The usual disclaimers apply. If for some legal reason you shouldn't read this...don't.
A special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. And a big thanks to Brad for his patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right' and to Zeta reader, Rock.
I love to receive feedback at email@example.com. My other stories are listed in Nifty's Prolific Authors section, and on www.gayauthors.org.
Chapter 11, RITES OF PASSAGE
'What the hell have I gotten myself into?' Jeremy asked himself as he lay in bed at home, exhausted. It had been a hard four weeks juggling school, sharing duties at home, his Bally's job and the dance rehearsals with the choreographer. Self-doubt about being a performer simmered just below the surface no matter how highly Garin praised his progress. The target for officially joining the cast was still set for late February. 'Maybe its just jitters about performing in front of a crowd?'
Broadening his friendship base had been an eye-opener. Zach slowly filled the male role model void in Jeremy's life that had existed since his uncles had passed away. But this was an adult big brother-to-little brother bonding rather than an avuncular one. It hadn't been a one-way street; he tried hard to lend support to ease the hurt Zach felt because of Gio's infidelity and their climactic breakup. The two trainers now worked together in a professional relationship...but it would never again be anything other than that.
Thursday nights continued to be a welcomed stress reliever. Charlie was always thoughtful as well as a jokester while they shaved each other. He interspersed the grooming with a continual flow of information that would make Jeremy's job easier. However, the last session ended with an undercurrent of tension. When Jeremy asked if there was anything that he had done or said, Charlie dismissed it as just some school pressure he was feeling. When they were finished and dressed, the two warmly hugged each other like the teammates - very close teammates - they were without dissipating the bothersome undercurrent.
The past weekend officially ushered Jeremy into adulthood as he celebrated his 18th birthday: first a quiet dinner with mom and sis on Saturday, then a more raucous outing on Sunday with Robert at the old, reliable Benihana. The two friends had been going to the famous teppan-yaki restaurant since they were small boys as birthday treats from Robert's parents. Both loved the theatrics, macho aggressiveness and drama of the Japanese chefs cooking in front of them - skillfully slicing the ingredients, tossing shrimp, flaming the onion volcano and making fried rice with a frantic frenzy. Afterward, Robert gave him a more personal, physical present. Jeremy knew this was in the spirit of their intimate male friendship; he sensed his childhood buddy was developing some sort of deeper relationship with Sam Agosto.
In addition to all this recent activity, June Stillman had called a couple weeks ago and said that circulating his photos had yielded great results for an initial, small step into modeling. He'd been chosen to be one of three guys modeling the spring men's fashion spread in the Trib's Sunday magazine section. When Jeremy expressed concern about having adequate time to be part of the shoot, she countered with two points: while the fee for this modeling job was a token compared to the usual scale, exposure would be beneficial for future jobs. He was intrigued when June mentioned the Sunday Trib had an average readership of over 2.5 million. However, when he found out the token payment was to be $400.00, Jeremy became much more enthusiastic and decided he could squeeze in the assignment after all.
Jeremy agreed to give Robert a private Saturday performance of his dancing after his first rehearsal with the complete cast of dancers. If everything went well with final rehearsals, he would perform in all the chorus production numbers and also do one of his featured dances on the following weekend. Performing in front of live audiences would "get his feet - and a few other things - wet," as Garin had slyly put it. He also told Jeremy to keep Saturday night open for a late night meeting after the last show to discuss his schedule. The plan was for Jeremy to become the permanent Joe College in three weeks: he had circled the Friday after Valentine's Day as "B-day" for his Barecats premiere.
The final hurdle was to rearrange the housekeeping and care giving with his sister so he could have Saturday nights available for work. Fridays weren't an issue because he had always worked that evening. Naomi said she knew that he wanted something when Jeremy insisted on meeting at a coffee shop near Children's Memorial after her shift one evening.
"The situation is very simple. I've got a new job that requires me being available from 5:00 p.m. to around midnight on weekends." Jeremy looked at his sister and admired what an attractive woman she'd become. They had both won big in the gene pool lottery.
"Midnight? Whatchu doing, working in a restaurant?" Naomi asked while she absently stirred her glass of Coke with a straw.
"Somethin' like that. The place is very busy and I understand the tips are great." Jeremy decided not to tell her exactly what the new job was - at this point - if he could help it.
"I don't know if I can switch shifts to daytime. I'm not that high in seniority."
"This new job is important to me and I think I can give an additional hundred bucks every week for the family expenses." Jeremy decided to go for it and play the dollar card. "That means you won't have to contribute as much."
"Hon, I'm impressed and this definitely motivates me to change my schedule. Um, how many days a week are you going to work at this restaurant...and where is it? Late nights can be dangerous if you're not careful." Naomi looked at him with a questioning, maternal sternness.
"It'll usually only be three nights a week - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - to begin with. I'm still keeping two shifts at Bally's," he said rapidly, feeling like his big sister wasn't going to let it be without a challenge. "The place is down by the Merchandise Mart and the area is pretty safe."
"I don't want to seem to pry, but how are you going to make that kind of money? Unless I'm mistaken, you've never worked in a restaurant. So, are you going to be a busboy? I mean, that's alright...but you don't make that much money to start with." Naomi gave Jeremy an authoritative 'don't even try to scam your big sister' look and waited for an explanation.
"Okay, Sis, I'm not exactly working in a restaurant. More of... an entertainment place."
"Yes? Entertainment...as in a bar? That doesn't sound like something you'd go for."
"Not that either." Jeremy squirmed in his seat and started blinking rapidly.
"Mr. Sloan...I want to know right now what you've got yourself into. Now."
"I'm going to...are you familiar with the Studz Barecats?"
"Of course. Every woman in Chicago who still has fantasies and feelings...oh, Jeremy...are you telling me what I think you are?" Naomi sat up, ran her fingers through her long hair and looked at her brother with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. "You mean that..."
"You gotta promise what I tell you doesn't go any further than this table. Seriously."
"Let me catch my breath for a minute," she replied as she nervously brushed imaginary crumbs from her bosom and inhaled air through her nose. After exhaling, she continued, "I promise...cross my heart. It's just a little bit of a shock to find out that my little brother is going to..."
"I'm not so little any more," Jeremy said with a smile. 'Not so little in several places,' he thought with a silent chuckle. He reached across the Formica tabletop, took Naomi's hand in his and squeezed gently. "Here's the whole story." For the next 15 minutes he related a sanitized version of events, starting with Garin's recruitment dinner and ending with the rehearsals. References to private parties and gay audiences were completely left for a future discussion. Along the way he threw in a mention of potential modeling gigs that might come from the upcoming Tribune fashion spread.
"Jeremy Sloan, you completely amaze me. You've never complained about our responsibilities at home, people genuinely like you, your grades from school are always outstanding - good enough for a university scholarship - and you couldn't be a nicer brother or friend. Now I find out you're this handsome stud who's going to shake his booty with the Studz Barecats and model on the side. That's quite a list of achievements for anyone...especially an 18 year old guy still in high school."
"So you're not P.O.'d at me for doing this? I had planned on telling you when I was sure it was all working out. The rehearsals have worked out well and I'm going to be part of the cast very soon."
"As long as you're not on the Internet doing porn stuff."
"Absolutely not. That's part of the agreement when I signed up and I wouldn't do something like that, anyway. The guy who runs it is on the level and very sharp. He'll fire anyone who gets involved in porn."
"Then dance your heart out...and whatever else you do on stage. I think that being a Barecat is kinda hot."
"Phew, I feel relieved you're okay with this. But I'm not going to tell Mom," Jeremy said, shaking his head. "She wouldn't buy it at all."
"Probably a good idea. And the way she lives in a bubble, I don't think Mom would ever hear about your...entertaining. However, I, on the other hand would have found out even if you hadn't said anything."
"Because one of the women at the hospital is getting married in May. And guess where we're having the bachelorette party," Naomi said with a superior smirk.
"You...they..." Jeremy's mouth gaped as he processed the idea of performing before his sister and her friends. "Jeez, this is something I hadn't thought of." All of a sudden an image of Naomi slipping a ten-dollar bill into his thong mentally slapped him in the face.
"Don't worry...I'm cool with it. I just think it's rather cute that you'll be stripping before our group."
"Well, stripping down to a thong. It's just a little more revealing than a swimmer's Speedo," he replied.
"Honey, a swimmer isn't bumping and grinding. Just think of it as something I've seen lots of times," Naomi said with a laugh.
"Maybe when I was a little twerp...that was a long time ago. Like you, there have been several changes with my body." Jeremy purposely looked down at Naomi's well-formed breasts for a moment and continued, "But if you're okay with what I'm doing, then I'm relieved." He grabbed his untouched Coke and took a large gulp before adding, "I guess I'd better tell you that you're going to recognize someone else in the cast."
"Really?" Naomi cocked her head to the left, raised an eyebrow and batted her hanging long hair behind her.
"Think back to 10th grade and a guy in your class. You remember Char...um, Chuck Barnett?"
"Chuck? My God, I dated him. You're telling me that he's part of the Barecats?"
"Chuck is now Charlie and he was assigned to be my buddy...someone I can turn to for help. He's a sophomore at Northwestern and we've become good friends. Charlie's the same nice guy he was four years ago," Jeremy said with a warm smile.
"Hmmm, I was always curious what was under those jeans. We never, you know, did it," she said with a chuckle. "I'd say the same thing about being curious about you but that would really be a little creepy."
"Just an adult version of what you used to see all the time," Jeremy replied with a smirk.
"Ewww...too much information, Mr. Sloan."
"Sounds like you're going to get your eyes full in a couple of months. Do me a favor, Sis. If no one in your party knows me, how about just keeping our relationship quiet."
"I see your point. That might fall under 'too much information' for the girls at work. Let's shake on that." This time it was Naomi who extended a hand. "I think I can change shifts for you."
The rest of the week was rather normal. The main event on Saturday was the first rehearsal with Jeremy and the complete cast. When he arrived just before 10:00 a.m., most of the dancers were standing around the stage in a few small groups while Garin was talking to one of the technicians. Jeremy spotted Charlie and naturally gravitated to his official buddy. For the next 10 minutes, Charlie re-introduced Jeremy to everyone giving a quick bio of each man. These included four students at various Chicago universities, a junior bank supervisor, an accountant and an honest-to-God construction worker. All the dancers had changed into workout clothes - a variety of tees or tank tops, gym shorts and white socks. After speaking briefly to each of the guys, Jeremy excused himself for a quick change.
Due to the intense one-on-one rehearsals and Jeremy's natural athletic talent, all the pieces came together without flaws. The cast embraced their newest teammate as the precision chorus numbers took form. In addition to the traditional line dance routine, there were some fairly complex integrated steps, leaps, spins, flips, whirls and movements around the stage. By noontime, Garin pronounced the chorus rehearsal a success, thanked everyone and added one final surprise by asking Jeremy to perform his first act solo dance in front of the cast: a dress rehearsal with lights and sound. In spite of his weak protests - the guys whooped it up and encouraged their newbie into action - Jeremy followed Charlie to the dressing room to change into his Joe College costume.
"You knew about this, didn't you?" Jeremy pulled off his practice tank top.
"Let's just say that this is part of your final initiation into the group and I told Garin that you were ready." Charlie smiled as he took the Joe College costume from a rack and laid out the various pieces on the counter top.
"Guess I might as well suck it up and do it, then. Christ, I'm nervous...dancing in front of the guys." He pulled off his briefs and kicked them aside. Jeremy reached for his practice thong when Charlie stopped him.
"Just a sec. Here's your new thong." Charlie pulled out a bright, red thong out of a bag and added, "This will certainly add a little spice to your part of the program." He handed it to Jeremy and stood back to watch Jeremy arrange his package for comfort.
"Wh...what is this fabric? My God, it's like see-through nylon," Jeremy blurted out when he saw himself in the mirror. "This is what I'm to wear when I do this for real? I could count the number of pubes with no difficulty." He looked at Charlie in exasperation.
"Just a tradition, ole buddy. For today's performance only in front of the team. In fact, I wore this thong last year...and you'll pass it on to your buddy next year."
"I can tell it was yours...the thing's been really stretched and it feels kinda crusty," Jeremy replied. He swung his hips around and popped his crotch at Charlie.
"Whoa, that's enough to get you arrested...or a twenty-buck tip from some horny lady. And I'll have you know that it's been cleaned just for you." Charlie lightly slapped Jeremy's shoulder and said, "Let me help you get your costume on. As they say, 'It's Showtime'."
The layers of clothing were quickly assembled and Jeremy stepped into the mock saddle shoes. They returned to the back stage that was dark except for a few nightlights.
"I'm going to join the others in the club. Break a leg...not literally." Charlie gave him a quick peck on the cheek and disappeared.
Jeremy stood next to the wing curtain and wasn't quite sure how to proceed. Suddenly there was a drum roll that boomed out of the speakers.
"Ladies and...well, make that, gentlemen. The Studz Barecats proudly presents the newest member to our cast of dancers. Please give Jer a rousing welcome in his debut as Joe College," Garin's voice boomed through the club.
The introduction with his childhood name, 'Jer', startled him for a moment. However, on reflection, Jeremy felt good that it was used. 'Kinda like a re-birth and an official step into adulthood,' he thought.
The recorded music for his initial eight-minute routine started and a spotlight flashed in front of the curtain where Jeremy was standing. Although there were only a handful of men in the audience, their enthusiastic applause made it seem like the house was full - in Jeremy's mind. The adrenalin was pumping - and perhaps some testosterone - as he took a deep breath and waited for the music cue. The University of Illinois' official song, "We're Loyal to You, Illinois", with full marching band accompaniment, started and he stepped onto the stage and began his routine. When he heard whistles and a few 'woofs' from the darkened theater, he looked at the audience and turned on a practiced look of exaggerated surprise. He winked when the guys started yelling, "Go, Jer...go, Jer...Jer...Jer...Jer." The marching band music faded as the same Illinois loyalty song transitioned, in the same beat, to a stage band ensemble sound with a pronounced drum and bass guitar rhythm.
He pulled the pencil from his ear and started writing in a book as the music score changed to 'On, Wisconsin'. The book and pencil were tossed aside as well as the cap as Jeremy's dance became more provocative. For the next several moments, more pieces of his costume came off as the music score moved from one Big Ten school fight-song to another. By the time the arrangement had swung into "Go U Northwestern", Jeremy was standing with his legs spread out at the foot of the runway and his hips were keeping beat to the drum-throbbing music. He could now see the faces of his audience - his teammates - and their obvious approval through nods, thumbs up and big smiles were a reward for the past month and a half of hard work. A charge of adrenalin ran through his body while he made sure his package was bouncing a little more energetically than in rehearsal. The guys cheered more. 'This is it,' he told himself as he turned around, shook his buns and briefly bent down at his waist. 'This is what they mean by a performer getting that extra energy from the audience.' There was a tingling in his crotch and he breathed a little faster when he faced the club again. The music came to a thunderous conclusion and the stage was abruptly darkened.
As he had practiced, but never executed in darkness, Jeremy found the tracer lights on the side that led to the wing of the curtain. He counted a steady five, waited for the light cue to pop back on, and walked back to the front center-stage for a bow. His teammates and new friends were hooting it up. As KC and the Sunshine Band's "Shake Your Booty" filtered through the speakers, Jeremy slowly started a dance that would bring him down the runway and to the audience. The first guy with a fistful of dollars - Monopoly currency - was Will Jacobs, the banker dude who played the policeman character. He was rocking to the music and gestured for Jeremy to come his way and receive a lowly, solitary bill. Jeremy decided to follow protocol and dipped low so that his thong from the side could be reached with the phony bills. Jeremy felt the paper slip into the waist as he rose. However, Will beckoned him with the flash of more bills in higher denominations. Jeremy got the message and dipped again...led by his groin. Will grinned, stuffed in a few bills and not so innocently brushed the tip of Jeremy's encased cock with his thumb as he withdrew.
'Whoa,' Jeremy thought, 'that's a little more than just being friendly.' However, he played along with the ruse: he looked directly at Will as he winked, licked his lips and used his thumb to lower the thong a little lower so that the top of his trimmed pubes showed. The impromptu moves were validated when the audience whooped it up with encouraging yells and whistles.
It only took two more rendezvous with fake tip money for Jeremy to figure out what the guys were up to: not only giving him practice with the non-choreographed part of his performance, but purposely trying - successfully - to get his dick aroused. He just laughed and decided that the straight guys were having what would be considered 'locker room' fun and the gay guys were enjoying a little eroticism. As he danced further up the runway, Jeremy accepted the spirit of the evening and enjoyed his initiation experience.
When the KC music shifted into "That's the Way I Like It", he turned for a second to adjust his erection in the skimpy thong. He angled it upwards but the apparel design was barely large enough to cover him without spilling out. Jeremy decided to throw caution to the wind and finish his initiation, however revealing. 'Might as well give the boys a good show,' Jeremy thought as he turned around, faced the audience again and danced down to the end of the runway. He was also proud that his expanding package would probably be envied by a few of the guys.
But when he arrived in front of Charlie at the end of the runway, it was no longer possible to keep his equipment in check. Not only had the cockhead eased out from under the elastic and material, but it was oozing natural lubricant - not a sloppy gusher, but the drool was obvious. The guys were laughing and applauding when Jeremy moved into the center of the runway and waved to the soundman to kill the song. He stood, raised both arms and took a long, low bow. The cheers erupted to an even higher decibel. Someone tossed him a pair of boxers and he quickly put them on.
"Guys, I guess this is my baptism," Jeremy said, after the crowd quieted. "And I certainly don't have any secrets, now."
"No secrets from your side, big guy," someone yelled. The unscripted shout caused the guys to erupt with approval.
"Not exactly. But the rest I'll save for privacy. Seriously, I really didn't expect anything like this. You guys are really bad," Jeremy said with a grin before he stuck out his tongue.
"Wow, two wet projections in one day."
Jeremy turned to the direction of the comment and replied, "The third one you don't want to know about." He playfully sucked on his middle finger, smiled and bowed with a flourish.
"Whaduya think, guys. Has our newbie passed inspection?" Garin asked as he walked down the runway.
"Yeah", "Effin' A", "Go, Jer", and other shout outs were heard as Garin grabbed Jeremy around the waist and squeezed him tightly. Jeremy turned and melted into the offered hug.
"You didn't disappoint or surprise me, Jer. I hope you don't mind that we regenerated your old nickname?" Garin asked as he spoke into Jeremy's ear.
"Jer is a name I never got tired of...maybe it's time to officially take it back." Jeremy pulled back a bit, smiled and squeezed Garin's forearm. "With this job and college coming up, Jer sounds just fine."
"And thanks for taking this whole initiation thing so well. Everyone, including me, went through it. Next year, or whenever a new guy comes into our family, you'll be part of the audience." The crowd started to quiet and Garin put up his hands to indicate he had something to say. "I take it everyone votes 'yes' on our newest member of the cast?"
Again, the guys responded enthusiastically.
"Hearing no objections, I adjourn this meeting until later. We will reconvene for a celebration at Bijan's Bistro on North State at midnight. Guys, get a little rest time. It'll be a busy night."
One by one, each teammate came up to the stage and personally congratulated Jeremy - or, Jer, as he was now known and accepted. Although Jeremy had gotten his libido under control, he had to work hard to stop emotions from taking over. Seldom had he encountered such an overwhelming feeling of acceptance or belonging. Maybe it was the combination of not having a father and the loss of his uncles that allowed his emotions to be shanghaied by the day's events.
He said 'goodbye' until the last man left before he collected all the parts of his costume that were still strewn about the stage. Jeremy grabbed his street clothes and headed back to the dressing room. Off came the boxers and the slightly stained red thong. He put them in the backpack for cleaning on laundry day. After the costume parts were carefully arranged on the hanger and then slipped into a garment bag, Jeremy left the room and turned off the lights. 'Next stop, Robert's house,' he thought as he hit the crash bar of the stage door exit. He figured that the costume had one more 'show' in it before he cleaned it for the paying customers next weekend.
One El train ride and a six-block hike later, Jeremy was at Robert Stein's front door. He smiled when his first real friend opened the door.
"I hope you got something in the fridge, cuz I'm starved," Jeremy blurted out as he entered the house. Chicago's 30-degree temperature had been negatively enhanced by a wicked wind. "I brought the costume with me, you letch, for the personal performance."
"Letch, my ass. That's well under control."
"Ah, ain't love grand, or sumpin like that as long as its spelled S.A.M.," Jeremy said with a snicker.
"Hey, keep Sam out of this. We're just friends who...like each other a lot," Robert replied coyly.
"Okay, no prying about your love life with Sam. Now, where's the food?" Jeremy decided to drop the joking around about Robert's relationship. He knew it was simmering...but to what degree?
"The Stein restaurant is at your disposal. You can have a fantastic vegetable soup Mom made a couple of nights ago and the last of a tuna fish salad." Robert took Jeremy's coat and hung it up in the hallway.
"Yum. Talk about working for my dinner," Jeremy replied as he followed Robert to the kitchen.
"How'd rehearsals go?" Robert innocently asked while he raided the refrigerator.
"So, so. I got a chance to work with the entire cast and didn't get any complaints." Jeremy smiled at the experiences earlier that he would not share with Robert...at least for a while.
Robert proceeded to nuke the soup and prepare a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread. While Jeremy wolfed down the late lunch, Robert ate a cup of yogurt.
"What are ya up to this evening?" Robert asked.
"Nuthin', really. I'm going to help with Mom's dinner and then hang out with the guys from the show for a late dinner. Kind of a 'get to know each other' evening. How about you?"
"Sam and I are going to go to see the Bulls and the Lakers. Then...well, you know." Robert smiled and ate more of his yogurt. "What's with you and Tommy?"
"Friendship and sex, not necessarily in that order. I think there was a mild infatuation on his side at the beginning. Now, it's just convenient to..."
"Fuck with no complications," Robert replied.
"And he's going back East for school. Like you, I want someone who's going to be in Chicago most of the year. Hey, let's finish up and I'll do the routine for you. I've got the music on a CD."
"Cool. You get into that costume, I'll clean up and we'll meet in the living room."
"Your sure the 'rents won't be coming home early?" Jeremy took his dirty dishes to the dishwasher and put them inside.
"No. They're at a matinee for some pre-Broadway musical at the Oriental Theater and are planning on having an early dinner somewhere down in the Loop."
"See you in the living room so you can officially meet the Studz Barecats' new Joe College."
Jeremy walked to the living room to change into the costume and set up the music. He thought about the continuing changes in his life that he hadn't considered possible just a few months ago. Being witness to relationships like Zach and Gio crash and burn while his old buddy Robert had found a fledgling romance with Sam was at opposite poles of his emotions. He wondered if he would find a boyfriend as he moved on in his life. Someone solid like his honorary brother and his best friend who would accept him unconditionally.
TO BE CONTINUED