To say he was nervous would be an understatement.
His palms were clammy and his mouth was dry. He had already run to the toilet twice to worship the porcelain god, and he’d changed his shirt several times because of the sweat stains. He’d never been this bad. Never. Even at the concerts in front of thousands of screaming fans. Even in front of the more discerning audiences when they’d accompanied Sir Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Sting, and others. Never.
If they didn’t get here soon he was going to faint.
They hadn’t been thrilled when he told them he had gotten a television role. Especially because it was a recurring one. That meant he may have to be on the ground in LA often, and it could seriously impact their touring schedule.
But only if the show took off…
He’d had to think about his future. Things with the group were going good, yes, but no one could dispute the fact that their appeal was starting to wane. It was just the way things were – music went in waves. One year pop was on top, the next its rock, the one following that it was grunge or whatever. They were still selling albums, still selling out concerts, but it wasn’t as wild and crazy as it had been back when Millennium came out.
Frankly, they were all happy about that. They’d all grown in different ways since then and the kind of hysteria they had dealt with then was a bit much for them. It drove Nick into a self-imposed funk, Brian into a pussy-whipped hermit and AJ into a bottle.
Clearly not a good thing.
Things were somewhat saner, or maybe he just was, now. They could go out in public without it causing too much of a scene, and the paparazzi weren’t following them like blood-maddened hounds. But it was a double-edged sword, wasn’t it? That wasn’t happening because they just didn’t capture the public’s attention anymore.
Even their management and record company seemed to have abandoned them. They were focused on other, more marketable artists. Like ‘N Sync. Man, you couldn’t turn your head these days without seeing at least one of those five faces. They were on magazines and billboards, clothes and candy wrappers. They even had hairbrushes, for crying out loud! And lip gloss. Who the hell wanted to wear Justin on their lips? Actually, better not ask that question – he was afraid of what he would hear as an answer.
“What they really needed was ‘N Sync toilet paper so I could really show them what I think of them,” he chuckled.
Their primary competition aside, it seemed like hip-hop was undergoing another resurgence and while some of the groups stuff was getting darker and more urban none of them had the ability to pull it off. Or the street cred.
Well, all that being said, he had to think about where HE was going and what HE was doing. It was hard; he'd thought as one of five for so long it was hard to pull his voice out from hubbub that echoed in his head. But he’d done it. He’d sat down and thought about the things that were important to him. He’d really got that charity stuff going, hoping that it would make a difference. Heck, even if all it did was raise a little awareness it would have an impact. He had to try. He didn’t want anyone else to suffer the loss he had just because people didn’t know.
He’d also gotten his emotional life in order. That had been a big one. The charity was part of it, but it was time to live for the living and he had look ahead. So he’d cut down on the wild sex romps that he’d enjoyed as a celebrity and actually found that he was happier for it. Now he had one special person in his life and he appreciated that more than anything else. He stopped the nights of booze and drugs (Sh! Don’t tell anybody!) and only partook on a few rare and special occasions. He talked to his family more, rebuilding relations that had been strained over time. Relationships there had always been all right, but when you are on the road 50 weeks out of a year, things do get a little tough. And it is damned embarrassing to forget sending your mother a present on her birthday because your personal assistant is off dealing with another matter. Wasn’t that something YOU were supposed to remember?
Then he’d moved onto his professional life…
He had only signed on for five shows of the series, but it had been a great break for him. He’d been hitting his head against the Hollywood wall for a while now. All he’d wanted was a chance to show what he could do, and most of the scripts that had come his way were tired, hackneyed things where he got to play – surprise, surprise - a pop star. Hello? Is there ANY one with imagination in this town? Hadn’t he played that one over and over again in their videos? Well, except for that ‘Everybody’ one where he got to play something funky, but still…
Give him something to chew on, for crying out loud! Make him a demonic mass murderer or a slacker sidekick. Make him a stuck up aristocrat or a downtrodden laborer. Make him something, anything, just not what he’d been for so long.
It had just been luck that he had been in his agent’s office when this one came up. If he hadn’t overheard the conversation and demanded an audition…the whole time his agent complaining bitterly. What kind of impression does it make on the casting director when your own agent wasn’t on side? But he’d gone anyway, despite protests, despite all his baggage, despite some annoying little production assistant who wouldn’t stop asking questions about the group, letting everyone he was auditioning for know who he was…
He remembered their faces. Open and friendly when he walked in - some with that slight frown of “I know that face from somewhere, but I can’t quite place it” - then stony and stiff when that little rodent scurried in, handing him a bottle of water and declaring loudly, “Do you now who this is?”
I am an actor, trying to get cast, you little worm. Nothing more!
He’d gathered his wits, taken a deep breath, and given it his best shot…
As far as he was concerned the best actors in Hollywood weren’t on the screen, they were in the back rooms auditioning people telling them, “thanks we’ll be in touch.” They had smiles that didn’t reach their eyes and they kept their thoughts carefully guarded. He doubted he could have figured out what they had been thinking even if he’d had ESP. So he’d left, berating himself for even thinking he should have tried it, and headed home a dejected mess. He’d hid under the covers for a day, just moping, then got back up, slapped a fake smile on his face and carried on, determined never to tell anyone about his humiliating experience.
Until his agent called. Several times he’d called - leaving frantic, babbling messages on his machine, none of which made any sense. It must have been about the eighth call before what he was trying to say became clear: they wanted him. Didn’t think anyone could do the role except him. And they were so impressed they wanted to make it a recurring role.
Who’d have thunk it? He could act!
Copies of the pilot script came in and he locked himself away to study them. They were good. Really good. And suddenly it dawned on him – what the hell had he gotten himself into? Was he nuts? He couldn’t play this! The audition was one thing…. He’d been running on adrenalin and the determination to prove that he wasn’t just some moronic pop star who thought they could hit the big screen (or little screen in this case). Now he was committed. And looking the script over and really understanding what the role demanded of him… maybe he should be committed. He was sure someone could give him the name of a good loony bin. One of those country club ones for public people who just couldn’t handle reality anymore…
But his mama didn’t raise no quitters… so he’d swallowed his pride and headed over to the studio for rehearsals. The director and producer, who had been in on his audition, kept shaking his hand telling him that they “hadn’t thought he had it in him.” Ah! Such strong votes of confidence. Just what he needed. AUGH!
His co-stars - or actually the stars: he was just the bit player – were more circumspect. Yes, they’d seen the footage of his audition, but could he pull it off on a regular basis? Or at least for the five episodes. After all, they had insisted on having someone who could do the job not someone who was famous enough to pull in more viewers. And they had the power to stick to that. The male lead said, in passing, that he had made major points with them when he’d insisted in his contract that no mention of him being a Backstreet Boy be made in any of the promo material. He’d decided that he wanted this role to be a make or break for himself as an actor not as a singer. So obviously that decision had been a good one. The rest… who knew?
A rap on the door broke him out of his reverie. Show time.
He opened the door and ushered the other four into the house, smiling and laughing at their greetings and jests. They descended on the food as if they hadn’t eaten in days and he was glad he’d listened to his love’s suggestions and lain in lots to drink. How could so few demolish so much so fast? It was amazing.
He cleared his throat, less to get their attention and more to cover his nervousness.
“I guess you are all wondering why I called you here today,” AJ intoned sonorously.
“Ha ha, Bone. Let the man talk,” was the sharp retort from his left.
“Well, as the man – and I use that term lightly - said, you are all here for a reason.” He glanced around the room.” Don’t stick your tongue out at me AJ. I don’t know where it’s been.” He waited until the jeers and catcalls calmed before continuing. “As I promised I have a copy of the first episode for you all to look at. I know you have all expressed some concerns about me doing this project and well, I know you gave me your blessings, but saying and seeing it are two different things.” He stopped, his mouth suddenly dry again. He took a deep draft of his water, squared his shoulders and began again. “I also want to thank you very much for not hounding me about the role I’m playing. You have been very understanding about my reticence to tell you exactly what it was, and I appreciate it.”
He turned to the table and picked up the case that rested there. “So without further introduction, I want to show you what I hope will be a mainstay on the upcoming television season. Guys, this “Morton.”
He pushed the tape into the machine, adjusted the volume a bit – just like he’d done a hundred times before their arrival – then moved to the back of the room. And waited…
He’d seen it of course. Watched it alone in his room. He’d given it to his love then fled from the house, too afraid to stay while she viewed it. He’d come back hours later quaking with nervousness. She had smiled and kissed him soundly, chuckling a little both at what she’d seen and at his reaction, then proceeded to tell him everything she’d loved and everything she’d hated about the show. And surprisingly his performance fell in the former category. She wasn’t just saying that because she loved him, right? Naw, she was too honest a person, and too willing to place blame if she saw it.
Oh God, what would THEY say???
I mean they were four guys who were anything but tactful… Oh God! Where was the bathroom again???
He sat down on the toilet, dabbing his face with a damp cloth. This has got to stop. Either he was going to get an ulcer or he was going to end up stripping his throat lining. He took another sip from the industrial sized Pepto-Bismol bottle he’d stored under the sink at the start of all this and tried to calm his rapidly beating heart.
“You okay in there?” A knock sounded at the door.
He jumped up, almost spilling the bottle on the floor. “Shit! Umm. Yeah, I’m okay. Just a sec.”
“Fine. Whenever you are ready… We’ve watched it all,” came the muffled response.
Okay? He wasn’t okay! And they’d seen it. Oh God! Oh God! He took another swig from the bottle, his mind registering that he was going to have to get a new one soon. He splashed more water on his face, gave his teeth a quick brush and updated his deodorant. He didn’t want them to smell the fear – or the upchuck – on him.
He could hear them laughing and chattering down the hall, but all conversation stopped as he entered the room. They just stared wide-eyed at him as he walked over to the empty chair in the corner.
“So?” he asked, his voice husky.
“Ummm…” Trust Brian to go first. And he was probably going to come up with something polite too… “That was quite the show. Very funny. I think it’ll do well.”
“Was it live?” He blushed. “I mean there was laughter…”
“It’s a laugh track, Rok. They just added it after all the shooting. They aren’t going to do it in front of a live audience until after it gets picked up. If it gets picked up.”
“So you could be doing it live… I mean you could…”
“Yes, Brian. I’d be doing it live.”
“Oh man,” Nick said then started to giggle. “Live. He’d be like that live.” His giggles turned in to chuckles then loud guffaws.
The others ignored him.
“Are you really sure this is what you want to do?” Brian asked tremulously. “I mean why this?”
“To be honest, Bri, there aren’t a hell of a lot of roles for guys like me out there,” he responded dryly. “You had no trouble getting that thing in Olive Juice because of Leighanne and the soundtrack and everything. Hell, Lance Bass only got to make that movie because he foot the bill! Look how long it took Mark Wahlberg to get a decent role. I mean, come on: I’m pretty much typecast in this town. And I am tired as hell playing the role I play every day without having to do it onscreen. At least with this I get to stretch.”
“Stretch!” Nick guffawed. “He said ‘stretch’ !” He laughed so hard he fell off his chair and just kept on going until he was holding his stomach, tears running down his face.
“Yeah, stretch. Got a problem, with that Nick?” he retorted.
Nick just shook his head, unable to do anything more than hiccup.
“Just ignore him. Nick wouldn’t know anything about acting if it bit him in the ass,” AJ drawled. “If it isn’t anime he doesn’t get it.”
“Hey!” Nick protested wiping tears off his face. “I watch Buffy, too you know Bone. Hell you wouldn’t know acting unless the actors stop occasionally to fuck each other.”
AJ shot his a finger, and then turned to the silent man sitting next to him. “You haven’t said a word. Nothing to contribute?”
“I’m just, ah, a little, umm, speechless. I mean, ah, I wouldn’t have, like, expected anything like, umm, this,” he gestured to the screen, “from you.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” was the response. “Look guys, like I said, I just wanted something was so not me. So not the image that I have been projecting for years that maybe people would sit up and take notice.”
“Well, they certainly will for this.”
“You don’t think that maybe you went a little, umm, overboard?” Brian asked timidly. “What does…”
“She loves it,” he replied firmly. “Says she has never been prouder of me.”
“And your family? What do they think?” AJ asked.
“I dunno. That is what I am trying to find out from you. So far you haven’t given me much of an answer.” He grinned quickly. “'Cept for Nick, of course.”
“I know who he means, Brian. And I will be flying out to show them this tomorrow. Until then I want your thoughts and no one else’s.”
“Are you using your real name?”
AJ turned to the man next to him and snorted. “Why wouldn’t he?”
“Well, our fans… I mean won’t they see…”
“Well duh! I kind of thought that was the whole idea. Hell, man, give them a little credit. They put up with me and my rehab stint and all the shit that fell out form that. They can handle this,” AJ said decisively. “Hell, we are the ‘honest with our fans’ group, ain’t we?”
“Is it really that bad?” he murmured despairingly. “Do we have to worry that much?”
“Hell, no!” Nick shouted, causing the others to jump. “I love it! I think it’s great and you did an incredible job. Man, you had me pulled in the whole time. I mean, I knew it was you, but it was so not you.” He stood up and gave him a big hug. “Sorry I laughed so much. It was just such a damn shock seeing you like that.”
“Well, it is a sitcom, Nicky. You’re supposed to laugh,” he smiled, hugging him back. “Glad you approve.”
“I think it rocks, and I want to se it again,” Nick grinned.
“Shit, yeah! I want to see it again,” AJ crowed. “I was too stunned to really get it all the first time.”
Brian grinned mischievously. “I could handle seeing that rehearsal room scene again.” Then he burst into giggles.
Nick started to laugh again, then grabbed the remote and fast-forwarded through the beginning to the first scene his friend was in.
“Do we really have to see it again?”
“Yeah, bozo. Hell, I may want my own copy so I can see it over and over,” AJ chuckled. “Now get out of the way of the damn screen and sit down.” He patted the spot on the sofa. “Turn up the volume, Nicky.”
With a sigh, he sat down among his friends to view his first, and most embarrassing scene.
He looked toward the front of the room at the large ass bent over a boom box. Huge round hips sheathed in bright pink leggings with a high cut orange leotard. The leggings descended into a pair of red short-heeled dance shoes, one of which was tapping in time to the rumba music being played from the stereo. As he watched the upper body straightened and he could see the long black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail.
In the mirror he could also see the overly made up eyes, and the mustache and sideburns of the man. And the eyes could see him.
“Eeek!” The apparition shrieked, turning suddenly to face him, one hand held dramatically over its heart. “What are you doing in here!? Why are you sneaking up on me?!”
“I wasn’t! I was just… What are you doing here?”
“I am preparing my thing,” one bejeweled hand gestured. “I am getting my groove on. What are you doing, mister? Sneaking up on us poor folks in here.”
“Doing my damn job, lady... man… whatever you are… I was shutting down the place.”
“Eeek!” The apparition wailed again. “Now you are trying to take my job away from me too! Oh my Lord!”
“Your job! Look, whoever you are. I don’t know what the hell you are doing here, but you don’t have no job here.”
“Sure I do,” a deep voice rumbled from apparition. “Been here almost eight years. You must be the new principal.”
“Yes, I am… Who the hell are you?”
“Lester Boggs.” The apparition shrugged the strap of one of the orange leotards over his shoulder, then reached a hand into the top. The other man flinched, then relaxed as he pulled out one small round pillow, then another, chucking them on the floor. He shrugged off the other strap to reveal a now deflated bra, which he undid and chucked aside, heaving a huge sigh, then scratching his hairy chest absently. “I’m the janitor here. How’do Mr. Morton?”
“Fine, just fine.” Then he shook himself. “Wait a minute. Do you want to explain just what the hell is going on here!”
“Just practicing my moves. Gotta get that damn rumba step right before the big show. Figured I could practice down here. No one here, and all.”
“Big show? Umm. Lester, are you…”
Lester guffawed. “Hell, no, Mr. Morton. Just ‘cus you’re in San Francisco doesn’t mean we all gay or something. Naw, man. I just got this group I dance with sometimes – some of them I think are a little light in the loafers – and we got this big show down at the center coming up.” He laughed. “Hell, no. Me gay? No way.”
“Then why the…” Morton gestured at the outfit.
“Shoot man, dressing up like this is the only way I look even.” He slapped his hips. “Got these old things from my Mama. Seeing as she had no girls to pass them on to she just done gave them to me. ‘Sides, this IS San Francisco…”
“If you can’t beat them, join them?” Morton grinned.
“Shoot no! I just look like one fine mama when I’m all done up…” He winked. “And the ladies sure get a pleasant surprise when they get me home.”
“Pleasant?” Morton replied wide-eyed.
“Sure,” Lester replied, and then pulled the leotard and leggings down quickly to reveal pasty white rippled flesh in a black thong. He adjusted himself quickly and the thong bulged. “I’m packing,” he said with a grin.
Morton gulped. “Well, nice to meet you Lester. Don’t forget to lock up,” he squeaked and fled.
Lester shook his head then pulled up the leotard and turned back to the mirror. He undid the ponytail and fluffed his hair. In the same feminine voice he’d started the scene with he looked himself in the eye and said, “Me? Gay? Hell, where the heck they getting all these new principals from? Kansas?”
“How do you deal with it? All the wackos and weirdoes teaching here? You were never like that Sheila. I don’t understand.”
“Oh Morton, they aren’t weirdoes. Just different by Kansas standards.”
“Different by Martian standards! Come on, Sheila. We have a teacher who thinks he’s Einstein’s lost love child…”
“Have you seen his hair? He may have a point.”
“A language teacher who thinks that French is the language of love and is okay with students making out in class as long as they do it in French…”
“Her students have the highest test scores in French in the city.”
“And a janitor who cross-dresses...”
“And he is the finest thing on two feet. Heeled or not,” Lester replied from behind him, as he continued to sweep the floor. This time he was dressed in a dark green jumpsuit that strained across his heavy hips. He also wore heeled running shoes decorated with sparkles.
Morton squawked, but Sheila just winked at Lester. “Wish I had your shoe sense, Lessie. I just can’t find anything I like.”
“Oh girl,” Lester replied in his feminine voice. “Try finding them in a size 13.” His voice dropped to its normal register. “Mens.” Then he stated to chuckled and picked up the wastebasket and left the room.
“You’re going to tell me that’s normal?” Morton wailed.
“Morton, in this town, that is mundane.” She collected her books. “Wake up, Morty. You aren’t in Kansas anymore.”
“Gee, is that why I feel like I should be watching out for flying monkeys?”
A small dog ran across the room. “Toto?” Morton whispered worriedly.
AJ reached down and handed Nick a Kleenex. “Here you go, man. Don’t get too much snot on the carpet.”
Nick blew his nose hard, ignoring the tears that still streamed down his cheeks. “I am sorry… I laugh to much my nose starts going…”
“Oh man, definitely not Kansas,” Brian wheezed. “Shoot, I don’t know who is more a fish out of water, you or that stupid principal.” He glanced around the room.
“You!” was the thunderous response.
He blushed. “Aww, guys.”
“Seriously, bro. You were incredible. I mean the first time I was in shock. This time, damn. You were so good.”
He turned to the man sitting next to AJ who smiled widely as he brushed his thick dark hair back. He chuckled, wrinkling his nose a little. “Love those great legs of yours.”
“Yeah baby. I will NEVER think my legs are chunky again,” Nick smiled.
“Kaos, yours are fine - mine took two hours in makeup to get that way.”
“And that thong? Thong tha thong thong thong?” AJ sang.
He groaned. “Can we leave the thong alone?”
“Sure thing, man. I figure that was prosthetic too. Doing that old Dirk Diggler thing, hunh?” AJ winked.
“But I thought you weren’t gay! Just fitting into San Francisco!” Brian chirped, trying to imitate the voice.
“Shut up Rok,” he laughed.
“I just gotta ask one thing… Can I get an autographed picture of that shot? Not the thong one… the one where you stand up and we first see it’s you? Can I?” Nick begged.
“Make it out to ‘Nick Carter… in repentance for the time I chucked you out in the hallway in your green undies. See? If you wait long enough Karma does come around.’ Signed Kevin “Lester Boggs” Richardson.”
Kevin grinned. “Didn’t realize you were still smarting over that. You got it, bro.”
Nick leaned back against the couch, smirking. “Ha. One down, three to go. I think you guys better start repenting now. Payback is a bitch.”
“You said it, honey,” Kevin replied in Lessie’s voice.