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            "I know I'm not on the list."  Chris sighed and tugged at his goatee.  "I told you that. I told you that right before I told you I'm a Jive artist and I've known Nick for six years.  I've got my purebred papers out in the car if you wanna see them."

            "I'm sorry sir.  I know who you are but that doesn't change the fact that this is an invite party and you are not on the list."

            "Oh for fucks sake.  Where's Jeff?"

            "Jeff?"  The guard asked.

            "Yeah Jeff.  Jeff Squire, the head Jive dude who is undoubtedly paying for this little shin dig."  Chris sighed.  "You know what?  Forget it.  I'll just go on up to my room."

            Nick walked by the door just then and caught Chris' eye.  He smiled quickly then looked confused and shook his head.  "Hey man, what's up?"  He stood just inside the door with a drink in his hand.

            "Nothing."  Chris shook his head.  "I was gonna cruise in and say hey and congrats and stuff since I'm staying here for the week.  But you've got Rambo here at the door."

            "Rambo?" Nick looked over the skinny bouncer and crinkled his forehead.

            "I didn't make the elite list. It's cool though.  Good luck with the new CD." Chris raised his hand in a wave and turned to go.

            "Naw dude, come on in." Nick waved him in, then grabbed the sleeve of his shirt.  "It's okay, he's cool."

            "He wasn't on the list."

            "Yeah well you can put him on now if you want."  Nick laughed and pulled Chris into the party.  "Sorry bout that.  You never know who might show up, you know?"

            "Yeah I know."  Chris nodded.  "Where'd you get that drink?"

            "Open bar."  Nick pointed with one finger using the hand holding his mixed green drink.

            "Awesome."

            "Go get a drink or three.  I'll catch you later, okay?" Nick smiled and bounced away to another group of industry people who were looking to praise the golden boy.

 

            Chris sat at the bar and mingled with the people who wandered up.  He wasn’t one for cruising the party when all he wanted was to not go upstairs alone… again.  From across the room he watched Nick, who… with each drink… became more sad looking.  Nick caught Chris’ eye after his fourth drink, then sauntered over and leaned on the bar to get another one.  "So you drew the short straw, huh?"  Nick laughed, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.

            "Huh?"  Chris turned from the bar with a beer in his hand.  He took a long draw on it before he licked his lips and said, "What?"

            "Howie showed up at the Justified release, so I'm guessing y'all drew straws to see who had to come to mine?"  He nodded at the bartender over Chris' shoulder, then leaned and brushed his elbow against Chris' shirt to grab the beer the bartended offered.

            "Dude.  Howie went to J's party to see about gettin' a little sumthin sumthin. I'm just in town and I heard there was a party or something going on over here."  He reached up and ran his hand over his shaved head.  "You know me man, I can't pass up a party with free booze."

            Nick laughed again and kicked at the legs of Chris' barstool.  "Have you heard it?"

            Chris looked up as the latest Nelly tune blasted from the speakers, "You mean this isn't it?"  He laughed and shook his head, "Yeah I picked it up this afternoon.  I didn't come completely unprepared man."

            "So...?"

            "It's good."  Chris nodded.  "Better than I expected to be honest."  He scanned the room and took another swig of his beer.  "Where's the rest of the entourage?"

            "The band?  They're uh..."  Nick followed Chris' scan.  "They're hanging out over there by the sound board."

            "Kevin and the boys."  Chris clarified.

            "Oh."  Nick looked back toward the door.  "I dunno.  Late as usual I guess." He forced a smile.  "They'll be here... it's early."

            Chris noticed the flash of worry in Nick's eyes and was quick to reassure him.  "Yeah, it's early still.  Well give me the hi sign when they get here.  I can't be in the room with all y'all and not have a throw down just to protect my boy Justin's image or something."

            "Okay."  Nick blushed slightly and rolled the bottle between his hands.  "Well hey man, thanks for coming out."  He extended his hand.

            Chris shook it then noticed a photographer aiming his weapon in their direction.  "Aww come on little Nicky."  Chris pulled him in for a hug then quickly turned it into a headlock.  He noogied Nick's head for the camera and they both laughed as the photographer snapped his pictures then thanked them before walking away.  "Sorry."  Chris continued to laugh as he released the younger man.

            "I haven't had a good noogie in weeks.  Thank you."  Nick laughed and rubbed the top of his head.

            "Fuckin’ anytime man.  Anytime…”  Chris smiled sloppily and raised the bottle to his lips again, knocking his teeth on the dark brown glass.

            “Take it easy with the drink man… an old guy like you’s gotta be careful about the beer gut you know.”  Nick raised an eyebrow and playfully poked Chris’ side with an almost flirtatious smile.

            “Yeah keep it up and I’ll have that Rambo dude card you.”

            “I’m over 21.”

            “Barely.”  Chris rolled his eyes.

            “I’m older than Justin.”  Nick smirked.

            “You are?”

            “Always have been.”  He laughed and raised his glass again in a silent toast.  “So go ahead and card me.  I’m still legal.”

            “Shit.”  Chris said under his breath as Nick walked away.  Older than Justin meant he wasn’t totally off limits.  Then again, him being in the Backstreet Boy’s did.

 

            The night rocked on for several more hours as Chris’ ass formed to the sides of the barstool he sat on.  People came and went and around midnight his beers turned into Cokes and the path from the bar to the men’s room became all too familiar.  When he returned to his stool after his fifty-five thousandth trip, he laid his head on the bar and watched Tara Reid flirt shamelessly with the bartender who went out of his way to accidentally spill her drinks so he’d have to spend that extra few seconds mopping it up.  She’d have his number, figuratively speaking of course, by the end of the night.

 

            When Chris opened his eyes after what felt like only a minute, the room was half empty and there was a napkin under his cheek.  He lifted his head and craned his neck to work out the kink.  “That girl left you a note.”  The bartender said when he noticed Chris’ eyes were open.  “You were out man.”

            “Thanks.”  Chris ran his hand over his mouth to catch any lingering drool and frowned at the napkin.  “What girl?”

            “The one who babysat you for the last hour.”  He laughed.  “She was cool.  Looked familiar, but…”  He shrugged, “… everyone here looks familiar.”

            Hrmph.”  Chris frowned and looked at the napkin.  “Sweet dreams kiddo.  I hope you don’t wake up dead.  Love Kitty.”

            “Kitty?”  Chris asked the guy behind the counter.  He shrugged in response, and headed to the other end of the bar.  “Kitty?”  Chris whispered as he stood up and tucked the napkin in his pocket.

            “Hey!  Are you coming?”  Jeff Squire shouted from the door.

            It took a minute for Chris to realize he was shouting at him.  “Hmm?  No… I’m cool.  I’ll call you later though.”  He raised his hand in a weak wave as the last group of people left the party and the guys with brooms started across the floor.  “I’m too old for this shit.”  Chris mumbled under his breath as he yawned and took another look around, sure that the bathroom was around there somewhere.  Without the people lining the way, he wasn’t sure if he could find it.

            Nick grabbed the back of one of the spare chairs and dragged it ten feet to a table in the corner.  Chris heard the sound and looked over to where Nick had rested his head on the table.  His bladder shouted louder than any of Nick’s actions so he made his way to the bathroom first.  If Nick was still moping when he came out, he’d go investigate.

 

            Chris stepped out of the bathroom wiping his hands on his pants, and yawned again.  Nick was still sitting at the table alone, his eyes following the single guy sweeping up the fliers for the after-after party at the Jive offices across town.  Chris picked up a bottle of water from the end of the bar, then kicked a wadded up napkin under the table and walked over to where Nick sat.  "You're staying till the bitter end, huh?" He forced a smile as he tapped his bottle on the table by Nick's head.

            "Uh huh." Nick mumbled.

            "Everyone's gone."

            "You're still here."

            "Not for long."  He fought another yawn.  He was really, really too old for this.

            "You can go."  Nick's voice was slurred against his forearm.

            "I coulda gone hours ago.  Probably should have.  I caught a nap on the bar you know.  I wonder how shitty the pictures will look in People Magazine next week."  Chris laughed under his breath.  "But now I passed the point of no return, so I'm closing this place down."

            "My security even left."

            "They split hours ago man."  Chris smiled.  "You staying here?"

            "Hmm?"

            "In the hotel."

            "Yeah."  Nick moved his head slightly against his arms.

            "All right then, let's go."

            "You can go." Nick said again.

            "You need to go.  You've had a few too many drinks.  It's your party and all so that's cool... but if I wanna follow the boyband code of conduct, I can't leave you here by yourself."

            "I'm not in a boyband anymore."  Nick’s frown deepened and he spoke with his teeth clenched.

            "Once in a boyband, always in a boyband.  That's part of the pact." Chris kicked at Nick's sneaker.

            Nick shook his head slowly as he pinched his eyes closed.  "No one came."

            "No one came?"  Chris laughed.  "Dude.  Like four hundred people came.  You blew Justin's party outta the water."

            "I mean - "

            "Jenn was here, did you see that?  Jennifer Lopez man.  She was here.  In this room.  For you."

            "Yeah."  Nick sighed.  "I mean the guys."

            "The guys? You mean Kevin and the boys?"  Chris asked.  Nick didn't say a word, he just shut his eyes tightly and took a shaky breath.

            "They're all fuckers."  His voice wobbled through his damp lips.

            Chris bit the inside of his cheek, then pulled a chair over and sat next to Nick.  "Did they say they would be here?"

            "No."  Nick brought his hand up to his eyes to shield the tears from Chris' view.  "But that's not the point.  They should have been here."

            "Yeah."  Chris nodded.

            "And none of them came."

            "Well you know… Brian's waiting for the bun to pop out or whatever…"

            "Yeah, I know.  I didn't expect Brian.  Leighann's been having contractions or whatever all week."  He took another deep breath, but wouldn't look at Chris.

            "Maybe they have good excuses."  Chris tried feebly to comfort Nick.

            "Were you at Justin’s party?"

            "Yeah."  Chris nodded.

            "And were you in town?"

            "Hmm?  No, I flew in."  Chris said softly.

            "What would have made you miss it?"

            "Nothing."  Chris answered honestly.  "Except… you know… my wife having a kid or something.  If I was married."  He tried to validate Brian's excuse, though Nick had already given it credit.

            “I mean shit.  You came.  How fucked up is that?”

            “Did they know there was free beer?”  Chris asked, trying to make a joke to keep it light, but seeing that it wasn’t the time or place.  “I’m sorry, that was stu – “

            “It’s okay.”  Nick shook his head and stood up.  With a quick hand he wiped at his eyes and flung his jacket off.  “Let’s get outta here.”  He dropped his jacket over his arm and nodded for the door.

            “Get – “

            “Yeah.  Let’s go.  Fuck them man.  I know where the love it.”  He draped his arm over Chris’ shoulders and smiled.

            “Dude, I never said I loved you man.”

            “Yeah I know.  But you’re here.  That says a lot.  Just like Howie.”

            “Howie?”

            “At J’s party.”

            “Howie went –  Chris started.  Ahh.  Yeah.”

            Nick was silent as he stopped in the doorway.  He took a deep breath, then lowered his chin to his chest again.  “This sucks.  It really does.”

            “I know.”  Chris said softly.  “But listen… just because they didn’t come doesn’t mean they don’t support you.”

            “They all but said they didn’t already.”

            “They do.  They probably just don’t know it yet.  Give them time.”

            “They’ve had six months.”  Nick practically whispered.  “You were there for Justin.  So were the other guys.”

            “Lance was in Russia.”

            “That’s a good enough excuse.”  Nick’s back stiffened.  AJ’s in fucking town.  He’s twenty minutes away.”

            “Oh.”  Chris bit his cheek again, wanting nothing more than to hug Nick like he’d hugged Justin at the end of his party.  To tell him he was proud and that he wanted a cut of the profits.  To discreetly grab his ass just to see the reaction.

            “Fuck it.”  Chris thought to himself.

            “Okay, come here.”  He pulled Nick in for a hug and slapped his back.  “I’m proud of you kid.  You did this all on your own and it kicks ass.  You’ve got a lot to be proud of.”  Without giving himself time to think Chris lowered his hand and grabbed Nick’s left butt cheek.  “Just make sure I get a cut of the profi  He wasn’t able to finish because Nick’s reaction was different than Justin’s.  Justin squealed like a girl and took a step away.  Nick pressed his lips against Chris’ and went in for the kiss without any awkwardness Chris might have expected.  If he had expected the kiss.

            “Thanks for coming.”  Nick said when he broke away more than a minute later.

            “Uh huh.”  Was all Chris could manage.

            Seeing Chris blush and get flustered when asked if he wanted to go upstairs made Nick’s night almost worth it.  He smiled slowly and it went to his eyes.

            Chris saw the real smile and nodded.  He’d like nothing more than to go upstairs and make sure Nick made it to his room safely.  As part of the boyband code… of course.

 

 

 

 

 

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Copyright 2002, Amy Lynn