Kevin & Justin
Peter Kamphuis
Initial Edit: 09 September 2000
Final Revision: 08 October 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.

Author's Notes:

Hi all. It's been a while...

Well, here (finally) is Chapter 19 of 'Kevin & Justin'. I hope you enjoy it. It was a hell of a chapter to write and edit, and my thanks go out to mh again for his sterling efforts. I know I haven't taken all his suggestions under advisement <g> but what I have included should make this chapter a much stronger chapter than it originally was. Thanks again, mh.

Just as an aside, I think I re-worked this chapter about 5 distinct times with mh's help. A couple of scenes were included at the last minute (i.e. about a day ago at the latest <grin>), but all in all, I think it's worked out well.

One final thing before we get on with the story...

Happy (belated) Birthday, Kevin Richardson!

Kevin turned 29 on the 3rd of October. Many happy returns, Kev.


Nick struggles to cope with his feelings of hurt and betrayal by Brian. A.J. has a talk with him in private and finally realises part of the problem: Nick, himself, is in love with Kevin. Nick doesn't deny this, but gets A.J. to promise not to say anything, as he doesn't think anything can come out of his infatuation with Kevin. A.J. agrees, and is heartened to see that Nick will be okay, given enough time to cope with Brian's unilateral decision to bring Kevin's mother and brother to Orlando.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Justin are on their way to Orlando Arena, seriously late for the concert. Justin becomes overwhelmed the closer they come to the arena, as he knows he'll soon be deprived of Kevin's company for the next few days. Kevin comforts him, almost instinctively aware of his worries and feelings, and reassures Justin that they'll survive the separation and soon be back together again.

In the arena's dressing room, Howie tries to settle Brian's nerves as Brian almost worries himself to death over Kevin's absence and Nick's reaction to his aunt's and cousin's appearance.

Kevin finally makes it to the concert venue and sees Justin off in the limo. He hurries inside and comes face-to-face with three of his bandmates. He takes note of their odd behaviour and silence, and doesn't know what to make of it. He brushes past them and on to the dressing room. A.J. indicates that Nick and Howie should go ahead and start the concert - doing their solos first - while he doubles back to follow Kevin into the dressing room.

Howie faces the music out on stage, and tries to placate the restless crowd. He bribes them with the promise of additional songs at the end of the concert, then starts his solo routine. He silently groans at Brian's poor timing, and curses him for bringing Kevin's brother and mother out here. In the wings, Nick does the same...

And now...

Kevin & Justin - Chapter 19

Kevin entered Orlando Arena's self-styled dressing room slightly pre-occupied. Moments ago he had left his colleagues standing outside, feeling a tad bewildered by their odd behaviour. What was worse, he had a vague feeling, that he couldn't quite shake, that they'd wanted to tell him something; something which their uncharacteristic silence had prevented them from doing. But even though he had given them every chance to speak, they hadn't taken it. He almost sighed out loud in frustration - this was getting him nowhere fast. He would deal with it later.

He'd barely stepped inside the dressing room before he came to a jarring halt. There, seated on the room's faded blue leather couch, were the last people he'd ever expected to see: Jerald and his mother. His mind went blank as he stared at them dumbfounded, not quite believing his senses. Then his brain kicked in again, as the image of them remained burned on his retinas. 'What are they doing here? What's she doing here?'

Without warning his anger flared, almost uncontrollably, surprising him with its intensity. His eyes narrowed as he coldly regarded them. Then his gaze swept over to the other occupant of the room: Brian -- who was trying to make himself as small and inconspicuous as possible on a stool in the corner.

Brian nervously gulped as Kevin's piercing stare landed on him. The anger he saw in Kevin's eyes filled him with a sense of dread he'd never felt before; a major catastrophe was bearing down on them - he felt it in the very marrow of his bones. He also felt it in the way the room's temperature had seemingly dropped several degrees in that instant, and in the way that A.J., who had come in silently behind Kevin, hesitated to reach out and touch Kevin.

Kevin, dismissing his cousin with one last, almost contemptuous, glance, briefly returned his gaze to his mother and brother before turning on his heels to leave the room. In the process, he almost ran into A.J., who was blocking his escape path.

"A.J., get out of the way," Kevin said tightly, the barely contained anger sounding clear and ominous in his voice.

"I can't do that, Kev." A.J.'s hesitation fled as quickly as it had arrived. His response, calm and collected though it was, still caused the others to inhale sharply. Ann and Jerald stared at them in concerned shock, as the bandmates glared one another down. Brian, looking on mutely in fear, couldn't tear his eyes away from the confrontation. The brightness of the room's lights seemed to throw everything into crystal-sharp focus, and Brian, along with his relatives, was aware of every excruciating detail of Kevin's and A.J.'s taut postures, in the timeless age they spent locking wills.

Kevin's expression contorted as his anger soared by the millisecond. "Get out of my way, now, Alex, or I'll go right through you!"

The savageness of his tone, so unlike him that it was difficult to reconcile it with the genteel Kevin they all knew, brought a chill to all present.

"I already told you I can't do that, Kevin" A.J. replied in determination, swallowing his incipient fear and somehow hoping that Kevin would sense his deep concern for him. Barely a moment later he was startled into immobility as he saw Kevin's clenched fist rushing towards his face.


Lynn Harless slowly opened the door to JC's room, then called out softly, "Joshua?" into the quiet stillness.

The room was starting to darken as the last rays of the lowering sun rapidly departed. However, even through the dusky gloom, she was able to see the figure lying on the bed, and crept over silently to gaze down at the prone form. As she suspected, having heard no answer to her knocking a minute ago, Josh had drifted off into a doze. She stood next to his bed, staring down at the slumbering form of one of 'her boys', and privately wished that she could ease his worry and hurt.

It saddened her to see him at odds with Justin; the two of them had been so close ever since their early days at the 'Mickey Mouse Club'. But now, that bond was stretched almost to breaking point, and she didn't know how to help him - or Justin - fix it.

Leaning down to brush her fingers lovingly across his cheek, she softly sighed, then stood up again.

Moments later, the room was plunged once more into a darkening greyness as she closed the door behind her; leaving the still sleeping figure of JC to rest in peace.

The sharp cry, ricocheting behind him, as well as his own internal warning bells which were ringing so loudly that he was almost deafened by them, prompted Kevin to pull up short from delivering the blow. As his arm fell heavily to his side, he looked up into his friend's terrified countenance and felt a numbing fear overtake him. What was he thinking? He'd almost hit Alex! Unbidden tears came to his eyes as his mind contemplated, in unremitting horror, the crime he had almost committed.

Behind him, and shaking like a leaf now that the adrenaline rush had worn off, Jerald offered a silent prayer of thanks that his cry had been heeded. Next to him, his mother fared no better. Even Brian, who'd suspected such a reaction from Kevin, although directed at himself, was shaking off the shock to his system.

A.J., the only one present who could see Kevin's horrified expression, and the haunted look in his shimmering aquamarine eyes, suddenly comprehended the full depth of Kevin's internal conflict. He stepped forward to tightly clutch the shaking man in his embrace, taking rueful note of the tears starting to track down Kevin's face. As he held his friend comfortingly, he found it odd that his mind - the one small part of it that was still thinking rationally - was trying to rationalise his apparent lack of reaction to the shock to his system.

Kevin half-sobbed into A.J.'s shoulder, and muttered piteously, "Why, Alex? Why didn't you let me go? Why?" His almost heart-breaking lament brought budding tears to A.J.'s eyes. "I can't do this. I... I can't... I can't face them..."

A.J. soothed his distraught friend as best he could, whispering, "Kevin, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But you need to talk to them. They came all the way out here to see you; you can't just turn your back on them now."

Kevin's almost silent, desperate, plea of, "I can't, Alex," went unheard by all, save A.J.

"You've got to, Boo," A.J. replied, almost as gently, pouring as much love into his voice as he could muster. "Your family means so much to you. You can't cut them off like this. You need them, Kevin, as much as they need you."

"They don't need me," Kevin replied bitterly through his tears, though still softly enough that only A.J. heard.

"They do," he insisted, and meant it. The looks on both Jerald's and Ann's faces only confirmed it for him. Both were reacting to Kevin's sobbing, though they still looked as if they were rooted to the spot. "Brian told us about how you've refused to talk to them these past couple of days." Brian had told them chapter and verse about this while they'd waited for Kevin to show up, backed up by his cousin and his aunt. "I know you're upset with your mom, Kev, but you can't take out your hurt and anger on your brothers too. They don't deserve it. Do they?"

Kevin remained silent, except for the abating sounds of his sobbing, not caring to admit that A.J. was right. He knew his recent behaviour had been unfair to Tim and Jerald, but he couldn't talk to them. They would have just gone on and on about the whole situation, and all he had wanted to do was to forget all about his disastrous coming out to his mother. So much so, that every time he had received a call from them, he had promptly hung up. And after each aborted conversation, his feelings of guilt, anger, and depression mounted. The only positive outcome of the whole fiasco, as far as he was concerned, was that he'd found out that both his brothers still loved him.

"Kevin?" Jerald said softly from behind him. "Please, bro, we need to talk."

"I can't, Jer," Kevin replied after a moment, trying to steady his voice, and driving the last of the tears away. "I'm not ready to talk to you. Either of you."

He didn't bother to turn and face his brother and mother when he replied; a fact that was not lost on any of them. Silence settled over the room as the situation neared an impasse.

The limousine driver heard the familiar beep of the intercom and picked up the phone. After a brief enquiry as to the young man's wishes, he listened carefully while he was given new directions.

Realising that he was rapidly approaching the exit that he now needed to take, he replaced the phone in its cradle and steered the limousine over into the next lane, silently cursing as a car horn sounded from behind. Soon after, though hardly surprisingly, others followed suit.

In the back of the limousine, Justin was so lost in thought that he didn't even notice the rash of car horns sounding off behind them. He just stared down at the cell phone in his hands as he made a difficult decision. With definite purpose, he reached for the power button and pressed it. With a final flash of random pixels, the screen went dead, effectively cutting him off from the rest of the world -- or at least, his part of it.

Still glancing down at the dead phone, he tried to ignore the rush of guilt that flooded him at that moment.

Unaware of the youth's state of mind, and not particularly caring either (even if he'd known), the limo driver pulled the car off the freeway and onto the correct exit ramp. In a short while they would be at his passenger's destination and he would have a chance to relax again...

"Can you please leave Kevin and I alone for a moment?" Ann asked softly into the silence. Her eyes silently begged them all to accede to her request.

Brian nodded and stood, walking to where A.J. and Kevin were standing in front of the door. He stopped slightly short of the pair, not knowing if Kevin was going to turn on him for his part in the whole affair.

A.J., sensing his reluctance to approach them, disengaged himself from Kevin and gently propelled him backward into the room, generating an opening into which Brian quickly ducked. He grabbed Brian as he rushed past, effectively stopping his exodus from the dressing room. Turning back once more to face Kevin, he said, "We'll be right outside, Kev." He waited for any sort of reaction from Kevin, but received none. Sighing, he pushed Brian outside and followed him, taking one last look at the dejected figure of his friend.

Jerald, who wasn't sure if it was such a good idea to leave his brother and mother alone, got up from the couch and hovered indecisively. He was about to open his mouth to argue his case with her, when she took the decision out of his hands. Though several inches shorter, and many pounds lighter, than him, she stood and guided Kevin's brother to the door, pushing him through and closing it softly behind her.

She then turned to face her youngest son, and wasn't surprised to discover that he'd turned to face the paint-chipped wall, his back to her once more.

"Can we talk about this, Kevin," she asked after several moments, unsure of how to best tackle the situation, "please?"

"I don't think there's anything to discuss, is there?" he replied lifelessly, hoping she would take the hint and leave him alone.

"I think there is, sweetheart," Ann replied. She didn't fail to notice his shoulders hunch in on themselves, and his head dropping forward as if weighed down, at her use of the endearment.

"No, I don't think so, Ma. There's nothing we need to say to each other. Can you please leave?"

Ann's breath caught at his softly-spoken request. She hesitated once more, before trying to reason with him again. "Honey, we need to..."

"No, Ma," he interrupted. "Just go. Please. I don't want to talk about this now." After another moment's silence, he continued, though with a touch of pleading in his voice. "Please go. Can't you see that you're making it worse by being here?"


"Go! Just go. Go away! GO AWAY! GO AWAY!" He was shouting by this time, the tears back, and his throat constricted so much that he almost couldn't get the words out. Then with a sob that literally wrung her heart, he pitifully asked, "Why, Ma? Why? Why did you hurt me like that? Why..."

His voice dwindled to nothingness as the hurt increased to almost unbearable proportions.

Ann, feeling completely choked up at that moment, could do nothing but let his desperate pleas fade away. She watched as her baby's back heaved with the breaths that were necessary to fight off the tears. Then from seemingly nowhere, she replied completely honestly, "I don't know, Kevin."

Kevin shook his head at her candid response, feeling oddly worse at the answer. Another sob escaped his mouth, and his eyes began to sting.

"I honestly don't know, Kevin. I wish I did. My only excuse is that it took me completely by surprise and I didn't have enough time to think about it and deal with it. I was in shock, honey... It was the last thing I expected you to tell me. And in a way, it hurt me too; I felt as if I'd lost the most precious thing in my life..." She trailed off, just staring at her son's almost imperceptible head shaking. She had messed everything up, and had probably lost one of the people she loved most in the world: her baby, her pride and joy, her wonderful - hurting - son...

"I guess I deserve this," she said softly, as if speaking to herself. "I can't say that I blame you for hating me, Kevin. I know I would if I was in your place."

Kevin swung around to face her, stung by her words. "I don't hate you, Ma. I..." He stopped dead in his tracks, stunned by the pained look on her face. His breath caught, as he saw her eyes starting to water. "Ma... please don't cry."

Instinctively, he rushed to her and drew her into a hug, shaking all over at the sight of his crying mother. "Please don't cry, Ma. Please," he whispered to her, chanting it like a mantra.

A.J. looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Like him, his two companions hadn't said a single word since they'd left the dressing room. They'd just stood there, outside the dressing room's garishly painted door, and looked down at the heavily scuffed floor as if it held the answers to all their problems. With varying degrees of patience, they had waited for something - anything - to happen.

Howie approached the trio, and silently took them in -- it didn't look good. He spent a moment lost in his own thoughts, while glancing absently at the dressing room's closed door, before rousing himself to speak. "I let the audience know about the change in lineup. I had to bribe them with a couple of extra songs at the end of the concert to make it up to them."

Brian simply nodded his head, unable to rouse himself to say or do anything more. A.J. nodded as well, voicing an unenthusiastic: "Okay."

Howie almost sighed at their lacklustre response. Well, they couldn't hang around here all day. "I thought you'd like to know that I'm done. Nick's performing now. One of you, or better yet both of you, should head over to the stage now. He's going to finish at any moment."

"I'll go," Brian replied resignedly. He took a step before A.J.'s voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Try to stall for time, Rok. Sing a couple of songs if you can. We've got to give them as much time as it takes to sort this out."

Brian nodded and left, his shoulders still downcast.

Howie took Brian's place in front of the door, and the new trio silently resumed their vigil. Jerald couldn't help but feel impressed with his brother's bandmates. They were looking out for Kevin almost as if he were family. Well, Brian was family, but the others seemed to care about Kevin as much as Brian did.

Nick walked past Brian without a single look, leaving his friend bewildered and depressed.

Brian watched him disappear into the wings before taking the last few steps onto the stage. He plastered on a smile, which he was far from feeling, and approached the stool situated in the centre of the stage. Sitting down, he brought the microphone up to his lips.

"Hello, Orlando!"

The response was as he'd expected; the crowd went wild, as they saw one of their favourites out on the stage.

"I've got a special treat for y'all tonight. Instead of one song, I'll be singing two." He had to patiently wait for the noise to die down before he could continue. "But first, I'd like to thank you for your patience with us tonight. As you've probably guessed by now," he hated the lie, even if it couldn't be avoided, "the person who's ill is either A.J. or Kevin. Well," he paused, unsure if he should expand the lie, "Kevin's the one feeling a bit down at the moment. He's got a stomach bug, and might not be feeling well enough to perform tonight."

Murmurs of surprise, worry and shock reached him all the way up on the stage. The crowd didn't seem to like what they'd heard. And neither would his bandmates, if they'd just heard what he said. They had agreed to pretend that Kevin was feeling a bit ill, but the intention had always been that he would perform after he'd spoken to his family. Brian had just unilaterally changed the plan.

But somehow, from what he had seen in the dressing room, he would be immensely surprised if Kevin felt like performing tonight. He silently sighed, before speaking to the crowd once more. "Let's hope and pray that he feels better soon, so that he can join us on stage tonight." A murmur of agreement arose from the crowd following his statement.

"Though we normally perform this song together, and will do so again later tonight, I'd like to sing it solo for you right now. This one goes out to my cousin, and friend, Kevin Richardson, and to his mom as well." He turned to the band and requested they play "The Perfect Fan".

Nick felt a lump form in his throat as he surreptitiously watched Brian from the wings. He shook his head slightly to dispel what he had just seen and heard, then looked back up in time to see Brian start singing the song. As the words penetrated his ears, his mind struggled with the realisation of what Brian was openly telling the whole world - though no one other than the five of them, and Kevin's family, would understand it.

Brian never sang that song without meaning every word and nuance of it. His selection of it, and his dedication, expressed his belief that Kevin would somehow forgive his mother. But more importantly, it also expressed how much Brian felt about the importance of his relatives' relationship, and that he would do everything in his power to make them feel the same way that he felt about his own mother, and she of him.

Nick remained rooted to the spot for almost the entire length of the song, before he recalled himself. Taking one long, last, and most of all, confused look at Brian, he turned and walked away.

"How can you ever forgive me, Kevin?"

Kevin released his mother from his embrace and looked down into her tear-soaked eyes. "I love you, Ma; I could never hate you. Never. And though I wasn't really happy with your reaction the other day, I don't think you've done anything that warrants my forgiveness."

Ann could hear the uncertainty in his voice, and felt a sense of pride and love suffuse her, along with a large dose of guilt, as her baby tried to pretend that he hadn't been hurt; all for her benefit.

"But I do need your forgiveness, honey," she stressed, clutching his arms tightly. "I reacted very badly when you told me, and that hurt you. I hurt you; there's no point denying it. I'm so very sorry, baby. For the way I reacted, and for hurting you like that."

Kevin continued to stare down into her eyes, uncertain about what to say. The hurt was still there, and very much in the forefront of his thoughts. But his mother hadn't intended to hurt him; she had just reacted to the situation without having time to absorb it and understand it. She wasn't really at fault, even though her reaction had hurt him. "Mom, you didn't hurt me deliberately. I know that, really I do. There's nothing for you to be sorry about. I can't forgive you for something that's not your fault."

Ann buried her face in his chest, still clutching his arms and wishing that his valiant attempts to comfort her were not so guilt-provoking. "My sweet baby," she murmured softly into his chest, before turning her face back up to him. "I love you, sweetheart. I love you even with that stubborn streak you have. And though you say there's nothing to forgive me for, I know there is. Please, sweetheart, forgive me for the way I've treated you."

"Okay, Mom. You're forgiven," he replied, a hint on exasperation and defeat in his voice. He returned her embrace, affectionately whispering, "And I got that stubborn streak from you, you know."

Ann smiled tentatively and held him tightly. "I know, sweetheart. I know."

They held each other in silence for a while, not daring to believe that they'd started to mend their torn relationship. Finally, Kevin disengaged himself from her arms and asked, "Mom, why did you come down here?"

"To see you, sweetheart," she murmured, lifting her glasses for a moment to wipe her eyes with a handkerchief. "Your cousin wouldn't stop calling me. He told me how badly you took my rejection-"

"You didn't reject me," Kevin denied, suddenly realising from his outburst that he really believed it.

"In a way, I did, sweetheart. I think you know that as much as I do. Otherwise you wouldn't have felt hurt and betrayed when you left home the other day." She looked into his eyes and saw an echo of the pain he'd suffered at their last meeting. "I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you, Kevin. I hope I can make it up to you someday. I won't stop trying until I do."

Kevin simply nodded, before reaching across to kiss her forehead.

"Anyway," she continued, trying to hold back her tears at his loving gesture and folding herself back into his embrace, "Brian kept telling me how you were suffering, and, in tandem with your brothers, got me to realise that I was hurting you. Being homosexual doesn't change who you are. You're still my son, and I love you dearly. Though I'm not really happy that I won't get to see you have any children of your own, that has very little to do with the way I -- we -- love you. We're a family, Kevin. You and I, your brothers, your sister-in-law, and even that pesky cousin of yours. And a family loves every member of their family, regardless of everything else."

She pulled slightly away from the hug and looked up into his face. Glimmering eyes, full of love, looked back down at her, bringing a lump to her throat, and further tears to her eyes.

"I love you, Ma. Thank you."

She battled to keep her eyes clear at the whispered words coming from him, but lost. She returned to his embrace and hugged him as tightly as she could, weeping the entire time. "I love you too, sweetheart. I love you too..."

Nick walked up to the silent group outside the dressing room. He positioned himself next to A.J. and tapped him on the arm.

"Yeah, Kaos?"

"You're up next. Just so you know, Brian's decided to sing a couple of songs; he's already finished his first one."

A.J. nodded in understanding, causing Nick to realise that A.J. had already known that Brian would do just that. Then, feeling slightly arrested by the odd tone in Nick's voice, A.J. carefully asked him, "What did he sing, Nick?"

Nick remained silent for several seconds, unable to meet A.J.'s eyes. Finally, he replied, "Brian sang "Fan". He dedicated it to Kevin and his mom."

Three sets of eyes bore down on him at that revelation. He tried to remain relaxed under their concentrated gazes, but soon felt his anxiety building.

"I see," A.J. said, at long last, realising the implications of Brian's dedication and choice of song. "Well, I'd better get out there."

Nick watched in relief as A.J. strode off towards to the stage. The others dropped their gazes once more, their expressions returning to the anxious cast they'd held before. Nick soon joined them...

Brian walked off the stage and almost ran into A.J. He started to apologise when A.J. smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder. "Thanks, Rok. See you soon."

Brian stared in wonder as A.J. walked past him and onto the stage, to wild applause from the crowd. "Thanks for what?" he wondered to himself.

Backstage, a junior executive of The Firm took out his cell phone and started dialling a familiar number.

Soon, the call was answered. He stopped the overworked personal assistant in her tracks and asked to be transferred immediately to the managing director of The Firm. He had a lot of things that he needed to report to Michael...

Nick heard the sound of Brian's approaching feet and couldn't stop the sudden whirling of thoughts in his head, as they fought frantically for his attention.

Only moments before he had felt so angry with Brian, as well as betrayed, that he'd believed that he would never forgive him for his part in Kevin's continued hurting.

But now, having witnessed the love and dedication that Brian felt for his cousin, and understanding what Brian had gone through to make things 'right', he wasn't so sure anymore. He instinctively knew that Brian was willing to be, and resigned to being, shunned by everyone, and never be forgiven for what he'd done, all in the belief that it would help his cousin.

Nick raised his head to look at Brian, and wasn't surprised to see Brian looking at him with a despondent expression -- which disappeared almost immediately as Brian composed his features. He continued to gaze into Brian's eyes, seeing into his very soul, and knew that he had to make things right between them.

Hesitantly at first, one step followed another, until he was in Brian's surprised, and open armed, embrace. He felt Brian's almost petrified body relaxing slowly as he accepted that Nick had forgiven him. Then, glad to feel the pressure being returned in Brian's hug, he softly whispered, "I'm sorry, B. And thank you for everything you've done."

"You're welcome, Frack," Brian whispered in return, his voice almost breaking. "Anytime..."

Howie watched on with a small smile touching his lips, and wasn't surprised to see tears appear in Brian's eyes, or the serenity that flooded his face soon afterwards.

"Ma?" Kevin said, pulling away from her comforting hug. "I really hate to leave, but I can't delay the concert any longer. I need to get out there. Sorry."

"I understand, honey. But there's so much more we need to talk to about."

"I know," he replied, sighing at the truth of the statement. "But I can't let the guys down, or the fans. I have to get ready now. Will you be able to wait until after the concert to talk?"

"Unfortunately, no," Ann replied, sighing in frustration. "Jerald and I have to catch a flight back to Lexington in less than an hour. We only came out here to see you and try to mend the damage I've caused."

"Oh," Kevin replied, rapidly trying to think of something. "I guess I can miss this one concert," he replied eventually, though he didn't want to burden his bandmates any more than necessary, nor slight his home town of Orlando.

Sensing her son's hesitation, Ann came to his rescue. "Don't worry, honey. Get yourself ready and have fun tonight. I'll go back to Lexington with your brother, and you can visit us when you finish the tour. It's almost over, isn't it?"

Kevin smiled at the out she'd given him. "Thanks, Ma. Only three more concerts after this one, and we're done for the year. No, hang on, I just remembered that our last concert was cancelled; so there's only two more after this one. I'll fly directly to Lexington after the final concert." Smiling happily, he hugged her once again, then said, "I love you, Ma. Thank you for coming down to see me."

"It was the only right thing to do, honey. I'm so sorry for everything. I love you too, and I'll make it up to you, Kevin." Smiling lovingly up at her precious baby, Ann gently caressed his cheek before turning to depart. "I'll see you soon."

Kevin nodded in reply. "'Bye, Ma. Love you."

Ann turned back to him, just as she reached the doorway. "I love you too, sweetheart." Then, blowing him a kiss, she opened the door and stepped through.

Kevin's face fell the moment she left; all the emotions that he'd been wrung through had left his face muscles aching terribly. Sighing one last time at the outcome of their meeting, he started pulling off his clothes as fast as he could.

By the time he'd finished dressing - which was in record time for him - Howie, Nick, and Brian had stepped inside and were watching him like hawks, trying to gauge his mood. Kevin's mother had practically torn Jerald away from his position on the other side of the door and had left without saying a great deal. Only the happiness showing clearly on her face had led them to believe that maybe things had turned out okay...

Kevin smiled at their inquisitive stares, and almost laughed at the genuinely scared look on Brian's face. He was almost tempted to string them along, but the seriousness of Brian's fear, as well as the guilty feeling he was experiencing for ruining the concert, convinced him otherwise.

"What's going on? Why aren't y'all on stage?" he asked.

"We've changed the lineup slightly," Howie replied after a moment, knowing that the other two wouldn't speak up. "What happened, Kev?"

Kevin sighed and spoke quickly, "I don't have the time to tell you right now, Howie. I need to know how the lineup's changed so I can go out there and fix things. We can discuss everything else later."

"Uh," Howie replied, surprised at the change of tactics. Then recovering quickly, he replied, "We're doing our solos first. We've all done our turns. A.J. is out there now. He should be finishing anytime now." Then taking a deep breath, he continued, "Kev, we told the crowd that you're not feeling well... to cover..." He trailed off, unsure of how to conclude his sentence.

Kevin breathed in nervously, but knew what he had to do. "Okay, I guess I'd better get out there. And, thanks, Howie."

As he started to walk past them, Nick spoke up. "But Kev, you haven't been to makeup yet..." he wove his hand in the direction of his cheek, indicating that Kevin's scar would be visible under the bright stage lights. He continued, "Are you sure you're ready to perform tonight? We can do the show without you."

Even though the words were meant kindly, Kevin felt slightly stung all the same. "Thanks, Nick, but I'm ready to perform. I have to. Otherwise I'll just think too much about everything that's happened. And it won't hurt me to go on stage without makeup just this once."

Leaving the stunned trio in his wake, he left the dressing room and almost jogged to the stage. As he reached the wings, he heard A.J. apologising to the crowd for his absence. Smiling broadly, he strolled out onto the stage to a veritable tsunami of applause, causing A.J. to stop mid-sentence and turn to look at what had provoked the crowd in that fashion.

Kevin's smile broadened, not only for the reaction he'd received from the crowd, but also at the stunned look on A.J.'s face. Retrieving the microphone from A.J.'s limp grasp, he turned his attention back to the crowd and spoke: "Hello, Orlando!"

A.J. couldn't help the smile which spread across his face at the crowd's reaction. He continued to smile as he left the stage, pausing only long enough to reach out and squeeze Kevin's shoulder. Somehow, he knew that everything was going to be okay now.

Back in the dressing room, Kevin's cell phone, still perched on top of the dressing table where Howie had placed it earlier that day, rang for the first time in over two hours. The three still bewildered men seemed to come alive at the sound.

Howie groaned as he recalled the non-stop calls from earlier that afternoon. Moments later, he sighed a silent breath of relief as Brian reached over and picked it up.


"Ke- Brian?"

The voice was slightly familiar; it also sounded genuinely surprised to hear him. "Yes? Who is this?"

"Brian, this is Michael. Is Kevin there?"

Brian's insides froze: Michael, their management company's managing director, was on the line. Michael knew everything about everything. He would be painfully aware that they were in the middle of a concert, so by rights, he shouldn't have been calling them. As he was, it must mean that he had somehow found out about Kevin's absence. 'Shit!'

"Uh, sorry Michael," he replied, almost stuttering in panic. He watched as Nick's and Howie's eyes widened at the name he'd spoken. "Kevin's on stage right now."

"I heard that he wasn't well," Michael said, taking note of the odd tone in Brian's voice. "What happened? Why is he on stage if he isn't feeling well?"

Brian had no doubt that Michael wanted answers. But, boss though Michael was, it wasn't his place to explain what had just happened. And even if he'd wanted to, it would take too long. Now that Kevin was performing his solo, it would be only a matter of minutes before they started the concert in earnest. Taking a deep breath, he replied, "Mike, Kevin is fine. Something happened which we can't go into right now -- we don't have the time -- unfortunately." He heard Michael starting to speak and ploughed on, raising his voice to forestall The Firm's MD. "We've got to get out on stage now, so that this concert isn't a total waste, but I promise you that Kevin will call you as soon as we're done. Oh, and it might be later than normal, 'coz we promised the audience a couple of extra songs due to the delayed start. It was nice talking to you again, Mike. Gotta go. Bye!"

He hung up the phone, inhaling a large gulp of air. Then with shaking hands, he turned the cell phone off and dropped it back down on the tabletop. A sound from behind him caught his attention and he turned to face his companions. There, with hands covering their mouths, were Howie and Nick, desperately trying to contain their laughter. A smile crept along his lips until he was almost on the point of laughing, at which point he did. Howie's and Nick's laughter, growing in hysterical volume, joined his.

A.J. looked on from the doorway, and wondered what was going on. But he knew they didn't have time to waste. "Okay, you cackling hyenas, we've got to go. We're up, like right now!"

The laughing increased in volume, but he was gratified to see them moving towards him. He watched them file past, then followed behind, feeling the corners of his mouth twitch in time to their infectious laughter. Sometime later, when he had a couple of weeks of spare time on his hands, he was going to find out what had caused them to crack up like that. And, more importantly, how or why Nick had forgiven Brian...

Justin's arm lost strength. The cell phone, which had been up against his ear a moment before, now rested against his cheek, totally unnoticed.

Several minutes later he roused himself sufficiently to turn it back off and put it down. Looking absently around at the familiar surroundings, with a film of moisture in his eyes, he whispered, "Please call me, Boo. I need to hear your voice. I... I need you."

He silently prayed that Kevin would get his message soon.

The time to board their bus came and went, without a sign of them. They were still inside the arena, singing their sixth extra song and knowing that they would sing at least one more before calling it a night.

Their fans, although upset at the start, were now happier than if they'd attended a standard BSB concert. Not only were they being treated to several extra songs, but they also got to see their idols performing like never before. All five boys were still singing and dancing as if they'd just started for the night.

From the wings, the junior executive from The Firm watched on in confusion. He had called in to update Michael only several minutes earlier, and had been unprepared for his reaction. Michael had merely grunted and said, "Yes, I know," before asking him to remind Kevin to call him when the concert ended. The confused exec turned his attention back to Kevin and wondered what the hell was going on...

JC awoke from the doze he had fallen into, and stared blankly at his surroundings. Something was different... something was wrong...

It took his sleep-addled senses several moments to realise what it was - his room was in total darkness.

He almost jumped out of his skin as he turned toward his end table and noticed the glowing green figures of the time displayed on his alarm clock. It was well past midnight.

"Justin!" he croaked, starting to cough from the dryness of his throat. He bolted to his feet and raced to the doorway, almost smashing the door open in his haste. Recovering, he ran to the stairwell leading down to the ground level, while blinking his eyes furiously to get accustomed to the light in the hallway. He took the stairs two at a time; a pace he realised was reckless, but the adrenaline in his blood would not be denied.

He raced into the living room and skidded to a halt as he took in the scene.

Seated on the couches, staring up at him, were his bandmates and Lynn. Even though it looked like he'd just interrupted an intense conversation, somehow he knew they'd been unnaturally silent for quite some time. They, just like him, were worried about Justin's continued absence, and were lost in their own wonderings.

"No sign yet?" he asked softly, as he walked over and sat down next to Lance.

"No, nothing yet," Lynn replied, not able to hide the concern from her voice.

"We've tried calling his cell phone," Lance said, continuing the explanation once he realised Lynn was too upset to say anything else, "but it must be off. We've even tried calling Kevin at home and on his cell - you won't believe the hassles I had trying to get the numbers from Jive - but he's not answering either."

JC felt his insides bunching up as he started to imagine all sorts of horrible things befalling his friend. He shook his head, to clear it of the images, and forcefully said, "He's okay. He's gotta be okay. We're all just worrying for no reason."

Chris crystallised all his fears, with the words: "Then where is he? His dinner with Kevin must have ended hours ago."

With a terrible sinking feeling, JC realised that he had no answer to that...

End - Chapter 19

To be continued...