Scrutiny: 1

by Miss Kitty E

Clever, oh she's so very clever. You can always tell when a photographer likes you or not. Likes you, "let's do something that captures your individual personalities, huh?" Doesn't like you, "we're gonna hang you upside down with duct tape. Hope you had a light lunch." This photographer's clever though, making fun of us not by making us caricatures, but by showing us as what we really are. She's determined- why, I don't know -to let everyone know that we're just the New Kids on the Block reincarnated. Thing is, she's doing it so well I'm starting to believe her, right here before me is the proof, the same thing that led to the downfall of that pop group is gonna be this pop group's downfall. Over saturation of the market place, I mean, come on, pillowcases?

She wants to see if we can do something "crazy and fun" with these cheesy 'official' pillowcases that have our faces stuck on them (fourteen ninety-five, girls). Riiight. All I can do is stare at it. It's easy when you think you're just saying yes to the money. "Toothbrushes?" Well, we'll be making how much per item... okay then. "Watches?" Why not? "Pillowcases and bedding?" Whatever. Thing is, they never told us we weren't just selling products, we were fucking selling ourselves. Never saw this coming, this doubt as to who really owns me. I should be laughing, laughing all the way to the bank. Cha-ching! I've made so much money I can buy integrity.

And that destructive, little 'keeping it real' voice says that it doesn't make it better, that all of this doesn't make me happy. But I've had this discussion with myself before, all my bases are covered if the next album tanks. I rationalized all this out way back with the toothbrushes, and I think what's really pissing me off is that I look so damn goofy in the decal. I'm looking at the pillow, at myself, and so it must be like looking in the mirror, and excuse me, since when did I look like a k.d. lang wanna-be in pink lipstick? It's depressing, this ugly-ass, iron-on picture of me is how I'm gonna be remembered? (Old pop stars don't die, they just fade away and leave their crappy merchandise as a big "I really was here" sign.) Damn.

Then the good, little voice, the one that gets to say something incredibly cliché in the interviews, tells me there are worse things than this. Hundreds of things are a hundred times worse than marketing a bad picture of yourself to girls who want it, in fact. But that doesn't mean I can't indulge in a little self-pity. Doesn't it? I'm not so sure anymore, my perspective is all skewed. What's a real problem, and what's just imagined? Strip it all down, all the pretension, and I'm just pissed off that a bunch of preteen girls are gonna wake up one day, look into this piece of bad merchandise and go, "Ew." After all, what happens to us then?

When I look up, look away, the rest of the guys don't seem to care. Justin and JC are just beating the shit out of each other with each other. Each blow from their plush faces punctuated with a curse, laugh, or 'diss.' That will definitely be incorporated into the photo-shoot 'cause even I gotta admit that's just cute. Three seconds is all it takes for Chris to come running in with both his and Joey's pillows and start going medieval. Looks like fun, getting all the nervous energy out, ruining their make-up jobs, and leaving all the uneasy comparisons behind in a trail of laughter and male bonding. I should join in, but I won't. I'm gonna sit here and wait for my turn to stand in front of that bitch with the portrait lens and act like there's nothing in the world I want to do more than make love to the camera. I'm going to have a good brood dammit, after all I'm the serious one. Wait... no I'm not. I'm the shy one... aren't I? I guess they run together...

I look up again when there's a "mighty" roar, and watch as a mediocre picture of Joey's rather large head nearly sends JC into the ground. Where is Joey? Look around and see he's looking at me, then remember I'm here pouting. Shit. Don't get me wrong, Joe's a nice guy, but sometimes his method of cheering up is more painful than the depression.

Before I can properly reassure him I'm alright with a "see-I'm-only-tired-yawn," he's sitting in front of me. "What's up, Scoop?"

Never helps to lie, he'll just poke and prod until you run out of things to say. I just shrug, "Not excited about the shoot."

He smirks, "What's a matter, don't want to mug with your pretty self?" He takes my pillow and uses it as a mirror, just as I had, but instead of seeing things clearly for the first time, he's trying to straighten his hair, pretending to look at his teeth for any traces of food.

It is funny, so I afford him a small smile. The meaner side of me fights back with a, "Not that pretty."

"Well, that's bullshit," he says, dismissively.

Nothing pisses me off more than to be told I don't mean what I say. I don't look bad, but I'm not that good looking. It's uncomfortable for people to tell me I am, because it proves they're not really looking at me. "It's all just make-up and good camera angles, nothing real."

He rolls his eyes, then slumps as if it's exhausting keeping up with my neuroses. "Newsflash, that's how everybody who 'looks good' looks good. Look too hard at anything and you'll see a flaw."

"Right, everyone is flawed, but we're the only idiots putting that on as many things as possible." There. That's all the justification I need for this little emotional funk.

"Don't pull that shit with me. I dunno, maybe Justin can help you," he says, suddenly he seems angry. Okay, so now it's a battle.

"Don't pull that shit with me. You know I don't need to be the fucking cute one or anything." I match his anger word for word. I am not a princess, I am not mad just because I don't look good. Right. Right?

He puts up his hands defensively, to shut me up. "I didn't mean it like that. I meant Justin's got a critical eye, he might find it possible to see whatever you're talking about. Me, I just see the whole thing." He laughs a little, and shakes his head, in a sing-song voice he wonders, "How do I love thee, Lance? Let me count the ways." With his finger he draws a circle in the air, big enough to encompass all of me, everything about me, "One."

Well, damn. That's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me. I flash the smile, the coy one that says I play both sides of hide and seek, the seeker and the sought. I catch myself too late, and an understanding has passed between us. He knew what that smile meant, I knew that I was giving it. I drop my eyes to admonish myself. Bad Lance, so bad. Don't flirt within the group. Maybe it's vanity, maybe it's hope that makes me look up to see how it was received.

There's an earnest look of confusion on his face, but it's broken by a smile. "You're feeling better?"

"Yeah," I say, smiling again, this time it's harmless.

"Good, 'cause I gotta go whoop some ass." With that, he grabs my pillow and all but crashes into Chris. What do you know, I'm all jealous now.

It was a different Chris, one I met in Mississippi, that taught me how to reconcile a strong Christian faith with my bisexuality. To look at him, the red-dyed, flawless hair, the fucking make-up and DK clothes, you knew he was queer. Then you saw him in his honest-to-God altar boy outfit, bitching about giving up his Virginia Slims for Lent and took a double take. He was a few years older than me, and but when you're so young, two or three years meant the difference between middle school and high school, he was my idol. Chris believed in God, Jesus, and His Mother Mary, prayed, confessed, had a rosary, and never fooled around with his boyfriends until they gave him a ring- Chris' version of no premarital sex. If anybody had told him to "pray out the gay" by finding God, he would have laughed out loud. Chris had never lost God, he held right on to him while being gay and loving it.

It was through his influence that I gave up my last excuse to pretend I was the straightest of the straight, never veering, never wanting to. I still stick to girls most of the time though, it's safer for the career and generally easier to deal with. I date them, try to flirt with them, sing to just one of them in the crowd, but what can I do if sometimes my eyes end up on the embarrassed boyfriend beside her. Don't get me wrong, I like girls... just like boys too. And now I like Joey, and that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, 'cause he's gotta be heterosexual, and he's member of the goddamned band, and just think how much fun it'll be touring together when it doesn't work out. And I know it'll never work out.

I watch Joey settle down to laugh and make jokes about Justin's feeble attempts to look cool while "reacting" to his own face on pillowcase. Then look away, just cause he said one nice thing to me, one nice thing when I needed it doesn't mean I'm gonna sit here and swoon about his smile. It stops here. Tonight I go to a club, and drink until I kill the short term memory cell with "how do I love thee, Lance?" burned into it and replace it with "Hi, my name's Kristina."


Turns out Kristina was a no-show, Zack though, he was there. A fast-talking, bleached blonde raver-kid with spiked hair like mine who nearly wet himself when he realized who was talking to him. Nothing but understanding when I said I couldn't take him back to the hotel on account of the guys, even promised to keep quiet about it. Didn't do much to write home about anyway, wasn't prepared for it, just some drunken groping and heavy breathing in the car before I took him home. Made his day and ruined mine. I got the frustration out, but I still felt awful. I always thought the groupies were the whores, but I was the one who felt like I should have charged for it. Wrote him an email a week after, addressing him as if I barely remembered him, making him feel special and dismissed at once. Must of worked, because he never wrote back. Yay me. I've almost joined the ranks of spoiled pop stars. All that's left is to do some hard drugs and get caught.

I would never though. That would hurt the others, and I won't be the one to ruin the illusion. Hell, I'm one of the best at keeping it up. We did an outside concert tonight, and it went pretty well for me. Only messed up twice, and no one noticed, voice was good, charisma was set on "10." It's over now, and everything is getting packed up, Joey's missing though. Since I'm not doing anything or anybody I'm sent after him. Fine. Doesn't bother me a bit, because though I may be attracted to him, it doesn't mean anything. It's not like I pre-order a white picket fence every time somebody catches my eye. We'd be awful together. I'm sure of it.

I find him at the top of a hill the stage stands before- I did say the venue was in an old fucking cow pasture, right? I love the south... -on his back, looking up at the stars as they come out. "Deep moment?" I ask, not too loud, not too soft.

"Nope," he says with tight, almost nervous laughter. "Just trying to get the stars to come down and say hello to me."

I smile, "Dude, what are you on?"

He looks at me, takes his index finger and touches the tip of his tongue. Takes me a while to stop feeling weak in the knees and remember that just means he's done some acid tonight. So I lie down next to, but not close to, him. I'm on my stomach so we can keep talking face to face. "What do you see?" I ask. Maybe that's not cool, but so what?

"Nothing," he sighs, "It's not good stuff." He smiles, laughing again- At nothing? At me? -"I kinda like it though. Like my mind is just open wide. I know I'm not gonna forget anything tonight, it's gonna be burned in my mind." He's still looking at me. "Stand up again, Scoop."

I do, it's an odd request but it's better to follow it than argue. He doesn't like arguments when he's high. Then it fucking hits me, he's burning me into that wide open mind of his. Shit.

"Do something," he commands, he's laughing again, laughing like he's tired but can't stop. "Dance."

Too much, that's way too much to process. What the hell does this mean? Is he babbling, is that a joke he'd say when he was sober, is it one of those "truth finally revealed" things? "No," I say, as if I've caught on to his joke.

He's disappointed, but so what? I'm trying to save my fucking sanity here. "I think I'm gonna throw up," he groans. It passes. "We leaving soon?"

"Yeah," I start walking down the hill, motioning him to follow. "Come on." He heaves himself up and puts his arm around my shoulder, in a best buds kind of way.

"You're not mad at me are you?" the tone was accusatory, like I'd have no right to if I was. To soften the blow, he adds, "I mean, you straight-edge or something?"

I shake my head and the hairs on the back of my neck rub against the crook of his elbow. "No, just tired is all."

"Of me?"

I smile and when I raise my hand to take his arm off- we're too close to the "backstage" area to let it stay -I kinda pat it before I shrug it off. "Why are you so sure I hate you all of a sudden?"

I can tell he's not thinking as he opens his mouth, "'Cause you're acting different around me these days."

Shit. "Don't worry about it, man. If something's wrong it's got nothing to do with you." And everything to do with me.

"Good," he says brightly. Thank God that was enough. "Cause I love you, man, you know that right?" Nothing in that 'I'm a sophisticated, contemporary guy who's sure enough in my heterosexuality to say I love my friends' tone of voice made me think there might be anything more to that. Still, I thought it anyway.

"Sure, man, sure. Just don't go spreading that around, okay?" I say it with a laugh and a playful push. 'How do I love thee, Lance? Let me count the ways... one.' Bet it's not the one way I want you to love me, eh? I don't know where we stand, but I'm gonna find out.

Part Two - Fic Index - Main