by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 account balances at LL Bean. 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....
But first, a word from our sponsor.
We are pleased to report that after the resolution of creative difficulties on the set of these radio broadcasts (the characters keep running away with the story, and the writers are most displeased), this serial should now, we trust, return to a more regular schedule.
With that note, we are pleased to present....
Sentimental Journey: Chapter Fifteen
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 and an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' In a move that backfired severely, the boys, playing Cupid, dragged the reluctant object of the Major's unrequited affections, Luke deMaria, along. That led to a tense scene or two - but nothing compared to the firestorm that erupted when Joey was caught with drugs in his luggage, and the Major sends everyone off to think for an hour before the meeting he has called to address the problems:
Joey had refused to answer the door - which in no way deterred Chris and AJ, who were swiftly becoming fast friends. They forced their way in through a communicating door to the next suite, one Joey had not thought to bolt.
He was huddled atop the counterpane of the bed, rocking slightly, dried tear tracks on his face. He started to shift and look up as Chris and Alex entered, but gave up and hunkered down, resolved to ignore them if they hadn't the common courtesy to leave him alone.
Wordlessly, the two exchanged glances, and, still silent, moved forward. Joe felt the mattress give on each side of him, and persistent arms wrapping him in a compassionate embrace. No words were needed; and Joey felt his eyes fill again with tears, and pain.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
D and Nick were the last to arrive. They'd spent the hour talking and worrying and dreading the moment, dreading the Major.... Howie had had to walk Nick slowly down the hall, stopping every few paces for Nick to get control of his knees or his breathing. And now they were there. Howie held Nick tight and gave him a brief, tender kiss. Hand in hand, silently, they walked in.
My own fault: I'd told them to come comfy. Rattiest looking damn outfit I ever saw: sweats and shorts and py-goddamn-jamas abounded, fuzzy slippers and flipflops and bare feet... I sighed. Why in the Sam Hill I'd expected 'casual and comfortable' to mean to them (bar Colonel Keyes and Dimi, of course, who were at least acceptably in khakis and Russell athletic gear, respectively) what it meant to me (a polo shirt, a cardigan, widewale cords, deck shoes) ... oh, well. At least only Lucien had decided comfy meant 'circuit-boy-turned-hustler-after-losing-sugar-daddy' sluttiness.
I was standing in the middle of the room, Luke off in one corner alone, looking daggers at everyone (Lenore in particular); Dr Keyes in an armchair, Dimi lounging elegantly in another corner (why the hell did that boy have to turn out straight, damn it?), near Jake and Big John, and the band members clumped together on couches and chairs, having fallen naturally into various attitudes of mutual support. Essentially, they were all centered on Joey, whom Chris and Justin were all but propping up, with Josh and James nearby (James closer to Joe, after what had nearly happened with JC's swing at him, and James and Josh themselves extremely clingy to each other); but AJ had found a seat on the floor at Joe's feet, and was looking damned protective, and Brian and Kev, presenting a united familial front together, were themselves close by. D and Nick finally got there, avoided my gaze, and crept around the wainscoting like mice, sleekit, cow'ring, and timorous, until they too were within reach of Joe, on whose shoulder they laid their linked hands before sitting on a window sill behind him, together.
It was obviously going to be boybands united versus mean old Major time.
Well, damned if I was going to play by their pre-assumptions.
'Joe,' I said mildly. He looked up, after a moment that hung in the balance. I beckoned him towards me, silently. There was another pause before he heaved himself out of his chair, shaking off everyone else - all of whom had automatically put out restraining hands: I doubt they even knew they'd done so, the gesture was so instinctive - and came reluctantly towards where I stood. He faltered a few paces from me, and I closed the distance in two strides and hugged the hell out of him, actually hefting him off his feet (which I'm getting too old to be doing).
'You damned goof,' I said firmly, 'don't you ever again do that to yourself or all of us who love and need you.' He looked at me, mouth slightly agape, eyes suddenly brimming, then hugged me crushingly back and buried his head on my shoulder as he sobbed an apology. I put up a hand behind his back to shut the rest of them up and keep them where they were.
'Accepted, Joe, on condition you get your head out your ass and start working with Colonel Keyes. Now. You start at the one end and I'll start at the other.'
He just looked at me until I shoved him towards Luke, and then the penny dropped. I myself turned to Dimi and exchanged a placid hug with him, then moved on to the bodyguards and Colonel Keyes, and then started at one end of the lads with Kevin, by which point Joe had worked his way through mutual apologies and hugs with Josh and was up to AJ and Howie and Nick.
When he and I had finished, I looked over at Dr Keyes. He nodded for me to go on.
'Joe,' I said mildly. 'Is it that tough to be happy all the time without doing this shit? And by the way, who's forcing you into the always-happy role? You're allowed to be human, to hurt and need and cry sometimes, just as much as you're allowed to be the joyful little goofball. What the hell is driving you under this lash?'
Joe just looked at me, open-mouthed. Evidently I'd hit the nail on the head.
'Oh, God,' said Lance. 'Joshy, we've done it again.'
Joe looked over and held out a hand. 'Naw, man, it idden your fault, actually, 'kay? It idden nobody's but mine. You guys never cut me out, I walled myself off.'
'But damn it,' said Lance, 'we're supposed to have each others's backs, an' - Lordy, we've not seen Justy was hurtin', nor you, nor Chris....'
'I feel like shit,' Josh muttered. 'Some friends we've been.'
'Stop it,' said Chris. 'You really think we'd have wanted to come between you two and your love, even if we were only guessing until the other day that that's what had you two in a world of you guys's own? We're big boys too. We can't go runnin' to you guys whenever we fuck up.'
'Yes you can,' Lance said. 'I - we - cain't apologize enough -'
'James, stop being "Lance" a minute and listen to me,' I said. 'When you're young and in love your companion should be your first priority. Now -'
'How the fuck would you know?'
It was, of course, Lucien.
'God knows you're all fuckin' obsessive, but what expertise do you have in this area?'
Before everyone could get up and beat the shit out of him, I waved them down.
'I -' and then I stopped. Was I really ready for this?
Jake, though, took over. 'Major's a widower. Not for cover - I knew Miss Mims, and it was the real thing. Why y'all ought to listen to him, he tells you love ain't nailed tight to gender. She was a lovely, lovely lady. Hell of a shame she died in childbirth, and the boy too.'
Only Keyes nodded, gravely: he'd known about the eclampsia. We can put a man on the moon, but we still can't stop deaths in childbirth all the time, even in the developed world, even in the best facilities ... even when we love with all our hearts.
Lenore was silently in tears, and she wasn't the only one; Big John had winced and had to sit down, Kevin and Brian were stricken with horror, Dimi stood there like the Charioteer of Delphi, with that Classical Greek look of remote and Olympian compassion, Luke had gone utterly white and staggered into the latrine, and the other lads ... a low moan had risen from them, an inarticulate chord of grief. Purely as a spatial matter, Chris, Joe, and Alex were the first to reach me, but not the last. This was a very different brand of Group Hug, this time, and of the hands and arms that touched me tenderly, trying to communicate the incommunicable, not a few were trembling.
I cleared my throat, and spoke quietly and levelly. 'Thank you, gentlemen. I'll not forget this, this side the grave.
'Now. Hunter -'
Justin interrupted me, voice vibrant with barely suppressed emotion. 'Hold on a sec, Custis. I need to step into the pisser a minute. Hope they can gets da blood outta th' grout....'
'No need,' Luke said quietly. He was standing away from the wall next to the doorway to the latrine, hands by his sides, awaiting the punch. Justin started towards him.
He slewed around and looked at me. 'Custis, damn it, he - this fuckin' prick - I mean, 'kay, you want the first shot, that's one thing -'
'You can pummel him all you want after I've thrashed him,' I said. Justin nodded. 'However -' they both looked at me - 'I'll let you know when I've done that. Don't hold your breath waiting.
He hung his head.
'You didn't know. I am aware of that. The fact is, I do in fact try not to presume too much on our acquaintanceship, I try not to make you a better friend - since I know that would the utmost limit, friendship - than you evidently care to be.
'That does not excuse, though it partly explains, what just happened. Other than daring to care for you, and being stupid enough to have let you know it, what have I ever done to you - aside of course from intimidating you, as you are quick to note? Is that why you lash out like this?'
Luke slid down against the wall into a setting position, his head in his hands.
'I don't know.... I don't know.... I, I - I've been working with Dr Keyes for months, I do trust your judgment, I do think the world of your mind and character, 's why I chose Hunter, because he's your bud and I knew he'd be a good man and a good doc, we've been in sessions for months ... and, why I do this, why I just treat you like shit when I never treat anyone else that bad....' He paused, and choked. His next words came out in discrete sentences. 'I. Do. Not. Fucking. Know.'
Hunter sighed. 'Weeeel,' he drawled, 'apparently I'm not doing my job....'
'That 's why,' Chris mused, 'that's why, at lunch, when Hunter called you on things with just a look, you folded.'
Luke just curled in further on himself.
'I guess I didn't help any,' Lenore said. We all looked at her. 'While we were waiting for you. I looked over at Luke - I guess I let it show what I thought of how he was dressed - and he and I mixed it up for a minute.'
Josh smiled. 'I overheard that, matter of fact.' He turned to the rest of us. 'Golly, it was sharp. Luke says, "Dream all you want, sistah, but I'm 'strictly dickly,'" and Lenore snorts - sorry babe but you really did, you flat snorted - and she looks at him and says, she says, "Good thing I'm already a dyke, sisterrrrr, 'cause if I wasn't already that outfit'd be enough to convert me."'
That put a crack in the tension: even Luke snickered, I think.
'Well, though, I didn't oughtn't to a-said it,' Lenore admitted.
'It wasn't - I'm not - anybody's fault but my own,' Luke said. 'God, I hate myself.'
'Right,' I said curtly, 'that will do. There's enough self-hate and guilt in this room to pack five gay bars, two confessionals, and a convention of Jewish mothers - which reminds me, Jake, help me remember to call my aunt before Rosh Hashanah.'
They all looked at me.
'What? You boys puzzle too easily. She married into the Benjamins, down in Metairie. What the hell, old Judah P. was the Confederate Secretary of State: families have known each other for a century and a half, and intermarried before. Anyway. I think it's time we get to the bottom of this. Hunter?'
'I agree, Custis. It's not a pretty technique, especially in groups, but it needs doing. First, I think Alex and Chris each have something they want to tell y'all.'
'Yeah, 'specially Joey,' said Chris. 'Joe, man, you ain't the only one has fucked up. I'm not gonna compare notes about stashes, but, um, shit.... Okay.' He took a deep breath. 'Uh, I'm Chris and I'm, ah, an alcoholic and, and, and a substance abuser.'
I walked over and hugged him.
Alex stood up next to us, pulled Joey up, and embraced us all. 'So'm I,' he said.
Joey looked at his feet for a minute, then held his head high. 'That would be me, too.'
Everyone was on their feet then, even Luke, and they all milled around for a minute, hugging the boys and each other, Luke in particular sobbing, tentative with the first touch and then confident when everyone, even Justin, hugged him back.
'And now we're on track to better times,' I said. 'Hunter, next up.'
'For what it is worth, gentlemen, you have my increased respect, all of you,' Dimi said formally as we all sat back down.
That lit up several faces. 'It's worth a lot,' several of them said at once.
'So it is,' said Dr Keyes. 'Now we address some of the whys and wherefores.
'Alex, do you feel we can start with you? What I'm going to ask is that each of you spill out what it is you so hate about yourself, what motivates your destructive behavior - and each of you has that in you, don't try and blow smoke up my ass - and then we'll hear responses. No one leaves, no one pulls any punches, we're all dead honest: it's going to hurt. But once we've cleared things, then we can rebuild. And Chris? You are not getting continuing professional education credits for this.'
'Shit,' Chris said, 'it was at Rollins, Hunter, the only real majors there are partying, tanning, and tennis anyway.'
After everyone was done chi-yiking at that, AJ took a ragged breath and began.
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. What pop-psych revelations and dirty linens still await? What added stress will this put on the young couples? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you by the Office of Strategic Services, congratulating Moe Berg on a better season than the stats reflect. We now return you to our studios for William Conrad in 'Gunsmoke.'