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 fashion sense. 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 Sixteen
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 found 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 and Dr Keyes forced a group meeting - and therapy session / confessional:
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.
'I -' AJ started, then stopped, trembling, sitting there on the floor with his knees drawn up and his arms crossed before them in a huddled, defensive posture.
'Go on,' Dr Keyes said.
'I can't,' Alex replied, flatly.
'Alexander,' I said, 'I know Colonel Keyes wants us not to interrupt each other, and this shall be my only interruption. But we are here for you, all of us. Just speak what's in your heart - and don't overdramatize: self-satisfied smugness is bad, but so's the other end of the pendulum -'
'Do you think I was overdramatizing earlier, Custis?'
'Alex, in my old-fashioned view, when it comes to drugs, any use is abuse. But - unless and until Hunter so diagnoses - there's no need to label yourself as an alcoholic or a substance abuser and start wrapping yourself in the language and postures of recovery programs specifically tailored to people who have been so diagnosed. More than that, it's symptomatic of the whole issue here: you ten need to come off that damn stage, bring things down to the level the rest of us live at, and show everyone - your selves finally included - your real faces, not screen shots of yourselves in your roles and performing. Everything with y'all is - God forgive me for the inevitable reference - larger'n life. Crisis or ecstasy, nothin' in between: people can't live that way - 's how people in your business get into trouble to start with, and burn out even without trouble. It's too much. That's all. My apologies for buttin' in -'
'No, it's the jumpstart I needed. I can do this better this way anyhow.'
'Then you do it whichever way is best for you,' said Dr Keyes. 'Even if that means letting Custis barge in,' he added - a bit drily for my tastes.
AJ grinned, tremulously.
'Okay. Maj- um, Custis, what do you think - honestly, now - about my ink?'
I sighed. 'This is liable to offend some folks I'd surely hate to offend, but you asked. Part of me regards the whole thing - tattoos and such - as simply tacky: the sort of thing -' I looked apologetically at Jake and Big John - 'one leaves to the enlisted men and noncoms.' (Jake stifled a grin.) 'Moreover, I regard them - in your case and that of anyone here, really - as scribbling graffiti over a work of art, marring a canvas: y'all would all look better without anything save what the Good Lord gave you bodily. Why the hell ten of the most gorgeous young men in the world would want to mar themselves ... damn me if I know. And frankly, I've always suspected that, at least with really obvious ones, that it's a form of ... well ... self-mutilation.'
AJ got up and came over to me and held out his arms. Of course I hugged him. He clung to me a long moment or two as I soothed him.
'Custis, I dunno about anybody else ... but that's just what it's been.'
He hugged me tight and then sat down on the floor at my feet, leaning into my knees.
'Man ... tats, piercing - other stuff - dudes, we can talk about endorphins and fashion and coolness and stuff, and maybe for some people that's what it's all about, just like C can say he's a pain wimp, but he's really just too smart for it ... but for me? Kevvy, you remember why I got my first tat?'
Kevin looked up, startled. His eyes darkened as he thought back, and he nodded, slowly. 'Yeah, man. I remember.' His voice was full of old pain. 'Can you tell them, Bone, or do you want me to do that?'
'I need to do it myself, Train. But thanks.' He turned his gaze to the floor. 'Before that ... I mean real early ... I was, uh, cuttin'.'
It took a moment for the penny to drop. Then we all got it. Self-mutilation indeed.
'Train found out and got me help. Then - well, there were scars, so ... you know, to cover 'em ... Kevvy never thought much of the idea, he was afraid I was subbin' one form of self-mutilatin' for another, but I convinced him I wasn't ... I lied ... damn it, Boo, I lied to you all along, and I'm so fuckin' sorry -'
Kevin eschewed words for action, pulling his bandmate into a tight hug.
'Well, I am sorry, though.' Alex's voice was muffled; Kevin's reply, inaudible. Kevin stayed there, an arm around Alex's shoulders, as I slipped down to floor level myself and held the both of them.
Alex looked at us gratefully.
'Anyways, so I've been scribblin' over a canvas I don't really like to look at, 's what it is. And -'
'Train, I can't. You want me to tell them why I, I - God -'
I squeezed his shoulder.
'No, Custis, Kev's right. Okay. It never - ever - went beyond inappropriate touchin' - thank God. And I figured, well, I was the wild hair, I brought on myself, and at least it was me and not Nicky, say, and maybe if I stayed silent it never would be -'
'Lou.' James spat the name out.
Alex's eyes widened and he looked at James with the shock of recognition.
Josh looked over at me, his face a mask, and said, 'Major, I guess we better fill you in -'
'No need,' I said, icily angry at what had been done to these youths. 'I've done my research. And had suspicions of that swine from the first.'
'Oh.' Josh looked fearfully towards his lover, obviously worried about recalling whatever grim memories they might have. James squeezed his hand and looked at Alex calmly.
'AJ, it's okay now. Don't worry about anything you need to say. We can all handle it.'
'I couldn't,' Alex replied flatly. 'I've never felt right about myself. My family ... growin' up ... me ... why I was easy prey, I guess ... and then ever since that ... been worse ... so the booze and the drugs and the one night stands and hurting myself, and the tough "don't-fuck-with-me" stuff....'
'I'm sorry,' Kev said. 'But I have to say something here, now. First I have to apologize to Bone. I thought I was there for him enough, and I wasn't, and I didn't see it, and maybe I didn't want to see it -'
'- Nah, man, I hid it and I pushed you away. My bad.'
'- Bullshit. And second I have to apologize to you guys from 'N Sync. I wanted to shield Aidge, so I worked quietly to get us away from TransCon. Then when y'all jumped over to Jive, I was the one who raised sand. But it was because - look, I can tell some shit happened to you, more'n just the money thing, I know that now. But you gotta admit, it didn't add up.
'I mean.... I've never figured out the JC - Justin dynamic and why he sorta became an honorary Timberlake, and it's still hard to swallow the public story about how y'all found Lance, and all that just increased my doubts ... doubts about the Lou and Johnny thing. I was afraid that your comin' over to the label, dragging WEG as your management - well, damn it, I blame - blamed, I guess - Johnny for getting us involved with that fat bastard. Why we dropped him when we dropped TransCon. I mean either he was blind and stupid, or he knew and didn't care, I felt, and I knew Johnny wasn't blind or stupid.... But I've calmed down since and realized stuff - like on the money, he couldn't interfere in y'all's contract with that fuck without getting sued himself, and he clearly helped you figure it out and get out, so that's good ... and I've realized that that fat fuck was real careful and fooled a lotta people.
'Which is one thing, I guess. I did feel you guys were bringin' that baggage, and even now that I know and trust you, and even though I know now you suffered too, I still get edgy, okay?' Kevin took a deep breath. 'I mean, Curly's mom still works with that fucker - what is up with that?'
James looked levelly at Kevin. He was suddenly in full Scoop mode, 'Lance' to his very fingertips. 'Kevin, some of that you'll hear, I'm sure. The other - I'm probably violating settlement terms by sayin' this, but it won't leak, and the Major can always rescue my ass. Part of the settlement was that Lynn had to work with him and provide a group in our place, to get some of the money that was her part of the settlement individually, as opposed to what she got as Justy's 'next friend' to hold in trust for him 'til he turned eighteen. What we screwed him on was, we made it a girl group, and Lou's, um, not interested in little girls....' James grinned evilly.
'Oh man,' Alex half-sobbed, half-laughed. 'You fucked him over like he deserves. Whoa!'
'And....' Justin was solemn. 'Look, nobody can know this. But ... when Mom goes to meetings with him and all? She's ... she's wearing a wire.'
'Huh?' Nick didn't get it.
'For the Feds, man,' Joey said tiredly. ' 'M I the only one watches Mafia movies?'
'No, just the only one who gets cast in them,' Chris said.
Most people laughed. Joe didn't.
'Joe?' Chris was uneasy.
'Ya know ... Major's right. I don't have to be "on" and "up" all the time. And frankly, Chris - you're one of my best friends, man, you really are a brother to me, but man, I get tired of being the resident Guido and the resident Mustache Pete, capisce? I don't keep smartin' off about your bein' part Hispanic, do I? I'm not some fuckin' siggie, some geep, some goombah from the Mob, a'ight? And I'm not a happy idiot.'
Chris was stricken, his eyes suffused with tears. 'Joe - oh my God, Joe ... I, I - Jesus I'm sorry -'
Joe turned to his little pal swiftly, not pausing to waste words, just as Kevin had not with Alex. Joe enfolded Chris in an ursine hug, and they stood there a moment, rocking slightly the way a parent rocks a fractious child. 'It's all right, piccolino, 's okay,' Joe kept repeating, as Chris lashed himself with a stream of apologies. 'I'm not mad at you, I'm not blaming you, it's just a habit we all have and I want it broken, but I'm not casting blame....'
'Joe, man, you know I love you, I never meant to hurt you, I just always - my fuckin' smart-mouth -'
By now the rest of the boys, 'N Sync innermost, had coalesced in a group hug around them. James spoke softly. 'Chris, you do have a bit of that, but I'm far and away the worst. I'm the one needs to apologize for always bein' the smartass - at least when Chris gets carried away it's all funny and we know - look, at the start, when it was me on the short end of the stick, I didn't always think so, but I know now - with Chris it's always lovin' and in fun and thoughtless, I mean just not thinkin', at the very worst. I'm the one with the really mean mouth....'
'Why?' I sensed this was important.
'Bottom rail on top, Major. Sarcasm's the traditional refuge of small, less than just 'zactly butch boys - you know as well as I do that's true, it's the way bitchy queens emerge -'
'James Lance Bass, you are not a queen and by God you're man enough for me -'
'Joshy, chill, punkin, I'm talkin' about the me that was, the small, nervous, closeted - closeted? Shit: I barely had an inkling my own self - the boy I was, in junior high and high school and when I first joined, and how when Chris started in on me - please, Chris, don't be upset, we're way past this, but I'm bound to admit that at first, well, it tore me half in two, so I started hitting back the same way, the only way I could, but I was mean with it where you never were -'
'It is my fault,' Chris insisted, 'it's even my fault you started that - I ragged on you so bad, man, and I am so sorry now, it was just, I - you were -'
'Chris, I ain't sayin' you're anything queeny, on account of, um, we've all overheard you and Dani, and you've got her -'
'I wonder,' Chris muttered.
James paused and looked at him with concern. 'Chris?'
'Later. Please. What you were saying. I know I think where you're going....'
'Well, it's true, smart-mouthin' is the weapon of the little guys, and we are, one way and another.'
'I know. And the more it hurts when it's directed at you -'
'The better you get at it, to hurt the others,' Howie said. They looked at him with startled eyes that then widened in recognition of their kinship. 'I,' said D, 'the "peacemaker" - sheeyit - I used to be that way, until I saw where I was goin' with it.'
'Smarter man than I am, Gunga Din,' Chris said.
'No - if it had taken looking in a mirror to see it, I'd never have recognized it. I saw it when it was reflected around me. AJ. And - believe it or not - Bri.'
'Whoa.' James looked at them as if he were seeing them for the first time up close.
Brian hung his head. 'Well now. It's like the liftin' and all. When you're not big you feel you have to be feisty. And the big 'uns are targets - Kev weren't my cousin he'd like to have killed me by now, I wager.'
'Are you - does Kevin make you feel - well, inadequate at all?'
Kevin looked at Chris in horror, and opened his mouth to protest. But Brian spoke first. 'Shoot. 'Course he does. Bigger, smarter, better-lookin', a right smart more talented, Mister Father Figger 's well as Mister Body Booty-ful -' Brian grinned and Kevin tried to figure out if he ought argue, apologize, or laugh. 'Just the way Joe makes you feel.'
'Now wait a minute,' said Joey. 'Chris can't possibly -'
'Hell he cain't,' said James, 'same way I do about, frankly, all y'all, though of course 'specially about Josh. But Joey, you think we don't know?'
Chris nodded vigorously, his hair exaggerating the motion. 'Joe. We know. The flirtin' and the par-tays, the whole schmeer, okay, we know that all that goes on on the surface while deeper waters than any of us have - 'cept maybe C, and though he won't ever believe it, Lansten - deeper waters are running silently there ... man, we know you're the smart one, the one with the real interior life, the detached observer. Shazam's got music an' poetry in him and there's a practical theorist, an engineer or an MBA, hidden in Poofu. Justy's young yet - let him live it up. But you have that core, Shakespeare and Marlowe and all the shit I only did the Cliff Notes on in college, just like C really does get into Wittgenstein and that shit and the Bassman actually understands Hayek and von Mises and Milton Friedman. You guys, you especially, have that core.
'And I'm all hollow inside, and the void - I tried to fill it with a little blow and some baggies and a lot of cheapass vodka, and nothin' fills it, not even Dani, and I've taken it all out on you, you mostly Joe 'cause you're safe and easy and don't fight back - Just goes off on me, C drifts off into metaphysics or Brubeck, and - Lance, I taught you too well: I don't dare start a round of snaps with you, I get my ass reamed. I mean - you weren't around just after lunch when we were talkin' King Lear, and you so shoulda been 'cause you and Luke are the ones must know every page of Shakespeare by heart. And that scares me, and I envy that, and I smart off atcha and hurt ya when damn you're one of the people I love most in this fuckin' world....'
'I love you too, Christopher Robin, even if I am a bear of very little brain. C'mere.' And he hugged Chris again. 'By the way - what was the Lear stuff anyways?'
'Oh. 'Bout the Major havin' authority in his countenance. We were wondering who was Cordelia....'
'Easy,' Joe grinned. 'Lansten. "His voice is ever gentle, loooooow - an excellent thing in Poofus."'
We'd taken a break, at Dr Keyes's direction.
Now that break was over. And Alex had some more to say.
'I - started - I got into this because of - Lou, you know ... and, um....'
'Never. I was lucky. Almost all of us were. What Lou did to me didn't cause me to start doin' the shit. Hell. I'd experimented before. Not so much in high school - I was too poor to buy a fucking lid, man. But college and Universal, I'd dabbled. But what Lou did, he didn't drive me to the stuff, he just facilitated it. Fuckin' dealer, man.'
'Holy shit,' D breathed. 'That maricon.'
'Verdad,' Chris nodded. 'Hijo de puta.'
'You said - you said "almost all" -' Kevin looked embarrassed to ask.
James gripped Josh's hand tightly. 'You're probably guessin' it was me,' James said. 'I wish - I'd rather it had been.'
Josh stared at the floor. 'It was me.'
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 Civil Defense Board, and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia . We now return you to our studios for 'The Green Hornet.'