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WARNING: This story deals with homosexual themes. If accessing this story causes you break any laws applicable in your area, read no further. If this offends you, read no further. If you are under 18 years of age, read no further. If you were under 18 years of age when I last updated—sometime in the late 70s—but aren't now, be sure to read the earlier installments before this one. If you like anagrams, O fart under her.

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Part 19 - Sunday Night

          Dad had come out with the steaks and cleaned fish to take over the grill for me. "I need you to get all the accounts in order for the Firm. Phyllis wants to fax them to the office after dinner so they'll be in their offices first thing tomorrow."
          "Sure, Dad," I said, making a big deal of handing him the tongs like it was some sort of ceremonial baton. "Just don't forget to call me for dinner."
          "We won't."

          The Firm account was pretty much up-to-date, so there wasn't a lot to do. I did add a few incidentals that they'd incurred—mostly telephone calls made that day—and then I began to double check all the entries before printing a report of Phyllis Shaw.
          I was still doing that when I heard the door to my office close. I looked up from the monitor to see Ethan standing with his back against the now closed door. His long hair was still damp from a shower, and he'd changed into clean clothes, including a shirt of mine that I hadn't seen since his last trip up from Austin.
          "Can I help you?" I asked. His behavior was a little odd, and my confusion sounded through in my voice.
          "I've bbeen ttalking tto the llittle bbrothers," he said. "They ttold mme abbout you and Bbrian."
          "There is no 'me and Brian'," I countered. He just stared at me, a small grin playing on his lips while he waited for me to go on. This was common trick of his: to avoid having to say much, he'd just wait unnaturally long until the other person went on just to fill the silence. I went on. "I'm guessing they told you how I feel about him. And that they told you that I don't want him to know. And why."
          His grin was firmly in place now. "You ttell mme," he said.
          I sighed. I didn't like having this conversation for a third time in one day. And I wondered if I'd have to repeat it for Mom and Dad later. For the first time, I found myself wishing it was already Monday afternoon and that the Boys were gone.
          "Eath, Brian's told me things that he hasn't told the rest of you," I began. "His life is really messed up right now, and I don't want to do anything to make his life any more messed up. We're gonna be friends and that's it."

          That damned grin widened. "You ddidn't say he's nnot gay. Is he?"
          "I don't know," I said, wondering how picky I could be about the absolute facts of the story before I was lying. "I just don't want to make any problems for him until he's got his life more under control."
          Ethan stood up and walked around the desk to where I was sitting. Bending over in front of me, he cupped my chin in his hands and held my face up so I was looking straight into his eyes. My brother really is a beautiful man, and his intense blue eyes were dark as he stared back at me for a few seconds before speaking.
"You are ffull of shit," Ethan said. His voice was very flat, very calm. "You can ttell yourself that you're ddoing this for BBrian if you want. BBut you're affraid. You keep ppeople away bbecause you're affraid of getting hurt. You don't do anything with your life bbecause you're affraid of ffailing."

"You are ffull of shit,"
Ethan said. "You
can ttell yourself
that you're ddoing
this for BBrian
if you want.
BBut you're affraid."
          He paused for a moment, just looking at me. I don't know what he saw in my face, but he looked so sad
           "You're a great guy—the bbest I know," Ethan began again. "BBut you sit here in the mmiddle of nnowhere bbecause you're affraid." His voice had a tinge of real anger in it now. "I've nnever understood that. And I've nnever understood you." He gazed at me for seconds more before he let go of my face and walked abruptly out of the room.
He paused for a moment, just looking at me. I don't know what he saw in my face, but he looked so sad
           "You're a great guy—the bbest I know," Ethan began again. "BBut you sit here in the mmiddle of nnowhere bbecause you're affraid." His voice had a tinge of real anger in it now. "I've nnever understood that. And I've nnever understood you." He gazed at me for seconds more before he let go of my face and walked abruptly out of the room.

          For once, dinner had not been pleasant.
          Everyone had been in a good mood, and Mom and Ethan came back from the lake with a couple of good embarrassing stories about Dad trying and failing to show the others how to fish. And the steaks were great: Mom had had to cook them with me working in the office, but she did a better job than I did anyway: I'll never understand how she always knows just what colour they are inside.
          But I still hadn't enjoyed it much. I had to sit there next to Brian, eating and making conversation while all the time I just wanted to grab him and start making out right there on the floor. It had been bad enough last night, but now I also had to watch Mike, Robby, and Ethan exchange meaningful glances and shit-eating grins all through the meal.
          But dinner had been over for almost two hours now. Dad had cleaned the kitchen, then joined the rest of us in the den, where Mom, Howie and I had trounced the other teams at Trivial Pursuit. Dave had done the worst, getting only one question right all night. He blamed it on having Robby and Mike for partners: they ignored the game and kept asking Dave questions about joining the musicians' union. Now that I'd agreed with them about becoming serious about being a band, they didn't want to talk about much else for a while.

          After the game, most of us had headed into the big studio to record our three songs. Robby and Howie were playing with the mixing board in the control booth, and Kevin was helping Ethan to set up mikes for the singers and the instruments. It had been Kevin's idea that the Boys would sing in a cirlcle around one omni-directional mike, which he had set up on a chin-high stand about ten feet to left of the piano. Ethan and Robby would be on the opposite side of them, with Mike and his trap set to their left, straight off my right shoulder.
           Mike, Nick, and Brian were setting up the trap set now. All I'd had to do was bring in the larger of the two electronic keyboards and set it on top of the piano, where I could move from one set of keys to the other. That done, I ran my hands idly over the keys of the Bösendorfer. All by themselves, they sought out chords and arpeggios—the stuff that came without my thinking about it.
"Play something for us, Ben," Kevin said as he plugged the chords into the two guitar amps..
"Yeah, play something from the piano bar," Howie added. He appeared next to the piano and leaned on it, looking at me with those brown eyes again.
I smiled. "Most of what I know is fifty or sixty years old," I said, my fingers still amusing themselves on the keyboard. "Nothing that you guys would want to hear."
"Don't underestimate us," Kevin defended them. "We do listen to other kinds of music."
          "Yeah," Nick's voice said from somewhere behind me, "we already proved that AJ is a closet NSYNC fan." The next noise sounded like AJ slapping the back of Nick's head. I know the "Ow!" was Nick's.

          "Play 'If I Loved You," Mike said. He'd stepped up to the piano and leaned on the side opposite where Howie was standing. It sounded like a good idea for a couple of seconds, until I way the grin on Mike's face and realized what he was doing, I looked up at him sharply, and his grin just got wider.
"Yeah, play that," Robby added his support for the idea.
I wished once more that I'd been an only child as I looked for a way out of this. "Nah," I said dismissively. "They don't want to hear that. How 'bout some Gershwin?"
"We don't care what you play," Howie said. "We just want to hear you."
"They heard you play Gershwin already," Mike countered. "Play 'If I Loved You'. They'll like that."
"It's a good title," AJ said, coming with Nick to stand next to Howie. "Play it for us, Ben."
"Yeah, it is a good title." From behind me, Kevin sounded thoughtful. "I'd like to hear it."
I looked up and saw Kevin standing over my right shoulder, looking down into my face and smiling reassuredly. My eyes went around me counterclockwise. Five faces were staring back at me—Kevin, Howie, Nick, Mike and Robby. Mike wasn't even trying to hide the "I got you!" grin on his face, and Robby's was almost as bad. By the time I got to my left shoulder, Ethan had come to stand at that shoulder. Brian was just sitting in a chair slightly behind him, between him and Robby. The guys had me literally surrounded.
"All right," I gave in. "Here goes."


          It's an old song, one of those ballads from a 40s musical written by some famous pair of writers: I don't know which: Rogers and Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Lowe—all their names blur together for me. Mom loved them, and we'd seen the movie versions of all of them when we were little kids. And the songs had been part of piano lessons with Mom for all of us, but only Mike and I ever liked them much. They'd come in handy at the piano bar, which had attracted a lot of retired couples.
This song is very simple and lovely. So simple that it's easy to play and sing, but very hard to play and sing well. Aside from what Mike was trying to do, I hoped I could do a good job in front of these guys.
"If I loved you," I began, each word a single note, separated by long pauses, "time and again, I would try to say all I'd want you to know." I kept my eyes on the keyboard as I sang, not wanting to be distracted by the guys staring at me.
"If I loved you, words wouldn't come in an easy way. Off in circles I'd go." The song got a little louder here, and as I sang I began to remember the scene from the movie version of the show: a shy girl singing this to the man she loved but whom she didn't dare tell. With this song, she was telling him, but only indirectly. She didn't have the courage to be honest about her feelings.
          Mike was gonna pay for this, I decided.
          "Longing to tell you, but afraid and shy, I'd let my golden chances pass me by." The song kept building, louder and higher—please, God, I thought, don't let my voice crack on the high note. "Soon you'd leave me. Off you would go in the mist of day, never, never to know..." My voice didn't crack: the note came out high and clear, and I held it longer than necessary, showing off. " I'd love you..."
The piano part died away to nothing, and the song went back to its beginnings: four words, widely separated. "...if I loved you."

          The guys in general were complimentary, but Howie surprised me by saying, "Your face moved."
          "What?" I asked him.
          "Your face moved," he repeated. "When you sang." I guess the confusion was still showing on my face, because he added, "Whenever you play, your face is really stiff, like you're wearing some kind of mask. But just then, when you sang, your face was different. It was expressive."
          "Yeah, that's right," Kevin said. "You always seem to be concentrating so hard when you play, but you really put something into singing that song."
          Mike laughed. "We kid Benji about that. Robby calls him the 'piano-playing machine'."
          "He's not a machine," Brian defended me. "He's just concentrating."
          It seemed like there was a brief pause, but Kevin interrupted it by saying, "C'mon, let's get busy. We have to be up early tomorrow."

          "I Need You Tonight" went really well on the first try. I started with the acoustic piano first, very simply, as close to the recording as possible. Nick came in with the lyrics, and then Ethan's bass and Mike's drums joined us. The whole thing went on—plain and simple and sweet—for most of the song. At the bridge after the second verse, Robby added the acoustic guitar, imitating the glissando from the recording almost perfectly. For a while, as Robby took the instrumental lead under Nick's words, Mike, Ethan and I became unimportant, sounds blending together into a kind of musical wallpaper, pretty background for what was more important.
           Until we'd played it together that night, I'd sometimes thought that maybe Robby should be on the drums—he was as good as Mike, but he had a much better sense of what kind of rhythm a slow, pretty ballad needs than Mike does: Mike tended to be a little heavy-handed, a bit too rock, for ballads.
           But not that night: everything was great, and when the other Boys joined in, everything fit, everything worked. It was like we'd been working together for months. Kevin even surprised me by singing out a bit more, adding more bass that—instead of weighing down the harmony—made it richer, more complex. Robby began to show off, playing more runs and glissandos than the original, but even that worked: the guitar became some kind of moving, flowing line under the voices and above the terse piano part. As soon as they noticed his embellishments, the Boys grinned at bit at Robby, who played at being the moody artiste by closing his eyes halfway and swaying his head as his fingers danced over the frets.
           The song became simple again just before it ended. AJ took over the last couple of lines against near silence, then I added the last few piano notes. Then we all just let it stop, simply, without anyone saying anything for a bit.

          Then they started celebrating.
          "That was tight," AJ said.
          "No way did it sound that good last night," Kevin agreed.
          "So, we're hired?" Mike stepped up from his trap set.
          Nick laughed and through his arm around my youngest brother's shoulders. "The job is yours."
          "But just you, okay," AJ played along. "We don't want to hire your brothers."
           "Hey," Robby let out as he returned from the control room, having turned off the recording equipment. "You're just jealous. No one would look at you if we were on the stage."
          "Depends," Howie shrugged. "Can you dance?"
          "Nno, thank Ggod," Ethan said.
          "Let's go on," Brian interrupted, "before we lose this sound we got goin."
          "We won't lose it." Robby was optimistic.
          "If this one's just as good," Mike asked, "then can we have a job?"
          "Which one are we doin' next?" Kevin asked. "'Don't Want to Lose You Now'?"
          There was a minor groan as the others remembered how hard that had been the night before. "Not if we want to keep this sound," Howie summed it up for the others. "Let's do that one last."

          The next song was just as smooth. After the opening pitches had died away, the Boys began a capella: "Show me the meaning of being lonely." Robby came in, his guitar sweet and high. Then Brian, his voice warm and smooth, came in, only to be overtaken by AJ, whose voice added just a bit more edge, more sex to the song.
           At first there was little rhythm: mostly just a few bass chords as Ethan played my transcribed approximation of the original. The only percussion at first was the snapping fingers of AJ and Brian. When the first chorus began, Ethan's part increased and Mike started in on a soft beat, metal brushes on his drum heads. I had nothing to do until after the chorus; standing I used the electronic keyboard atop the piano to add the strings.
          Our version was simpler than the original. Without dubbing and added tracks, we only had the music that the four of us could create—there wasn't much depth to the music. But, somehow, the simplicity showed off the guys' voices better. When Kevin—and later Kevin and Nick—took over the second verse, our sparse instrumentals made them sound stronger and clearer than they had on the album. In fact, though I wasn't a dedicated student of their music, I had heard Stacey's two CDs some hundreds of times that week, and to me the Backstreet Boys sounded better that night, in our studio, than they had on any recording.
          But the best part was when everything died away and just left Howie singing solo over Robby's guitar. Brian had a better voice, but there was something about the feeling Howie put into the words that was just wonderful. The boys came in, to cover the transition as AJ took the lead from Howie. Then Robby and I were alone, guitar and strings over the rhythm, before the voices came back—Brian's first, warmer and richer than I'd heard it. For a second, I fantasized that he was singing to me, but I choked the idea off.. The vocal lines covered each other as the harmonies increased, the sound became fuller. The song grew and thickened, and I was having more fun than I'd had in a long time..
          When it ended, the final chord faded off as I let my fingers find their way down the keyboard, to where the synthesized violins became more like celli. Then my final note faded as well.

          Looking around, I could see the others were having as good a time as I. The room was full of grins and white teeth.
          "Man, we are hot tonight," AJ said. "Good job on the first take."
          "We'd save a lot of money with you guys as our band," Howie said to me.
          "Uh huh, uh huh," Mike was nodding. "See. See. Even Howie thinks you need us."
          "Oh, Howie'd want us to hire any band with four hot guys in it," Nick teased him.
          "Three hot guys," Howie corrected him. "Robby doesn't do anything for me."
          "Oh, really," Robby retorted. "Well, right now Robby's recording a free session for you, so shut up and appreciate me."
          "Anyway, we can't hire you yet," AJ said grinning at Mike. "Not until we hear how badly you screw up the last song."
          "Don't," Brian interrupted. "You'll mess it up. Let's just do it."


          The beginning of "Don't Want to Lose You Now" was the simplest yet. Just four simple notes on Robby's acoustic before I added synthesized strings, very soft. It went on like that, my brother picking out a guitar line sweet in its simplicity, over rich chords sounding of violins and celli. Then Ethan punctuated the intro with the three-note device on his bass, and Nick's voice joined us for the first verse. Mikey came in softly, and a couple of people near the mike to my right—AJ and Howie, I think—were snapping their fingers, adding that to the rhythm. But it was still slow and sweet and simple.
           Even once the others took up the chorus, they sounded more like instruments added to the mix than singers. The music was still very light and beautiful, and—best of all—it was working. We were all perfectly together, making music in the truest sense. Whatever problems we'd had getting it together the night before were gone. Robby was responding the Boys, playing the running guitar part softly behind their harmonies, and the other little brothers and I were right with him.
          It was going so well that I started to relax and actually listen to the song when Brian started singing.

          "I've got this feeling you're not gonna stay," he began. I involuntaritly looked over at him as the words sank in. I have more than a feeling, Bri-Bri, I thought. I know you're not gonna stay.
          "The fear of losing, of slipping away—it just keeps getting closer." My left hand changed the voice of the electronic keyboard, and then with my right I began the high-pitched, eerie figure of notes that lay under his vocal line. But I felt something within me sink a bit. The irony of the lyrics was painful. Not only was I going to have to watch this guy leave in the morning without knowing how I felt, but now he was standing five feet from me, singing about how I felt.
          "And I wish that I didn't need you so bad. Your face just won't go away." AJ had joined him, but I was only marginally aware of him—or Brian either for that matter. After that last part I was looking at Brian's face, watching him sing the word that were hurting.
          "Don't want to lose you now." My God, why hadn't I noticed this before? "Don't want to lose you now or ever again." All the time I'd spent listening to this song—finding the key, figuring out the chord progressions, writing out the charts so we could play it—all that time and I'd never really listened to the fucking words! They're over there, I thought. He's over there, not ten feet away, singing the very things I'm feeling.
         It was bad enough that'd I'd let myself fall in love with him. Bad enough that I couldn't tell him, couldn't hurt him by telling him. Bad enough that tomorrow he'd be gone without knowing, leaving me here, alone like before I met him but this time acutely aware of just how alone I was. All this was a shitty enough situation, without him standing with the others around a microphone, telling me how I felt.
I wanted to look at him, but I didn't dare. I was barely holding myself together as it was: if I looked at him, I was afraid that the flood of what I felt would come out, that I wouldn't be able to hold it in any longer.

          I didn't even realize that I'd stopped playing until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up at see Howie looking down at me; behind him Brian and Nick were too, the two them still at the microphone where AJ was singing, the line for of a solo than planned with my strings missing beneath him. "I never thought that I would lose my mind, that I could control this. 'never thought that I would be left behind, that I was stronger than you."
          As he hit the high note, I forced myself to grin at Howie. I didn't want any of them to know how I was feeling: how could I, without the whole story coming out? Better to let them think that I'd been sitting there planning something to do with the song. But to pull that off, now I really had to think of something.
          When the music resumed after the second of silence following AJ's last note, I ignored my own arrangement and sat back down, my fingers stretched over the keys of the acoustic piano. My brothers, I was sure, would go on with what we'd practiced, but I had to be ready to improvise something to cover my having been so out of it.
           As the Boys began the chorus for the last time, I went to work on the piano keyboard. I borrowed the figure from Robby's guitar part and varied it. Four four-beat patterns, the fourth delivered more legato than the first three. A running pattern followed by something more pointed, more punctuated. I repeated this, moving up and down the keyboard, varying the inversions, the dynamics. I added notes, dividing the beats. The beginning became a line, dancing more and more frantically over the keys, and the last four beats became stronger, angrier. I hammered out the notes with both hands before I repeated the running line, every time growing louder, more wild. Four beats of screaming piano before the frenzied crying in my right hand resumed.
           By the end, my fingers were moving on their own, somehow finding the right notes without my concious mind directing them. I was pounding the keys, abusing them. Even at the very end, when my brothers' instruments dropped out so that the Boys could sing the final ironic line—"Don't want to lose you now."—all alone, I kept pounding, heavy chords in my left hand and fevered arpeggios in my right. When the last chord came, I slammed it out, throwing myself at the keyboard.
          "Whoa!" AJ let out. "Where did that come from?"
          "Yeah, you completely changed the song," Kevin said, "but I liked it."
          "Happy, Howie?" Nick asked. "Ben moved around while he was playing this time. He wasn't a robot."
          "Robots don't play like that," Brian said, his smile almost painful to me. I was looking up at them all, the smile on my face not completely ingenuine this time—I was pleased at how well my improvisation had gone, even if it had meant overshadowing Robby's guitar line. But now they were around the piano, and as soon as I saw Brian, everything I'd been feeling was back. I was in no mood to listen to them discuss music. I had to get out of there.
          "I didn't know you could play like that," Howie said. "It was impressive."
          "I did." Robby's tone said that he was suspicious. "I've heard him play like that before, but not very often." I glanced over to where he and Ethan were standing in front of Mike, their guitars still in their hands. The look on their faces said they were suprised at my little musical outburst, and I was worried that they'd start asking about it.
          Kevin unwittingly came to my rescue. "Robby, when can we hear the playback?"
          "Well, now, I guess," Robby said slowly, glacing from Kevin back to me. "I can set it up."
          "Play it for them, Robbo." I stood up. "I'm going to the bathroom." Without making eye contact with anyone, I left as quickly as I could without looking suspicious.
          As the door was closing behind me, I heard Nick comment, "What a rip! I thought Ben was playing this great passionate solo, but he just needed to go to the bathroom!"


          I never made it to the restroom. When I got to the workroom, I instead took the door to the right of the restroom, seeking the solitude of my office. In the dim light coming up the hallway from the studio windows, I could make out the shape of the desk. I walked around it and flopped into my chair.
What was I doing, I asked myself. Why did I just run out like that? I didn't want Brian to leave, but I'd known all week that he would. I'd known it since before he arrived. And I knew I didn't want him to know how I felt because it wasn't fair to him. He had enough to deal with without me being some kind of pathetic basket case. He'd depended on me this week. I had to be strong, to hold in my feelings so that he could depend on me.
But just then, sitting alone in my office, I didn't feel strong. I was sad. I was miserable. He wasn't even gone yet, and I was already missing him. God, if I couldn't hold it together while he was still here, what was I going to be like tomorrow after he'd gone? Something within me cracked, let go. Then the crying came out, shuddering through me, my chest and shoulders heaving as tears squeezed through my tightly-clenched eye lids. My breath was audible and came in gasping, uneven waves.
          I was still sitting in the dark office, the worst of the crying over, when someone's silhouette appeared in the doorway, blocking the dim light from the studio windows. "Ben?" Brian's voice said softly. Oh, God, I thought, don't let him turn on the lights, don't let him see me like this.
"Ben, what's wrong?" His shadow left the doorway as he entered the room, making his way slowly around the desk until he was standing beside me. When I didn't look up, he kneeled in front of me and rested on hands on my knees. "Benji, buddy, what's wrong?"
I made myself look at him. His eyes were wide, peering into mine. Even in the dim light, I could see they were moist, shiny. His mouth was downcast, his lips tight.

          I had my crying under control now, but tears continued to roll down my cheeks without me making a sound, other than to take shallow breaths. But as I looked into his face, staring up at me with such concern and affection, I felt my control slipping away. My lips pursed and my forehead tightened to hold back the crying, but it was too much for me to swallow down again. It broke through me. My eyes closed tight, squeezing the tears from them. A sob escaped my already rough throat, and my shoulders shuddered as my body tried to cry as my mind tried to stop it.
Brian stood up and hugged me to his waist, and I was lost. Emotions poured out of me, beyond my control to stop them. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around him and held fast. I buried my face into my arm and gave myself to crying.
We stayed like that a few minutes until the worst of it had passed. Even then, the crying slowed but didn't stop altogether. Brian put his hands on my arms and unwrapped them from himself, pushing me back a little. He knelt again without letting go of me: his warm hands slid softly down my arms until he was kneeling in front of me and holding my hands.
"Benji," he said very softly after a few seconds, "tell me what's wrong?" His face was searching mine again, wanting to understand.

         Looking at him, looking at his beautiful face, my forehead tightened again, but this time I held the sobbing at bay. "Brian," I whispered, not trusting my voice to speak any louder than that without starting the crying again. "Brian, I lied to you," I said. "I don't want us to be friends."
          The look on his face became surprise, and I went on. "I don't want us to be just friends. I know I said I did, but it's not enough." Now that I was talking, the words kept coming faster and faster. "I know your life is complicated right now. You're going through a lot, and you've got Kevin and your family to worry about, and your career, and I don't want to make your life any harder than it already is. But I'm in love with you, and I don't want you to leave tomorrow."
"Brian," I whispered.
"Brian, I lied to you,"
I said. "I don't want
us to be friends."
           I breathed in hard and fast, hearing what I was saying but not really knowing where the words were coming from. "I know you're going to leave. I know you have to. I know it's stupid and impossible and it's not going to work, but it's how I feel." I looked at him, trying to read his face but failing. After an impossibly long second of silence, I said, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to make your life..."
"You're sorry!" he interrupted me, his voice incredulous. "You tell me you're in love with me, and then you tell me that you're sorry! What the Hell have you got to be sorry about?"
A small, almost noiseless sob escaped my throat, but I didn't give in to the crying. "I didn't want you to know about this," I said. "I didn't want to make what you're going through any harder."
His hands left mine and rested on my knees again. He leaned in toward me. His voice was soft and compassionate when he said, "Benji, I'm glad you told me. I liked that we were friends, but I want us to be more too." He leaned back a little. His voice became more confident and he shook his head slightly, when he added, "All that about 'having a good time' and 'just fooling around without getting serious': that's not for me." His eyes held mine as he leaned in toward me again."I need to be serious," he said. "I need to be in love.
          "And I'm falling in love with you."

          I just stared at him for a short piece of forever before I remembered how to talk. "You're what?" was the best I could come up with.
          He grinned again—that wonderful grin. "You heard me," he said. "I'm falling in love with you."
          "What makes you..." was all I got out before I was again robbed of speech. "How did... When..." I couldn't concentrate enough to decide what question to ask, and his proximity didn't help. I couldn't stop looking into his eyes, and his breath was warm on the open collar of my shirt. I stopped trying to ask questions and worked instead to calm down a bit, to marshall my brain to regain control of myself.
          But my body rebelled against me. It just wanted to kiss him. And that's what I did.
          My left hand wrapped around the back of his neck, fingers searching through his hair as I pulled his face closer to my own. Then my lips touched his, my mouth was on his—not opened or closed, but relaxed, ready to taste him, to breathe him in, to take whatever he wanted to give me and to give back in return. His lips pressed against mine, pushing my mouth a bit wider. The tip of his tongue, warm and wet, reached up to explore my mouth. As soon as I felt it, I breathed in hard and reached my tongue out to brush his.
          The kiss went on and on, the two of us moving harder together, then backing off a bit. Moving faster, then slowing, then faster again. Alternating leading, then being led. When it ended, we both tucked in our chins. Our mouths separated, but we held our heads together, our foreheads touching. My left hand came around to cup his square chin, my thumb reaching up to brush across his lower lip.

          When Brian spoke, his voice was soft—barely a whisper—and his accent was a little thicker than I was used to it being. "Nick told me that men kiss better than women," he said. "He was right."
          "Don't judge all men by me," I said, smiling. "I'm better than most."
          His smile returned, rendered a little out of focus by the closeness of our eyes. "Modest, huh?"
          "I'm tired of being modest," I said. "I wanna be ambitious for a while."
          "Is that all you want to be?" he asked. His voice was a little lower now. It came from deeper in his throat, and if he was intending for it to turn me on, it worked.
          "No," I answered him. "I want to be alone with you."
          "We are alone," he said.
          "Not here. Upstairs, in my room. Like we were last night."
          "Mmm, sounds good," he growled. "But not like last night. Better than last night."
          For a second, I enjoyed just being close to him. Then I realized what was happening and all the things that could happen if we didn't communicate clearly. My logical, play-it-safe side returned long enough to warn me. Pulling my face back from his, I said seriously, "Brian, I don't know how far you want to go, but..."
          "Neither do I," he interrupted. "But we can work that out upstairs. I trust you, Benji. And I want you. When we get to your room, we'll work out what we're comfortable with."
          "You're sure?"
          "I'm sure I trust you," Brian said. "That's enough for now."

          I leaned in and kissed him again. This kiss was shorter—not as sexy, but somehow warmer, as if both my brain and my heart felt better about this.
          This time it was Brian who pulled back and talked seriously to me. "I want you to know right now that I don't want this to be a one-time thing. I'm not like AJ or Nick: I can't be casual about sex. I want this to be more than just one night before I leave. I want us to be like a couple, with something real between us."
          "That's what I want too."
          "I thought you would, but I didn't want to..." He trailed off. "I'm being silly, aren't I, talking about this?"
          I shook my head. "You're not being silly. You want to make sure we want the same things. You're just being smart."
          "But I don't want to be smart," he said, his arms pulling me tighter. "I want to be romantic."
          "We need to be both," I told him. "Being romantic without being smart gets your heart broken. But being smart without being romantic keeps you alone. And I've had enough of that."
          This time he kissed me quickly, before saying, "I don't want you alone. And I don't want to break your heart."
          "I'm not worried," I said, just a split second before the sarcastic part of my brain added for once. "But do we just head upstairs, or should we tell the others we're going first?"
          "Let's tell them," Brian said. "Then Kevin and Nick will get off my back about my not telling you how I feel."
          I laughed a little. "I guess that all the interviews are right. You guys really are like brothers."

          Together we made our way down the hallway toward the big studio. I'd seen Robby in the dark booth with Kevin and Howie, the only light coming from the small bulbs over the soundboard where Howie and Robby were playing with the myriad switches. Everyone else was in the studio itself, pretty much where we'd left them, except that Nick was at the trap set now and Mike was playing my piano. I stepped into the studio right behind Brian. I was wondering whether to say "goodnight" to the people in the studio or the booth first, when Robby solved the problem for me by stepping into the studio.
          "Okay, it's cued up," he announced to everyone. "We can hear it now."
          The others made their way over toward the door of the booth. "What are we listening to?" I asked AJ as we went in.
          "The playback," he said grinning. "We wanna hear that wicked piano of yours again."
          The still dark booth was a little crowded with ten people in it, but we made it work. Robby, Howie, and Kevin were at the console. Nick, Mike and Ethan flopped onto the old couch against the back wall. AJ sat on a stool he'd carried in, and Stacey leaned back against him for a change. When his arms wrapped around her waist, I shot a glance at Brian. He was looking back at me, his eyes twinkling more than normal.

          The music, when it began, was simpler even than it had sounded in the studio. Robby's guitar really did sound like notes plucked out of the air. The strings my electronic keyboard produced were less realistic than those on the album, but they were also much softer, more of a distant view than a background to the song.
          The Boys, of course, sounded great. Nick's voice sounded small and sweet and very sad, but I didn't know whether that was the effect of the big room or of some filter that Robby had run the vocal tracks through. On the first chorus, the five of them sounded warm and rich together, but it still had the impression of five sad voices in a big, hollow space.
          I winced inwardly when Brian began singing and I again heard the words that had set me off. When I glanced over at him, he was still looking at me. Then his hand was in mine, warm and strong and reassuring me.
          Eventually, we reached AJ's dramatic high note, and I knew my improvised solo was coming up. Then it was upon us—at first, just heavy and strident, then really intense. If it had seemed like a lot in the studio, it was almost overwhelming in the dark, little booth.
          When it was over, I felt everyone looking at me. "Well, what do you think of it?" Kevin asked.
          "I think," I said, "that I'm a fucking musical genius." They laughed, but—deep down—part of me believed I wasn't exaggerating. And it felt really good to believe it. Later, I'd let the insecurities return: for right now, I was gonna enjoy this.
          "Hey, Brian," Robby said, "get the lights."
          From where we stood near the door, Brian just had to reach out with his left hand to flick on the overhead lights. When he did, his other hand was still in mine. It took maybe five seconds of glancing and nodding in our direction for everyone to notice, but I swear I could feel the grinning.
          Robby, intent with the console, was the last to look up and he was in mid-sentence when he caught on. "Well, now all I have to do is burn the three..."
          "Do whatever you want, Robbo," I said. "I'm going to bed."
          "And I'm going with him," Brian said. He was right behind me when I hit the door.
          "Hey, don't go yet!" Nick yelled from the couch. "We haven't even started teasing you yet."
          "That sounds like the right time to leave to me," Kevin said. "But, Ben, let him get some sleep, okay?"
          Brian answered before I could. "What makes you think that he's going to be keeping me awake?" When he closed the door, Kevin's mouth was still open.


          We'd walked up the my room without talking, without touching. Just big grins spreading across our faces whenever we'd glanced over and caught the other looking back.
          Now we were here, and somehow we just stood, not knowing what to do next. I felt clumsy. Brian was not three-feet away, and I was awkward, not knowing how to reach over and take him into my arms. I was about to say as much, to make a joke to break the ice, when Brian got to it first.
          "This is silly," he said with a shy laugh in his voice. "Last night we were all over each other, and now..."
          I grinned at him. "Come'ere," I said. He was already leaning forward when my outstretched left hand reached the back of his neck, his skin very warm and a little red under my fingers. My right hand found the small of his back, and his found my shoulders. We each pulled the other close. I felt the warmth of his body. His breath. Then his mouth was on mine, pressing hard, sucking my kiss into himself. My tongue reached out and found his. We're together, I thought.
          The kissing went on for a long time, our mouths committed together as our hands explored. Long before Brian had unbuttoned my shirt, his hands had been underneath it, fingers kneading my back, scratching at my sides, seeking out and clutching the muscles of my chest, pinching my nipples. My hands had met behind his shoulders and moved down his back, the soft fabric of the football jersey he was wearing smooth and cool under them. I'd held him by the shoulders, pulling his body tightly into mine, then moved down to his underarms, his waist, his hips.
           Then my hands had reached around to grab the strong cheeks of his ass. Through my jeans, my cock felt the hard bulge of his. When I pulled him toward me, he let out a little groan and sucked harder at my tongue. Our hands went from exploration to discovery as we began to take each other's clothes off. Brian fumbled with my shirt buttons, unable to see because we were still standing so close together. I unbuttoned his jeans as he pushed the shirt down over my shoulders, stopping work as he slipped the shirt over one hand at a time.
           His jeans now open in front, Brian went to work on mine as I stepped away from him just far enough to pull his oversized jersey over his head. As it come off, I stepped in fast again, my mouth working on his naked shoulder. His naked chest was warm and smooth and firm against mine.

          He tried to move us toward the bed, but we were hampered by our jeans around our knees. We looked down and laughed a bit, then he laughed harder when I shoved him backward onto the bed, his legs hanging over the side. Then I knelt down and started untying his shoes.
          "You look good down on your knees like that," Brian joked.
          I looked up at him. His naked knees were on either side of my head, and he was flopped back on the bedspread, his hands laying casually on this stomach just above the waistband of his plaid boxers. "And you look good lying on your back like that," I grinned at him as the shoelaces came free and I began to pull his shoes off.
          "So will you," he said, with a very sexy edge to his voice.
          Then the shoes were gone, followed by the socks. I grabbed his jeans by the cuffs and pulled them slowly from his legs. Then I held onto his feet for a second, running my fingers across the soles. My hands stroked their way slowly, up his legs. His skin was so warm and smooth. Like silk stretched to cover firm muscle. I didn't like the dancing that boybands felt obliged to do, but I did like what it did for his legs.
          My hands came to rest on his upper thighs, the fabric of his short just under the tips of my fingers. I was kneeling up a little now, still on my knees but leaning over him with more of my weight on the hands that kneaded his legs. Then, tentatively, my right hand reached over and carressed his cock through the cloth of his shorts. I was rewarded with a little groan.
          "You like that?" I asked.
          "Take them off, " he whispered. My fingers reached for the waistband just above each hip. Taking hold, I pulled the shorts down. Brian raised his hips to make it easier, and then I had the shorts down to his ankles and over his feet.
          My hands went back to their previous spots, the fingers of my left spread out wide, kneading his thigh, and my right stroking his hard cock lightly but firmly. He looked good laying there. He felt good, warm and firm and silky smooth. I wanted to know how he tasted. I leaned in and kissed his naked thigh near his crotch. It was a soft kiss, with lips pursed and brushing over his skin lightly. Then another a little higher up. Then another.
          By now, my face was over his cock. I could see the soft brown hair moving with my breath. I was almost overwhelmed with the desire to have him in my mouth. But, first, the matter of protection.
          "Brian," I whispered, surprised at how rough my voice sounded. "Would you be insulted if I asked you to wear a condom?"
          "No," he answered. "I was thinking about that too."
          "It's not that I don't trust you," I said. "It's just that..."
          "No, Benji, don't worry about it. It's a good idea. I trust you too, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea."
          "Yeah," I said, reaching for the drawer in the bedside table. The little square envelopes were right where I'd left them, a gag present from Ethan when we'd learned that the Backstreet Boys were going to be staying here for a week. Some gag. "I'd hate for my whory past to come back to hurt you," I went on.
          "Well, put it on for me," Brian said, "then show me how whory you can be."
          I did both.


          By now, it was past the middle of the night and working toward morning. We were sitting up in the bed, face to face. I ran my hands over his warm, silky, sweat-covered skin. Brian was leaning on his right hand, his left around my waist, stroking the small of my back so softly it felt like a warm breeze.
I leaned my head toward his. "Brian?" My whisper was rougher, huskier than usual. "Do something for me?"
His beautiful grin was aimed at me like some kind of powerful weapon. "I thought I'd already done something for you," he said. "Twice."
          "Hey, I gave as good as I got."
          "Yes, you did," he said quietly, leaning in to kiss me. "And it was great. What do you want me to do now?"

I inhaled and held it, unsure of what I was about to ask. "You've been really good to me so far."
"We've been good to each other," he corrected me.
          He was too sweet. I had to kiss him. I pressed my wet lips against his.
We stayed there, working our lips together—opening, closing, sucking, caressing. Without really taking my lips from his, I resumed talking. "Brian, this has been wonderful. It's been soft and affectionate and really sweet." He stopped my talking momentarily with a quick kiss. I whispered, "Can we play a little rougher?"
I felt rather than saw him smile. "What did you have in mind?"
I pressed my forehead against him and pulled my mouth slightly away from his. Inhaling again, I said softly but firmly, "Slide inside me and fuck me hard."
Whoa, Benji!" Brian's voice was amused and came from deep in his throat. "I haven't seen this side of you before."
"Does it bother you?" I asked, feeling a little shy suddenly. What if I'd gone too far?
"No," he said, drawing the word out. "I kinda like it." He smiled at me when he said it, and his accent was a little thicker. His lips reached out and touched mine. "Are you sure you want me to do this?"
I raised myself up onto my knees a little. I arched my back over him and cradled his head in my hands, holding his wet, open mouth to mine. "Oh, yeah. Before tonight, it'd been so long since I had someone inside me. It's been so long since I wanted anyone inside me this much." My mouth sucked at his.
          "Fuck me, Brian Littrell," I whispered again. "As hard as you can."


FIRST, an apology to everyone I made wait so long for this. All the email—first asking about the update, then wondering if I were okay—were great, and I feel like a complete slob for neither updating nor responding to any of them.

MY THANKS this time to the MuppetPhromHell, the author of "Temptations," whose knowledge of the Backstreet Boys has been both invaluable and rather disturbing.

MY SITE has been moved, to avoid the many problems that was having. Look for it now at

HELD HOSTAGE: Part 20 will see the BSB leave the Corbyn Studio, but the story—like, damnably, the heart of Celine Dion—will go on. But I'm gonna hold that part hostage. A friend of mine, Braan (I think I may call him "friend") began a wonderful story called "Some Kind of Bliss" but hasn't updated it in an awfully long time. I'm not going to post Part 20 until he updates his story, so please email him and put on some pressure for me.

If Braan doesn't update, I'm keeping Part 20 for myself and going on to the continuation of the story in Part 21. And I'll do it, too. I'm not bluffing, and I won't email it to people just 'cause they ask me to. Save "Some Kind of Bliss"!

THE BOYBAND STORY AWARDS have been over for so long by now that it's time to give them again, but I do want to thank everyone that nominated me and that voted for me last summer. Three of my four stories were nominated for twelve different awards, and I am really grateful for the attention and the compliments, and I actually won three of them. Thank you all very much, and my thanks to the people who worked so hard to bring us the awards.

* POLITICAL OPINIONS expressed by Mr. Ellis in this or any other story are not necessarily those of Nifty Archives, its staff and volunteers, nor any of its readers; nor are they necessarily those of anyone connected with the Backstreet Boys, Jive Records, or MTV Incorporated. Opinions expressed in this story are solely those of a short, homely guy from Dallas who hasn't got laid in far too long, giving him ample time to think up his maniacal ramblings.

In fact, I think a lot of so-called "crazies" or "eccentric people" who abound in our cities and on talk radio stations would settle down if they just got it more often. So next time you see someone wearing a dirty trenchcoat walking an invisible dog or talking to themselves on a sidewalk while waiting for the bus to Jupiter, do your part and offer them sex. You'll limp away contented, knowing you've done your bit in the crusade for mental health.


FROM THE #boybands CHATROOM AT NIFTY: See what you're missing by not being there!
Mike Ellis> I have "I Need You Tonight" playing over and over. Who sings the last line?
MuppetPhromHell> the only singer on i need u tonight Is nick
Mike Ellis>Really? It doesn't sound like Nick?
MuppetPhromHell>Mike... If you care... the reason nick has his own song on the album is he doesn't sing @ all on the perfect fan.
Mike Ellis>Really? So when the five different voices repeat that line over and over, none of them are Nick?
* MuppetPhromHell knows these things mike!
Mike Ellis>Okay, Muppet, I'll believe you. But if Nick can sing like he sings on the last line, then why does he resort to the breathy, scratchy voice that starts the song. "Hopen up. Your heart to me. And say. What's on. Your mind." The voice at the end is really expressive and sexy.
MuppetPhromHell>Mike.. because he's a dumbass
Mike Ellis>Muppet, may I quote you?
MuppetPhromHell>Mike.. quote me on which? him being a dumbass? by all means
Mike Ellis>Thanks
* MikeEllis copies parts of this conversation into Part 19 of "The Studio in the Country."



"Some people aren't cut out to be fathers. Some people are barely cut out to be people."

(from "Brian and Me," Part 113, by DLS)