by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take (see, Casey, yours is already incorporated) - gladly accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org. A kudos apiece to all who have written already. 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 the assigned fictional habits, preferences, personality, or taste in brands of guitar picks. 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 Seven
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 pulls a few aces out of his sleeve, gets the Army to underwrite the joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour,' introduces them to real music, settles their quarrels, and looks on approvingly as various band members come out, straighten out their relationships, get unexpected support from their lesbian assistant tour manager, and expand their musical horizons:
So far, every time a threat related to the boys's relations and relationships had come up, something beneficial had intervened to buoy their spirits and deflect the threat. No sensible commander would base any planning on a continuation of that sort of luck; and for all that Justin tried to be happy for the others, I feared for his emotional balance, just as I began increasingly to worry about the abilities of Josh and James, and Howie and Nick, to adjust to the pressures of discretion at the very moment their loves were deepening and naturally affecting their behavior. The idea that their most joyous moments should have to be more and more hidden was a cruel one....
For a third successive night, I slept but ill.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
I had not expected our luck to last. I had equally not expected the way the restored relations within the groups would go to Hell in a handbasket, or quite how quickly.
Oddly enough, the spark for the blowup was the boys's first love, music - combined, even more unexpectedly, with the attempts of some of the lads to show that they were cool with the new dynamics, and with their sudden enthusiasm for the new musical horizons that I'd thought it was a good idea to show them.
Fortunately, the train wasn't scheduled to pull out of Harrisburg until the gloaming. So when the explosion occurred, it was in the privacy of their reserved hotel floor. I was expecting the initiator of detonation to be Justin, poor kid; I had just not expected that the tripwire would be Chris's behavior.
What happened, apparently, was this. Everyone was tired and their emotions still frayed: it had been a wild ride so far, after all, with the outings and the engagement and yesterday's emotionally-charged trip to Gettysburg NMP. Nothing unexpected there, and a formula for minor trouble, though hardly more. But....
Josh and James had gotten up at a reasonable hour, and then decided that the schedule permitted of their going back to bed, as most of their bandmates had. But Chris, of all people, abetted by Joey and AJ, had been up betimes and rigged a little in-house sound system, really as a sweet if jocular gesture to show their support for the new couples and their unchanged affection for them as friends. They'd snagged some of my CDs into the bargain. The result was that when they spotted James and Josh padding back for more shuteye and giving the breakfast hot plates a pass, they kicked the speakers on to a mix track of some of my JT stuff, that happened to start with
... rockabye, Sweet Baby James;
Deep greens and blues
Are the colors I choose,
Won't you let me go down in my dreams?
Which, I had to admit later, was a damned clever selection, double entendre and all.
Well, they having placed extra speakers atop the lintels over certain suites's doors, this of course woke the band members up and most poked sleep-tousled heads out of doors into the hallway. At which point, naturally enough, the pranksters cued (Whenever I See) Your Smiling Face. They told me afterwards - once the dust settled - that they'd picked that as James's and Josh's little tune - I eventually educated them on the concept of the leitmotif - and How Sweet It Is for Nick and Sweet D.
Unfortunately, at the time, while there was some annoyance and some exasperated affection from most of the lads, who rightly figured out that this was meant as a straight-guy, inarticulate, locker-room arm-pat way of indicating that the merry men were okay with suddenly having openly gay bandmates, this was a raw spot for Justin, and before breakfast at that.
He lost it.
Lenore Williams was awakened by the sounds of screaming, and scrambled to her door, bleary, tousled, and alarmed.
Justin was standing in the center of the hallway screaming, shaking, every exposed inch of flesh flushed red with tearful fury. 'You motherfuckers! Ev'ry fuckin' one of you! I fuckin' hate you, I'll kill you -'
Lenore started to force her way into the hall when she heard a report that rattled doorknobs. She saw Big John and Jake standing by, inexplicably inactive, and heard as Big John muttered, 'Sounds like a damn artillery range.'
Jake, still not doing his job, to Lenore's rising fury, shrugged: 'Welded the door shut with that one.'
Too much was happening at once, simultaneously in the event and far more quickly than words, even her own words to herself, could convey. As the music blared, Justin screamed, other band members tried to cut him off, and the bodyguards incomprehensibly just stood there, Chris tried to speak, and Justin launched himself at Chris's throat. Joey and AJ reacted quickly, trying to keep Justin from actually strangling Chris right there.
Justin was wholly out of control, shrieking about how no one cared about him and what he was going through, and why didn't they just call MTV and the tabloids and tell them that half the tour was gay and all anyone could do about that was just rub in the fact that he was left out in the cold, and on and on....
Just as Lenore, shaking loose from momentary paralysis, prepared to raise her own brand of Cain - with Justin still screaming incoherently as various band members struggled to separate him from Chris - a roar that dwarfed all prior sounds, from Justin's screams to the music to the gunshot sound of his own slammed door, a bass bellow that literally rattled windowpanes in her suite behind her, cut through and overrode the tumult.
'AT EASE! SILENCE IN THE MOTHERFUCKING RANKS!'
The Major had barreled out of his suite, dripping from a shower and wearing nothing but a tartan bathrobe, aged leather slippers very down at heel, and an expression of immortal, Olympian, Homeric fury. He crossed over to the struggle in two strides and ripped Chris and Justin apart, flinging both back on their heels, the two ranks of band members who'd been trying to separate them tumbling down upon the corridor floor as the tug of war suddenly went slack. In blind fury, not even knowing who he was facing, Justin started to swing at the Major....
Damn kid had no idea what he was doing - even after he described an airborne 180 and landed, winded, against Jake, who'd moved immediately to catch him without orders needed: Jake never did need orders, anticipating as he always did. Of course, that in turn caused some of the others to snap, regardless of band affiliation, and Brian reacted without thinking: suddenly, I was simply An Enemy, An Outsider, and he came at me with eyes blazing and fists cocked before Kevin could snap and catch him. The next thing Bri knew, he was being fielded by Big John. (Perhaps the salient difference between a brawler and a fighter - and a soldier must be a fighter, in that sense, whether with fists, HEAT rounds, or rifle - is that a fighter is always thinking.)
I looked around at various glazed expressions and fighting madness and sheer horror. 'Next?' I snapped. 'On your feet, God damn it, all of you, right now.' I marched over to where the speaker cables snaked out from the CD player and ripped them out.
'I don't know what the fuck you candyass pukes think you're doing, God damn you all, but I'm Goddamned if I'll stand this shit for minute one! Kirkpatrick, McLean, Fatone! What the fuck did you think you were doing?'
'Look -' whoever it was who was speaking wasn't Chris, Joey, or AJ. I rounded on them and saw that it had been Nick.
'Did I give you permission to speak, Mister? I don't think so! NOW! Fatone! What the fuck was this chickenshit?'
Joey just gaped at me. 'Uh, we - it was all in fun -'
'Jesus Christ, you reek like a brewery! McLean! Have you three dipshits even been to bed, much less gotten sober?'
AJ didn't answer. I was about angry by now. I grabbed him by his shirt collar, lifted him up one-handed, and shook him like a rat. He hadn't the strength of will to react.
'God damn your eyes, boy, I asked you a question!'
I dropped him and he slumped to a seat, back against the wall. 'J-, Joey an' I ain't been to bed yet, Chris got up early and it sounded like a good idea all we meant to do was kid the guys kinda like tryin' to show 'em we're cool wit' it -'
I looked over at Chris, who was still in a state of shock, almost a fugue. He was massaging and massaging his hand. Then it hit me, and I really boiled over, at full decibel levels that caused them all simply to cower.
'A little numb and tingly in the extremities, Kirkpatrick? Up unnaturally early? I recognize those symptoms! Fuck did you do, eat a bowl of sugar? Jesus H. Christ, you pissant little punks!'
I pointed at Chris and glared at Josh and James. 'He's the eldest, isn't he? Has actually been to college. Shows occasional flashes of responsibility, right? But you two play Mommy and Daddy - why? Because -' I rounded on Kirkpatrick - 'you prefer to abdicate responsibility so you can be a fucking idiot, half-killing yourself with food you oughtn't touch and alcohol you of all people should stay away from -' and I turned back to the others - 'and you, you loyal and caring friends, enable him!'
I looked witheringly at Josh and James, who cringed. 'Does it make you two feel better about yourselves to be the mature ones, to the point you'd let him screw up his life and his health so you two can be "Big Daddy" and "Scoop the Magic Dragon"? God damn my soul to hell, you all disgust me! All y'all! You two -' AJ and Joey hung their heads - 'instead of helping him not make a sodden mess of himself, are right there with him! Do you think you might, just fucking might, snap to your senses with vain regrets after he slips into a diabetic coma some night after you mindless idiots went "clubbing" - and you ought to be clubbed, all right, with Cal Ripken's Louisville Slugger upside the head!'
I turned to Justin, who had shut down to the point he was almost oblivious. I took care of that. I took him by the shoulders and shook him. 'And as for you,' I spat out, 'you contemptible little shit, instead of screaming about the fact that everyone else has a relationship and the whole fucking universe owes you one and it's all so unfair - why don't you grow the fuck up and earn one?' Looking past him I could see the shambles he'd made of his room. 'In fact you could start by cleaning up that fucking pigsty, so that if you ever did charm someone into coming back with you, you'd have one fewer thing to be embarrassed about! Who the hell do you think you are to leave things in that condition for some overworked Salvadoran day-maid? Why you little -'
Some of them were beginning to come out of their shock, and Kevin, Howie, Bri, and Nick all started to protest at once, Nick yelling over the others, 'How dare you talk that way to him or any of us - who do you think you are, man? Huh?'
I wheeled around and answered. 'Do y'all know why no one takes y'all seriously as musicians - or adults? It's not a lack of talent, y'all have talent out the ass! What you do not have is discipline! By God, even your idea of work is one long session of playin' grab-ass, and as for Personal Time, look at yourselves! You'd each drop your so-called friends and brethren in the grease to satisfy an appetite, for cock, for pussy, for cheap whisky, for forbidden sugar, for a plate of cookies that take your mind off being poor, poor you! Every damn one of you - this isn't a unit, this isn't a team, it's a collection of prima fuckin' donna diva bitches! The hell with being sensitive and understanding with y'all. Grow a pair of brass ones apiece instead of whining all the time, all of y'all! Because y'all ain't never going to amount to shit otherwise - have your heads so far up your asses you don't know whether to shit or sneeze! Well, by God, until you learn the difference between the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way, I've less than no use for y'all. I did my best for you little pricks when I didn't know y'all from Adam's off ox, but by God, at this point I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire, any of y'all.
And I strode back into my suite, the door slamming behind me like a HEAT round against an Iraqi tank's turret. It was at that point that I realized that early on, doubtless in showing Justin or Brian the Army method of unarmed combat, I'd lost the robe, which was doubtless in the middle of the corridor. I'd given them the whole dressing-down whilst undressed.
Big John and Jake just looked at each other. 'Nothing left here but rounds cooking off, burnt-out tanks, and scattered turret rings,' said Sergeant Johnston.
'What the fuck was that?' Lenore asked in awe.
'That, ma'am,' said Jake, 'was the United States Cavalry confronting indiscipline. The Major has never right particularly cared for indiscipline and self-indulgence, ma'am. Welcome to boot camp.'
'On his side, y'all?' snapped Brian. 'Because far as I'm concerned -'
'Ya oughta be fired,' said Nick.
'Right on, Frack.'
Howie cleared his throat. 'Bullshit, Frick.'
They slewed 'round and stared at him, open-mouthed. Howie squared his shoulders.
'Guys ... he's right. Look at us. I feel like a pile of dogshit on a hot sidewalk when I think about how we've gotten to be an' act. He's dead right about us. Verdad.'
Justin had collapsed against the door jamb to his suite, and was being held by Kevin, with James and Josh kneeling next to them. Across the hallway, Joey and AJ, still stunned, were comforting Chris.
Justin choked out a sob.
'Fuuuuck,' moaned Chris. 'Howie, how can you say that prick was right when you look over at - aw, Just, man, I am so fuckin' sorry, I didn't think -'
Justin just shook his head. 'No, dude, I'm the one that fucked up, I can't believe I acted that way, went off on y'all like that.... D's right, dude, the Major was, is, right - look at us, look at how we are, man. Jesus.... We don't have each other's backs anymore - look at how we've frozen you out, Chris, and what we've ignored about you hurtin' yourself, and Nick, man, I was thinking th' other night that while I been actin' pissy and Nick's been finding his friends in the snack aisle and Sweet D's been withdrawn, and everyone just pretends to ignore it -'
'- My bad,' said AJ. 'Lot of it was my not wanting to face shit and then when I did on the train I went off on ya guys -'
'Well,' Kevin interrupted, 'maybe that's true, but I'm the one let us down worst -'
'- Nope,' said Josh, 'that would be me, especially as to Chris and Justy, that would be me -'
'- Us, you mean,' said James. 'We've cared only about ourselves, far too long....'
Brian walked over to where they'd all gravitated into a group hug around Justin, who had taken Chris's hands in his own: both of them, and the others as well, were crying or on the verge of it.
'Damn,' said Bri, 'we really have all been shits to each other.... And what hurts is realizing it wasn't even delib'rate, we just shut each other out without thinkin'.... Guys, all of you, I am sorry as I can be....'
'How do we get it back?' Joey was crying, too. 'How do we get ourselves back like we were?'
'I don't know,' Kevin said bleakly. 'I guess the Major would know, but....'
Jake cleared his throat. 'Hell you think he was doing earlier, son? Working already, too. "Sensitive" and "supporting" is good, but sometimes a swift kick in the ass is what's needed.... But I wouldn't approach him just now - not 'til the red danger signal fades.'
'Wh- what signal is that?'
'Y'all know he's a little thin on top, just right up here?'
'He is?' asked Brian.
Josh laughed and punched him lightly on the arm. 'Hell, you're the only one not tall enough to have seen the thin spot. Actually, it's kind of sexy.....'
'Hel-looo, boyfriend in the room,' James grinned. 'But yeah, it is - after all, isn't that a sign of high testosterone? You're getting a little sparse there yourself, huh?'
'Sorry, Jake. Danger signal?'
'Until the bald spot's faded away from red alert, I'd walk softly around the Major. But yeah, he can help, later on, with getting your shit straight as a unit, and some damn discipline.'
'Will he even want to?'
'AJ, you the ones went through his James Taylor CDs picking tunes to describe your friends. What song you pick for James and Josh?'
'Uh, Whenever I See Your Smiling Face, actually.'
Chris grinned, tentatively. 'Well, it sums them up. You know.
'Whenever you give me that pretty little pout - and Poofu and JC can both seriously pout -
It turns me inside out
Because I love you
'- and that bit about - well, there was a while, JC was trying so hard to be straight, before he and Lansten gave in to each other:
'Thought I was in love a couple of times before
With the girl next door
But that was long before I met ya
And now I'm sure that I won't forget ya....
'No one can tell me that I'm doing wrong, baby....'
'Uh-huh. And Nick and Sweet D?'
AJ snickered. 'Joey jumped on that one. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).'
Nick smiled shyly and kissed Howie on the cheek.
'What about me?' Justin asked. 'Before I made a fuckin' idiot of myself an' ruined what you were tryin' to ge' across 'bout bein' down wit' us, did y'all have one for me?'
'Still do,' said Joey. ' 'S called th' Secret O' Life.'
'Man, I haven't heard that one. Why that?'
Chris ruffled his curls. 'The lyrics, Curly.
'The secret of love
Is in opening up your heart;
It's okay to feel afraid
But don't let it stand in your way....'
Justin sniffled. 'Damn, that hits close ta home. But what about it, Jake? I mean, we were talkin' about the Major and would he still care about us and help?'
'That's right. Thought maybe you'd have found a song for him, too, that answered that question....'
Everyone was silent for a minute. Then James spoke up. 'Would - would it be from yesterday?'
Jake nodded. 'If you mean from Shed A Little Light, yes it surely would.'
James sang it softly to himself, the others joining in by the second line.
'There is a beating like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps, the heart will never rest.....'
'Yep,' said Big John Sullivan, 'that would be the Major. You guys have to get over this morning, or at least realize what he was doing. It's like the line in Patton: "General, they don't always know when you're acting and when you aren't"; "It's not necessary for them to know. It's only necessary for me to know."'
'Some reason,' mused Kevin, 'I don't think I've ever seen that movie.'
They heard a throat cleared and looked around, to see mirror-polished shoes, sharp grey flannels, and, as they looked up, a button-down shirt worn over a Lacoste polo shirt. 'I suggest, then,' I told them drily, 'you have the staff reheat what is now brunch, and y'all sit down and watch the DVD of Patton, which I happen to have. Now: who's sitting on my robe?'
'I am,' said Justin, with a tremulous grin. 'And after seeing all that was under it, I'm thinking I should sell it on eBay. I mean, even while you're tearing us all new assholes - lemme rephrase that - even arguing, well, "Woof." So maybe I should auction it along with some nude photos?'
'Or keep it yourself?' smiled Josh.
'Don't rile me again, gentlemen. Now, about brunch and that movie?' They clambered up, and I took each of them in turn and hugged the hell out of them one by one. 'Y'all serious about shaping up, we'll do real well together. Now let's eat.'
Sweet Baby James: J. Taylor; EMI Blackwood Music, Inc. / Country Road Music, Inc. (BMI);
Your Smiling Face; Secret O' Life; Shed A Little Light: J. Taylor; Country Road Music, Inc. (BMI);
How Sweet It Is: B. Holland, L. Dozier, E. Holland, Jr. / Stone Agate Music (BMI)
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. Are things finally settled? Is Justin still overly interested in the Major? Will the Major's no-nonsense approach actually benefit the lads? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, applauding US-Japanese friendship, American neutrality, and improved relations in 1941. We now return you to our studios for the latest episode of Fibber McGee and Molly.