Second Toughest in the Infants

By Kai Wailbone


Author's note: this chapter is not taking place in chronological order to the rest of the story. The beginning of this chapter takes place shortly before the beginning of Chapter Three, and ends just after the end of the same chapter. In other words, this parallels the previous chapter. Hopefully this will eliminate any confusion.

My thanks to everyone who patiently waited and encouraged me to continue this, specifically Carmody, Bonnie, and Nataku, who have taken the time to get to know me and expressed actual interest to see how the story ends. Cheers to you, ladies!


Nobody's reading this by now, but... okay, if your underage where you live, flee! Flee! The story I'm telling you could very possibly intrigue you... but too bad, if you're too young, this is illegal.

Second, this isn't real. I don't know if any member of O-Town is gay. I don't know if ANY musician, actor, or celebrity that I might write about later is gay. Hell, I don't know if they're straight/bi/gay/or neutered. If you're old enough to read this, you're old enough to know what's real and what's not.

If you want to visit O-Town's official web site, it's

The title is from the Underworld album "Second Toughest in the Infants." The chapter headings are from lyrics or song titles.

p.s. -- i like e-mail and encouragement.

Second Toughest in the Infants

Chapter Four -- Resonator

"your sun, fly high
your window shattering
your rails, your thin
your thin paper wings"

- Underworld, Juanita

"Hey, Germ." Ben crouched beside the outdoor recliner, dressed in bright blue swim trunks. The large pool shimmered behind him, throwing water-reflections against his back and Jeremy's face.

Jeremy kept his eyes closed against the bright Californian sun and suppressed a sigh. "Go away, Ben."

"I said I was sorry."

"I know."

A moment of silence stretched out between them. Ben reached out and tried to stroke Jeremy's arm, but Jeremy brushed him off.

"Don't touch me right now."

"Jeremy, come on, can we talk about this?"

"We already did."

"But you're still angry."

Another moment of silence.

"You're still not talking to me?"

"Just because I forgave you doesn't mean I'm not still angry with you," Jeremy said sharply.

"That is such utter bullshit."

"Shut up, Ben."


"Go away, Ben."

"Bullshit," Ben said again and stood up. Turning away he walked a few steps and jumped into the pool, purposely trying to splash as much as possible.

Jeremy didn't even look up.

He hated fighting with Ben. Jeremy had grown up in a family where anger was equal to hate, and so demonstrations of even the mildest of frustrations were unacceptable. It had taken him years to get over this, and even though he knew Ben had a similar past, he no longer wanted to pretend he wasn't angry when he really was. Not that he wouldn't get over it -- he could never stay angry with Ben for very long -- but Ben took every second he remained angry as a personal insult.

For a moment, he considered calling Ben back and apologizing. As always, it was his first instinct whenever Ben was angry back at him, but he held himself firm. He didn't need to apologize for being angry. After all, it was perfectly justified.

His cell phone ringing pulled him from thoughts. Automatically he reached for his belt before he realized he'd put it on the ground beside him. Finding it, he opened it and glanced at the caller I.D. The initials "T.R." were displayed.

"Hey, Trent."

"Jeremy, what's up?"

"Ah... not much." Jeremy glanced quickly at the edge of his vision to Ben, who was clearly ignoring him while straining to hear every word. "Is this important? Ben and I are... in the middle of something."

"Oh. I know that tone... is it bad?"

"Bad enough."

"Okay. Well, I just called to give you a message."

"A message?"

"Yeah, a friend of yours called here looking for you."

"Really?" Jeremy straightened. Most people knew his cell number, and of the few who didn't, none of them knew he was due in New Orleans. "Who?"

"Uh... Rick."

"Rick? Ricky Campanelli? From Much Music?"


Jeremy frowned. "What did he want?"

"Didn't say. Just said he was looking for you... something about the interview with that boy-group you like."

"Oh... that's right, the interview... okay, did he leave a number?"

"Nope. I guess he figured you knew how to get hold of him."

"I do... but you didn't think to give him my cell number?"

"I figured if you wanted him to have it, he'd already have it."

"Point taken... I actually did give it to him... I'm not sure why he didn't call..."

"Maybe he lost it."

"Master of the blatantly obvious... thank you, Trent."


"And really quickly, speaking of boy-groups... did you get a chance to listen to the discs I left you?"

"Oh... yeah."


"Well... I'll think about it."

"I need to give Kevin an answer soon."

"Oh, well tell Kevin that, as long as no one ever knows, I'm definitely interested."

"Don't worry, no one would know even if you wanted them. They've got contracts and lawyers working around the clock to make sure of that."

"Okay... but let... who's this guy... Trevor?"

"Yeah, Trevor."

"Tell him he's got a good voice, but unless he gets better material, I'm not touching it with a ten foot pole."

"Oh, come on..."

"No. Absolutely not."

"Okay, fine... I'll tell him."

"And I don't want you doing anything with it, either."

"Hah. As if you have any control over what I do."

"Just thought I'd try."

"They're gonna be big, Trent."

"Sure, whatever. Anyway, I'll let you get back to your thing with Ben. I've got a lot of work to do here, anyway."

"Oh, yeah... you decided to go with the third-level sound?"

"Yeah, it just sounds better."

"That'll delay the release date even more."

"Yeah, well, fuck it. I want this to be something I would want to watch if I were a fan."

"Of course, you do realize no one will be able to appreciate it like you can."

"What do you mean? Personal bias?"

"No, the sound system. Most folks'll have it on their crappy little TV sets in the dorm room. If they're lucky, it'll be connected to the stereo."

"So what're you saying, I'm wasting my time?"

"No, no... I'm just saying... well, yeah, you're kinda wasting your time delaying it for a bunch of characteristics not a lot of people will be able to appreciate."

"Thanks for your input. Really."

"Hey, you asked."

"Yeah... yeah, I did. It's just... you're not the first person to tell me that."

"Which in itself should tell you something."

"I guess..." Trent sighed. "So when can you get back here to help?"

"Not for a while, old son. Especially since you're not here helping me."

"I told you, I've got a shitload of work..."

"And you're still sore about Fred being on the track."

"I'm sorry, I just don't see how his music is going to fit into the score."

"Neither do I, but isn't it always the case that modern performers are given spotlights in soundtracks of movies and television shows to boost popularity of the production?"

"Quoting me to me isn't going to help your cause."

"Be that as it may, I'd really like you to come on down. This is my first time doing this, and I have no clue what to ask or what to say... I could use your expertise."

"Maybe. We'll see."

"Okay... I'll talk to ya' later, then. I, uh... I need to talk to Ben. Give my best to Keith and the boys. And give Daisy May a huge slobbering kiss for me... or was it the other way around?"

Trent actually chuckled at that. "Alright, whatever. Talk to ya' later, G."

"Later, Trent."

Jeremy hung up, but before he could even sit back in his chair the phone rang again.


"Jeremy? It's Jay."

"J? J-what?"

"Jay Marose, from Trans Con."

Jeremy frowned and checked the I.D. display. "Oh? Oh... oh! Jay! Hi..." He thought quickly, but couldn't remember giving Jay his number. "Uh... what can I do for you?"

There was a click, and the sound as if Jay was shifting position. "I was calling to see if you were interested in a job."

"So this is a business call?"

"Yes, of sorts."

"Well, I'll need to call you back. I have a really busy schedule right now... can I call you later today?"

"Uh... today's not good. Can you get back to me early tomorrow morning?"

"Sure thing. Till then."


"Bye, now." Jeremy hung up and rolled his eyes. Just what he needed. The producers of a boy-band trying to squeeze more free work out of him, something he simply didn't have time for right now.

Putting his phone down, he looked over to the pool. Ben was sitting at the edge, dripping wet and staring into the water, a far-away look in his eyes.

With a sigh, Jeremy stood up and walked over to him.

"Ben? Can we talk?"


"Good morning, Chumcity, this is Larry."

"Hey, Larry, it's Jeremy..."

"Jeremy! What's up?"

"Not much... listen, is Rick in at Much, yet?"

"One second, let me check."

Jeremy paced the living room. The comforter he slept in was still crumpled on the couch where he'd spent the night. It was, in his opinion, much too early, with the sun still not up, but Jeremy, mindful of the time difference, wanted to get in touch with Rick before he started working.

The "hold" music was Creed today. Jeremy winced as he tried hard to ignore it. Not that he minded the song -- he was just tired of hearing it so much recently.

After a few seconds there was a click. "Jeremy?"


"He's not in, yet. You want me to leave him a message?"

"No... is he going to be in, soon?"

"He's scheduled to do the Video Flow today, so he needs to be here in the next half hour."

"Okay... I'll call back in exactly half an hour... make sure he's expecting it."

"Is it important?"

"Well, he tried calling me yesterday in Louisiana, so I'm guessing it is for him."

"Okay, I'll tell him."

"Thanks, Larry. Later."

"Yup, see ya."

Jeremy sighed and glanced unconsciously in the directions of the stairs. He knew Ben would still be asleep for a while, and that even when he woke up he wouldn't be speaking much...

Slumping down onto the couch he focused on his phone and dialed the next number.


At the sound of his cell phone ringing, Jay paused the tape. With a frustrated sigh he glanced at the display to see the name "J.T. Thomas." Looking up at Marc he nodded. Marc nodded back.

"Okay, guys, I need to take this. We'll get back to the tape in a couple of minutes, but for now, Marc has some things he needs to say to you." Jay opened his phone as he walked through the door, closing it firmly behind him. "Hello, Jeremy?"

"Good morning, Jay? I'm returning your call." Jeremy's voice was very low, almost monotone, something unusual for him.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure... it's just... kinda early in the morning here."

"Oh... sorry."

"So, you mentioned something about a job yesterday?"


"What kind of a job?"

"Well, first off, are you still in California?"

"The beautiful Malibu, my sister's beach house. Why?"

"Well, we're going to be there in about a week and a half, and we could use your help."

"Doing what?"

"Producing a video."

"A video? A music video? Dammit, Jay, I am not on the Pearlman payroll. You can't just call me up anytime you need some cheap labor."

"This isn't cheap labor, this is major work..."

"Yeah, right. Major work without pay. Tell me, will my `major work' actually make it to the final cut this time?"

"You'll have to ask David for that."

"David. Who the hell's David? I swear, last names are good when..."

"David Meyers."

"Dave Meyers?" There was a moment of silence. "How did you get Dave Meyers on this project?"

"He came highly recommended, and he mentioned that you helped him out with the new Britney Spears video."

"Yeah, that was when I had a lot of time, was bored out of my skull, and agreed to program a two and a half second scene."

"Yeah, well, we liked what you did, and Dave said you were the best person for that kind of thing. So, do you have time?"

"Contrary to popular belief, I actually do have a life... and besides, I'm on a movie set, Jay."

"For the soundtrack. How much time can that take?"

"Oh, yeah, sure, I'll just drop everything to help you."

"Couldn't you use a break or something?"


"You'd have the eternal appreciation of the band and all who represent them."

"What an incentive. I won't get paid, but I'll have the undying appreciation of a bunch of petty mainstream music icons. Actually... okay, fine, I'll do it."

"Great. Oh, and just a quick side note, for future reference, about Jacob's visit to you last week..."


"We need you to call and let us know he arrived safely, and exact times he'll be coming back."

"Oh? What, you guys don't trust me with your golden boys?"

"Look, I'll be honest with you. You're house is probably going to be the only place our people will never go, which is why we don't like them visiting you."

"You don't want them visiting me? Wow, I hardly noticed."

"Can you be serious for a little bit, please?"

"Meow... okay, fine. I'll check in with you, let you know the complete itinerary, all that good crap and stuff."

"Great. Uh... so what did you guys do when he visited?"

"Oh, nothing. Besides, he got back safely, didn't he?"

"Yeah, yeah he did. But indulge me, you guys didn't go anywhere or anything?"

"Nah, he just had some personal problems and needed some advice. Is that it, Jay? I... I really wasn't planning on getting out of bed for another five hours."

"Okay, uh... yeah. Should I call you with the details of the video shoot?"

"Video shoot? Wait, you told me you wanted me to help program the video."

"Yeah, well... we haven't shot it yet."

"And you're coming all the way to L. A. to do it?"

"Will that be a problem?"

"No... in fact, I look forward to seeing the guys again."

"Great. Maybe we can work on some songs for the album, too."

"Uh... no. After the butchering job you did for `Liquid Dreams,' I think I'll stay away from anything you guys have."

"What if Clive asked you himself?"

"Clive's been trying to get me on studio staff for... okay, for months, but that doesn't mean I'll do it. There's only one man I answer to short of God... well, God and Ben, and that man is not Clive. I do favors when I have time, but... I have a lot of work to do, Jay."

"But we could..." Jay looked up as the door opened. Marc looked out and motioned to him. Jay nodded back. "Look, I've got to go. I'll call you with the details?"

"You can try. E-mail's always good, Jay-man."

"Okay, thanks. We'll talk later."



"Good morning, Chumcity Building, this is Amy."

"Yes, good morning, is Rick Campanelli in yet?"

"Yes, hold on one moment, please."

Jeremy sighed as the sickly strains of Britney Spears' song "Lucky" filled his ears. Laying back on the couch, he held the phone as far away from his ear as he could while still being able to hear. Staring at the ceiling, he studied the minute cracks and imperfections in the paint job, tracing the corners, searching unconsciously for spider webs or tiny moving black dots...


"Oh, hi! Rick! It's Jeremy."

"Jeremy, hi... look, you got a minute to talk?"

"Sure. What's up, big guy?"

"Look... I've got a problem here."

"Sounds serious."

"It is." Rick was talking quickly, a sure sign he was upset. "I was talking to Rachel yesterday and she mentioned a rumor, which I had checked out, and it ends up... they're pulling my interview with O-Town."

"Wh... what?" Jeremy was quiet for a moment. "You're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm serious. I went right up to Dave and Howard and they confirmed it."

"They're... wait, under who's authority?"

"Apparently from Lou Pearlman himself."

"What? What? That... oh, that... oh, I'll kill him..."

"So you didn't know about this?"

"No, I mean... oh, hell no... this isn't going to sit, trust me."

"I didn't think it would..."

"Shit... oh, man, I'm so sorry, I wouldn't have..."

"No, chill, man. I mean, yeah, I'm upset and all, but I'm more offended than angry."

"Did they say why?"

"Just that the content compromised them on several fronts, specifically public relations, and they felt that it would be better if we didn't show it."

"Oh... fuck that stupid arrogant..." Jeremy was almost speechless for a moment. "Okay... I'm going to make a few phone calls. This... oh, this is too much. I'm just... oh..."

"Yeah, I know."

"And they didn't explain it to you?"

"Nothing specific, no."

"Well that... that's just..."

"I would call them myself, but it's not exactly..."

"Not exactly proper etiquette, I know. Look, I have a few connections, I'm going to try and give them a ring and find out what's going on. Hell, I'll call Lou himself, I have his number somewhere... That's... because that's just not cool."

"No it's not... but... when's they're album coming out?"

"Oh, shit, I have no clue... why?"

"Because they're probably going to want to re-do it, and I'm talking to Sook-Yin to do it."

"Hah, I don't think she'd... but wait... what about you?"

"If we re-do it, I'm not going to have anything to do with it."


"No, I'm sorry, I've interviewed lots of performers and artists, with no complaints. I'm taking this personally, man."

"Rick, wait, I mean..."

"Jeremy, look, if we're going to do something, you're going to have to talk to Howard, or Dave Kines, and see if they're willing to do anything. They were pretty pissed themselves. If we do anything else, you're going to have to wait a few months. And it will be live, with no re-takes this time."

"Okay... let me go to them with that. But I'm willing to bet the guys didn't know about this, either..."

"Doesn't matter. The guys were cool, and I liked them a lot. Just let them know that they can't jerk people around like that."

"Understood. I'll talk to them."



"Jay, what the hell is this I hear about canceling the Much Music interview?"

"Hello to you, too, Jeremy."

"Cut the crap. I want answers. Now."

"It's quite simple. We reserve the right to..."

"No. You don't reserve the right to do it after they record and edit and prepare it and put that much work into something that gets canceled..."

"Hey. Jeremy. If you want your answers you need to talk to..."

"To you. I am talking to you Mr. P. R. Manager person... Listen to me, little man, I just spent over an hour trying to talk to anyone and everyone else, and I just keep getting transferred around and hearing soupy strains of elevator versions of No Authority, and I am not in the mood to get transferred anymore. I got off the phone about an hour ago with a very offended, very upset employee of the Much Music studio, the number one source for all things popular-music in Canada, and he's fucking pissed. Rick fricking Campanelli is pissed. The one guy who never gets pissed! And I'm holding you personally responsible..."

"Jeremy, either you calm down or this conversation is over."

There was the sound of several deep breaths. "Okay. I'm calm. Now do you want to explain to me exactly what the fuck is going on?"

"Yes. Lou reviewed the interview and felt that there were some specific areas that were irreparable..."

"`Irreparable'?!?" Jeremy virtually screamed. "Oh, please tell me, what in an innocent interview would be considered `irreparable'?"

"Jeremy, look, don't get upset..."

"Don't tell me what to feel..."

"Hey! I fought this thing, I really did..."

"If you fought it, I think it might have shown up somewhere..."

"Well, I did. Take my word on it, I fought this, I had a very long talk with Lou about it."

Jeremy was quiet for a moment as he caught his breath. "Okay, fine, let's say for the sake of argument that you did. Fight this thing, I mean. Doesn't Lou listen to you anymore?"

"He does."


"I'm not exactly top-dog in this operation."


"Jeremy, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for your friend, and all the people in Canada. But there's really nothing we can do about it."

Another moment of silence. "Do the guys know?"

"They found out this morning. They were pretty upset as well."

"I can imagine..." Jeremy was slowly calming down. "So... so question. What are you guys doing to make it up to them?"

"We were thinking of re-doing it..."

"So everyone would be willing to do it all over again?"

"Definitely. I was actually going to try and call the people at Much later on in the week to arrange something."

"They won't be very nice to you... you've got all the top people upset." Jeremy sighed. "Okay. Tell you what, if you're serious about it -- and you'd better be -- let me talk to them. I'll arrange everything."

"Really? You'd do that?"

"Not for you. Don't think I'm doing this for you or for Trans Con. I'm not even doing it for the guys. I'll do it for the people at Much. They helped me out a whole lot when I first started out. They deserve better than this."

"I agree."

"And Jay?"


"I'll do this for you, but then you can count me out of the O-Town project for good. No more helping out with the songs, no more studio time, no helping with the video. This has gone too far. I know it's not your fault, and I'm sorry if the guys will miss me, but this... I can't be associated with a group that does this."

"I understand."

"Jay, this... I've been blown away by this. And not just blown away, because no one has ever done this... Do you have any idea how arrogant and elitist you guys are acting?"


"I'm being serious, Jay."

"I know, but..." Jay thought for a moment. "Jeremy, I know how it sounds, and you have no real reason to trust me now, but... what would you say if I guaranteed you we didn't do it ever again?"

"Just words, old son, just words. Show me something real, and I'll consider it. But I know how you guys work. It's all public image there at Trans Continental Records. I can't do it, son."

"What if... okay, what if the group wasn't under Trans Con anymore?"

Jeremy was quiet. "Okay... I know I didn't really hear what I thought I just heard... so either you've got a truly sick sense of humor or I heard you wrong."

"No, neither. In fact, I'm not even saying anything... this is all hypothetical."

"You know what you're even implying is a huge deal."

"Yes, I do."

"And could get you into a lot of trouble."


"I mean, the Backstreet Boys..."

"The Backstreet break wasn't that big..."

"Don't patronize me, Jay. I was there, remember?"


"Still, don't bullshit me. Even if you're saying what I know you're not saying... you're going to need a lot of help."

"Maybe." Jay waited, but Jeremy didn't elaborate. "So what're you saying?"

"I'm saying... and this is all still hypothetical as far as I'm concerned... you'll need actual management... and some really really good lawyers. You all will. And... I guess what I'm saying that, hypothetically, if you need some help, you can count me in. If indeed you are serious about this."

"I am."

"Okay... well, enough fantasy. Let me get on the phone with some people so I can patch up this Much Music thing... we'll talk later."

"Sure... oh, and what about the video thing?"

"Well... I mean, I'm here, I might as well drop by and visit, say hi to the guys and all. We'll see what happens, but no promises, okay?"


"Take care, Jay."

"You too."


"It's all my fault."

"Stop saying that!" Jeremy sighed in exasperation and looked up as Ben came into the room. "It is not your fault. You honestly thought it would be okay."

"Yeah, I guess..." Trevor's voice trembled ever so slightly.

"I'm serious. You're not Saint Trevor... you're allowed a few mistakes in life."


"But nothing."

"You weren't there, man..."

Ben looked at Jeremy and asked softly, "Who is it?"

Jeremy covered the phone. "Trevor. You'll never believe this..." Into the phone, he said, "Oh, man that's horrible," then covered it up again. "Jacob came out." Ben shrugged, then Jeremy added, "to the band."


"My reaction exactly."

Ben squeezed into the chair beside Jeremy and leaned his ear to the phone to hear Trevor saying, "...last night. And boy was he upset."

"I can imagine," Jeremy said. "But explain this to me again... exactly how did you convince him it would be okay?"

"Well, we went through each guy."

"Okay, I understand how you could convince him about Dan, and Ashley... but Erik?"

"I, uh... told him Erik was bisexual."

Jeremy and Ben looked at each other. "Oh?"


"And how, pray tell, did you rationalize that one?"

"Well... you know, Jay and I were watching how he reacted to Ikaika leaving..."

"Oh, yeah... and you managed to glean from that the sexuality of Erik?"

"What would you have thought?"

"I have no idea, I wasn't there," Jeremy said pointedly. "But I certainly would want a lot more than getting upset over a band member leaving to assume any sexuality-influenced emotion."

"Sure, since you're perfect."

"I am not... Trevor, all I'm saying is it's a mistake. It could have happened to anyone."

"But not you, apparently."

Ben looked pointedly at Jeremy, a slightly condescending smile on his face as he shook his head in mock disapproval. Jeremy pushed him away.

"Yes, actually, I could have. Do you have any idea how much trouble assuming people's sexuality has gotten me into in my life?" Jeremy looked up at the sound of the door chimes. "Um... hold on a sec'." Covering the phone, he looked at Ben. "Ben? Sweetie? If you don't mind."

Ben stood up. "Okay, but I want details later."

"Sure thing." Into the phone, Jeremy said, "I'm not trying to talk down to you..."

Ben left the room and went to the door. Peering through the window was a young man wearing a blue and red shirt, carrying two flat boxes. Ben smiled as he opened the door.

"Two large pepperoni and sausage pizzas?"

"Yes," Ben said, taking the flat boxes. "How much?"

"Fifteen twenty."

"Okay..." Turning into the house, Ben called, "Jeremy! Pizza!"

Jeremy came into the room, his phone still at his ear. "How much?" he asked.

"Fifteen twenty," the delivery boy said.

Jeremy got out his wallet. "Uh-huh," he said into the phone. "So Dan's a little out of it?... I can't believe this... Where is he now?" Taking out several bills from his wallet he began flipping through them. "Ja.... well, Erik. Where is he?" Jeremy stared at the money in his hand. Covering the phone, he turned to Ben. "Sweetie, I've only got Canadian. Can you find some American money?" Into the phone he said, "Oh... uh... is he... you know, okay to be out there?"

Ben bounded off, calling back, "Where?"

"Try my blue jacket," Jeremy said. Turning to the delivery boy, he smiled. "Sorry, cutie, you caught us at a bad time. We'll get you your money in a..." Then into the phone he said, "I don't know. You would know better than I because you're there, I was just checking... It's a valid concern. I've known it to happen before." Jeremy sighed and looked at the delivery boy, shrugging with a rueful smile. "Sorry, I need to..." he said and shrugged again. Looking up, he covered the phone and called, "Ben! C'mon, hurry up!" Into the phone, he said, "I just want to know why you thought it would be a good idea for him to do this..."

Ben reappeared, counting several bills. "Okay," he said, smiling. "How much did you say it was?"

"Fifteen twenty."

"Are you getting tired of saying that?" Ben asked as he flipped through his wallet. Thinking a moment, he glanced back at Jeremy, then at the delivery boy. "Can I ask you something?"

"Uh... sure."

"Are you trying to be an actor?"


"Good. A model?"


"Then please tell me you're just a college student working for extra cash."

"Actually, I'm trying to be a writer..."

"A writer? Cool." Ben glanced back at Jeremy again, who glared at him and left the room. With a large grin Ben handed over a fifty dollar bill. "You've earned yourself a cool tip. Keep the change." With that he closed the door on the bewildered delivery boy. "Jeremy! Where are you? And where'd you put the food?"

"In here!" Jeremy called from the kitchen.

Ben found him and came up beside him to listen to the phone again.

Trevor was laughing nervously. "Okay, man."

Jeremy looked at Ben, a slightly annoyed look on his face, but he tilted the phone so they both could hear. "So how is my little Grasshopper, anyway?"

"Well, he's... I left him with Dan and Ashley. I had to get..."

"Wait... you left him with Dan... and Ashley?" Jeremy glanced at Ben, this time in surprise. Ben raised his eyebrows suggestively.

"Yeah... why, is there a problem?"

"Oh... uh... no, no, of course not." Jeremy looked a little worried. "Though now, if I don't get a call from him soon, I really will cut out his tongue." He thought for a moment. "All the while pretending I haven't talked to you yet."

"I think it'll be cool. Dan and Ashley are pretty opened about this kind of thing."

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Oh, sure, it's real easy to be opened about it to magazines and to each other, but when it hits you in the face like this, it's a lot harder. Trust me, I've had firsthand experience."

"Okay, well... should I check on them? Or Erik?"

"I think you need to tell Jay that Erik might be depressed and should be watched, and you need to watch Dan and Ashley. Jacob's in a fragile state right now, and... oh, shit..." The call-waiting beep sounded, and Jeremy looked at Ben. Ben shook his head, but Jeremy shrugged in resignation. "I've got another call, man." Covering the phone, he said, "Ben, check the call I.D. quickly..."


"Um..." Jeremy watched Ben run to the phone in the hall, but after glancing at the display Ben just shrugged. "Okay, I'll call you back in five minutes. I don't care who's on the line, I want to talk to you... fuck the cameras, man. This is important." The beep came again. "Look, I'm calling you in five minutes. Cameras and microphones and anal fucking probes, whatever, you're talking to me and I'm talking to you. We need to do this. Understand?... Okay. Stay by the phone." Jeremy ended the call and looked up at Ben. "What do you mean you don't know who it is?"

Ben shrugged again. "Two people were trying to call at once. Someone's leaving a message who had an unknown number, and... well, you've got another call on the phone now."

Jeremy lifted the phone to his ear. "What? Who is this? And if it's not God Himself you'd better have a damned good reason for calling."

"Uh... Jeremy? It's Trent."

"Trent?" Jeremy found a chair and sat down. "Oh, Trent... I'm sorry, man, I just... I just had the most... well, I just got some stressful news."

"Anything wrong?"

"Well, not for me. A friend of mine came out to his friends, and now things kinda fell apart for him."

"That's not good."

"No. No, it's not." Jeremy sighed. "So what's up, old son?"

"I just called to see what's up."

"I just told you. Well, except my sisters are definitely coming over for Thanksgiving, thank God. I haven't seen them in... wow, almost a year."

"You didn't see them last Christmas?"

"Tried, but you know my dad."


"Uh... Trent? If that's it, I kinda need to call my friend back..."

"Oh, of course. I just wanted to mention that I was thinking of stopping by."

Jeremy sat up straight. "What? As in... you're coming by? Here?"

Trent laughed softly. "Yeah."



"Oh... oh, wow." Turning to Ben, he said, "Dude! Trent's coming!"

"Really?" Ben picked up the extension. "Trent? It's Ben... don't tease an old man. Is it true?"

"Yeah, man, it's true."

"Oh, wow!" Ben laughed. "That's so cool!"

Jeremy frowned. "But wait, old son... don't you have work to do?"

"I can take a break. The remix album hits stores in a couple weeks, the DVD is going to be delayed no matter what I do now, so... I figured I'd see how badly your fucking up the movie score."

"Oh, I'm fucking it up royally, believe me. I desperately need your help."

"He does, Trent. It sounds horrible."

"I don't need any help debasing myself, thank you, Ben."

Ben laughed. "But it's true."

"I'm sure it is," Trent said with a chuckle. "But in any case, you sound like you have your hands full. Can you give me a call later tonight?"

"Sure thing."

"What's so important, anyway?"

"Oh, just... stupid boy-band drama shit. I swear, these kids call me every time they stub their toe..."

"And who was it who warned you about getting involved?"

"Yeah, yeah... anyway, I just need to console my friend that everything is still right with the world."

"Are you sure you're the right person for the job?"

"Why, you think you can do so much better? Mr. `I-made-a-multi-platinum-album-about-suicide-and-self-destruction'?"

Trent laughed. "Okay, so maybe not... well, good luck, man. I'll talk to ya' later."

"Later days, old son."

"Bye, Trent."

"See ya', Ben."


"So who was it?"

"No idea." Jeremy watched Ben listen to the message again on the cell phone. "Some stupid religious right leader or something who managed to get my cell number... probably a gamble, since there are about a thousand Jeremy Thomas's in the world. At least, I hope they were on my cell phone and it got forwarded... if anyone got this number, I might have to track down whoever it was and kill the whole town."

Trevor chuckled nervously. "Yeah..."

"So where were we, anyway?" Jeremy leaned back on the sofa, not really listening. He was watching Ben, listening to the angry, scathing message on the phone. He got them occasionally, not as often as he did when he first came out, usually from religious leaders and `concerned citizens,' so it was no big deal for him. But Ben, in spite of being the youngster in the relationship, was extremely protective of Jeremy. Jeremy, in fact, was gambling that Ben might even finally put the last of his resentment aside and end this silly little fight of theirs for good in order to "comfort" him.

Trevor started talking, but Jeremy only listened partially. He didn't mind working with O-Town, but he firmly believed they took themselves too seriously, and Trevor's martyr-like sentiments irritated him to no end. He made the occasional sympathetic sound, and even offered some cliched advice about not being responsible for other people's behavior, until Ben came and joined him on the couch. After that, nothing Trevor said even registered.


Ben giggled as Jeremy caught him and held him against the side of the pool.

"Come on, you didn't honestly think I wouldn't catch you, did you?" Jeremy grinned as he pressed against Ben's naked body. He slid easily against the wet skin as he leaned forward and kissed Ben gently on the lips.

Ben pulled back for a moment. "So this means we're done fighting?"

Jeremy leaned forward to whisper in Ben's ear. "Wait... we were fighting?" His tongue snaked out and lightly brushed Ben's ear.

Ben giggled again and reached up to lace his fingers behind Jeremy's neck. He was several inches shorter than Jeremy, but that didn't stop him from pulling himself up, rubbing his body against Jeremy's, until he was high enough to kiss him...

Then Jeremy's cell phone started to ring. Jeremy sighed and glanced at the phone sitting on the white plastic table several feet away.

"I am not getting that," he said, but as he reached for Ben again, he found himself alone as Ben leapt out of the pool, mischievous grin on his face, and jogged to the table. Jeremy whistled softly as he watched Ben's naked form in the almost eerie glow of the pool lights. "Putting on a show for our neighbors?"

Ben made a face at him and picked up the phone. "I got it!" he said unnecessarily. Opening the phone, he said, "Hello?"

"Uh, yeah, hi... I, uh... think I have the wrong number..."


"Yeah... who is this?"

"Oh, Jacob!" Ben turned and motioned to Jeremy. "It's Ben! You need to talk to Jeremy?"


"Hold on, I'll get him." Ben smiled uncertainly as Jeremy pulled himself out of the pool.

Jeremy approached slowly. "Jacob?"


Jeremy sighed as he reached for the phone. "How am I going to handle this?" he asked.

Ben smiled encouragingly as he handed the phone over, his hand still covering the mouthpiece. "Just like we talked about. As far as he's concerned, you don't know anything. Let him tell you what he's comfortable letting you know."

"Yeah... okay..." Jeremy took the phone, but hesitated again. He glanced at Ben, who nodded to him. Uncovering the mouthpiece, he said, "Jacob?"

"Hi, Jeremy?"

"Jacob..." Jeremy once again glanced up at Ben, but Ben was already walking away. "Hi... What? No, no... I'm available for a while. So... Whazzup, lil' Grasshopper?"


Jacob felt like the bottom fell out of his mind.

This was impossible. So impossible he felt lightheaded until he realized this wasn't happening. It was a dream. He was dreaming. He'd been laying down, waiting for it to be late enough to call Jeremy, and he'd fallen asleep before he was able to. He'd dreamed the telephone conversation, the interruption, and Ashley... Ashley couldn't possibly be kissing him.

This isn't happening.

Except it was. Cruel reality crashed through his fragile fantasy, and he had to accept it. Ashley, real flesh-and-blood Ashley, was standing in front of him, hands on each side of his head, holding him still as Ashley kissed him...

Cruel reality?

Jacob tried to back away. So many questions, he needed to stop this, to ask them


okay, so maybe just one question but


maybe two questions but he needed answers he couldn't just let go and let this happen like this it wasn't anything like he'd dreamed it was so different it was


too much.

Jacob started to pull back so he could talk to ask


what was going on and figure out what to do...

But Ashley let him go and smiled at him.

And Jacob could only stare, speechless.

Ashley laughed nervously as he took a step back, wiping his lips. "Say something," he said.

"I... what..." Jacob stuttered as he struggled to arrange his thoughts. "What are you doing?" he finally managed, a question so weak and with an answer so obvious he immediately felt stupid.

Ashley giggled. "Didn't you like it?" he asked coyly.

"What? I mean... yeah, but... but..."

"Kinda sudden?"

"Hell, yeah..."

"Yeah, I remembered how I was my first time with Shelli..." Ashley smiled sadly. "I was so nervous... I wanted to, I really did, but I didn't know what to do. So she kissed me. Told me to be quiet, and kissed me. Things... sorta took off from there."

It took Jacob a moment to realize what Ashley was talking about, in his typically shy roundabout way. "Wait, you..."

Ashley took a hesitant step forward. "I remember, my first time, I wanted to, but I... I remember she..." Ashley's voice trailed off as he reached out with a hand that trembled ever so slightly, and lightly brushed his fingers against the skin of Jacob's arm. When Jacob didn't move away, he did it again, opening his hand to gently caress Jacob's upper arm.

Jacob instinctively reached out to touch Ashley's hand as it slowly moved from stroking his arm to stroking his chest through his shirt. He didn't stop it, but he didn't encourage it, either. It was as if he needed to touch it, to assure himself that it was real.

"Jacob..." Ashley leaned forward, sliding his hand to Jacob's back. His mouth next to Jacob's ear, he whispered, "Jacob, please... it's been so long..."

Jacob shuddered at the feeling of Ashley's lips so close to his ear. Ashley's hand slowly rubbing his back melted away the last bit of self control he had. In a hoarse, almost husky voice, he said, "The bed..."

Then Ashley was leading him by the hand to the closest of the single beds. As soon as they were there Jacob took the initiative, doing what he'd always dreamed of doing, taking Ashley's face in his hands and kissing him on the lips. Ashley kissed back, almost hungrily pushing his tongue into Jacob's mouth, pressing his body firmly against Jacob's until they collapsed onto the bed.

Jacob giggled nervously for a moment before Ashley pulled him close again for another kiss. Jacob gave himself up to the moment, the kiss, closing his eyes and enjoying sensation of finally having all of his dreams come true... but almost jumped out of his skin and had to resist biting down on Ashley's probing tongue as he felt a hand groping clumsily at the crotch of his jeans.

Ashley pulled back again. "What? What's wrong? Did I hurt you? Are you okay?" He sounded concerned and frightened and guilty all at the same time, something Jacob found somehow endearing.

"No, I'm fine, just..." To Jacob's surprise his voice cracked a little, so he took a deep breath before continuing. "Just... not so hard." Reaching down, he pulled Ashley's hand up to his stomach, resting the soft fingers just above his belt. Smiling, he said, "After all, it's my first time."

Ashley smiled back and licked his lips nervously as he stared down at his hand, fingers on Jacob's belt, but he didn't seem to have the courage to go back to what he was doing. So, noticeably over-cautious, he ran his hands under Jacob's shirt and over the smooth skin of his stomach.

Jacob watched carefully and barely managed to stop himself from screaming. His mind was still staggering with the undeniable reality that it was Ashley -- Ashley! -- who was laying on the bed in front of him, his fingers exploring his chest...

Taking a deep breath, Jacob forced himself to calm down. And after a moment of watching Ashley's hesitant, clumsy explorations he reached down and held Ashley's hands in his own. In a rush of both pity and impatience, he decided to take control.

"Ash... here, let me do you..." Jacob took Ashley's hands out of his shirt. At Ashley's disappointed expression, Jacob took off his shirt. For a moment he almost thought Ashley was staring at him... but before he could think about it too much he tugged at Ashley's shirt. "Now you."

Instantly Ashley sat up and pulled his shirt over his head. On a whim, Jacob thought about one of his fantasies that had been inspired by a movie he saw once. Before Ashley got his shirt more than halfway over his face Jacob reached up and immobilized Ashley's arms with a soft giggle. Ashley smiled, his mouth and nose visible, but his eyes completely covered by his shirt, his arms stretched straight up and held firm by Jacob's grasp.

"Jacob?" Ashley laughed, but in spite of his only slight helplessness, seemed a little apprehensive. "Jake, what're you doing?"

Jacob didn't answer. Instead he leaned just close enough to Ashley's face for him to sense him, to even feel his breath on his face, then slowly started to move down, blowing on Ashley's skin. Ashley shuddered as Jacob went lower... and lower... and, with none of Ashley's hesitation, he unbuttoned Ashley's kakhi pants and pulled the zipper apart. Ashley bucked slightly as he pulled his shirt the rest of the way off and, his hair disheveled and out of breath, he looked down.

"Jake, what the hell was..."

Jacob didn't feel like explaining, like telling Ashley he had no idea where he was going or doing, and he was running on what he saw in movies and TV shows. And he didn't want to slow things down with conversation. So, moving up to Ashley's face, he said, "Shhh..." and kissed him. And, just for good measure, he slipped his hand under Ashley's boxer briefs and grabbed blindly...

Ashley bit down sharply on Jacob's lower lip and his entire body seemed to jerk as Jacob's cold and shaking hands touched and grabbed at his most tender parts, but Jacob hardly noticed.

I am holding Ashley's...

Jacob pulled back, barely registering the taste of blood in his mouth. He didn't even pay attention to the soft whimpering of Ashley beside him. All he was aware of was the warmth clutched in his hands. Looking down, he stared at his hand, as impossible as it may seem, buried under Ashley's underwear...

"Lift up."

Jacob at first didn't recognize the croaking, deep, husky voice as his own, but Ashley did and he lifted his hips obediently. With a smooth grace fed by his carnal passion, Jacob slid Ashley's pants and underwear down to his ankles in one motion, finally revealing that one part of Ashley he'd only been able to imagine for months...

His first reaction was of mild jealousy... then overwhelming lustful possession.

It's mine.

Jacob had to swallow hard to keep from drooling as he reached out and took Ashley's erection in his hands. He found it hard to think of anything else as the blood roared through his brain, but a distant part of himself automatically compared himself and found himself lacking. Though he took some strange comfort in the revelation that they both had virtually the same color pubic hair, Ashley dwarfed him by about an inch and a half, and as he closed his fingers around it he registered it's greater thickness. But the jealousy passed and he focused instead on the pale, soft skin and its incredible heat that spread through his fingers and up his arm. And once again, he had to tell himself that this wasn't a dream.

I am holding Ashley's penis in my hand.

Ashley whimpered again, his whole body shaking in anticipation, but Jacob wasn't going to rush this. He'd been waiting for so long, he wanted every detail imprinted in his memory forever.

Jacob studied Ashley's penis, moving his thumb over the tip. Ashley jerked slightly as Jacob fingered the slit, then started moving his hand down the shaft. Ever so slowly he moved back up, then back down to the building instinctual rhythm that he usually used on himself. Ashley's eyes were closed and his head was pushed back against the bed, his hands clutching the sheets and his breath coming in rapid, gulping pants. Jacob smiled and turned back to watching his hand. Laying his head on Ashley's stomach, he positioned himself so he could watch his hand as it pulled the loose skin up, watching it gather at the edge of his fist, then stretch tight as he pulled his fist back down. A small bead of clear liquid appeared at the tip, and Jacob paused a moment to touch it.

"Nuh... don't... stop..." Ashley gasped.

Jacob smiled slightly and continued stroking. Ashley, perhaps under the stress of anticipation and the length of time since the last time he'd been with Shelli, had obviously started out very close to climax, and was rapidly reaching the edge. Jacob sped up a little, which caused Ashley to make low, guttural noises in his throat. He only paused once more for a second to spit on his hand, and the added lubrication obviously heightened the feeling because Ashley started to convulse slightly. His grip on the sheets grew almost desperate and his back arched...

And then it happened. Ashley climaxed rather suddenly, with no warning. Jacob watched as the pearl-white semen virtually leapt from Ashley's erection, spurting up and then covering the back of his hand. Mindful of the post-orgasmic sensitivity, Jacob carefully squeezed the base of Ashley's penis until he was finished. Holding his hand to the side, he tried to keep the dripping viscous fluid from the sheets.

Smiling, Jacob made his way up to Ashley's face. Ashley still had his eyes closed, and his breathing was slowly starting to slow down. Jacob leaned close, and was about to say something -- a joke or witty saying, probably -- when Ashley sighed and whispered something that froze Jacob to his heart.

"Oh... Shelli... I love you..."

Jacob felt his heart shattering into a million pieces.

Okay, that took longer than it should have. My apologies -- however, I must now take a break to take care of some stuff in my life. Not a long break, but a necessary one. Sorry, folks. For updates as to when to expect the next chapter or what might happen (I've been known to write teasers for people...) drop me a line. -- Kai Wailbone