by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at email@example.com. A kudos apiece to all who have written already, and the chatroom crew. Warm fuzzy feelings and all that. Seriously, thanks for the egoboo, guys.
Standard Disclaimer: If descriptions of same-sex acts, feelings, &c are held to be - by any governmental entity asserting jurisdiction over you, or by your religion or moral framework - illegal, immoral, unethical, or fattening, read no further. If you are underage according to your local laws, read no further. If you have somehow managed not to notice until now that this is a gay site, read no further (and look into either corrective lenses or remedial English classes, because you've managed to miss about a dozen different warnings to get here at all). I need hardly say that the events and personalities depicted in this story are wholly figments of the author's rabid imagination, and in no wise should be taken to imply that any actual member of any boyband, or any celebrity known to mankind, or any real person, is or conceivably could be gay - least of all the members of 'N Sync and of the Backstreet Boys, all of whom are of course straight, well-dressed, intelligent, articulate, cultured, sweet-natured, and kind to their mommies. No celebrity so much as mentioned here should be construed as having these assigned fictional habits, preferences, personality, or political affiliation. Major Lee also of course does not and cannot possibly exist - and I am certainly not he. (In fact, bits of him are borrowed from a lovably pompous writer pal of mine who has no idea he's gay....)
Equally, it should be evident that I have no contact with or knowledge of any of such musicians, pop stars, their agents, associates, staff, or families. It should also be relatively clear that this is hardly my first time writing fiction, though it is assuredly the first time I've written in this genre or for this nifty little site. Oh - a word about that. Obviously, intellectual property rights are held by me, and no cross-posting to any site that charges any fee for entrance or activity is allowed without prior written consent from the author. And two quick words about the story: first, of all the subgenres out here, Celeb/BoyBands was the least likely for my gay fiction debut. Some readers - who refuse to read it - seem to think that it's all wannabe fantasy, and that using characters made to order is all we can manage as writers.... But there are a number of superb and highly original stories in this genre, and I too wanted to tackle the challenge of breathing originality and freshness into what could so easily be formulaic. After all, the challenges are there: believability, the heightened pressure of closeted relationships for young men whose growing up has been anything but normal, often the collision of worlds and backgrounds.... The other warning is that this series is not going to move urgently into hot monkey sex - though, yes, we're getting there: patience; it will build, and it will I hope be something more than quick stroke-lit. Now enough prologue: let's get to the tale....
Sentimental Journey: Chapter Twelve
In Our Last Episode: Thrown together by Amtrak, the members of BSB and 'N Sync fall in with dashing young military historian and lawyer, the Virginia aristocrat Major Custis Lee. The Major soon finds himself their father confessor an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' Unfortunately, with the best intentions in the world, the boys have dragged the object of the Major's unrequited affections, Luke deMaria, on to the tour:
What made it worse was knowing that, if they'd met any other way, it would have been he who was the Pursuer. The Major had fallen for his mind when they worked, without meeting face to face, on matters that involved the Transportation Committee and the Major's expert testimony on logistics: the Major had fallen for him, basically, over the Net, just from his personality. By the time they met face to face, not even Luke's - well, if he was going to be honest with himself, slightly nelly voice and demeanor; okay, more than slightly - anyway ... by then, the Major had lost his heart too far to care about that, while Luke, frankly, had had the Major so far up to here: the annoyingly omnipresent courtesy, the fatherly tone, the relentless high-mindedness, the terrifying intelligence and intimidating knowledge: Luke was so sick of the Major's perfections that the deep voice and the superb body that he would normally have turned into a puddle of drool over, just left him cold.
And - to round off the self-examination - it didn't stop him, either: he found it impossible to resist flirting with and teasing the Major, even though every nerve ending in him cried out for him to stop, even though he despised it and himself, and could not have said why he did it....
By the time he deplaned and was whisked to the hotel at which the Major and the bands would be staying on the QT, Luke had managed thoroughly to disgust himself, and work up a substantial resentment against the Major, the bands, and the Transportation Committee, its Honorable Chairman in particular.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
The Major liking to have things orderly, the bands stayed aboard the train after the fans left, whilst the reserve components, PAANG and AR, policed the area - resulting in a field cleaner than it had been to start with.
Custis made sure the boys adequately thanked the troops, and loaded down with memorabilia those who possessed teenagers in the family. Afterwards, as the train ostentatiously chugged westward, pursued in parallel by fans and press, the boys, who had snuck off the train before it pulled out, were taken to a Pittsburgh hotel by deuce-and-a-half.
Liking as I do to have things orderly, and with an entire floor reserved, of course, I had set up the suites as seemed best to me. Obviously, James and Josh were sharing. Lenore was on one side of their suite, I on the other. I'd put Nick and AJ together, with orders to get along; stuck Chris with Kevin as a monitor; thrown Joey and Howie together; and roomed Brian with Justin. I also had suites reserved for some newbies joining us, two of whom I had invited and one of whom, to my considerable disquiet, my cousin the Senator had foisted up on us. Good thing DoD would be repaying part of my cellular bills.
When we arrived, with the boys bitching and moaning about the discomforts of Army transport, two of my people were already waiting.
The first was a pocket Adonis, a transistorized Greek god of twenty, Dimitrios Papantonakis: possibly the only straight Greek boy in history, as he was wont to joke. (One of the nicest things about Dimi is that I look moderately tall next to him; another is that he has something missing in the majority of trainers: a sense of humor.) The guys just stared at me and at him, and for a dread moment I was afraid someone might blurt something out (whether a wolf-whistle or a mistaken assumption that this was Luke) before I could introduce him. I moved quickly. 'Gentlemen. May I present Dimitrios Papantonakis ... certified personal trainer and world-famous hardass sadistic inquisitor. Torture is his business. Y'all are his next meal.'
'Oh shit,' Joe moaned. Dimi just flashed that damn, innocent grin, and surveyed them like a wolf outside a sheepfold.
Lenore, Kevin, Scoop, and JC looked at me with concern. 'Oh,' I said, 'he knows the drill, right, Dimi? He's worked with plenty of celebrated, important, and in some cases hush-hush people.'
Kevin and Scoop both spoke at once: 'Such as?'
Dimi just looked at them blandly. 'Sirs, please, do not even try. I will no more tell you about my other clients than I would tell them of you.'
'Oh. Okay. That works,' JC muttered.
'You don't look like - uh, I mean, you're not all -' Justin stammered. 'Not that I'm bein' critical or nothin',' he floundered on, to barely suppressed grins on a few bandmembers' faces. I bet you're not, was the universal unspoken thought.
'I don't look like a Russian weightlifter on steroids? I should hope not. After all, that would suit none of you, either, and I am here, courtesy of the Major, to render you down to what you should best be.' I could see AJ listening hard, and I knew with an odd certainty that by later that night, he would be able to do a dead-on impression of Dimi's formal English and honeyed Greek accent.
Dimi grinned at them again. 'Despite what the Major has said, I am not so very difficult to deal with. You will have fun.'
I saw Chris start to say something, and cut him off with a look.
'Render us down?' smiled Lance. 'As in cooking the fat out?'
Dimi looked at him with cool appraisal. 'Sir, your body type is as God meant it to be. You should not be ungrateful to Him for what he has given you: not at all. It is a perfectly good type to have. You must merely take care of it properly - and you shall, I assure you, all of you - or, well, it may be less pleasant than I had hoped. But again, I am here merely to fulfill what is in your grasp, and your genetics, not to try and use a cookie-cutter upon you. You are individuals, and you cannot expect to look all the same. But you can look your best, and in each case, that will be more than enough.'
Chris did ask a question then. 'Ah, you, ah, okay, so you don't look like a power-lifter, that's cool ... but - what sort of standard do you have in mind for us?'
'Whatever best suits you individually, of course. I shall work with you and a physician to determine what is best. But you will find your stamina increased, sir, your blood pressure lowered, and -' Dimi grinned - 'your body fat percentage down close to mine.'
'That being?' Kevin asked, as one health nut to another.
'One point six, sir. I have felt lazy of late.'
Luke stood against his door, afraid to walk into the hallway. He could hear that everyone had arrived; and he listened to the whole exchange with Dimi Papantonakis, whom he had met a few times through Custis - and who, though Custis had no idea of this (of course: Custis couldn't see the nose on his face half the time: gaaagh but it was soooo annoying), despised Luke as much as Luke lusted after him. Luke felt that was unfair: the really unfair part being that that little bundle of sex and sin on wheels, bouncy, with-it ... all the things the Major wasn't ... a hot dude who laughed at all your jokes, who wore nothing but Armani, Ermengildo Zegna, and Versace, and who had a diamond stud in each ear ... was hopelessly straight. Damn that was just so wrong.
And damned if there wasn't another set of introductions being made. Next thing would be Custis fetching him out of his suite and forcing him to meet these talentless hacks.
'Well,' I said. 'Y'all heard Dimi. He'll work on the corpore sano part in conjunction with medical advice. That advice will come from ... c'mon out of that suite, Colonel.'
A trim, kindly, middle-aged man in mufti stepped out of the conference suite and looked at the boys with a quizzical eye.
'Men, this is Doctor Hunter McGuire Keyes, formerly of the Medical Corps, who will help with the corpore sano and be in charge of the mens sana -'
'And seein',' said Hunter in a Shenandoah up-country accent - nice man, but a definite Cohee, not a Tidewater Tuckahoe - 'seein' as how few of you may know Latin, that's not a sauna bath, Custis means that I'm here to help ensure you have a healthy mind in a healthy body.'
'Too late,' Joey laughed.
'Young man, it is never too late for that. Now. Custis?'
Nick snorted and burst in a helpless giggle. 'Oh God,' he choked, 'that was classic....'
I just looked at him.
'S- sorry, but ... when you're dealing with Yankees you don't like or Southerners you do, your accent gets so thick it's hilarious. That sounded like "Hunnah," and, well, I can't see you meant it that way -'
I knew better than to freeze or react: Hunter did not know, or need to, at least not yet, and I could pass that off as Nick's craziness. I just shook my head: 'Boy, you've got it backwards. Y'all are the ones with the accent, not us. We speak God's own English down South.'
Hunter just sighed. 'Mr - Fatone, was it? Yes - may have been right. It may be too late for some of these children. Now. May I see Mr Kirkpatrick first?' No one needed to know about the substance issues, and by starting with Chris, and his hypoglycæmia, no speculation need arise.
'In a moment, Hunter. Jake? Did our other guest arrive?'
'He's checked in and in his room, and the Senator faxed the NDAs, the Nondisclosure Agreements, that he'd made him sign before they let him board at Dulles - I mean Reagan.'
I nodded, though I was trusting Luke more than any NDAs, which might work for most folks but were meaningless in the leak-happy environs of the Hill. Life is different inside the Beltway.
I knocked on the door I knew was his.
'Major.' He was pissed, doubtless about being here at all.
'You may as well get introduced.'
We stepped into the hallway, and even I felt the weight of the concentrated gazes upon Luke. Dimi looked at him with chill contempt, which neither of them thought I knew about. I did. It hurt. Dimi was a friend and I cared about his judgment; I bothered me that he and Luke could not get along. As for the boys ... I hated to admit it, but I worried about what they thought. I love Luke. He knows that. And I know that I have no chance with him. I'm not blind to his faults ... I just wish other people whose judgment mattered to me weren't all blind to his virtues.
I made the introductions. 'And this is Lucien deMaria, of the Transportation Committee Staff, whom you so rashly invoked. Luke, Hunter, Dimi, now that we're all here, let me formally introduce the men behind the merchandising: Kevin Richardson, Lance Bass, Brian Littrell, JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, AJ McLean, Howie Durrough, Joey Fatone, Nick Carter, and Justin Timberlake. He's the one with the Brillo pad on his head.'
Justin shot me the finger, but he grinned as he did it.
'Hi,' he said to Luke, and strode over to pump his hand.
Dimi watched, hoping against hope that what he was seeing was not real. The last time he'd seen that look on deMaria's mug was when the poor Major had first introduced the two of them to one another.
Luke shook hands quickly and broke away, staring at the floor. This was going to be torture.
It was Joey, first of the conspirators, who - as his friends would have expected and as the public, not seeing past his image, would never have credited - realized with a sick shock that inviting Luke to join them had been a bad idea, in fact fatal and disastrous folly.
He was totally wrong for the Major. And while the Major evidently didn't know, or care, Luke obviously did, because it was painfully clear that Luke liked the Major as a friend, at best, and was wholly uninterested in him otherwise. And if he wasn't mistaken, Luke was open to being interested as all hell in Justin.
I tapped Luke lightly on the forearm. 'For the sake of the US taxpayer, little buddy, try and endure the torture of dealing with my friends here, hmm?'
Luke slewed around and looked at me.
'Huh? Oh. Sorry. Um ... don't tell the Committee, okay, but flying unsettles me. I'll be back to normal in an hour or so.'
'Well, it's a good thing we're flying Amtrak here on out, then. Now. Gentlemen. Dr Keyes wanted to see Chris. Dimi, you cull a couple of victims from the herd and start planning whatever planning you plan to plan. The rest of y'all scatter or mingle or play tiddlywinks, all I care, and we'll meet in the conference suite for luncheon at 1430 hours precisely.'
'Hey - Luke. C'mon and join us there, we can chill an' all get to know each other better,' said AJ, still oblivious to the undercurrents.
'Thanks, man, but I better get back on an even keel and unpack. I'll get there a little early for lunch, okay? Once I'm better company and all.'
He darted into his suite and the crowd in the hall separated and went to various rooms.
Lenore sighed. She had come to rely on the Major's judgment. She would never rely on the boys's.
Kevin, AJ, Joe, and Josh couldn't meet Lance's eye. Or Jake's. No more could Chris have, if he weren't occupied in spilling his guts to Dr Keyes.
'Well,' said Lance - and he was assuredly in 'Lance' mode, in full Scoop-hood. 'That went poorly.'
'What the fuck,' Josh muttered, 'does Custis see in that asshole?'
Jake cleared his throat.
Kevin had the grace to blush. 'A few days ago, somebody - Jake for instance - could have asked what the Major saw that was worthwhile in us.... Right, Jake? I guess we need to give the guy a chance.'
'Yo, Scoopy,' said AJ, 'I know it's 'cause you care about Custis, we all do, but - we care that much, maybe we oughta trust his judgment? Not have a meal of roast boyfriend before our actual lunch?'
'Damn it, Bone -'
'No, Aidge, you listen heah -' Kevin too had a slight tendency to get more Southern under stress. 'Problem is that we can roast him to hell and gone and we are precisely not roasting Custis's boyfriend - because that smartass prick don't care about Custis, and that's what hurts.'
Everyone looked at him.
'Well, I feel responsible. I mean - not two-three nights back I was telling him not to give up, that he is worth being loved -'
'And he is. Jesus, why can't that smarmy bastard see that?' snapped Joey, who was also feeling a combination of protectiveness and guilt.
'- And, wham, we bring the sumbitch up here trying to play Cupid and ... if this goes the way I think and just hurts Custis even worse and costs him his confidence worse, I'll never forgive myself.'
'Very well, Mr Kirkpatrick. Dr Keyes looked at him mildly. 'I understand, before the show. But how did you feel after today's show?'
Chris stared at the floor. His voice was small when he answered. 'Weird. Better and worse than in years. I mean.... I haven't been that drained after some major venues, man. But ... I'd forgotten that rush, Doc, the real rush, the elation that comes with the exhaustion....'
Dr Keyes nodded, knowingly.
It had been a quarter hour now, and Luke was still throwing cold water on his face, there at the sink. And achieving nothing.
Dimi was scribbling notes and tickling the ivories, as it were, of his laptop. His first two victims - as they already saw themselves - Howie and Nick, sat quietly, waiting. They whispered together, careful not to be overheard.
'But D, I don't get it. One 'phone call from Dianne Bass, and JC dumps Lance before they even really get together?'
'Not dumps him, Nick, renounces him. I mean, c'mon, imagine you're about to get busy for the first time in your life, with a guy, one you been loving hopelessly a long time, and suddenly the phone, the intercom, a knock on the door, and it hits you his ultra-religious mom's under the same roof as you two? You'd shit. And you'd want to spare him the problems, the reality, that's just pissed in both your faces, right? 'Specially when you got your own issues with 'rents and religion.'
'Oh. Jeez, D, you must think I'm stupid.'
'Don't you ever say or think that, ever. I don't date stupid guys an' I sure as fuckin' shit don't fall in love with them -'
'- D? Did you just say -'
Howie blushed fiercely. 'It slipped out. I know, I promised not to rush you, an' you're reboundin', an' -'
'Shut up. Better yet, if you mean it, stop fucking with "ifs" and "don'ts" and please, please say it again. Please....'
'I love you, Nick. I can't help it an' I won't fuckin' apologize, I have fallen in love with you an' I love you.'
'Oh, God, D, thank God, I love you too.'
Dimi smiled. 'Congratulations, sirs. Now if you have a moment, we have an exercise and dietary regimen to plan?'
Nick and D hadn't realized they'd raised their voices to audible levels. 'Oh, shit,' said Nick.
Howie just squeezed his hand, gulped, and said, 'I promised Nick I'd never apologize for lovin' him, an' the Major that I'd trust his judgment, an' that includes his vouchin' for you being discreet. So, yeah, that's us, a couple. Let's talk about trainin', then, and stop hidin' shit. Think you can make me all handsome for my man?'
'That's not a problem,' Nick protested. 'I'm the one needs work.'
'Sirs, this is nonsense. I may be the only known straight Greek boy,' Dimi smiled, 'but I know love when I see it, and each of you loves the other just as he is, just as each wishes to be the best he can for the other. It is at that last that I come in. When I am done with you, you will each be so much happier with yourself that it will bring added joy to one another. That is our objective.
'Is that understood?'
The lovers blushed, and nodded. Added joy, huh? Hmmm, each thought, guiltily.
Lenore had joined me to get some work done. Things had gone quite well today, thanks to the willingness of the reserve components, at essentially no notice, to provide logistics support, site and security details, and general orderliness for the civilian fan-cum- mob-scene at the impromptu concert, but it was grossly unfair to spring that on them, and I was determined it not happen again.
'Although,' I teased Lenore, 'from a purely musical perspective, having these bubblegum acts hit town is like a natural disaster, so the Guard can't very well complain....'
'Asshole,' she snorted.
Brian and Justin, when the group had spilt up, had headed to their suite. Brian had called the future Mrs Littrell, and Justin, his mother.
As they unpacked, afterwards, Justin asked, abruptly, 'What do you think of him?'
'Reserving judgment, Tennessee.'
'Thanks a lot, Kentuck. Real answer there.'
Bri laughed. 'Hey, just like the Civil War, Memphis Slick, we are all at the mercy of Old Virginia's judgment.'
'Well I hope it works out better than that time did. I recall right, we lost.'
'Yeah, but a soldier named Lee was our best bet then, too. Seriously, though? If Custis vouches for him, I'll take a lot of convincing not to do the same. And it's not like we have enough to make a call on yet. We've barely seen him, and not under good circs.'
Justin fell silent. He wasn't sure what he felt anymore. He worshiped the Major, but....
'You think they look right together?'
'Oh don't give me that. You said yourself, you're straight but not blind.'
'If you ask if they make a cute couple, then, yeah. It's - it's like harmony, counterpoint. Tall dark and handsome versus the All-American boy next door. In fact ... well -'
Justin stared at him. 'Oh. Shit. You want to say it? I swear I'll never breathe a word. Mean it, I really do, man. 'Cause I think I just figured it out.'
Brian smiled, a little sadly. 'I trust you. If what you're thinking is that when I said I'd been tempted a time or two - yeah. Fleeting thoughts, never acted on. But yeah, I am talking the sort of couple Kev and I'd have made if we weren't both well over fifty percent straight.'
He hung his head and Justin moved swiftly to embrace him. 'Don't never,' Justin whispered fiercely, 'don't you never feel soiled 'bout that, man. Kev's like the perfect example of a guy anybody, anybody, 'd have a yen for, 'kay? And they were just thoughts. Don't you be doubting yourself, Kentuck.'
Brian hugged him back. 'I don't, really. What you say, I know. But anyway, it's the same dynamic as far as attraction and a cute couple that Luke and Custis have, if you see what I'm saying.'
'Yeah. Complenen-, comple-, fuck it, complementary.'
'Asshole,' Justin grinned. His face fell.
Brian, who had released him, startled him with another hug. 'You find Luke attractive, don't you.' It wasn't a question.
Justin sighed. 'I don't want to.'
'But you do.'
'Yeah. JC ... he's too close, really. I mean, I sorta wish - and talk about feeling guilty even thinking it - but I wish I'd known when he and Scoop, before they worked things out ... but they're perfect together, and JC is too much like a blood bro, kinda like the way you wouldn't feel right about you and Kev even if you inclined more the other way. And Custis ... I guess a lot of it's hero-worship. God, I sound like such a fucking slut.'
'Hey. Hey. You're - don't take this wrong - but you're young. Really young. If even your third crush turns out to be the one you're well ahead of the game.'
'I know. Bri.... Do you think Luke is, well, girly?'
Brian thought a moment. 'Nope.'
'No shit, I swear. I think maybe he acts a little that way deliberate, kinda like flipping the world off; and he's young too, our age, and even y'all's Old Responsibles, Scoop and Big Daddy JC, who've always acted as old as Kev, get a little queeny these days just from relief, I guess. It's not girly, really, kinda more boyish, a bit too much sap rising. But looks to me Luke's all the man you might want - I mean - damn that sounded whacked, sorry -'
Justin was giggling too hard to do more than wave the apology off. He sobered quickly, though. 'So I'm not ... I mean, when I see more in him than ... I don't think the guys like him much.'
'Not the point, is it. You do.'
'Yeah. Yeah. I do. He is tall-dark-and-handsome, isn't he? I mean, wow.' Justin's speech was rapid now, and his excitement was beginning to amuse Brian. 'I like the way his chin seems kind of boyish, firm but not all jut-jawed, and I don't care if his nose does look big, I mean, so does JC's, and, well, besides, um -'
Brian snickered. 'Oh yeah, the old hands-nose-feet-dick-size deal. Never pegged you as a size queen, Justy -'
Justin blushed, but grinned. 'Surprised you know the term, Mister Straightish Boy.'
'Oh, please, man, after this long in the biz, surrounded?'
The phone cut off Justin's reply. It was the Major, reminding them it was mess-call.
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Just how dangerous is this unexploded ordnance going to be when it finally blows? Are there are actually straight Greek boys, or is that a myth? Is Justin a total slut, or what? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Rural Electrification Commission and the Committee to Re-Elect Congressman Lyndon Johnson. We now return you to our studios for William Shirer, reporting from Berlin.