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Shout*For: Act II

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@Shout4StevieC
a spectacular view from my New Zealand trip!

Cloud-obscured view from a mountaintop

 

@Shout4StevieC
I did! you're welcome :) RT @FutureMrsColbert OMG what a masterful shot! @Shout4StevieC did you take that yourself?

@Shout4StevieC
of course! and he said they wouldn't come out. shows him! RT @AllIEverWanted76 so beautiful! was @Shout4JimmyFals at ur side when u took it?

@Shout4JStew
Uh, @Shout4StevieC, you know that shot is basically all clouds, right?

@Shout4StevieC
shut up @Shout4JStew they are very spectacular clouds.

 

~*~

Shout*For studio, afternoon.

It was Jon's turn to walk the dog during the break, while Stephen spent it lying on a couch and yearning for a nap. He plugged a hands-free headset into his phone, found Anthony's name in his contacts, then dropped the device in the pocket of his cargo shorts and focused on wrangling Briar Rose's leash.

"Jon!" exclaimed Anthony, when the call connected. "I'm surprised you have the nerve!"

"Would help if I knew what you were talking about, dude," said Jon cheerfully. Their calls took some planning to make the schedules and the time zones line up; if Anthony really didn't want to talk, he would've had plenty of time to let Jon know beforehand.

"You'll tweet about your expensive new car and your fancy Hollywood parties, but you can't even spare a follow for your own BFF? This is not in keeping with Shout*For's message of love and friendship."

The puppy stopped to inspect a parked car. Jon tried to encourage her to keep moving until they were on the shady side of the building, with no success. To Anthony, he said, "Okay, first of all, you are so full of it, and second? You haven't even told me your Twitter handle."

"Oh. I guess that would help," said Anthony, not even a little bit sheepish. Having a hot girlfriend was apparently doing wonders for his lack of shame. "It's CarlosDanger. All one word."

Jon sighed. "Of course it is. Should I out you as my friend, or do you want to keep under the radar?"

"Are you serious? Of course I don't want to keep under the radar! Do you know how many fakers are out there claiming to know one of you guys and lapping up the credulous-groupie spillover?"

"I try not to think about it," said Jon honestly. But yeah, now that Anthony mention it, obviously Jon couldn't let him get written off as part of that crowd. "A follow and a shoutout, coming up."

"About time," said Anthony. "Imagine how much spillover I'm gonna get when the groupies find out I'm genuine."

 

~*~

 

@Shout4JStew
My BFF's real name isn't @CarlosDanger...but he pretends it is on Twitter :) And yes, ladies, that icon *is* his real chest.

 

~*~

Star Girl studio, meanwhile.

The moment their lunch break hit, Olivia dragged Kristen back to her dressing room and shut the door. Kristen was back in school now, which meant she was only even in the studio every other week, and these days Olivia wasn't getting to see her after-hours.

"Mmph!" said Kristen, as Olivia pushed her against the wall and kissed the breath out of her. "I've missed you too."

"Everything is awful," moaned Olivia, burying her face in Kristen's neck and clinging to fistfuls of the taller girl's dress. "I'm having headaches and my hands keep shaking and Mom hasn't said anything nice to me in weeks and I don't get to see you. Mac even convinced Mom to let me keep going on these stupid fake dates, all the while I can't go out with my actual girlfriend."

"Shhh. It's gonna be okay," said Kristen hopefully, sweeping aside her hair to rub her shoulders. "Do you think we could convince Mac that we have some kind of very important practicing to do together off-set? Then let her deal with your mom."

"I dunno," said Olivia. Mac was clueless pretty often, but it wasn't something you could depend on.

"Or I could hit up Jon about fake-double-dating again. Maybe Stephen's mellowed about the whole idea. Or maybe Wyatt or Steve would go for it."

Olivia shook her head. "I wanna be with you without any of the guys around."

"Me too." Kristen thought about it, then said, "You know...none of the guys are around now."

"Whenever I'm alone in my dressing room, Mac sends someone to check on me every five minutes."

"Oh," said Kristen.

This was usually the point when she would say something about the injustice of it. Maybe make a reference to women's autonomy, freedom of choice, or discrimination against the young. Olivia waited for the speech; it never came. "Aren't you gonna get mad? Maybe talk about the larger ethical issues or whatever?"

Kristen squirmed in her grasp. "Well...yeah, but...you could've really hurt yourself, you know?"

"I don't believe this." Olivia wrenched herself away and glared at Kristen, who tried to do the innocent doll-eyes that were totally not winning Olivia over, not this time. "You make it sound like I tried to slit my wrists! People have a little too much to drink all the time. They sleep it off, they wake up the next morning and they're fine. That's all it was!"

"I believe you!" cried Kristen. "Your manager's overreacting!...Probably."

Olivia folded her arms. "You are a complete traitor."

Kristen batted her enviably long lashes. "But I'm a cute complete traitor...right?"

This was the point when a knock on the door interrupted them. It was Will, Olivia's vocal coach. "Hey there, girls. Olivia, I think I skipped an exercise with you earlier. Would you run through it with me real quick?"

"That is the lamest excuse I've ever heard," said Olivia. "Also, I'm pretty sure it violates child labor laws to make me do this on my break."

"Yeah, I know," said Will. "Can you just do it, so I can go back and tell Mac you did, and she won't hit me again?"

"You could tell Mac I did it either way."

"I'm pretty sure she can tell when I'm lying."

Olivia sighed. "Fine. Go for it."

Will sang a scale at her, mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-mo. She sang it back. He thanked her profusely and left.

"Okay," said Kristen once the door was shut again, "I can see how that would get annoying real fast."

"Thank you," huffed Olivia. "Now come on, we've got about five minutes before someone else drops in, so let's make the most of it."

 

~*~

 

Just because the guys were only doing one full concert in the near future, that didn't mean Shout*For's dance coach was cutting them any slack. They had gotten away with not dancing in their smaller live performances recently: a talk show appearance here, a spot on an awards show there, nothing they couldn't handle with their instruments and their pretty faces. No more.

"Everything hurts," groaned Tucker as they staggered into the dressing room, clothes sticking to their backs.

"Maybe if you'd kept doing stretches, it wouldn't hurt so bad," suggested Jon. He peeled off his shirt, and Stephen tried not to stare, with mixed success.

"Maybe if you could manage to move in sync with the rest of us, Betty wouldn't keep us so late," shot back Tucker.

"We haven't even put together a routine yet! How out of sync can I be when we're doing one step at a time?"

"The standards for boy bands doing dance steps in sync are very high, Jon," Stephen reminded him. "It's so essential, the boy band from the '90s that launched Anderson Cooper even named itself after the requirement. You remember, 'ALL Together?"

"In my defense," said Jon, "my whole strategy for keeping up involves watching you and trying to match whatever you do."

Tucker rolled his eyes.

"Hey, don't knock it," said Jimmy, kicking off his shoes. "That was basically my strategy all through our Barney years."

"Great," said Tucker. "So if Jon only needed to keep up with a bunch of nine-year-olds, we'd be all set."

"Do you even realize who our core audience is?" demanded Jon. "The show that leads into ours is literally Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

"I think maybe it's time to split you two up," said Jimmy. He nodded to Stephen, then cheerfully ushered Tucker through the door to the showers, while Stephen wrapped his arms around Jon's torso and held him back.

"You don't need to do that," grumbled Jon. "I was being more than reasonably civil."

"Maybe I just wanted to hug you," said Stephen. "Ever think of that?"

"Stephen, we're practically sticking together."

This was true. And kind of gross. Stephen pulled away, trying to pat down his chest with his balled-up T-shirt.

Jon, who had gotten more comfortable with stripping in the dressing room in direct proportion to Stephen getting more modest, hopped out of his shorts and stood there in nothing but boxers. Normally this was the point when he would have fled for a shower stall; instead he stared at the entryway until water started running, then said, "Hey, Stephen? About this Red Cross thing...."

"Uh-huh?" asked Stephen, who was holding most of his clothes in kind of a lump in front of himself.

"We're both just gonna not worry about the gay clause, right?"

Stephen started. "The Red Cross cares whether you're gay?"

"Well, they don't say it exactly like that, but...didn't you read the whole information thing?"

"I skimmed it," said Stephen defensively. "I would have read it all before the blood drive!" There were still a few days to go. Considering how he kept waking up at four in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep, he would have plenty of free time.

Jon sighed. "Right. Well. One of the questions they ask is...'Are you a man who has had sexual contact with another man, even once, since....' I don't remember the year, it's in the seventies."

Stephen froze up completely. He couldn't help it.

"No, it's okay!" insisted Jon. "They're using it to screen for HIV risk, right? Because that was so out-of-control thirty years ago with gay guys. And bi guys. And, you know, those guys who call themselves straight but still go around having sex with other men. But the whole thing they're worried about doesn't apply to us, because where are we gonna get an STI from? They don't spontaneously pop into existence. So we're not worrying about it. Right?"

"You said 'sexual contact'," said Stephen, mouth dry. "What does that mean? What's covered under that?"

"Dunno," said Jon with a shrug. "I think probably just, you know, blowjobs and, like, anal? I think. Nothing else is supposed to be risky. Even if we had anything to risk in the first place."

"If we don't have any risk, why did you bring it up?" hissed Stephen, clutching his clothes to his chest. He was scared, he was a hair's breadth from openly lying, and putting Jon on the defensive was the fastest way out he could think of. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"What? No! I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. Communication, openness, that's good, right?"

Stephen forced himself to nod, and concentrated on taking deep breaths.

With a sigh Jon turned and made a move toward the sounds of running water. Then he turned back. Then he reversed course and walked halfway to the entryway, before spinning on his heel and getting right up in Stephen's face. "Listen, I get that you're stressed right now," he said in a low voice. "And when it was just about Tina, I could deal with it. But now she's with Jimmy, and both of us are perfectly happy about it, and, and — and you've gotta quit accusing me of cheating on you, Stephen."

"I'm sorry!" squeaked Stephen. "I'm sorry. I know you won't."

Jon searched his eyes for a moment, then made a noise that might have been affirmative and disappeared into the showers.

 

~*~

 

@CarlosDanger
Hello, 15K new followers! Be the one to RT me the most times in the next 24 hours, and I will PM you @Shout4JStew's favorite variety of shampoo.

@Shout4JStew
Confidential to Twitter: Don't fall for @CarlosDanger's shameless lies. I don't even have a favorite shampoo.

 

Direct messages > with Carlos

@CarlosDanger
You do too. t.co/auk24m

@Shout4JStew
I am begging you not to spread this around.

@CarlosDanger
But a little harmless embarrassment is what friendship is all about!

@CarlosDanger
Besides, have you seen the traffic it's got me? You don't want to let all these loyal fans down, do you?

 

~*~

 

Olivia ended up getting to have a fake-double-date after all. It just wasn't any of the ones she had been hoping for.

They were at her favorite park, two photogenic teen couples and one adorable English toy spaniel, bodyguards hovering at a polite distance. Olivia and Stephen strolled slowly around the paths, occasionally stopping to let Briar Rose mark a palm tree, while Tina and Jimmy walked ahead of them, hand in hand.

"Does she have to giggle at everything he says?" asked Stephen under his breath. Like Olivia, he was hiding his eyes behind sunglasses, though his arched brows were expressive enough on their own. "Jimmy's funny, but he's not that funny."

"I don't think they've let go of each other's hands since we got here," grumbled Olivia. They had fallen maybe twenty feet behind the real couple, so she wasn't worried about being overheard. "Who needs to hold hands that much, seriously?"

Tina said something to Jimmy, gesturing with her free hand. He cracked up, then bent over to drop a quick kiss on her cheek.

"It's not that I mind them being happy," said Olivia. "It's just...do they have to flaunt their heterosexuality like that?"

"I know!" said Stephen, shaking his head in disapproval. "I mean, come on, we're in public here."

They took a detour to the edge of the lake to throw some bread for the ducks. At least, Olivia thought they were ducks. They might have been ugly swans, or something. She wasn't exactly a bird expert. "Hang on, let me take a picture of these birds and make Kristen look them up."

"Why?" asked Stephen, genuinely confused. "Who cares? They're just birds....No, sweetie, they're not for you," he added, hauling the dog backward.

Olivia glared at him. "This is why I'm texting Kristen about it, instead of talking to you."

"Well, excuse me for not measuring up," sulked Stephen. "It's not like I have Jon here either, you know."

They started walking again, Olivia wobbling along the path that traced the edge of the water as she focused on thumb-typing. With the message sent, she told her fake boyfriend, "At least you get to see Jon outside work. I'm still super-grounded, remember?"

"Right, right." Stephen frowned. "So...that means you could hang out with Kristen if it was work-related?"

"That's a tall 'if'."

"Maybe not," said Stephen. "My dad's having a party this weekend at our house. The kind where he's trying to network for me, so all the guests are bigwigs in different part of the profession that I get to show off in person for. What if you were invited? That would be work-related, right?"

Olivia perked up. "That sounds pretty convincing, yeah."

"Papa doesn't like me sharing my spotlight, so he probably wouldn't let me invite more than one person," added Stephen. "But maybe I had Kristen over that afternoon to watch a movie. And maybe she's still hanging out in my room when the guests start arriving."

The shriek Olivia made startled at least half a dozen ducks into panicked flight. "Ohmigod, you're the best!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Stephen. "I love you so much."

Moments later, they caught up with Jimmy and Tina, who had stopped walking to look at them in mild astonishment. "C'mon, guys, you don't have to overdo it," said Tina. "It's okay to be a little subtle, you know?"

 

~*~

 

The Red Cross promotional event was an unqualified success. Sure, Stephen got scared of the needle and had to have Brian come hold his hand while it went in, and Tucker briefly passed out at the snack table afterward (even Jon was worried about him for a moment)...but they all came out of it fine. The press got a bunch of photos of Shout*For showing off their matching bandages, and six excited raffle winners got to do a meet-and-greet with the band afterward.

"Probably shouldn't have let them stick the needle in my autograph-signing arm," reflected Jon on the ride home. They were strictly forbidden from driving for the next twenty-four hours, so they had all been ushered into the same limo for the trip.

"Does it hurt?" asked Stephen, directly next to Jon on the long bench of seats that ran along the side of the car. He seemed like he was trying to be extra-caring around Jon lately, which was all right with Jon.

"Kinda sore, that's all," said Jon. "Hey, listen...do you want to hang out tonight?"

"Yes! Sure, of course!" exclaimed Stephen...and then, missing the point completely, turned to Jimmy. "You're not busy, are you?"

To Jon's great relief, Jimmy said, "Actually, I was invited over to dinner at Tina's tonight."

That seemed fast. But maybe Jon's sense of relationships wasn't the greatest. Maybe this was normal when you were dating someone openly, and lived in the same time zone as your parents.

"Congratulations," said Tucker from the far end of the line.

"It's just dinner," said Jimmy, though he couldn't hold back a really soppy grin. (Did Jon ever look like that around Stephen?) "Nothing we haven't done before."

Oh, right. Tina and Jimmy had also known each other for almost as long as Jimmy and Stephen had. That probably sped up the process too.

"So how about you, Tucker?" asked Jon. Maybe he was just lightheaded or something, but he was feeling genuine goodwill toward everyone in the car. "Gotten anywhere with what's-her-face? The hot blonde with the weird name?"

That might not have been the best way to phrase it. Tucker glared at him like a thundercloud. "If you mean Gretchen, we are just friends, and there is nothing wrong with her name."

"I didn't say anything was wrong with it! I'm just saying it's a little nonstandard," protested Jon. "And, let's be real here, you're probably not the best judge of names. I mean, 'Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson'? What were your parents trying to do, win a pretentiousness contest?"

"According to family tradition, my parents gave me both of their last names," said Tucker icily. "It's a very forward-thinking custom. You'd probably appreciate it more if you thought either of your parents were important enough to keep the name of."

Jon was sitting up straight in an instant, leaning towards Tucker with clenched fists, aware that both Stephen and Jimmy were bracing themselves to hold him down. "Take that back."

Tucker flinched, but held his ground. "Why should I? It's true!"

"The hell it is! You can make fun of me all you want, but you have no right to bring my mother into this. Take it the fuck back, or I swear we will throw down right here."

Abruptly, Jimmy stepped in, addressing Tucker. "Seriously, that was over the line."

Stephen nodded. "If you said I didn't love my mother, I'd probably try to hit you too."

"I didn't say —" But for once, it seemed to be sinking in for Tucker that he'd been an asshole. "I — okay, okay. Jon loves his mother, cares about her, respects her, I'm sorry I suggested otherwise."

It was enough to make Jon sit back. He kept his mouth shut, teeth grinding so hard it hurt. Silence was the nicest Tucker was going to get from him right now.

The limo stopped at Jon's house first; he and Stephen got out together. He didn't realize until Stephen tried to hold his hand that it was still tensed into a fist.

 

~*~

 

Stephen braceleted his fingers around Jon's wrist and pulled his boyfriend safely inside.

"Welcome home!" called the voice of Jon's Aunt Ruth from the kitchen. "How did it go? I made you some high-protein snacks...." She emerged into the front room, holding a tray of deviled eggs, cheese-and-deli-meat kebabs, and some kind of cookies. "...to help you get back up to full....Honey, are you okay?"

"Fine," said Jon tightly, and yanked out of Stephen's grip to head upstairs without looking at her.

Stephen stayed behind for long enough to relieve Jon's aunt of the food. "We're doing great, thank you, ma'am," he said politely, before carrying it after Jon.

He got to Jon's room just in time to see Jon kick the side of the bed.

Finding the nearest bookshelf, Stephen cleared away a couple of Star Wars action figures to make space to set down the food, and shut the door firmly behind them. "Jon...?"

"Do people really think that?" demanded Jon, now pacing the carpet. "I don't care about my dad's last name, seriously, fuck that name, but do people think that because I didn't take my mom's —?"

"No," said Stephen, without a second of hesitation. That was part of the basic Shout*For data set. Even if you were the kind of casual fan who could get their favorite colors or dream vacation spots mixed up, you couldn't miss that Jimmy and Stephen were best friends, and you couldn't miss that Jon cared about his mother. "Nobody thinks that. That would be stupid."

Jon turned to face him, eyes red. "Well, why didn't I?"

Stephen didn't know, and said so.

"It's not like it wouldn't have been an option," continued Jon. "It's Laskin. That's a nice neutral-sounding name, right? I mean, it's still pretty Jewish, but it's not, like, a -witz or a -stein. They might have gone for it. I didn't even ask."

His voice broke over the last word.

There didn't seem to be anything to do except pull him over to the bed, where they sat side-by-side on the navy blue sheets and Jon hid a couple of sobs in his hands. Stephen hated seeing him like this. For one thing, some people could cry in an attractive way, but Jon was not one of them. For another, it meant Jon was upset and Stephen couldn't do anything about it.

It didn't take long for Jon to pull himself under control. Stephen was relieved when Jon finally leaned against his shoulder; it meant Stephen was bringing something useful to the situation. He looped an arm around Jon's shoulders and said, "Did you think about it at the time? Using your mom's name, I mean."

Jon shook his head. "Didn't even occur to me," he hiccuped.

"Well, how were you supposed to ask for it if you didn't think of it? That doesn't make sense."

"But I could've thought of it," protested Jon. "People with divorced parents do it all the time. Isn't rocket science."

"But you didn't," said Stephen. "Jon, you are very smart, but even you can't know everything."

For a long moment Jon was quiet. "If there's one thing I hate about me, it's how much stuff I don't know."

It was a shock to Stephen's system. On top of being smart, Jon was supposed to be confident: you could call it "arrogant" or "self-righteous" if you wanted to be negative, but it wasn't like he never admitted he was wrong. He just didn't let it affect his underlying self-assurance. And he definitely wasn't supposed to hate anything about himself.

That was supposed to be left to people like Stephen. (And Olivia, he thought absently.)

"I probably know less stuff than you do," he said in a low voice. "Except when it comes to musicals. And The Lord of the Rings. And Catholicism, and playing piano, and the Disney animated canon, and...my point is, do you hate that about me, too?"

"No," sniffled Jon. "'Course not."

"Then you should stop it," said Stephen fiercely.

Some of the tension finally went out of Jon, letting his body relax against Stephen's. "I'll try."

It occurred to Stephen that he knew another way to help. "You know, now that we're both down a pint...I may not be a scientific expert, but I understand that when the body has less blood in it, that means certain chemical-type substances affect it more quickly. So if we wanted to use certain substances as efficiently as possible, now would be the time to do it."

Though his nose was still red and his eyes kind of bloodshot, Jon's smile was earnest. "Stephen! Are you actually suggesting we get high?"

"I'm pointing out a basic fact of science," said Stephen primly. "Whatever conclusions you draw from it are your own business."

 

~*~

 

@Shout4JStew
just fyi dear audience: my mom is the best

@Shout4JStew
also the best: these cookies omg. t.co/oa42t98

 

~*~

 

It was around midnight when Jon woke up. His own fault, letting himself take a "nap" in the early evening.

Stephen was still fast asleep in the bed beside him.

Jon would have gladly stayed there, but he was thirsty. Plus, a couple of scented candles, reduced to puddles of molten wax, were still burning on the windowsill. He blew them out, grabbed the last cookie from the tray of food he and Stephen had mostly demolished, and ate it on the walk downstairs.

Lights were on in the sitting room, along with some of his aunt's music. Jon had retrieved a couple of Pepsis from the fridge when she called his name, and he reluctantly followed the sound. "Yeah?"

Aunt Ruth was in one of the armchairs, apparently trying to knit something from a pattern on the laptop beside her. Or maybe it was crocheting, Jon didn't know. "When I saw you were out, I called your friend's house to say he was sleeping over," she told him, fiddling with the needles. "I think I got the maid. Nice woman."

"Thanks."

"You boys really should be more careful."

Jon's mind raced. Was she talking about forgetting to call Stephen's dad, or something else? She said she'd looked in while they were sleeping — he'd put all the weed away after Stephen dozed off, right? And thanks to the candles, the room smelled mostly of pumpkin and vanilla by now — although come to think of it, he should have blown those out, that was pretty stupid. Maybe she meant casually sharing a bed with Stephen? Though they'd both fallen asleep in their clothes, and even if they hadn't, he shouldn't have to worry about what he did with Stephen in his own house....

"You crashed my favorite recipe blog, sending it so much traffic," continued his aunt. "Maybe next time you could keep those links shared between friends, instead of telling all of Twitter?"

"Oh!" said Jon. "Yeah, okay. I can do that."