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Breaking Point

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When Adam wins, the first person he kisses is Allison. She's standing there next to him, happier for him than any runner-up since Justin was for Kelly. Ryan hears they've become close this season, so it makes sense.

Drake is actually the third person Adam kisses, because it takes a while for the family and significant others to get onstage after Ryan reads the name of the winner.

Unfortunately, this means that the second person Adam kisses after he wins is Ryan.

Ryan has been kissed many times on this show, mostly by people's mothers, sometimes by contestants—sometimes by contestants in bikinis—and once by a woman dressed like Big Bird, which he still has nightmares about to this very day.

However, in eight years of doing this show, he has never once been kissed by a guy. Until now.

In a way, it's weird, considering just how many gay boys audition every year, and how many make it to the finals, and just how queer this show is in general, that no guys have ever tried to kiss him on camera. The fact that people's moms are more likely to kiss him really explains so much about his sex life.

Adam doesn't kiss like a mom. Maybe when he's kissing Allison—he goes for her cheek—it's a little bit mom-like. He's been saying she's like a little sister to him for weeks. But when he turns around a second later, so ecstatic at winning that he's apparently completely lost his mind, the kiss he plants on Ryan is anything but familial.

What Ryan experiences is this: Adam's hands on either side of his face, Adam's half-parted lips on his own, and then the distinct car-crash sound of the end of Ryan's career. Before he can react, it's over. People are swarming the stage, embracing Adam and Allison, cheering and crying, balloons and confetti everywhere. Adam's mom is crying. Ryan stands off to the side, probably looking like a deer in headlights.

He shouldn't, he really shouldn't, but he has no control over himself just now, so he looks to Simon. He finds Simon staring at him, his face unreadable. Ryan looks away quickly. This is not going to end well.

Offstage, Debbie is hissing at him to pull it together, so he snaps out of it and babbles his way through the rest of his job: congratulating Allison, prompting Adam to give his little speech, thanking the judges and the band and everyone. He's just following the teleprompter; he doesn't have any idea what he's doing. Then finally, finally, Adam sings, and Ryan can back away and get the hell out of there.

Season eight. He very nearly made it.

In retrospect, maybe he should have seen it coming.

Adam's had him figured out since day one. Not that Ryan was surprised. They never talked about it, although that didn't stop Adam from giving him these looks all the time, on camera and off.

Ryan never took any of it seriously. For one, Adam has a boyfriend. Ryan's even met Drake backstage a few times. And after meeting him, Ryan was pretty sure that he himself was not Adam's type.

Nor is Adam his.

But Adam has a way of creating tension where there shouldn't be any. The looks on stage and off, the winks, the touches—Adam may not be interested in Ryan, but he clearly finds Ryan interesting. It makes Ryan nervous.

But not nervous enough, obviously.

He bobs and weaves through the throng of people backstage, wearing what he hopes is a neutral expression. Fortunately, most of the people he passes are more interested in Adam than in Ryan, as they should be, so he makes it to his dressing room without having to deal with any questions.

There, he allows himself a freakout.

He'll have to watch the tape back, of course, which means he's going to be up all night, which means he'll be hell on the radio tomorrow. What happened? What kind of kiss was it, how did he react? How did Allison react? Where were the camera cuts? The difference between what the live audience sees and what x million American TV viewers see (not to mention x million YouTube users) can be the difference between life and death in this industry.

He paces, leans on the counter, and shakes himself like a wet dog, trying to rid himself of whatever residual weirdness has been clinging to him since Adam laid one on him on live television. It's nerves. That knowledge doesn't prevent him from trying to shake it off like an actual physical presence.

There's a knock at the door, and before he can even ask, Kara's voice comes through, announcing herself. He invites her in. She shuts the door behind herself. He gives her a look.

"It's fine," she tells him, as if she'd have any clue. "Nobody's going to think anything of it. It's okay." She calls him sweetie and touches him a lot.

He leans on the counter again, head hanging down. "I'm going to get so much shit over this."

"Honey, he kissed you," Kara says. "You're the innocent bystander here."

"You think Perez Hilton's gonna see it that way?"

Kara makes a face.

"Exactly," Ryan says darkly.

"Oh my god, I am so sorry" is the first thing Adam says to Ryan when they see each other next, later that night in a crowd of people. To Adam's credit, he looks completely horrified. Ryan doesn't think it's an act; he knows that it was an overwhelming moment. Adam wasn't thinking clearly. How could he have been?

So now Adam is utterly chagrined, and the show may be over, but Ryan still feels like it's sort of his job to make the kid feel better.

But the main way Ryan knows to make people feel better is by hugging them, and he's not sure that's a good idea right now where Adam's concerned. He fidgets for a moment before settling on a manly shoulder clap and babbling that it's not a problem, it's just all the excitement, please don't worry about it and please let's never talk about this again.

Then he finds a cute blonde with perky breasts and buys her drinks for the rest of the night, sliding an arm around her back whenever a camera is pointed his direction.

He spots Simon across the room, talking with Terri and Randy while staring at Ryan from the other side of the crowd. Even in the dark, even with the noise and the chaos of bodies around him, Ryan can feel Simon's eyes on him. His shoulders sag under the weight of that gaze.

He turns away and looks intently at—Brandi, he thinks her name is. Somewhere, a camera flashes.

Ellen brings it up on the radio the next morning, because someone has to, and it might as well be someone on his side. They joke about it, lightly; Ellen's been doing this routine with him long enough that she knows what to say and what's too far over the line. By the time they bring Adam on to talk about his win, the subject of the kiss has been so beaten to death that it's guaranteed not to come up again. Not for a few hours, at least. And hopefully by that point his and Adam's damage control will have relegated the incident to a joke. There are perks to starting work at 5:00 in the morning; you get first dibs on the daily news.

Adam's a really good sport about it, gladly taking the gay rap for Ryan. Kara was sort of right: Adam did instigate the kiss, and Ryan wasn't the only person on that stage to get on the wrong end of Adam's enthusiasm. If Adam wasn't out before, he's out now, and happy about it. The media are going to be all over him about it for weeks. Ryan's happy for him. It'll give Drake's career a boost, certainly. And it probably won't hurt Adam's prospects. Much.

During a break, he checks Perez's site, and yes, there's a blurry screen capture of the moment Adam kissed him at the top of the page. At least Perez hasn't drawn any penises or jizz stains on either of them. That's Perez's way or saying he likes you—not defacing your paparazzi snaps before posting them. He hasn't done that to Ryan in a while. Ellen says Perez has a crush on him.

Much later, he gets a text from Simon.

I need to see you

It's the first communication from Simon since the night before, when they held a tense conversation with their eyes from across a room. Ryan doesn't need words to speak with Simon. It's not a romantic thing, it's just that Simon is really, really predictable.

Ryan types quickly.

If it's about last night I don't want to talk about it

His Blackberry buzzes again a few minutes later.

Oh I think you do

Ryan deletes the message and puts the phone away. It's nearly an hour later when Simon figures out Ryan is ignoring him and sends another message.

Are you happy?

What kind of question is that? Adam Lambert just kissed him on national television. He's going to spend the next week seeing that picture every five minutes, hearing himself shredded in the press and by the blogs.

Then people will forget. Something else will distract their focus, Ryan will take it easy for a few weeks, and everything will go back to normal. Or what passes for normal in his world. Waiting, constantly, for the other shoe to drop.

He gives the Blackberry a look and texts back:

Most of the time

"I'm a bit jealous," Simon says later as they sit down to lunch, and right before Ryan can boggle that Simon is jealous because Ryan got kissed by Adam, Simon adds, "of the publicity, of course."

"Of course," Ryan says sourly.

"Though it's not nearly as dramatic as it could have been," Simon continues, talking to himself, ignoring Ryan completely. "On the whole, it was all quite tame."

"Tame?" They're eating outdoors, surrounded by the noise of traffic and clattering dishware and other tables' conversations, but he still leans forward and lowers his voice. "He kissed me on the mouth."

"It was barely a peck."

"Yeah. That peck you heard was the sound of millions of dollars' worth of sponsors pulling out of the show next year."

"Don't be ridiculous," Simon scoffs at him, leaning back in his chair, a picture of relaxation even as Ryan leans further over the table, trying to get closer so he doesn't have to speak so loudly. "This is brilliant publicity. Some people will complain, someone will throw a silly little protest, and then it will be over and we'll come back next year stronger than ever."

"You'll come back stronger than ever. I come back looking like an idiot. If I even still have a job by that point."

Simon laughs at him—actually laughs at him. "It was a kiss, Ryan! You're acting like he blew you onstage."

Ryan quickly looks around them, scanning the area for anyone who might have overheard that. A few tables are pretending not to be watching them, but they're far enough away that Ryan's pretty sure they couldn't have heard Simon talking about Adam blowing him on national television. "It's a primetime network family show. Do you have any idea who watches us? Do you have any idea what those people think of having two men kiss on their TV screens? Two actual—" He scanned the room again and lowered his voice. "—two actual queer guys?"

"You mean one queer guy," Simon corrects. "One queer guy, and you."

When Ryan just stares at him, slack-jawed, Simon continues. "Adam's sexuality has no bearing on you, Ryan. So he kissed you. So did that girl in the bikini—that didn't make you straight. I think you want this to be a bigger deal than it actually is."

Then Ryan leans back in, so far across the table that he risks sticking his shirt in his salad, and hisses, "Why—"

That's when Simon leans forward, puts his hand around the back of Ryan's neck, and kisses him across the table.

Ryan's eyes practically bug out of his head. If anyone around them is getting out a camera and snapping a picture of this, it will be the least flattering photo of him ever taken. And that includes the ones with Teri Hatcher.

The kiss is over in half a second. Simon sits back slightly, still resting his arms on the table, and gives Ryan an inexplicable look. "There," he says quietly. "The world didn't end, did it?"

Ryan opens his mouth to speak, but no words come out. "I thought we were against this," he finally says, miserably. "I thought … we had an understanding."

"We had. Now it's different."

Ryan shakes his head, like rattling his grey matter around will kick his brain into action. "How is it different?"

"You have an opportunity here, Ryan. You can ignore it, and it'll blow over, and everyone will forget in a week. Or you can turn it into something. Make it into a big deal. Let him 'out' you, who cares? Adam Lambert is the new American Idol. It's 2009, darling. I think the world can handle you now."

Ryan is torn between scowling and, quite possibly, crying. "What makes you think I want this? What gives you the right—"

"Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you're not ready, that you don't want this to be the year, and we'll drop it. I'll do whatever spin you want. But I know you, Ryan. You've been waiting. You're as tired of it as I am."

"I'm not tired of Idol," Ryan starts, but Simon cuts him off.

"Not the show. The closeted bullshit."

Ryan gapes. "You're tired of it," he says, disbelieving.

"Tired of watching you make a complete prat of yourself when it comes to women? Yes, actually, I am."

"What about you?"

"I am never awkward or strange around women."


Now, for the first time since Ryan saw him the night before, Simon looks serious and unsure of himself. It's not an expression Ryan often sees on him.

"Look," Simon says after a moment, "I'm turning forty-five this year—"

"Fifty," Ryan corrects automatically.

"Whatever. The point is, I've been doing this for a while. I make forty million pounds a year. I'm comfortable. I don't believe that this will have a negative impact on the show, quite the contrary. But if it does—well, our contracts are up next year. I'd love to bring The X-Factor over to the states—"

"You're trying to kill Idol," Ryan says.

"No! Dammit, Ryan, I'm trying to tell you that if you want to do this, and I think you do want to do this, then …" He stops midsentence, fiddling with his fork, his expression strangely vulnerable. "I'm willing."

Ryan laughs. It breaks from his mouth unexpectedly, a bit hysterically. "I can't believe we're talking about this. I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone."

"You're unhappy," Simon says under his breath. "Consider this my gift to you. And Adam's."

Ryan blinks, opens his mouth, and then shuts it again. "You don't—you didn't—did you put him up to this?"

Simon smirks with that false confidence that Ryan has come to understand means he didn't but kind of wishes he had. Ryan rolls his eyes, hiding the smile that threatens to break, and stabs at his meal with a fork. "Just like that," he says. "Just …"

"Talk to your publicist," Simon says. "I'll speak with Max tomorrow. He'll have a fit, of course."

"No wonder," Ryan says, "you're trying to undo ten years of his work." Then he smiles. "And it's not even my birthday."

Simon kicks him. Ryan grins. He feels seasick, but strangely happy.

"What time is your flight?" he asks.

"Nine. Or something."

"'Or something.' So you have time."

Simon raises his eyebrows.

"To come over," Ryan explains, "before you leave the country for a week or two weeks or whatever it is this time."

At this, Simon finally smiles. "You want to show your gratitude properly?"

"I'll see you at five," Ryan says, his foot touching Simon's under the table.