It was all Brian’s fault.
Before Brian, AJ had everything figured out. Well, not everything, but at least the part of the birds and the bees. He knew that he liked, no, loved girls. The best part of the Backstreet Boys where the hundreds of girls who yelled their names at their shows, and AJ didn’t made a secret of that. He loved it.
But then, there was Brian.
Brian with his clear blue eyes that were just one shade away from being creepy, and that AJ couldn’t stop but feel drawn to; or that smile, that was so contagious that it lit any room where Brian was.
And that was bad enough. It made him feel like one of those 16 year old girls that had posters with his face taped to their walls.
It had happened gradually, so AJ couldn’t exactly pinpoint when it had happened. But when he caught himself wishing that the Quit Playing Games with my Heart lasted longer, because even if they were being drenched in cold water it also meant seeing Brian with a wet white shirt for hours, it was hard to ignore the facts. He wanted Brian. Fortunately, Brian was too much of a prude to take off the shirt, although AJ admitted it could be just Brian being self conscious of the almost unnoticeable scar from his operation.
When that little revelation reached his brain, it was almost impossible to ignore it.
He wasn’t supposed to like dudes. Everyone knew that. So it was unsettling. Confusing. Wrong.
And it was all Brian’s fault.
So at first, AJ did exactly what all his instincts told him to do: ignore Brian. He just blocked him from his life. Sure, when the group was together, he didn’t snub Brian. That would be just rude, and AJ really didn’t want a lecture from Kevin. But he didn’t talk to Brian longer than he needed to, and if there was any chance to leave the room –either alone or with Howie-, AJ would take it.
But one of the problems with that particular strategy was that it was straining AJ. No matter how much he kept telling himself that he couldn’t want Brian, that it was wrong to want Brian, his body didn’t seem to get the message. And thus, now he was starting to feel jealous of all the time Nick spent with Brian. The kid still hadn’t noticed, but AJ knew he couldn’t keep his feelings hidden for long.
Not that he had feelings. He was trying to convince himself of that.
The other big problem was that Brian was friendly.
Or at least, he seemed completely determined to make AJ his friend. Because no matter what, every time the group had some free time, Brian would come up and try to talk to him. Fortunately, it also meant that the whole group was there and AJ could just brush him off and go somewhere with Howie.
Howie was safe. Because he also proved that the thing with Brian was completely a fluke.
AJ definitively didn’t think that Howie was hot.
“You really don’t like Brian, do you?” Howie asked one night when they were sharing rooms. It was such an out of the blue question that AJ wasn’t sure what to say. Unfortunately, Howie took that silence as an invitation to keep talking. “I mean, I know you’re not a people’s person, and I respect that, but you just… push him away all the time.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” AJ muttered, putting on his dark glasses. He knew it was a stupid gesture, since they were inside, and it was night anyway, but it was a good way to avoid looking at Howie.
“He’s trying to be your friend,” Howie insisted, sitting down on AJ’s bed. “He’s doing his best and you treat him as something you just scrapped off your foot.”
“I don’t do that,” AJ said, frowning. He just wanted Brian to leave him alone, but he didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Brian wasn’t a bad guy, even if he was the one to blame for AJ’s current sexuality crisis.
“Yes, you do,” Howie insisted. “Maybe the others think you’re just being your usual non approachable self, but I know you AJ. You’re not laughing with him, you’re laughing at him.”
“Look, don’t bother,” Howie said in that tone that AJ knew meant the conversation was over and Howie wanted AJ to think about what was said.
So that’s exactly what AJ did.
* * *
It was another night in another hotel somewhere down the road, and this time AJ had the luxury of the single room.
Since his conversation with Howie, he had been thinking a lot and, as usual, Howie was right.
AJ wasn’t being fair to Brian, and the fact that he sometimes wanted to stop rehearsals and just kiss him in the middle of a song wasn’t a good reason to treat him like crap. He just needed to remember that even if he had those completely wrong urges, it wasn’t really Brian’s fault and they still could be friends.
If nothing else, he could use that as an excuse to oogle at Brian and not raise any suspicions from, say, overprotective older cousins.
He picked up a magazine he had bought in the last stop, happy with his decision. He was going to accept Brian’s offer of friendship soon. As soon as he got over the urge to kiss him and rip his clothes off on stage.
Someone knocked at the door, but AJ decided to ignore it. He was busy reading. Well, not really, but it was probably Howie and he wasn’t in the mood to be lectured again. He really didn’t want to tell Howie that he had been right yet. Because if he did, he would probably also mention his urges and that was not a good idea. He didn’t want anyone to know about that.
They knocked again, this time harder. It was obvious that Howie was not going anywhere, so AJ decided to bit the bullet. At least it would be quick. Besides, Howie was smart. Maybe Howie knew how to make AJ stop thinking about Brian.
“What do you want, How… oh Brian. Um….” AJ was speechless. Sure, he had just decided that he was going to try and be friendly with the guy, but after thinking again about how much he wanted to suck on that spot where the neck and shoulder met, it was not a good time. So he defaulted to his usual unreachable mode. “What the hell do you want?”
Usually, Brian got the hint. Usually, Brian just shrugged, mouthed an excuse and left. Today, however, Brian was not following the program. He let himself in before AJ could even think about shutting the door.
“Look, we need to talk. I have been trying to be your friend, cause we could be in this for the long haul and you’re just being incredibly difficult. What more do you want from me?”
AJ swallowed his first answer that was among the lines of “you, on my bed, without clothes on.” He was not going to scare Brian away with bluntness although it was probably the one answer that would make Brian go away. No matter how much they were in ‘for the long haul’, Brian still was religious. He would probably tell AJ that he was condemning his soul to hell.
“Look, Brian. There’s nothing more you can do,” AJ finally said, trying to keep his voice neutral. Ok, so he wouldn’t be Brian’s friend, but at least they could tolerate each other. As long as Brian left right now and AJ could keep his hands to himself. “You’re not the problem, I am. I’ve got shit to deal with on my own. A lot of shit.”
To AJ’s horror, Brian sat down on his bed and patted the mattress, inviting AJ to sit down. Some of the fantasies that AJ didn’t want to admit he had started exactly that way. “Want to talk about it? I’m all ears man.”
Of course, he hadn’t counted on the fact that Brian was not only trying to be friendly. He was friendly. Unlike Kevin, whose age and tone made him always sound as if he was lecturing them, or Howie, who had the motherly concern down to an art, Brian really was a good friend. He really wanted to help.
And to AJ’s surprise, he found himself opening his heart to Brian.
“There’s this guy,” he began, trying not to look at Brian’s eyes. Brian’s eyes distracted him a lot. “And lately I’ve been finding him hot. Like, really hot. And it’s totally confusing because fuck, Bri... I'm a dude. I'm not supposed to want to bang other dudes, you know?”
Brian looked confused at that, and AJ closed his eyes. There it comes, he thought. Now he will get up, completely disgusted, and he’ll forget everything about being my friend.
“Why do you say you’re not supposed to ‘bang other dudes’?” Brian asked, and AJ had to chuckle a little despite everything. Brian was making finger quotes, looking adorable. And next to ‘you shouldn’t want to bang other dudes’ AJ also thought that dudes shouldn’t look adorable, ever. “There’s nothing wrong with it. I… I get that way sometimes.”
AJ almost swallowed his own tongue. Of all the reactions he could’ve expected Brian to have ‘I also get the same urges’ was not even in the list. But then he remembered how Brian was always around Nick, always smiling around the kid. Of course Brian would be attracted to Nick.
“Whoa… Lemme guess, Nicky boy?”
“Sometimes, but not always,” Brian answered. It took everything AJ had to keep his face calm. The stab of jealousy he felt was surprising even to him. But then, he registered the second part of the sentence. ‘Not always’. Which meant that for Brian, the whole wanting to bang other dudes wasn’t a strange urge. “There’s another guy in my mind sometimes. But, he won’t let me in so I guess he doesn’t want me around. He’s a difficult kid to deal with, but I keep trying because I just know we could be something great. Call me a helpless romantic, but I just do, if he give me a chance.”
AJ was still in shock, but as he thought about Brian’s words. It was someone in the group, AJ was sure of it. He hadn’t seen Brian around anyone not in the group for weeks, after all.
“So do I know this kid?” He asked, trying to sound casual.
“You know him very well, and you already know it’s not Nick.”
“And it’s obviously not Kevin…” AJ pressed on, as Brian had completely admitted that it was someone in the group. “Besides, you wouldn’t call him a kid. Howie? No… no Howie’s, like, the most easygoing person ever…”
It was like a light bulb in his head turned on. AJ had always thought that was just a bad cliché, but as he said the words, it felt exactly like that.
“That’s a problem?” Brian looked so insecure, that AJ had to lean closer to make him feel better. He wanted to make Brian feel better.
“Not at all.” He said, smiling as he almost touched Brian’s lips. “You know, getting through what was going on in my head wasn’t that hard at all…”
He paused, long enough to give Brian a chaste, tentative kiss. He was still getting used to it, but he guessed that Brian would understand. And of course, practice made perfect and he intended to kiss Brian again, for a long, long time.
“And you’re right…” he said, closing in for a deeper kiss. “We could totally be something great. I’m game if you are.”
So he still was scared. So he still didn’t know if he really wanted to risk his heart.
But, as Brian deepened the kiss, AJ couldn’t help but think that everything was going to be all right.