torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
June 12-19, 2002 (July 2002)

Disclaimer: Representation is not reality. Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Boyband? What boyband? (The other one, actually.) For M., the best property a girl can have, for putting me up (and putting up with me) at short notice. Thanks to Ces for reading and arguing, and Merry for reading and arguing the other side. Do not archive this story without permission.

nick.txt

He liked fingers. One finger, maybe two, that was shiverygood and it made him feel warm and slow as syrup just thinking about it. Didn't want more, didn't want to think about more. That just seemed like a big deal and complicated and there'd be, there'd be stuff and there'd be. A guy. Or something. There should be a girl, he thought. There should be a girl who'd do it, a confident girl, experienced, who'd smile at him and tell him she was going to blow the top of his head off and then she'd do that, fingers and mouth and she'd ask him afterwards if anyone had ever done that to him before and he'd lie and say no.

He didn't tell anyone what was wrong. He didn't tell Brian when Brian teased him. He didn't tell Howie when Howie stroked his hair. He didn't tell AJ when AJ told him to stop pouting and spit it out already. Kevin sat him down and told him it was hard to be a kid and grow up like this and there was pressure and things could feel strange. Kevin never really got around to asking him what was wrong. He stared out the window. He jacked off whenever there was time and sometimes when there wasn't time and he never looked after dark-haired men in the street.

He didn't hit her because she called him fat. She didn't say he was fat, she said he was obese, and he didn't know what the hell that meant and then she called him stupid and he called her a bitch and she slapped his face and then he hit her, well, sort of hit her, slapped her back really and he mostly missed and she punched him really hard, knuckles driving in right under his ribs and all the air went out of his lungs so she was the only one screaming and after that they never touched each other again.

He loved the taste. Loved it. He didn't know if he should, maybe people didn't, but when he put his mouth on JC's cock the first time and tasted strange saltiness it was so good and so right and he wanted it so much that he had to pull back and pretend he didn't, just for a moment.

This girl was tiny, not even up to his shoulder, thin and narrow-hipped and for a moment it all seemed strange and unreal and he couldn't understand how any part of him would be able to fit inside of her, even though he knew what would happen. It just made him feel all wrong, like he didn't want to get on top of her and break her to pieces, but when he asked her to be on top she hugged her chest and kind of looked funny for a moment, and she moved really slowly and he realized she didn't want to, didn't want to be looked at like that. Like all the flaws would show. He knew about that.

The first time ever, it was like a secret he had, something just for him except that it took AJ five minutes to figure it out and then it wasn't a secret any more and it was everybody's and they all knew and he felt a little emptier than before, but still pretty good. She'd been older, maybe sixteen even, and chewed peppermint gum the whole time, and after they were done she pushed it into his mouth and he spat it out and she laughed, but he didn't tell anyone about that.

There was one girl who smelled different and all funny, and he told AJ about that, and AJ rolled his eyes and told him that was what girls smelled like, doofus. He didn't say anything even though none of the other girls had smelled like that. He thought maybe he wouldn't tell AJ things any more, but he did anyway, and AJ told him things back. They all told him things. AJ told him about all the different ways to do it and Howie told him the right things to say and Brian told him about trust and confidence and he didn't really get how that was supposed to work with someone you just met after a concert but he never said that to Brian and Kevin got stuck with telling him about condoms and stuff and looked pretty pissed.

He'd never do it with another guy, never ever. Not any other guy.

So he said he wanted to look at her because she was sexy and she smiled a little and stopped hugging her chest and he could see her breasts again, pretty small, but she had big dark nipples and he stroked one of them. So she got on top of him and then she pretty much got into it and stopped looking shy and started making noises and he was pretty sure she came, her throat flushed pink, and he felt like a sex toy, but he fucked her some more and it was okay and she had long sharp nails anyway and her fingers were too thin.

Powder made him itch. Every time they covered him in foundation and liquid concealer and caked fake skin tint and a cloud of loose powder, his skin broke out even worse afterwards. He hated it, but the smell of powder made his body remember all those poses and the way he was supposed to look. Remember sex.

It wasn't anything really. It was just a couple of times. Barely anything, and they only spent the whole night together once and he slept warm and held and woke up with his head full of regret even before JC said that they couldn't do it again. Told him he was too young and got out of bed and got dressed and had a big nose and ears that stuck out and he sat up in the bed and dug his fingers into a pillow because it made no sense.

So it wasn't anything really, and he forgot about it.

So he had a girlfriend, and that was kind of cool, someone just for him, someone who'd be there for more than just a night or two. Then it got all fucked up. She was funny and she was really sharp and she told him what was wrong with other people in a way that made him feel special, and they had good sex and then they had bad sex and then he wasn't sure what really happened.

It took him a long time to figure out how to draw a naked woman who actually looked like a naked woman and not like a random collection of all the sexiest parts that naked women had. He finally realized that it might work better if he thought more about proportions and less about sex, but that somehow took the dirtyhappy fun out of it. Drawing to actually make it look good was other kinds of fun, though.

Two girls said they did everything together so he said okay, whatever, and they kept looking at each other and giggling and he wondered if they remembered he was even there. They wore matching pink halter tops and one of them had flavored condoms in her purse and took out a handful like candy and the other girl picked a strawberry one. He thought about asking them to leave but then he didn't and he fucked them both and they were really careful not to touch each other too much and he was bored.

Fucking Timberlake kept breaking into fucking falsetto on account of not having any fucking range. Yeah, that oughta bring the charity money right in. Fucking Timberlake, he thought, euw, and JC was right there, too, and he didn't care about the new weird hair and the new weird clothes and the new weird smile. It wasn't anything to do with him that certain freaky people wore tight shirts and dipped their head a little sideways and he couldn't remember if he'd licked right there behind the ear and for some reason it was annoying him, not remembering, like it was important or something.

The girl in Cancun was really pretty, like model pretty, and she came onto him like she already owned him and that was kind of sexy and she had red beads in her hair, but then when they were alone she came over all weird and just looked at him like she'd never been with a guy before and he didn't know what the hell to do with her, it was like she was a different person all of a sudden and after a while he told her to just leave already if she didn't want to be there and then she started crying and walked out.

He grew out of his favorite shirt and when he tried to wear it anyway he split a shoulder seam and when he took it off the seam split even more. He remembered wearing that shirt and taking that shirt off and being touched right there and right there and he was a different person now. Completely different.

The first time with JC, it was like a different kind of secret, something new he'd found out and no one could see it. A brotherly arm around his shoulders and not so brotherly fingers sliding up under his sweater and it was so awkward and shy that he felt totally safe and just turned his head and said yes before he knew what he was doing. Later on, away from everyone else, it was still the same and he took his clothes off and even though the overhead light was on the whole time he had no idea what color the walls were, or the carpet.

One thing about having a girlfriend and having sex with the same person more than once was that you could figure out what she liked and do it to her. Another thing about having a girlfriend and having sex with the same person more than once was that if you kept doing the same thing to her she said you were boring even when she liked it.

He really just fucking hated it when a girl would just lie there and look at him like he was supposed to make her come just by breathing on her or something.

He tried to do it to himself and felt like an idiot, it was hard to reach for one thing and he couldn't work out the best way and then it just wasn't sexy, poking with a finger and trying to find a good angle and he lost his hardon and gave up, wiped his hand on the sheet and rolled over and watched the late movie.

He never thought there was anything special about Pittsburgh but the girl in the bar was tall and had red hair and short nails and a diamond on one of her front teeth and she said listen, you wanna try something different, and he said okay sure and she offered him coke and he asked her what was so different about that and then he barely remembered fucking her up the ass and she didn't come and didn't even try to fake it and okay, that part was different, he guessed.

So they all had to go to the party after this charity thing and he could feel everyone watching him and it was weird but the others were right there with him and Brian grinned up at him and put an arm around him and Kevin gave the beetle-brows of death to a couple of people until they backed off.

Even when he hated them the other fellas were his brothers and he liked to touch them and hug them and be near them because it was safe and okay and there weren't any weird feelings. When they were all around him like water it was good, and when they weren't good he wanted the water for real.

One girl wanted to see him again and she wanted him to take her out on his boat and he said fuck off.

When he finally graduated he swore to himself that he would never ever study anything ever again so help him God, because he didn't see what geometry or the gross national product of Bolivia or the right way to spell ascension had to do with anything in his life. He'd tried to pay attention when someone put poetry in front of him in case it would turn out to be inspirational but fuck if that Whitman guy would have been able to write song lyrics. Then again, he wasn't any good at it, either, he didn't think. He could hear the sex in the music, but putting it into words was another thing and he always got to sing that word, sexual, sexuality, and sometimes it did make him feel sexy and sometimes it just made him wonder.

There was a guy in Montreal who looked at him and he pretended he didn't notice.

He didn't fuck anyone while his hand was broken. It hurt.

For a while he tried to tell girls what he wanted and some of them did anything he said and some got kind of cranky. He told them to tell him what they wanted and that worked with some and not with others. And he never got around to telling them what he really, to asking them for what he, anyway, he never said that. So they never did.

JC kissed the small of his back and kissed lower and he started squirming and said stop because that was just, it was too weird and too fucking gay and when JC asked what was wrong that was what he said and JC just looked at him for a long moment, just looked.

So he didn't have a girlfriend and everyone said good for him and kept talking about how they hadn't liked her and he thought they could have said something earlier.

So they'd seen each other around before, after, but not very often and there was no reason for them to talk to each other or anything and no reason for him to be able to pick out the sound of JC's stupid laugh from across a crowded room, or right behind him, and when JC looked at him and said he'd grown up he said well duh, because that was what people did, after all, but JC had wandered off again, freaky clothes and all, to talk to Carson Daly.

The first time he got a blowjob he was kind of scared because the whole idea of having someone's mouth there seemed kind of scary and then she squeezed his balls too hard and her braces kind of scraped against him and it really was scary and he thought never again. The second time he got a blowjob it was like the best thing ever in the history of the universe and he thought if it came right down to it he might give up pizza for blowjobs. Really. Well, maybe.

He had sex on a balcony once, on the roof of a house, in a limo, in the back seat of a car, on a kitchen table, in the bathroom at an awards show. He decided beds were pretty good.

One girl, in Munchen, had pierced nipples. Another girl, in Monterey, had a piercing in her, actually he wasn't sure what that bit was called, but when he went down on her and she arched against him he thought he might have chipped a tooth. He wasn't sure about the whole piercing thing, anyway, he liked ink better. A labret or ring or whatever didn't say enough.

He wondered why Timberlake kept talking about being a virgin, like there was an award for that.

So then he had a different girlfriend, and everyone liked her better, and he tried not to do the same thing all the time and she told him not to try so hard and he guessed things were better, anyway.

Kevin said it was bad to cheat. Brian said it was really bad to cheat. Howie told him not to get caught, and AJ just shrugged and went to get another drink. He tried to decide for himself, and this girl had pink streaks in her hair and wore a pink sundress like someone's grandmother and no underwear. She disappeared while he was thinking about it and he thought okay, he'd be good, but then when he was leaving she was there again and came with him back to the hotel and pushed him down on the bed and she wore strawberry lipgloss and her nails were short and oh yeah. Oh. Yeah. She looked up at him afterwards, fingers still inside him, and smiled.

Some music was like sex, like fucking. The same kind of beat. He didn't mind dancing but he liked the drums better, setting the rhythm, making people move. Like fucking them, really.

It was too much, he couldn't believe the tight pants and the pink shirt and how come he was the one in trouble, and when he looked across the room just one more time JC's eyes met his and JC smiled very sweetly at him and mouthed something and he wasn't sure but he thought it might be too fucking gay.

Or maybe things weren't better exactly because no, okay, no fights and no one was mean and the sex was okay but maybe he was bored, or she was bored, or something.

He came back from a club and tried to remember how many drinks he'd had because it was just the right number and he felt warm and comfortable and rolled onto the bed and turned the TV on, watched some bad porn and giggled and started writhing and touching himself the same way, cause it looked so stupid but it turned out it felt pretty good, and when the girl in the cheap pink lace sucked a finger and popped it in her ass he did too and holy fuck. It felt good. It felt really good, and he forgot the porn and touched himself the way he wanted to but it was the memory of JC's mouth that made him come.

The girl in the pink dress passed out and he sat up in bed and looked at her and wondered what the hell just happened and there was a knock on the door and AJ looked in and said it was bad to cheat, it was really bad. The girl slept all night in her pink dress and snored and then she woke up the next morning and walked out of his room at exactly the wrong moment.

Some of the girls in Germany didn't shave. Some girls shaved everywhere. One girl said she waxed her legs and offered to do it to him and he said no, really, no. That would just be weird. She'd trimmed her pubic hair in the shape of a heart and that was pretty weird, too. At least she didn't ask him to sing the song or anything.

The second girl he ever had sex with told him he was bad in bed.

So then he didn't have a girlfriend, again, and he could sleep around without having the fellas telling him how wrong it was, not that that always seemed to stop them or anything, and he wondered if he should have tried to get a phone number from the girl in the pink dress, that one time. Or even just a name. But it bothered him that she'd looked at him and smiled like that, and she'd passed out before he even touched her, so she probably thought he was bad in bed, too.

The whole thing was just fucked up, and he took the boat out and spent a week on the water and didn't shave and ate cold poptarts and swam a lot. His hair crusted up with salt and he watched a lot of sunsets. After six days he turned his cell back on and told Howie he wasn't dead. Howie said he might come to wish he were and to get his ass back on dry land already.

The second time he was with JC, they kissed for hours and talked and laughed and kissed some more and then they were rolling around on the floor and they both came in their shorts and he couldn't stop laughing.

Kevin said right at the start that it was juvenile to compare size and they wouldn't do that kind of thing in the group but he and AJ did it anyway, of course, and then AJ didn't speak to him for a week. Brian asked him what had happened and he explained and Brian didn't stop laughing for a week.

So he got called a lying cheating grotesquely obese bastard. That just wasn't fair.

Aaron asked him about sex and condoms and stuff, and he felt very very sorry that he'd ever had a single unkind thought about Kevin. He said he thought Aaron was a bit young and Aaron asked him how old he'd been and he went out and bought the damn condoms. Everyone kept saying how he and Aaron were so much alike but he'd been sorta hoping Aaron would turn out to be smarter but maybe not.

Sex was good and water was good so sex and water together should be even better, but it didn't really work out that way. Showers were slippery and pools stank of chlorine and that was a real turn-off and beaches had sand and ow. Sex in boats was okay.

The thing in St Petersburg was a total accident, like who the hell even ever went to St Petersburg in the first place, except he took a wrong turn in Tampa and he was thirsty and he ended up in this bar and there was this guy and this bathroom and this blowjob, and afterwards he wasn't really sure where it ranked on the pizza scale, like definitely above thin crust with anchovies and olives but nowhere near Chicago deep dish with peperoni and extra cheese, that was for sure.

He decided that it was all JC's fault that he liked what he liked because JC had warped him early on and probably done something or other to his um psychosexual development, which he didn't think he could spell and maybe not pronounce either but it had a nice ring to it. That theory lasted until AJ got in a sharing mood one night and went on about this really wild girl and a vibrator and whoa. So maybe it wasn't just him and nothing to do with stupid freakish JC and those nights that he'd really totally practically forgotten about anyway and he should just stop thinking about it, and maybe possibly do it a bit more, and maybe possibly figure out a way to hook up with the kind of girls AJ hooked up with but AJ always got the wild ones no matter what, at least if even half of what he said was true.

So he glared at JC and mouthed too fucking pink right back and JC burst out laughing and Carson Daly looked really smug and started telling another boring joke which totally served JC right.

The thing in Orlando wasn't an accident, and he wasn't drunk or anything, just restless and itchy and kinda holding his breath about the whole solo thing and being restless and itchy felt a lot like being horny so he went out and he, well. Picked up a guy. It just seemed like the right thing to do and the guy turned out to be kind of sweet and kind of shy and not very experienced which was probably good, all things considered, and wanted to see him again and he wasn't sure but what the hell, so they made a date and they went on the date and there was a photographer there and all hell broke loose.

When he came back they were waiting for him at the dock, all of them, Kevin stern with arms crossed and AJ slouching under a hat and Brian squinting in the sun and Howie all scrunched up with worry. He thought about turning around and heading back out again but he was out of pop tarts.

They all said he should have told them, said it all at the same time like they'd rehearsed it only he guessed not because it made Brian giggle and then AJ socked his shoulder and then they all hugged him, holding him tight tight, and they said they'd stand by him whatever he decided to do. Whatever. He hugged them back and blinked really hard and thought about that.

He and AJ watched a lot of porn early on in Germany, when they didn't have much else to do. At first it was really exciting and then it got really boring. The women wore a lot of makeup and the men were really ugly. AJ planned to do everything once except the thing with the trapeze. He thought he'd like to have a sex life that didn't involve quite so many people at the same time.

Management went postal, or close enough, and tried to sit him down for a long talk about coverups and image and damage control before the upcoming benefit gig appearance like being out would mean less money for charity, and he thought screw this and called in to TRL and Carson said so rumor is you have a secret boyfriend and he said no, not any more, because not a lot of people can handle cameras in their faces like that, and watched the studio audience get it and have a collective meltdown and started to wonder where management might plan to bury his body. So when the screaming died down he said he wasn't in a hurry to start dating again or anything but he'd kinda like to meet a nice girl. Or guy. He figured he was dead already, so what the hell.

So then he was suddenly out and everyone kept calling him gay which was annoying because he wasn't. AJ said maybe he should form a bisexual pop star support group or something, too bad Bowie was all straight and boring now, and they wrestled a bit and fell in the pool and Kevin said with their luck there was probably another photographer in the bushes and AJ spat water and laughed and yelled something about getting married soon and PFLAG and motherfucking chlorine and Kevin started laughing, too, and he realized for like the billionth time that he loved the fellas, just loved them.

When he turned his head again JC was standing next to him and smiling, grinning like crazy actually and asking if he wanted to get out of there. And hell yeah, he'd had all he could take of this and he nodded and couldn't help grinning back because even with the new weird hair and the new weird clothes and all, JC still had the same goofy smile and it still did the same thing to him. So he said yeah and he had to, he just had to, he held his hand out, and JC took it and they started to walk out and the cameras began to flash.

And JC looked at him and said, "I like pink," and he looked back and said, "So fucking gay." And then they left.

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