywhere."

And so we played it again. It was better this time—enough so that I think we restored some of Kevin's confidence in our musicianship.

"Now, let's do my song," Nick said.

"I Need You Tonight" had sounded pretty good when I'd played it for Nick on Thursday, but now that the other guys had their parts it was much better. The simple piano with Nick's voice was nice, but the little brothers really filled out the sound. And when Robby nailed the chromatic scale on his six-string, the Boys were impressed. They came in and sang along beautifully.

AJ made a big deal of the last two lines. Before he came in, he grabbed Stacey's hands and looked into her eyes as he sang, "All I know, Baby, I really need you tonight." Then they kissed, and I took the opportunity to lay on some really heavy, sugary keyboard runs at the end.

"Guys," Kevin said, fighting a yawn, "I really need to get some sleep."

"C'mon, Kevin," Nick whined, "it's only midnight!"

"Leave Kev alone, Nick," Howie said with a grin. "He can't help it if he's old."

Kevin punched him playfully in the shoulder. "I may be old," he said sarcastically, "but I'm not the one sleeping on the piano."

Howie was still standing in the curve of the baby grand, but he had his arms folded on top of it and his head draped over them. "I'm not sleeping," Howie defended himself, "I'm resting my eyes."

"We should crash pretty soon," Brian said, "but I wanna hear the lullaby again." His smile talked me into it, but Mike argued.

"I don't want to sing the lullaby," he said. "I'd rather do something else."

Robby looked at him and asked, "The guitar song?"

"Yeah! Let's do the guitar song."

"What's that?" Nick asked.

"My brothers can't ever call a song by it's real name," I told him. "The 'guitar song' is a song called 'Call and Answer' by Barenaked Ladies. They call it that because we all play guitar on it."

"Sounds cool," Brian said. "You think you can stay awake long enough for one more song, D?" he asked Howie.

"We'll have to tune two more guitars," I warned everyone.

"One mmore," Ethan said. "You pplay Ddad's" he added, holding it out to me while Mike went to get his guitar from the control booth.

In a few minutes, my brothers and I were seated in four chairs facing each other in a little circle: Robby across from me, Ethan on my left, and Mike on my right.

We'd first started playing around with the song on a camping trip. All we'd had were four acoustic guitars, so that was the way we'd worked it out for us. As originally recorded, the song was sung chiefly by one guy, but sometimes another would sing the key phrase "I think" so that one line would overlap the next. When we'd reduced it to just guitars, we'd also rearranged the vocals so that we each had a chance to sing alone and in harmony with one of the others. Everyone got a refrain except Mike, but he got the ending to himself.

We started with a few simple chords before I came in with first line. I contrived to be looking in Brian's direction as I sang "It's getting to the point where I can be myself with you." Before I finished, Ethan began the second and then Robby came in with the third and sang the first refrain.

During the course of the song, the parts that had two- and three-part harmony increased. Mike sang the first part of the ending alone, then we call came in to harmonize.

When we finished, the Boys and Stacey clapped and made a big deal. "That is really good," Kevin said.

"Now I'm sure you guys should be a group," AJ said, and Nick and Howie nodded. Brian just looked at us, grinning.

Mike and Robby were smiling again at this repeated suggestion. I didn't want to have this conversation again so soon, so I faked a yawn. It didn't take a lot of effort: I really was tired.


"Guys," I said, "I really want to get some sleep."

"Me too," Howie said.

"Let's call it a night then," Robby said. "Let's get these amps turned off and..."

"Nick and I will do it," Mike volunteered.

I thought Robby might not want to leave them alone, but I guess he was really tired too. "Thanks, bro," was all he said.

Leaving Mike and Nick to straighten the studio, the rest of us headed up the hall. When we got to the workroom, I looked at Stacey and said, "We should walk you out so I can turn the alarm back on."

"Well...," AJ began, but Stacey finished it for him.

"I'm sleeping here tonight," she said. I'm not sure why AJ was hesitant to say anything. None of us had any kind of problem with it.

At the elevator, the doors opened immediately. AJ and Stacey stepped right in, and Howie and Kevin followed them, looking dead on their feet. "Robby," Kevin said, "can you come up for a minute or two? We should make plans for church in the morning."

"Sure," my brother said before stepping into the elevator.

Brian grabbed me in quick hug—just long enough to whisper "G'night, Benji" into my ear—before he got on the elevator too. As the doors closed, Ethan and I said our goodnights and got some in reply.

I turned to head toward our rooms, but Ethan was standing in the way, looking at me. "Bbrian's nnot spending the nnight?"

"No," I said. "I told you: we're just friends, and we don't want to go too fast. He's sleeping in his own bed tonight."

"And you're okay with that?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, "I don't want to go too fast either."

Ethan just looked at me for a couple of seconds. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," I said, "why do you ask like that?"

"Bbecause I know you," he said, "and Bbrian's just the ttype you ffall in love with."

I shook my head. "Not this time. We're just friends—nothing more—and he's not gonna be here long enough for that to change." I was trying to convince Ethan of what I was saying, but at the same time I was beginning to have some annoying doubts of my own.

"Well, I hope you gget a ggood nnight's sleep."


"You have to bbe up in seven hours to mmake bbreakfast," he grinned.


* I like the coloured backgrounds I've been using, so you'll find those versions on my Web site. But some have mentioned how hard it is to print when the text is white and the background dark, so I've gone back to the conventional black and white for the Archive.

I hope the length of this one makes up for the brevity of the last one. For myself, I'm very pleased: I got to use the words "brevity," "unobtrusively," and "sequestered" in one installment. I does my sesquipedalian heart good!

HELP!: I'm at a loss to answer this question, so I'm appealing to the readers for help: If the four Corbyn boys were to become a musical group, what would be a good name for it? If you have an idea, please email me at and tell me what it is.

I don't think I'm giving away any major plot twists: I'm only speculating, and I still have a few surprises up my sleeve, even though I'm not wearing a shirt at the moment.

ABOUT "HUSH": I have a thirty-second sample of the song on the Studio page of my Web site. It loads a little slowly, perhaps, but it's worth it.

ABOUT PRACTICAL JOKES: Thanks for alll that you've sent me, but please stop now. I can only read about so many instances of man's inhumanity to man before I become despondant.

Some of my favourites so far have been: going to bed drunk only to wake and find a stripe shaved down the top of your head, going away for a three-day weekend with your family only to find best friend told your entire school that you were killed in a car accident Thursday night, and arriving at a pumpkin carving contest only to discover your pumpkin has been secretly hollowed and filled with crickets. The absolute best was the guy who went on vacation to Australia and returned to find that his house had been painted pink!

ABOUT THE LACK OF SEX in my story: If that's what you're looking for, check out "Ten Guys One Night" by Kenitra. There's probably something for everyone there.

Y'KNOW, I'm starting to regret the whole Ethan-has-a-lisp thing. It's really playing Hell with the spell checker.