By Julien Gregg
"I wish I could offer you all a place to stay while you're in Chicago," said Brian when I called him as we left Storyville to head for Chicago. "I only have a one bedroom apartment here, though."
"It's not a problem," I assured him. "We've got hotel rooms booked. Everything's set."
"How soon do you think you'll be rolling in?" he asked. "I'd like to hang out with you guys for a bit if it isn't too late."
"We'll be there around six I think," I replied, glancing at my watch. I liked the idea of hanging out with him for a while. Getting to know him was something I was looking forward to.
"Great," he said. "Tell you what, call me when you get checked in at the hotel and we'll meet somewhere."
"Sounds good, Brian," I replied. "I'm going to get off this phone, though. It's about time to switch drivers again I think."
"All right," chuckled Brian. "Talk to you around six then."
"Sure thing," I said and ended the call.
We were two hours into our voyage from Storyville to Chicago. There were roughly six hours to go and it was just about noon. Nick and Leo were in my car with me, and after about forty-five minutes of highway time I'd decided I didn't want to drive for a while. Nick had volunteered to take over from there for a while, so now he was behind the wheel. He hadn't said anything in a while so I thought maybe he was tired of driving. Leo was all but asleep in the back seat.
"I'm fine, Tommy," Nick informed me when I got off the phone. "Just thinking about some things."
"Need to talk about anything?" I asked, looking over at him.
"Well I was just thinking about how it's going to feel to be basically alone when I get to school," he said. "I mean I've had you guys around for so long, and although we haven't always gotten along famously, I love you guys. I'm going to miss you all."
"We'll all miss each other, Nicky," I said in my best understanding tone. "But you're only going to be in St. Louis. You'll be a bit closer than Ben and Wendy, so I'm sure we'll find excuses to come see you."
"I'm going to try and come home as often as I can, too," he said quickly.
I understood that Nick was worried about how his friendships would survive the distance, but I was sure that ours would be fine. If we could survive the fight over what he'd said to me about my mother being dead, we could survive anything. It was hard to believe that this was our last full weekend together. They'd all be leaving the following Sunday for their respective schools, and on Monday I'd be moving into the dorm along with Leo. It would be strange, but I was sure that I'd be all right. I'd already made one new friend. I just hoped that my roommate turned out to be an easy guy to get along with.
As we continued to drive and Leo continued to doze, I thought about Tyler Beckett. I really wanted to get to know him better. I just wasn't sure how to go about it. It would be simple if I wasn't interested in him romantically. However, all I could think about when I thought of him was kissing him and holding him in my arms. It was crazy actually. I didn't even know the guy that well, but I really liked him. I liked him enough that I thought that if he liked me the same it could turn into something amazing in time.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't counting my chickens or anything. I still didn't even know if he was gay or not. If he wasn't, then we'd probably not remain friends long, depending on his outlook on the world and diversity. I didn't want to think about that, though. I just wanted to get to Chicago, spend some time with my brother and see Skyler Thomas.
I must have dozed off for a while, because the next thing I knew Nick was in the backseat snoring. Leo was behind the wheel, and when I looked over at him he smiled at me. I returned the smile, shaking the confusion out of my head as I sat up straighter in my seat. I was happy that Leo had come along on the trip, and I could tell from the way he kept smiling that he was happy about it too.
"You were asleep for a while, Tommy," he said. "Nick's been asleep for about an hour or so."
"What time is it?" I asked, stretching.
"Ten after two," he replied, making me gasp.
"Wow," I said. "You tired yet?"
"Nah," he laughed. "I love to drive."
"Well you won't get any complaints out of me," I replied with a chuckle, noticing for the first time that my stomach was empty and my mouth was dry. "Any chance we can stop soon for food?"
"Ahead of you," he said. "There was an exit sign a few minutes ago that said we're three miles from the next small town."
"Perfect," I said through another yawn. "I need to stretch my legs and fill my gut."
"I could go for something to eat myself," he said. "Thanks for bringing me along, Tommy."
"No problem," I said, smiling at him again. "Happy birthday, Leo."
He smiled back at me, but he didn't say anything. I took that chance to grab my phone and call Ben to let him know we'd be pulling off at the next exit for food and a general break. He informed me that he was about to call me and demand the same thing. Not even a minute after I terminated that call Leo was pulling onto the exit. I could see a gas station at the top of the hill, and my stomach growled again.
"Food straight ahead," said Leo, making me laugh. "From the sounds of your stomach I'd say you're in serious need."
"Exactly," I said, reaching behind me to shake Nick awake. "Hey sleeper, we're stopping for food."
"Cool," said Nick as he sat up and stretched. "Need a bathroom."
"I'm sure they have one of those too," chuckled Leo.
Just under two hours later we arrived in Chicago. Traffic was intense again, and I sighed as I listened to Nick give me directions to the hotel as I tried to navigate through the throng of other cars without hitting anyone. I decided then that I didn't really like Chicago. It was just too busy for my taste. I was thankful when we pulled into the hotel parking lot and my car was still relatively all right. Other than the scrape and dent that literally running into my older brother's car there was no new damage.
"We made it," sighed Ben as he and Wendy climbed out of his car. He stretched and smiled at me all at once. "Didn't think we'd ever get here."
"Same," I said while stretching myself. "I have to call Brian as soon as we're checked in."
"You call him, but I'm taking a hot shower and relaxing with Wendy for a bit," he replied, winking at me.
"Deal," I said, stepping over to my trunk to get my bag while Leo and Nick grabbed theirs. "I won't be gone too long."
"Why don't you just invite him over here?" Wendy asked as she looked through one of her many bags. "We'd all like the chance to get to know him."
"I'm going to try," I replied. "I just don't know what he's got planned. Let me call him once we're in our rooms and I'll see."
"Catch you later, Tommy," said Ben, giving me a hard look. I knew what that meant so I just smiled back at him. "Much later."
"Heard ya," I laughed.
"Hope so," he replied, wiggling his eyebrows at me.
"You two are so sick!" gasped Wendy. "Broadcast our business, Benjamin!"
"Wendy!" he cried, trailing after her as she stormed off toward the office. It was funny to watch him try to catch her while toting three of her bags and he walk-ran.
"Come on, guys," I sighed, grabbing my one bag and following the comical duo into the hotel.
We made our way, each of us carrying only one bag of our own, into the hotel to check in. Ben and Wendy were arguing off to one side of the front desk, attracting much attention. I walked calmly up to the desk and proceeded to check in. I was handed my key to the room I'd be sharing with Nick and Leo long before Ben huffed up to the counter to get the key to the room he'd be sharing with Wendy. I thought about how strange their relationship had become once sex became a part of it as I watched my best friend's tense shoulders as he rested his elbows on the counter. Giving him one swift pat on the back I grabbed my key and bag and motioned for my two roommates to follow me to the elevator.
"Well it looks like we won't be the only ones not getting any tonight," chuckled Nick, and I couldn't help laughing at him.
It turned out once we'd gotten to the room and I called Brian that he wanted to pick me up and take me to his apartment to talk. Ben and Wendy would have their private time after all even if they didn't intend to use the time the way Ben had in mind at first. I informed my roommates that I would be leaving for a few hours before heading down to the lobby to wait for my brother to arrive. Nick said he'd make sure I could get back into the room if they were asleep and then talked Leo into heading down to the video arcade just off the lobby.
"So you're friends are all right then?" Brian asked as I climbed into his car when he arrived.
"They're fine," I chuckled, thinking of poor Ben and his blue balls.
"Good, because there's something I really want to tell you," he said as we pulled out of the parking lot and merged with traffic. "And I didn't want to tell you in front of everyone."
"All right," I said slowly, wondering what was up. I realized that there wasn't all that much I knew about Brian, but whatever it was that he wanted to tell me sounded serious.
"I'll tell you once we get to my apartment," he said. "There's someone there waiting for us actually. I want you to meet him."
I was pretty sure what he wanted to tell me once he said that there was a guy waiting for us in his apartment that he wanted me to meet. I wasn't going to just come right out and ask him, though. I thought that if he was going to tell me he was gay then I could tell him that I was as well without any awkward feelings or fear of his reaction. In fact the idea made me slightly happy. It meant that I could have a better relationship with my brother without anything standing in the way.
"How far from the hotel do you live?" I asked instead of saying what I thought he was going to tell me.
"Not far," he replied. "We'll be there in a second."
Nothing more was said as we drove through streets I'd never remember in a million years to get to a six story apartment building. Brian pulled the car into the building's underground parking lot and then navigated through the rows of parked cars to the space marked "Porter". He parked the car and we sat there for a moment saying nothing. I looked over at him, but he was looking out his window and rattling the keys in his hand nervously. I felt for him.
"Tommy, I have to ask you a question before I take you upstairs," he said, finally turning to look at me. "I don't know how to go about this so I'm just going to ask. What do you think about homosexuality?"
"I think it's as normal as heterosexuality," I replied. "Why?"
"How would you feel about someone in your family being gay?" he asked, and I could hear the tremor in his voice as he asked.
"Brian, there's something you should know," I said, deciding that getting it out there was best to make him more comfortable. "I'm gay. I'm surprised you don't know it already. I've been on the cover of just about every news magazine in the country over the last two years. My story is out there for anyone to read if they just look for it."
He stared at me for a moment with the strangest expression on his face. It almost made me think that he wasn't going to tell me he was gay. I looked right back at him, though. I was completely comfortable with my sexuality, and I knew that it didn't define me. It was only a part of me and that shouldn't be a problem for anyone with an open mind.
"You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that," he sighed finally. "I've been sitting here worrying that you'd hate me for being gay this whole time."
"Well that would be pretty two-faced of me," I laughed.
"I guess there's no point in this discussion then," he said after a deep breath. "Come on upstairs and meet Ian."
He got out of the car and pulled a grocery bag from the back seat that I hadn't noticed when I got in. He talked a mile a minute as we walked through the parking garage to the elevator. Once we were on the elevator and on our way up to his apartment he told me about the accident that robbed his mind and put him back in high school for almost a year. I heard about how Ian wasn't exactly happy to have Brian for a roommate at first and then about how they'd finally admitted to each other that they were both gay and interested in each other. He said that there was a problem they had to get around before they could be together but he didn't elaborate further.
The elevator opened on the fifth floor, and I trailed along after my brother as he talked and talked about how cool it was that we could be open and honest with each other about everything. His apartment was the sixth door from the elevator and he was still talking when we got inside. Once inside I saw a really fit dark haired guy with glasses and a buzzed haircut. He smiled at me and I saw exactly what Brian saw in him. He was gorgeous, though he reminded me just a bit of Steve Sutton.
"Tommy, this is Ian," said Brian with a huge smile. "My lover."
"Tommy, it's great to meet you," said Ian, extending his hand to me.
"Nice to meet you, too, Ian," I said, accepting his hand. "I've heard so much about you in the short time it took to get from the parking garage to the apartment."
"Excited much?" he asked Brian with a fond smile. "Food's almost done. Why don't you boys go sit at the table, and I'll get everything ready."
"I got the bread," Brian said, thrusting the bag into Ian's hands as he spoke.
We sat down at the table, and I took a look around my brother's apartment. It wasn't huge but it was cozy. The dining table was at one end of the long living room. The furniture didn't exactly match, but it went together all right. There was a small television with a DVD player on a table at the other end of the long living room. Behind us was a window in the wall, and I could see Ian putting food on plates and cutting bread.
"I hope spaghetti is all right, Tommy," said Ian as he came back into the living room with two plates of pasta.
"Perfect," I said with a smile as he sat one of the plates in front of me.
"I don't cook at all," Brian said as Ian put the other plate in front of him. "If it wasn't for Ian and fast food, I'd starve."
The two smiled at each other before Ian went back to the kitchen to retrieve his own plate and the basket of bread that he'd cut. He sat down and we began to eat while Ian asked me all about what I was doing in college. I saw Brian's eyes light up when he heard that I was majoring in programming, but he didn't say anything. I learned that Ian would also be attending Storyville University in the fall and he would be studying law.
"Tommy, I can't tell you how cool it is that you're all right with Brian and I being a couple," said Ian half way through the meal. "He's been so scared that you'd want nothing to do with him."
"Well I would like to think that nothing he could do would ever make me want nothing to do with him," I said slowly. "But his sexuality definitely wouldn't make me run away from him. I'm gay as well."
Once that was out in the open the conversation changed slightly. I quickly had to explain to Ian that my friends back at the hotel were only friends and that I wasn't dating anyone in particular. I told them about my relationship with Steve and how suddenly it ended without explanation. Then we talked about Skyler Thomas. The second ticket that Brian had requested was for Ian, so he'd be going along with us. That was completely fine with me, and I knew that the guys back at the hotel would have no problem with Ian and Brian's relationship or with Ian going to the concert. By the time the food was eaten and the plates cleared from the table I was completely comfortable with Ian. It was almost like I'd known him for quite a while. I even got a hug from him before Brian and I went back down to the car.
On the ride back to the hotel, Brian talked about how cool it was going to be when we were all in the dorms in Storyville. He asked again why I wouldn't be living in my house. I explained that I thought it was time for a fresh start away from old memories. He seemed to accept that without comment, but I could see the wheels turning in his head as he thought it over. I was so happy by the time we made it back to the hotel that I didn't want to let Brian leave. I knew that Ian was waiting for him though. I said goodbye and promised to call him in the morning to let him know what time to meet us all.
There was a lot of talk when I told Nick and Leo that Brian was gay. Most of the talking was from Nick while Leo just listened to everything we had to say. I wasn't sure what Leo thought about it, but in all honesty I didn't care. Brian was my brother and Leo was my friend. The two didn't have much of anything to do with each other as far as I was concerned. Leo would either accept Brian and Ian or he wouldn't. I'd deal with that then.
We heard nothing out of Ben and Wendy for the rest of the night. We all turned in around eleven though I was sure we'd just start talking again. There was a concert to go to the following night on top of the excitement about Brian. I was pleasantly surprised when sleep took all three of us quickly.
"Wake up stooge," came Ben's voice the next morning.
"Go to Hell," I said with one eye open. He was too happy for his own good that morning.
"Oh no you don't," he laughed, grabbing the comforter and ripping it off of both me and Nick.
"Hey!" cried Nick as he woke up. "What the Hell was that for?"
"You boys are lazy, and I'm trying to fix it," Ben said in a menacing voice. "Time's a wasting, boys."
"Oh God," groaned Leo from the other bed as he rolled over and put his pillow over his head.
I finally accepted the fact that it was really another day. I got up and ransacked my bag before heading to the bathroom. Knowing Nick as well as I did I knew I had plenty of time to shower before he'd get out of bed. Leo wasn't looking any better in the waking up department. I was shocked to see them both sitting on the side of the beds when I came out ten minutes later.
"Shower's free," I said as I stowed my clothes from the day before in the other side of my bag.
"Have at it, Leo," Nick said with a yawn.
"Thanks," replied Leo as he got up and went through his bag of clothes to find what he wanted to wear.
I stood at the mirror over the long table and smeared goop in my hair and ran my fingers through it to make it stand every which way. Nick watched me the whole time silently. I ignored him as I walked back over to the bed to get the phone and call Brian. I knocked on the door that adjoined the rooms as I passed it. Brian and Ian agreed to meet us in the parking lot of the hotel since we didn't know our way around Chicago. We planned to hit one of the malls for a while, a plan which met with Wendy's approval, and then have lunch and let Brian and Ian show us around for a bit before the concert. We planned to eat just before heading to the stadium.
"So Brian and Ian are a couple?" Wendy asked as we assembled in the parking lot an hour later.
"Yeah," I said, smiling. "I was worried about what he would think about my sexuality, and he was worried about the same thing."
"That's too cool," she said. "You guys can really get close now."
"Yeah," I replied.
"So it really is genetic then?" Leo asked, saying his first words on the subject all together.
"There is a lot of evidence that supports that theory," Ben said, shocking me. He must have seen the shock on my face because he blushed slightly. "I did a little research. Andy suggested it."
"You don't still think there's something wrong with it, right?" Wendy asked Leo, and everyone got quiet and looked at him.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with something that you can't change because of genetics," he said slowly. "So I guess I need to do a bit of research on my own. I'm not judging anyone, though. Those days are over."
Once Brian and Ian arrived the conversation changed again. Wendy's eyes lit up when Ian suggested that we head over to the biggest mall in Chicago. There were so many stores to choose from. Ian loved to shop almost as much as Wendy, so the two of them were always a store ahead of us. Ben's eyes got larger and larger as he saw each of the bags that Wendy collected. I chuckled as he whispered in my ear that he'd probably need to rent her a car to get all of that stuff back to Storyville.
Once we'd all decided that we'd had enough of watching Ian and Wendy buy out the entire mall we headed for Lake Michigan. Brian said that there were really great spots to eat at around the lake. He warned us that traffic was a nightmare on Lakeshore Drive, but then we already knew that. We did just about everything we could think of after lunch and then it was time for a tour of Brian's favorite places in the city. Of course Wendy demanded to see his apartment, so we spent just a little time there first.
He showed us the Sears Tower and so many things that I can't even begin to remember before he finally led us to a small restaurant just a few blocks from the stadium. The food was Greek and amazing. We were all stuffed by the time we got to the stadium. People were everywhere, and just about everyone was screaming. We showed the guy at the gate our tickets and he told us to head for the white seats right on the field.
The opening show was a comedian none of us had ever heard of before. He was wicked funny though, and most of his jokes centered around the fact that he was gay. We laughed so hard that our sides hurt, and I noticed that Leo was clutching his gut a few times as well. That made me happy. Leo was turning out to be an all right guy.
When the lights went down and the band began to play the crowd erupted with screams. Skyler's dancers made their way out onto the stage as the music to "Get Up!" started. The entire crowd screamed so loud that I had to cover my ears as Skyler made his way onto the stage and fell in line with his dancers as he began to sing. Finally the crowd stopped screaming and sang along. Seven songs later Skyler launched into the song that had been driving America nuts on the radio for so long. Half the dancers left the stage until only the male dancers were left as the music changed and the crowd roared.
"I'd say it was the right time to walk away when dreamin' takes you nowhere. It's time to play. Bodies workin' overtime. Your money don't matter, the time keeps tickin'. When someone's on your mind . . . on your mind," he sang as he danced back and forth across the stage.
"I'm movin' in slow motion. Feels so good. It's a strange anticipation . . . knock, knock, knockin' on wood. Bodies workin' overtime, man against man, and all that ever matters is baby who's ahead in the game. Funny but it's always the same.
"Playin', playin' with the boys. Stayin', playin' with the boys. After chasin' sunsets one of life's simple joys is playin' with the boys!
Everyone screamed so loud as Skyler and his dancers danced across the stage as the music played. Bodies from behind us slammed us into bodies in front of us, but no one cared. Everyone was having the time of their lives. I looked at Brian next to me and saw that he was almost standing on the back of the seat in front of him. Yeah, we were all having a great time.
"Said it was the wrong thing for me to do. I said it's just a boys' game, but girls play to. My heart is workin' overtime in this kind of game people get hurt. I'm thinkin' that the people is me. If you wanna find me I'll be . . .
"Playin', playin' with the boys. Stayin', playin' with the boys. After chasin' sunsets one of life's simple joys is playin' with the boys!
"I don't wanna be the moth around your fire. I don't wanna be obsessed by my desire. I'm ready, I'm leavin, I've seen enough . . . you play too rough,
"Playin', playin' with the boys. Stayin', playin' with the boys. After chasin' sunsets one of life's simple joys is playin' with the boys! After chasin' sunsets ones of life's simple pleasures is playin' with the . . . playin' with the . . . playin' with the BOYS!"
The crowd screamed again as the lights went out. People began to chant Skyler's name over and over again and then screamed again when a spotlight beamed on the stage to reveal Skyler sitting at a piano. Lighters soared above the crowd as Skyler began to sing "Come Undone". When he said goodnight to the crowd I thought I'd go deaf from the roar that responded to him.
Everyone milled around for a while as we made our way through the throng to the security gate that would let us backstage. Once the guard looked at our tickets we were ushered into a locker room that had been transformed with couches and tables of food. Shortly after we arrived Skyler came in. He smiled at us and shook our hands.
"Hey guys," he said. "How'd you like the show?"
"It was amazing!" Wendy cried, making Skyler laugh.
"I'm glad you liked it," he said. "Have some food and mingle with everyone. There are a lot of celebrities running around back here. I'm going to grab a quick shower and then I'll talk with you guys for a bit, sign some autographs and we can do pictures."
We weren't hungry but drinks were everywhere. We shied away from the alcoholic ones but there were juices and tea at one table. There were celebrities mingling in the crowd, and I met so many people and got so many autographs by the time Skyler returned from his shower with Kevin Richardson. They made their way over to where we were sitting and smiled at us.
"Guys I'd like you to meet my lover, Kevin," Skyler said as Kevin started shaking hands with all of us.
"How's it going?" Kevin asked before he took a seat next to Skyler.
We all had a million questions that made both of them laugh. I wanted so badly to talk privately with him, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. By the time we left the stadium I had a stack of pictures that were all autographed and a huge smile on my face.