“I'm anti-Backstreet and Ricky Martin,
with instincts to kill *NSYNC, don't get me started.
These fuckin brats can't sing and Britney's garbage...”
Lance turns his head slightly, picking up the unmistakable pseudo-venom of Eminem drifting from the back of the bus. He wishes Justin wasn’t so fond of Marshall these days, although he understands the impulse. His lips tighten as he listens to the bridge.
“New Kids on the Block sucked a lot of dick.
Boy-girl groups make me sick,
And I can’t wait ‘till I catch all you faggots in public,
I’ma love it.”
People like to ask them in interviews how they feel about Slim Shady and the way he disses them in his songs and interviews. Chris has the most to say about it, of course, and Justin has a tendency to quickly jump into the conversation, nodding his head and explaining earnestly how much he respects Eminem as an artist.
No one ever asks them how they feel about being called faggots.
Lance doesn’t like it at all, but he knows better than to complain out loud, except to Joey.
“Stupid fucker,” he mutters, as the CD moves on to the next track.
When the summer leg of the No Strings Attached Tour is over, Lance goes home to Orlando. He gets to sleep in his own bed while he’s finishing up the Free Lance auditions, but it doesn’t feel any more familiar to him than the hotel rooms or the bus he usually sleeps in.
One reason it feels strange is that he finally brings a boy home to his bed. He’s never let himself do that before, he’s always told himself it was too risky, what about the group, what if someone finds out? The rush of finally doing it is surpassed only by the adrenalin jolt of Joey walking in as Lance is kissing Sean goodbye the next morning.
“So now you know,” Lance says, half-defiant, half-terrified.
Joey turns away from the window, where he’s watching with curious eyes as Sean leaves. “I’ve always known, Lance. I’ve just been waiting for you to tell me.”
The relief Lance feels is enough to make his knees buckle. Joey sits next to him on the couch and Lance tucks himself under Joey’s arm and listens to his heart beat until he can breathe again. Someone finally knows.
Lance is packing for Japan. He’s still not clear why they’re going all the way to Japan to do promo, but whatever. He listens to the radio as he packs and decides he’s not sorry to be leaving Orlando for a while.
“Aaaannnd it’s DJ Dragon in the morning, here on WKSS Orlando, with the latest in celebrity news and gossip. Which blond member of NSYNC was spotted getting cozy with a pretty young boy-thing at Tabu the other night? Here’s a hint--it wasn’t the future Mr. Spears. When is Princess Frosty Locks going to just come on out of that sparkly closet he’s hiding in, hmmm?”
Lance snaps off the radio and shuts his suitcase with a sigh. This Dragon guy seems to have some sort of bug up his ass about Lance, and Lance doesn’t get it at all. He’s never even met the guy. And he’s been careful, especially here in Orlando. He only ever dates girls. He even has a girlfriend, for Christ’s sake. He’s hooked up with a guy maybe once or twice and except for Joey, he doesn’t think anyone has ever suspected.
Okay, yes, he hooked up with Sean at Tabu. That was obviously a mistake.
But whatever, what the fuck is up with the whole Princess Frosty Locks bit? Lance doesn’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.
In the limo on the way to the airport, they pass a billboard advertising WKSS. DJ DRAGON IN THE MORNING, it proclaims, with a wreath of fire encircling some guy’s head and smoke coming out of his nose. Lance thinks the guy looks like a complete tool.
He looks away from the billboard in time to see Chris and Justin exchange glances. JC seems pretty oblivious, but Lance feels himself flush and he stares at his knees. Joey pats his leg comfortingly and no one says anything.
After recovering from the jet lag of a four-day trip to Japan, they resume their nonstop pace. New York, LA, San Francisco, Nashville, Orlando, they’re all over the place. So, apparently, is DJ Dragon. In the short time NSYNC was out of the country, Dragon’s obsession with outing Lance has become a nationwide phenomenon, at least in radio gossip-land. Johnny tells Lance that WEG and Jive are on it, trying to squash the talk and counteract the gossip by planting stories about Lance and different girls, various actresses and singers and anyone else they can think of. Johnny wants to know what Lance thinks about possibly dating Jessica Simpson.
The very idea terrifies him.
Lance at least hopes the talk has been confined to the kind of radio stations his mother doesn’t listen to, but he knows he can’t be that lucky.
He manages to make it home to Mississippi for a quick weekend, and his sister confronts him in her kitchen.
“Mom keeps hearing things on the radio. I do, too, Lance. What’s going on?”
This isn’t how Lance planned for this to go. Actually, he hadn’t planned for this at all. He thought he’d keep his secret for a lifetime, which was really pretty stupid of him. He should have made a plan.
He can’t look at Stacy, and the words are choking him. Two words, and it takes him forever to say them. “I’m gay.” He doesn’t look at his sister until she starts to cry.
Ford tells her to stop. “There’s no reason to cry,” he says, and Lance loves him more than he thought possible.
“Mom,” Stacy sobs. Lance turns and leaves the room.
He can’t stay in Mississippi. He has things to do, NSYNC has things to do, places to be, and he doesn’t have time for anything else.
They’re on TRL and Carson wants to ask him about DJ Dragon. Johnny says no, no way in hell, and if MTV ever wants NSYNC on TRL again, Carson will keep his mouth shut. Contrary to appearances, Carson’s not stupid, and Dragon goes unmentioned.
That doesn’t stop MTV News from picking up on the story though, and the folks at WEG in Orlando who are responsible for monitoring Dragon’s show report him to be gleeful in the extreme. It’s only a matter of time before it all blows up in Lance’s face.
“Whatever you want to do, Lance. You know that,” Joey says. Lance doesn’t want to do anything, but he asks for a group meeting.
Chris is furious. Lance hadn’t noticed that before, but he sure as hell notices it now. It’s impossible to miss.
“I’ll kill him. Stupid motherfucking piece of shit prick cocksucking asshole. I’ll take that billboard and shove those flames up his ass.” Chris paces, his hands clenching and unclenching as Justin watches him uneasily.
“What are we going to do?” JC asks. He doesn’t meet Lance’s eyes.
“Whatever Lance wants to do,” Joey states, his tone brooking no argument. JC doesn’t look at Joey either.
Lance takes a deep breath. “I’m gay, y’all. I’m sorry.” He shakes his head as Chris glares at him and opens his mouth, no doubt to yell at him. “I’m not sorry I’m gay. That’s not what I mean.” He shrugs. “That’s just who I am, and I’m not sorry for it.” He glares back at Chris. “But I thought I was being careful. Hell, I was careful. I have a fucking girlfriend. I don’t know what this Dragon guy wants, what his deal is, but it’s gotten out of hand, and—” He breaks off. And what? What does he want to do about it?
They’re all watching him now, even JC. “It might be less of a big deal if I just come out. Then at least it’ll be over with, this guy will shut up, and then we can deal with the fallout.” There, he said it out loud.
“The fallout? The fallout?” Justin’s voice is strained. He loves Lance, Lance knows this, but they’ve worked so hard to get where they are, and Justin probably thinks Lance is willing to throw it all away over this. He’s not, that’s not what he wants at all. Justin swallows, takes a deep breath and sends a crooked smile Lance’s way. “Jesus, Lance.”
“People are gonna hate you,” JC blurts out. His face is white and pinched, and Lance knows what he means. Us, people are gonna hate us. Joey puts his arm around JC and squeezes reassuringly. JC drops his head on Joey’s shoulder and closes his eyes.
“We do this as a united front,” Chris declares fiercely, still angry, glaring at them all in turn. “We’re behind Lance one hundred percent on this.”
Slowly, one by one, they all nod. Lance feels tears burn at the back of his eyes. Chris says, “I still want to kill the son of a bitch.”
Lance gives a watery chuckle. “You gonna slay the Dragon for me, Sir Christopher?”
“Damn right I am, Princess,” Chris retorts, and they all laugh at him, even JC.
Lance calls Danielle. It’s a shitty thing to do over the phone, but he doesn’t have time to fly to LA. She’s heard the rumors, of course, who hasn’t by now? She’s not happy with him at all, but it wasn’t like she was in love with him. She wishes him luck, which makes Lance feel like the biggest asshole in the world.
He also needs to tell his parents, something he approaches with an almost overwhelming feeling of dread.
Chris wants to go with him, and Lance is tempted to let him. But he’s embarrassed. He doesn’t know if his parents love him enough for this, and if they don’t he doesn’t want Chris to see it.
By the time he arrives in Mississippi, it’s already too late. His mom asked Stacy enough questions that Stacy finally had no choice but to tell her. So the only news Lance has for his family is that he’s going to come out during a nationally televised press conference. His mother pales, gasping, “Lance, no,” as she covers her face with her hands.
His father’s eyes are hard when he asks Lance about diseases and talks about gay relationships not being real. The pain of knowing his father thinks Lance is incapable of true love almost breaks him, and he’s fiercely glad Chris isn’t here.
“I’m sorry,” he tells them. He knows how hard it’s going to be for them, here in Clinton. It would be hard enough if their son were just an ordinary person, but NSYNC is so big, it’s going to be relentless, and he thinks none of them has any idea.
He searches for forgiveness in his parents’ eyes, but he doesn’t find it. He sees love behind the pain though, and that will have to be enough for now.
The press conference is a nightmare. Lance speaks first, and thank God for Chris and Joey on either side of him. It’s all written out on a piece of paper in front of him, but he doesn’t need to look at it. He stares straight into the cameras.
“The main reason I wanted to speak my mind was that the rumors really were starting to affect my daily life. Now it feels like it’s on my terms. The thing is, I’m not ashamed-that’s the one thing I wanted to say. I don’t think it’s wrong.” He pauses to let that sink in.
“I’ve known my whole life,” he continues. “I always knew and dealt with it; it’s nothing that was confusing to me. I told myself, ‘This is what you are. This is the way you were born.’ I definitely didn’t ask to go through this, but I just knew it was something that I would have to hide my whole life.”
He gestures down the table at the other guys. “I know I’m in this popular band, and I have four other guys’ careers in my hands, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said that I was gay, it would overpower everything. I didn’t know; could that be the end of NSYNC? So I’ve had that weight on me of like, ‘Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it’s bad.” He smiles ruefully. “And then the choice was pretty much taken away from me, and here we are.” He stops talking. He’s done. That’s all he has to say.
The room explodes in light and sound. Lance gropes under the table and finds Chris’s hand, already reaching for his.
It’s impossible to hear any of the individual questions shouted at them, and Lance waits for the noise to stop.
It doesn’t. Chris’s face looks like a thundercloud and JC looks like he’s going to bolt any minute. Justin looks like he might cry and Joey holds up his hands, trying to get the reporters to stop yelling.
The noise finally dies down and Joey leans forward into his microphone. Johnny thinks they should all say something supportive. Lance thinks that’s asking a lot.
“I’m proud of him,” Joey says. “I’m there for him. Hey, everyone, he’s gay--get over it!”
Justin chuckles at that and visibly relaxes, saying, “I completely support him, I mean, Lance is one of my best friends in the world and, uh, I think something like this, it’s like, if he’s cool with talking about it, then I’m cool supporting that he talks about it, you know, and if he doesn’t want to talk about it, I’m supporting that he doesn’t want to talk about it.” He flashes his best smile, the one that’s charmed millions of girls, and says, “But obviously, we’re talking about it,” and the reporters all laugh. They can’t believe their good fortune in being here, Lance knows this.
Lance waits for JC to say something. Under the table, Chris holds his hand, threading their fingers together, not letting go.
JC looks like a deer frozen in the headlights, and Lance knows he can’t do this. They should just skip JC and go right to Chris. JC picks up his bottle of water and takes a drink. Then he puts it down on the table with a decisive snap and says, “This is obviously hard for Lance, for us. He wanted to keep his private life private, but it seemed like nobody was gonna let him.” He glares at the reporters and Lance bites his lip to suppress a smile.
“It’s a touchy subject,” JC goes on. “As much as it’s on the table as being okay in one way, in many other ways people frown on it. So it’s still tough to know that if you say something like that, people are gonna, automatically going to hate you, um, so that’s a tough decision to come to. He’s always been a wonderful friend to me, so obviously I told him, hey man, as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.” He blinks at the cameras, at all the lights and the people watching him.
Lance tells himself to hold on just a little longer. Chris is all that’s left, and then they’re finished. They’re not going to take questions, because Lance doesn’t even want to know what kind of questions the press will come up with, so it’s almost over.
But apparently JC’s not finished. It seems once he gets started, he has a lot to say. Lance smiles and listens and tries not to cry in front of hundreds of people.
“It’s a strange thing, you know, he has the right to his privacy just like anybody else when it comes to that. That’s just like everybody else in this world, you know, when they go to work they don’t mind that part of their lives being known, but if they’re in the comfort of their own homes, there’s certain things they want to keep to themselves and that’s completely understandable.”
JC is waving his hands around now. “Unfortunately, sometimes being in this business people don’t let you do that, you’re maybe not entitled to the same rights as every other human being in the world, but those are the sacrifices you make at the end of the day.”
He keeps going. “Again, when you make a decision like that, you know that it’s not going to agree with everybody, so you know when you tell somebody something like that, before they even know you they might just decide to hate you, for no other reason than that, because they don’t agree with it, and you know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it takes strength, and a certain amount of bravery to overcome that, because nobody wants to know that by divulging something that has no bearing on somebody else’s life, you know that they’re going to hate you without even knowing you. But he’s a brave guy and he’s a great guy and he’s happy and that makes me happy.”
By the time JC finally stops talking, the other four are staring at him in bemusement. Lance is hard-pressed not to laugh out loud, and Joey’s eyes are twinkling.
Chris’s face has lost the tense anger that Lance has been worried about since they sat down, and he smirks when he says, “Thanks, JC.” He looks out over the roomful of reporters and says plaintively, “Lance got a flower arrangement and a card from Elton John welcoming him to the family. Do I gotta do something like this to get some stuff from somebody famous?” He waits for the laughter to die down, then continues. “Um, honestly though, we love Lance to death, but what’s the big deal? I mean, Samuel L. Jackson isn’t gonna come out next week going I’m black, you know. I mean, really, what’s the point?” And he’s back to glaring again, but Lance squeezes his hand one last time, lets go, and stands up.
“Thank you,” he says, and they file out, leaving the press in a frenzy behind them.
The first thing that happens is Rosie calls to book them on her show again. The second thing that happens is the producers of The Simpsons call and cancel NSYNC’s upcoming appearance on their show. Lance is surprised and disappointed by that. It would have been so cool, and if The Simpsons don’t want them.... He can tell Chris is equally disappointed, and Lance is worried. He trusts the guys and Chris said one hundred percent, but he’s still afraid.
There’s no question of postponing or canceling the second leg of the tour, there’s way too much money involved, so on October 17 they kick it off in Charlotte, North Carolina. None of them know what to expect, and security’s been increased. The Meet ‘n Greets have been cancelled until further notice. Some of the locals hired for the night’s security seem like they’d be just as happy to look the other way if anyone were to threaten any one in the band, and they watch Lance with hostile eyes.
It’s all Lance can do to keep Chris from slamming his fist into the wall after soundcheck.
“Quit it,” he says gently, folding his arms around Chris, pressing tight against his back and not letting go. “You might need that hand for something.”
Chris stops struggling and leans his head back on Lance’s shoulder. “I wanna kill anyone who hurts you,” he whispers.
“No one’s hurt me,” Lance lies.
During the next week, Eminem opens his Anger Management Tour with a parody of Tearing Up My Heart called Tearing Up My Ass, complete with sexually exaggerated choreography, and a woman from Tennessee turns her son into the police for threatening to kill NSYNC during their upcoming Atlanta concert.
It’s not the best week Lance has ever had.
“Guess the kid has something in common with Marshall—apparently neither one of them likes fags,” Lance snorts when Joey repeats what Johnny told him on the phone.
Joey’s face darkens. “That’s enough of that, Lance. I don’t wanna hear that word coming outta your mouth anymore. It’s not a nice word.”
“What, Joey, I can’t feel sorry for myself if I want to? I can’t feel sorry for myself because someone Justin thinks is a serious artist sings about me getting fucked onstage? Not to mention some psycho lunatic wants to fucking kill us because of me?” He’s shouting by the time he’s done, yelling at his best friend, and that’s really not the least bit helpful.
Joey hauls him down on the couch and they end up sleeping there all night. Joey is the safest place Lance knows. He wakes up in the morning as the sun rises over the highway, and he watches the cars pass them by until Joey gets up and brings him coffee.
The tour continues, and it’s as if they’re under siege. The press is like a pack of rabid dogs, and in every city the local newspapers and television stations all want a piece of them. Johnny tries to control it, and Jive has sent a whole PR team along, but it’s still total chaos. The radio stations are the worst, of course. They all have their own versions of DJ Dragon, assholes who want to make a national name for themselves, who want to climb into a major market on the back of some celebrity, and they’re all looking around for a story they can exploit. Lance wonders when celebrities stopped being human beings. Maybe they never were and he just didn’t know it. Maybe his life really is fair game to be used to entertain the masses or promote some guy’s career on a slow news day.
Maybe dating Jessica Simpson would have been easier than this, although he doubts it.
The five of them are much more isolated than they were on the last leg of the tour. They can’t even go through a hotel lobby to get to their rooms without being mobbed, let alone go to a club or a restaurant. Individually the other guys manage to get away once in a while, especially if they’re with their girlfriends. Kelly, Bobbie and Dani quickly become very popular visitors on the tour.
The decision is made to allow Justin and Britney to officially go public.
“We’ll just tease ‘em with it, nice and slow,” Justin grins. “Give ‘em something else to talk about, not that they weren’t talking about us already.” Lance tries not to think about Justin using his relationship to distract the press and the fans from Lance’s gayness. Justin doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Lance wonders how much the other guys would have been behind him if they had known it was going to be like this. Eighty percent, maybe? Seventy-five? He has to stop himself from apologizing every time he opens his mouth.
They sing the National Anthem for Game Three of the World Series at Shea Stadium and everyone agrees that’s one gig that should have been canceled. They’ve been booed before, but never like that. Johnny actually apologizes to Lance for that one.
Jive releases the next single off No Strings Attached. They’re supposed to go on TRL for the premiere, but MTV thinks it might be better to see how it goes without them there. This of course has nothing to do with the boycott several religious groups are organizing against NSYNC, Jive, MTV, and any radio station that continues to play their music. There’s even a CD-burning demonstration in Jackson, Mississippi. That makes the national news, and ABC shows old footage of Beatles records being burned in the South, back when John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
Lance wonders if the pastor of his church was there. He thinks he might stop mentioning that he’s from Mississippi in interviews for a while.
This I Promise You debuts at number two on TRL, which makes Lance feel a little better. Johnny’s been protecting them from the worst of Jive’s anger, but Lance knows they’re furious. Maybe this will make them ease up a bit, and give Johnny a break. None of this is his fault.
They get on the buses in Knoxville, Tennessee, and there’s a large canvas bag in the middle of the table on Lance and Joey’s bus. Lance learned long ago to be cautious, but it’s already on their bus, so he sits down at the table and opens it, rummaging around inside. It’s full of mail, letters addressed to him by name, to faggot and gayboy and dirty queer and he opens one, unfolding a piece of paper that reads “God hates homos” in sharp, jagged letters.
There’s hundreds of them, each one of them piercing Lance’s skin with hate, leaving angry, open wounds.
Joey looks over Lance’s shoulder to see what he’s doing. “Goddamn son of a bitch,” he hisses, and then he’s shouting for the bus driver to stop. They haven’t even made it out of the parking lot, although Lance feels as if he’s been sitting at this table looking at these terrible things for his whole life.
Joey’s yelling into his phone, curses that don’t get past the roaring in Lance’s ears. He disappears out into the dark night, still shouting, then bounds back onto the bus again, Chris in his wake.
Chris wraps his hand around Lance’s wrist and tugs, pulling him up and away from the table, while Joey scoops the letters back into the sack. He shoves it at the PR assistant who’s followed him on to the bus.
“Get rid of these fucking things. And find out who put them here. I want to know who the hell did this.” Joey hardly ever gets mad, and the poor PR girl is shaking as she takes the bag from him and hurries off the bus. “Goddamn motherfuckers,” Joey mutters, turning to Lance and Chris.
They all know it without having to say it. Someone put that bag of letters there on purpose. Someone from inside, someone they trust, put them there for Lance to find.
Lance goes silently to his bunk. He doesn’t protest when Chris climbs in and curls protectively behind him, his arms tight across Lance’s chest, his breath warm in Lance’s ear.
They finally get to do The Rosie O’Donnell Show. She asks them how things are going.
“Great,” Lance answers with a wide smile. “Mostly great.” He tells her how the fans hold up signs at every concert showing their support, proclaiming their love. He tells her about the letters he gets from young gay boys, and how they share their stories in tiny, secret handwriting. You give me courage, these letters say, and he tells Rosie that, too.
“And your family?” she asks.
Lance doesn’t want to talk about his family, so he says, “They’ve been amazing,” before Justin, bless him, starts to talk about Britney. Justin spent too much time with Lance and Diane in Europe not to know the score.
Chris tells Rosie about the hate mail.
“Been there, done that,” Rosie says smugly. “And so what about this guy, this DJ Dragon guy. He’s been saying it’s all his doing, that you never would have come out if it weren’t for him, and now you can stop living a lie. Have you talked to him at all?”
Chris’s face darkens and rest of them practically fall all over themselves trying to be the first to talk so that he can’t be. JC says something about privacy, Joey gets a word or two in about publicity hounds, Justin says something lame about the fans, and then Lance holds his hands up for silence.
“I don’t feel like I was living a lie. I was just living my life the way I chose to. It was my life and I wanted to keep it private.” Lance shrugs. “I don’t know why anyone cares, anyway.”
There’s not much to do at this point besides let Chris have his say. “Everybody should be able to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives. This--this--person, this Dragon person, where does he get off thinking it’s okay for him to make that decision for someone else? He has no right, man, no right at all.” Chris is glaring, but it comes out less angry than Lance was afraid it would, even if Chris does make person sound like the foulest curse ever uttered on TV by a squeaky-clean member of a boyband.
Rosie calls Lance a cutie-patootie at least twice before they’re done.
Lance still phones home every Sunday afternoon. He’s always done that, no matter where they were or what time it was. Well, almost always, sometimes the time zones were a little too crazy, or he was a little too hung over, but over the years he’s managed a call home almost every week.
When Lance calls now, his father doesn’t answer the phone. At first, Lance asks to speak to him when he and his mom are finished talking, but after several Sundays in a row when Jim is at the neighbor’s borrowing power tools, or upstairs taking a nap, or gone to the store to pick up something Lance’s mom needs at the last minute to fix supper, or down at Stacy’s helping Ford clean out the garage, Lance stops asking for him.
His conversations with his mother range from stilted to uncomfortable to angry. “Why didn’t you tell us?” Diane demands during one particularly unpleasant argument. “Why did you wait until now, when everyone else knows?”
How could you not already know? Lance wants to ask her, but he doesn’t. That’s not fair, he tried his damndest to keep it from them all the years he was growing up. But there’s a voice that whispers in his ear, insisting, How could they not know me? I’m their son. Instead, he says to his mother, “Is that what you don’t like? That everyone else knows? What do the folks down at church say, Mom? Do they want you to throw me out of the family?”
That particular conversation ends with his mother in tears, and for once, Lance’s dad gets on the phone to speak, but it’s not in any way the kind of conversation Lance has been hoping to have with him.
“Don’t you talk to your mother that way. If you can’t watch your mouth, then I don’t think you’d better call here anymore.” That cold, hard voice can’t possibly belong to the same man who’d beamed with pride every time Lance came home during the past few years, who taught Lance to ride a bike and shoot a gun, who’d taken Lance hunting and fishing, his voice warm with laughter as Lance excitedly held a wriggling fish up for his father to see.
Lance doesn’t call for two weeks, but then he can’t hold out any longer, can’t go without hearing his mother’s voice, and he calls hoping to hear words of forgiveness and love.
He settles for words of sadness and disappointment, and they don’t talk at all about the upcoming Christmas holidays.
Lance doesn’t think the people around them treat him any differently. Wardrobe, makeup, the band, it’s just a job, and they don’t seem to care. Security has certainly closed ranks around the group, and Lonnie in particular seems to always have his back. Lance catches Tiny looking at him sometimes with an expression that’s hard to decipher, but he can’t think about what that might mean, so he doesn’t.
Until the night some asshole throws himself over a barrier as they run for the buses in Indianapolis, screaming “Fucking faggot!” at Lance, his arms outstretched and grasping, his face contorted in a rictus of fury, and Tiny hesitates. It’s barely an instant, but it’s enough for the guy to get his hand on Lance’s shirt. Tiny’s face is more shocked than anyone else’s as he suddenly moves, shoving the guy back with a snarl and hustling Lance onto the bus.
They stand at the top of the bus steps, breathing hard, and adrenaline courses through Lance’s veins. He clutches his torn shirt to his chest like a violated virgin. Tiny still looks stunned, and then his face collapses and he brings a hand up to cover his eyes.
Lance doesn’t know what to say, and they stand there like statues until Joey bounds onto the bus behind them. He stops when he finds Tiny there. His smile fades when he sees Lance’s torn shirt. “What...”
Tiny swipes his hand down over his face, nods at Lance without meeting his eyes, then turns and pushes his way past Joey and off the bus.
Joey looks at Lance. “Tell me what happened.”
“There was a guy in the crowd who apparently doesn’t like f—” Lance breaks off when Joey makes a disapproving noise in the back of his throat. He sees the hate-filled face again, feels the violence in the man’s grasp. Lance isn’t used to violence. Not the kind associated with hate, anyway. He’s used to the violence associated with arenas full of love. “Tiny got him off me and got us to the bus.” His voice only shakes a little.
Joey nods, then steps forward to enfold Lance in an embrace, his arms tight around Lance’s middle. “Don’t tell Chris,” Lance mumbles into Joey’s shoulder.
Joey dabs at the scratches on Lance’s chest with a wet towel and digs some Neosporin out of the bus’s first aid kit. He smears it gently over the wounds, not saying a word, but his eyes are bright with unshed tears.
When they arrive at the hotel, Tiny’s at the door of the bus, waiting to escort them through the lobby. It’s past midnight and there are very few people around. The elevator ride is silent, and Tiny walks Lance all the way to the door of his room, takes the key card from his hand and checks out the room before allowing Lance inside.
All Lance wants is to go to bed. He starts to shut the door in Tiny’s face when Tiny hands him back his key card. They haven’t spoken since Lance got off the bus.
Lance pockets the key. He hesitates, and Tiny shakes his head. Lance sees regret in his eyes. He holds out his hand and slowly, solemnly, Tiny takes it in his and they shake hands before Tiny turns to go.
Of course Chris finds out. Lance wasn’t sure what he was thinking, trying to keep it from him. The knowledge that someone put hands on Lance, angry hands that wanted to hurt him, travels quickly through the tour, and after Indianapolis, Lonnie is never far from Lance’s side.
“Chris,” Lance says wearily. Chris is pacing in the Quiet Room, muttering and swearing under his breath. Justin made him stop yelling, something for which Lance will be forever grateful.
“What?” Chris snarls, whipping his head around to glare at Lance. And something in Lance snaps.
“Stop it! Stop being so mad all the time! Do you think that’s the least bit helpful?” he shouts in Chris’s face.
Chris stands stock-still, staring at Lance and then he says, “Of course it’s not helpful.” He looks closely at Lance, really studies him, and Lance knows he looks like hell. Makeup sighs over the circles under his eyes and wardrobe shakes their heads at having to take in some of Lance’s costumes. “God, Lance, it just all makes me so fucking furious. I’m just pissed off, is all.”
Lance sighs wearily. “I know, and I appreciate it, Chris. But here, with you guys, I need a break from the drama sometimes.”
Chris nods. “Okay. I get it. I’ll try.” There’s something in his eyes, the way he’s looking at Lance, that makes Lance feel warm and wanted.
Lance can’t remember the last time he got laid. Okay, yes he can, it was the day Joey walked into his house and discovered him kissing Sean. That freaked Lance out so much that he never called Sean again.
He finds himself jerking off to thoughts of Chris’s warm grin and protective embrace. He thinks about Chris’s anger, his clenched fists, the way his eyes flash when he’s mad on Lance’s behalf, and he comes abruptly into his own hand, gasping at the unexpectedness of it.
Lance is tempted to freak out again, but if he can’t get laid, he has to do something, so he finds himself watching Chris, storing up moments for when he’s alone in bed, his hand trailing down to slip into his boxers.
He never does it on the bus, because sometimes he whispers Chris’s name, and he doesn’t need for Joey to hear that.
One day Chris catches him looking. He quirks an eyebrow as if to say what, Bass? and Lance turns away, his face hot.
Chris sidles up to him in the hotel elevator after the show in St. Louis and whispers in his ear, “You’re not the only one with secrets, you know.”
Justin watches them curiously as Lance bats at Chris’s head. “Quit it, you freak,” Lance says, making a show of rubbing at his ear. But his pulse quickens as he follows Chris down the hallway to his room.
“Come on in, man. Make yourself at home,” Chris says, as he ushers Lance inside.
Lance turns to face Chris. “What did you mean? About having secrets?”
“While I may not be the all-American gay boy you are, my friend, I’ve been known to swing both ways on occasion,” Chris says, batting his eyes at Lance. Then he stops, and says seriously, “I wanted you to know that. If you ever wanted to...” he trails off, looking a little embarrassed, then adds, “You’ve been watching me,” with a slightly defiant tilt to his chin.
Lance doesn’t trust his voice, so he just nods. Chris smiles. “Cool,” he says simply, and he reaches for Lance.
“This isn’t a pity fuck, just so you know,” Chris tells him as he slides down Lance’s body, just before he takes Lance in his mouth.
Lance is too busy trying not to thrust his hips up to answer, and then Chris’s hands are there, pinning him to the bed, and he doesn’t have to do anything but feel.
Lance has stopped reading magazines. Teen People, Cosmo Girl, 16, Seventeen, J-14, Tiger Beat, none of them seem to run out of things to say about his sexual orientation. And they’re all so excited about it. Lance can picture the various editors, rubbing their hands together in happy anticipation of increased sales every time NSYNC is on their covers. J-14 is the only one that makes any real effort to do more than speculate about who Lance might be dating, and he has Bobbie to thank for that.
“What do you say to parents who may not want their children listening to NSYNC now that you’ve admitted you’re gay?” she asks him when she interviews him for the magazine.
“Well, first of all, I didn’t admit anything. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. I announced it,” he says, smiling at her to cover his irritation with the way she phrases the question. “I don’t think it makes any difference who I date as to whether our music is any good or not. And part of our fan base has always been gay, you know.” He shrugs. “And I just don’t think it should matter.”
There’s always been speculation about who they’re dating, and they’ve always been less than forthcoming with the answers, but that speculation’s been raised to a whole new level of obsession.
“Now you know how I feel,” Justin cackles, and Lance has to admit he’s right.
They mainstream press gets over it quicker than the teen-oriented press does, but in any case, Lance can’t say two words to a member of his own sex without cameras flashing and the next thing he knows, the parking lot attendant at his favorite restaurant in New York is all over Page Six, being touted as Lance Bass’s newest boytoy.
That gets old really fast.
People magazine, which Lance knows his mother reads, puts him on the cover, the word GAY plastered across his chest. The accompanying article consists of interviews with parents. Parents of their fans, caught outside their concerts, or approached randomly at the mall with their teenage daughters in tow.
Lance reads it in the car one morning as he and Chris are being driven to a local radio station for an interview. Lance is getting tired of hiding, and he’s ready to take his turn doing the early morning appearances again. Chris has a pile of paperwork from FuMan to shuffle through on the ride over, and Lance has the new People that Joey thrust into his hand as he climbed off the bus this morning. Lance has no idea why Joey would do that.
In the article, people express a mixture of positive and negative opinions, the usual stuff about how it doesn’t make any difference to them, or how hell, no, no daughter of theirs is going to listen to a band with an openly gay member. There’s nothing there that surprises Lance until he turns to the last page of the story.
He sits staring at an interview with their parents. Well, some of them, anyway. Joe Sr.’s face smiles out at him, and so does Bev’s. Lynn talks about how if they hadn’t found Lance, there wouldn’t be an NSYNC. Bev talks about love and Joe talks about being proud of your children no matter what.
His own parents are nowhere to be seen, and neither are Roy and Karen Chasez.
He turns to Chris and holds the magazine out with shaking hands. Chris takes it with a knowing smile. “My mom thinks you’re too cool for school, Bass.”
Lance can’t speak. He feels like if he tries to say anything he’ll fly apart. He crosses his arms protectively in front of his chest and huddles on the seat of the limo, Chris beside him, his hand resting lightly on Lance’s thigh.
It’s announced that the half-time performers for the upcoming Superbowl will be Aerosmith and the Backstreet Boys, along with Nelly, Mary J. Blige and Jessica Simpson. Johnny tries to get the National Anthem gig for NSYNC, but the NFL says no way in hell are they letting some boyband full of queers anywhere near their biggest game of the year. Okay, that’s not quite how Johnny phrases it, but Lance knows that’s exactly what they said.
And that’s the part that bothers Lance the most. The assumption that if one member of the group is gay, they all must be. There’s constant speculation in the tabloids and on the Internet about whether or not they’re all fucking each other.
And it doesn’t matter what he and Chris are doing, Lance still doesn’t like it.
JC tosses a copy of The National Enquirer down on the couch next to Lance in the Quiet Room in Washington, DC. JC’s the only one already dressed and in makeup.
“Look what the wardrobe ladies are reading these days, dude,” he says, a note in his voice that makes Lance look up from his sandwich with some trepidation. JC gestures impatiently at the magazine, and Lance picks it up.
There’s an article on the front page speculating about which one of Lance’s bandmates he would be most likely to fall in love with, and whether that love would remain unrequited or not. It’s accompanied by a photo of the five of them with their arms around each, and in it, Lance and JC are smiling past Justin--who’s stuck between them grinning goofily at the camera--and right into each other’s eyes. Judging by their clothing, the picture was taken after some awards show or another.
Lance feels that percentage slip again, maybe down to as low as fifty or sixty percent in JC’s case. Lance has no real idea how Roy and Karen feel about the way things are, but he can’t imagine they’re too thrilled with him right now.
“My family will read this, Lance,” JC says, his voice deadly, completely confirming Lance’s fears. “They’re going to think—” he breaks off and moves abruptly away from Lance, flinging himself into one of the big arm chairs. “My mom already wonders—she doesn’t like—she’s afraid—” He stops, a muscle in his cheek twitching as he clenches his jaw.
Lance doesn’t want to fight with JC. He doesn’t want to fight with anyone. All he wanted was for his private life to stay private. He’s so sick to death of being reminded, with every conversation, every interaction he has, that’s he’s gay. It’s as if that’s the only thing about him that’s even important anymore.
“What, JC? Do you think I sat down and gave them an interview? Told them what I want in a boyfriend? Listed you guys in order of who I think is the hottest, who I most want to fuck?” He’s yelling, all the anger at the whole situation, at all the assholes, suddenly right there. He’s choking on it, his ears are ringing with it. He unleashes it all on JC, finds himself standing over him, fists clenched, screaming, “It’s the fucking Enquirer, you goddamn moron. You stupid asshole, I didn’t do this. It’s not my fault!”
JC leaps to his feet, and he and Lance are practically nose to nose, JC’s furious eyes boring into Lance’s. Justin slides in between them, his hand on JC’s chest, pushing him back. “That’s enough, C. Come on, come on man, don’t do this. You’re gonna hate yourself as it is, don’t make it worse.” He wraps his other arm around JC’s shoulder, giving him a squeeze. “Come on, man” he says again.
Joey has Lance wrapped up tight, like he’s afraid Lance is going to go after JC if he lets go. But all the fight has left Lance, and he sags back into Joey’s grip. All he feels is tired. “JC,” he says, defeated. “Don’t you think I know how your mom feels? It’s not that hard to figure out.” He looks at the floor. “She feels the same as my mom.”
At that moment the door opens and Chris comes in from makeup. “The rest of you fuckers gonna get ready any time soon? Anthony’s out there having a cow, man.” He stops and looks at them all. “What?”
“Nothing, Chris. Just a friendly conversation,” Lance says. He shakes Joey off his back and heads to the door. “I’m going to makeup.”
“Lance,” he hears JC say as he opens the door. “Lance, wait.” Lance shakes his head without turning around and lets the door close behind him.
Chris doesn’t speak to JC for three days after that. But Lance isn’t mad at JC, not really. He waits for JC to come to him, though. No sense pushing things.
JC finds him in his room at their hotel in New York. “Can I come in?”
Lance opens the door wider and JC takes two steps into the room and stops. He looks like hasn’t slept in a week. He doesn’t meet Lance’s eyes as he says, “I’m sorry.”
Lance nods and closes the door. “I know. It’s scary, JC, believe me, I know, to think that people you love are gonna look at you differently.”
“I don’t.” JC stands rooted in place.
Lance frowns. “You don’t what?”
“Look at you any differently.” He pauses, then finally looks at Lance. “Your mom....” He shakes his head, tries again. “Your mom, does she—” He gives up, looking at Lance helplessly.
Lance chooses his words carefully. He doesn’t want to talk about his mom. “She’s not happy, I guess you could say.”
“What about your dad?” JC asks. He’s moving toward the bed, and he settles on the edge, looking curiously up at Lance.
Lance smiles without humor. “He doesn’t talk to me much, unless it’s to give me shit about something.” JC looks unhappy.
“But I thought—”
Lance shakes his head. “No.” He sits down next to JC, and JC puts his arm around him. Lance looks at his hands, clasped in his lap.
“You don’t talk about it,” JC says, asking a question.
“I don’t want to. It’ll be okay. They’ll come around. They love me.” It’s true. They do. Lance tips his head over onto JC’s shoulder, and that’s how Chris finds them when he comes to get Lance for dinner, sitting silently side-by-side on Lance’s bed.
The tour is almost over and Lance can’t wait. Things are slightly less crazed now that they’re on the West coast. There are fewer pickets at each concert, and they almost never need a police escort from the hotel to the venue anymore, the way they did for those first few concerts in the South.
On the other hand, he’s not sure where he’s supposed to go for the holidays. There are still appearances and award shows to do. The novelty of the best-selling band in the world having an openly gay member has worn off a bit, especially in the industry, and they’re almost in as much demand again as they were before.
But it’s after that that Lance doesn’t know about. His mother never brings up Christmas in their weekly conversations, and he doesn’t either. Her voice has regained some of its softness when she speaks to him, and sometimes he can close his eyes and let himself forget how much he’s disappointed her.
Chris says Lance can spend Christmas with his family in Orlando. Bev would love to have him. But Lance isn’t sure he wants to do that. He’s still embarrassed that his parents don’t love him unconditionally, and he doesn’t want to spend Christmas with people who know that.
“It’s their loss,” Chris says sharply, still ready to be angry on Lance’s behalf. Chris has taken to sleeping in Lance’s room when they’re not on the buses overnight. Every once in a while, Lance catches himself thinking he might be happy. It’s a strange feeling, but he likes it. He’s missed it.
Lance tells his mom that he’s considering going to Chris’s for Christmas, and she seems taken aback. “Is that what you want to do, Lance?” She sounds hurt.
“I want to spend Christmas with people who aren’t judging me the whole time,” Lance says. “I’ve had enough of that these past few months, and I’m tired, Mom.”
There’s silence on the other end of the phone. Lance sighs. “Mom—”
“Lance, I’m sorry. I know we haven’t been—it’s just been hard, Lance. It’s not what we—”
“Not what you wanted, yeah, I know, Mom. I got that, trust me.”
More silence, then, “Please come home for Christmas, Lance.”
“I don’t know. Is Dad—” Lance breaks off. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s not going to beg his own parents to love him for who he is. They’re just supposed to do that without being asked.
“I’ll talk to him, Lance.” His mother sounds unbearably sad.
“We’ll see,” Lance says. “I gotta go, Mom. I love you. Talk to you next week.”
“I love you, too, baby.”
Chris hands Lance the latest issue of The Advocate, opened to an article about outing celebrities against their will. There’s a picture of DJ Dragon, with a blurb about gay celebrities having an obligation to be role models for gay teenagers, and that hiding in the closet isn’t the way to go about doing that. “I was just doing what I thought was right,” he’s quoted as saying. “And look, Lance seems much happier being true to who he really is.”
“Asshole,” Chris says mildly. “As if he has a clue who you really are.” He points at the photo. “He doesn’t look nearly as impressive without the fire and smoke coming out of his nose, does he?”
Lance puts his head close to Chris’s and studies the picture. “I never did think he had much of a chin, and without the flames, you can really see it.”
Chris turns his head slightly and smiles. Lance leans forward and catches Chris’s mouth in a kiss. The Advocate drops unnoticed to the floor as Chris puts both his hands on Lance’s shoulders and pulls him close. Chris’s lips are soft as they slide against Lance’s, warm and soft and Chris opens his mouth and lets Lance in.
Lance pulls back and he and Chris stand there grinning at each other.
“I don’t think I’ll be coming out just yet, if that’s okay with you,” Chris says. He says it jokingly, but Lance knows he’s worried about Lance’s reaction. They haven’t really discussed this before.
“Lord, no, I think Johnny would have a heart attack for sure if you did that,” Lance chuckles.
“But I don’t want you to be the only one who has to take all the heat,” Chris says very seriously.
“Chris, it’s none of anyone’s business who we sleep with or who we love. I don’t care if we all turn out to be gay, bi, or even just plain straight like boring old Joey, we don’t have to tell the world everything just yet.” He kisses Chris again, slipping his hands under Chris’s t-shirt and running his hands up his back. “Besides, we need to tell the people we actually know first, before we tell Carson Daly.”
“But I wanted Carson to officiate at our wedding,” Chris pouts.
Lance laughs, then glances at the magazine on the floor. “You didn’t slay the dragon for me, Sir Knight.”
Chris shakes his head mournfully. “I know.” He bends down, picks up the magazine and tears Dragon’s picture out. He shreds it into teeny tiny little pieces and throws them up in the air. They slowly float down, drifting to the floor. Some of them settle in Lance’s hair.
“There you go, Princess Frosty Locks,” Chris says, brushing scraps of paper off the top of Lance’s head. “The big, bad dragon’s all gone.”