by Ian McDuff
Cheers and jeers - and suggestions I may or may not take ( Kel B, Rich: this week, there's a tip of the hat to y'all in here. See if you can spot it) - 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 taste in whisky. 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 Nine
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, who soon finds himself their father confessor and, um, fairy godfather, becomes an integral part of their joint 'Amtrak - VIA whistlestop tour.' Unfortunately, sometimes the boys try to think for themselves:
Kevin slipped out into the hallway, and Josh followed him. 'Kev? I have an idea, if James thinks it would be worthwhile -.' He stopped, seeing Chris and AJ and Joey coming down the hall, looking for them.
'Cool, just who we needed,' said AJ. 'You two Big Daddies of the group ... we been thinking, and we had an idea.'
JC leaned over and whispered to AJ, who did a double take and started nodding vigorously. 'Duu-ude, that's what we been thinkin'. Sharp. Maybe that's why you two and Lanceypoo run things so well.'
'Not a word to Justin or the Major,' Kevin warned. The five solemnly shook hands on that, pleased with their cunning.
And Now, The New, Thrilling Installment of Our Serial:
Lenore and I met the boys at the train. I had looked over things and - well, the old saying is, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics (and, I might add, the winners determine in advance the enemy's order of battle and the correlation of forces - and you're damned well right I was treating this as a campaign).
The train consist was fairly workable. There was the luxury car, with the large observation suite in which the boys had been when I first boarded, the small staff suite for the on-duty bodyguards, and my suite, which by now looked like a serious working library on tracks (sorry, but I do not travel without books. Period). Both their and my suites in the luxury car had couches that pulled out into beds.
Behind this was a dining car, then two sleeping cars, one for the lads, one for staff, a club / observation car, two luggage vans, and a modified boxcar - borrowed by Amtrak, I later learnt, from a circus train in the Smithsonian Transportation Collection in DC - that opened out as a sort of stage; and finally, just for show, an old-fashioned caboose.
All in all, it made perfect sense - except for its potential to create a serious clusterfuck as to sleeping arrangements.
'Men,' I said, 'The sleeping arrangements are a complete clusterfuck.' I then had to explain the term. 'Point is,' I went on, 'what were y'all planning to do? I would purely hate to see James and Josh having to sneak around, now that they're not only out but engaged, but by the same token, y'all as well as they need the privacy. When and if D and Nick ever get to that point, the same applies. I'm assuming y'all aren't voyeurs intent on watching?'
There was a chorus of denial, and not a few smirks.
'All right, then, seems to me the only solution is, come nighttime, James and Josh get the honeymoon suite up front -' they blushed right on cue - 'and should matters reach that point, Howie and Nick can have my suite. I'll take a bunk in the sleeping car.'
'Cool,' said Justin, 'let's pick you one out now -'
'- In the staff sleeping car, Justin.'
His face fell, and then he turned red as a Fort Hood sunset. 'I, I guess that might be best,' he muttered.
Lenore, trying to save the situation, cut in. 'I'll be the judge of that,' she said. 'Do you snore, Major? Walk - or like Justin, talk - in your sleep?'
Now it was my turn to flush slightly and not meet anyone's eye. 'Actually, ma'am, I have no idea.'
That puzzled them all a minute, and then they looked embarrassed and sympathetic in turn.
'I suppose,' I said with false cheer, 'we'll have to find out the hard way, though if it's like barracks, bivouacs, and BOQs, everyone else will be too tired - and too loud themselves - to notice.'
Everyone laughed a little too heartily at that, and we boarded.
Everyone settled in fairly quickly, the bandmembers in the foremost luxury car suite, the Major in the hindmost.
For the first half-hour, none of the boys spoke. Then AJ broke the silence.
'You think the Major meant what I think he meant when Lenore asked him, uh, what she asked him?'
They all looked at the floor. 'Well,' Howie said, 'he must've, I mean, you 'member about the first thing he tol' us, it was about, uh, never actin' on his feelings....'
'Oh, I'm sure he meant it,' said James. 'The amount of pressure we've put on that poor feller, and some of it the same pressure we've put on Justy merely by being around him.... God I feel bad about this.'
'He wouldn't want you to feel bad,' said Justin. 'Any more'n I do. I mean you'd have to be a real, a real -'
'A real shit,' said AJ, 'like I was being earlier.'
'Well, whatever, you weren't, AJ, really, but - you'd have to be really mean to - Lansten, is "begrudge" a word? Chris? Thanks. You'd have to be a complete prick to begrudge the happiness of, well, y'all two couples, and I'm not even that much of a prick, so we know Custis ain't, 'cause face it he is a better guy than me.'
'No, don't say that, though he is a great guy,' said Kevin, 'just say he's more mature than any of us are - it's, well, just don't you go thinking you're not a good guy too, brat. I mean ... if we accept what he said, and I think we have to, we got to accept it when he tells us he cares about us all and we're worth him caring, even after that whole mess this morning and all. I admit, I don't feel very good about myself right now either, but I guess he sees some good in us, so....'
Big John looked over at Jake and winked. 'Nothin' like watching the effect a good CO has on morale.'
'Hey! John? Jake?' Brian had seen them whispering together.
'This morning, when things were going to shi-, uh, going down. Y'all just stood there....'
'Yeah, kiddo, we did, didn't we.' Big John sighed, gustily. 'Won't happen again.'
'Was it because - I mean, are you guys okay with, well, with -'
'With JC and Lance and Howie and Nick and Justin?'
'I am. Jake?'
'Hmph. Remind you I've known about JC and Lance longer'n a whore's dream . Makes no nevermind to me. And no sir, that was not a-tall why we just stood there, no more is it that we can't or won't do our jobs or that we don't care about you boys. It's just - well, the Major was there to hand.'
'Oh ...' said Joey. It was as if total enlightenment had struck him. The rest of the guys just stared at him.
'Hey,' he said. 'C'mon. Don't you get it? It's like, say things suddenly go to shit with a schedule or sumpin'. You guys just leap forward? Naw. Even if ya could do it just fine, whadda we all do, we let the Tour Manager or Scoop and JC or Kevin handle it. Well, that's them - their CO was around, they let him deal.'
'Bingo,' said Big John Sullivan.
Working library on wheels or not, I'd managed - as usual - to forget something I needed: Mattingly's The Armada. I was cudgeling my brain for the quote I wanted - about how the Duke of Parma's sense of terrain in the Low Countries made it seem as if all other commanders, even Alba and William the Silent, were boys blundering about a briar patch - when there came a knock upon my door.
It was Kevin, Brian, Howie, and AJ.
'Um, Lansten, can I talk to you?' Justin had The Look on his face. JC, after ingrained years of paternalism, started towards him, but Justin shook his head. 'Jace, man, thanks, but ... I really need to borrow Lance, 'kay?'
'Oooo-kay. But you better bring him back in as good condition as you borrowed him in. And you break him, you've bought him.'
Howie fidgeted, then began. 'Custis ... I need some advice.'
'If it's personal, we'll clear these three out.'
'No, actually, I'd like them to stay. It's about, well, PDAs, and safety, and stuff.'
'All right. Short answer: don't, unless you're in a secure area.'
'What can we do,' Brian asked, 'to make it easier on them, and on the 'N Stinkers, too?'
'You can start by dropping that last bit of shit. That aside, y'all can help create a safe zone, including physically shielding the guys, and making everything that can be seen by anyone outside the group all-inclusive - hugs and so on. You can, in short, have each others's backs the way you're supposed to in the first damn place.'
'So you want us,' said the irrepressible AJ, 'to all act equally gay in public?'
Justin had dragged Lance into the security suite to talk. 'Lance ... oh, man, where to start? Um.... Look. I'm feeling really confused right now. Partly it's seein' you and JC actin' so open. I mean I could never act that way, and that's part of it too, I mean, well....'
It was at that point the door swung open and the Major, with AJ, Brian, Howie, and Kevin in tow marched in.
'I heard that.' I smiled at the boys. 'We'll kill two birds with one stone. Let's all get moving, troops.'
We walked back in to the main suite.
'All right,' I said, 'listen up.
'Let's talk about acting gay.'
Everyone looked at me in horror.
'Oh climb the fuck down and unpucker. Hear this. One. Labels are horseshit. It would be tendentious in the extreme to call Kev here "bi," much less Brian. It is equally useless to call anyone here straight or gay. Justin, for instance, is not interested in guys per se, though he tried to show off earlier about who he finds hot. (I've been thinking about your whole demeanor, son. Don't ever take up poker as a hobby.) Justin finds some guys attractive? Fine. So do a lot of y'all who would identify as straight. What Justin is going through is the realization that he fell for a person or persons of the same sex on a couple of occasions, and may very well do so again in future. Falling for JC, Just, back when you did so, is not automatically equivalent to being homosexually oriented, you read me?
'Because that is a point. Gender has damned little to do with love, as Bri here pointed out early on. You fall for a person, not a class. When Justy finds True Love - God help us all, because I can only imagine what a handful you'll be then, kid -'
That got a laugh, even from Justin.
'- But when you do, it may be a guy, it may be gal. Just so 'tain't a farm animal, okay? Similarly, James, Josh, one of the reasons I can't imagine either of you ever leaving the other is that your whole sexuality is focused, not on some abstract class of persons - namely, really sexy guys with great asses and huge packages -'
Another roar from the cheap seats.
'- But in each case, on one and only one person. Each other. Which is as it ought be. As object lessons, consider Bri and Kev and their fiancees. So I want you all to agree that we drop the labels. Period.
'Another reason to do so is the whole issue of "acting gay." My emotional involvements for over a decade have been towards other guys, but I don't think I fit any stereotypes, unless there's a whole gay good ol' boy, foxhunting, quail-shooting, fly-fishing subculture I don't know about. By the same token, if we used labels, we'd have to label Joe, Chris, and Bone, among others, as hopelessly straight. Now think about that a minute. Shopping maniacs, clothes-crazy, in one case a fucking designer, daaaaaahling, and like each of you raised in this industry "sensitive" and huggy and "in tune with their feelings" ... man, this is straight?'
Their looks were priceless, and it was everyone else's turn to laugh.
'Point is, fuck the stereotypes. The only thing that can screw things up for y'all is PDAs, really. And I am going to tell you how to create a safe zone for all that. It's a safety issue. Oh. And speaking of safety. D, Nick, Just, all y'all. Unless and until you are in a lifetime, totally faithful, totally committed relationship such as that Josh and James have, you will practice safe sex at all times, do you read me? I assume James and Josh don't and need not -'
'Not now.' James blushed but soldiered on. 'Not at first, b- because we were each others's first. And not since, um, we got back together and were sure we were clean, and that's been years and we still are.'
Everyone stared at him and Josh, Justin especially.
'Ah, Just,' said JC, 'I told you guys it wasn't all cloudless glory. We'll - we'll give you the 411 later.'
'You two are good troops,' I said. They stood a little straighter then.
'Now,' I went on. 'Quick side note. Josh, James, you're confusing Justin and Nick and D, I think. No, not about that: I mean your recent spate of queening it.' They turned beet red. 'I'm not being critical. You deserved a chance to relax from years of accumulated strain, and even I have my more stereotypical moments -'
'Who'd ha' thought it?'
'At ease. I just wanted to clear up a misconception. The JC and Lance y'all knew all along are still there. They won't be - as a friend of mine sometimes mischievously puts it, usually when the subject is, ahem, shopping - "fagging out" all the time. Probably rarely, though no one best bitch if they do here in the safe zone, understood? It's their home too. But I simply don't see it as their usual style.'
'Thought not, Josh. Y'all are just a bit giddy right now. What I want to underline is that whatever they do, it doesn't somehow mean it's a standard to which Sweet D and Frack and Curly have to conform - at least that isn't. I'll be damned pleased if you three and all of us show half their maturity, love, devotion, and fidelity. At any rate. Safety in all things, and discretion outside the circle: those are your orders. I catch anyone being unsafe, or impairing his judgment to that point, and more shit than you've ever seen in your lives will hit more fans than you can imagine.'
I paused. A fact of life in their milieu had hit me. 'Final note. Except for Chris, I am not going to get on anyone for drinking in moderation. I find out about any drug use - and I mean any - and the result will be hell to pay and no pitch hot.' I saw a few pair of eyes widen in dread. 'That's if I find out the hard way, and I will, I shall, find out. Anyone with a problem currently has twenty-four hours to see me about it and confidential assistance will by God be given, lovingly and without judgment. After that, you fail to avail yourselves of this offer, well, may God have mercy on your souls. I remind you you are in part representing the United States Army right now.
'That will be all.'
After the Major left, everyone broke into small groups and talked softly about how they could help one another stay safe: a sight that gladdened the hearts of the ever-watchful Jake and Big John.
Howie, Nick, and Justin were sitting with Lance and JC. The two were uncomfortable, slightly, but these were their friends, their brothers, and this was important.
It wasn't long before Chris and AJ showed up to talk to me. I expected it might well be about counseling. I was surprised by the opening gambit.
'Yes, Chris - what's on your mind?'
'Your, um, friend. What's he like?'
I just stared at him.
AJ backed up the play. 'Custis, we don't mean to be rude or nothin'. But ... well, one, we wanted to do something for you, like maybe see if he might join us for a bit ... and if he did, well, I get the idea he's closer in age to us, and maybe, well, he could like, uh -'
'Be like a role model or somethin'. Ya know: for Curly and Nicky and D.'
'Oh. Hmm. Well. I suppose that has some merit. I don't know if he'd want to -'
'Would ya mind if we contacted him and asked him?'
'Weeeell.... I suppose not ... and it is very nice of y'all ... and it is his decision, so.....'
Josh closed his eyes. He didn't feel up to looking at the others. He was still ashamed of some episodes in the past.
So was James, for that matter. But their friends deserved to learn from their mistakes.
'After Jake found us out by the dumpster.... Now, every word Josh told y'all about our first encounter was true. It's what comes next that ain't right pleasant.'
Josh and James practically floated to what was now to be their room, counting on Jake's promise to run interference - and see that they had some time. There was an awkward pause once they got Josh's stuff moved in and Joey's moved out. Decisively, Josh locked the door and turned the deadbolt. In an instant, they were in each other's arms, trying to merge, tongues tangled, breath short, unable to bear being clothed yet unable to break their embrace sufficiently to shuck their clothes. They stumbled, in a flailing tangle of fabric and lust, atop a bed.
Jake had done all he could do, but the phone rang anyway.
'Yes?' James panted. He froze. 'M- momma. Yes'm. Yes'm. Yes ma'am we surely are. Yes'm. Yes, Momma, I will. Yes'm - we'll see y'all then.'
The two youths looked at each other, then away, unable to meet each other's eye, the moment shattered beyond recapture or repair.
'Are we - are we still -'
'JC - Josh - I am so embarrassed. I honestly thought this was a dream.... I -'
'A dream? A dream? And what you told me down there about forever - was that just a dream too?'
'No! No. I, I meant every word, sleeping or waking.... It's just ... oh, Lord, Josh. Lord Jesus, what are we going to do?'
Josh looked away, down at the hideous hotel rug. 'I don't know. I do not know. James ... it felt so right. It feels so right. And now, one phone rings and it feels so wrong. Dirty. Sinful.'
'Oh my God I know. I know. That's exactly - but God, Josh, I can't stop feeling for you either ... Josh, it hurts, it hurts so bad, I feel like I'm being cut half in two -'
'James, I can't do that to you, or to me - I was right, I should have left, quit -'
'No! Not you. This is your dream and you deserve it and they need you and it's all my fault, I led you on and it's all because I'm bad -'
'NO YOU ARE NOT! You did not lead me on, I thought you'd kill me if I touched you and I'm the one, the one who started -'
'James, oh Mother of God this all hurts too much -'
'Josh. Josh.' Both of them were sobbing freely now. 'Godalmighty, Josh, how in the Sam Hill did this happen and what ever are we going to do?'
They held each other, sobbing, for a long time. Then Josh stood, resolutely, with a look of death in his eyes. He turned his back on James: he had to, if he were to have any chance of getting through this.
'I don't know if I can do this, James, but I have to try for all of us. For you. I am always yours. They can skip Purgatory and send me straight to Hell for it and I am still yours. But I will give up any ... give up any ... any ... James, I love you, but for now, for all our sakes, I will not act on that love, I will always love you but I ain't going to make love to you because I have to make that sacrifice for you and the group. I -'
Trembling, racked with sobs, James reached out to touch him, and Josh flinched away.
'I can't do this if you do that James, I'm not that strong, not yet. It's all I can do right now to do all I can do.'
'But - but what about ... what am I s'posed ... Josh, please!'
'God almighty damn it to hell, Lance, I'm doing this for you, it's tearing me the hell up!'
James clenched every muscle he had and held his breath until his head swam. The tears slowed.
'Fine,' James said. 'I understand. C- can we at least be friends - I can't take us going back to the other.'
'Yes, James. Fine. It will be tough, but, fine. I ... I couldn't handle the other ever again either.'
And determined not to look at the love he'd just renounced, Josh walked with eerie calm into the bathroom, behind the closed door of which he collapsed clutching his gut in a silent, agonized scream, while outside, James sobbed wretchedly.
'There're all of Luke's contact numbers and addresses, then.' I smiled. 'And here I'd been afraid y'all needed to talk detox.'
They fell silent.
'Um, Chris, could I talk to the Major alone,' AJ muttered.
'I need to too,' Chris said quietly.
'Well, shit,' I said, and set them back down.
Join us next time for another thrilling installment of Sentimental Journey. What can possibly get derailed next? Was JC's jacket at this year's VMAs a hand-me-down from Macy Gray or what? Who knows what evil lurks - um, never mind. This exciting drama is brought to you courtesy of the Humble Oil Corporation. We now return you to our studios for the latest episode of Fibber McGee and Molly.