Scrutiny: 3

by Miss Kitty E

Let me tell you a story about a Mississippi boy named Lance. Actually, he was born James Lance, but it was as Lance he became a prince, and it is only as Lance that anybody bothered to take notice of him. Lance went from commoner to pop royalty, in Europe first- all the best fairy tales start in the old country, of course -and eventually in America. He set about on the usual hero-quest, fighting an evil (a greedy fairy in his case) while searching for a princess to complete the story. Prince Lance did find a princess but before he could take her home to the castle, she dumped him. She'd be heartbroken to find out how quickly he recovered with the help of another prince, and pleased to find out how devastated he was by the piece of ass his beau apparently kept on the side. The prince tried one more time, one more princess, and got dumped again. Well, in reality she said that it had nothing to do with him, just the situation they were in. Either way, the castle remained empty except for the prince who had conquered Europe and America, and was now only jaded and paranoid of losing what he had.

Fame doesn't love you. Money doesn't love you. They go away, they slip through your fingers, get spent, and spent out. Talent doesn't love you, music doesn't love you, business, and contracts, and merchandise don't love you. In fact they have as much potential to screw you over as help you out. And I know this, I've never told myself any different. Instead, I searched, waited, damn near held interviews for the one person who would love my flaws as much as my perfections, who would hate my jokes but love that I told them, a person who loved me so much I could finally put my trust in that and really return the feeling. It turns out this method was a large part of the reason I was alone, I should have been looking for the person I could love so much it hurt. But I've realized this too late. Deep down inside, I had assumed that there was some jewel of perfect love within Joey that was meant for me and only me. I didn't ever bother to let him see if there was one for him within me. I'm content not to know though, it would hurt too much to discover I... never mind, what matters now is that once again the Mississippi Prince will soon return to his castle empty handed, empty hearted.

Don't worry about me, though, there's some solace in familiarity, and if the guys have anything to say about it, nothing has changed at all. The rehearsal for the awards show goes smoothly, Joey keeps things nice and civil by refusing to admit I exist. He does what the choreographer tells him to, goes along with the script, but to him I may as well just be a piece of the stage, a cardboard cutout. Okay, Joey, if that's what you want, I'll be dead for you. Regret, sorrow, anxiety, frustration, anger, I don't feel them, the dancer flirting with me, I don't see her, whenever I move, whenever I speak, it's as if it were merely programmed. It gets me through the show, but things fall apart at the after-party. Some feelings you just can't hide from.

Truthfully, the party is almost ho-hum, decadence is almost run of the mill to us at this point. Drinks and girls run hot and cold, of course, but it holds no fascination for me. Still, I wouldn't want people (I don't even try to justify why I should care about what they think) to accuse me of being arrogant, standoffish, or, worse yet, boring. I don't drink much, just enough to make standing here in a sea of people I don't know or care about bearable. Occasionally, one of the guys will make a perfunctory attempt to cheer me up, or give me some company but they always end up drifting away, distracted by the colored lights and glittering people. Well, all of them except Joey, he's spent the entire night almost oblivious of me. I've watched him dance, talk, drink, pour all his energy into this sham, he never falters, never looks for me.

I don't know why that seems so wrong, maybe it's because I can't think of anything but him now. Him, and what I've lost. Joey's been dancing with this girl for quite some time now, and close and dirty. I think she's been singled out, and when he pulls her to a booth I know she's the one he takes home tonight. Fuck, look at them, maybe he won't even bother to take her to the hotel and just get a blowjob in the shadows. There's a tingling in my sinuses, shit, I'm gonna cry again. I'm not gonna cry in public, I'm not gonna cry period. I pay my tab and start to head out, then remember we only came in one limo... I'll hail a cab, but first I gotta tell someone I'm going. Like they'd care.

JC is the first familiar face I spot, dancing in a crowd, but acting as if he were by himself. I love the way that guy loses himself in music. Me, I'm always distracted by the crowd, by how less impressive things look from the stage, my dance moves suffer for it, but I've learned to sing with my mind elsewhere. JC on the other hand, you'd think that every element of the music depended on his complete and utter concentration. I move to touch his shoulder and get jabbed by an elbow, he turns around quickly, apologizing.

"Sorry, man." He takes a second look at me, my eyes must be shining or something, because his concern is instant and overbearing. "You alright?"

I shake my head, "I've gotta go. Taking a cab back to the hotel, I'll see you guys back there."

JC looks at the crowd, one of the women who had been dancing "with" him threatens a good pout if he goes, but JC barely gives her a wave good-bye. "Here, I'll go with you. Not like I've never been to a party before, you know?"

"You don't have to," I insist. I don't have to rain everybody's parade, just mine.

He shakes his head and takes my wrist, "Don't worry about it. Didn't see anything I liked anyway."

I smile weakly, and allow myself to be led to the back exit. The bouncer gives us a bit of a hard time about "policy," but eventually lets us out. We walk a little ways down the alleyway, emerging on the other side of the street from the club, no fans, no cameras. A few tries and we get a cab, and I settle in back. To preempt any chance of conversation, I lean my head against the window and close my eyes. I feel JC watching me, but I'm not bothered, I feel protected.

At the hotel he doesn't let me go just yet, he pulls me into his room and sits me on the couch. "Tell me what's wrong, man."

I relax into the couch, sinking down to lay my head back, legs spread eagle. I put my hand over my eyes to block out the spotlights above me. "I saw Joey with some girl. Going at it... and he's mad at me, and I don't know how to apologize, and I'm just scared. Scared of leaving this behind, scared of not being able to break free from it." I stop myself, but there wasn't much left to say after that.

I feel JC standing over me, and he tugs my hand away, looking at, looking into, my eyes. They're dry. He squeezes my hand softly, and then releases it, "Just making sure."

I wave dismissively, as though crying were something I'd never done. He hands me a beer, "Gotta have the proper accessories for a broken heart."

I take the bottle, but don't open it, rubbing over the label with my thumbs. "I should save it for when I can afford to be stupid," I lean back against the couch again. "It's all just fucked," I sigh. "And it's my fault."

"Stop it," he sits beside me, and pops open his own brew. "You're being too fucking hard on yourself, and so is Joey. So you had a crush, and so he got kissed, I'm not gonna let you two fuck over the band for this."

"I wouldn't," I say, feeling guilty. I look up at him, and realize he's not angry. "I'm sorry about this," I say anyway. "The break will do us good, I'm sure."

He nods, "Yeah." He looks away, out a window that gives us a stunning view of the high-rise building next door. "Sucks to be in love with a straight boy, huh?"

Got that right, but... it sounds like he knows. JC is incredibly ambiguous, even knowing what to look for I couldn't say if he ever played for both teams. "Yeah... but I'm not... in love with him or anything. Just attracted."


I shrug a little, I really don't know, like I said, I don't care to find out. Love is a big word for me, I'd never consider saying it to someone who would only resent me for it.

"Only love can break a heart," he croons softly.

"And only love can put it back together," I sing back.

He smiles, "Plenty of people would love to love you," he says, solemn and serious. There was something in his eyes as he said that that makes me shift away just a little.

"I know," I reply, I don't even try to play that card anymore. "Just gotta get over it not being the one I want." I sit up again, "Listen, man, I'll be alright. I just need- me and Joey both need -a little time to put this behind us is all."

He nods and stands, ready to see me off, "Okay, but look me up if you need to talk. Don't think that because we're off tour I can't be found when you need me."

I nod and stand too, but suddenly the goodbye becomes awkward. I don't know why, we've said plenty of them but suddenly it's different. Knowing this, feeling the same things, he pulls me into a hug that says all we need to. 'Thank you,' 'you only had to ask,' 'I'll miss you.' And yet, something remains unsaid, just underneath the surface there's an... intent I know too well. He wants to kiss me. Pressing my forehead to his shoulder, I keep my head down until the moment passes. Sorry, Josh, but I can't let what happened to Joey and me happen to us. He slaps me once on the back and lets me go.

"Keep this up and it's gonna be your turn to be the sensitive one," he tells me.

"I can do it all, I guess," I step towards the door. "'Night... and thanks." Thank you for being here, for not pressing.

"No problem. Take care of yourself." He watches me leave and the last thing I see before the door closes is JC reaching for my unopened beer. If I felt bad before, now I feel fucking awful. What next? Do I piss off Justin, or hurt Chris first? Damn, it's like I want to be alienated. Then and there I resolve to get over myself and stop fucking with people's feelings, least of all my own. The last night away from home is always strangely like the first, feeling so out of place, can't stop thinking of what's to come. It takes forever to fall asleep, and even when I do there's no comfort to be found, I know that it will end too soon.


Justin knocks on my door early that morning, he and JC have early flights and are sharing a limo to the airport. I'm still toe sleepy to be much of a host, and end up crawling back under the covers after letting him in. He doesn't seem to mind, sitting at the foot of bed, talking. I nod and grunt affirmatively as he tells me to watch out for myself, promises to call, demands that we really do keep in touch this time and that we do something together during the holidays. I'm grateful for the casual concern, the reaffirmed validity of our friendship, though there are days when I hate him for making fame seem so effortless. It's not that he doesn't work hard, or doesn't deserve it, it's just that sometimes I wish he had to suffer just a little bit for each spell of happiness, just like me. They pass quickly, Justin is too oblivious of it to lord his ability to adapt in the spotlight to lord it over anyone.

I get up once more to say a proper goodbye and watch him go, JC waves from the end of the hall near the elevator. I raise my hand and nod, he's said all that can at this point. I linger just a bit after the gold doors close on their smiling faces and tired, tired eyes. Two down... two still to go. I go back to bed.

A little more than an hour or so later, the time alone is enough motivation to get me up. There are things to be done, after all. I shower, dress, and make a few phone calls, telling my family that I'm coming home today (they already knew) and getting a limo to swing by after ten (thought I could have taken a cab). I contemplate taking breakfast in my room, but the murmur of strangers outside in the hall, the low hum of the air-conditioning, and the white noise of the TV make it seem too lonely to bear. The hotel restaurant is a little more crowded than I would have liked, but the curious glances help to remind me that I'm very much here.

I find Chris there, finishing his coffee, and he rolls his eyes when I ask to sit with him. "Yes!" he replies, as if politeness and hesitation were his too biggest pet peeves. I plop down and flag down a waitress, on impulse, maybe because my thoughts have turned homeward, maybe because I needed some cheering up, I order French toast.

We sit for a moment in silence, not even looking at each other, him staring at the coffee before him, me at cheap painting on the wall. I always feel a bit awkward around Chris, especially when we were rooming. You forget about his age until suddenly he gives you a look that reminds you he has nearly ten years of existance on you, and with Chris, this becomes a disadvantage. "You heading out soon?" I ask.

He nods, "Soon as Dani gets back from the drugstore, yeah."

"Excited about the time off?"

He tries giving an ambivalent shrug, and then smiles sheepishly. "I'll admit it's easier to get excited about sleep now, yeah."

"Gets to the point where ten hours of uninterrupted sleep is worth all the money you lose that day, huh?"

"I hear you."

I wonder if he really does. Chris has acted differently ever since he found out about my bisexuality. It's nothing I could- or would even want to -call him on, but it isn't helping my mood at all. "Seen Joey around?" I don't even try to seem casual about it, at least, since they all know, I don't have to lie.

He looks at me pointedly, and suddenly I really wish he'd just make some joke. "Yeah," he tells me. "Checked in with him before I came down here."

I want to ask if the bimbo from last night was still there, if he seemed happy or distraught, if he said even a word about me. "Oh yeah?" I fumble for the right words, "Did he have much to say?" True, it wasn't elegant, but it spoke enough on how long it had been since I'd felt the full attention of Joey's voice.

"Nothing he couldn't say to your face, no." I think I winced, but he missed it as he looked up at the entrance. "Gotta go, man, the ball and chain has no patience when she's sick... take care of yourself."

"You, too," I reply, it's a knee-jerk response, but still heartfelt. When he leaves I have to wonder why they keep saying that, 'take care of yourself.' Am I so close to self-destruction? I thought this was just a funk. Maybe, or maybe they just don't know what else to say. My comfort food isn't so comforting now, but I eat it all, stalling for time. One more to go, and I find him as I leave.

Joey doesn't look so good, beard all scraggly, hair- probably unwashed -hidden under a baseball cap, eyes- probably red -concealed by a pair of purple-tinged sunglasses. Still, I can't say that any of us ever looked any better after a long night of being a bona fide pop star. He's staring at his luggage, waiting for a bellboy. When his eyes sweep over the lobby hopefully, he sees me watching him and quickly drops his gaze.

We all said our official "see you soon"s a week ago at the wrap party for the tour, incidentally the night I kissed him. All of the well wishes, plans, updated numbers, and promises were exchanged then, the only thing left to say now is the "final" word.

Would he even reply? Would it make me or him feel any better at all? Is he waiting for it? Does it even matter if I manage to say it? I'm inclined to answer no to all of the above, so I begin walking towards the elevator. I'll just go back to my room and pack up. I'll show that bastard, it was just a momentary attraction, a forbidden fruit mixed with bad booze. Who needs him? Who needs his forgiveness, his apology? I do. Too afraid to get it, too afraid to go without it.

"Hey Joe?" I'm five feet away from him but I can't get myself any closer.

He looks up at me, as if equally cautious, "Yeah?"

Oh shit, what do I say now? How about the obvious, stupid? "Good-bye."

He seems a little surprised at first, as if it were the last thing he were expecting me to say, and maybe it was. A smile, small and lukewarm as it is, it's still the first smile that has been meant for me in a small eternity, cracks his chapped lips, "Good-bye."

Part Four - Fic Index - Main