by Ian McDuff
(Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take - gladly accepted at email@example.com)
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 or of the Backstreet Boys, all of whom are of course straight, well-dressed, intelligent, articulate, cultured, sweet-natured, and kind to their mommies. 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 young writer pal of mine who has no idea he's gay....)
Undoubtedly, that I have no contact with or knowledge of any of such musicians, pop stars, their agents, associates, staff, or families. Equally clearly, 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, perhaps, 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; it will build, and it will I hope be something more than quick stroke-lit. But enough prologue: on with the tale....
Sentimental Journey: Chapter Two
In Our Last Episode: An Amtrak mix-up on the two boybands's 'whistlestop tour' puts dashing young military historian and lawyer Major Custis Lee in the same luxury train-car as the lads. He overhears a shouting match, discovers that one of the boys' security detail is his old sergeant, and ends up being approached for counsel and aid by Kevin, JC, and Lance...:
'Uh, well, Lance and I are two of the members of 'N Sync, and Kevin is with the Backstreet Boys.'
'Well, I'll be damned. I'm sure I've heard your material - rather unavoidable, isn't it?' I smiled, to underline that I was teasing.
All three blushed a bit. Then Kevin took the bull by the horns. 'It is right now. Within a week, we could all just as easily be nobodies. It's -'
I stopped him. 'Kevin. Lance or Josh. I need one dollar from each of the bands, please.'
Lance caught on first. 'Oh - a retainer. Yeah.' I tucked his and then Kevin's singles into my pocket.
'All right now, gentlemen. Those old enough may join me in a bourbon. All of y'all - talk to me. What is going on?'
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
At the front of the luxury car, separated from Major Lee's suite by the security detail's room, Chris and Joey sat in silent, uncomprehending misery. Whatever was wrong, they wanted it fixed. AJ looked daggers at Justin and Nick, who had given up pretending to play video games, and sat staring out the windows, one on each side of the train, pale and shaken.
'AJ, man, give it up. Chill.'
Howie's attempt at peace-making backfired. AJ at least knew enough to keep his voice to a poisonous hiss this time.
'Fuck you, Howie. You one of 'em?'
'Damn it, AJ, get a freakin' grip. Lance and JC -'
'Fuck them. And Kevy - what are they up to back there with our business anyway - or are they maybe just somewhere faggin' off, huh?'
Brian was just coming out of the toilet at that juncture: Howie had to move fast to block a punch that would have felled AJ where he sat.
'Um,' Josh began, 'ya sorta do know who - and what - we are, now?' He cleared his throat and wouldn't look up at me. 'I mean, as bands?'
'Yes. Y'all are to today's teenyboppers and bobbysoxers what Sinatra was to their grandmothers and the Beatles to their mothers.'
'Uh, yeah. Kinda. Well.... Both -'
He couldn't go on. Kevin backed up the play.
'Both bands have gay members. Now we are touring together, and one - at least one - of the guys, uh, can't handle that fact.'
'And,' Lance choked out, 'he's out ever-all control, sir, he had - a shock earlier ... but if he, if he outs u- them, the gay members, or quits himself, or anything -'
'We'll be finished,' said Kevin bleakly. 'Oh, our run was probably coming to an end anyways, ain't none of us getting younger - me especially - but ... we've been like brothers, s- Custis, an' friends, and this is tearin' us up worse'n the business shit, though frankly that scares me shitless too.'
I caught myself whistling a few bars and looked up, embarrassed. With good cause, the three young men were looking at me as if I were the most heartless bastard since William Tecumseh Sherman, if not John Pope.
'I apologize, gentlemen: I wasn't making light of your troubles. Though I am surprised that Mr Bass, at least, didn't recognize the tune. The Bonnie Blue Flag, gentlemen. Two lines from it seemed apposite: "We are a band of brothers" and again, "As long as the Union was faithful to its trust / Like friends we were and brethren: kind were we, and just." Sounds like your Yankees have broken trust with your brotherly union. Because that is what bothers you most, isn't it?'
They nodded, and Lance Bass started to try and hold back a tear. Immediately, forgetting and obviously forgetting that they were observed, Josh Chasez took him tenderly in his arms and kissed and soothed him. I looked at Kevin Richardson, who was flushed a dark brick red beneath his tan.
'Kevin,' I said quietly, 'I've a feeling this bothers you more than it does me.' Even that was loud enough to cause the two lovers to spring apart, burning with embarrassment. I went on, at conversational volume. 'Because it doesn't bother me in the least.'
In the compartment at the front of the car, Howie was still holding Brian back, and wishing anyone else had the job. He was getting increasingly uncomfortable with it.
'B-Rok, just chill, 'kay? Let Kev handle what he's handling and ignore this dumbfuck.'
'Who ya callin' dumbfuck, dumbfuck? Man, I -'
'Just shut the fuck up willya?' Nick screamed. 'I can't take any more of this shit!'
Both Sullivan and Jake came into the room at a high and angry rate of speed. 'This ends now!'
'Ohmigod,' thought Josh. 'Was that a ping from the Maj- from Custis?'
I walked over to where JC and Lance were sitting and gently pushed them back together. Lance looked up at me with those incredible eyes and whispered, 'My real friends call me James. I, uh, think you qualify now.' I smiled.
'Now, gentlemen. If the three of you will adjourn, I'll join all of y'all up front in half an hour, at precisely 1947 hours, and sort this out - we will sort this out, together, all of us.' I grinned. 'Dis-missed!'
They grinned back, if tentatively, and shambled towards the door. I stopped them. 'Damn it, troops, don't shuffle like you're beaten. Forwarrrrrrrd ... march!' All three stiffened their spines, held their heads high, and headed out.
I sat back down, fired up the wireless Internet connection on my laptop, and got to work.
Inside the main compartment, all was tense and coldly silent. AJ opened his mouth to say something, but a glare from Big John Sullivan cut him off.
Jake looked at Kevin, Josh, and James. 'Major going to help y'all.' It wasn't a question. The three nodded.
'Good. Now sit down and stay quiet.'
I had to refine the Net search several times, but I did manage to get what I wanted without wading through oceans of crap, fan sites, hate sites, and 'I-Want-To-Have-[Insert-Name-of-Band-Member-Here]'s-Baby' sites. I made a few notes, thought for a few minutes, and strode towards the door.
I stopped halfway there, made a phone call to DoD and one to Fort Monroe, and looked at my watch. It was to the minute. I knocked, and Jake ushered me through to the compartment where ten sullen, upset, and mutually hostile youths sprawled around.
'Gentlemen. My name is Custis Lee. I am among other things a licensed attorney. I realize you gentlemen collectively will have a string of lawyers, as bands and individually, but not - individually - for the matters we are about to discuss, mediate, and resolve to the best interests of all y'all.
'Now, Mr Richardson on behalf of the members of Backstreet, and Mr Chasez and Mr Bass on behalf of the members of 'N Sync, have retained my services. It is my considered belief that your interests are not conflicting. Should they become so, my first duty will be to these three gentlemen and those whose interests accord with theirs. Anyone who doesn't want my help -' I looked hard at AJ, whom my research confirmed was the likely culprit in the earlier shouting match, as Kevin indeed had let slip - 'is welcome to his portion of the retainer, refunded now. He can then leave the room whilst we talk, or vice versa.'
'H- How much do I owe Kevin for my part of the retainer?' asked the one I recognized as Howie.
'Twenty cents. I'm not in this for anything for myself.'
That stunned them. Howie looked at Kevin and pulled out a quarter. 'Got a nickel on ya, man?'
At the offices of the bands' record label, a senior vice-president was shouting into the phone. 'I don't care who he is, get him the fuck off that train! You fuckin' people couldn't organize an orgy in a whorehouse, much less charter a special train! Our contract for this idiot "whistlestop" tour - fuck, what now?' His secretary was standing in the doorway, holding up two fingers.
'The Assistant Secretary of Defense on Line Two,' she said curtly.
The suit turned back to his call to Amtrak. 'I'll call you back and you fuckin' better be there when I do. Now the fuckin' Pentagon's on the fuckin' line - and it's all because you dumb shits are idiots!'
As he slammed down the receiver and punched the speaker button for his next call, he snarled, 'What a hell of a fuckin' way to run a railroad.'
I looked around the compartment. AJ seemed to be about to get up. Thanks to some exercises and NATO messes over the years, I knew I did a hell of an accent: and it struck me as a good time to use it. 'Och, aye, and there's puir wee Alec, forbye, an' him lookin' to flee, mair lak a Sassenach, a bluidy Englishman, than a guid Scots lad o' the Clan MacLean.'
He looked at me with a peculiar mixture of hatred and humor, and subsided.
'Right, then,' I resumed in my natural voice. 'You gentlemen -'
Kevin hit his fist on the seat beside him. 'Damn, s- Custis, I clean forgot to introduce you. This -'
I smiled. 'Kevin, it ought be evident I took half an hour to research your official bios: how else did I know of AJ there?' I looked around the room, clockwise, starting with AJ. 'So there he is, and you, and your cousin Brian Littrell, and Howie next to Nick - Mr Carter, you aren't from Virginia, I believe, but rather New York?'
'So we cannot claim cousinage,' I grinned. 'Move to Kentucky and get adopted: if I know Kentucky cousins, anyone messing with a Richardson will face two to one odds with the Littrells weighing in, and vice versa, just as Byrds and Randolphs, Carters and Lees, hang together in the Old Dominion. Kev and Brian have each other's backs all the time, I expect.'
AJ snorted unpleasantly, but Nick didn't catch it, and grinned tremulously. It was a start.
'But that should be true of all of you, unless this "band of brothers" crap the PR people put out really is just horseshit.' That jerked AJ's head around in a hurry. I rolled on, cutting off anything he might have to say.
'And then we have Justin, of course, and Josh and James, and Chris, and Joey, whose father I had heard of much more often than of you gentlemen until now. So we all know each other. And I am going to tell you a few home truths.'
In Orlando, the senior veep was back on the horn to Amtrak.
'I know what I said fifteen minutes ago, but this is what I'm saying now! Listen, willya - and get it the fuck right this time!'
'Mr M- er, AJ, if I may. I am aware that your bands are not in fact the Montagues and Capulets that the media likes to pretend - as does your management, no doubt, hoping to exploit this factitious rivalry for sales. On the other hand, I think it grossly unlikely that you are close enough to the members of 'N Sync to get bent out of shape over discovering the homosexuality of any of them. I must therefore presume that you were reacting, rather than calmly responding, earlier, to news about one of your own bandmates. I take it I am right so far?
'Very well. We must now consider why you just made a complete horse's ass of yourself.'
'Don't ya wanna know who it is?'
'Not particularly: it's immaterial. As in any group of friends who also have the misfortune to work together - because one of the best ways to ruin a friendship is to work together - there will always be those to whom you are closer than you are to others, I admit. And of course there are group dynamics at work as well: if, purely by way of example, it were Kevin, y'all's pillar of strength, that would cause you perhaps to feel betrayed in one particular sort of way, or if it were Nick, say, it would cause a different form of betrayal to be felt, almost a paternal one. But -'
Nick interrupted me, in a very small voice. 'It is me.'
AJ shot him a look of hurt contempt, only to swivel in his chair and gape as Howie choked out, 'Jeez, I thought it would be me first, comin' out.'
'Great,' AJ snarled, 'we can pair you two faggots off and get two new singers!'
Several cars back, the tour manager put down her cell-phone with a blank look.
Thank God for a parade ground voice. 'Sit down, all of you!'
Dead silence fell.
'Now. Let's back up. Evidently, Nick nor Howie came out voluntarily. What caused AJ's first outburst, then?'
AJ glared at me. 'You.'
'I beg your pardon, sir?' The temperature dropped eighty degrees with my tone.
'You. We're like watchin' the end a' th' piss-fight on the station platform when you got there and I hear someone go, real soft, "God he is sooo hot." Well, fuck, 'N Suck is on the other side of the car, they're having to look over us to see, and I'm like between Nicky and Swee- uh, Howard, so I know where the whisper's comin' from, an' it's gotta be one of us, not them over there, and I jump up and yell "Fag Alert!" and everybody gets on my ass and I go, "Hey, I heard somebody say something about the guy being hot," an' -'
'Someone,' I cut him off, 'with appalling taste in men, apparently. And no, I am not saying that to fish for compliments. All right. The point is, assuming the conclusion you leapt to was correct and it was one of your bandmates who inadvertently thought aloud-'
'It was right, I did,' said Howie and Nick in unison, and blushed. Howie looked at his feet and muttered, 'I like blonds.'
'I like older guys,' Nick stammered at the same time. 'I been in love with Kevin for five fuckin' years.'
Kevin turned as white as he could have under his tan, while Brian punched the window forcefully.
'Oh, Jeezus,' AJ bellowed, 'don't tell me -'
Meanwhile, the tour manager was dialing up Big John Sullivan, since, thanks to this mysterious major, she couldn't just walk down the aisles of a couple of cars and talk to Security.
Kevin and Brian looked shell-shocked. 'AJ,' said Kevin, 'no. I mean, look, do you think so little of me or of Bri to think we would contract fake engagements and plan fake marriages? The -'
'No,' said AJ. 'Sorry, man. But I know how management pressures us in our personal lives -'
Brian cut in. 'I'll admit it, I've thought about it ... I mean, not much, but sometimes you see a person, male or female, who just attracts you like water in a desert. But - and I'm not sayin' I'm right and everybody else's wrong, neither, but for me, that would be wrong. You know Kev and I take our faith pretty serious. And I am promised to Leigh Anne, and I will never break that promise, 'cause it's a promise to God as well. But I think every guy, and I mean every guy, to be honest, has been tempted at least once - you know, to cross over an' try sumpin. Kev?'
'Yeah. Uh. Yeah. I ... I have been tempted. And crossed the line a couple times.' There were gasps all 'round. 'I know God has forgiven me, and I know it's behind me and I'll be faithful to my fiancee before and after Kristin honors me by becoming my wife. I mean that.' He looked over at Nick, who was sobbing on Howie's shoulder. 'Nicky, man, I am so damn sorry. I never knew - but even if I had.... It would have been like taking advantage of one of my own blood, 'cause I do love you, little dude, I really do, but just like a brother. Is that okay? D- do you hate me now, Nicky - please say you don't -'
Nick scrambled across Howie and hugged Kev and Bri, sobbing. 'I couldn't never hate you guys, damn it, I couldn't, just please don't be mad at me, don't stop being my bros -'
'Hate to interrupt the Kodak moment, guys, but is there anyone else in this fuckin' train car that is straight?'
'God damn it, AJ -' Brian started to shout. Nick flinched, and Bri stopped and hugged him back. Meanwhile, automatically, Chris Kirkpatrick's and Joey Fatone's hands went up. Josh and James, pale but composed, hands locked (and knuckles, frankly, white with tension), stood up and said, 'We're gay and proud.' And Josh added, 'And we are together just like Bri and Kevin and their fiancees Leigh Ann and Kristin, so stuff it, AJ.'
AJ was staring at Justin like a basilisk. Justin buried his face in his hands. 'I don't know, 'kay? Jus' fuckin' leave me 'lone, mufucka -'
'Sit up, gut it up, and stopping talking like a crack-dealing nigger pimp,' a deep Virginia voice snapped. Everyone looked at me in horror.
'That wasn't the Major,' Jake went on, 'that was me. You boys are working on creating some honesty 'round here for once, and we may as well go all the way with honesty. And to be honest, hearing a nice white boy from the Memphis 'burbs talk like some trash is offending the hell out me. You bet America owes us a debt it never will acknowledge: we helped build this country and have bled to keep it free. But White America can't repay that debt by imitating the degradation of our culture - degraded at y'all's own hands. Try and at least imitate what allowed us to survive: our faith, our families, our work, our art - not what is destroying us.'
'Oh, man, Jake, shit, I'm sorry.' Now Justin was definitely crying, but this time for a valid reason.
When Sullivan's cellular had first rung, Custis had sent him into the far suite, Custis's own, to talk undisturbed. 'OK. Roger that. That may solve a lot of probs, ma'am. Just sorry it's the damn dogfaces.'
Jake nodded. 'Apology accepted, son. Major: over to you, sir.'
'Jake, do I have to order you to go back to calling me Custis?'
'Sir, no sir.' That relieved some of the tension.
'Seven outta ten,' said AJ, with less hostility than before. 'Countin' the flings Bri and Kev had or thought about havin', and fuck me if I ever imagined that one, seven outta ten. Fuck, I thought you guys ran ten percent, not seventy.'
'Pretty fair average for guys who sing, dance, and shake their ass, though, huh?' The husky New York City voice could, and did, belong only to beefy Joey Fatone. 'Look, I been around the biz all my life, Custis there knows that, he's the only other one on this train who's ever listened to an Orions album, I bet, and that's not a s'prise percent for guys in this line a work, ya know?'
'Wrong,' said Big John Sullivan, coming back into the room. Joey looked at him, puzzled.
'It is a s'prise percent?'
'Nah. Just, Major here ain't the only one who's an Orions fan, what I meant.' For the first time in far too long, everyone laughed. 'Listen up. We just got a new co-sponsor for this tour, OK? Sos you be real nice to the Major - and I suggest you start learning the words to "Be All That You Can Be" and "When the Caissons Go Rollin' Along," 'cause Army Recruitin' is now kickin' in on the cost.'
Everyone looked at me. 'Major Custis,' laughed Jake, 'now they know how Saddam felt when we sucker-punched him.'
Big John grinned. 'Anyways, they're modifyin' the sked now. I'll have it in a bit, Scoop,' he said, looking at James Lance Bass.
'He's our real tour manager, Major,' smiled Josh.
Howie grinned. 'At this rate, he may route us to P'town or Fire Island.' Everyone but AJ cracked up.
'AJ,' I said. 'Deal with it. The reason you feel the way you do is because you love these guys - as brothers, I need hardly say. There you sit, Mister Liberal - Let It Loose, cool with it - until it hits close to home. From what I've learned of you - outside your present tantrum, mind you - you aren't one to react this way merely to a threat to your livelihood, or from homophobia, or for fear it's somehow catching, or worry about guilt by association. You're hurt because these are your people and they were keeping a big part of who they were from you - and I think you can see why they were afraid not to, can't you?'
AJ sat silent, unable to meet my eye. Finally, when he did speak, it was in tones of remorse. 'Uh. Yeah.' He stuck out a hand to Kevin on one side and Joey on the other, and after an eternal second when things hung in the balance, both clasped hands with him as AJ started silently to weep.
'AJ. This may take time. We will deal with that. You deal with it, too. But when even your rage is rooted in love and concern, there's hope. Just remember - and for the duration of this tour, both bands are your brothers - these brothers of yours are the same people they've always been, except freer now and truer, and you're seeing all of their selves now.'
AJ actually grinned through his tears. 'I don't want to watch and see all of them, though....'
'Smartass. Anyone else have any problems with the gay members of the tour?'
'Not now,' said Chris. 'I'm cool with it. 'Cept I owe Joey another twenty on a fuckin' bet.' Everyone indicated they were on board.
'Hey, Major?' AJ again. 'I noticed you didn't raise your hand when I took the straight poll?'
I looked at them as they tried to pretend they weren't watching every move I made.
'Bone,' Kev began, 'nobody thought he and Jake and John were included when you asked -'
I cleared my throat and looked squarely at AJ. 'Good eyes,' I said after a moment. All ten of the young men did a double-take. 'When I got honest with myself about it, not that I'd ever done anything or would, the only honorable course was to resign my commission. I did so.'
'Never done anything ?!? - Oops, sorry,' said Howie.
'Nope. Haven't. Don't expect to.'
'You really care about honor. God, too? And if you do - how do you handle that, or is that why you don't, um -'
I grinned. I took a deep breath and started singing part of a song from the musical 1776.
'They say that God in Heaven is everybody's God.
I'll admit that God in Heaven is everybody's God -
But I tell you, John, with pride,
That even God leans a little to the side
Of the Lees - the Lees of Old Virginia....'
Now they really did a double-take. 'Jesus,' said James, reverently. 'What a bass....'
'Showtunes,' Howie grinned. I flipped him off.
Jake laughed. 'Me and Major Custis carried the whole bass section of Grace Episcopal Church back home from the time our voices changed to when we left as adults. Y'all need backup singers?'
Everyone smiled. Peace, fragile or not, was breaking out.
'We still on for supper, Jake?'
'Hell yeah, Major Custis.' He grinned and put an elbow in my ribs. 'I didn't suspect, but hell, looks like I've been eatin' with gay boys for months anyway.' We ducked out of the compartment as the pillows started flying.
1776: credit, Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Which way will Justin swing? Is AJ really cured of homophobia? Can the Kentuckians handle a crisis of faith? Will we ever get some hot monkey sex in this series? Will the Major ever shut up? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Atwater-Kent Radio Company. We now return you to Tuxedo Park, New York, for a concert by the Glenn Miller Orchestra.