Scrutiny: 2

by Miss Kitty E

Our last concert of the tour was tonight, now all that's left is a TV appearance and then we're set loose on a six month break. I'm excited about it, I mean just think, six months of not having to be anywhere I don't want to be, of saying, doing, wearing anything I want to. Six months without the constant "Joey Threat" over my head, no more worries about doing or saying the wrong thing, about making him think I'm interested, or making him think I'm not. I'll be free of having the bait dangling in front of me twenty-four hours a day, only the knowledge that I'd be gutted soon after keeping me from biting.

I admit though, I'm scared to leave this all behind, scared that this is the last time we'll ever be so popular, and scared to move on the way six months without Joey there will force me to. I'm not the only one a little frightened of what's ahead, thank God, and we all- and I use the term loosely because though I know I drank, I couldn't tell you from memory whether the other guys were fully clothed or buck naked -hit a club and drink to forget, to become easily distracted. Instead, I find myself mired in the doubt and apprehension, by the time I become aware that Joey's leading me down a hotel hallway, I've struck full on paranoia.

What if, just what if, we go home, and the fans and media prove as fickle as any jaded celebrity swears they are? What if my friends all barely know me, and my family is aloof, and suddenly I'm alone. I don't like these thoughts, but they're too frightening to put away. I'm not so sure I'll exist without every person I meet telling me I do. "Oh my god, you're Lance Bass." Hear something enough times and you believe it, even if it's not true. Maybe I am Lance Bass, but maybe I'm some poor sucker who doesn't realize he's a fucking fake. Oh shit, I'm fucked up, but Joey's here, and I can finally lean against him and see if he can handle the weight of the two of us.

He stands relatively steady, pausing to take out a hotel key card, then to push open the door. "You passing out on me, Lance?"

I don't say anything, just stand there as the door closes, trying to remember whose room this is and what I said before we got here. Still, before he or I leave, before we fuck on hotel sheets or crack open the mini-bar, there's something I have to know. "Joe," he looks back at me, quiet but already tensing for the question. I reel a little, and put both hands on his shoulders, leaning on him again. "I'm real right? I mean... I mean..." Words are so far beyond me at this point that it takes a small eternity to pick out the words I need from the air and continue. "This..." I gesture with one hand to the hotel, the most readily available metaphor I can think of that shows just how impersonal our lives have become. He nods his understanding, and I skip any further explanation. "It's not really what I am, right? Just playing the part. Right?" As I speak, I lean farther into him, indulging myself a little.

What do you know? We fit, perfectly matched in this close embrace. He puts one hand on the small of my back, and when he sighs I feel his lips touching my hair. "Don't do this, man. You don't have to do this. You're so much more than this, Lance, okay? You're very real," he shifts me away a little, but just to look me in the eye again. His face is so serious, so incongruous to how I usually see him that it's almost disturbing. "You got me?"

Yeah, I got him. I got two hands on his shoulders right now and all it takes is a little tequila-fueled courage to slip them around his neck and pull him close. I take a moment to straighten my vision and get one last good look at him before I move in, slow, for a kiss. Nothing ever seemed so natural to me, to shift my weight to my toes, to incline my head up a little and to the side, then just close the gap between us. He doesn't meet me, but he didn't pull away, didn't move when he knew what was coming. There's no fear, no hesitation, and there it is, a sloppy, drunken, perfect first kiss. I hold him tightly to me, though he isn't trying to break away, then let go to breathe. It's all I can do, breathe, but then I find myself waiting. Why isn't he saying anything? I mean, I just fucking kissed him, surely that would- oh fuck. Oh fuck, Lance, what have you done? I go a little limp, but don't move or say anything, I won't say a word of encouragement or apology until he gives me a reaction to go on.

He laughs, he laughs, "Oh man, you are fucked up, Lance." He pushes me away playfully, "Dude, go to bed before we find you naked in the hotel pool."

Oh. Well, what the hell do I do with that? It's the easiest way out, playing it down, but couldn't he tell I put my heart, and soul, and tongue into that kiss? Is it that easy to disregard? I curse, maybe a little too loud, as I curl up on the bed, fully clothed and with eyes shut tightly against the light I don't have the energy to reach up turn off. My mind would go on analyzing, berating, hoping, but for once my body's taking the hint and shutting down. He tugs the wastebasket close to the bed, and pats my shoulder in a sympathetic gesture, "You won't even remember this, I bet."

The rustle of his clothes, the smell of his skin, the sound of his breathing move away from me, the light snaps off and the door opens. I'm not sure, I couldn't bear to open my eyes to see, but there was a pause, a hesitation to leave. Right, Joey, I hope to fucking God I don't remember this.


A substantial part of Saturday morning is spent fighting consciousness, and the next part, getting up. I shower in as much I manage to stand under the artificial rain and get out when I feel sufficiently clean. I pop three or four aspirin, rinse out my mouth, and consider it a small victory that my favorite shirt- a simple, near threadbare t-shirt, fashion is never as fun as it looks -is clean and the weather is right for it. Pulling it on, I feel a little better, enough like myself to function. The last thing I do before I leave is fish out a pair of black sunglasses from my carry-on bag, it's cliché but it may well be the only way I can face what's outside.

In the hotel restaurant, they're easy to find, four guys loud and laughing along the back wall. As I sit down I get the usual good-natured hassle, "Ah-ha! There he is. Any longer and I think we would have to carry you onto the plane."

"Damn, man, how is it you got the innocent label again?"

"Dude, you don't know the half of it, let me tell you what this mofo did..."

The hangover isn't so bad I can't smile somewhat in return, but it is bad enough to make the lukewarm eggs and toast they ordered for me completely unappetizing. I push them away, and fight the nausea, trying to downplay everything as they blew it out of proportion. For a second their individual voices fade into a thrum, but somebody slaps me on the back, laughing, so I try to pay attention again.

"...So we get into the hotel lobby and he gives me this lost little look, and says, 'I don't remember my room number.' But it's all good cause we're all in the same hall, you know? I get him up to his room finally, and he's kinda swaying side to side and I just know I gotta get this fool in bed before he passes out in the hall, but when I get him inside this drunk bastard tries to kiss me." He laughs as the other guys hoot and holler their astonishment. "He thought I was some groupie he'd brought back here and tried to kiss me," with that he himself dissolves into helpless laughter.

"What!" Chris shouts, way too loud, attracting attention. Quieter, but no less emphatically, he demands again, "What?"

"Oh my god," Justin is beside himself, giggling. "You're fucking kidding me."

I hadn't had a chance to think about what happened last night yet, I hadn't had any real thoughts about anything other than coordinated movement and how much even my teeth hurt since I got up this morning. If I had any color left after inspecting those eggs, I'm sure it drained out then. I don't try to deny it, the memory is too vivid to doubt, and it's much too painful to joke about. I lay my head down in defeat and listen apprehensively to what they say.

"I don't know, this little bit of information could pretty useful in attracting a male audience."

Justin joins Chris with mock seriousness, "True, man, but think of all the suicide threats. Not cool."

"Aw, be nice to poor Scoop," Joey admonishes. "Afterall, he's never gonna be able to truthfully answer 'no' to the question 'have you ever kissed a guy' again."

I hear a high-five and get angry, who the fuck do they think they are? This is not funny, I've got to fucking recover from this somehow and they go and say that shit? I don't know why I'm getting mad at something I expect them to do, maybe I'm just so mad at myself it spills over. At any rate, I fumble on how to defend myself and come up with, "Whatever, he's so not the first."

Did I ever mention how stupid I get during and after I drink?

This news strikes them a little harder, "Man," Justin says in surprise. "You trying to tell us you're, like, gay?"

I snap my head up and regret it quickly, it feels like my skull is about to implode. "No," I insist as I rub my temples. When the pain is back on 'dull ache' I continue, "Not gay, just..."

"You're bi, then?" JC asks, speaking for the first time since I got here, I think.

I have trouble looking him in the eye, "Something like that, yeah. It's not a big deal."

Chris seems to disagree, but not harshly, "I don't know, you gotta be real careful with this kind of shit."

"I am careful," I snap back. "I didn't mean to kiss Joey, just got too damn drunk is all." I take a deep breath and look from Chris to Joey now. He's not smiling, not even a little, in fact he looked pissed, deep in thought. Great, I can't win, can I? Either he brushes it off, disregards it, or he makes into some big, ugly deal. Fuck this.

I might have said that aloud as I got up, because Justin calls after me, "Yo, dude, don't be like that."

Wish I could JuJu, I wish I didn't have to be me all the time.

It's clear that I was followed when, only a minute or so after I close the door to my room, there's a knock on it. I don't know what I expected to see standing out there in the hall- maybe the SNL Land Shark -but for some reason it wasn't Joey. He doesn't say a word in greeting, and I return his silence but step aside to let him in. After a long couple of moments, and a few false starts, he finally says, "So you're bi."

I shrug and nod, "Yeah."

He looks at me doubtfully, "It's not just some crap about 'oh I'm open minded, I think I would if the opportunity arrived.' You've really, like, fooled around with other guys."

Why does he have to make this so hard? It's a soul-bearing question and he's asking it in anger, forcing me to respond in kind. "No. You wanna hear me say it? Okay, I fucked a guy and loved it."

"Fuck." Men don't speak in words, they speak in tones. That wasn't a "fuck, I was really caught off guard by this news and wish you had told me of this earlier," this was "fuck, you really screwed up."

I always knew this would happen, if I came out and said it, one of them would freak, I just was hoping it wouldn't be Joey. "I can't believe this, Joey, I can't believe you're gonna give me a hard time about this. My new nickname gonna be Faggot or Queer?"

He flashes me one dirty look, and shakes his head, "Jesus, shut up, Lance. That's not it. I don't care if you mistook me for a girl or a boy, what matters is whether or not you mistook me. Did you know who you were kissing?"

I open my mouth, but stop myself from saying anything too quick. "I was drunk," I say quietly. I'd misjudged him and hate myself for it, now I can't regroup my thoughts. I want him to know, about everything, how much I care for him, that I never meant to let him know like this, that I know I fucked up and can't figure out why I'm lashing out at everyone else, but I can't say a word for fear it'll make things worse.

"That's not an answer," he snaps. He takes a step forward, "Did you know it was me you were kissing?"

He'd obviously still be mad if I said yes, but I can't say no. Even if he hates me for it, leaves the band, kicks me out, shaves his head and shoots me in Time Square, I want him to know. I'm so selfish. "I knew it was you... but I never meant to tell you."

He lets out a controlled breath and takes two steps away. He looks to floor and then at me, and goes to grab the door handle. He's not getting off that easy, "Joe. Give me a hint. What happens now?"

He pauses, I watch him take a few deep breaths, and then reply, "Let's just say it's a good thing I don't have to see you for six months." The only thing I'm aware of after that is the door slamming, telling me not follow.

And I don't. I sit on the floor in front of the hotel bed and cry for the first time in two years.

Part Three - Fic Index - Main