THE STUDIO IN THE COUNTRY, Part 15
DISCLAIMER: The story that follows is a work of fiction. Some characters may be based on real people, but this story should not be considered accurate or truthful representations of any actual person. This story is not intended to reflect the behavior, work habits, personal hygiene, sexual proclivities, or harmonic stylings of any real person, living or dead.
WARNING: This story deals with homosexual themes. If accessing this story causes you break any laws applicable in your area, read no further. If you are under 18 years of age, read no further. If this offends you, read no further. If you are enrolled at Bob Jones University, get out now while you still can!
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Part 15 - Saturday Afternoon
With the three of us working together, we got the rest of "Don't Want to Lose You Now" on paper pretty quickly. Howie and Brian were both sitting at the piano, and I was standing next to the piano. I had one of the electronic keyboards in front of me and the notebook and CD player at my right hand. We'd play part of the song, then all try to copy what'd we heard on the keyboards until we had the right sound. In between I'd write the notes onto the ledger lines of my notebook.
With their knowledge of the song, the process went pretty fast. The only thing that slowed us down was how long it took for me to write the notes onto the staff paper.
Howie didn't think even that was taking time. "Do you always work so fast?" he asked me.
I looked up at him. "This?" I asked, raising my pencil-holding right hand to point at what I was writing. "You think this is fast? I thought I was slowing us down."
"No way," he said. "Of course, it'd be faster if your keyboard were plugged into a computer. If you had the right software, you could play the notes and let the computer write them down. But for doing it by hand, you're going pretty fast."
"Well, it doesn't seem fast to me," I argued weakly. "Ethan's faster at writing these down, but to him it's more like drawing, which he does really well."
Howie grinned at me. "Ethan sounds like a man of many talents."
"Very many," I said. "He's an artistic, musically inclined jock, and he's the best looking of all of us. If he didn't stutter, he'd be perfect."
"Oh, I don't know about him being the best looking of all of you," Brian said sweetly.
I looked over and smiled at him. "No?"
"No," he said. "I think Mike's the cute one." Again I found myself wanting something to throw. If these guys stay much longer, I thought, I may have to start carrying a small pillow with me, in case one of them needed to have it hurled at him.
Howie stood up and stretched his shoulders. "I'm going to get something to drink. Want anything?" Both Brian and I said "no." I went back to writing down the last of the bass part and Brian began playing at some music on the piano, as Howie headed toward the door.
He never made it. The telephone in the control room began to ring, and Howie stepped in to answer it. Through the window, I could watch him talk to someone for maybe half a minute before he cupped his hand over the receiver and stuck his head into the doorway. "Ben," he said, "are we through? Lunch is almost ready."
"Just about," I answered. "Tell them we're on our way." Howie nodded slightly and went back to the phone.
I glanced over at Brian. He was still tinkering with the piano keys, toying with some melody and chords but not really seriously playing. He was looking down so it was hard to see his face, but he had a slightly forlorn expression.
"So," Howie's voice came from off to my right, "let's go. I'm hungry."
"Howie," I said to him without taking my gaze from Brian, "can you tell 'em that Brian and I will be right there?" Brian looked up at me when I said that, and I could hear a little concern and confusion in Howie's voice when he said, "sure," just before he left the room.
I sat next to Brian on the piano bench and put my left arm around his shoulders. His eyes went back to the keyboard. "What's up, Brian?" I asked gently. "You don't look happy."
He still didn't look up. "I'm feeling kinda..." He paused before adding, "...guilty."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I just sat there, waiting for him to go on talking. But first, he looked up at me. His blue eyes were watery and a little red. "I don't mean I feel guilty for being with you. I just mean... Oh, I don't know what I mean."
I wrapped my right arm around him two and pulled him into a hug, his face in my shoulder. "It's okay, Brian," I said. "Just keep trying to talk about it. The words will come." He had his arms around me then, squeezing tightly.
After a minute or two, he broke the hug and sat up again. His eyes were redder now, but he looked calmer. He breathed in deeply, exhaled and looked me straight in the eyes. "What we did this morning," he began, "I really liked it. It felt goodbetter than it ever has with a girl. But now I feel guilty for enjoying it, guilty for sinning." He said the last word with extra emphasis.
Brian kept looking for me with a hopeful expression. I think he was worried that I'd be insulted, so I wanted to tell him I wasn't. "I think I understand," I said gently. "You did something that your religion says is a sin, and you enjoyed it, which makes it more of a sin."
He nodded. "Yeah," he said with a grateful look on his face. "That doesn't mean I think you're sinful or anything. I just..."
"Don't worry about insulting me," I interrupted with a smile. "Your religious beliefs are yours. I'm not going to feel judged by them. But I do hate to see you so upset, especially when I can't do anything to help you, except to remind you that we're not going to do anything you don't feel ready to do. If you want me to back off so you can straighten things out, I will."
He smiled. "That's just it. I wish I could straighten things out. Then there'd be no problem."
I smiled too at his play on words. "Bri Bri, what do you want to do now?"
Brian thought about this question before answering. "I think I want to talk to Kevin about this. He's family; he was brought up with the same beliefs. He'll understand me better than anyone. And I want to get some lunch. Between Mike and Nick, there won't be any food left if we don't hurry."
Instead of replying, I stood up and turned my keyboard off. Brian stood too, and we walked to the door. My arm went around his shoulders again. "Does this bother you?" I asked him.
"No," he said, "this is friendly affection. That I can always handle."
"I'm serious about everything else," I went on. "I'm going to back way off until you tell me you're ready."
He smiled up at me again. "Thanks."
"And while you're thinking things through," I asked, "do you mind if I sleep with Howie?"
He stopped walking and stared at me. It took him almost a full minute before he realized I was kidding and his smile returned. "I wouldn't recommend it. Howie hates getting our leftovers." He laughed and ran the rest of the way to the dining room, with me chasing him.
Lunch was in full swing as we entered the room. Everyone was crowded around the table, eating what Mom called her "Southern special:" fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. She'd got the chicken recipe from my father's mother so that she could cook it for him when he asked, but over the years she'd added her own touches. Everyone raved over the food. As Brian and I sat down, I noticed a small platter of baked fish between Ethan's and Kevin's plates, but they were digging into the chicken like everyone else.
"Margaret," Ed was saying, "this is great food. No offense, boys," he said looking from one of us to the other, "but I'm glad it's your mother's turn to cook today."
"It is wonderful, dear," Dad said, and he got a lot of agreement from around the table.
"How did you have time to cook all this," Stacey asked Mom, "and still prepare for Mike's pizza party tonight?"
"That's just it," Mom said, "it's Mike's pizza party. He's doing all the work. I'm just there to make sure he doesn't poison anyone." She smiled at her youngest son.
"Please!" Howie said.
"Everything's pretty much ready," Mike said. "Of course, it'd go faster if I didn't have to set the table for Ben." He was grinning at me when I looked over at him.
"Sorry, Mikey," I said.
"It's nothing big," he shrugged. "Just make sure you get the songs down right. 'sides, dinner's almost done, like I said. I just need to partially bake the crusts now," Mike explained, "and finish the other toppings when Robby gets back."
That was when I first really noticed that Robby's chair was empty. "Is he still at the store?" I asked.
"He called to say that he was going to have lunch in town," Mom said. "He'll be back this afternoon."
"Ha!" Nick said. "He's afraid to come back and see what I'm going to do to him." His grin was wide. His hair was back to being blond, but it was a bit frizzy from being over-washed that morning.
Kevin, Brian and Mike all smiled. Even Ed had a little grin on his face. But Dad looked confused. "What do you mean, Nick? Why should you 'do' anything to him?"
"Nick and Robby are trading practical jokes," Mike explained. He told him about Robby yanking down Nick's shorts during basketball, about Nick's declaring war, then Robby putting Kool-Aid in Nick's showerhead. At hearing that last bit, Dad glanced at me for a second. He'd heard of that trick before, but Robby had used tropical punch flavour on me.
Then Dad looked at Nick. "And you're okay with this?" His voice was serious.
"Oh, yeah," Nick said casually. "It's just fun."
"Nick pulls jokes on us all the time," AJ said.
"On me most of all," Brian added.
In looking toward Dad, Brian was facing me. I looked at him and grinned. "Nick, can I hear some of those stories sometime?"
"Sure thing, bud," Nick said.
There were moments during the meal when we again broke into small conversations, but mostly we all listened to Mike and Nick as they discussed Mike's "party." Mike catalogued for us all the toppings he had for the individual pizzas, and they discussed our going into the studio afterward to jam a bit.
Kevin asked me how the song transcription was going, but Howie jumped in before I could answer. "It's going great. Ben's really good at getting these things down."
"When will we bbe able to ppractice?" Ethan asked. The little brothers had filled him in on our plans for a jam session that morning while I'd been in the studio.
I shrugged. "We could practice this afternoon. I have two of the songs on paper, and "Show Me the Meaning" should be done in a couple of hours."
"Well, let's make it late afternoon, okay?" Dad said to me. "With Mike in the kitchen and Robby AWOL, I need you and your brother to work in the hotel after lunch." I nodded as I chewed my broccoli. Ethan murmured an affirmative "mm-mm."
"Y'know," Mike began, drawing the word out in a way that told me he was about to ask for something, "I'd be done a lot faster if someone helped me in the kitchen." I glanced over at him and saw he was looking at Nick.
Brian must have seen that too. "Let Nick around food!" he laughed. "Don't do it, Mike. It's too dangerous."
"Don't worry, Brian," Mom said. "I'll make sure they don't anything too dangerous."
Mike turned the conversation back to the party and mentioned that he was thinking of calling Jennifer and Caroline. Though no one said anything against the idea, no one was very enthusiastic about it either. I looked at Kevin when Mike said to him, "I thought you'd be excited to see Caroline again." His tone was half teasing friend and half nosy little brotherMike excels at walking that particular line.
Kevin smiled. "Well, she's a friend of yoursand she was really niceso invite her if you want. But don't invite her with the idea of fixing me up with her or anything." He paused for a second or two before adding, "I have a girlfriend."
"Oh," Mike said. "Then I won't call them. We'll just eat, then jam in the studio."
"It must be hard to have a girlfriend," Dad said down the length of the table. "You guys travel so much, it must be hard to see her."
"It is," Kevin replied. "I see her whenever I'm at home, and sometimes she comes to see us on the road, when she can get off from work. But I don't get to see her very often."
Nick laughed. "Which may be a good thing. If Kevin did see her more often, he'd be an old married man with a couple of kids by now, instead of a jet-setting stud like the rest of us."
"Actually, all the guys have had girlfriends from time to time," Ms Shaw said. "If they weren't touring I think maybe they'd all me married." During the brief pause that followed, the Boys glanced at each other, with smiles that showed they were thinking about the same set of secrets. "In fact," Ms Shaw went on, "I've heard Brian say that he would probably be the first to get married."
Well, that stopped the smiling, but I don't know how many people at the table really noticed. I surveyed the table and took in everyone's faces. Ethan, Mike and Kevin were looking at Brian, but Howie was looking at me. I looked at Brian.
"She means Leigh Anne," he said, looking at everyone but letting his eyes lock with mine for just a bit longer than the others. "We've been seeing each other for a long time, but things are different now. I don't know if we'll be getting married. We've never really discussed it."
"It's probably hard to make serious commitments like that when you're away so much of the time," Dad said. Good old, loveable, clueless Dad. He was just making conversation, without realizing half of what was going on at the table.
But Mom knew. "Well, Brian," she said, "I don't know you well after just a week, but you impress me as a very level-headed young man. I'm sure that whenever you're ready to settle down, you'll make someone very happy."
I shot Mom a grateful look, and I saw that Brian had done the same thing before glancing at me. I went back to eating, but out of the corner of my eye I spotted Dad looking at me. When I turned to look back at him, he went back to eating.
We lingered for a while, but eventually we finished eating. Mike, Ethan and I started clearing the table while the others stood and talked about their plans for the afternoon. When I came out of the kitchen once, I saw Brian talking to Kevin in the game room. They were both frowning a little, and just before I returned to the kitchen with a load of dishes I heard Kevin trying to get Dave's attention.
When I came back again, Nick was waiting for me. "Brian and Kevin went upstairs to talk. You'll have to get through the afternoon without him." He grinned wide.
"What about the recording?" I asked. "I thought Kevin had to work this afternoon."
Nick shrugged. "Kev got an hour off from Dave. He'll still get the work done. Kevin always gets his work done." He glanced around at the other people, but most everyone was gone by now. Only Mom and Dad were still in the room, talking in the other corner. Leaning toward me, Nick whispered, "What's up with Brian? You didn't break his heart already, did you?"
He was trying to make a joke, but there was serious concern behind what he said. "No," I replied, "not yet. Not ever, probably. I don't have anything to do with his heart, Nick. We're just friends. As for what's bothering him, you'll have to ask Brian."
I didn't actually say that I didn't know anything, but I was hoping Nick would take it that way. He stood for a second looking at me increduously, but I didn't know what he didn't believe: that I didn't know anything, or that Brian and I were just friends.
Before Nick could say anything, Mike came from the kitchen to wipe down the table. "There you are," he said, playing the slavedriver. "Get in the kitchen. There's work to be done."
I was about to protest that I had other things to do, but before I could speak Nick said, "Okay," and went into the kitchen as Mike went to work on the table. I surveyed the dining room: most everything was cleaned away, and Mike could handle what was left. I started toward the laundry room to get the cleaning cart when Dad stopped me.
"Ben, Mike, let's talk for a minute," he said.
"I'm going to start on the kitchen while you're talking," Mom said. "And I'm giving Nick the afternoon off." That said, she took the damp towel from Mike and left the room, leaving the three of us standing around the dining table.
Mike and I looked at each other. "Do we need to sit down?" Mike asked.
"Not here," Dad said. "Let's go to the library: I don't want to be overheard."
We were about to follow him out when Ethan appeared in the doorway to the hotel. "Are you ggonna help mme or what?" he said.
Dad spoke first. "I need to talk to your brothers. But you should hear this too, Ethan. The rooms can wait a bit."
In the library, the little brothers and I sat on the couch and Dad sat on the edge of the desk. That was a good sign: whenever we were really in trouble, he sat behind the desk, pronouncing decisions like a judge.
"Boys," he started, "I'm disturbed by the way you're treating these guys. This is the first time that we've had clients close to your age, and I'm really glad that you're all getting along so well. And I want this to be a casual, relaxing place to workboth for us and for our clients. The Boys and Ms. Shaw have all talked about how nice it's been to be in such a laid-back studio this week.
"But,"he continued, "I think we're going a bit too far. You're forgetting that they're clients and treating them like friends. To some extent that's good, but when we get to the point where you're neglecting your duties to hang out with them or playing practical jokes on them, that's unprofessional."
Mike opened his mouth to say something, but Dad must have known what was coming. He raised his hand to stop Mike before he got a word out. "Now, I know that Robby's the one playing practical jokes, and I'll talk to him about it. But I'm willing to bet that none of you tried to talk him out of it, did you?"
The guilty looks on our faces told him he was right. "And, Ethan, I know you just got here this morning. I just want you to hear this, even though a lot of this doesn't pertain to you. From now on, I want you to be friendly to these guys, but only after you've taken care of your responsibilities. Once the paperwork is done and the rooms are clean and the meals are taken care of,"he looked mostly at me when he said that"then you have time to play. Not the other way around."
Dad turned his gaze to Mike. "And no more giving these guys jobs to do. If they offer to help you with something, politely turn them down. They're clients here, not temp staff. Do I make myself clear?"
He got a lot of nodding and "yes, sir"s as replies.
"Boys, I'm glad this week has been so much fun for you, but we're trying to get a business going here. And right now is an important time: things are starting to happen here. With the money we'd made from the Firm this week, we can almost pay off the loans that built the big studio. And we can't afford to do anything that might keep them from sending other acts here."
Mike and I nodded again. Ethan mostly just looked from Dad to us and back again.
"Now," Dad started again, "Mike, you need to get to the kitchen and help your mother. Ethan, start on the rooms. Ben will join you in a few minutesI need to talk to him."
Mike and Ethan got up and headed for the door. "And," Dad said before they left, "tell Robby I want to see him as soon as he gets here. Before he has time to pull another prank."
Once the littler brothers were gone, Dad came and sat next to me on the couch. "So, Benjamin," he said softly, "is there anything you want to tell me about you and Brian?"
I just looked at him. His face wasn't as firm as it had been just a minute before, and his voice was warmer, less boss and more dad. I tried not to, but I grinned. "It might be faster," I said, "if you tell me what you already know."
"I don't know anything," he shrugged, "but I suspect that you and Brian have become close. Your mother suspects as much tooin fact, she had to clue me in." This time I succeeded in not smiling. "What I want to know is, if we're right, how close have you become; partially because I want to know what's going on between you and one of our clients, but mostly because I want to know what's going on between my son and some guy he barely knows."
Dad put things pretty concisely. I wished that I had a concise answer for him.
"To begin with, we have become close," I said. "I feel like I've become friends with all of them, but I have a lot more in common with Howie and Brian. And this week, Brian and I have spent a lot of time together."
"Is Brian gay?" Dad interrupted.
I looked at him. Did I tell him and betray Brian's trust, or keep Brian's secret and lie to my father? If I refused to answer on the grounds of not wanting to discuss Brian's private business, Dad would figure out what was going on. I decided pretty fast that I trusted Dad. Brian would have to, too.
"Yes," I said. "He's still pretty confused about it, but he told me Wednesday night that he's figured out that he's gay." I paused just a second before I added, "I was the first person he told. He told the other guys the next morning."
"Then you're just someone that he can talk to," Dad postulated. "Is that all that it is?"
"Well," I was about to take the plunge, "Thursday night in Dallas, we slept on the couch together. Nothing happened, we just slept. But when I woke up, I had my arms around him." Dad's face was unmoving: he took it all in without any judgemental expressions on his face. Some things about being a lawyer prepared a person well to be a parent. "And last night we slept in my room. We kissed each other, but that was all."
This wasn't the first time I'd spoken frankly to Dad about what I did with another guyonce while I was still in college, he'd grilled me for details when he wanted to make sure I was protecting myself. But the situation was still uncomfortable, and the fact that Dad knew Brian didn't help.
For a second, I wondered whether what Dad now knew would change how he treated Brian when he saw him. It worried me and made me regret telling him.
Dad leaned back on the couch and thought about this. "How do you feel about Brian?"
"We're just friends, Dad," I told him. "We've talked about it and decided that it's best if we stay just friends. He's leaving in two days, and it would be too hard for us to be anything else. Even if one of us was a woman it would be hard, but Brian can't take the risk of anyone finding out that he's with some guy."
There was more: I found myself thinking about how Brian had said last night that he wanted me to be his first time, but Dad didn't need to know that. Besides, with Brian feeling guilty, that may not be an issue anymore.
"Well, Benji, you're very level-headed, and it sounds like Brian is too." Dad reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. "But I also know that you get attached very easily. You're very emotional, and I don't want you to get hurt when Brian leaves."
I let out a derisive breath. "Robby'd laugh if you told him that. He thinks I'm some kind of robot with no feelings."
Dad smiled. "You have feelings, Ben. We all know thateven Robby. But you're feelings get easily hurt, so you keep them to yourself. Robby understands that, deep down."
I returned Dad's smile. "But I don't think Brian's going to hurt my feelings. In fact, right now, I'm more worried about his feelings."
"Why?" Dad was frowning.
"Because he's feeling very guilty," I said. "He was raised in a very religious family, and I think he's feeling guilty about being gay." I immediately wished I hadn't brought this uphow much of Brian's private life was I going to talk about?
"Is that why he's talking to Kevin? They're cousins, right?"
"Yeah, Kevin can help him out," I said, hoping I was telling the truth.
There was a soft knock on the door. After Dad said "come in," the door opened slightly and Robby poked his head in. "Mike said you wanted to talk to me."
"Yes," Dad smiled. Looking at me, he added, "We're just about...."
"Robby," I interrupted Dad, "can you give us a few seconds?" He said "sure" and closed the door.
When we were alone again, I looked at Dad and said, "I've told you things today that I shouldn't have. I promised Brian and the guys that no one would hear this from me, and now I've told the first person that asked me about it."
"Then go and tell Brian that you told me," he said, "so you won't be keeping that from him. You didn't have much choice: I was worried about you and I wasn't going to let up until you told me. And you can tell him that he can trust me. No one will hear about this from menot even your mother."
This suprised me. "You won't tell Mom?"
"No," he replied, "I'll just tell her that we talked and I'm not worried anymore. If she asks anything beyond that, I'll tell her to talk to you personally about it." His eyes twinkled a bit.
"Oh, gee, thanks! Make it my job to keep it from her."
He smiled a little at my predicament but said, "I don't think she'll ask. I don't think she'll need to. Now, is there anything else?"
"No, I guess not," I said.
He stood up and crossed to the door. I was already following him when he pulled the door open. I went out, past my brother who was waiting in the hall.
"Robby, come in," I heard my dad say, sounding very cheerful. "Let's talk about Kool-Aid!"
SO, there it is. I hope it was worth the wait, and I'm sorry it took so long.
MY VIRTUAL CUP RUNNETH OVER: I was flattered to have 32 messages waiting for me when I again got on-line. But now, since I mentioned that I was going to come out to my parents, I've had 60 more. I answered a lot of them, but then I accidentally deleted the folder and the ~50 messages that were in it. In short, some of you won't be getting replies personally, but please do know that I really appreciate all the messages that you sent either about my story or my personal life. You guys have been very supportive, and it's been great.
SPEAKING OF MY PERSONAL LIFE: After two weeks of worrying about it, I told my parents that I'm as sexually attracted to men as I am to women. They told me they'd already figured that out and were waiting for me to say something. Talk about an anti-climax! Actually things went well and I wasted a lot of perfectly good worrying. My mom even seemed relieved to hear that I was at all attracted to women. Things are great here. I feel like they've made it okay for me to be myself. I wish I'd done this years ago.
I know that not everyone has the same experience and that we have to judge our own situations and do what's right for us, but I do urge anyone who hasn't done so to consider being honest with your family. I feel, more than anything, that it's made it easier for me to be honest with myself and accept myself more fully.
HELP ME PLEASE! I'm basically a nice, sweet guy who's out of his element when it comes to practical jokes. In fact, I exhausted my repertoire when Robby put Kool-Aid in the shower head. If you have any ideas for things Robby and Nick can do to each other... Let me re-phrase that: if you have any ideas for practical jokes that Robby and Nick can pull on each other, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE TOUR SCHEDULE: For the purposes of my story, I have the Boys at the Corbyn Studio from October 4-11, 1999. I know that during that week they were actually performing in Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota, but I'm going to pretend that didn't happen. I'm being as realistic as I can with most detailscut me some slack on this finagling of tour dates. (I'll be doing the same for NSYNC when they appear, so please ignore that, too.)
FINALLY: I've been getting a lot of negative comments lately about my story being A) boringly slow, B) stupidly sweet, or C) both A and B. I've been sending pretty much the same reply each time (including to some who really didn't deserve my ire), so I decided to just say what I have to say here and be done with the topic. Here's the way I said it in one email:
"Remember that—though it's been months for us (mainly because I'm so slow)—it's only been five days for this relationship to begin. That's pretty realistic, I think, especially when one considers that one of the couple is a celebrity who's learned to keep people at something of a distance for his own protection.
"The short span of time may account for some of its "sweetness" as well. In just five days of being professional/client, host/guest, and friends, things have been all sweet and positive because everyone's been on their best behaviour. And things have been superficial and problem-free so far. Wait to see whether Ben and Brian stay together for a while: if so, I bet you'll start to see the negative qualities, the thoughtlessness and selfishness, the arguments and fights, the crying and yelling and slamming of doors.
"I know that things aren't all smooth and perfect in life, and they won't be in my story either. But I also know that life isn't like these stories where every disappointment is a major catastrophe, every difficulty is a major crisis, and every disagreement is a major cry-fest. If someone can't go a week in a new relationship without the honeymoon wearing off, then either it was a bad relationship to begin with or they're too childish to be in a relationship in the first place."
There, I hope that responds to most of the complaints I've been getting, without being too bitchy.