Kevin & Justin
(firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
13 May 2000
All the usual disclaimers apply: please stop reading if you are underage or homophobic. Please note that this is a work of fiction - nothing is being implied about the sexuality of any of the people portrayed below.
Well, the following news is going to come as a big relief to a lot of you! This chapter is going to be the last one where Kev and Justin remain apart. Believe it or not, we've come to the 'crunch' point. As of the next chapter there will no longer be any more misunderstandings, missed opportunities, or (ridiculous?) coincidences to hinder the boys from getting together. :)
With that in mind, I've got to warn you that this chapter might be a bit heavy. But remember, it will all get sorted out by the next one!
Oh, one final thing... the next chapter may be delayed a lot longer than the last couple. It will be an important chapter and I want to make sure I get it right. Thanks for your patience and understanding.
One last bit of info... my homepage http://www.stormfront.com.au/~rh_chan/ has been updated significantly. Version 2 incorporates a new design (frames, links to other authors' homepages and resources, etc.) and also has a couple of new stories (non boy-band related) that I haven't posted to Nifty yet. Feedback on the new design, and stories, is greatly appreciated.
ARGH!! I hate - despise - loathe - abhor editing!!! I've given up doing any more on this chapter... Besides being the longest one to date, it's driving me nuts with all the re-writes I'm doing. So, what you see below is what I'm going to submit - happy or not; ready or not. Sigh.
Kevin finally makes it back to the Arena after having 'come out' to his mother. He asks Justin to leave the dressing room, and 'comes out' to his bandmates as well. They take the news a lot better than his mother did; they support him wholeheartedly, and don't see what all the fuss is about...
The guys get ready for the concert. Kevin hangs back to reassure Justin that everything is fine, and thanks him for being concerned about him. He asks Justin what he's planning to do for the show, and when Justin admits he was only planning to watch, Kevin surprises him. He tells Justin that he'd like Justin to perform a number with them. Justin complains that he doesn't know any of their songs well enough, with the exception of 'Larger than Life' and '10,000 Promises'. Kevin seizes on the latter and convinces Justin to sing it with him, alone, in a duet. He then gets Justin to agree to surprise the rest of the guys.
After their first set, Kevin goes onstage for his solo song and introduces Justin as his duet partner; much to the shock of everyone present - including the rest of BSB. They sing the duet, feeling delirious and hyped up to be singing with each other. In the meantime, A.J. has pulled Brian away, and confronts him with Kevin's obvious love for Justin. He wonders why Kevin hasn't made a move yet, and Brian tells him (almost) everything, shocking A.J. into second-guessing what he thought he knew.
Soon after, the BSB guys are out on stage again, but Kevin starts losing his concentration as Justin isn't around anymore (he went off to change back into his own clothes). As soon as Justin appears, Kevin comes good, and a few people take note of the change; amongst them being Kevin's brother, Jerald, and The Firm's boss, Michael.
When the concert finishes, Kevin and Justin take a short walk to talk to each other in private, before Justin leaves to catch his plane. The rest of BSB are left to fend off the unwelcome questions of both Michael and Jerald. Brian manages to put them off for a while, knowing that Kev will explain everything when he gets back from seeing off Justin.
Justin tells Kevin that he knows that everything is still not okay, and comforts a suddenly distressed Kevin. He tries to get Kevin to tell him what's wrong, but Kevin won't give. He eventually has to leave, but extracts a promise from Kevin that they'll meet again when the band reaches Orlando.
Kevin finally talks to Michael and Jerald, and 'comes out' to them as well. He is shocked to find out that Jerald, and his other brother, Tim, already knew about it. He reassures Mike that he'll be careful and extremely discreet so that he doesn't ruin anyone's careers. Mike has to leave at that point and wishes Kevin good luck, privately upset that Kevin is so miserable - Kevin deserves to be happy.
Kevin and Jerald talk a bit about more how long Jer and Tim have known about Kevin being gay. Brian interrupts to ask Kevin why he didn't 'come out' to Justin before the concert. Kevin admits to both of them, and himself, that if he had done that, he would've told Justin everything - including how much he loved him. And he didn't want to do that because it would hurt Justin.
Later that night, as both Kevin and Justin are going to bed many miles away from each other, they quietly affirm their love for each other as they drift off to sleep listening to their favourite songs...
Kevin & Justin - Chapter 16
A gentle caress - across his ear to his earlobe - was enough to rouse Justin from a pleasant, dream-less sleep. He looked up blearily into the face of the person who'd woken him, and saw a concerned looking Joshua Chasez looking back down at him.
"Morning, Josh," Justin said sleepily to his visitor, trying to stifle a massive yawn. As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he took note of JC's appearance. JC, who was perched on the edge of his bed, was still wearing a robe: he'd probably just woken up himself.
"Morning, Justin," JC responded, in turn, before clearing his throat to ask the question that he was dying to ask. No, wait... better make that two questions. He decided to start with the easy one.
"Just, why are you listening repeatedly to this song?"
Justin had to concentrate to understand Josh's question; his mind still shrugging off the fog of sleep. He listened carefully and heard the quiet strains of '10,000 Promises' playing in the background. He hastily recalled that he'd put the stereo into 'repeat track' mode the night before, just before going to sleep.
"Ah, no particular reason, JC," he replied, evasively. He didn't want to get into an argument so soon after having woken up...
"Really?" JC asked mildly, sounding slightly amused, though his eyes were anything but. "And the fact that Kevin is singing it has no significance at all, I suppose?"
The question was delivered so nonchalantly that Justin immediately became defensive, despite himself. He blushed uncontrollably before dragging his eyes away from JC's impenetrable stare.
"Oh, Justin," JC sighed, full of concern. "Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you deliberately trying to hurt yourself?"
"I'm not, Josh," Justin replied with some heat. He didn't need this so soon after the wonderful day he'd spent yesterday. "I'm okay. Really. I don't feel upset, or hurt, when I hear him singing."
"Really?" JC asked again, this time in a disbelieving tone. "Do you recall how long it took you to get through your depression? The last thing you need to do right now is to listen endlessly to the guy who hurt you, and to get yourself worked up into another bout of depression!" JC was practically yelling at Justin by this stage.
"Shove it, Joshua!" Justin said angrily, pulling himself up into a sitting position and steaming at JC's overbearing protectiveness. "I don't need you lecturing me on what I can or can't do, or who I can love! And if you so much as think of Kevin in that tone again, I'm not going to be held responsible for the consequences of my actions!"
JC glared balefully at his friend, angry that Justin was deliberately hurting himself again in such a reckless fashion. "I'm going to ignore that 'threat', Just. You don't know what you're saying. You can't see that you're hurting yourself all over again, brooding over him. The last thing you need to do right now is to think about him. It's only going to make things worse!"
"That shows how much you know, Josh. I had no problems talking to him last night!"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Justin kicked himself. Hard. What the hell had possessed him to say that?! He silently cursed himself for not keeping his big mouth shut.
"You what?" JC asked loudly, jerking upright to his feet and staring down at Justin in disbelief.
"You heard me!" Justin replied, finally tiring of the argument. "I saw him last night. I talked to him last night. I even sang with him last night! And for your information, we sang that song," - he jabbed his finger towards the stereo - "and I got through it fine! And I'm not depressed or upset this morning, even though I spent the whole evening with him!" Justin stared back up at JC implacably. 'So take that and shove it where the sun don't shine!' he thought, venomously.
JC could only stare down at him in a daze, his thoughts racing at a hundred miles an hour. Well, at least he knew the answer to his second question now: Justin had obviously spent the day wherever BSB happened to be performing yesterday...
He shook his head as his eyes narrowed in anger. Then, without another word, he turned and stormed out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Justin sighed in disgust as he let himself drop back down into his pillows, still feeling upset and angry at the whole encounter. Well, without a doubt the whole household would know where he'd been last night by the time he made it downstairs to breakfast...
He roused himself long enough to get out of bed, still steaming at JC, and walked over to his stereo system. He turned up the volume so that the song could be heard as far away as his bathroom, then walked over to his wardrobe to collect a change of clothes. He felt the need for a nice, long, relaxing shower...
'Damn you, JC! Why did you have to go and spoil everything?'
His mother's concerned - and somewhat irate - expression met him as he walked into the kitchen for breakfast. His step-father, Paul Harless, wasn't around, as it was well past the time he normally left for work. Of the others who lived in the Harless household - his bandmates Chris and JC - there was no sign...
He sat down at the kitchen island bench and filled an empty bowl with cereal, splashing some milk into the mix. He ignored his mother's continuous staring as he picked up a spoon and began to studiously eat his meal.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself, young man?"
Justin finished chewing the mouthful of cereal he'd just popped into his mouth before putting the spoon down on the bench. At times he really hated JC!
"I don't have anything to say," he replied as calmly as he could.
"Don't take that attitude with me, Justin Randall Timberlake!" she responded icily.
Justin looked over at Lyn and met her angry gaze with one of his own.
"I'm not putting on any 'attitude' for your information, and I still don't have anything to say to you! And I won't have anything else to say until you've calmed down and we can discuss this in a civilised manner. Until then, I'm going to be out!"
Justin stood up and ignored her gasp of surprise and her sudden angry shouts for him to "...get right back in here, young man!" He stomped his way out of the house and got into his car, thinking black thoughts at his mother and supposed best friend. He was well down the driveway by the time Lyn opened the front door and ran out after him.
He drove - somewhat recklessly - around the suburbs of Orlando for over an hour, struggling to get his anger and his feelings of hurt under control.
How dare they try to tell him what he could or couldn't do! It wasn't any of their business what he did with his life, or whom he saw! And JC's insensitivity had really hurt him today -- he couldn't believe his own best friend had turned on him like that!
By the time he had calmed down sufficiently to stop being a danger to himself and the other road users, he had thought things through. There was only one thing to do...
He pulled over into the first empty kerbside parking space he could find and switched off the engine. Then, reaching into his pocket, where he'd placed it just before going down to breakfast, he retrieved his cell phone. It was still turned off so he powered it on and waited rather impatiently for it to receive a signal. He had some calls to make...
By the time he'd made it back home, the others had started arriving as well.
He remained outside, in the driveway, and met them as they arrived. Chris, who'd left earlier that morning to have breakfast with Joey, had hitched a lift back with Joey at Justin's summons. Moments after Joey's car had came to a rest in the driveway, Lance pulled up in his prized Durango.
They had all been surprised to hear from Justin; especially when he'd mentioned the need to have a special group meeting 'straight away'. Besides the oddity of the request, his voice had held a peculiar tone that none of them had ever heard before.
Once they were all assembled he ushered them inside, ignoring their questions for the moment.
Justin didn't give JC a chance to get up and storm off. He pointed his finger directly at JC, who was seated on the brown leather couch in the lounge room, and said, "You're not going anywhere! You're going to hear what I have to say, along with the others. If he moves guys, pin him down. This group meeting is too important to worry about one person's sulky mood."
He left the stunned quartet in the lounge room and went off in search of his mother. As he'd half-suspected he would, he found her in her study. "Mom, please come out to the lounge. I have something I want to say to you and the guys." He left before she had a chance to say anything in reply.
When he got back to the lounge room he noticed the odd looks going back and forth between the guys. It looked like JC hadn't wasted any time in telling them his side of the story.
"Justin, is it-"
"Stop, Scoop!" he commanded, holding up his hand in warning. "I want to talk to all of you, including my mom. Please wait until she joins us."
Lansten's surprise at being cut off so abruptly was almost comical.
Lyn entered the room shortly after and sat down next to JC, not saying a word to anyone; not even in welcome to Lance and Joey. That, more than anything else, showed Justin how upset she was.
The others hastily grabbed a seat and stared up at him expectantly -- even Lyn. The only exception was JC, who refused to look at him.
"Okay..." he sighed, before plunging in. "Thanks to my so-called friend, Joshua Chasez," he said, looking down narrowly at JC before tearing his eyes away in anger and disgust, "you've probably all found out that I went to the Backstreet Boys concert yesterday evening."
Several small intakes of breath indicated that not everyone had believed JC completely.
"Yes, that's right," he confirmed. "I went to the BSB concert in Lexington yesterday. And, not only did I see Kevin, but I also spoke to him and even sang a duet with him on stage last night."
Their expressions and reactions were truly comical, and, normally, he would've enjoyed laughing at them. But he knew how much this news troubled them...
"I'd like to stress," he continued, making sure no one interrupted him until he'd had his say, "that I survived that encounter and it didn't adversely affect me, unlike some people seem to think." His gaze slid over JC.
"So you'd like to believe..." JC muttered softly, still looking down at his knees as if they were the most fascinating objects in the room.
"What did you say?" Justin angrily snapped.
"You heard me. You're full of shit if you think that you weren't affected!" JC replied just as angrily, finally looking up at Justin. His eyes were cold and full of anger; matching Justin's perfectly.
"I didn't say I was unaffected," Justin replied tightly. "I just said that I wasn't adversely affected! And that's true. I spent almost the whole evening with Kevin, and although I know I still love him with all my heart, I didn't fall apart, or into a depression, or anything else!"
"NO! You listen to me for once, Joshua!" he yelled, finally giving vent to his righteous anger. "I'm still feeling hurt about Kev not loving me, but that has nothing to do with what happened last night! This hurt will be with me forever! I'm living with this pain because I have to; not because I want to!
"I don't want to hurt myself, any more than any of you want me to, regardless of what you might all think. But there's no point in keeping me cooped up and away from him. It's not going to make any difference! I'm not gonna suddenly wake up one day and think, 'I'm over Kevin Richardson. I don't love him anymore.' Because that's never gonna happen! I'm going to love him till the day I die, and even beyond that!
"And I'll repeat my 'threat' to you, JC, and to the rest of you as well." Justin pinned each of them with a resolute stare. "I will not have any of you blaming Kevin for the pain I'm suffering. It's not his fault! He's not the villain of the piece! Blame everyone and everything else, but not him!"
His mother had started weeping at the anguish she heard in his voice. "But, honey, you've been hurt so much. I can't stand the thought of him hurting you any more!"
"That's quite enough, Mom," he said angrily, seeing the shock on his friends' faces at his tone of voice. "I don't want anyone to meddle in my life anymore. I'm quite capable of looking after myself. I don't need you all to hover over me like guardian angels. And I certainly don't need any of you deciding what I should be thinking or feeling!
"If I get hurt again, or even if I get hurt again and again and again, it will be because it is my choice. You'll just have to live with it! It's my life to live -- not yours. And if that involves more hurt, then so be it! I don't want to invite the hurt in, but even if that's what I end up doing, that's still my decision to make. No one elses!"
He glared at them all, making sure that he'd gotten his point across. His mother's weeping eyes caused him some discomfort but he ignored it. He had to lay down the law for once and for all. He was sick and tired of them censoring all his thoughts and feelings.
"And to show you how serious I am about this, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Kevin and I are going to have dinner on the night BSB come into Orlando for their concert."
He saw the surprised shock on their faces but didn't give them a chance to say anything.
"I'm going to go to dinner with him, whether any of you like it or not. And if it turns out that I come away from that dinner feeling even more hurt than I'm feeling now, I don't care! The only thing I care about is that we have our dinner together, regardless of the outcome.
"But I'm warning you all now... If I find out that any of you tried to sabotage the dinner, or tried to talk him out of it, or even said a single word out of place, then I'll never speak to any of you ever again. Ever!" His voice was dripping with pure venom as he declared the threat.
"Kevin is the most important person in the world to me. He's more important to me than you, Mom. He's more important to me than you guys, and he's way more important than the group. If I thought I had a chance to be with him, I'd happily give up everyone and everything! I'd resign in an instant to make that happen! His happiness is more important to me than anything else in the world!"
His eyes began to water as he laid bare his emotions for all to see.
"I love him so much! He means everything to me. Everything! Even if he ignores me for the rest of my life, I'll never stop loving him!"
The soft voice drew all eyes, including Justin's.
"Yeah, Chris?" he managed to choke out.
"Go for it. You've got my complete backing."
They locked gazes for a moment as an understanding flowed between them.
"I'm so jealous of you, Curly, for the way you love him. I'm in awe of your feelings for him, and the determination you have to do what's right for him -- even if you get hurt in the process. It's hard to see you like this and know that we can't - we shouldn't - do anything to protect you, but you're right. It's your life and, more importantly, they're your feelings. We can't take them away from you."
Chris looked across at the others. "I'm with Curly one hundred percent. It's his life, and we should let him live it. Even if he gets hurt, it will be because he's doing what he wants to do. We can't make that decision for him; we can only support him if it doesn't work out. And if I find out that anyone has lifted a finger against him, or his wishes, you'll need to look for a second new group member. Because I'll be right behind Curly in handing in my resignation!"
Justin barely managed a, "Thank you, Chris," before he totally broke down. Chris was instantly there for him, pulling him into a tight, supportive hug.
Lance and Joey looked at them for a moment before they stood and joined in the group hug. Lyn followed suit, soon after, and they parted to let her and Justin embrace each other, alone.
JC, with bitter tears streaming down his face, got up and left the room without a backward glance. He didn't see the flicker of pain that crossed Justin's face at his withdrawal.
Josh flung himself down on his bed and let the flood gates to his grief open. He buried his face into his pillow as his tears and sobs came without pause.
'Why is Justin doing this?' he lamented silently in his mind. 'Why is he torturing himself like this again?'
He recalled the many - almost countless - times that he had comforted Justin after another painful night out in Kevin's company. Each time had been progressively worse than the previous time; as Justin's pain mounted the longer he remained in Kevin's company. It had finally gotten to the point where Josh had started dreading seeing Justin's hurt features bearing down on him. Though he'd felt immeasurable guilt for feeling that way, he found that he couldn't cope with the 'offloading' of Justin's grief onto him...
And it wasn't because he didn't want to comfort Justin, because he genuinely did. After all, Justin was his best friend. No, The problem was that his own pain and grief had been mounting in parallel to Justin's. He had come to dread seeing Justin's hurt features, because he, himself, didn't want to feel any more pain...
It had become too overwhelming... he just couldn't take any more of the pain he'd witnessed in his friend.
And now... Now, Justin was practically telling him that he'd go out and do the same thing again! He would go out and be with Kevin, and then come back home to unburden himself all over again!
Well, Josh wasn't going to have a bar of that! Justin had another thing coming if he thought that Josh was going to willingly sit back and let him 'offload' his grief anymore!
Justin had barely taken a step towards the flight of stairs, when he felt a hand settle on his shoulder. He turned around to see who had stopped him, and saw Joey looking back at him, calmly, shaking his head as if to stop him.
"Don't. I'll go. It's probably better this way. He's too upset to talk to you rationally. Let me see what I can do, okay?"
Justin reached up and squeezed Joey's hand as he nodded his assent. He couldn't do more than flash a brief, tight smile in Joey's direction.
Joey, in turn, flashed him an 'everything-will-be-fine' smile and began walking up the stairs to JC's room.
Justin watched him go and frowned in worry. He hoped with all his heart that Joey could get through to Josh. He really wanted to have his best friend back...
Josh had settled down somewhat, by this point. He was now lying on his back with his arms and legs flung out from his sides and his eyes were staring blankly up at the ceiling.
He heard a knock on the door and ignored it -- not in the mood to see, or talk, to anyone. After a moment, he heard Joey's voice calling out, "I'm going to come in."
He didn't have the will power or energy to get up and lock the door. After a few seconds it opened and Joey stepped inside.
"Go away, Joe. I don't wanna talk to you."
"Fine, then don't talk. Let me do all the talking, okay?"
JC thought about it for a beat and realised that he didn't want to hear it all over again. Though he wasn't feeling sociable, he knew that the only way to avoid a lecture would be for he, himself, to talk instead.
"No... on second thoughts, I do want to talk. And you can listen instead."
"That's fine with me," Joey said calmly, coming over to sit on the edge of JC's bed.
JC didn't say anything for several minutes, partly because he wasn't keen to talk, and partly because he was trying to get his thoughts in order. Finally, he looked up and saw that Joey was looking back at him, waiting patiently for JC to say something.
He knew he couldn't win this battle. When Joey was in this particular mood, he could outlast all of them. 'Patience' was his middle name...
"I think Curly is making a big mistake," JC said, breaking the silence. "He's too vulnerable right now to know what he's letting himself in for. He's going to end up getting hurt again, no matter how much he thinks otherwise, and we'll end up having to pick up the pieces and start all over again."
"I hate to say this, Josh, but... 'so what'?"
"Eh?" JC asked in surprise, frowning up at Joey.
"So what if he ends up getting hurt again? We'll all be here to help him through it. And the same goes for the next time, and the time after that, and the time after that as well." Joey shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
JC looked up at Joey as if he'd sprouted a second head. "How can you be so calm about this, Joe? How can you talk about him like he's a doll or something? Do you know what he'll go through when he breaks down again?"
"Yeah, Josh, I do. I was there at the airport when he said 'goodbye' to Kevin, remember? I saw what he went through then, as well as what happened after we got back here. I know how depressed he became - almost to the point of being suicidal. But the important thing to remember is that they were his feelings. All we could do back then was to help him through it, and we'll do the same again if he gets hurt again.
"I know I sound like I don't care, Josh, but that's not true. I care a great deal about him; just like I care a great deal about you, and the others." Joey briefly rubbed JC's arm in sympathy, and smiled down at him affectionately. "I can only be calm, now, because the decision's been taken out of my hands. I am no longer responsible, nor was I ever, even though I didn't realise it at the time, for his actions and feelings. What Justin does, even if I think it will hurt him again, is his own business."
"Well I don't see it like that. I don't agree. I don't want to see him become hurt again! I don't want to have to deal with patching him up again!" Josh rolled over to his side, facing away from Joey, and quietly wept bitter tears.
Joey struggled to keep his own tears at bay. He reached over and gently placed his hand on JC's shoulder, rubbing it in comfort. "I thought that might be it," he said gently.
"What?" mumbled JC through his tears.
"You're just as worried about yourself as you are about Justin; and for good reason. I think you really care about him, and don't want to see him become hurt again. Which is something the rest of us feel, too. But, at the same time, I think you also don't want to see him become hurt because it also hurts you!"
No words were forthcoming from JC, but Joey knew his analysis was correct.
"Josh, you don't have to face this alone. We'll all be there to help Justin if, or when, he gets hurt again. And we'll also be there for you. You don't have to take on the responsibility of being his confidant all alone."
Josh started sobbing quietly as Joey's words reopened his barely-healed wounds.
"Oh, Josh," Joey sighed. "Let it all out. You need to let go of the pain that you've been carrying around for Justin. He needs you, and we need you, to be strong. We should have realised that you'd end up feeling just as hurt as Justin."
Joey comforted JC until he'd cried himself to sleep. Then, he got up and quietly left JC's room, knowing that Josh would eventually come round to accepting Justin's actions and decisions...
Kevin woke up and looked at the underside of the bunk bed above his in a daze. It took him a moment to recall where he was. He got up and immediately had to jump into action: his Discman was only inches from the floor when he reflexively caught it.
'Shit,' he thought. 'Almost broke another one. When will I learn not to listen to music in bed?'
Locating the ear plugs in his sheets, he tightly wrapped the headphone cable around the player. Well, at least it wasn't in danger of breaking until the next time he listened to it in bed. And considering he'd drained the batteries by playing the same track over and over the whole night, it might be a while before that happened.
He got off his bunk and put on a fresh pair of boxers and a slightly rumpled t-shirt. Then following his nose to the midsection of the bus, he entered what was the kitchen/lounge/dining room. The others were already there, eating their breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs, and drinking either coffee or juice as personal tastes dictated.
"Morning," he mumbled to the room in general.
"Morning," they all replied in unison.
He sat down at the only vacant spot at the table and pulled the plate of scrambled eggs in front of him.
"Hey, I haven't had seconds!" Nick complained.
"Well grab what you want now, because I'm going to eat what's left."
Nick hastily complied, and Kevin saw Howie and Brian also reach over to spear some more of the mixture onto their plates. He got up again and made an extra-strong cup of coffee. By the time he'd drunk it, and had eaten half of the egg mixture along with a couple of pieces of toast, he was feeling slightly more human.
He casually glanced up at his bandmates and saw A.J. duck his eyes quickly, as if he didn't want Kevin to know that he'd been watching him. 'That's odd,' he thought, worriedly. Over the next few minutes this peculiar 'dance' of theirs was repeated several more times -- although the others didn't seem to notice their odd behaviour.
By this time, though, Kevin had caught enough of A.J.'s expression to hazard a guess as to why A.J. was not-so-covertly studying him. 'Oh well,' he thought, 'I might as well get that out into the open as well.'
"So," he asked A.J. directly, "you've guessed that I love him?"
The clattering of four forks and the 'deer-caught-in-headlights' expressions were both comical and satisfying. He found them extremely amusing indeed, although he kept his own expression composed.
"Yeah, I did," A.J. replied, finally shaking himself out of his stupor. "But B confirmed it for me!" A.J. wasn't about to go down alone; he was quite willing to take Brian with him.
Brian almost choked on the bit of toast he'd been chewing.
"What exactly did he confirm?" Kevin asked softly. He was enjoying himself, though he hid it from them. Let them be a little wary, or frightened, and they might reveal more than they wanted to.
"He out-and-out told me that you loved him."
"Hmmm, okay. But what made you suspect it before he confirmed it?"
A.J. hesitated before committing himself to answering. "I could see it during last night's performance. I think we all could." He glanced across at the other three, but they didn't say anything to confirm his theory -- they were still doing their rather successful impressions of roadkill.
"I didn't think that I was being that obvious," Kevin said, finally giving up on the game and really starting to pay attention to the conversation.
"Well, you were a bit... Though, I think only the four of us would have noticed it. But even before your duet with Justin I had this feeling that you loved him."
Nick seemed to come alive at the mention of Justin's name.
"Justin?" he whispered, suddenly recalling the day he had woken up thinking that Kevin had died. He remembered running into Kevin's bedroom and seeing Kevin crying. But now that he had a chance to think about the scene properly, he realised that Kevin had been crying while looking across at Justin's bed!
A.J. and Kevin gave him a quick questioning look, but Nick remained silent as he furiously tried to recall the whole scene. They soon realised he wasn't going to say anything else, and promptly forgot his interruption.
"How could you have had a feeling that I loved Justin before you even saw us perform together?"
A.J. hesitated again, recalling what he had seen in Kevin's room on the night he had witnessed Justin crying himself to sleep. He had known, without a doubt, that Justin loved Kevin. So much so, in fact, that he'd thought they were soulmates without any hesitation. But Brian's revelations the previous night had made him question what he'd seen and thought.
"Alex?" Kevin asked in concern, not liking the long silence.
A.J. went for broke, following his gut instinct. "I knew you loved him because he loves you."
Kevin's face went deathly white as he fought to regain his suddenly un-hitched sanity. He wasn't the only one: the other three also looked at A.J. in shock. In Brian's case, it was mixed in with a good helping of anger.
"What did you say?" Kevin whispered.
"He loves you. He's your soulmate. Therefore you love him," A.J. replied matter-of-factly.
Kevin grabbed his hair in both hands and started pulling it in shock and anger.
"What the hell are you talking about, Alex?" he yelled; angry and confused. "How the hell do you know that? I know for a fact that he loves someone else!"
"I know what you think you've seen and heard," A.J. replied, speaking slightly louder though still as calmly as he could. "Brian's told me all about it. But I still think the two of you are soulmates and in love with each other. You two should be together. Nothing's going to persuade me otherwise!"
"Explain yourself. Now, Alex!" Kevin commanded, fighting to keep his tears and sanity from breaking away completely.
"Explain what, exactly?"
"For starters, why you think he loves me."
A.J. knew that there was only one way to convince Kevin. He would have to tell Kevin what he'd seen on the night that Kevin and Justin had cried themselves to sleep. The only problem was that he wasn't sure he could go through with it. The events of that night still affected him deeply. There were occasions, even all these many months later, where he would wake up crying from dreaming about that night.
"Alex?" Once again Kevin's voice held a note of concern. He was not liking these long silences a single bit.
A.J. finally decided that he had nothing to lose by telling Kevin what had happened that night. And maybe - just maybe - he - and Kevin - had everything to gain...
"The reason I believe he loves you is because of something I saw when we were touring with 'N Sync. Do you remember right at the start of the tour when you and Justin shared that hotel room?"
"Yeah," Kevin replied uncertainly, his voice dropping back down to a normal level.
"Good. Do you remember the night you went back to the hotel instead of rehearsing at the stadium? The night you were taken ill?"
"Yeah." This time, Kevin tried not to blush from guilt.
"Well, after we," - he pointed vaguely to the other three and himself - "got back to the hotel from rehearsals, we wanted to see whether you were okay. But Justin wouldn't let us come in to your suite for fear that we'd wake you. He said that he'd check up on you and let us know. But he never came back out. So, after about ten minutes, I went in after him."
Nick's and Howie's gasps indicated that they suddenly recalled the night in question. That was the night that A.J. had come running back into his suite, crying, and had looked himself in the bedroom. They suddenly forgot everything else as they paid full attention to A.J. They were dying to know what had caused A.J. to react like that. To a smaller extent, Brian was also keen to know what had happened that night...
"Well, when I walked into your bedroom I found you asleep on your bed, and Justin was standing next to it, crying his eyes out."
Kevin closed his eyes as they started to mist over. He still found it painful to think of Justin crying himself to sleep all these many months later.
"When I asked him what was wrong, his knees gave out and he couldn't do anything but point to your pillow and sheets. I looked over to where he was pointing and saw what he'd seen. I saw the wet spots on your pillow and sheets where you'd cried yourself to sleep." A.J. was barely speaking above a whisper now, and his eyes started to water as he recalled seeing Kevin's tear-streaked face.
Kevin felt his mind screaming out in pain. That's why Justin had cried himself to sleep! Justin had seen his tear-stained pillow and sheets! It was because of him that Justin had cried himself to sleep!
Kevin wasn't sure if he wanted to hear any more of what A.J. had to say...
Brian felt shocked to see A.J. crying again: it was only the second time he'd ever seen A.J. do that. But it certainly explained why A.J. had been crying when he'd run back into his suite and locked himself into the bedroom.
Brian looked across at Howie and Nick and saw that they had tears in their eyes as well. They had obviously come to the same conclusion as he. In Nick's case, he would've been crying even if A.J. wasn't. Knowing that his much-loved 'older brother' had cried himself to sleep would have set Nicky off regardless.
"I guess I don't have to tell you that I lost it at that point," A.J. said softly, coming as close to a humourous sniff as his emotions would let him. "I'd never appreciated how much pain you were in until then. So when I realised you had cried yourself to sleep, I broke down as well. After a while I composed myself and looked over at Justin. He hadn't moved since I'd come into the room. He just kept kneeling there, next to your bedside, looking over at you and crying the whole time. I realised that he didn't have any energy left to move, so I got him into his bed and undressed him.
"He didn't stop crying even for a moment," A.J. softly admitted through his tears. "All throughout the time I was getting him into bed and removing his clothes, he kept on crying and looking over at you in your bed. After I'd covered him with the blanket, I looked at him again, and he was still crying, even though he'd closed his eyes by then. I... I almost lost it again when I saw the hurt look on his face.
"I left him in his bed and came over to your bed. I looked down at you and noticed the tear tracks on your face." A.J. had to pause to take a much-needed breath of air. "I... I started to cry again and couldn't stop apologising to you, even though you were asleep and couldn't hear me."
His eyes were turning red as the tears continued to fall, endlessly. Brian and Howie could do nothing but stare between him and Kevin as their tears also fell unheeded. Nick had long since closed his eyes and wept quietly into his hands.
Kevin, with eyes still closed, sat motionless except for the slight heaving of his chest as he silently cried out another torrent of tears. His face was a mask of pain: his lips were curved into an upside down 'u' as he struggled to keep them from trembling; his eyes were squeezed shut, with the 'crows feet' either side showing clearly; and his nose was dripping water almost as copiously as his eyes were...
"I had to get out of there. I couldn't stand to see either of you looking like that. But before I left I turned around and looked at Justin..." A.J.'s voiced trailed off again. He looked up into the devastated expression on his friend's face and felt his heart shatter at the pain and loss he could see reflected there.
Whispering through his tears, he continued speaking, "Justin had reopened his eyes and was looking across at you again. His... his tears were falling much heavier than before, as he kept... kept looking at you. Then... then, in the most loving and... anguished voice I've ever heard in my life, he... he whispered, 'Boo'."
A.J. couldn't go on. It was too hard to talk while his body was shaking and his breathing was coming out in short, sharp, painful gasps.
Kevin silently rose and quickly left the lounge. He ran through the curtain that separated the lounge area from the bunk beds and threw himself down on his bunk. With an anguished cry that rocked the others to their souls, he started sobbing loudly as his heart and mind went crazy with grief.
Back in the lounge Nick wailed out in concert to Kevin's pain and buried his head in Brian's shoulder, sobbing loudly and holding on to Brian for dear life. The fact that Brian was holding him just as tightly didn't register in his consciousness.
Howie quickly walked over to A.J. and embraced him, letting his friend expend his grief into his shoulder. He in turn made use of A.J.'s shoulder as his tears streamed down his face.
All four of them stayed locked together until well after Kevin's sobbing had stopped...
It was a very sombre group that sat down to dinner late that afternoon.
Kevin had woken up several hours previously, but was moving about like a zombie. He wouldn't speak to anyone, he wouldn't look at anyone and, more disturbingly, he wouldn't acknowledge anyone's presence.
Finally, at dinner, A.J. had had enough. He couldn't stand to see his friend suffering like this.
Silence met his query. Howie looked up at him, briefly, almost as if admonishing him for not letting sleeping dogs lie. Brian and Nick just stared down at their uneaten food, as they aimlessly pushed it around their plates.
"Boo, please say something?"
Kevin's eyes squeezed shut as the nickname which Justin had made his own penetrated his defenses. He opened them quickly and softly said, "What?"
Howie, Nick and Brian tentatively looked over at Kevin when he'd finally spoken. They could see the exhausted set to his expression, and remained quiet.
"Kev, I don't mean to sound callous, but you need to sort this out. Once and for all. You need to tell Justin everything, and see what happens."
A.J. felt a flush of guilt as Kevin's eyes closed again when he'd said Justin's name.
"Kevin, you've got to! I don't know what's going on with JC, but you've got to find out whether Justin loves you or not. If he does, and I'm positive he does, and you've either misunderstood what's going on with JC, or he's only with JC because he thinks he can't be with you, then he's gotta be feeling as miserable as you are that you're not together. You owe it to both of you to find out!"
Kevin said nothing for several minutes. Finally, he looked at A.J. and slowly nodded his head.
The voice was barely audible.
They all turned to look at Brian. He continued to shake his head as he whispered once again, "No." He looked up abruptly into the face of his cousin and shouted, "No!"
Kevin's expression didn't change. He didn't even flinch at the volume of the shout. He just continued to stare steadily at Brian with cold green-grey eyes.
The others had frozen in shock at the volume and intensity of Brian's denial.
"Don't do it, Kev!" Brian pleaded. "Don't hurt yourself any more!" He choked on his words and looked down; away from the unflinching gaze of his cousin. His eyes started pouring with tears as he remembered all the times he and Kevin had cried, endlessly, in hurt and pain. He couldn't banish those memories, no matter how hard he tried.
"I couldn't stand to see you be hurt again..." he whispered.
No one spoke a word. Not even Kevin.
"I can't stand it anymore!" Brian yelled, looking up blurrily at his cousin. "I have so much pain inside," he gasped, "I can't stand to feel it anymore!"
Kevin's gaze remained locked on Brian's face, the only sign that he was hearing Brian's words, or seeing Brian's hurt, being a misting over of his eyes.
Brian, hurt and enraged, began to lash out. "How the hell can you stand it?! How the hell do you manage to live with all that pain boiling away inside you?! You must be feeling a million times worse than I am, but you don't seem to care! I'd have been driven insane by now if I felt what you've felt..."
Then, dropping back down into a whisper, he pleaded, "Kev, please don't hurt yourself any more. I'll lose my mind if I see you cry over him one more time!"
He started sobbing again and felt himself being drawn into Nick's tight embrace.
Nick cried silent tears as he held Brian in his arms and looked over at the pain-filled expression on Kevin's face.
A.J. and Howie were left staring blankly at their half-eaten food, lost in their own thoughts, and trying to cope with the hurt their bandmates were feeling.
"I sometimes think that I have gone insane," Kevin responded softly, looking at his cousin's trembling body.
Brian stiffened in Nick's arms as Kevin's words penetrated his grief. He looked up at the pained expression on his cousin's face and felt his heart miss a beat.
The others also looked at Kevin, and had to steel themselves at the unadulterated pain they could see on his face.
"I told you once before, Brian," he continued, still speaking softly, "that I hurt so much that I felt like I was dying." He paused for a moment, distracted by Nick's sharp intake of breath. "That's still true now. Each day I wake up and find that I'm not with him, I feel like I've died again!"
The others couldn't tear their eyes away from his face, as each felt their heart clench tightly, painfully, in response to his heartbreaking anguish.
"You can't possibly know how destroyed I felt when I heard him tell JC that he loved him! Or how my mind screamed out in pain when I heard them kiss... I'd welcome insanity if it can relieve me of the pain I'm feeling!" he cried out mournfully, before burying his head in his hands.
A.J. immediately crossed over to him and gathered him into a hug, ignoring his own tears as he tried to comfort the shattered man in his arms.
"Boo, you can't keep going on like this," he whispered lovingly. "Talk to him and find out once and for all where you stand. If he doesn't want to be with you, then let him say it to you. You've got to hear it from him to be able to get on with your life. To get the closure you need...
"But imagine what you'd feel if you find out that he does want you. I'm convinced that he loves you! I could see it in his eyes that night at the hotel; just as I saw it in both your eyes last night when you sang together.
"Boo, I believe that you were meant to be together! I believe it with all my heart and soul! I've never seen two people who've cared for one another more than the two of you do. If... No, when you two get together, I'm going to be so happy for you that I'll be crying happy tears for the next ten years!"
A.J. paused to lovingly kiss the top of Kevin's head, squeezing him tightly in love and affection. "You don't know, Train, how upset I was to think that you were straight and not capable of returning his love..."
Kevin pulled out of the embrace and stared up at A.J. in confusion; asking the question silently.
"Remember the day I told you Justin was gay?"
At Kevin's nod, he continued, "Well, it was the day after I found him crying by your bedside. I thought that maybe you didn't know about him being gay, so I told you in hopes of getting you two together. But when you told me that you'd known since the previous day, well... I thought that you were either not gay, or not interested in him. You don't know how upset I felt right then! I was ready to haul you inside and to make you love him...
"If only I'd known that you already did! It seems so clear to me now: why you cried yourself to sleep the previous night... But I wish it had been more obvious then."
He paused before steeling himself. "Kev, you've got to see him and settle it for once and for all. We'll all support you, no matter what the outcome."
Kevin stared into A.J.'s eyes for several moments before nodding his head again.
"You're right, Alex. I have to know. Not only for my sake, but for Justin's sake, and Brian's, as well." Kevin looked over to Brian and noticed the resigned set to his expression. "Brian, I'm sorry for all the pain I've put you through. I didn't realise that you were overloading from all of this. Please, try to understand that I've got to do this."
"I do understand, Cuz. I may not like it - only because I don't want to see you become hurt again - but I can understand it... And I want you to know that I - we - will always be here for you, no matter what happens."
That sentiment was repeated by the other three, causing his spirits to lift immeasurably -- even as his eyes threatened to cry happy tears for a change.
"Thank you, Brian. Thanks, guys."
"So when are you going to tell him?" Brian asked quietly.
"He and I are going to have dinner when we get to Orlando. Before the show."
"You're not going to tell him at dinner, are you?" Howie asked incredulously.
"No, we arranged the dinner last night before I knew about any of this. But that's the soonest I'll be seeing him. And I'd like to tell him that night - I can't wait until after the tour. If A.J.'s right and Justin loves me too, then I'm hurting him by not telling him. I don't want to do that to him."
"But, Kev," Howie insisted, "you can't tell him at dinner. It's too public!"
"I've got to, Howie," Kevin said. "I would tell him now, this instant, if I could, but I don't want to do it over the phone. I owe it to him to tell him face-to-face."
"Hey, Kev, why don't you invite him over to your place for dinner?" Nick suggested adroitly. "That way you'll have some privacy, and you'll be in surroundings that you're comfortable in."
"That's not a bad idea, Nicky," A.J. agreed. "What do you reckon, Kev?"
"Okay, I'll consider it," Kevin said. It was a good idea, but he'd have to arrange catering this way. He wasn't a good cook by any means...
Then, the severity of the situation impinged on his mind, and he sobered instantly. How would he 'come out' to Justin? And how would he try to find out whether Justin really loved him or not?
And, most importantly of all, how did JC fit into all of this?
Orlando, December 1st
Kevin cursed as his cell phone rang for the hundredth time that day.
Brian and the others politely ignored him as he started arguing with the person on the other end of the line. They only had a half-dozen spare hours left before their concert started, and Brian and the guys didn't want to spend them doing business.
That morning, after about the 15th call, they'd started noticing how stressed Kevin was becoming. They had each - privately - considered bringing up the subject of someone either taking over from Kevin, or at least assisting him, but they'd remained silent in cowardice. They just didn't have the business savvy to help him, and didn't want to show themselves up as being unwilling to help.
On those days where everything went wrong -- as it seemed to be doing today -- Kevin's job was just not worth doing.
Kevin hung up and swore again. He walked up to them and said, "Okay, let's get out of here before I get stuck with another 'emergency'." The emphasis on 'emergency' left no doubt in their minds that he was angry; he considered 'emergencies' to be the product of poor planning.
The guys just nodded and followed him out of the Arena to their waiting limo.
Just as Kevin had gotten in and closed the door behind him, the phone rang again.
"Fuck!" he exclaimed, loudly, as he seriously considered tossing the phone out the window. "Hello?" His tone was abrupt, but the guys couldn't fault him for being so frustrated and angry. They couldn't even fault him for swearing -- which was something he rarely did. "Oh, hi, Michael. Sorry about that. The phone just won't stop ringing today. It's driving me nuts."
He listened for a while, as the others carefully looked straight ahead, trying to do the right thing and not listen in to the conversation.
"Yeah, sure. If he's on the line, please put him through." Kevin flushed as he tried to get his mind around the fact that he was about to speak to Justin!
"Hi, Curly," he said happily. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed all four of his bandmates' heads turn sharply in his direction.
"Hey, Boo!" Justin said, just as happily. "It's so good to talk to you again. I tried calling your cell phone on several occasions, but it always seemed to be engaged. So I thought I'd give Mike a go, to see if he could get a message through to you. He said that he'd try your cell first, just in case, and it looks like he got through to you on the first try! Amazing, huh?"
Kevin grinned at the slightly nervous babbling coming down the line at him. It was just like his Curly to revert to a babbling schoolboy when he was nervous or excited...
"I'm glad he managed to get through, Curly, 'cause I also wanted to speak to you, but didn't have your phone number. I was going to call Michael and ask him for it."
"Why? What's up, Kev? Is something wrong?" Justin asked in concern.
"No, no. Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to talk to you about dinner tonight," Kevin replied, feeling a tinge of uncertainty enter his voice.
"That's what I was calling you about as well," Justin said, breathlessly.
"Ummm, Just? Would you mind too much if we had dinner at my place, instead of a restaurant?"
Justin breathed out a sigh of relief. For a moment he had almost thought that Kevin was going to cancel on him. "Nah, not a problem, Boo. I don't really care where we have dinner. Your place sounds just fine."
Kevin smiled in relief. He had heard Justin's barely concealed sigh and had thought that Justin was going to turn him down.
"It's a date, then, Blondie," Kevin said, smiling broadly and not worrying about the stares he was getting from his bandmates. "I'll have a limo come by your place at around 4:00, if that's okay?" He looked down at his watch and saw that it was 1:30 pm. Only two and a half hours to go...
"Yeah, Boo, that's fine. I'll be waiting." Justin started chuckling softly and heard Kevin echo it over the phone line.
"I'll see you soon, then, Justin."
"Okay. See you, Kev. Say 'hi' to the guys for me. And tell them to close their mouths!"
"Will do. 'Bye, Justin."
Kevin hung up then turned to look at his bandmates. Justin had been right - they all had their mouths hanging open. "Justin says 'hi', and he wants you to close your mouths," he told them, starting to laugh at their expressions as they took in his words and then snapped their mouths shut.
He continued to laugh, even though the phone started ringing again.
Brian and the others couldn't help but feel a sense of relief at his mood. Hopefully things would go just as well tonight...
Kevin started to fidget as he waited for Justin to arrive.
He had offloaded his non-stop ringing cell phone to a very unhappy Howie, and now, without any further distractions, he was starting to become extremely agitated.
He walked over to the kitchen and checked on the food in the oven, and in the fridge, for the hundredth time in as many seconds. Nothing had changed, not that he'd expected it to. The meal looked extremely delicious. But then again, the caterer he'd employed had always produced great tasting meals. He took another peek inside the fridge, and cursed himself for his nervousness. He was slowly going crazy.
Lifting a hand to his mouth, he started to absently chew on his fingernails as he let his mind wander. He couldn't think straight (no pun intended) -- he was just too nervous about what might possibly transpire that night...
Sighing in frustration he quickly walked to his bedroom and entered the ensuite. He looked at himself in the mirror and was horrified to see how anxious he looked. And the sheen of sweat covering his face was decidedly unsexy. He groped for the towel and started wiping himself dry. Before he had a chance to consider changing his clothes -- a pair of tight, black dress jeans and a white t-shirt partially hidden by a green open-buttoned long-sleeved shirt -- he heard the doorbell ring.
'Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...' he thought, literally jumping in startled surprise at the sound, and suddenly feeling frantic. He picked up the brush on his vanity unit and quickly gave his hair another comb through with shaking hands, before he rushed out to get the door.
He reached it, just as the doorbell sounded a second time, and flung it open...
End - Chapter 16
To be continued...