The article "Big Time Beards" was published on January 4, 2014. Kendall knows this because he's read it obsessively, over and over again, ever since.
"It's ridiculous." Logan tells him. "They're just trying to stir up gossip."
The second part's true, but the first part isn't.
It started with Jo, really.
"Are you okay?" She asks him over the phone. He thinks she might be the only person who gets it, so he answers honestly. "Not really."
Here is how they've worked for the past two years: they called it off, but they're still friends. Jo tells him she's gay, and suddenly they're best friends. Kendall wasn't sure what it was, not at first, but that had put them on a new level of understanding.
Here is how the tabloids tell it: Kendall Knight and Jo Taylor spotted getting coffee only months after their supposed break up. Could Hollywood's youngest it couple be back together?
But then Jo gets a girlfriend, and then there's a fancy event, and Kendall remembers why he always thought he could fall for her. She is much braver than him.
Katie tells him the article is garbage, like that will cheer him up. Like he hasn't already heard that. She's probably figured out whatever angle whoever had it's published was working, anyway.
"We could work an angle on this." Kelly tells him after a meeting where everyone had politely skirted, just barely, around that elephant in the room. "Make you out to be broken hearted, hurt that the love of your life never felt the same way."
'Love of your life' isn't a phrase Kendall would really associate with Jo. He keeps his mouth shut.
His mom insists they all eat dinner together, and Kendall isn't hungry and Logan keeps giving him these sympathetic looks and Katie keeps starting to say something but not being able to get it out. His mom brings up a million small talk subjects that go nowhere conversationally, and Carlos keeps looking at him like he's about to cry, which is infinitely worse than the way Logan is looking at him.
But the worst is James. He keeps giving Kendall these calculating looks, like he's trying to figure something out. He's the only one who hasn't brought it up yet. Kendall hopes he never does.
"Hello? Kendall?" He hears Jo tap on the screen of her phone like maybe it's some kind of malfunction.
"I'm here, sorry. Just thinking."
"What were you thinking about?"
Now is as good as any time for a moment of truth. "So do you remember what you said to me, when we called it off the second time we tried to date?"
"I... said a lot of things." She had. Like, "I like girls." and "We can still be friends."
"Okay, well, the thing about how even though you never felt that way about me, you did have feelings for me. Just, platonic ones."
"Right..." She sounds a little scared. Kendall half wonders if she's afraid he's going to try and get them back together.
"And then you said you like girls. Well, the same goes for you, except like, boys."
"Gotta go, bye."
"Wait!" He hangs up before he hears anymore. As far as coming outs go, that one was pretty weak. Jo calls again, but he turns his ringer on silent. What he needs is a distraction.
He's aiming for Netflix when he opens up his laptop, but what he finds instead is the article, right where he'd left it.
"Big Time Rush star Kendall Knight's ex Jo Taylor has been making quite the splash in recent news. First with coming out as a lesbian, then revealing her relationship with costar Megan Mcnamara. Kendall hasn't been seen dating anybody new, and that leaves us wondering, was Jo's side of the relationship the only one that was a lie?"
It isn't spelled out, but the theory is clear. It's all over the comments, all over chat rooms. People think he and Jo only dated each other to keep the secret that they were gay. Hence, Big Time Beards.
He's not mad at Jo, of course he's not. She's come a long way from being the severely closeted granddaughter of a North Carolina preacher he once knew, and he couldn't be more proud.
"Kendall?" His mom knocks softly at his door.
"Yeah?" Dinner must really be over now. That means the boys are giving him space.
She comes in, sits on his bed.
"You know you can talk to me, about anything. I'm not trying to... say that I think you're something, just that... I want you to know that if you were, it wouldn't change a thing about how I see you."
And just like that, he can't hold it in anymore. It's the first real hug he's given his mom in far too long, but the sweetness of it is a little lost with the way he is undoubtedly getting a mix of tears and snot on her shirt. "It's true, the article. Except I didn't know it at the time, but-" He breaks off to sob, and if this was anyone other than his mom he'd hate it. He ends up falling asleep in an empty room, dreading the next day.
Here's the first thing Kendall does in the morning: he calls Jo. Even with the difference in time zones, she picks up. "Kendall? I've been really worried. What was up with that yesterday, were you-"
"The article was sort of true, I guess. I'm gay, Jo."
"Oh, okay. I- I'm glad you trust me enough, to tell me."
"You know, I'm kind of tired of pretending." He pauses to think. "I don't think Griffin would go for it, though. Doesn't exactly fit his ideal."
"Well, you are Big Time Rush's resident bad boy..."
He smiles. "That's true. Shouldn't have given me the title if they didn't want me breaking the rules."
Here's the second thing Kendall does in the morning: he prints out the first article, then a few more he sees that fed off of it but center around different things. The internet is running wild with theories, and their silence on the matter isn't helping. Griffin's coming to the studio today, and he'll want something done about it.
He staples together one of each article until he has seven "Proof Kendall Knight Is Gay Packets", which he stuffs in his backpack. When he gets to the meeting room of Gustavo's studio, he doesn't say a word. Just slams a packet down in front of each of them. One for Gustavo, one for Kelly, one for Griffin, one for his assistant, and one for each of the other boys.
Griffin adjusts his tie. "Kendall, we can get you an interview disproving these claims by tom-"
"No. I can't disprove them."
Everyone in the room is staring at him.
And then comes the chaos. Here's the gist of it: Gustavo takes his side, says his sexuality doesn't matter even though he knows that, in terms of record sales and the band's general popularity, it does. Griffin says it will take away his appeal to their younger female fans. Gustavo offers that it could be a way to interest a whole new demographic. Kelly is livid, and demands to know when a 19 year old's sexuality became a matter of publicity.
"I'm the bad boy, remember? You told me to break rules, so I am. I'm gay, and I'm done hiding it." It's kind of a mic drop moment. He gets out of there before anyone can notice that his hands are shaking.
Lucy, who has become his second favorite lesbian friend, takes him out for drinks that night. They're underage, sure, but they're also celebrities. Lucy also knows the best places to go.
"This... is a gay bar." Kendall doesn't even get all the way in the door.
"Nope." He pops the 'p', squares his shoulders, and goes in.
It's kind of fun. There are a lot of cute boys here, and he's never really gotten to flirt with boys but now it seems so easy. Camille meets them there to hang off of Lucy but it doesn't even feel like he's third wheeling. They're laughing and flirting and drinking.
Then there's Austin. If he's being honest, Kendall's seen Austin on shows before. He had a season long arc on New Town High before he was killed off. He played a gay character, Kendall remembers. He hadn't let himself think too much into it, but now Austin is sitting knee to knee with him in a darker corner of the bar and he can see every speck of gold in his light brown eyes. Things get a little fuzzy, and then they're kissing.
Kendall only half wants to kiss him. The other half feels like eyes are on the back of head, so he breaks the kiss and turns, expecting fans or paparazzi. Instead, he gets James, sitting at a table across the bar with people Kendall sort of recognizes from the Palm Woods. He looks away before Kendall can really catch him. He still felt the stare.
"Sorry, Austin... I um..." He pulls his phone out, thinking fast. "My sister's calling, she only does when it's important. So I'd... better take it."
"Yeah, okay." Austin isn't stupid. He knows when he's being rejected, however mildly.
Kendall leaves with a bad taste in his mouth, and goes to sleep feeling like he's done something wrong.
By the time he wakes up, new articles have surfaced with photo evidence of him with Austin. He shrugs it off. Sure, he doesn't want people thinking he and Austin are a thing, but how's this for coming out?
Here's how his day off goes: he eats breakfast like nothing's wrong. No one is talking to him, really, but no one is talking at all. His mom asks him how he slept like she hasn't seen the articles. He tells her it was fine, even though it wasn't.
He finds himself by the pool with Logan.
"Were you out with James last night?"
"What? No. James and I haven't even talked in like, days."
"Oh. I just heard him come home not long after you did."
Kendall winces. "We have got to get our own places."
Internally, he's thinking about how James must have left right after he did.
"Well, you know where I was."
Logan laughs. "That's true. Austin Andreas, huh?"
"Yeah. Not really."
Logan shrugs. "Okay."
This is one of Kendall's favorite things about Logan. He doesn't have to fill the silence.
The afternoon consists of a nap to make up for what he missed the night before and a weird phone call from Kelly about the Austin thing. He pretends to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but he figures Kelly sees through him. She says the whole thing will blow over, and he's being honest when he admits it didn't really mean anything.
Except, it kind of did. Kissing a boy for the first time (if you didn't count James when they were eleven, that is) had been... nice. He was looking forward to doing it again.
Here's how his night off goes: Lucy calls to see if he wants to come to her show, and he tells her he has plans. He does have plans- calling Jo, probably spilling all of the weird things that have been going through his head lately.
That doesn't quite happen. Instead, he finds himself escaping to the park because the apartment was just too loud. He's about to pull out his phone and call Jo when someone taps his shoulder.
He turns and comes face to face with James.
"Hey." Kendall says.
"Hey. We haven't really... talked since this whole thing came out."
And here's one of the reasons Kendall never came out: he was afraid of what his friends might think of him. Sure, they were all fine with gay people, but that wasn't the same as being fine with gay Kendall.
"Yeah, we haven't."
"I saw you with Austin. Congratulations."
"I'm not dating Austin Andreas." It is imperative that James knows this for reasons Kendall won't let himself think about. For hopeful reasons.
Here was another one of his fears about coming out: what if James figured it out?
"Oh. I mean, you guys looked pretty cozy."
"It was just a kiss. I'd never kissed a boy before, I thought, now's as good a time as any. What were you doing there, anyway?"
"Hey, you've kissed me!"
"That doesn't count."
"Sure it does." James is pouting now, but just a little bit. Kendall can tell he has something else on his mind.
"Oh, so you tell the truth when girls ask you who your first kiss was?"
James frowns. "Well, no, but-"
"Then it doesn't count. And you never told me what you were doing at that bar."
"Oh, I should be asking you that. That's one of my regular hang outs. You're coming in on my space, Knight."
Kendall squints at him. "A gay bar is one of your regular hang outs?"
James raises his eyebrow like he's waiting for Kendall to get it and- oh. Oh.
"Gotta say, I didn't see that one coming."
"Kendall." James says, very slowly, like Kendall might be easily spooked. "How do you feel about kissing a boy for the third time?"
"Let's make this one count, yeah?"