Kisses in the Dark

by Miss Kitty E

You don't know exactly when it started, because neither of you were allowed to sit down, and talk, and say the word, "Go." Sometimes, when you're still giddy over some look, some touch, you wonder if after all this crap is over- and really, how long will that be? Another year? Whenever you put out the second album, you know that much for sure - you wonder how you and he will decide when to celebrate anniversaries. The last time you did this, you laughed out loud, and they all looked at you funny, you wanted to but couldn't explain that you just realized that you and your lover are both guys, even if you figured out an exact date, you'd both forget it.

You're both guys, that's the fucking problem.

But it's also part of the thrill.

You kissed a boy only once before, way back in junior high. He was your best friend, and a year older than you, and he'd kissed a lot of girls. You were still a little young, and you were going through one hell of an awkward phase, you wanted to know what it was like. He showed you. You got hard, but he didn't see, you're still not sure how he would have reacted, because maybe it was just one of the stupid things kids do, or maybe he was trying to tell you something.

You didn't hang out much with him after that, after you went home and jerked off to the way he'd made you feel. The more distance you put between yourself and anything, the easier it is to go through life like it had never happened, and it rarely ever crossed your mind unless someone maybe mentioned gays, or you saw a gay couple on the street or in the movies (you didn't have any gay friends). You thought about it then, in passing, and you would admit to it if people asked whether or not you'd ever experimented, but you always finished your story with, "But it was just kids' stuff, you know?"

Maybe kids' stuff wasn't completely dismissible, you realized a little later. The auditions for O-Town were fuckin' packed with beautiful (and not so beautiful) boys and you don't think your affinity for people watching was really why you were staring. You saw Ashley walk by a few times, looking bleached, and young, and awed by everything. You kind of passed over him for the other boys, the ones who gave off rough and sexy vibes, like you remember you friend from junior high sort of having.

As things progressed, it just... became harder to pass him over. He was just always there, sweetly earnest, and sometimes with a respectable paperback in his hands. The other guys, even the nicest ones, saw Ashley mostly as their toughest competition, but you never really saw him like that. In the end you had never really planned your life around being a pop star, you could go home with no regrets easily. Ashley recognized that, and seemed to seek you out for a half hour without any veiled hostility. You talked about a lot of things, mostly what was going with the auditions, sometimes about your families, the girls you liked and had back home, sometimes about school. Whatever you ended up talking about, you enjoyed the time you spent alone together, but before running headlong into the competition again.

You liked to watch his eyes move about the room as you talked, they were a little small for his face, but they had a vibrant color and slanted down at the corners so he always looked a little sad or something. He would search out things of beauty to look at, the centerpiece on the table, the sky stretched like a painting outside the window, one time, the complete artistic balance of a fallen green leaf on an expanse of red carpet. The leaf you asked about, you just had to know. Ashley seemed surprised you had noticed, he blushed and said it reminded him of an Ellsworth Kelly painting. Sometimes they would flash over to you, to your face as you spoke, but they never stayed for very long, shy of making real eye contact.

Once though, they met your eyes and held them. You were scared that he knew that you watched him, suspected something horrible about it, and the absolute worst thing, that he would say something about it. But Ashley didn't say anything at all, just smiled and he went back to talking about how Shelli was giving him flack. You couldn't really listen to a word he was saying, not until the fear in your stomach was gone. Isolated incident, you told yourself; you didn't want to feel vulnerable like that again.

Only it kept happening, and you started to realize what it meant.

It happened naturally through the days you spent tensely waiting for the final call. He'd do it from across the room sometimes, brush his eyes over your face, and smile, sometimes as you sat watching TV with him, sometimes during a meeting. It was never like a secret, something you weren't supposed to see; you could see he was doing it for you. Without realizing it, you were returning it, whenever something happened, anything that was somehow special, you looked to see if he was doing it, but sometimes you were a second too early, and you met his eyes. It never seemed to bother him, but he would duck his shyly, as if taking a calming breath before looking up at you again.

It wasn't like these were violin-music, fog filter, tight close-up moments, just little three seconds reminders throughout the day that, "Hey, I'm with you." With you one this side of the debate, with you through the cuts, with you as we try to learn how to live life in front of ever-present black camera eyes and strangers milling about. Over time it became one of the few things you were truly grateful for, and late at night, with Ashley sleeping the bed across the room, it was something you puzzled over.

You dared to try something the night before the final cut was announced. You couldn't speak, couldn't warn him or explain yourself because the cameras were eating up conversation, conversations that would be used in the show to describe the climate, to show their predictions, wrong or right. There was no way, no matter how veiled, you could tell him, so you sat next to him on the couch, real close, even though there was room.

Jacob and Trevor were squabbling in the kitchen, and Ashley had the volume turned up loud to cover the noise they made. You looked at his eyes, they were focused a little to the left of the TV, like he was meditating or praying or afraid to do even that much. You pulled at his sleeve, and he looked at you, thinking you wanted his attention. You didn't look back, you kept your eyes focused on his hand. You tugged again, and then lay your palm on the thin, thin sliver of couch between your thighs and his, palm up.

Ashley looked around, but the cameras were on Jacob and Trevor, and on Ikaika on the phone with his dad. He slid his hand down, into yours, you laced your fingers tightly together, and pressed your knee to his. Anyone glancing over would think you were watching TV, okay, so maybe a little too close, but that wasn't anything to film, or remark about, was it? You glanced over and saw that he was smiling, no confusion, no awkward shifting, he held onto you as tightly as you held on to him.

You were scared to let it go on too long, you watched TV with him, stroking the soft, soft back of his hand with your thumb until the local news came on, and you went to bed. You closed all the shades, turning the blinds as tightly as you could to prevent the streetlight from shining through, you sat on the end of your bed and waited. It really wasn't too long, not with the shower you took and the preparations you made, before Ashley came in, bright lights of the camera's shining on his face as he said goodnight and shut the door.

You stood up, and went to him before he could fumble for the light switch. You put your arms tight around his waist, and you still couldn't say a word. He was kind of slow to return it, maybe it was surprise, or maybe he had never thought of taking it this far. Eventually, his arms slipped around, and he put his cheek on your shoulder. You held each other the pitch black, swaying a little, breathing tight and nervous.

He lifted his head suddenly and kissed you, like he was trying to rip off a band-aid. The relief once your lips finally met was gorgeous. You stayed up late, kissing in the dark.

You woke the next day, more scared than ever that you would get cut, because that'd be the end of you and Ashley, whatever it was you had together. You smiled at him on your way to the bathroom and he smiled back. You stared at your face in the mirror, and you didn't like what you saw. You wondered who on earth would buy overpriced merchandise with your face on it, but you didn't let it shake you too much. You lied to the cameras about feeling confident and you stayed close to Ashley.

Before you all went in to see Lou, Ashley gave you a hug and told you "I want you to know whatever happens, I love you, bro," right in front of the cameras. It was one of the only times you have ever heard it out loud, and the only reason it was alright was because hey, you might never fucking see each other again, so he had better say it now while "emotions were running high."

You tried to tell him back but it just didn't make sense to say, "I love you, man." You wanted to whisper it, maybe right into his ear and then kiss him, stroke his face. Instead, you slapped his back and said, "Me, too, man."

In the end, you were chosen and so was Ashley and you'd be spending this whole wild ride with him at your side. Or you at his, however it worked out. You cried on each other's shoulders, and tried to keep all the wrong words from spilling out of your mouth as you talked excitedly with everyone. It was hours before you could pull away, before you were even remotely tired enough to go to bed, shutting the blinds again and waiting for Ashley to get off the goddamned phone to his mom.

When he came, you both sat on Ashley's bed in the dark as he held you and ran his hands over your face. You could have whispered something then, right into his ear, no one would have heard, but you didn't. You liked it better this way, he was saying exactly what he wanted, and you were hearing exactly what you wanted to. You fought without words, too, and there was never anything but a cold shoulder to resent. You or he, or sometimes the both of you, always ended up caving in a day, after just one night spent ignoring each other. Eventually, one of you would feel your way to the other's bed so you could kiss him goodnight. You never turned away from it, and neither did he.

The van was the best place to touch, you learned. If you sat next to him in the back you could run your hand over his thigh while the camera was getting "mood shots" of the other guys. Ashley liked to slip his hand up the back of your shirt, dragging his fingertips down your spine, it made you squirm and giggle and gasp but you got good at hiding it. It got to be that you knew when the camera was going to pan towards you, you don't think you ever really got caught doing something you didn't want the cameras to see.

Really, you could get away with a lot, if you just didn't say anything to each other. The crew tended to leave you alone, or get lazy and inattentive if you weren't discussing what was going on with the band, or the increasingly trite dramas in your life. If you just sat down to watch TV, and never opened your mouth you could put your feet in Ashley's lap, and maybe he could start to rub them, thumb smoothing over your arches until you got so aroused you had to make him stop.

In the midst of all this silence you told him everything, everything about yourself even the shit that went down with your "real" dad, and even though Ashley himself trusted people so easily, he seemed to think it was really something that you had no secrets from him. It bothered you when he talked about Shelli, but you really did trust him, somehow you couldn't believe that he would ever just be jerking you around, that he would drop you the second he didn't need someone to kiss and go down on him at night.

The cameras worked in your favor sometimes, because even though the other guys thought they knew, they could never really confront you or Ashley about it. And PR did notice eventually, but they could make you stop because then they'd have to bring you in for a meeting and it would be suspicious if cameras didn't go, too. They arranged for you to stay in separate apartments, but you didn't care because there were hotel rooms, and dressing rooms, and the van, and- once in increasingly long whiles -movie theatres.

The only thing you regretted was that you couldn't sleep with him in your bed, everything had to be in order should the cameras, or Jacob, or Trevor, or Dan burst in one morning. And it was a small regret, because you still had your kisses in the dark.

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