This story is fiction. It depicts, sometimes explicitly, sex between teenage boys, between boys and men, and between boys and females, both teenage and adult. If you find such things offensive, or reading such things is illegal where you live, please read no further.

XXXII. Breakthrough

Charlie had been secretly hoping that any day someone would pop out of the woodwork, identifying himself as a talent scout who had attended the Christmas party and was now ready to make the two brothers overnight stars. It didn't happen. No one came forward. Jane insisted that she'd had the right people there, but before any of them knew what was happening, it was May, 1967, and five boys were all facing their final exams.

The winter had been nothing short of wonderful, if one can consider it winter when the average temperature was in the low 70's, and five pretty great looking male specimens never stopped wearing shorts, never lost their tan. They all did a lot of fishing, a lot of dancing and partying, and a lot of studying. Sean's swim trials had come and gone, and he'd decided not to enter. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he had a good shot at winning a place on the team, but he decided his new relationship, his adopted family, were much more important. "And besides," he said with a grin, "if I go off training with the Olympic team, who's gonna show all these Canadians how to fish in the winter time?"

Dan had turned 17 in April, and Josh's 13th birthday was in June. Naturally he was excited: he would soon be a teenager! Of course in the eyes of his older brothers, Josh was still a little boy, still their little brother and always would be! He would never admit it, but that was just fine with Josh. He loved being spoiled, cared for, protected. This was a new experience for him, and it felt really great to have no fewer than four pretty cool big brothers in whose eyes Josh could do no wrong! Instead of always having to watch over his shoulder, he now felt virtually smothered with protection. But it was that very protective nature of his brothers that almost stood in the way of one of the most important events in his life!

It was Friday afternoon. The four older boys were home from school, waiting for Josh. All five of them were going to a high school basketball game tonight. It wasn't so much that any of them really cared that much for basketball, but it was a "normal" school activity, and they were all getting really into all this normal schoolboy stuff. They were all at some school activity every Friday night these days, and tonight would be somewhat special because it was the last game of the school year. No matter that the season was already over and this was just an exhibition game, it was still a game and promised to be a good one. This particular afternoon Josh was late, but in itself that wasn't that unusual. Josh had been put through the wringer by his teachers this year, and Josh was determined to do whatever he had to do to succeed and do well. That often meant that he was rather late getting home. No matter though, he either got a ride home with a teacher, or he called for a ride. There was almost always at least one brother around, and tonight was no exception. They would wait as long as it took because they knew he'd want to go, and they all loved taking him places: any place!

Dan was first to see it. Sean had just finished an hour doing laps in the pool and was getting dressed. Jerry had joined Dan and Charlie in the side yard where all three were playing a game of one on one basketball, two at a time. Charlie and Jerry were up, Dan the cheering section, and a rather fickle one at that. Whoever appeared to have the upper hand was the one Dan was cheering for. His attention wandered, as did his eyes, just in time to see the long black stretch limo glide up to the front door. When it stopped, a back door opened and Josh emerged, looking his normal well dressed, incredibly handsome self.

Josh was wearing his usual trademark: brightly colored shorts that today were fluorescent blue, with a darker blue polo shirt with white trim. His white sport socks were knee high, with blue stripes that matched perfectly the blue in his shirt; his white tennis shoes, like the rest of him, were immaculately clean. His dirty blond hair was longish - just covering the ears - and as usual slightly wavy. It seemed to encircle his face, his fluorescent green eyes, his perpetual smile, as if a natural halo. Dan's first thought was "God, my little brother is beautiful!" His second thought sent chills through his entire body: "If he has that effect on me, it's only reasonable to assume he has that effect on others; others who are not his brother, don't care about the whole person, could care less if they hurt him. And he just came home in a limo! A STRANGE limo! Who the hell is in that limo, and what have they done to Josh!"

Dan was on that limo like a fish hawk on a landlocked salmon. As he sprinted across the driveway he yelled over his shoulder, "Help me out here, you guys! Josh needs help!"

Magic words. Words that shot bolts of fear into the minds, the very beings, of Jerry and Charlie. Sean was just emerging from the pool house and he too heard Dan's cry, and he too was jet propelled toward the driveway where a long black limo had no chance of exiting the property without serious altercation. The driver had just begun to move, but screeched to a halt as Dan literally threw himself on the hood, his face in the windshield. If that big Lincoln was leaving the property any time soon, it would do so with Dan on the hood!

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the driver demanded as he emerged from the drivers seat.

"I might ask you the same question," Dan replied as he slid off the car and faced the man. "You might want to ask whoever is in the back to get out. No one is going anywhere until we know who you are and what you're doing with our brother in your car."

By that time the other three had surrounded the driver, and were not looking even a little bit friendly. Josh, having heard all the ruckus as he was about to enter the house, had turned around to see what was going on. "Dan!" he screamed. "What are you doing? Get away from him!"

"Get your tail down here, now!" Charlie answered. "What the hell are you doing, coming home in a strange car? Have you lost your mind?"

"I think it's you who've lost your mind," Josh replied haughtily. "What d'you think you're doing, you guys?" As Josh continued to scold and scream at his brothers, the back door of the limo opened slowly and a middle aged man emerged.

"I'm extremely sorry," the man said, "I seem to have caused a difficult situation here. I had no idea my young friend had such vehement allies, but I find the revelation very gratifying, and certainly understandable."

"Very pretty words," Sean said as he faced the newcomer, almost touching noses with him. "Might I ask who are you?"

"If you'd all just shut up and listen," Josh screamed hysterically, "you just might learn what total assholes you all are! Just shut up! And calm down! Gawd! What kinda totally screwed up family have I got, anyway?"

"One that loves you very much," the man said. "They obviously care about you, Josh. I'm sorry, everyone, it's my fault. I just haven't seen this kind of concern that often, and I guess I neglected to consider the possibility that it still exists."

"Well, I does exist," Charlie said. "I guess we came on rather strong, but if you knew something of our background..."

"I know more than you think. But please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Harry Winthrop. I am a musician promoter... er... manager if you like. I am not nearly as much of a stranger to Josh as you believe, but I must apologize for not having revealed myself to the rest of you sooner. I have been working with Josh for over a week now, and at my request he kept our relationship a secret until now."

"That's not the way to instill confidence, Mr. Winthrop," Charlie said. "We pride ourselves on not having secrets here. We try to make sure we have nothing to hide, and we expect no less of anyone who associates with our little brother."

"I understand that," Harry said. "That's why I offer my deepest apologies. You would be Charlie, right? Josh has told me so much about you. I'd know you anywhere just from his description. I'm very anxious to hear you sing and play. The way Josh tells it, as good as he is, you are ten times better!"

"Err... Uhhhh... yes sir, I'm Charlie," Charlie answered. He was having trouble even breathing, but he had to remember his manners. Not only would Dad Edwards expect it, but... well... this man was obviously someone important. Josh, damn his little boy hide, had somehow managed to hook up with someone who, if nothing else, at least had money and good manners! "These are our other brothers: Dan, Jerry, and Sean. I'm sorry if we seemed a bit aggressive, but with our various backgrounds..."

"No apology necessary," Harry said as he shook hands with everyone. "I am well aware of all your backgrounds. Josh has shared much more than he probably should have, but he admires you all so much he just can't stop talking about you. I think you are all very fortunate young men."

"I agree," Jerry said as he regained his composure and reclaimed his position as spokesman. "But may I ask what that has to do with your delivering Josh home in a limousine?"

"Absolutely!" Harry replied cheerfully. "First of all you need to know that limo is rented. I would have preferred something far less elaborate, but that was all that was available. I live in Nashville and only came here to work out things with Josh. I have been trying to get things worked out for this meeting ever since last November. I was at the Christmas party where Josh and Charlie, and... and the band... performed. I was very impressed, and I wanted to get an audition set up. But... well, there were complications. I had two close advisors with me, and they were strongly against it. They told me they liked what they heard, but there was a problem with the band."

"The band?" Charlie questioned. "But, we've never sung with anyone else!"

"So I understand. We felt that there would probably be some loyalties there, but my advisors suggested that we simply wait, that the problems would resolve themselves. Now it seems that they were right."

"But..." Charlie protested, "I thought they sounded pretty good. In fact I thought they sounded great!"

"I agree, Charlie. They did indeed sound great. But you must understand, we are looking for more than just great. We are looking for superb! The problem with the band was, quite frankly, attitude. Sitting in the audience we could tell that they weren't happy, weren't at all convinced they should be there at all. But you and Josh! Whenever either of you, or both, got up to sing, we got the impression that we were doing you a great service by listening to you. It was as if you felt honored to be allowed to share your talent with us!"

"But... we were honored, sir!" Charlie answered. He was somewhat confused by where this conversation was going. "Please understand, neither of us had ever sung professionally before. That was our first time! Of course we were honored to sing for y'all!"

"That's just my point, Charlie! There's no denying your natural talent. You and Josh both have a gift that needs to be exploited! But your performing skills are mediocre at best. I could easily name a hundred singers more skilled than both of you put together! But they have no future. Sometimes their talent, or lack of it; sometimes it's attitude. But the bottom line is, performing skills can be taught. Other things have to just be there. You and Josh, on the other hand, have a future that defies the imagination! It's not your talent, although that is far from insignificant; but it's that empathy! The way you get into the songs you're singing! And the appreciation you show your audience! That cannot be taught, Charlie. You either have it or you don't; and you and Josh, my young friend, have it in spades!"

At this point it's a good thing that Jerry had taken over as spokesman, because Charlie was speechless. That didn't happen a lot, but it had certainly happened today. He had long since given up any hope of their Christmas debut being anything but a one time flash in the pan. Now here comes this well dressed dude in a big black limo, telling them that their future stretches beyond the imagination! "You're not telling us anything I didn't already know," Jerry said. "I must admit I was beginning to wonder if I was the only perceptive person in this whole town. But ok, now that we all understand each other, what now?"

"Now," Harry answered excitedly, "I want to put your brothers on the fast track. That means as soon as we can set it up, hopefully as soon as school is out for the year, we'll fly them to Nashville to do a demo tape. They've never been in a recording studio, so that will take some time. Studio recording is very much different from live performing. It takes a lot more discipline, a lot more self control, and something of an imagination. The excitement of a live audience, the applause, the response, is simply not there; you have to create your own. Meanwhile you are standing in a small room wearing earphones and staring into a very large microphone. It doesn't happen overnight. I anticipate taking at the very least a week to produce a good demo tape."

"And then?" Jerry asked. Everyone present noticed that he was every bit as controlled, as competent, as critical as Clarke would have been. Clarke was due home any minute, but at the moment he wasn't here. Nancy and Emily were though, and they didn't fail to notice how Jerry had taken control. Jerry had not yet been his father's son a full year, but he was every bit as capable, as committed, as if he'd been Clarke Edwards' son for his entire life.

"Then," Harry answered, "Charlie and Josh wait. Their part - YOUR part, is over for the time being. I take that tape and I present it to my contacts in the recording industry. If I can sell it, and I honestly don't see that being a problem, then we negotiate a recording contract. That will mean recordings of course, personal appearances, hopefully some TV and radio shows, and whatever else seems like it will sell records. Once a recording artist is famous, his name alone will sell records. But until that happens, which could take years, it is a hard, uphill battle to sell enough records to justify cutting another one.

"When I say 'fast track,' I mean simply that I want to blitz the industry with as many recordings as we can produce. I think we have three separate entities here: We have Josh Edwards and Charlie Edwards. They are two very different entities, and both very marketable! And then we have the Edwards Brothers. I'm not sure what we'll call them just yet, but I think they have the potential to be bigger than the Everly Brothers! Their blended voices are so close, it's tough to tell there are two voices, except that the harmony is unmistakable. So basically, that's my proposition: that you give me your two sons for the summer and let me turn them into stars."

"My sons?" Jerry questioned. "Harry, you have just paid me the highest compliment that is humanly possible! But, I'm sorry, they're not my sons, but my younger brothers."

"Of course," Harry said. "I knew that, but I guess I just forgot. I mean, you were so very protective, and so affirmative, I just forgot. It was truly as if I were dealing with the boys' father! I apologize again. So when will your father be home"?

"Any time now," Jerry answered. He was feeling very much the authoritative figure now. "In the meantime, won't you please come in? I'm sure we can find something to offer you in the form of refreshments."

"Of course we can!" Nancy confirmed. "Please, Mr. Winthrop, won't you and... and... your friend... you must both stay for dinner!"

"My FRIEND," Harry said with amusement, "my friend, alias chauffeur, is my closest friend and most trusted advisor, Doug Antwerp."

"Fine, Mr. Antwerp," Nancy replied. "Now please, won't the both of you make yourselves comfortable while Emily and I prepare dinner. Clarke will be along any time now."

"I believe the boys were having a game of pickup basketball when we arrived," Harry said. "Perhaps they'd like to continue, and maybe even invite us to join them?"

"You're welcome to join in," Dan said apologetically. "But you have to understand, we're Canadians, so we're not as used to playing basketball as most kids our age."

"I'm sure you'll be able to hold your own against us," Harry assured him.

Clarke Edwards did arrive home shortly after, and beat them all in the basketball game. When they finished, Clarke was still wearing his suit, his tie still tight to his neck. He had hardly broken a sweat! Now to do what Clarke did best: negotiate the best deal possible for his two sons.

When all was said and done, Josh and Charlie were to fly to Nashville the day after their last exam. The rest of the family would follow within a few days; but it was important, Harry stated, that the would-be stars get going as soon as possible. It was important, he said, that they make their mark over the summer and be back in school when it opened. He would start immediately trying to get some summer bookings for them, as soon as their demo tape had been made. This was not real great news for Josh and Charlie, who had both been counting on a leisurely summer in Florida fishing, swimming, water skiing, and just being spoiled rich kids. But they had to admit the alternative didn't look too bad either.

After five months of sanity and tranquility, things started happing again in the Edwards home, and far faster than anyone would have chosen, had they been given the choice. Clarke had made it very clear that school came first, and that there would be no singing, no demo tapes, no contracts until the exams were written and passed. He did make one major concession: he agreed to contact the respective teachers and explain the situation, requesting the grades of the two boys as soon as they were calculated. "You might be stars this time next year," he said, "but until that happens, it hasn't happened and you still need your education. So until I have proof you don't need it, we'll just go on keeping your grades up."

Exams came and went. All five boys literally blew they away. There was even talk of accelerating Josh a grade, which would put him into high school with his brothers. This news was far too good to be true, but it was true nonetheless. But as June continued to pass by, they heard nothing from Harry Winthrop. Had he fed them some sort of line? Had something perhaps happened to him? Or maybe he'd changed his mind. No, Josh insisted, they would hear from him as soon as he was ready. Harry had totally charmed Josh in the week they had spent together, and he would hear no wrong of him.

It was Tuesday, June 13, when the call came. It was approaching noon when the phone rang. Emily was the only one home. Another fifteen minutes and she'd be gone too, to shop for groceries. The five boys were where they spent most of their time these days: out in the boat. They would probably be doing some fishing, some water skiing, and more than likely some swimming. That was one boat that certainly earned its keep! Clarke had gone to Orlando on business and had taken Nancy with him. He would be back, he'd promised, some time Friday night, probably late.

"I'm really sorry, Mr. Winthrop," Emily said, "I have no way to contact them. The boys are all out in the boat and if I know them, they won't be back until dark. Clarke and Nancy are out of town, and unavailable until this evening."

"No problem," Harry replied. "Just tell them, if you would, that I need Charlie and Josh in Nashville just as soon as they can get here. There's been a breakthrough."

"A breakthrough?" Emily questioned.

"Yes, ma'am. A big one! I've got a studio appointment for them next week, and... well, a demo tape just might be redundant. I've got them slated to appear on the Grand Ole Opry a week from this coming Saturday night, if we can get them ready."

"I'll... I'll get word to them as soon as I can," Emily said breathlessly. She jotted down the phone number where Harry could be reached. Then as soon as she had hung up, she panicked.

Of course tonight would be the night that the fish were biting, and their feeding frenzy seemed to increase as the sun went down. When Emily finally heard the boat coming down the channel, it was almost ten, and she was in a state approaching cardiac arrest. She had turned on every light even remotely close to the water, and was standing on the dock waving her arms frantically as the boat came in sight. "What on earth!" Sean muttered as he spotted his mother. She should have known better than to carry on so. Sean was extremely safety minded in the boat, and would simply not take any chances. He was already going as fast as was safe in the darkness, and all the women in Florida waving their arms would not have made him go any faster. Where he had learned this almost fanatic concern for safety was something of a mystery, but it was there, and Emily was proud of him for it. At times like this, though, she could have done with a little less caution.

"What, Mom?" Sean demanded as soon as they were within earshot.

"Josh!" Emily answered. "Josh and Charlie! They've got to go to Nashville right away! Harry called. He needs them right away."

"They can't go tonight," Sean pointed out. Nevertheless everyone caught Emily's excitement. "You guys hop on the dock," he directed. "I'll put the boat away."

"We can help," Charlie said. "Surely it can't be that urgent."

"It's pretty urgent," Emily answered. "You're gonna be on the Grand Ole Opry next week."

"He..." Josh said excitedly, "he's got us tickets for the Grand Ole Opry?"

"No, Josh, not tickets. You and Charlie are singing! On stage! Next week!"

Three phone calls later, and two very excited boys were heading to bed, setting their alarms for 7. The airlines were all closed for the night, but they would be open at 7 in the morning, and they would be getting a call as soon as they opened the phones. They had spoken to Harry who had explained that all of a sudden he'd met someone who had heard the boys and liked them. That someone, Harry explained, was someone who could make things happen. He wanted them in Nashville as soon as they could get there, and he would begin their coaching immediately. He wanted them at the performance Saturday night, because one week later they would be on the stage. There was studio time arranged for a demo tape, but all that might very well be redundant if what he was planning came to a head. They had called Clarke. He had suggested that Charlie and Josh go alone as soon as they could get there, and the rest of the family would follow on Saturday or Sunday. Clarke could simply not break free to get home before Friday night; but of course this wasn't the first time Charlie had traveled by himself. "Just take care of Josh," Clarke directed sternly. "He's your responsibility, Charlie!"

"I'm gonna miss you," Dan said when they were in bed.

"It's only a few days, Dan," Charlie answered. "You guys will be there next week."

"That's not the point, Charlie. It's starting. If Harry has his way, you and Josh will be touring all over the country, recording, doing shows... it's not ever gonna be the same again."

"Dan... does that mean you want me to quit? I mean, would you rather I didn't go?"

"No, Charlie! You have to go!"

"I don't have to, Danny! I don't have to do anything of the sort!"

"Yeah, Charlie, you do. This is the chance of a lifetime. You have to do it for Josh, because we both know if you don't do this, he won't either. But you have to do it for yourself too. It's so incredible that you've got this chance! You're gonna have a blast! It's just... well, I guess I kinda thought we'd have the last year of high school together. I guess I'm still not ready to admit we're not kids any more. But you've gotta take the chance when it's there."

"We'll be together, Dan. I'm gonna finish school, no matter what Harry wants. I made a lot of promises to a lot of people, and I'm gonna keep them. I'm gonna finish school. We'll have our senior year together."

"I hope you're right, Charlie. But just in case, can we make love tonight?"

"Yeah, man! I love you, Danny! And please don't worry! We're gonna have lots of time together. I promise."

"Just hold me, Chah-wee! Hold me close, and kiss me, and tell me you love me!"

"Of course I love you, Danny! I love you more every day of my life!"

They did hold each other, then they made love. Then they held each other again. Charlie had never seen Dan so passionate, so reluctant to declare the evening over and go to sleep. Charlie wasn't going to say anything, but when Dan started to cry, he could no longer be still. "It's ok, Dan," he soothed. "We're just going to Nashville for a few days, then you'll be there with us. We'll be ok, I promise!"

"I know I'm being silly," Dan answered through his sobs. "I just... well, I just keep getting this terrible feeling. It's... it's as if when you leave tomorrow nothing is ever gonna be the same. It's scarin' me, Charlie!"

"Nothing ever will be the same," Charlie replied. "But it's gonna be better! It's gonna be better than any of us every dared to dream!"

Wednesday morning was your typical five teenage boy family - total confusion. Clarke had called his secretary, who called at 8:10 AM with two tickets on a flight to Nashville, leaving at 11 if the boys could make it. Yes, Emily had told her, she would see to it that the boys were on the flight. Then she called Harry Winthrop with the news while Charlie and Josh bolted down some breakfast, then proceeded to forget where their clean underwear was, where they'd put their suitcases, and probably even their own names, as they scrambled to get ready to go.

"Be careful!" Dan again pleaded at the departure gate. Then he gave Charlie an unashamed embrace, and a kiss.

"Quit worrying," Charlie said as he hugged back. "We'll be fine. You guys will be there before you know it. I love you, Danny!"

After everyone had hugged everyone else, they stood and watched as Charlie and a very hyper little boy walked across the tarmac to the waiting airplane. Sean was the only one to notice the tear sliding down Dan's cheek. He took his hand. "It'll be ok, Danny," he whispered. "They're gonna be so great!"

"Sean," Dan said as he broke down completely, "I've got the worst feeling... I can't explain it..."

"They'll be fine," Sean reassured him again. But he wondered. Too late, he thought as the plane glided down the runway. I sure hope Dan's wrong!

The flight from Daytona to Nashville is not a particularly long one. The weather was perfect, it was the middle of the day. They were on a smallish turbo prop plane, but conditions being what they were, the flight was a little over two hours before they were finally on the ground again. Charlie was pleased and excited to see Harry Winthrop waiting for them. "I hope you had a nice flight," Harry said as he shook their hands.

"Yes sir," Charlie answered. "I don't think I've ever seen Josh so excited though. I think he could have flown here without a plane!"

"That's good," Harry answered. "He should be, Charlie, and you too! It's taken me a while to put things in place, but now everything seems to be happening all at once. I'm going to take you directly to your suite and let you get settled. Starting tomorrow morning at six, you have three auditions. If they work out the way I think they will, we will completely bypass the demo tape and begin training. I have two different recording contracts just waiting for a successful audition. I hope you boys are ready to go to work!"

"Yeah, man!" Josh said excitedly.

"You said our suite?" Charlie questioned.

"Why, yes! Your family will be coming some time before next week, and they all need a place to stay. We have two hotel suites, three bedrooms each, reserved for you. It's the best we could do, but they are adjoining so I think you'll be pleased."

"WOW!" Josh exclaimed.

The evening was uneventful. Harry brought around three of his associates, more to meet his new stars than anything else. He explained that he would be calling upon different resources to design clothes, hair styles, help choose songs for recording, and probably most important, to present the available personal appearance opportunities. "I'm hoping to keep you two extremely busy all summer," he said. "If I do my job right, you'll be able to go back to school in August, and the record sales will already be taking off. There will be more concerts of course, but your dad has made it very clear that he doesn't want your school work to suffer."

"Sounds good," Charlie responded. "But... what about a band?"

"Covered. That's why I wanted you to come to Nashville. There are dozens of good bands just waiting in the wings. I have one lined up, which may or may not become your band permanently. We'll just have to see how it goes. But if the one I've hired doesn't work out, there are lots more."

"Charlie, you asleep?" Josh said tentatively as they lay in bed. At Josh's request, they were sharing a double bed. Josh had snuggled into Charlie as soon as they turned off the light, and Charlie had embraced him protectively.

"No, Josh," Charlie answered. "I'm afraid I'm a little too excited to sleep."

"Really? You too?"

"Yeah, man! I mean, this could turn into something really big!"

"Are you scared?"

"Not exactly scared. But I'm certainly nervous."

"Yeah, me too."

"We'll be fine, Josh. You just have to remember, we got an incredible family that loves us, whether we're recording stars or not. We're doing this for US, not them! They'll love us just the same, even if we never sing another note!"

"Yeah," Josh agreed. "That is really awesome, Charlie! And I know it's true! I'm so lucky!"

Charlie thought of Josh's first twelve years. He could hardly be considered lucky, by Charlie's frame of reference. Because of Clarke Edwards' thorough research, they all knew far more about Josh than he realized; perhaps even more than he knew about himself.

Josh had been born to a very young high school student, who could not possibly care for him properly. Nonetheless she had tried for nine months, but finally had to admit defeat and give him up for adoption. He had spent almost a year in a foster home, then was adopted by a nice middle class couple who had been childless for over five years. Josh's life took a definite turn for the better then, only to be shattered a year later when his adoptive parents were both killed in a head-on collision while Josh waited for them in a day care center. None of his parents' family saw fit to take him in, so Josh, still not quite four years old, found himself again in foster care. He had remained there, for one reason then another, until he was adopted by Clarke Edwards. Charlie tightened his embrace as he thought of the horror the little boy had survived. It's ok now, little brother, he thought to himself, You've got a mom and a dad now, and four big brothers. The world is gonna have to get through all of us to get to you.

As if sensing somehow what had just gone through Charlie's mind, Josh wiggled his little butt closer to Charlie. They were nestled closer together now than any two spoons have ever been, and that's the way they went to sleep. Josh had been planning a very special request for Charlie tonight; one that he was sure would startle Charlie. But it would have to wait. They were both too excited, too tired, too content just being brothers, being together.

Thursday morning, at six sharp, Charlie and Josh found themselves standing in the middle of a very large stage, in a gigantic auditorium. Harry had picked them up at five, had taken them for breakfast to a private dining room at a restaurant that would not be open for hours. "I'm sorry for the early hour," he apologized. "I wanted you to get the feel of performing on a stage, and this was the only time I could get you in this auditorium on such short notice."

"Where are we?" Charlie questioned.

"I'm sorry, I thought you knew. I guess it was dark when we came in. You're on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium! The Grand Ole Opry! This is where you'll be singing one week from this Saturday night!"

Charlie looked around. He was having trouble breathing as he came to grips with where he was. He squinted and stained his eyes against the spotlights, to the seats beyond. They were all empty of course; but they were there, all of them! It looked to Charlie like millions of seats!

"There are two very different environments you have to get used to," Harry was saying. "This is the first, and we can only approximate it. You are on the stage, the band is behind you. The only thing missing is the audience. Most performers will tell you that this is the setting they prefer, because they can sense, and feel, the audience. When they do well, or when they don't, the audience responds. You won't have that response, but this is your first audition anyway. My advice would be to imagine as best you can that there are thousands of people out there, all watching, listening. Play to them! Work them! Charm them!"

"Starting right now," someone the boys didn't know said from the darkness in front of them. "Imagine it's Saturday night and this place is full! Do it, guys! Show us your stuff!"

The band started. They were playing one of the songs Harry had told them would be a part of the audition. "You ready, Josh?" Charlie asked.

"All the way, Charlie!" he replied. They began to sing. Charlie looked at Josh, He was totally animated, completely into the music, his face beaming. Charlie was inspired. On queue they both came in together, exactly on time, in perfect harmony! They looked at each other and grinned. They knew they'd killed their entrance; now to kill the rest of the song.

The audition lasted over an hour. By the time they were finished, Josh and Charlie were both drenched: from the lights, their exertion, their nerves. But they had done it and they knew it. They couldn't tell it by the reaction of their audience though. "Thank you, boys," one of them said as the three men gathered their papers and prepared to leave. "That was very nice."

Charlie could feel Josh's eyes on him. He knew that Josh had been expecting more of a reacion, in fact so had he; but that's all they were going to get. He looked at Harry, but his reaction was almost as non-committal. "The next audition is coming up in a half hour," Harry said. "You guys ok?"

"Yeah," Charlie replied. "We're fine." At this point, he doubted that it would have made a difference if he'd said they were both dying, but he determined to get through the day. After that, they would deal with whatever they had to deal with.

Harry took his two new singers to a room where there was coffee and juice. He instructed them to help themselves to whatever they wanted, that he would be back before they had to go on again. After he left, Charlie thought he heard some men having a conversation with less than friendly voices, but he ignored the sounds. "You ok, little brother?" he questioned Josh.

"Yeah, Charlie," Josh answered. "I guess I was kinda surprised we didn't get more or a reaction from those guys. I mean, I don't know if we did ok or not."

"I think we did fine, Josh. I KNOW you did! I mean, like Harry said, it's kinda hard singing with no audience. But all we can do is our best. But I don't think you have anything to worry about. You just need to relax and try and catch your breath. You look kinda tired."

"I am, Charlie. I guess that took more out of me than I thought it would. But I'll be ok."

The next audition was very much the same, except that there were four men and a woman putting them through their paces. They would stop the music in mid-song, and demand changes. If Charlie was singing, they directed that Josh take over. If Josh had started, it was Charlie who got called upon to start in mid-phrase. They presented scenarios where one or the other had suddenly forgotten the words, and the other should recover. Charlie and Josh were on stage a total of a little over three hours. When they were finally finished, Josh was so tired he was almost in tears. "We've only got a half hour to get to the next audition," Harry announced, "and it's 'way across town."

"Why not here?" Charlie asked.

"Because it's in a studio. They want to see how you'll do in a studio setting."

"But... Josh is exhausted! And we've never been in a studio in our lives! You keep telling us it's so different, but we've never been near one! How can you expect us to..."

"That'll all be taken into account," Harry assured him. "You gotta trust me, Charlie. I know this is hard on you, but you're both doing fine. I think you'll do fine in the studio too, which is why I wanted to get it all over with today. Just keep doing what you're doing, listen to whatever instruction you get, and let me do the rest."

Two very exhausted boys were only back in their room ten minutes when they were sound asleep in each other's arms. They knew they'd done well and so did Harry; only question now was, did anyone else know? Had they been appreciated?

They had agreed to sleep an hour or two, then order something to eat from Room Service. But again their plans were thwarted when the phone rang. "Charlie?" the excited voice that was Harry's said into the receiver.

"Yes, sir," Charlie answered sleepily.

"Buzz me up," Harry directed. Charlie noticed it was more of an order than a request.

"Harry, we're awful tired. Josh didn't even wake up when the phone rang."

"You don't want to miss this, Charlie. Wake him up. I promise this won't take long."

* * *

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