The dull roar of the crowd grew to a wild frenzy as the lights in the arena faded down. Anticipation was thick in the air and we quickly took our places on stage as the darkness was suddenly broken by a rainbow of flashing lights dancing on the huge curtain that obscured us from the audience. The venue came alive with color as the lights got brighter and broke through the curtain to illuminate the thousands of ecstatic fans on the other side. Impossibly, the screaming got even louder as our shadows appeared on the curtain and the sound of drums began to boom through the loudspeakers. The lights and drums began to build into a crescendo and with a great blast of light and fireworks the curtain came down and Breaktown launched into our opening song.
The sheer joy of being on stage raced through me as my fingers flew over the frets of my guitar. I ran around like a madman, never failing to get caught up in the excitement of the show even after doing it night after night for over a month. I jumped up on Alex’s drum riser and he quickly flashed me a smile as he pounded away. As I leapt back down, Mutt stepped out of the way just in time, narrowly avoiding hitting me in the head with the end of his bass guitar. Across the stage, I saw that Claire’s smile was as genuine as my own, and her rack of keyboards swayed just slightly as she gave all her energy to the song. I hurried back to the front of the stage just in time to join my brother, and Breaktown’s other guitarist, David, in belting out the chorus to our first big hit.
For us, the show seemed to end way to soon; and the crowd seemed to agree, as two hours and an encore later they were still rabid for more. However, we were out of songs to play; so the five of us joined hands at the front of the stage and said goodnight to the fans with a final bow.
I ran off stage still bursting with energy and jumped on Alex’s back.
Alex stumbled as I landed but managed to hold on to me. “Where the fuck do you get your energy Jack?” He didn’t wait for me to answer before dumping me off his back. “Yuck, we were almost stuck together with sweat.”
I laughed and peeled my shirt off, watching as it dripped a trail on the floor beside me. “We’d make a pretty weird looking set of twins.”
“There’s a shower room around here somewhere isn’t there?” David asked, looking around. “Where’s Rocky?”
Just seconds later our road manager and long-time friend, Rocky, appeared beside us as we continued the walk to the backstage area.
“Yeah, it’s right over there, the blue door.” He explained. “By the way you guys, we sold out again tonight. It was standing room only in the back.”
We arrived at the locker room door and went inside. Claire continued walking down the hall to her own private dressing room. It’s not as if any of us would have cared if she showered with the rest of the group; after all, 3 of the 4 guys in her band are gay, and the strait one is Alex, her boyfriend. But our management figured that we’d have less to explain if we played it safe and at least pretended that we had some boundaries.
The warm water soothed my aching muscles, and I tried to let the shower spray bore a hole into the top of my head as I relaxed and leaned against the wall. It was best to enjoy this quiet time while it lasted, because afterwards we were expected to speak to the local press and meet with backstage-pass contest winners.
“How sad is it that I can’t even remember what city this is?” David spoke up next to me. “Santa…something right? Santa Cruz?”
Mutt laughed. “Santa Claus?”
“Santa Barbara.” Alex corrected him.
“Right, yeah. Santa Barbara.” David said to himself.
I had to laugh at him. Not for the city mix-up, but for the ridiculous shampoo horns he was making in his hair as he washed it.
“What?” He asked, wiping the soap out of his eyes to look at me.
“Just admiring your horns.”
“He’s a horny little devil.” Mutt chuckled.
I smiled. “And nobody would know that better than you.”
Mutt and David had been together for nearly a year now, and I couldn’t have been happier for them. I think there had always been an attraction there, even when we were kids, but it took the jolt of puberty to snap them to their senses. Mutt had practically lived at our house for most of his life. His parents were extremely wealthy, and seemed to consider their son more of a conversation piece than a responsibility. As a result he found the solace and comfort he needed in my mom, and she was glad to have him as well. Though she always encouraged him to at least try and mend his relationship with his own family, he had nonetheless remained more a part of ours than his own. Mutt was a fixture at our house, and though he was my friend to begin with, he and David became attached to each other over the years, and when they both figured out their sexuality, it didn’t surprise anyone that they ended up together.
Alex and Claire got together in more or less the same way. Ever since we were toddlers the five of us had been a part of each other’s lives. Mutt out of neglect, David and I out of biology, Claire as my first girlfriend, and Alex for his own safety. His mother died when he was very young, and she also happened to be my mom’s best friend. They had promised long ago to look after the other’s children should anything ever happen. When she died, and Alex’s father became abusive and alcoholic, he would often seek refuge at our house, and slowly became my second honorary brother. I was loosely dating Claire at the time, but, not surprisingly, our relationship didn’t last long. Though we became the absolute best of friends through hours and sometimes days of deep conversation, the romantic end never developed, and it was she who helped me finally decipher who I really am. Through spending so much time at my house, she fell for Alex, and he fell right back.
And so I was the one left without a soul mate. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me, but for the most part I’m able to concentrate enough on the music not to dwell on it. There are times though, at night, when I’m in the quiet of my bunk on the tour bus, that I can’t help but shed a few tears wondering when it will happen for me the way it happened for them.
On the other hand, I obviously was not alone. In all the years I can possibly remember there hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t seen at least one of my friends. They are as much my siblings as David is, and they to him as well. We all share something truly special, and it’s the only thing that keeps me sane during the long, lonely days on the road.
David tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, you still with us?”
“Huh? Yeah, I’m here. I think I’m just finally starting to get tired.”
The other guys laughed. “Well it’s about time!” Alex chuckled. “Just try and hold it together for another hour or so till we get back to the bus. Rocky sent somebody out to steal ‘Back To The Future 2′ from Blockbuster.”
I smiled. “And our DVD library slowly grows…I bet the people at Blockbuster are pissed they ever gave Rocky a membership card.”
As if on cue, Rocky stuck his head in the door. “Come on you guys, the press is waiting. I want to get out of here before midnight.”
David spit a stream of water at Rocky, just barely missing him. “Hey, watch it. All I need is a camera right now I can retire from the tabloid money I’d get. I can just see the headline now, ‘Rock Band Enjoys Nude Locker Room Romp.”
“Isn’t that the title of one of the videos you have hidden in your bunk?” Mutt yelled as Rocky went back into the hall.
Rocky had come into our lives just a few years ago when he transferred to our school from his home in New York. His parents had sent him to California on what they called a ‘learning experience.’ Rocky later explained to us that they had actually just wanted to get rid of him for as long as possible so they could travel as they pleased without having to worry about his well-being or bring him along. He loved California right away and was even developing a natural looking tan. He fit in well with all of us right from the start, and that connection was even further strengthened when he eventually revealed that he too, is gay. He had already managed several locally popular bands back in New York and his skills we’re exactly what we needed as our success started to grow. All I had to do was tell him what we wanted, and he always made it happen. Though we eventually had no choice but to get professional management to handle our business, Rocky still took care of the day-to-day operations, and I wasn’t going to have it any other way. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’d ever met, and seemed to have more skills by himself than a group of managers could hope to learn in a lifetime, let alone his eighteen years.
Rocky is also the oldest of us all; Mutt, Alex, Claire and I’s birthdays were all within a few months of each other, so we never really cared who was the oldest seventeen year old and who was the youngest. David was actually the youngest, at sixteen, though we never treated him as anything but an equal.
When we finally got back to the bus, there was a tornado of discarded clothes, pajamas, and blankets as we all collapsed in the front lounge area to watch a movie. It had begun to rain outside, and the soft pounding of the drops on the roof of the bus was quickly relaxing everyone.
Rocky came back from the driver’s area. “We’re going to stop off at the Holiday station before we get back on the highway, so if anybody needs anything, now would be the time.”
“Some doughnuts and hot chocolate would really hit the spot right now.” Claire said through a yawn.
There were soft murmurs of agreement from around the room but no one actually stood up to be the one to go. They all looked over at me, as I was sitting closest to the door, and was the one still at least somewhat dressed.
“All right.” I sighed, grabbing some money out of the cookie jar we kept on the table.
I was about to head out the door when David whispered something into Mutt’s ear, who then shook his head and called out for me to stop. “Hey Jack, would you mind getting some rubbers too?” He asked.
Normally this would have produced a great round of ribbing and laughter, but as tired as everyone was by this point, there wasn’t much of a reaction. I just nodded and headed out the door.
The rain was really coming down now and I pulled my jacket up over my head as I dashed from the bus to the door of the gas station. I shook myself off as I stepped inside and headed over to the bakery rack. There wasn’t a lot left at this time of night, so I just loaded everything they had into a box and then started the long process of filling six cups at the hot chocolate machine. I was just beginning to wonder how I was going to get all of this back to the bus when I remembered Mutt’s request for condoms. They didn’t have any on the shelf so I dug in my pockets for some change and went into the men’s room.
I stopped dead in my tracks. In the corner of the bathroom, there was a guy about my age sitting on the floor with his head resting on his knees. Shaggy brown hair covered his eyes and it took a second before he realized I was there. He looked up when he saw me and I noticed he had a black eye, and a gash across his forehead. He quickly jumped to his feet and tried to push past me.
“I’m sorry.” He mumbled.
Though I’m not usually one to interfere in people’s lives, something made me stop him before he could get past me. He seemed to be in some kind of trouble, and as he got closer to me, I was suddenly mesmerized by the soul that I saw in his deep blue eyes.
“Wait. Are you ok? Can I help?” I asked, stepping in front of him.
He stopped for just a second, but it didn’t last. “No. I’m fine.” He replied softly, stepping around me and out the door.
I can’t quite explain it, but for some reason I was committed not to let him go so easily. There was something about this guy that just compelled me to want to help him and I could tell that he really needed it. If he would have been older, it might not have made such a difference to me. But he was clearly my age, and I saw a sad desperation in his eyes. It broke my heart, and I knew I needed to do something.
I ran outside after him. “Please stop. I really want to help.”
“Just leave me alone. I don’t need any help.” He yelled back, not even turning around.
In just a few seconds I was soaked to the bone, but I hardly noticed. “Look, at least let me give you a ride somewhere. That’s my tour bus right there.”
I knew that would make him stop, and he glanced over at the luxury coach idling in the parking lot. “Bus?” He said, raising an eyebrow.
I smiled. “Yeah, I’m in a band, we’re on tour. Come on, we can at least give you a ride somewhere, and a shirt so you wont catch pneumonia or something.”
There was a long silence as he thought it over. He was standing right in front of me now, water running freely down his face. Large drops of rain collected on his eyelashes and he blinked them away. “Why are you doing this?” he asked softly.
Finally having the chance to see him clearly, I was struck almost speechless. He was possibly the most gorgeous guy I had ever seen. His face was angelic and flawless except for the few injuries. And those eyes. Those eyes so full of passion and life that again I couldn’t help but just stare into them. My heart skipped a beat.
I stammered for a reply. “Uh, I guess I’m just that kind of person. Or maybe I’m trying to improve my karma. It doesn’t really matter though does it? Just come back with me for a while, it’s miserable out here.”
He was about to walk away again, but instead his shoulders dropped and he nodded. “Ok. Why not.” He replied.
I grinned and extended my hand. “Jack Marcus.”
He reached out and gave me a weak handshake. “Lucas Sheridan.”
As we got on the bus, my formally exhausted friends suddenly came back to life. David quickly grabbed some towels from the bathroom and Rocky ran back to the gas station to collect my forgotten doughnuts and hot chocolate.
Lucas and I sat on the floor of the bus, wrapped in towels. Everyone was respectful enough to wait a few minutes until we were settled back in and dry, but when Rocky returned, and passed out the cups of cocoa, the questions began.
“So what’s going on here?” Alex began.
I took a deep breath. “This is Lucas. I saw that he looked like he could use a little help, so I offered to give him a ride home.”
Lucas suddenly spoke up. “I can’t go home,” he said.
I looked over at him. “Why not?”
His gaze fell to the floor and he was slow to answer. “My parents kicked me out.”
“Did they do that to your face too?” David asked.
Lucas nodded, still looking at the floor.
The rest of us exchanged nervous glances as I built up the courage to ask the inevitable question. “How come?”
Again he was slow to answer. “They just aren’t very good people. Things have been bad for a long time now, I finally had to leave.”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, eventually broken by Claire. “So, where do you live then?”
He just shrugged, and I could tell he was fighting off the urge to cry.
Another silence now, they were all waiting for me to say something. Again I felt compelled by something outside of myself, and I just said what I knew was right. “Then you can just come with us. We have room. It’s certainly better than sleeping in a gas station bathroom.”
“Jack…” Rocky began.
“No. It’s fine. We’re not just going to leave somebody alone and soaked with no place to go.” I snapped.
“It’s not that, but there are other issues here…like helping a run-away. We can’t afford any legal trouble.”
Lucas finally spoke. “Look, I appreciate you trying to help. But I’m not really a run away. I turned 18 last week. I’m an adult. I can figure something out. Thanks anyway.”
He got up to leave and I pulled him back down again. “Lucas, listen to me. If you don’t have a job or a place to live, then don’t look at this as charity. We’ll give you a job, hell, anybody can be a roadie; plus, it comes with free room and board. Sure it’s on a bus, but it’s better than what you have right now.”
He was still on the verge of tears. “You don’t even know me.”
“So we’ll get to know you.” I said. “Lucas, this is Mutt, Alex, Claire, David, and Rocky. We’re a band, called Breaktown. We released our first album a few months ago and we’re on tour right now.”
His eyes widened a bit. “Breaktown? Wow. Yeah, I know who you are. I just heard your song a couple hours ago on the radio in there.”
I had to smile. “So there you go. You know we aren’t just a bunch of weirdoes.”
“Well…” Mutt began.
We all smiled, and the mood was lightened just a little. Even Lucas managed a half grin.
I wasn’t taking no for an answer. “So it’s settled then. You’re coming with us; and you can stay on this bus, because I’ll be honest with you, the crew bus sucks.”
Lucas was out of excuses, so he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
“Great!” I said, getting up from the floor. “Now, you should get into some dry clothes. But, I’m thinking mine are too small for you.” I looked around at everyone. “Do you mind Mutt?”
Though I could tell he would have liked to argue with me, he didn’t, and quickly tore himself away from his spot with David on the couch. “Sure. Yeah. Come on man, I’ll find something for you.”
Lucas followed Mutt to the back of the bus, and as soon as they were out of sight, the others started in on me.
“Jesus Christ, Jack! There are so many things wrong with this I don’t even know where to start.” Rocky yelled in a whisper, throwing up his arms.
David agreed. “Yeah, I mean, for all we know he could be some psychopath that’s going to kill us while we’re sleeping.”
“He may know who we are but we have no idea who he is. Everything he said could be a lie. You’re not thinking about this rationally.” Alex threw in.
David nodded. “This isn’t any different than picking up a hitchhiker, Jack. Which is something I’ve heard you say that you’d never do.”
Before I had the chance to speak up myself, Claire, as usual, was the lone voice of reason. “No you guys. I see where he’s coming from. It wouldn’t be right to just leave him alone on the street with nothing.”
“So we invite him onto our bus and give him a job?” Rocky said, still fuming.
“What if it was you Rocky? Wouldn’t you appreciate someone trying to help you like this if you had no place to go?” Claire shot back.
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t expect anyone to do anything like this. Maybe I’m still just a jaded New Yorker, but nobody is this nice.”
Finally I was given a chance to reply. “Look. I see where you’re all coming from. And by the way, fuck you for fighting me on this. I’m not stupid, I know this is strange. I’m telling you though; I have a feeling about him. And if you guys turn out to be right, then fuck it, we’ll just leave him in another city. But we’re at least going to give him a chance, and that’s that.”
They knew better than to argue with me, and wouldn’t have had a chance to anyway, as Lucas and Mutt suddenly returned, with Lucas dressed in dry clothes.
The bus pulled onto the highway, we settled back into our spots in the lounge, and the rest of the night was fairly uneventful. One by one we all drifted to our bunks and fell asleep, until I was the only one left. Just before I dosed off, I spent a few minutes watching Lucas. He really was a knockout, even with the shiner, and right before my heavy eyelids fell, I got that feeling again, like butterflies in my stomach.
The journey to get where we are was not an easy one. Honestly, none of us would have ever expected to even form a band, let alone get to this level. Our lives back in Sacramento we’re about as normal as you can get. We went to school, played sports, dealt with all the usual teenage problems, and of course nurtured our very strong friendships.
David and I had both taken guitar lessons when we were younger, but it had always been more his thing than mine. He’d play by himself in his room and occasionally at parties, but it was never more than a hobby, or an escape on a particularly bad day. Mutt had played bass in junior high jazz band, and in an effort to not feel like a complete geek all by himself, had talked Alex into picking up the drums. Claire’s mother taught her to play the piano, but it was a skill we were all basically unaware that she had.
We weren’t real musicians by any stretch of the imagination. It was something we had all tried at one time, but had more or less given up on by the time we were teenagers. The turning point came about two years ago when David talked us into helping him put a song together for the school talent show. At first he meant it to be a joke, but as we began rehearsing and feeling the joy of music again, we didn’t stop at just one song. The ideas just kept pouring out, and after we successfully won the talent show, offers for us to play at other parties and events were too numerous and lucrative to pass up. We quickly became the talk of the school, and gained more popularity as musicians than we ever had as sports stars. Most importantly though, we were having the time of our lives.
Our rise to fame still makes me blush to talk about, because no matter how you look at it, we kind of cheated. There came a point when our small fan base began to demand a CD of our music. Now, most young bands would do what they could to make a decent sounding demo in their garage, using whatever equipment they had available. That would have been fine with me, but Mutt wasn’t satisfied. Though he usually went out of his way to hide how wealthy his family was, in this case he made an exception, and paid a very substantial sum of money to rent out one of the best studios in Sacramento for a solid month and hire the best producer we could find.
The finished product was as good as any album on the market today. We blended different elements of pop and rock into a passionate and emotional sonic masterpiece. David’s prodigal guitar work, Claire’s masterful piano, and all of our gifts in vocal melody came together and created a sound that I’m still sure is completely unique, and profoundly important. We quickly sold about 2,000 copies all on our own, just Breaktown’s local shows. Some serious record company offers started to pour in, but we weren’t naive enough to take the first thing through the door. After hearing the horror stories that many bands go through when signing a record contract, we knew that we had to be careful. Selling 2,000 albums on our own meant that we got to keep every single dollar of the ten dollars we charged. If we signed with a major record label though, we’d keep less than two dollars per album, minus expenses. It just didn’t make sense to us. Informed as we were, we did what most bands would consider insane and turned down every offer to come to our door.
Our story eventually made the news and suddenly our shows went from backyards and small clubs to huge outdoor concerts for thousands of people. Everyone wanted to see ‘the band that refused to sell out.’ We moved another 10,000 CD’s, and now had the money to start our own record label, where we could be in control of our own career. With the help of some great management, we succeeded in putting together a deal to have our albums distributed all over the world, and the rest, as they say, is history. We still got to run our own career, and of course, our own record company.
Things happened so fast that I still have to pinch myself now and then just to believe its really happening. I don’t mean to brag or anything; or maybe I do, but we became the biggest thing in the world. So that brings us to the present day, on tour for the first time, and picking up handsome strangers out of gas station bathrooms.
* * * * * * *
Within a week of his arrival, all doubts about Lucas had been erased. He fit so well into the group that it was almost hard to imagine how we ever did without him. Though he got along great with everyone, it was he and I that spent the most time together and quickly developed into fast friends. It had become our custom to spend the long, boring hours before a show sitting together in the midst of an empty arena, just talking.
“So have you ever been here before?” I asked, putting my feet up on the empty seat in front of me.
“Here as in the MGM Grand? Or here as in Las Vegas?” Lucas replied.
“Neither actually. I don’t really get to travel much.” He shrugged.
It seemed that everyday my curiosity about his life began to grow. “So what do you do then? I mean, back home?”
“The typical stuff I guess. School mostly. I like to surf too, and I played on the football team for awhile.” He replied, watching our road crew work up on the stage.
“Alex and Mutt play football too. I’m more into karate myself; David and I are both third degree black belts.”
“I’ll be careful not to piss you guys off then.” He chuckled.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, we’re getting a little rusty now. Not much chance to train on a bus.”
“How long have he and Mutt been together?” Lucas continued, now turning his attention back to me.
“A little over a year I guess, at least officially. To all of us though, it’s been forever.”
“They’re a cute couple, they seem really happy together.”
I nodded. “Yeah. They are happy. Alex and Claire too.”
His casual gaze became a little more serious as his eyes fixed on mine. “And you? Still waiting for that special girl?”
I could almost feel my face turning red. “Well, uh, I’m not exactly waiting for a girl. I thought you’d already noticed. David, Mutt, and I are all cut from the same cloth if you know what I mean. Rocky too, actually.”
He got a little embarrassed. “Oh. Of course, I see it now. I should have known. I’m sorry Jack.”
I just shrugged. “It’s no big deal. Actually I’m kind of relieved that I’m not obvious.”
“No, I mean I should have seen it on the gay-dar.”
My eyes widened and my heart skipped a beat. “You too?”
He grinned and nodded.
I could hardly believe it. “This is starting to get weird. We still attract them wherever we go. So what’s your story?”
“No story really, you know how it goes. I figured it out a long time ago, but I waited until I was 18 to tell my parents because I was afraid of what they might do, and it turns out I was right.”
“So that was why they kicked you out! I knew you we’re leaving something out! You should have just said that when we met you! It’s not like we wouldn’t have understood!” I exclaimed, still in disbelief.
“I didn’t know that at the time. For all I knew you guys could have been homophobes too!”
I had to laugh at that.
“Yeah, yeah, just laugh it up.” He giggled. “But come on, how could I have known?”
“It’s just funny to hear you say that, because we are the most non-judgmental, open-minded people that I can think of. Not to mention the gayest.”
“I know that now, you guys are great. Better than great even. I feel very lucky to be with you all.” Lucas admitted, and I could tell he was being completely genuine. The beginnings of an awkward silence began to creep in, and he quickly chased it away. “But as for my original question, which I guess I’ll re-phrase, are you still waiting for that perfect guy?”
I started to sweat just a little, trying to not give away how I felt about him. “It’s not really that easy.” I finally said. “With Alex & Claire, and Mutt & David, it’s like those things were meant to be. The only other guy around is Rocky, and as much as I appreciate him, there just isn’t anything romantic there and never will be. I can also be a little hard to deal with at times, to say the least. I think it scares some guys away.”
Lucas stared off up on the stage again. “It’ll happen someday. You just can’t stop looking. The right guy for you could be anywhere.”
I know this would have been the perfect time to just come right out and tell him how I feel. I wanted to, I really did. But he just found out I was gay, and I figured it was better not to rush into things, at least not until I got some idea of how he felt about me. Plus, I wouldn’t have had the chance to get very deeply into it, because right then I heard one our stagehand’s voices come over the microphone system and call me down to sound check.
* * * * * * *
As Jack hurried down to the stage, past the endless rows of seats, I let out a little squeal of delight. He’s gay! And single! It was such a relief. From the first second I laid eyes on him at that gas station I was instantly hooked, and now I knew that it wasn’t in vain. But how do I tell him what I’m feeling? Or should I? If it doesn’t work out things would be weird between us and I’d just have to go off on my own in some random city at a moment’s notice. So I’d probably have to wait to tell him until I knew for sure how he feels.
I was still sitting there pondering my dilemma and watching the band rehearse onstage when Rocky wandered up and sat down in a seat next to me.
“Hey, Lucas,” he said, smiling. “How’s it going?”
“Not too bad. They’re sounding really good today,” I replied, returning his pleasant smile. Rocky seemed like a good guy. I’d never seen anyone so devoted to his job. He obviously cared about Breaktown a lot.
“Very good. Better than good actually. We’re going to have another packed house tonight.”
There was a pause as we focused our attention on the stage to watch David pull off an amazing guitar solo. When he finished we joined some of the stagehands up front and stood up to clap and cheer. He just laughed and waved at us.
“So you and Jack have been spending a lot of time together.” Rocky said, returning us to our conversation.
I watched the object of my affection jump around on stage. “Yeah, he’s been fantastic. I can tell he’s going to be a great friend.”
“Just friend?” Rocky replied, raising an eyebrow at me.
I turned my attention back to him now, getting a little nervous. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not implying anything. It just seems like you might have a little more on your mind than friendship.” He shrugged. “I mean, you are gay aren’t you?”
Remembering what Jack had just told me about Rocky being in the same boat, I didn’t mind telling him. “Well, yeah actually. How did you know?”
“Just a hunch that came to me when I saw how you look at Jack. Does he feel the same way for you?”
I gazed back at the stage. “I don’t know.”
Rocky looked at the stage as well, and we were silent for a few moments. “I could probably find out for you.” He finally said.
My eyes brightened. “Really? You’d do that for me?”
He laughed. “Well yeah, sure. It’s kind of my job, in a way. I’m supposed to take care of the band and be responsible for their well-being. And I think this falls into that category. Plus, Jack has been waiting so long to be with someone, it’s about time. You seem like a good guy, it might as well be you.”
“That’s really sweet Rocky, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. And you have to promise that no matter what, you won’t kill the messenger.” He chuckled.
I shook his hand. “Deal.”
* * * * * * *
“Ok Jack, lose the pants!” Claire yelled.
I smiled and stood up from the chair, dropping my jeans and kicking them across the room, left only in my boxers.
It was later in the afternoon, in that special time between sound check and the actual show, when we had absolutely nothing to do. It was this time that usually found us getting into the most trouble, and today that trouble came in the form of a game of strip poker. Needless to say I’m not a very experienced card player, and was already in my boxer shorts. Everyone else at least had his or her pants left.
I did a few hip gyrations before sitting back down. “Fine, fine. I know you’re all ganging up on me to get a look at the goods.”
That was met with a cackle of whistles and hoots from around the room.
David began to deal the next hand. “It’s kind of a pointless game anyway. We see each other naked practically every day in one way or the other.”
Claire spoke up quickly. “Well, I don’t.” She gave a wicked grin. “And unless you guys are working faster than usual, I don’t think Lucas is included in that either.”
Lucas examined his cards and replied, “I don’t mind being naked at all, really. There was a great nude beach near my house actually. I used to go surfing there all the time.”
My ears perked up. “Yeah? Maybe it’s a California beach thing, you know, being comfortable in your own body.”
David looked at Lucas and nodded. “And what a body it is.”
“You’re not so bad yourself.” Mutt added, giving David a peck on the lips.
Alex raised an eyebrow. “You know, a game of strip poker played with 90% gay guys seems a little suspicious to me.”
Mutt chuckled. “We could be playing Monopoly and that percentage would still be the same.”
“That’s not what I mean. It seems to me this is a game you’d excel at, getting guys to strip.” Alex replied.
David didn’t even look up from his cards as he replied deadpan, “Yeah, it’s the second thing they teach you at gay college, right after interior decorating.”
“None of you are any good at decorating.” Claire replied.
Finally I had some good cards. “Ok, I call.”
Everyone laid down cards and for once I didn’t lose. Mutt and Lucas now lost their pants as well, and I didn’t feel quite so nervous anymore. Unfortunately, within two more hands I was in the buff. There were whistles all around as the boxers came off.
“Jack, is it cold in here?” David joked.
I raised my middle finger at him and sat back down.
“Wait a minute, you’re circumcised? You told me you hated circumcision.” Lucas said, looking a little confused.
“Oh man, here we go.” Mutt sighed, putting his head down on the table.
David joined him right away. “Not again…”
“What?” Lucas asked, looking around at everyone else, who seemed to be having the same reaction.
Claire finally answered him. “This is not a subject you want to get Jack started on.”
I was getting a little agitated. “Oh come on, fuck you guys. Just because I’m a little pissed about being disfigured against my will, you all start freaking out.”
“Disfigured?” Lucas pressed.
I wasn’t going to stop now. “I just don’t think it’s fair that I had something cut off of me when I was too young and helpless to do anything about it. My life could have been totally different.”
“Oh get off it Jack. It would not.” David said, rolling his eyes.
“Fuck you David. It’s not like you have any idea.” I snapped at him. “Favorite son.”
Lucas looked more confused than ever. “Wait a minute. One of you is and the other one isn’t? How did that happen?”
I was too angry to reply so I just threw up my arms at David to answer, which he did. “Well, he was the first boy of the family, and mom didn’t know any better. She still thought it was cleaner and healthier to get him circumcised. Before she had me she had done some more reading and stuff and figured out that’s not true, so I was spared.”
“And Jack feels that was a terrible injustice.” Alex added.
Lucas laughed, as did everyone else. By now I was both embarrassed, and fuming mad at them all, and reached for my boxers. Slipping them back on, I got up from the table and started out the door. “Fuck you guys, I don’t need this. I’m going back to the bus to sleep”
“Oh come on Jack, we’re just kidding. It’s no big deal.” Claire yelled after me.
I wasn’t going to hear it though, I was too upset. That was not a conversation I wanted to have in front of Lucas, especially the first time he ever saw me naked. I needed some time to cool off.
Out in the hall on my way outside, I ran into Rocky.
“What’s up man?” He asked. “You look a little pissed.”
I paused. “We got into the circumcision conversation.”
Rocky nodded. “Enough said.”
“So anyway I’m going to the bus to take a nap. Just come wake me when it’s time to get ready for the show.” I said, and started walking away again.
He jogged after me. “Hold on Jack, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“I’m not really in the mood, can it wait?”
He stopped following and just called out to me as I continued walking away. “Sure, I guess. It’s just about Lucas.”
I suddenly froze in my steps and turned around. “What? What’s wrong with Lucas?”
Rocky suddenly grinned. “Nothing’s wrong. Never mind. I’m just glad you’re getting along.”
Before I could say anything back, a roadie came up and pulled him away to the stage area. I just shrugged and continued on my way to the bus.
* * * * * * *
Hours later we were still just sitting around the dressing rooms as Jack slept. I was feeling really bad about what had happened earlier, and was about ready to go apologize.
“I’m gonna take a walk you guys, I’ll see you later.” I announced, heading out the door.
They waved at me half-heartedly and I escaped out into the hall with a deep sigh. I wandered around the front of the stage for a while, watching the workers hang the huge Breaktown curtain. It was just a couple hours till show time now.
My thoughts were still stuck on what to do about Jack. I didn’t have much experience with love, but I knew that whatever I was feeling had to be it. He made me feel worthwhile, like life was still worth living. But I still wasn’t ready to tell him, there was just too much at stake.
My walk took me around the whole MGM Grand and I was soon full circle, to the backstage area. I considered going to see if Jack was awake yet, and was on my way out to the bus when I ran into Rocky coming out of his office.
“Hey Lucas!” He exclaimed, smiling. “Do you have a minute?”
“Of course.” I said. “What’s up?”
“I had a chance to talk with Jack.”
I tried not to react one way or the other just yet, and there was no way to tell by Rocky’s facial expression. “And?” I asked through gritted teeth.
His face fell and I could feel my heart breaking before he quickly grinned devilishly and shouted, “Go for it!”
I punched him playfully on the arm. “Bastard. Don’t do that! So he really likes me?”
Rocky nodded, still smiling.
“So what do I do now?” I asked nervously.
“Well, I’m no expert here but I think you probably go tell him you like him and then roll around making out for awhile. That’s just a guess, but it seems to work on TV.”
That didn’t really help me feel any better. “Don’t you think it’s too soon? Maybe I should wait a little while.”
“Well, I guess that’s up to you. But let me tell you something, Jack has been alone long enough, I don’t think he could possibly be any more ready. But you do whatever you think is right. I have to go though, still lots to do.”
Rocky started to walk away and I quickly gave him a hug. “Thanks dude.”
He blushed. “No problem. I hope it all works out.”
I just watched him head towards the stage area, not continuing my walk out to the buses. Was it too soon? I hadn’t known him very long, but I had to admit it had been the best week of my life. We’d talked for hours, and I couldn’t imagine getting along with anyone better. I still worried about what would happen if it didn’t work out, but we could cross that bridge if we ever came to it. Why is this so hard? I guess I just need some more time to think it over.
David and Mutt lay together on the plush, leather sofa in their dressing room, passionately making out to the sounds of a local rock radio station. They got very little time alone together on the road, and had to take advantage of every spare minute to keep their relationship interesting.
The song on the radio finished and a DJ came on the air. “Hey everybody, I hope you’re all psyched for the big show tonight, as KRTV welcomes your favorite teen rockers, Breaktown, to the MGM Grand! The show starts at 7:30 and has been sold out for weeks, but you can still win tickets right here on KRTV, every hour until showtime!”
David giggled and broke their kiss. “Teen rockers?”
“I’m sure even The Beatles had to put up with crap like that.” Mutt smiled.
David started laughing harder and nearly knocked his boyfriend to the floor.
“Well, I guess our moment is over.” Mutt joked, pretending to be disappointed and frowning. “I’ll just have to go play with myself.”
David pulled him back down for another kiss. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Mutt broke the kiss. “Have you gotten homesick at all?”
David sat up on the couch. “Sometimes. But I’m having a blast, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course. Being with you helps.”
“I love you so much.” David whispered, kissing him again.
Mutt whispered back. “I love you too.”
They were about to go back to their make-out session when the DJ’s voice came back on the radio. “Ok, here’s your chance to win a pair of tickets to see those teen heroes Breaktown, in just a couple hours down at the MGM Grand. Caller 10 will be the big winner. Just call 555-ROCK.”
David raised an eyebrow. “Teen heroes? That doesn’t even make any sense.” He picked up his cell phone from the table and began dialing.
Mutt collapsed back down on the couch with a sigh and smiled. “Evil boy. You’re not trying to win are you?”
“No. I just want to talk to this guy. Hold on, it’s ringing.”
Suddenly David heard the DJ’s voice on the radio and in the phone at the same time.
“Hey! You’re caller 10! Congratulations, you’re going to see Breaktown!”
They were now rolling on the floor trying not to laugh and eventually David managed to say something into the phone. “Hey, that’s great. Thanks.”
“Where you calling from today? And could I get your name?”
“This is David Marcus from Breaktown, and I’m calling from backstage at the MGM Grand.”
There was a few seconds of dead air on the radio, and the DJ finally tried to get his voice back. “Uh, oh. Well, David, great to talk to you man, this is Ricky Moon. How’s it going over there?”
David finally had him right where he wanted. “Well, I’ve been listening to your station, and frankly I’m getting a little annoyed at the references to our age. So I think you should make it up to us.” He smiled at Mutt and waited for the DJ to react.
“Oh, well, sure. I’m sorry, I had no idea. What do you want?”
David looked quickly at Mutt who just shrugged his shoulders. “Well, ok then, I’m going to host your show for the next few minutes or so. So lets take some phone calls from Breaktown fans.”
The DJ seemed a little relieved that David didn’t ask for anything more. “Ok, we’re on live with David Marcus of Breaktown on KRTV, let’s take a call. Hello, you’re on with David.”
There was a loud scream on the other end of the line and over the radio.
David laughed and held the phone away from his ear. “Hello?”
“Oh my god! You’re so hot! I just have to know, do you have a girlfriend?”
Mutt grinned and grabbed David’s ass as he answered. “No. I can honestly say that I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Mutt was laughing so hard now he could hear himself over the radio.
“Who’s that laughing David?” Ricky Moon asked, obviously a little shaken from the beating he was taking from David live on the air.
David held his laugh in and tried to remain firm. “That’s Mutt. He was just saying that he heard a rumor that you like to get it on with sheep. But I thought I told you to take a call.”
Not wanting to hang up on a major rock star, Moon was helpless to fight him. “Hello, you’re on with David Marcus.”
Another scream pierced David’s ear. “Wow! I can’t believe I’m talking to you. David, I love you so much! Ahh!”
He smiled. “Thanks. I’m glad to hear it. What’s going on?”
The girl screamed again. “Well, ok, yeah. I really wanted to go to the show tonight but it sold out so fast! I didn’t get tickets in time!”
“Oh. That’s too bad.” David said back. “Hey, you know what? Since I was caller 10, I’m going to give my tickets to you. You hear that Moonie?”
Ricky Moon quickly responded. “Yeah, sure David. I think we can do that.”
“Wonderful. Hey, this is fun.”
“And we’re glad to be talking to you, right here on Las Vegas’s home of the best new rock, KRTV.”
David rolled his eyes. “Enough of that. I was only listening out of boredom. And you pissed me off remember? Let’s take another call.”
It was a calm, male, voice on the line this time. “David? Wow, I can’t believe it. It’s great to talk to you.”
“You too. What can I do for you?” David responded brightly.
“I’ve been following you guys to every show, even waiting for you outside afterwards, just waiting for the chance to talk to you.” The caller said.
David was getting a little nervous. “That’s great man, it’s all about fans like you.”
The voice on the line was sounding a bit more sinister every time it spoke. “Now I know that can’t be true, because your security keeps stopping me when I try to see you. But I’ll get through soon enough.”
Ricky Moon came back on the line. “Hey there buddy, I think it’s time we cut you off. Sounds like you might be taking this a bit too far. This is all supposed to be about enjoying a good rock show, isn’t that right David?”
David finally found his voice. “Uh, yeah. Anyway, I think we’re done here Moonshine. Just try to lay off the stupid teen stuff ok? And we’ll see you after the show!”
“No problem. Have a great show tonight guys!” He said, and David hung up the phone.
Mutt looked at him, a little concerned. “Do you think we should be worried about that guy?”
“I don’t know. It kind of caught me off guard. Did he seem dangerous to you?”
“Your guess is as good as mine babe. I’m just as new to celebrity thing as you are.”
David nodded. “I should ask the security guys to keep a look out.”
* * * * * * *
I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror for quite a while, noticing the heavy bags under my eyes. With any luck, I could take care of them tonight with a nice long sleep in an actual bed. We had the day off tomorrow, so Rocky decided we should stay in a hotel and relax. Obviously, nobody had any arguments.
Lying down on the bed, I knew that despite how tired I was I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep. My mind was still hooked on Lucas. Frankly, I was kind of surprised at myself. Normally I have no problem just expressing what I’m thinking, whether it’s a good idea or not. But for some reason, this time I was tongue-tied. I still had that feeling about him in the pit of my stomach, the one that had been there since the second I saw him. The one that made me believe not only in love at first site, but that Lucas and I were somehow destined to be together.
I turned on the television and flipped through the channels for a while, but at this hour there wasn’t much on. I wandered around the room a few times, clad only in boxer shorts, as the Las Vegas heat seemed to follow me everywhere. I stepped out on the balcony overlooking downtown and sat down in the canvas chair.
“Can’t sleep either?” Came a voice out of nowhere.
I jumped a little and looked around quickly; Lucas was sitting out on his own balcony, adjacent to my room. “No. I am really tired though. My head is just too full.”
“I know what you mean.” He paused. “Pretty cool view eh?”
I stared back out over the landscape of lights and sighed. “Yeah.”
Looking back over at Lucas, I noticed he was smoking a joint, and had to smile. He caught my eye and smiled back. “You want some?” He asked. “I got it from Alex. Thought it might help me sleep.”
I nodded. “Sure. But why don’t you come over here? I don’t think I can reach it.”
He jumped up. “Ok. Just a minute.”
He disappeared into his room and I rushed into mine to quickly put a shirt on and check out my hair in the mirror. I breathed into my hand to check my breath but realized it really wouldn’t matter in a few minutes anyway. Before I had the chance to check anything else, Lucas knocked on the door.
“Here we go.” I said softly to myself, and opened the door.
We went back out to my balcony and sat down at the small patio table. The conversation was slow to start, and we just passed the joint back and forth for a few minutes until I finally worked up the courage to say something.
“Did you watch the show tonight?” I asked.
He made some smoke rings. “Yeah. It was great. I love that energy that you guys have. And David still blows me away with that guitar stuff. He’s incredible.”
“Yeah, that’s my little brother. He got the voice and the fingers. I just got the insanity.”
Lucas chuckled. “Don’t feel so bad. A voice and fingers may be cool onstage, but insanity is fun 24 hours a day.”
I laughed pretty hard at that, which I think had more to do with the weed than anything. I was starting to relax and lose some of my apprehension, so I decided to step out on a limb.
“So I have to know, have you ever had a boyfriend before?” I asked, trying not to sound as nervous as I really was.
He shook his head. “Nope. I never wanted to risk having my parents find out. Not that it would have mattered anyway, I’ve never found a guy that was even interested in me.”
My brain was screaming at me to tell him, and all at once I decided to give it a try. I mustered up all my courage, took a deep breath, and went for it. “Well, I’m interested.”
He coughed out the hit he had taken and his eyes got wide. “Really?”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah. I mean, I’ve kind of been waiting to tell you for a couple weeks now.”
He started laughing and my heart sank. I looked down at the ground and was about to leave when he put his hand out to stop me. “No. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing because I’ve been waiting to tell you the same thing.”
I could hardly believe it. I tried to say something but just stuttered on my words.
He held my hands in his and locked those incredible blue eyes right on mine. “Jack. From day one dude, I knew there was something there between you and me. I just didn’t know how to say it. I wanted to know for sure. You just answered that question for me, in the best way I could have hoped for.”
I felt warm all over; it was just too good to be true. “I don’t know what to say except that I feel exactly the same way. It was that ‘something’ that made me chase after you that first night. It’s like I was being pulled by fate.”
He grinned. “I think there’s something pulling me towards you right now.” And he then leaned in and kissed me for the first time.
It was soft at first, more of an angel kiss. But soon we were full on making out, and nothing I ever imagined came close to what it actually felt like. It was like we were the only two people on earth, and nothing could ever come between us. I was sure right then that this was meant to be, and I mentally kicked myself for waiting so long to tell him how I really felt. Eventually we broke the kiss, and I realized that Lucas tasted like strawberries.
“Did you have some ice cream or something? I taste strawberry.”
He smiled and shook his head. “No. I guess that must be me.”
I smiled back. “Hey, I’m not complaining, I was getting the munchies anyway.”
Our lips met again and right away I was lost in him. He looked at me with those soulful eyes, and I saw the same passion that I had for him reflected back at me. “I think I’m going to go to bed. We can pick this up in the morning,” he said.
“So soon?” I replied, flashing him my best puppy-dog eyes.
“You know the saying: Always leave them wanting more.”
“Well you certainly nailed that.”
Those eyes locked on me again and he said the words I thought I’d never hear. “I think I’m falling in love with you Jack.”
“Right back at you strawberry-boy.”
We kissed for a while longer; I just couldn’t get enough of the flavor that seemed to coat his lips. He was perfect in every way possible, and I silently thanked whatever force had brought me here and eventually brought me to Lucas. I thought about all the things that had to work out in just the right way for this to happen. It was so incredible that all of the sudden, any doubts I had about believing in miracles were erased.
Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was because I was so tired, but my head was spinning. I might as well have been floating. The loneliness and frustration that had ruled my life just hours before was now melted away.
Lucas soon left but I knew that I still wasn’t going to sleep. Inspiration was flowing in my veins and I grabbed my acoustic guitar from the corner of the room. At least 3 songs poured out of me, and I could barely write them down as fast as they came.
Finally I had exhausted myself enough that I could barely keep my eyes open. I collapsed down on the bed and wrapped myself up in blankets. I couldn’t remember ever being so happy; and my last thoughts before falling asleep were about where things would go from here.
As the tour went on, our popularity began to grow beyond our wildest dreams. In addition to the already packed schedule of concert dates, we were now trying to fit television, radio, and in-store appearances in as well. It seemed like everywhere we went there was a crowd of screaming girls (and boys) waiting for us. As exciting as it all was, it began to take a lot of our energy to keep the whole sexuality issue under wraps.
Before the band became successful, we all decided that it would be better to avoid questions about our personal lives, and not let the ‘gay thing’ become public. We weren’t embarrassed exactly, but just figured that it’s nobody’s business anyway and would probably hurt our popularity if it were common knowledge. But now it seemed like the only time we had away from the public eye was on the bus, and for a few hours backstage everyday. It was becoming a challenge to keep things quiet. The rumors were already out, and every time we refused to answer them the speculation just grew. We decided to have a meeting about it one day on the bus.
“I say that for an encore tomorrow we come out dressed as The Village People and play ‘Macho Man’. That should be all it takes.” David suggested with a grin.
I had to smile back. “Yeah, ok. We’ll write that down as a possibility. Seriously though, we need to decide if this is worth keeping a secret.”
“I say go for it.” Claire began. “I mean, we’re the ones in control of everything, so there’s nobody pressuring us to keep it quiet. It’s not like we’re going to lose our record deal or something. The most it’ll cost us is some homophobic fans. And good fucking riddance to them anyway.”
She had a point, but so did I. “I know, but I’m saying it could be more than a few fans. It could be a bunch. Parents might not let their kids see a ‘gay band.’ You know that’s totally possible. Insane, but possible.”
Alex spoke up next. “I’m kind of surprised at you Jack. I didn’t think we were in this for the fame and fortune. It’s not like you to suppress your integrity like this. Where’s the Jack who would have said, ‘Fuck em if they don’t like it.’ We can afford to lose some bullshit fans. I mean, c’mon, we’ve got a mountain of ‘fuck you’ money now, right Rocky?”
Rocky nodded. “Oh hell yeah.”
Lucas threw his opinion in. “I think you’re missing a real obvious thing here. You might lose some redneck fans, but you’re going to gain a whole legion of gay fans. Just think what heroes you’ll be to young gay kids out there?”
“I’m not trying to be a hero.” I replied.
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. How would you have felt if one of the Hanson brothers came out when they were the biggest thing in the world?”
I smiled. He knew I had a thing for Hanson. “Yeah, that would have been great, I guess.”
Mutt dug through the mess on the floor and pulled out a teen magazine with us on the cover. “I see where Lucas is coming from. We might as well put this pinup, teen idol, thing to good use and actually stand for something.”
“I have to agree big brother. It’s about time we got just a little political.” David said.
Claire laughed. “Little Political. That would make a great song or album name.”
There was a murmur of chuckles and I noticed Rocky wrote it down in his notebook.
“So, what I’m hearing is that we should just say fuck it and go public?” I repeated again.
I was met with more rolling eyes. “Hey fuck you guys. I’m just trying to get this strait. No pun intended.” They all laughed, and I had to join them. It was a good moment, but the conversation wasn’t quite over. “Ok then, so how do we do it?”
“I’m into David’s Village People idea.” Mutt offered. “Either that or we just paint a big lavender triangle on the stage curtain.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. “Ok. Anybody else?”
“I’m going to say use an interview. Let’s play favorites and give an exclusive to somebody we really like.” Alex offered. “I’m not quite sure who though.”
“Not one of those stupid talk show guys.” Claire demanded.
“I won’t argue with you there.” I added. “No comedians.”
There was a pause as everyone thought. This wasn’t an easy thing to decide, most of the press people that we’d spoken to so far had either made a joke out of our ages and nationality, or been disinterested in us altogether.
David’s eyes lit up. “That guy…you know, the one at that after party in LA. The one who really knew his shit. Damn, what was his name?”
“The writer for Rolling Stone!” Claire agreed. “Yeah, I don’t remember his name either.”
Rocky grinned. “Austin Scaggs.”
“Yes!” David exclaimed. “He was awesome. Let’s get him. That would be perfect.”
Nobody had any arguments. We had run into Austin Scaggs at the after party for our show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. He had come to see us perform not for an article or review, but just because he liked the band. We spoke to him for quite awhile and we’re very impressed with what a pleasant and intelligent guy he was.
Rocky immediately went to the front of the bus and got on the phone.
I just shrugged. “Wow. That was easy.”
Mutt gave me a hug. “See how pointless it is to get so worked-up over everything? Don’t make me remind you about your stomach ulcer incident.”
I cringed. The year before, I had gotten terribly sick with an aggravated stomach ulcer. Vomiting, coughing up blood, the whole bit. All because I had overstressed myself with a million different things. Mutt was right; there’s no reason to let that happen again.
* * * * * * *
We all stared in wonder out the windows in the back lounge of the bus like kids in front of a toy store. It came into view slowly over the horizon and we were all blown away by our first sight of the New York City skyline. Our schedule kept us here for the next week or so, and Rocky had arranged for us to stay that week in the comfort of a penthouse in a five star hotel overlooking Central Park.
Later, as I absorbed more of the view from the sprawling window in my room, I truly felt like a celebrity for the first time, and it made me a little nervous.
“I never really expected us to get this far.” I said to Lucas, who was behind me unpacking our bags.
He looked up from what he was doing and joined me at the window, wrapping his arms around me. “But you are happy aren’t you?”
“Of course, yeah. I just, well I can see how living like this could make a person get a big head, and lose touch with reality.”
He rested his chin on my shoulder. “It does happen. But I think you’re immune. You guys were family first and a band second. It’s not like you’re just going to forget about them and marry a supermodel or something.”
“I just don’t think it’s fair. Bands work their asses off for years and never get where we are. I still feel like we cheated somehow.”
Lucas sat me down on his lap in one of the plush chairs near the window. “Well, one thing I can tell you about the music business here is that it’s extremely fickle. If people don’t like something, it’s going to die quick; but if they do, there’s no limit to how high you can go. So you should look at this another way. There are plenty of bands that have had their chance, and it didn’t take. You had your chance, and it did. You’re obviously doing something right, and something people are into.”
I nodded. “I guess you’re right. I mean, even when we were playing garages and backyard parties people said they loved the music. We hear exactly the same thing now, except now its like, rock stars saying it. It’s hard not to get a big head.”
“Rock stars are just people. I mean look at you; you’re the same person you always were right? You’re not suddenly better than everybody just because a lot of people know who you are.”
I looked into Lucas’s eyes and smiled. “You’re exactly what I need.”
He smiled right back and kissed me. “Right back at you babe.”
“You know, we need to ditch this rock star shit for a while. Let’s go out tonight, just you and me, on a real date.” I said, holding him close to me.
His eyes lit up. “That would be amazing Jack, I’d love to.”
“Great. I’ll check with the concierge and see what there is to do around here.”
As it turns out, I totally underestimated how much there is to do in New York City, especially when money is no object. We decided to keep it relatively simple though and just do the traditional dinner and movie somewhere near our hotel.
The fall air was brisk and refreshing, and seemed to carry us along as we walked the sidewalks hand-in-hand and admired all the sights and sounds of the city. There seemed to be a kind of magic in the air that just made us smile; I couldn’t remember ever feeling so content and happy.
I looked over at Lucas and noticed he was wearing the same bright smile I was. “Have you ever been in love before?” I asked.
He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “You mean other than right now?”
“Yeah. I was just wondering.”
He thought for a moment. “No. I mean, I thought I was in love with this girl Ashley a long time ago. But I was really young, and I was hoping that if I could fall in love with her I wouldn’t like boys anymore. Things didn’t quite work out that way.”
“A girl eh? That’s kinky.” I grinned.
“Oh get over it. I was young and stupid. I came to my senses eventually.”
“Obviously.” I said, pulling him in for a quick kiss. “I don’t get those people who think they’re bisexual.”
Lucas looked puzzled again. “What do you mean ‘think’ they’re bisexual?”
“Well there’s no such thing! Human brains just aren’t made that way. You either have the boy-liking gene or the girl-liking gene, the brain only has space for one. It’s scientific. The gene might be kind of weak for awhile and make you think you’re bisexual, but eventually things will right themselves.” I explained.
He raised an eyebrow at me.
“Like if you were watching lesbian porn and gay porn, if you were totally honest with yourself, only one of them is going to really turn you on.”
Lucas still wasn’t quite buying it. “So how do you explain this to bisexual people?”
“Well, first of all I’ve never met an old bisexual person. They’re all young, because eventually they figure out what gene they have. My theory is, it’s an easy way to be gay without actually having to be gay, you know, they’re kind of testing it out until they’re comfortable with it. Or they’re confused and they just need an excuse to experiment for a while.”
“But there’s a difference between just having sex and being in love.” He said.
“Sure. But it’s like, I love Claire, I could totally marry her and we might be happy for a while, except we’d never have sex or even make out. I love her but I don’t ‘love’ her. That’s totally for you and that’s why I’m gay; cuz when I’m honest with myself, I know it would have to be a guy that I would ever consider spending my life with.”
“Ok dude, I have to say that I basically agree with you. But I don’t think you should bring this up in any interviews or anything.” He smiled. “Or the circumcision thing either.”
I punched him playfully in the arm. “I guess I’m just too smart for my own good.”
Lucas rolled his eyes. “Hey, how about this place?” He motioned towards the restaurant we were just walking past.
“Looks great, yeah. Let’s check it out.”
We stepped inside and were met with the aroma of fresh Italian food. My mouth started watering immediately. There was quite a wait to be seated, but when one of the hosts recognized me, it didn’t take long before we were seated at a private, candlelit table in the back of the dining room.
The romance between us was so thick it nearly made my eyes water, and I had never felt so deeply in love. We held hands in the center of the table and just smiled at each other for a while without talking. Our waiter not only understood what was going on between us, but had obviously been given VIP instructions as well, as he brought out a bottle of their best red wine (despite our being very much underage).
“I love you so much.” Lucas said out of nowhere, in the middle of our dinner.
I smiled. “I love you too babe.”
Our quiet dinner was suddenly interrupted as my cell phone rang. I quickly pulled it out of my pocket and answered. When I heard what Rocky was saying to me the fork fell out of my hand and I stood up so fast the table nearly toppled over. Lucas was terrified.
“Jack, what’s wrong?” He nearly yelled, eyes wide.
I hung up my phone and threw a few hundred-dollar bills down on the table. “Mutt’s been shot.”
* * * * * * *
We got to the hospital as fast as we could, and Alex quickly filled me in on what had happened. It seemed that Mutt and David had been lounging around together at the hotel’s indoor pool when they noticed a man outside the window staring at them and taking their picture. Thinking he was just paparazzi, they tried to ignore him, but soon he managed to get inside and tried to run off with the clothes that David had left poolside. Mutt chased him out into the street where the man pulled out a small handgun and fired a round, hitting Mutt just above his right hip.
“He’s in surgery right now.” Alex added. “They just took him in a few minutes ago.”
“And what did the doctors say?” I asked nervously.
“Not a lot yet. Just that the bullet didn’t hit any vital organs. That’s all they know right now.”
Lucas spoke up. “Did they at least catch the guy?”
Alex shook his head. “No. There wasn’t anyone else around. David is down in the lobby right now with Claire, giving a description to the police. And Rocky is working out the insurance and legal stuff with administration.”
“Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that.” I said, concerned.
“From what I gather, it’s not a big deal. I guess our management’s office in L.A. took care of getting us insured before we left home. I don’t quite understand it all yet, but we didn’t even have to call his parents. I did tell mom though; she sends her love.”
Lucas looked a little horrified. “You didn’t call his parents? Wouldn’t they want to know?”
I did my best to calm him down and explain. “Babe, they don’t give a damn about him. He emancipated himself a while ago. They’re not good people anyway, Alex’s dad too. Trust me, we know what we’re doing.”
That seemed to satisfy Lucas, and he looked at Alex, who nodded his agreement. Just then I saw Claire coming down the hall with her arm around David. I ran over to meet them and grabbed my little brother in a tight hug and kissed him on the forehead. “Are you ok?”
He just buried his face in my shoulder and nodded. I held him a while, running my fingers through his hair. “It’s going to be ok bud. Mutt’s tough, you know that.”
David was crying too hard to answer me, so I just continued to hold him. The six of us sat there in the waiting room for several hours, just waiting for any news at all. Sprawled out on couches and uncomfortable chairs, I’m sure we looked less like a world-famous rock band and more like what we actually we’re, a concerned family. All it takes is a situation like this to bring everything to a screeching halt and make you remember what really matters.
When we were finally updated on Mutt’s condition, it was a good news – bad news situation. He was stable and expected to recover, but the bullet had done serious nerve and bone damage and that recovery would be a long process. He would have to remain in the hospital for at least a week before he could even be moved anywhere else.
Eventually we were allowed to see him, but only a few at a time. David of course was first, and I went in next with Rocky as Lucas took my brother downstairs to get some coffee and doughnuts.
I was a bit surprised when I saw him. The upper half of Mutt’s body was pretty much as it always was, but from the waist down he was a mess of various wrappings and suspension devices.
“Hey guys.” He said as we entered his room, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.
I hugged him gently and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. Rocky followed suit and we each took a seat on either side of the bed.
“I know you’re a spotlight hog, but was this really necessary?” I joked.
He smiled weakly. “Has it been on the news yet?”
Rocky and I shrugged in unison. “Dunno. We haven’t been watching.” I replied.
He motioned to the remote control on the bedside table. “Switch it on, let’s see.”
I picked up the remote and flipped through channels until I got to a news broadcast. Sure enough there was a special report about the shooting being given by a reporter standing downstairs, just outside the hospital.
“…bassist Mutt Lewis, of the rock group Breaktown, who are in town for their two-night, sold-out stand at The Beacon Theater. It has been reported that Lewis was seriously injured by a gunshot wound to the chest. Though his bandmates are thought to be inside the hospital, a statement has not yet been issued, and Lewis’s condition is not known at this time.”
I turned down the volume. “Well we need to say something. If just to correct that ‘chest’ rumor. I don’t want people thinking this is life threatening.”
Mutt nodded. “What about the shows? I’d hate to cancel the last nights of the tour. It’s not fair to the fans.”
I couldn’t believe he was thinking about the band at a time like this. “Uh, this is just a guess buddy, but I don’t think you’re going to be able to play tomorrow.”
Rocky spoke up. “Joey could probably handle filling in.”
Joey Donner was Mutt’s bass roadie, the one responsible for his guitars and gear, and his personal assistant on-stage. We all had one, and they usually knew enough to be able to fill in now and then.
“I don’t know about the rest of the guys though. They might not want to play.” I said, worried.
Mutt rolled his eyes. “I’m not dead Jack. It’s not the end of the world, and I’ll tell them all that myself. We can’t just cancel two sold out shows for this.”
Rocky was obviously thinking the same thing I was, and said it. “How can you have such a bright attitude after being shot? Look at you!”
“Hey, it could have been a lot worse.” He replied.
I just looked at Rocky and shrugged. He decided to take the initiative “Ok then, Joey will cover these two shows. But I’m canceling all the promotional appearances. Then the tour is over so we won’t have that to worry about. We’ll extend our reservations at the hotel for a least another couple more weeks, and then decided where to go from there. But right now I’m going to prepare a statement and go read it to the press.” He hurriedly left the room.
“I don’t know what we’d do without him.” Mutt said, his eyes following our manager out the door.
I paused before answering. “I was thinking more about what we’d do without you. I was terrified Mutt. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we lost you.” My eyes began to tear up and I tried to wipe them away.
He put his hand on mine. “Hey, come on. I’m still here bro, and I’m not going anywhere. I was about due for a vacation anyway. We all were.”
“I don’t think this is what we had in mind.” I said, sobbing.
He still held my hand. “This really couldn’t have come at a better time. The tour is over, and if I’m not mistaken, that Rolling Stone article comes out tomorrow. We’re going to have more publicity than we can handle; so it’ll be nice to just hide out for a while until it all dies down. We’re going to be getting a lot of attention.”
I tried to get myself under control. “Oh man, the article…yeah that is tomorrow. Did you plan this or what?”
Before he had the chance to respond, a nurse came into the room and told me to leave so she could run some tests and then let him get some sleep. I gave him another careful hug and went back out into the waiting room with my friends. I filled them in on what we had decided and they seemed encouraged by Mutt’s optimistic attitude, which I’m sure was exactly his intention.
* * * * * * *
A few days later I was spending some quality time with Claire while everyone else was at the hospital, or out to dinner. We lay on the bed in my hotel room, watching some random entertainment show on television; but I switched it off as a report about our coming-out was introduced.
I sighed and rested my head on her shoulder. “Do you ever wish we would have just stayed in Sacramento and played keg parties and stuff, instead of getting so successful?”
Her fingers played with my hair and she thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I hate to seem ungrateful for all we have now, but I’m still getting used to this whole ‘fame’ thing. It’s kind of messing with my head.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, concerned.
“Like just now, hearing people we’ve never even met before talk about us on TV. I just don’t know how to deal with that. Look at how private we were back home, it was just the 5 of us. You guys were all that I needed. We had our own problems, we cried together, we took care of each other. As popular and perfect as we seemed to everyone else, we were still really fucked up, but it was all just between us. We were really private. I liked it like that.” She paused. “Now it seems like the whole world knows everything.” Claire said, a slight sob creeping into her voice.
I had a tear in my eye. “I miss those days too.”
She nodded and started to cry even more, so we just hugged and were silent for a while, taking comfort in each other’s presence. There was no one in the world I felt more comfortable with, not even Lucas.
“We could quit.” I said. “Nobody says we can’t just give it all up right now.”
Claire wiped her eyes. “It couldn’t ever really be the same. We’d still be hounded everywhere we went, especially if we just tried to go back to Sac, and school, like nothing has happened. We can’t escape it.”
“So what can we do then?” I asked with another deep sigh. “Or is there anything?”
She looked at me with her all-knowing, green eyes, and smiled. “I think we just do the best we can to keep being who we are, and maybe try to use all this crap to do some good.”
She never failed to always know what to say. I smiled back at her. “You’re so cool. You are the queen of all fag hags.”
She pretended to look offended and playfully slapped me. “Excuse me Jack Marcus but YOU are the queen.” Her face softened. “But I don’t mind being a hag. Four times over even. And don’t ever forget, I need you guys just as much as you need me.”
We were lying on our sides now, facing each other on the bed. “I’m glad we get some time off now. I need it. It’ll be nice to try and put things in perspective. I’m sure Mutt needs it too.”
“I was so worried about him.” She replied. “I think I aged about 25 years in just that one night when I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“I know. I can’t imagine losing him. I felt like my heart was just torn out and stomped on.” I paused and looked her right in the eye. “He means the world to me, you all do.”
“Right back at you babe.” She replied, and gave me a kiss on the forehead.
It felt wonderful to be with Claire like this again. She was always the one that I could open up to and talk to about anything. I had really missed this a lot, and I know she had too. It felt just like being at home again, and it calmed my overworked nerves. As we lay there together, I just knew that everything was going to be ok.
* * * * * * *
In the hospital about one week later, David was fighting to get the vending machine to accept his dollar bill, when Rocky surprised him.
“Rocky, you scared me. What’s going on?” David could tell by the expression on his face that whatever he had to say wasn’t good.
“They found the guy David. The shooter.”
“Thats great! Did you tell everybody else?” David yelled, forgetting about the vending machine.
“Not yet. There’s something I wanted to discuss with you first.” Rocky replied; his face still basically expressionless.
David was getting more nervous. “What?”
“Well, they found the guy dead. He’d killed himself in his apartment.”
“Good. Motherfucker.” David spat.
Rocky didn’t even pay attention to him. “…and the reason they found him was that a member of our own crew recognized the sketch you helped the police make. Apparently he’s been following us for most of the tour, but lives here in New York. He has tried to get past security several times. And what’s even more incredible David, is that you spoke with him on the phone.”
David’s face lost its color.
“His apartment was a shrine to the band, but more specifically to you. He had a tape of a radio show in Las Vegas where you spoke to him on the phone. I had to tell the cops I knew nothing about it David. Why is that?”
“How could I know? He was just some random guy…” David said quietly.
Rocky was getting slowly angrier. “Some random guy that almost killed Mutt. Both of you knew about this and you didn’t say anything.”
“Look, people say weird shit to us all the time. I had no reason to think he was any different or more dangerous.” David defended.
“That’s not for you to decide! You need to tell me about things like this so we can take steps to prevent anything from happening! All we have is each other David; there can’t be any secrets!”
David fell back against the vending machine and slid down until he was sitting on the floor. Rocky’s expression softened a bit and he sat down next to him, placing an arm around his shoulders in comfort.
“Look buddy, I know this is a shitty situation. But it’s just what I was saying. We all need each other now, we’re a team. I guess since the guy is dead and the case is closed, I don’t have to say anything about you talking to the him.”
David had begun to cry now and rested his face on his knees. But he nodded at what Rocky had said.
People had begun to stare, and so Rocky helped David stand up and brought him to the bathroom to throw some cold water on his face.
Rocky’s cell-phone rang and he answered it quickly.
“David, I have to run for a while. Are you going to be ok?”
He nodded and continued to try and wash the pain and guilt off his face.
* * * * * * *
With Mutt in the hospital, and the Rolling Stone article hitting newsstands, we could barely take a breath without a reporter catching it on tape. Suddenly, every time I turned on the television or picked up any publication, there was my face staring back at me. It was an unusual feeling to say the least. Rocky was thrilled with all the free publicity, but with the tour being over and Mutt being released so soon, we decided not to speak to the press, as there wasn’t much to report.
The walk between the hospital and our hotel became a kind of game. We’d all leave together and then dash off in different directions, leaving the reporters in a daze as to which they should follow. There were even a few times when we would pretend that the press was invisible, and simply show no signs that we acknowledged them at all. They really hated that one, but we were having a blast.
Finally, when the day came to pick up Mutt for the journey back to California, we decided to give a press conference. We exited the hospital together; first Rocky, then David pushing Mutt in a wheelchair, then Alex and Claire with their arms around each other, and finally Lucas and I. We gathered in front of the door to the bus and Rocky stepped forward.
“First of all I want to thank you all for your concern about Mutt. Obviously he’s going to be fine, and will be getting plenty of rest as he continues to recover. From here Breaktown will be taking some time off, but we hope to have a new album ready early next year. This will be our last press conference for a while, so please make your questions count.” He paused and the reporters started yelling out questions. “Ok, you in the blue shirt.”
“The man who shot you Mutt, do you think it had anything to do with your coming out?”
Mutt shook his head. “Not at all. From what I’ve been told he was just an obsessed fan. I don’t consider him a bad person necessarily, he just loved the band a little too much.”
“You in the back, red hair.” Rocky yelled.
“Why did you choose to come out? Aren’t you afraid it will hurt your popularity?”
I spoke up. “Look, I can see where most of your questions are going, so I might as well just address this now. Our coming out has more to do with you than it does with us. The attention we’ve been getting is so overwhelming that it’s pretty hard to keep something like this a secret, especially since we’re all in relationships. Honestly, we would have preferred to keep it private, but for some reason you people find our personal lives more interesting than our music, so we decided to just get it over with and let you know. From now on it should be a non-issue. I’m pretty sure it won’t be, because you’re all just whores for this kind of thing but….”
David interrupted me before I could say something I might regret. “I think what Jack means is that now you know about our relationships, there shouldn’t be any more need for speculation. We’ll let you know whatever we think is relevant and anything else we’re just going to give a ‘no comment’ on.”
Rocky scanned the crowd again. “You, green backpack.”
“Will you be speaking for any gay causes?”
David picked up where he left off. “See? Now that’s a relevant question. Uh, we’re not exactly sure yet, but we definitely have some things in mind. I think the most important thing we stand for is equality. You won’t ever find us judging anyone in that way that seems so popular right now. Everyone has the right to live their lives in whatever way they want to. Things like banning gay marriage, and refusing to let gay couples adopt; stuff like that is just mean spirited and vengeful. Homosexuals are a minority that are still harassed and mistreated by governments around the world. If we get involved with anything, it’ll be putting an end to that. There’s just no reason for it.” David finished.
“The woman in front, red scarf.” Rocky continued.
“I’m wondering if Alex and Claire feel a bit excluded, as so much attention is being lavished on the other guys.”
“Not at all.” Alex replied. “None of us is in this for the media attention. It’s only in your own minds that we’re not getting as much attention. Things between all of us haven’t changed a bit.”
Claire nodded. “Absolutely. If anything we’re glad not to be in the spotlight as much as these guys.”
Rocky called on someone else.
“Are you worried about anti-gay protests at your future concerts?”
Mutt took this one. “We don’t worry about things before they happen. If people want to come and protest my being in love with David, or Jack with Lucas, then we welcome it. I’d be interested in counting just how many people are really that ignorant. We could even make it into a scientific study, and compare numbers between cities, to see where the most bigots are.” He smiled.
Even the reporters laughed at that one, and the mood was lightened a bit.
“Black mustache, third from the back.” Rocky called.
“I’d like to ask where Lucas and Jack met?”
My strawberry boy looked at me to answer with just a hint of fear in his eyes. I quickly spoke up. “We met in California just before the tour started. We needed some more production help and Lucas was hired for the job. Things kind of just took off from there.”
The reporter seemed satisfied with that answer and Lucas reached for my hand and squeezed it as he shot me a beaming smile.
Rocky called on someone else.
“Where will you be spending your time off?”
I laughed. “Nice try, but there’s no way we’re giving that one away. We need a break from you people.”
We continued answering questions for the next 10 minutes or so before climbing on board the bus for the long journey back to California. When we first started to become successful, I thought it would be a waste to purchase the house in Santa Barbara. But Rocky insisted that we needed an off-the-radar place to live as we rehearsed for the tour, and somewhere to store all the equipment that we wouldn’t be able to take home with us. Now I was thankful that he had talked me into it, and was looking forward to the restful weeks that lay ahead.
Santa Barbara was even more beautiful than I remembered. Our lodge-style house was right on the rocky coastline, with an expansive deck overlooking the ocean. It was big enough for every couple to have their own room, with several to spare. There was a stone fireplace in the living room, and one in the room that became Rocky’s office. The house was basically unfurnished when we arrived, but it quickly filled up.
We sat around the living room together one evening, toasting our new place with a bottle of red wine.
Claire nodded and looked around. “You guys really outdid yourselves. I take back everything I said about you all not being true queers.”
“Score one for the real Fab Five!” Mutt shouted, looking for someone to high-five and finding Lucas.
I laughed and took a sip from my glass. “Well sure, it’s easy when money is no object.”
“Do we actually know how much we’ve made so far?” Alex asked, looking at Rocky.
Our manager just looked down at the floor, trying to hide his grin. He shook his head and took a sip of wine, not saying anything.
“Oh come on, spill it. It can’t be that bad.” David said.
6 pairs of eyes we’re focused on Rocky, and still he was trying to fight the ear-to-ear grin that was creeping up on his face. “I don’t have the exact numbers yet, just some estimates.”
“And?” I pressed, not sure if I was scared or just annoyed.
“Well, first off, we sold about 8 million albums in six months. And I want you guys to know that that in itself is a huge deal for any band, but for us it’s even better because we’re not sharing any of that money with a record company. Then you add on the tour, which was sold-out in advance every single night. Plus merchandising, royalties, and everything else. None of that is taken from us either, and the number grows every day, because we’re still very high on the charts. Not to mention that most of this cash is in the bank already, so we’re earning interest on it at an incredible rate…”
I rolled my eyes. “Get on with it pointdexter!”
“…so, in the end, and this is just a rough, current estimate, but I think we broke nine figures.” He smiled.
There was a short pause as we all tried to figure out just how much that was, followed by a dropping of jaws. “A hundred million dollars?” I choked out. “Are you fucking joking?”
The grin was now plastered on Rocky’s face and he laughed. “A little more than that actually.”
Nobody really knew what to say, so Mutt just blurted out the first joke that came into his mind. “So what are we doing in this dump?”
“Hey, watch it, I love this house. It’s perfect for us.” I shot back.
“I know, I know, I’m just kidding.”
Claire was still stunned. “That’s just too much. What do we even do with it?”
“I’d like to think we could do a lot of good. We told those reporters that we were going to get involved in some issues; I’m sure the money will help.” David offered.
Alex seemed deep in thought for a moment. “We could probably afford a private jet right?”
Rocky shrugged. “I don’t see why not. But it’s not exactly like buying a car, it’s going to take a little time. I don’t even know if I’m old enough to buy a plane.” Rocky replied, furrowing his brow in thought.
“Well then figure it out. You make eight percent don’t you? That’s like eight million bucks, buddy. I think you can find us a plane.” I said firmly.
He gave me a mock salute. “First thing in the morning boss.”
I noticed Lucas shaking his head. “What’s up babe? Something wrong?” I asked.
“No, not at all. I’m just trying to figure out how I went from being homeless to falling in love with one of the richest, most beautiful rock stars in the world.” He whispered, leaning in for a quick kiss.
His strawberry flavored lips now had a hint of wine on them as well, and I pulled him closer to get another taste.
“Ewww.” David joked. “Get a room.”
I flipped him off, but to my surprise Lucas suddenly pulled me to my feet and led me out of the living room and up the stairs to our room. I just looked back at my friends helplessly, smiled, and shrugged.
* * * * * * *
I was up first the following morning. Though everyone else looked at our hiatus as an excuse to sleep as late as they wanted, I just couldn’t do it. I have too much energy, and decided to burn some of it off in the gym we’d created for ourselves in the basement. I’d been out of training for a long time, and really missed it. As the highest-ranking black belt back home, I was known to be a very tough motherfucker; it was a reputation I kind of enjoyed, and certainly didn’t want to lose just by being lazy.
I was upside down, doing crunches, when the silence of the morning was broken by a knock at the front door. Normally I would have just ignored it in the middle of a workout, but I was curious not only as to who it could possibly be, but what they wanted at 9:00 AM. I jumped down from the bar and grabbed a towel to wipe myself off as I rushed upstairs. Still clad in only my boxer shorts, I opened the door.
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed, seeing who it was.
He laughed and extended his hand. “Uh, no. Jordan. Jordan Johnson.”
I just barely remembered my name. “Jack….Marcus.”
Even with my eyes wide and mouth gaping, I managed to shake his hand. Then, realizing what a fool I was making of myself, I regained my composure quickly. “Hey, come in. I’m sorry, you just caught me off guard.”
He stepped inside and I noticed he was carrying what looked like a very appetizing caramel coffeecake. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry for surprising you, but I think that’s kind of what a welcome wagon is supposed to do.” He said, handing me the coffeecake.
“Anyway, here you go. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks. This looks great.” I said, stepping off of the foyer and into the kitchen to put it down.
I still couldn’t believe Jordan was actually in my house. He looked incredible, even at this hour. His long blond hair and perfect face seemed to shine in the morning sun pouring through the windows, and he was dressed to kill in vintage jeans and a white polo shirt. I looked around in vain for a shirt; but finding nothing, I congratulated myself on working out this morning, because I knew that if I couldn’t be dressed, I still looked damn good almost naked.
He looked around the interior of the house and nodded. “Sweet place.”
“Thanks. We just finished it a few days ago.” I motioned for him to sit down at the center island of our kitchen to have some of his gift with me. “I’ll put on some coffee right now.”
“Thanks, that sounds great.” He replied.
I filled the coffeemaker with water at the sink. “So, it’s really great to meet you. I had no idea that you live in this area too.”
“Yeah. We’re your next door neighbors actually. And big fans.” He smiled.
I tried to maintain my cool. “Thanks. We’re big fans of yours too. In fact, I was just wondering what you guys have been up to lately. I mean, the last ‘Johnson’ album came out, what? Over 2 years ago?”
He nodded. “About then, yeah. But it didn’t do so well. Our record company dropped us. So we’ve just been lying low, working on stuff here and there. We have a pretty sweet studio in our basement.”
I sat down across from him at the bar. “Sweet. We have a gym in ours. I don’t think we’ll be recording for a while. Mutt can barely stand-up.”
“Yeah, I was just going to ask how he’s doing.” Jordan said, looking concerned.
“Not bad. Getting better every day actually. But you know, he still spends a lot of time in bed. He’s pretty medicated to deal with the pain.”
Jordan just nodded and said nothing.
I had to change the subject. “So, how do you manage to stay off the press’s radar? It seemed like you guys were on TV everyday. Well, a few years ago anyway.”
“You know, it’s kind of strange. It seems like all it takes is a few days of nothing going on and they just lose interest and find some better story.” He paused and looked down at his mug. “I can’t say I miss the spotlight though. All the stupid fucking questions you know? About puberty, being in a band with your brothers, reminding us how young we are…well you know what I mean don’t you? It’s so annoying, and it has nothing to do with our music at all. The press are fucking shameless.” He paused. “Sorry, I get a little carried away talking about this.”
“No, don’t worry about it, I hear you. But I’ve just learned to piss them off right back. I love giving reporters an ass whopping here and there. They’ve stopped underestimating me, that’s for sure.” I laughed.
Jordan grinned. “Yeah. I saw that last press conference you gave in New York; I was laughing my ass off at how great you guys were. You don’t hold anything back.”
Frankly, I was a little nervous that he’d seen the press conference. It means the gay issue is hanging in the air now, and I’m sure he must have already noticed by my greeting at the door that I was into more than just his music. I tried to cover. “So it’s just you and Clarke and Zack living over there?” I asked, motioning in the direction of their house.
“No, actually it’s just me, Zack and Joel. Clarke and his fiancée have their own place,” he replied.
“Oh, he’s engaged? I didn’t know that.”
“How could you?” He replied. “She’s cool. Definitely perfect for him. We don’t really see them much. Anyway, I’m glad they have their own place. I much prefer being the head of the household, and I get along great with Zack anyway. Plus, Clarke really doesn’t like Joel much.”
“Joel?” I asked, pouring us both a cup of fresh coffee.
He quickly swallowed the bite of cake he was eating. “Oh, yeah, I’m sorry. Joel is my boyfriend.”
Suddenly my hand was burning and I realized that I had not stopped pouring the coffee after my mug was full. I set the pot down and shook my hand off. Jordan was laughing.
“Obviously my secret was well-kept.” He grinned.
I was horribly embarrassed now, but equally intrigued by what I’d just found out. “Again, I had no idea. How long have you been together?”
“Over a year. He was our fan-club president before I met him. Things just kind of took off really fast.”
“Yeah, I know how things can take off.” I smiled. “That’s really cool though, I’m happy for you. You seem pretty open about it, are you coming-out now or something?”
He shook his head. “No. I’d like to but I can’t. The suits don’t like it. I just figured it was safe to tell you. I mean, this house is practically gay central right? And we’re neighbors and all.”
“Yeah, of course. Anything you don’t want spread around is safe here.” I replied.
“I knew it would be.” He finished his last bite of breakfast and took a sip of coffee. “I’d give anything to be able to be as honest as you guys are. You’re really brave to do what you did, and lucky.”
“We just aren’t afraid of the consequences.” I shrugged. “You mentioned that suits are stopping you, but we don’t have that to deal with, so we just did it. I still don’t know if it was the best thing to do, but nonetheless it’s done and over with.”
“It’s too bad that it’s even an issue. I mean, who cares whether the people we love are guys or girls? You’d think the world would have gotten over this homophobic thing by now.”
I totally agreed. “Well you said it yourself, the press are fucking shameless. They love a kinky story over a real one anyway.”
“Some good does come from it though. You’re doing a great service for people. Gay kids especially.”
“That’s what I keep hearing.” I said, grinning.
He took a final sip of coffee and stood up. “Well, I should probably get back. I only meant to stop by for a minute to say hello. The other guys will be waking up soon.”
I tried to think quickly for a way to get him to come back and couldn’t think of anything, so I just made something up. “We’re having a BBQ later, for dinner. You should join us, and bring Joel and Zack.”
“That sounds great. ” He answered. “And you should feel free to stop by anytime too. It’s kind of pointless for us to beat around the bush like this. It’s pretty obvious that we’re going to be hanging out a lot..”
I opened the door for him and tried to hide my excited smile. “That sounds great. I know the other guys will be thrilled too.”
He smiled back. “I’ll see you later then. It’s nice to meet you Jack.”
“You too, Jordan. For sure.”
He started down the path but then stopped and turned around again, smiling. “By the way, you look fantastic in your underwear. Trust me, you weren’t the only one of us that was staring at the other. I’ll see you later.”
I couldn’t find anything to say back to him so I just choked for a minute and shut the door. I watched him walk home and then nearly knocked over everything in my way as I dashed into my room and leapt onto the bed where Lucas was still asleep.
He groggily raised his head. “What?”
My face was twisted into an ear-to-ear grin. “You will never guess who I just had breakfast with.”
He dropped his face back into the pillow and let out a muffled, “Who?”
He suddenly jumped up. “No fucking way! He was here?”
“Yeah, and get this, he’s gay! He and his boyfriend live next door!”
Lucas was totally on top of me now, pinning me to the bed. His facial expression was absolutely priceless and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“You have got to be kidding me. That’s incredible.” He squealed.
I shoved him off me and pinned him down instead. “Well you’ll have plenty of time to gush over him in person, cause he’s coming back later for a BBQ, with his boyfriend and little brother.”
“That’s so cool!” He paused. “Wait a minute, what BBQ?”
“I had to say something!” I defended. “Besides, we can have a BBQ, it can’t be that hard.”
“I guess so. Oh man, this is cool. Now I’m all excited.” Lucas said into my ear as he nibbled it and started kissing my neck.
I have to admit I was pretty excited too. I’d been a huge fan of ‘Johnson’ for years, and having them next door was just unbelievable. Jordan used to be the hottest guy I could possibly think of, that is until I met the angel that was now kissing his way down my chest. We spent some good quality time in bed for a while, before sharing the amazing news with everyone else.
* * * * * * *
“Do you think it matters that none of us knows how to cook?” David asked, pushing the cart that I was slowly filling.
I picked up a couple bags of chips and tossed them in. “Not at all. It can’t be that hard. Besides, what do you mean nobody knows how to cook? You’re pretty good.”
Alex agreed. “I think he’s just saying that to get out of doing it.”
David shot him a dirty look. “Thanks a lot Alex. I’ll remember to make your burger a sneezer.”
“No sneezers. I’d like to make somewhat of a good impression on our neighbors.” I replied. “At least enough to make up for my stupidity this morning.”
“The way you told it, he didn’t seem to care.” Alex shrugged. “I mean, they are coming back right? You couldn’t have been that bad.”
“What’s with the star struck thing anyway? We’ve met a bunch of cool people this year and you didn’t get so worked up.” David wondered.
I pretended to look closely at the jars of pickles on the shelf in front of me, and didn’t answer.
“Jack?” he pressed.
Alex’s face lit up. “Oh! David, I get it! Remember that night a couple years ago…you know, when we came downstairs from your room really late and caught him…uh, polishing his knob? You remember what music video was on?”
David started laughing loudly, and a few people turned to look. “Yeah! Ok, nevermind!”
I could feel my face turning red. “Shut up you guys. People are staring.”
David didn’t seem to hear me and started to sing softly, “Jack and Jordan sittin in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…”
I smacked him in the back of the head. “Don’t make me kick your ass right here, little brother. I do not have a crush on him! I have Lucas now. Just drop it.”
Alex stepped between us. “Hey, hey. Cool it guys.”
The thing was, I did have a crush on Jordan, and have for years. Since I met Lucas I haven’t really thought about it much, but after this morning I started to remember why I used to be so infatuated, especially after finding out that he’s gay. It’s not that I would ever act on my feelings; after all, I’m perfectly happy with Lucas as I’m sure Jordan is with Joel. But the feelings were still in my head, and I didn’t want them showing themselves in front of my friends, or my boyfriend.
We passed by the liquor section and I got an idea. “Hey, if we’re going to be good hosts then we should probably get something to drink.”
Alex and David raised their eyebrows at me.
“I have an idea. Just follow my lead.”
I grabbed a couple cases of beer and some bottles of wine, and pushed the cart towards the checkout lines. I quickly glanced over the cashiers on duty and smiled as I saw what I was looking for. I started unloading the groceries onto the counter.
The cashier started scanning items until she came to the alcohol. “Do you have some ID?” She asked, not really looking at me yet.
“No, I’m afraid not.” I replied. “Is that a problem?”
She seemed annoyed and stopped what she was doing to talk to me. “Well, I can’t sell you…”
I flashed her a huge smile and got exactly the reaction I was hoping for. Suddenly recognition came into her eyes and she looked back at Alex and David, who were both wearing the same cheesy grin I was.
“Oh my god! Do you know who you are?” She sputtered.
“Actually I do. And it’s very nice to meet you Emily.” I said, reading her nametag.
Her face was flushed. “Wow. I mean, wow. I can’t believe this. I need to tell my friend…”
She started to turn around and get someone’s attention and I quickly leaned across the counter to whisper in her ear. “No. Hold on a second. Before you do that, we need a little help here.”
“What do you mea…oh. Yeah! Of course!” She quickly scanned the alcohol and put it in paper bags with the rest of the groceries on top. “Your total comes to $275.36″
I pulled a large roll of hundred dollar bills out of my pocket and gave her three of them. “I really appreciate this Emily, you’re a lifesaver. Please tell me what I can do for you in return.” I said in my most charming, debonair voice.
Emily giggled and her face blushed. “Well, I’d love some pictures with you guys, but I don’t have my camera.”
“I’ll tell you what. We live in this area now, and we’ll be doing all of our shopping right here. So I promise you that next time we come in, we’ll have something special for you.”
She seemed satisfied at that and we left the store. Out in the parking lot, David and Alex shook their heads at me.
“What?” I asked.
“You are absolutely shameless.” Alex said. “She could get fired for that.”
I shrugged innocently and grinned. “Hey, I had to try. She could have said no.”
Again they just shook their heads as we jumped in the jeep and drove home.
We arrived home to a very unique, and very gay, sight. In the living room we found Mutt lying down on the couch as Claire and Lucas sat behind him, braiding his hair into dreadlocks with beads.
“Awww. Look at that. I think we interrupted some girl talk.” David said, setting down his grocery bags on the kitchen counter. “Can I join?”
Mutt couldn’t turn his head to look so just shouted, “Whattya think babe? How does it look? They won’t give me a mirror.”
David cuddled up next to him. “It’s cool. I like it. But I’m kind of wondering where Lucas learned something like this.”
“As hard as it is to believe, I did have some friends before you guys. Her name was Jessica, and she taught me this when I was 16. I don’t get to practice much though.”
“Ooh, a girlfriend. Did you get to second base?” I yelled from the kitchen, as I put the food away.
Lucas rolled his eyes. “Hardly. She was a fag-hag, not a girlfriend.”
“You mean I’m not the only woman in your life?” Claire asked, trying to sound offended.
He leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “You are now.”
“Hey! Hey! No more kissing in there.” I yelled.
As soon as I said that David jumped onto Mutt and started making out with him, Alex picked Claire up from the floor and did the same. I shrugged and ran over to Lucas, tackling him and attacking those strawberry lips. After a few minutes of shared passion, we all came up for a breath of air.
“Ok, bad rule.” I said, panting.
There was a knock at the door and I tore myself away from Lucas long enough to answer it while the others were still lost in each other. I found Jordan standing on the doorstep, this time with his brother and another guy I assumed must be Joel.
“You didn’t actually say what time to come over.” Jordan said, peering inside. “I guess we must be early.”
Zack’s eyes got wide as he too noticed the scene in the living room. I cleared my throat loudly and my friends suddenly came back to life. There was a long round of introductions and we invited them to have a seat. Joel was exactly what I expected, a gorgeous, blond, California boy. The only choice perfect enough for a god like Jordan. He seemed very intelligent and well spoken; obviously the best of both worlds.
As we sat down, I noticed someone was missing. “Where’s Rocky?” I asked.
David realized he’d have to get started on dinner now and headed for the kitchen as he called out. “In his office.”
I took a deep breath and yelled, “Rocky, we have company!”
Suddenly he appeared from the staircase and hurried down to say hello. “Sorry guys. You should have given me some warning.” He apologized.
“That’s ok, I think we kind of surprised everyone.” Jordan replied, shaking his hand, then introducing Joel and Zack as well.
Though I expected things to be a bit awkward for a while, I couldn’t have been further from correct. Everyone hit it off right away and in less than hour you could have sworn that we’d all been friends for years. We moved the party out on the deck as David lit the grill. The sun was just starting to go down, and there was a gentle breeze coming off the ocean; we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. The conversation was lively and interesting, and our guests were actively involved.
“So Zack, I hope this isn’t too personal, but considering your current company…well, I just have to know…” David started.
Zack interrupted him. “You want to know if I like boys.” He smiled.
My brother nodded and smiled back. “If it’s not too personal a question.”
“Hell no! There’s no such thing as too personal a question. And yes, I’m into dick.”
I smashed my empty beer can on the table. “Ok, that does it. We’re like some kind of a magnet for queers. There’s no question about it. This is just too weird.”
There was a round of chuckles from around the table. “It’s not that unusual really.” Joel threw in. “I mean, you guys grew up together, living your own life; so did we. We just happened to meet.”
Jordan agreed. “Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll admit, one of the top reasons we’re over here is because I knew it would be ‘friendly territory.’ You guys are great.”
Claire shook her head and glanced at Alex. “We’re being slowly taken over. I hope it’s not catching.”
He kissed her. “Yeah, no kidding. Though if it were I’m sure we would have caught it by now. At least you’d think so.”
David tried to get back to his original question. “So Zack, you’re gay, but are you with anyone?”
“Naww, just haven’t found the right guy yet. I’m always on the look-out though.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Joel interjected. “He gets more action than anybody I know. So, it’d probably be safer if you don’t drink out of his glass, he’s basically just a walking bacteria culture.”
Zack gave him the finger but laughed with everyone else anyway.
We enjoyed a fabulous dinner, as my brother really outdid himself preparing a delicious home-cooked meal; something we hadn’t had in quite a long time. I really felt at home, just enjoying a nice evening with my friends in the comfort of our new house. For the first time in months, we were grounded and stable, without having to worry about what city we would wake up in tomorrow. Also, Jordan, Joel, and Zack were fantastic. Meeting such great new friends who also happened to be neighbors was a godsend, and I began to wonder if it might take us quite a while to get back into the spotlight again.
* * * * * * *
Later, in the comfort of their room, Mutt and David lay in bed together. “You know, you seemed awfully interested in Zack tonight.” Mutt said.
“Interested? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, It’s just something I noticed.”
David rolled away and looked up at the ceiling. “What can I say? He’s kind of cute. But don’t worry about it babe, you’re the one for me.”
“I know, I know.” He paused. “You’re right though, he is cute. And more your age.”
“Will you cut that shit out?” David snapped. “You have nothing to worry about.”
Mutt started getting angry as well. “I just don’t want to have to sit at our dinner table and watch you flirt with some other guy you just met.”
“How the hell was I flirting? I was just trying to be nice to the guy! Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that it’s you and I that are in bed together right now.”
“Not anymore.” Mutt said, starting to get up out of bed but unable to because of his injuries.
“No. Stop it. I’ll leave. You’re going to hurt yourself.” David almost yelled, grabbing a pillow and rushing out the door, slamming it as he left.
* * * * * * *
The noise in the next room woke me up and I turned over to find Jack still sleeping soundly beside me. There was some more yelling and a slamming door, and I decided to get up and see what was going on. I stood at the top of the staircase and peered down into the darkness to find David curling up on the couch. I started slowly down the stairs and he looked up when he heard my footsteps.
“What’s going on David? Is something wrong?”
“No, you can just go back to bed. Nothing you have to worry about.” He replied, slightly annoyed.
I sat down at his feet anyway. “Oh come on. You’ve never slept away from Mutt; at least since I met you. Something must be up.”
He sighed. “He thinks I was flirting with Zack tonight.”
“Jesus Lucas, what the fuck do you think? Of course not.” He paused. “Why? Do you think I was?”
I had to be honest. “Well, you did seem to be awfully curious about him.”
David let out a deep sigh. “It’s just that…I’ve never been with anybody except Mutt. Zack’s cool. I’m not saying I would ever think of doing anything with him…I just, I don’t know, I was curious.”
“That’s totally understandable. But you have to assure Mutt that he has nothing to worry about. He really needs you right now, while he’s recovering and all.”
I wasn’t going to bring it up with David right now, but I knew exactly how he was feeling. I’d gotten the feeling all night that Jack was flirting with Jordan pretty heavily too. Knowing about his years of infatuation with the guy certainly didn’t help me feel any better, and I began to wonder for the first time if maybe our relationship wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. I love Jack completely, but how can I compete with a guy like that? I think I was silent for a little too long, as David tried to get my attention.
“Lucas? You still here?”
“Huh? Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking.”
David looked at me in the darkness, and I could tell he was reading my mind. “I know” he said. “But I think you and Mutt are both wrong. It may be kind of exciting, and even wrong of us, but it’s nothing to worry about.”
I was a little uncomfortable at David seeing right through me, and I stood up to go back to bed. Before I did, I bent down and gave him a hug.
He whispered in my ear. “It’s going to be ok. You’ll see.”
I managed some kind of reply and trudged back upstairs to crawl into bed with Jack. It took me a little longer to fall asleep this time, as I just couldn’t get my mind to stop spinning with all those thoughts and worries.
* * * * * * *
As I expected, we became fast friends with the Johnsons. The weeks that followed were filled with fun; we did everything together, and it was a great time. Mutt’s health was improving too; he could even walk now, though not for very long distances, and had started playing his bass again. It still astounds me how he can keep such high spirits about his situation; from the day he was shot right to the present he hasn’t felt sorry for himself or expected anyone else to either. I’m not sure if I could be that stoic, or brave. I’m sure it helped that we were all there to support him, but still, he showed more courage and resilience than any of us knew he had.
It’s pretty much expected that on your birthday, at some point during the day, someone will ask you if you feel any older. In years past, the question pissed me off, because no, of course I didn’t feel any older, how can anyone? But today, as I turn 18, I have a different point of view.
As usual I was up first, and wandered out onto the balcony of Lucas and I’s room. It was a beautiful day, and the ocean breeze softly brought me to life out of a deep sleep. I watched the sun come up, something that has become quite a habit for me now, and thought about the fact that I really did feel 18.
Here I was living in a beautiful, totally paid for home that as of today had my name as the only other one on the deed next to Rocky’s. I wake up every morning next to an angel that I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with; whether legally married or not. I have a successful career that has already provided me with the money and means to retire this very day or continue until I fall over in exhaustion. Most importantly though, I have the love, respect, and companionship of an unbeatable group of friends and family whom I’ve been with nearly every day of my life.
So yes, I feel 18. I feel like an adult who has earned his place in the world and now looks forward to taking that place and making it shine. I sat down on one of the two canvas chairs we kept on the balcony and continued staring off over the immense ocean.
Back home life seemed so limited, so planned out. There was school, sports, community activities; and after graduation the expected path was to a university, and eventually into some kind of normal job. There was very little room to move, and in the end, none of it would really seem to have made a difference anyway. Now here I was doing something unique and special with my life, away from the petty accomplishments that I cared so much about before.
Our lives back home could have been pulled right out of a soap opera. We fought and bickered and competed with each other over practically everything. But being together like we are now, united in a common purpose and by our common bond, fights like that had long since fallen by the wayside, and I was now kind of embarrassed at how immaturely I used to act. There was no reason for any of it now because we’d moved out of the suffocating bubble of high school life and into the real world, however surreal it may be at the moment.
I’m not sure what brought all these thoughts into my head. They’ve been there for quite a while, slowly coming to me. Now though, on the morning I become an adult, they enter my consciousness fully, and I hope, will stay for good.
* * * * * * *
My friends and I spent my big day shopping and having lunch in Los Angeles, after which we arrived home to a very welcome surprise. With as tired as we all were after such a long day, I was wondering what we were going to do about dinner; but we opened the door to find that the Johnsons had not only taken the liberty of decorating our house for my birthday but had also ordered a myriad of Chinese take-out for dinner. We barely got inside and there they were with party hats and noisemakers, singing me a very much on-key and stunningly perfect rendition of Happy Birthday.
We applauded the performance. “Thanks you guys. This is great, you really didn’t have to.” I said, giving Jordan a quick hug.
Joel got to me next. “We had to do something for your big day! Come on, you guys all just sit down, we’ll take care of everything.”
Being waited on by international rock stars on my birthday was certainly nothing I was about to argue with. We sat down to relax and enjoyed a relatively quiet dinner. I couldn’t have asked for more; then Jordan tapped his glass with a spoon to get the attention of the room.
“I know that you said that you didn’t want us to get you anything, but we’re the kind of people who just ignore what their friends say if they don’t agree with it.” Like a pro, he paused for a bit of laughter and continued, smiling. “So we picked up a little something that I really hope you’ll enjoy.”
As if on cue, Zack reached behind the kitchen counter and brought out the gift. My eyes nearly fell out of my head as I saw it. A brand new Taylor Acoustic Guitar; custom made out of real South American exotic hardwood and featuring my name inlaid in ivory on the 12th fret. It was the most gorgeous instrument I’d ever seen.
I took it slowly out of Zack’s hands and laid it carefully down on my knees to softly strum. It rung out beautifully, and I looked around to see that my friends were just as impressed as I was.
“I…I don’t know what to say you guys; this is incredible, I love it. Thank you so much.” I exclaimed, nearly tearing up with emotion.
Joel, Jordan, and Zack smiled proudly and came over to hug me one by one.
Alex took the guitar out of my hands to examine it. “These are impossible to get. I heard it can take months to have them custom made.” He said, brushing his hand over the ‘Jack’ engraving.
Jordan shrugged. “We know some people at Taylor, and they were happy to rush it when we told them who it was for.”
I hugged him again, longer this time as I tried not to cry. He held me for a minute and I happened to catch sight of Lucas, who seemed a bit nervous at our show of affection. I quickly broke the embrace.
We sat up talking for quite a while longer, though it didn’t take long before we started dropping one by one. Mutt was in some pain after having to walk so much during the day, so he as well as Alex and Claire soon retired to bed. We dimmed the lights in the living room and switched on the TV. The conversation slowly drifted off and when I looked over at the couch, Lucas, Rocky, and Joel had all fallen asleep against each other.
“Psst.” I whispered to David, Jordan, and Zack; pointing at the couch and laughing silently.
They bit their lips to stay quiet and we stood up slowly to move out to the deck where we wouldn’t disturb anyone. We sat around the table, mesmerized by the sight of the full moon over the water.
I had taken my new guitar outside with me, and was absent-mindedly picking out the melody to one of Breaktown’s slower songs. I unexpectedly heard the words pick up right on cue, but it wasn’t David’s voice singing as it normally would have been, it was Jordan.
David and Zack just watched and listened as we did the entire song.
“Wow.” I said, letting the last notes ring out. “That was great. I had no idea you knew it so well.”
Jordan grinned and shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, well, it’s a good song. I’ve always wondered though, what’s it really about?”
I turned to David, who was still lost in the moment of the song. “Oh, uh, I wrote it in about an hour one night. I just got this melody in my head and had to do something with it. I wish I could tell you it had some deep meaning, but I don’t really write about personal stuff much.”
“Our stuff is all personal. Though it’s not like anybody really knows or cares. I suppose it doesn’t really make a difference as long as it sounds good.” Zack added.
“We really need to try writing some stuff together.” I offered. “It seems destined to happen anyway. And if this isn’t a sign of how well it would work…then I don’t know what is.”
“Destiny huh?” Zack grinned.
I nodded. “Well yeah, I mean look at what we have here. Two sets of brothers, same ages, in very similar bands…isn’t that something like destiny?”
“More like you ripping off our idea!” Zack joked. “I wonder if we can sue for this.”
David knocked Zack backwards off the bench they were seated on and wrestled around a bit on the deck.
Jordan shook his head. “They may be the same age but something tells me David is about three or four lifetimes older.”
“Yeah, I always say he’s an old soul; but he still has a long way to go before I’ll ever call him an adult.”
We watched them fighting for another minute or so, until Jordan spoke up again. “The idea is good though, about us writing together. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile now actually.”
“Of course. I think we could really get something great. We’re kindred spirits.”
The feeling in the air seemed to get even more peaceful right then. The lapping of the waves, the darkness, the soft breeze, it just seemed to work like a drug. Zack and David tired of wrestling and drifted off to the Johnson’s house to play videogames; I was left alone with Jordan.
We shared a comfortable silence, just losing ourselves in the view. Eventually he spoke up. “You know, Jack, I think there’s a subject that we’ve been avoiding.”
I felt a lump in my throat and tried to swallow it, but said nothing.
“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea though. It’s not what you think. I’m really not trying to flirt with you. It’s just that our attitudes about love and life are different from a lot of peoples lately. And there’s a reason for it, something that we’ve been afraid of telling you.”
All the sudden my fears were gone and replaced with genuine concern. “What is it? There’s nothing you can tell me that will make me think any differently of you.”
He looked down at his hands. “Well it’s not really that kind of thing. And it’s not about me, or Zack. It’s Joel. He’s…sick.”
“Sick? What kind of sick? Cancer sick?”
Jordan shook his head and spoke very softly. “AIDS sick.” He finally whispered.
“Oh.” Was all I could manage as a response. I put an arm around him and squeezed his shoulder for a bit of comfort.
“I’ve known pretty much since we met. We fell in love so fast, and I had such great visions of the future that when he told me I just refused to believe it. Even worse, he’d already accepted it and wasn’t scared at all. That’s what I mean about different attitudes when it comes to love. He’s really spiritual; you know, into eastern philosophies and stuff. Sometimes he’s so grounded and peaceful that even that makes me cry. But Zack and I have kind of learned from it. Now we sort of live everyday like it’s the last; so if it seems like we’re a bit touchy-feely sometimes, I guess that’s why. We’re to the point now where we always let people know how much we appreciate them.”
“I guess it makes sense now that I think about it. I was starting to wonder how you got in the habit of telling Zack that you love him every time you leave each other.”
He shrugged. “I just always want him to know. We don’t care what people think; life’s too precious for that.”
“Oh I’m not making fun of you!” I quickly defended. “In fact, I’m kind of jealous. I wish I had the guts to be the same way with David…and everybody. I mean, I know we love each other, but sometimes I wish we would say it more.”
“I highly recommend it. It’s good for the soul.” He grinned, though even in the darkness I could see his eyes were wet. This obviously wasn’t an easy subject.
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, how bad is it?”
He paused again and tried not to let his crying grow any worse. I just kept my arm firmly around his shoulder and encouraged him to let it all out. “Maybe ten years. Maybe one. It depends on so many things. He doesn’t want to take any extreme measures. His biggest wish is just to keep living like normal and go when it’s time. He’s been dealing with this for years before we ever met, since he was seven. It’s not really my place to try and talk him into fighting now. There’s not much he could do anyway.”
“He’s been sick since he was seven?” I asked.
“Yeah. That’s when his parents figured out that he had it. He had some blood given to him in the hospital as a baby, and well, you can take it from there. It takes time though, to figure out that you have it.”
I searched for something to say but came up empty. This was new territory for me. In all the serious things I’d had to deal with in my life, this was just a whole different dimension. I wanted to be supportive, but I was still very scared and shocked at the news and wanted to be careful to avoid saying anything wrong.
I finally just said the first thing that came to mind. “I don’t think I could be as strong about this as you are. I’d feel so cheated. I can just see myself getting angry, not ever wanting to love anyone again.”
He seemed to understand. “That was part of it, for sure. I was so head-over-heels for him when we met; it was like starting a whole new life. Everything was perfect. But he never lied to me or tried to avoid the issue. He was just straightforward from the beginning. Now that I look back on it, I know it was better that way. If he would have surprised me after we’d fallen in love…I don’t think I could have dealt with it.”
“How did you end up living together?”
His sobbing was getting a bit heavier now. “It was just the natural progression of things. His parents don’t live to far away, just a few miles actually. But he wanted to live something like a married life before…well, anyway I wasn’t going to argue with him. I wanted the same thing.”
“Well you guys seem to be handling it well; I never would have even considered this if you hadn’t told me. But of course you know, we’re there for you all the way.”
He just nodded, too choked up to speak.
“Do you not want anyone else to know?” I asked, desperately trying to comfort him.
Jordan shook his head. “It’s ok if you tell them. Joel wanted to a while ago but I figured we should get to know you all first before just dumping it on you.”
“Yeah, I understand. I’ll have to break it to them carefully. I know that Lucas especially has really taken a liking to Joel.”
From then on there wasn’t much more to say. We just sat there together for quite a while longer as Jordan vented the emotions he’d kept bottled up for so long. As midnight, and my birthday, were left behind me, I can say for sure now that I definitely feel older.
* * * * * * *
Over at the Johnson’s house, David and Zack were deeply engaged in a brutal battle of Super Mario Brothers. It had been going on for over an hour now with no clear winner in sight, but neither of them was tired enough yet to call it a night. At the end of one particularly nerve-rattling game, Zack threw down his controller and leaned back against the foot of his bed.
“We need to spice this up a little bit, man.” He sighed.
David raised an eyebrow at him. “Meaning what? You want to bet?”
“No, no, I don’t need your money.” He grinned. “I mean we need to take it to a whole different level.”
“We’ve tried all the hardest levels…”
Zack rolled his eyes. “Ugh, you’re impossible David. I’m just going to spell it out for you.” He jumped up and went over to his dresser, opened the top drawer and took out a small plastic baggie about half full of colorful tablets.
David’s eyes lit up. “Is that what I think it is?”
“A. B. C. D. EEE!” He yelled, jumping on the bed.
“I’ve never done that before, but I’ve always heard it’s incredible.
Zack dropped down and sat on the edge of the bed next to his friend. “Hell yeah! There isn’t anything cooler. And this is the good stuff. My brother and Joel don’t know I have it, they don’t like drugs; so I haven’t had the chance to do it in a while.”
“Jack doesn’t like drugs much either; I always have to hide what I’m doing.” He examined the bag. “But I’m game, lets do it.”
Zack got up to close and lock his door. “Ok, but you should know, this kind of takes a commitment of at least few hours. It’s not going to be a good idea to see anybody except each other. Do you think we should call over to your house and tell them that we’re staying here?”
“Uh, why don’t you just call and tell Jack that I fell asleep.” David answered.
Zack quickly grabbed the phone and made the call, handing David a tab of Ecstasy as he did. They smiled and took them together, and went back to playing video games for a while, waiting for something happen.
It wasn’t a long wait. In about 45 minutes they were on top of the world, and had forgotten all about Super Mario Brothers. Zack managed to dim the lights and put on a CD of techno music before they collapsed on the floor together, just staring up at the ceiling.
David couldn’t believe he’d never tried this before. His body felt weightless, and filled with some kind of warm, liquid, joy. Colors, sounds, and thoughts seemed to dance vibrantly in and out of his consciousness. The most obvious effect though, was that he suddenly felt a profound and deep emotional bond to Zack.
He stared at his friend in the darkness until Zack finally noticed. “What’s wrong?” He asked.
“Nothing. It’s all good. I was just thinking about you.”
He chuckled. “You’re high.”
“Yeah, but I was still thinking about you.”
“Ok, I’ll play along. What were you thinking about me?” Zack grinned.
“That you’re really cute, and I want to kiss you.”
“You’re not supposed to just randomly kiss people when you’re on E.”
David moved closer to him. “Why not?”
“Because it’s so good, you’ll never have a kiss like it again.”
“That sounds like something I could live with.”
Before his friend even had a chance to reply, David had shifted even closer and planted his lips on Zack’s. Fireworks started going off right away and they felt as if they were being swept up into the air. They hugged tightly as if to keep from falling as their mouths continued attacking each other eagerly. Every second seemed like an eternity and they remained lost in each other like that for at least a solid half-hour. When they finally broke apart for a much need rest, both were as out of breath as if they had just run a marathon.
“Oh…my…god.” Zack panted, still lying flat on the floor. “I’ve wanted to do that with you for so long.”
“Me…too.” David replied. “Why…did…we wait…so long?”
“You have a boyfriend, remember?”
David was hit with a shot of reality. “Oh my god. Mutt. Shit, I can’t believe this. We’ve never cheated on each other before.”
“Don’t worry about it, you still haven’t. It’s just the drugs.” Zack assured him. “You know we never would have done this otherwise.”
“I don’t know, I’ve wanted to for a long time.”
“But you didn’t. We didn’t. It’s not a crime to think about other guys David. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It happens, you’re human.”
“This was more than thinking about it.”
“And I’m not going to say anything, bud, I promise you.” Zack said, tussling David’s hair.” Just chalk this up to a fun little experience and forget about it.”
“I still can’t think strait. How long does this last?”
“A few more hours yet, just enjoy it. You’ll have a clear head in the morning.” Zack assured him.
They lost themselves in silence again, but David’s high was now damaged by feelings of guilt. He lay there wondering what Mutt would say about this, especially since he had already let it be known how concerned he was about their relationship. Maybe Zack was right, and it was just the drugs and nothing more. He was sure Mutt would understand that, at least, if he ever decided to tell him
The longer he lay there though, David realized that Zack, nor anyone else, could ever compare to Mutt. He had been sure of their status as soul mates for years, and if it took a night like this to make him truly realize it, then so be it. David made up his mind right then that drugs we’re going to be out of the picture for him now. He knew what made him truly happy, and it had nothing to do with any illegal chemicals. His mind raced with thoughts of Mutt and how he could once and for all let him know that there would never be anyone else.
Understandably, the next day was one filled with emotion. Because of the late night, nobody started waking up until nearly noon, and then only a few at a time. Joel and Jordan returned to their house around lunchtime and sent David back over to us. My brother looked awful, and I assumed he must have stayed up most of the night with Zack goofing off. As I was the one who seemed most alert, I did my best to prepare some brunch, and began breaking the news about Joel’s illness to my friends.
Knowing how close Joel and Lucas had become, I had spent the early hours of my morning awake, thinking of what I could possibly say to comfort my love. My opportunity came when I approached him sitting by himself down by the beach later that afternoon.
“How you doing babe?” I asked softly, taking a seat on the sand next to him.
He shrugged and continued looking out over the water. “Ok, I guess. More guilty than anything though, if you can believe that.”
“Why guilty? You didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t mean guilty about him being sick. I mean guilty because I was so sure that I had those guys figured out. I could have sworn that it was all about flirting, and trying to take you from me. I was so selfish. I never realized that maybe the love they share with everyone was just genuine love.”
I knew where he was coming from, but we’d never actually talked about the attraction between Jordan and I before. “Honestly, I thought the same thing you did. It must just be the way we are. We had no choice but to look at it selfishly; it’s the only way we knew how. I think it takes a life changing experience like theirs to be able to see things from a different point of view.”
As with all of us that day, he was still on the edge of crying. “I was sure you’d choose Jordan over me.”
My heart broke to hear him say that. “Hey, give me a little credit. I wouldn’t let you know just how much I love you only to forget about it the moment some other guy comes along. You should know you’re more important to me than that.”
“Oh come on Jack, he’s a superstar. How can I compete with that?”
I gently took his chin in my fingers and turned him to face me. “What the hell does fame have to do with love? It’s about compatibility, and how we complete each other. Not how many magazine covers you’ve been on. I love you. That’s what matters.”
Tears started slipping down his face now, and he rested his forehead on my shoulder. “I don’t know what I’d do if you were going to be taken away from me. I couldn’t be as strong as Jordan is, or Joel. You mean everything to me. I don’t think I’d want to go on.”
“Stop it. That’s a terrible thing to say. I would never want you to give up, no matter what happened to me. If there’s just one thing we can learn from them, it’s that. No matter how bad things might seem, you just can’t let life beat you. You’re too good for that.”
“But doesn’t this make life seem kind of petty? I mean, here you…and they, are with all this money and power and yet Joel is still going to die; there’s nothing anybody can do. What’s it all worth?”
That made me stop for a minute. What did a nine-figure earnings year and all the success we could ever want really mean if we couldn’t even save our friend from a painful illness? Until now it had all been about fun, and reaching our goals, and bringing the music that we loved so much out to share with the world. Now though, reality had come back into our lives and thrown a wrench in the whole works. There had to be some way to take action, and put a use to it all.
I finally took a deep breath and tried to answer Lucas’s question. “It’s worth something because we have the means to make a difference. Most families with a person like Joel aren’t in the position to do much of anything except worry about themselves. It takes all their energy just to deal with what’s going on. But here we are with the kind of influence that it takes to make a real impact. If we can save other people from getting sick, or open some minds and spread some peace, then we aren’t just doing nothing. Sure, I mean, it’s not going to save his life, but it might save others – and at least we wouldn’t feel so useless.”
Lucas wiped his eyes. “I thought you hated it when rock stars get all political.”
“Well that’s easy to say until something hits home.” I replied softly.
He looked back at me with admiration and pride in his eyes instead of tears and it lifted my soul. I smiled warmly at him and leaned in for a taste of strawberry lips. I have to admit, growing up feels pretty good.
* * * * * * *
The next few weeks were pretty much uneventful. Claire and Alex decided to fly home for a while and visit her family – something the rest of us, with our strained family relationships, had no interest in. The house seemed strangely empty, even though there was still five of us left.
I tried to think of a fun suggestion to keep us occupied and in good spirits. “Maybe we should jam for a while, you guys. We haven’t gone this long without playing in like, over a year.”
Mutt and David came alive with energy and answered in unison. “Yeah!”
“Is that still fun with just three of you?” Lucas asked.
He had a point. “I’ll call next door and see if they’re up to joining us, or if we can at least use the gear in their studio.”
As I expected, Jordan was thrilled with the idea of jamming with us, and we went over right away to capture as much of the energy as we could. Though I’d seen the studio before, this was the first time we’d actually spent time in there, and I was very impressed with its quality. For as many career problems as they we’re having now, Johnson had clearly spared no expense on their personal playground. The studio was an addition to the back of the house, accessible only from the inside. It was completely made of natural wood for the best acoustics possible, and included a very plush lounge with sliding glass doors looking into the performance room. Lucas, Rocky, and Joel occupied the room now, playing cards as the rest of us let the music do the talking.
With David and I on guitar, Mutt on bass, Zack behind his expansive drum set, and Jordan seated at a grand piano, I had to smile to myself with how perfect I expected this to sound. I was not disappointed. We stuck mainly to playing our favorite classics by The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, but also managed to surprise each other by doing some very convincing versions of both Johnson and Breaktown songs.
Our three-man audience wildly applauded everything we played, but it was Rocky that slowly began to drift away from the lounge and into the studio for a better listen.
“You know, I think you guys really have something here,” he said, as we hit the final notes of one particular rock classic.
“Meaning what?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Meaning you guys sound incredible together. It’s like you’re a real band, with a history. Nothing against Breaktown or Johnson of course, but it just kind of strikes something in me to see you guys all together.”
David giggled. “Ahhh! You mean the ‘gayosity’ of it all?”
Jordan quickly played the piano part to Elton John’s ‘The Bitch Is Back’ and the rest of us caught on right away and played a few measures before nearly dropping to the floor in laughter.
“You see what I mean?” Rocky continued. “You guys just HAVE something. I mean, I know we talked before about Johnson needing a record label, and us having one, and well…you know, there’s no question that you guys are on, you can have whatever you want. But what if in addition to the regular bands, you guys did something together? A little side project? It could be absolutely huge!”
Mutt shook his head. “That business brain of yours is always working overtime Rocky. But you forget, these guys aren’t ‘officially gay’.” He said, making quotations of his fingers as he said the last two words.
Zack tossed a drumstick at him. “Hey, I’m as officially gay as anybody here. I’ll suck a dick right now!”
“I think he means publicly.” I laughed.
Jordan jumped in. “Well that may be true now, but the only thing stopping us was the suits at the label. If we’re on your label then that problem goes away.”
“And you’d come out? Just like that?” David asked, raising an eyebrow.
The Johnson brothers both nodded firmly, but it was Jordan who answered again. “Look, I think you guys all know where our philosophy about life comes from right now. We hate having to hide this, and we want to do something big and important when Joel…” He paused and caught himself, lowering his voice so Lucas and Joel couldn’t hear him in the lounge. “Well, we just want to have the freedom to talk about what we believe in, as soon as we can. We’ve been waiting a long time.”
Again I was struck with how honest his emotion was, and replied. “It wouldn’t have to be a ‘gay’ band anyway. I don’t think it could be, we’d be hounded mercilessly.”
“No, it wouldn’t have to be a gay band. I think we’re talking about a band with a social conscience.” Zack threw in. “There’s a need for that I think, with as empty as things are in the world these days. I know that’s why we got into music in the first place, to make a positive difference. It was kind of a surprise to us when we made it big, just how much the suits can limit what you do and make it kind of…cheap. But you guys, well, you can do whatever you want, and I think we were always jealous of that.”
“It’s not exactly as easy as it sounds. For all practical purposes, we should have failed. It was all luck, and it could have easily gone the other way. We may be able to do what we want, but if we fail, it’s totally our loss, and it’s not easy to recover. We have nothing to fall back on.” I explained. “Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, we don’t exactly have a big social conscience.”
“And neither does Johnson! That’s the point. This new project could be all about social conscience. If it doesn’t work out, then fuck it, we have our own things to go back to. I just think that we have an opportunity here to do something really good for the world; we have to try.” Jordan pressed.
There was no way to argue, and even if there were I wouldn’t have bothered. The idea was great, and it finally made me realize that we could do something useful with all this money and influence. My reputation for fearlessness may have only been half-true for a while, but every new experience we’d been through in the last year had brought me closer to the person I knew I wanted to be, and this was exactly the step that I knew would make the difference.
* * * * * * *
“…happy birthday to Mutt, happy birthday to you!”
Mutt blew out the 18 candles that we piled on his store bought cake, and a waft of smoke drifted up over the table.
“Wow! All of them in one blow! You can tell that mouth gets a lot of practice.” Zack laughed.
David flicked a piece of frosting at him. “Jealous?”
“Well yeah, look at him!” The younger Johnson grinned and pointed.
We were seated outside on the deck at our house, just finishing up the last of Mutt’s birthday dinner. The day had been wonderful thus far, and the evening was turning out to be just as perfect.
“I believe I was promised a stripper, Jack. The cake doesn’t look big enough for anybody to pop out of, so where are you hiding him?” Mutt asked, looking under the table.
“Zack couldn’t fit into the G-string, so we had to scrap that plan.” I replied.
The birthday boy feigned some disappointment for a few seconds. “Well then bring on the presents!”
“Now you’re just making me feel guilty!” I rolled my eyes. “You know we decided not to exchange gifts! You didn’t get me anything!”
Joel spoke up quickly. “Hold on you guys, let’s throw some water on this catfight. We got you a little something Mutt.”
He stepped out of the room, came back with a large box, and presented it to Mutt. Jordan was smiling brightly. “We weren’t really sure what to get, so we just went for something fabulous.”
He ripped through the wrapping paper. All of our eyes lit up. It was a whole case of Dom Perignon champagne, at least 30 years old. Mutt was speechless.
Jordan’s grin seemed to grow even wider. “I’m glad you like it. We figured you can save it for a special occasion or something.”
There was the obligatory round of thank you hugs and we dug vigorously into the double chocolate cake in front of us. As lively as the spirit was, David was oddly silent, as if he had something on his mind. I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable by bringing it up at the table, but I was concerned. I was just about to make up an excuse for him to meet me in the kitchen when he very slowly licked the frosting off of his spoon and tapped it against his glass three times. The table fell silent.
“I apologize for interrupting the flow of the party and everything, but I have something for Mutt too, and if I don’t get this over with now, I think I’m going to have a heart attack.” He paused, stood up, and took a deep breath. “For almost every single day that I have a memory of in my life, I’ve been surrounded by the best friends that anyone could ever ask for. We’ve had our problems, and some days I’d rather just avoid them all-together.” He looked at me and smiled as he said that. “But never once have I ever wanted to be apart from you, Mutt. You’re an extension of my soul, and the only person in the world that really, truly knows me better than I know myself. Nobody can or ever will compare to you, and I know that I never want to be with anyone else.”
David reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring box. He opened it to reveal two matching gold wedding bands inlaid with a diamonds at their center. Jaws dropped all around the table, waiting for the next part of what he was saying. He got down on one knee in front of Mutt, who had the beginnings of tears in his eyes.
“Mutt, I want us to stay together forever. Whatever it takes, and whatever happens. You’re the only one for me, and I know in my heart that you always will be. Will you marry me?”
He was really crying now and tried to answer but the only thing that came out was a sob as he nodded vigorously and grabbed David in the most honest and heartfelt hug that I’d ever seen. They kissed for a long moment and we erupted into cheers. It was quite possibly the most beautiful moment in history, and certainly the last thing that any of us expected. The newly engaged couple put the rings on each other and kissed again, then stood up together and raised their interlocked hands to our ongoing applause and whistles.
The love in the air was almost thick enough to seem like humidity. I leaned over and kissed Lucas deeply as Jordan and Joel did the same. I was so proud of my brother at that moment that I wasn’t really sure what to say, if anything. It made me appreciate how lucky I was to have Lucas, and all of my friends.
“I swear we didn’t plan the champagne, but this is exactly the kind of special occasion I was thinking of.” Joel said. “How about it you guys?”
David and Mutt were still too choked up to speak but motioned their agreement. Rocky did the honors and we toasted the happy couple with the best tasting champagne I’d ever had in my life. I made a mental note to order another case of this stuff as soon as possible.
As things began to calm back down again, everyone had questions. “So does this mean we need to plan a trip to somewhere where you guys can do this legally?” I asked.
David rolled his eyes. “Right, like we really need some government’s approval telling us we’re ‘allowed’ to be in love. No, it’s more about the symbolism of it all. I just want everyone who matters to me to be there and see just how much I love my Mutt.”
Jordan sipped his champagne and nodded. “That’s what Joel and I’s ceremony was; just a small thing back home with a few people; not exactly a big, white wedding. We can’t even bring each other to say ‘husband’ or ‘partner’. Boyfriend just sounds better; and who really cares anyway? I know he’s mine and that’s all that matters.”
“That’s a sweet story babe, but I seem to remember several weeks where you were obsessively planning the perfect reception.” Joel smiled.
“Yeah, a…well…come on, it was our wedding day. It’s not like we would have been satisfied to just order some pizzas.”
“Who performs the ceremony for something like that?” Lucas asked.
Joel and Jordan started laughing so Zack answered for them. “At first they wanted somebody cool like Elton John. We met him a few times and he seemed to like us and all. I guess he does these things for some people from time to time…anyway, we figured that would have attracted too much attention.” Now he started laughing too. “So they got the next best thing, me.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah, no kidding. I learned all the words and tried not to make any jokes. It was pretty nice actually.”
I sat back, sipped on my champagne, and let my mind wander to what it would be like to marry Lucas. Obviously it was still pretty early in our relationship to even be considering a step like that, but with the subject in the air, I couldn’t get my mind off it. I assumed that the reason Joel and Jordan had done it after just a year together was because of Joel’s illness; and it was about time for Mutt and David, after spending nearly the last ten years together. Lucas’s hand met mine under the table and he smiled at me, not having to speak what he was thinking for me to understand. It was a communication between us that someday we’d like to dedicate ourselves to each other.
Later, in the privacy of our bedroom, my strawberry boy still had that sleepy grin of puppy love all over his face. “If I didn’t know better I’d swear you were stoned.” I grinned, giving him a quick peck on the lips as we lay down together.
“How can I not be?” He sighed. “I’m a sucker for romance, and tonight was just…magic.”
“I can’t argue with that. I’ve never seen either Mutt or David this happy, ever. But you know, it’s kind of weird. I mean, they’ve been in love for years, but I never considered them anything like a married couple. The thought just never entered my mind. It seems so adult.”
“It is adult. Everybody has to grow up sooner or later. I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet or not, but the life that you…I mean we, live is a little faster paced than most peoples. We’re dealing with things right now that other guys our age wont even have to think about for years, when they’re out of college or something. Shit, Zack was telling me the other day that he started going through puberty at eleven; it’s just that kind of life. Rock stardom takes a lot out of you. I think The Eagles had it right with that song…Life In The Fast Lane.”
I nodded. He had a point. Life had certainly entered the fast lane for us this year. It seemed like more had happened to us in the last few months than in the rest of our lives combined. I didn’t feel like it was a bad thing necessarily, and I was pretty sure we weren’t missing anything by not being ‘normal’, but at the same time I wondered how long we could keep going at such an incredible pace.
We had been staring up at the ceiling, but I turned on my side to face Lucas. “I wouldn’t change a thing. Meeting you has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me, I don’t care how strange our situation is, living together right away and all. I love you, and if this is what’s right for us, then so be it.”
He leaned in and our lips met, the familiar taste of strawberries suddenly arousing my taste buds.
“It feels kind of weird to be going onstage without Alex and Claire, doesn’t it?” Mutt asked me, as he stretched and got himself pumped-up backstage.
I was lying back on a couch, watching him and sipping on a steaming cup of green tea. “Yeah, definitely. And didn’t you kind of get the feeling when they called that something was up?”
He continued stretching, but nodded his agreement. “It’s like they were glad to hear we had a new project, but also glad that we didn’t need them for it.”
Zack, who had been getting dressed on the other side of the room, wandered over to us and jumped in the conversation. “They’re coming back aren’t they? I mean, it’s been almost a month now.”
I just shrugged. “I assume so. There’s no reason to rush though. We aren’t quite ready to start the new album yet, and now we have this thing going on. We just let them know that they can take all the time they need.”
“It still seems like there’s something else going on.” Mutt added, shaking his head.
I had to agree. “Well, there’s no point in worrying about it right now. We have bigger fish to fry. Besides, if it was anything serious, you know they wouldn’t keep it from us.”
Rocky came in just then, sporting a huge smile of pride. “I just got the numbers; it’s a full house. And the V.I.P. section is so full of celebrities you’d think it was the Academy Awards.”
I excitedly slapped him a high-five. “That’s incredible! Where are the other guys? How much time until we go on?”
“Jordan and David are talking to the press, and I think Lucas and Joel are still down plundering the catering table. You’ve still got a while before show time though, maybe twenty minutes.”
Mutt finished his exercise regimen with some neck rolls and shoulder shrugs. He was fully recovered from his injury now, and just itching to get back on stage. “So is there anything that we need to do now?”
Rocky shook his head. “Not really. I’m going to head over to the business office when the show starts and see how much money we raised so you can announce it towards the end. It doesn’t really matter though, I already know we did much more than expected.”
“Hey check it out!” Zack yelled, pointing to the TV he had just turned on. “Jordan and David are on live.”
A handsomely dressed announcer appeared on the screen. “We’re here outside the world famous Kodak Theater, which tonight will play host to a benefit concert of monumental proportions. Let’s get the story right from the guys who made it happen; Jordan Johnson, and David Marcus of ‘Breaktown’. Hello gentlemen.”
“Hello.” Jordan answered, as David nodded.
“So tell us how this whole thing got started, and what it’s about.”
David began. “Well, after having such a great year, we really wanted to give something back. But rather than just write a check or jump on somebody else’s bandwagon, we decided to do something unique that really means something to us.” He motioned to Jordan. “We met these guys and found that we shared a lot of the same ideas, and so we decided to get together. Not only was the music working really well, but our social consciences were pretty similar too, so we decided to combine them and do some good. Everyone is affected by AIDS in one way or another, and there is always a lot of talk about the search for a cure, and prevention, but never about how we can help those people who are already living with it.”
Jordan jumped in. “There are a lot of great medicines, treatment centers, and hospice programs out there that can really make life better for those who are sick, but they always get the leftover funding, or none at all, because the lions share goes into research for a cure. Now, of course we support finding a cure 100%, but people need to know that there is more to it than that. Tonight is about raising money and awareness where it’s really needed.”
The announcer nodded quickly. “That’s terrific you guys! And how exactly did this new band come about? I hope this doesn’t mean that your individual groups have broken up.”
David smiled. “No of course not. I wish it was a big, interesting story but the truth is, we’re neighbors; and you can just imagine that two rock bands living next to each other are going to get together and jam. We liked how it sounded, and here we are.”
The announcer seemed intrigued. “Can we expect to see an album or tour anytime soon?”
Jordan and David exchanged a quick look. “Well, we aren’t counting anything out yet, but for now it’s just about tonight.” My brother answered carefully.
“Ok guys, I know you have to get the show started pretty soon. Thanks for talking to us!”
I switched off the TV. “Nicely said.” I observed, still nursing my cup of tea.
Mutt and Zack nodded. Lucas and Joel had joined us by now as well, and Joel spoke up. “Mmmm, Jordan looks damn fine in that tux.”
“All guys look better in a tux. Especially if they’re already hot.” Mutt added.
Rocky motioned to our wardrobe cases, which contained tuxes for everyone in the rest of the band. “We’ll all get our chance to see if that’s true later. The after party is at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so of course it’ll be formal. There’s even some big name chef doing the cooking.”
Jordan and David soon arrived back in the dressing room and we began our final preparations before taking the stage. With none of us having performed live for several months, there was plenty of excitement and anticipation in the air. Even though we were going to be doing mostly cover songs, it was still a sell-out crowd full of celebrities and musicians that we admired, and we knew that we needed to be extra great tonight. We’d seen to every detail personally, and spared no expense on any part of the show, even paying for everything out of our pocket so that all proceeds raised could go towards the charity.
Not since our first big show back in Sacramento have I gotten a chill walking out onstage. The audience roar was absolutely deafening, and every single one of them was on their feet. This went on for nearly five minutes as we took our places and waited for a lull in the noise so we could begin our first song.
The show was magic. Our dynamic together felt so right that I actually shook my head in disbelief a few times. So many things had to happen exactly right for us to be up here together; and it could just as easily never happened at all. David and Jordan’s voices worked so well together that the crowd screamed and applauded at nearly every vocal inflection they heard. Never in all our shows had we experienced such a rabid audience – their energy was contagious, and kept us striving to make every song even better than the last. We played strait through for nearly an hour, until it was time for the unplugged part of the show, where just David and Jordan would be left onstage, performing a few songs on just piano and acoustic guitar. The rest of us gathered at the side of the stage to watch.
They began with the Eric Clapton classic, ‘Running On Faith’ and even though we’d heard it several times in the previous two-week’s rehearsals, it still brought a tear to my eye, seeming to have so much meaning at this very moment. As they finished, Jordan glanced over to where we all stood, wildly applauding with the rest of the audience. He smiled, and seemed to consider something in his mind for a moment before taking the microphone in hand.
“Thank you, thank you. We really appreciate everybody coming out tonight to support this great cause. I know it’s more personal to some of you than others, and that’s ok; but right now I want to share with you right now why it’s personal to me.”
Those of us gathered offstage began to get a little nervous, and I felt Joel take hold of my shoulder with one hand. David just sat next to Jordan on a wooden stool near the piano onstage, seeming to already know what was coming; or at least smiling and pretending that he did.
Jordan took a deep breath. “I learned a long time ago that someone I love very much was suffering from the HIV virus. It was a big shock, and a big adjustment for me to deal with that fact, and to try and accept that our time together was limited. Well that time is still ticking away, and if I’m going to come out here tonight and encourage you to make life better however you can, then I better be ready to put my money where my mouth is. So I want you all to meet the person that I love and care for most in this world, and the real inspiration behind tonight; my love, my partner, my spouse, Joel Gullen.”
We had just enough time to clamp our hands over our ears before the crowd absolutely exploded. I couldn’t decide whether to be proud or horrified, and it didn’t really matter anyway, because it was way too late. Joel backpedaled a bit, and I thought for a minute he was going to try and escape, but all it took was for he and Jordan to lock eyes and he slowly walked out onstage in a blinding and deafening array of flash bulbs and cheering.
As if things hadn’t already gone far enough, they met center stage in a hug and quick kiss, and raised their interlocked hands above their heads for the cameras. The applause and cheering went on for quite a while, until Joel made his way back over to us, where he practically fainted into our arms. Jordan and David got through one more song together, and then we all went back out to join them for the final set.
I stepped up to my microphone. “Does anybody have a problem with the gayest, most fabulous band in the world?” I yelled.
The screams that answered me seemed to imply that they didn’t, and we launched into yet another rock and roll classic. We we’re playing on pure joy and adrenaline now, and though I might be biased, I think it was the best damn rock concert I’d ever been to in my life. We pounded through four encores before we were finally just too tired to go on anymore and ended the show with a rousing and anthemic version of The Beatles, ‘Let It Be’. After a united bow in front of a seemingly endless standing ovation, we finally left the stage.
* * * * * * *
“Ok Rocky, we’re here, all alone, in secret, what’s the big important thing that couldn’t wait for everybody else?”
It was about ten in the morning on the following day when Rocky practically demanded that he and I go out for brunch before everyone else woke up. He had some things to tell me and insisted that it would be better to discuss them between the two of us privately first. He didn’t seem overly concerned, so I didn’t expect the news to be bad; but by now I was insanely curious.
He took a drink from the tall glass of orange juice next to him. “I have good news, great news, and news that I haven’t quite decided on yet. Which do you want first?”
“Let’s start with great and work our way down.” I replied, grinning nervously.
“Ok. First off then, the final amount for last night was over 3.4 million dollars. That’s almost double what we projected to make, and it’s more than these charities have ever seen, so we can pat ourselves on the back for that one.”
“Sweet!” I exclaimed. “That’s amazing!”
Rocky nodded. “Next, I’ve been reading press all morning, and the show has been getting the best reviews of any concert I’ve ever heard of. We’re on the front page of every major paper on the west coast and some national ones as well. You’d think that you guys we’re the second coming or something. The critics are screaming for more music from you guys.” He paused and took another drink of juice. “Which kind of brings me to the weird news.” His face became a little less jovial and I began to get a little worried.
“What?” I pressed. “You’re scaring me.”
He quickly tried to quell my fears. “No, it’s not bad, really. See, Alex and Claire called this morning while I was in the office. They wanted to know how the show went, but they ended up being the ones with the big news.”
“What?!” I nearly yelled, almost reaching across the table to strangle him.
“Claire’s pregnant.” Rocky announced. “It seems that’s why they’ve been away so long, getting the official test results from the doctors and all. She’s three months in, and everything seems to be going very well.”
My mouth and eyes fell wide open and I sputtered on my words for a few seconds. “Well that’s great…isn’t it?”
“Yes! Of course, it’s wonderful! However, there is something else that she wanted me to tell you before anyone else, and that’s really why we’re here. See, this means that they’re going to want to take at least a year off, starting now. So they won’t be coming back here for quite a while.”
The proverbial light bulb went off above my head. It all made sense to me now. “Ok, so what you’re saying is that it’s a good thing the new band is working out well, because there’ll be no Breaktown stuff going on until after the baby is born.”
Rocky slowly nodded. “Pretty much, yeah. I mean, we could take the year off too, but it’s likely we’d have to start from scratch again to get this kind of attention and publicity. We need to keep the momentum going, and it’s in a pretty full swing right now. It would be stupid not to take advantage of it. Plus you have to think about Johnson. They could really use the success, and the money, right now.”
I let out a deep sigh. “I know you’re right. You’re always right. This is just kind of a shocker.”
Rocky took a bite of his omelet. “I know, Jack. I’m sorry for just laying it on you like this, but I thought we should discuss it first before we bring it to the other guys. We need to be clear about everything.”
I realized that I was neglecting my own plate of food, and started eating. “I guess we probably shouldn’t be so cryptic about it. I mean, Alex and Claire are home and happy. We’re here with a great new project and we’re happy. If none of this is bad, then why does it feel so weird?”
Rocky lost himself in thought for a moment. “Because it’s a big change; it’s not something that was in our minds. You’d think that with all the shocking news that we’ve been getting lately it wouldn’t be so hard to take. But I suppose it’s never easy. You have to admit though, we’ve been doing pretty well with everything so far.”
I didn’t look at him, but nodded and picked at my breakfast some more. I eventually looked up and stared at Rocky for a moment, smiling.
“We’re going to be uncles, sort of.”
“Now there’s a scary thought!” He laughed.
“You know this means we’ll have to fly home a lot over the next six months. I mean, we have to be there when the baby is born.”
“Yeah. I figure this is as good of a reason as any to get moving on the whole private jet thing. I have a feeling we’ll be using it enough to get our money’s worth, that’s for sure.”
I let out an excited giggle. “Whoo hoo! A private jet! Can we paint it in tie dye?”
“You bet. If we’re writing a 15 million dollar check for this thing, you can paint anything you want on it.”
A fan approached the table and asked me for an autograph, which I was at first happy to give. But once you open that can of worms, there’s no turning back, and we were forced to escape the restaurant before the slowly gathering mob had the chance to form a line. We laughed about it on the way home, and tried to decide how to announce all the big news of the morning to our friends.
* * * * * * *
“Dammit Zack, I want to be on top!” David yelled, shoving his friend out of the way.
“No way! I called it three days ago!”
“Bullshit, it’s mine. I always get the top left bunk, just ask Jack.”
I nodded at Zack. “He does buddy. Every time. Can’t you just take the one on the other side?”
Nearly four months had now passed since we formed, and we were preparing to head off on a national tour. Our first album was in its final preparations for release, and would come out while we were on the road. The first reports from our management tell us that it will debut at number one.
As proud as we were of all that, today was just another typical Saturday, and we were spending it packing-up our newly-acquired tour bus.
Zack rolled his eyes. “Lead singers are such divas. They always get what they want.”
My brother smiled smugly. “And drummers are freaks. I’m glad you’re finally starting to understand.” He joked.
Mutt and Joel came up the stairs of the bus lugging beanbag chairs. Lucas followed close behind them carrying a smoothie maker we had recently purchased.
As they entered, Jordan looked up from his task of stocking the small kitchenette. “Geez. Do you think we’re overdoing it yet?”
Mutt shook his head. “Maybe this is a little conceited, not that I care, but I think we’re fabulous enough to travel in the most comfortable way possible.”
“Word-up to that, dog.” Zack agreed, slapping him a high-five.
“Have you seen the closet-space in this thing?” Lucas added. “This bus couldn’t be any gayer if it was the Oscar Mayer Wiener-mobile.”
“Now there’s a thought.” Joel grinned, as we erupted into laughter.
“We should really try to find somebody for Rocky, and you too Zack.” Lucas thought out loud.
Mutt grinned. “I think you just solved that problem before it got started.”
Rocky looked up from the magazine he was reading on the couch and exchanged a glance with Zack. “No offense squirt, but you’re not my type.”
Zack threw up his hands and agreed. “None taken! You think I want some old-fart feeling me up all the time? Ewwww.”
“I heard that some of the Smurfs are gay. Maybe we should give that a try for you.” I suggested.
He gave me the finger, but laughed anyway. “Not everybody needs to be paired up. I happen to like being a slut.”
“Well you go right ahead then, but Rocky is way too sweet to still be alone.”
Rocky gave me a very admiring and appreciate look. It warmed my heart. So often we had the tendency to take everything he does for granted, but I tried to never forget that he was still our friend first, and manager second. “Thanks bud, but I’m doing ok. It’ll happen when it happens.”
“Does anybody else just feel really good right now?” David asked out of nowhere.
There was a murmur of agreement from around the bus, and I had to agree, there was certainly a very free and wonderful feeling in the air. As if we were on a divine mission, to accomplish something worthwhile.
The joyful attitude we’d become accustomed to by that time seemed to grow with each passing minute, and I knew that this tour was going to be a blast. As unsure and sometimes frightening as things had gotten in the last year, I had to smile to myself with pride when I thought about how well we’d handled it all. Our love for each other, and the willingness to accept our growing-up without a fight had everything to do with getting us through the tough times. There’s also not a doubt in my mind that the Johnsons had a lot to do with it too. There’s the old saying that you know never know just how good you have it until you meet someone with worse problems with you. Our new friends taught us a lot about living each day to the fullest, and not getting upset over the little problems in life. For as self-centered as we were before, it was a lesson we greatly needed to learn.
The evidence of our new found maturity was everywhere; from David and Mutt’s engagement, to Claire and Alex’s pregnancy, and of course the acceptance, confession, and eventual celebration of our sexuality. Even my love and commitment to Lucas makes me feel older, as I know that I care for him in a way that I’ve never experienced before; and he returns that love to me.
Though at first it seemed like a betrayal to start a new project without Alex and Claire, we quickly realized that nothing could have been further from the truth. Breaktown would unquestionably return to the world soon enough, as would Johnson. But for now, this band was not only an alternative, but in a way, destiny. Though it was left un-spoken between all of us, we knew that Joel didn’t have a huge amount of time left, and what better way to celebrate such a wonderful life than to create a project with such a positive and uplifting message. This project, album and tour would be not only our gift to Joel, but also the legacy that he leaves to the world. And where one life ends, another begins – hence the still far-off arrival of Claire and Alex’s bundle-of-joy. The cycle is always moving, and it was that revelation that led this band to its new and official name, The Phoenix Process.
I think one of the most important, but usually overlooked parts of growing up is learning that the world is rarely going to be fair; but that nonetheless you still have to get up everyday and make the most of it. Life is a pretty wild ride, with a lot of ups, downs, twists, and turns; nobody knows more about that than we do, but now we’ve learned to not only deal with it, but to hang on and enjoy the ride.