There were hints from the beginning that this boy band wasn't going to follow a traditional path. The band name, for instance.
After their manager pitched the name to the five of them, they sat there looking at each other and trying to decide whether it was worth saying anything about it or not.
Rory spoke up first. "Um, not to be difficult or anything, but are you sure 'Just OK' is the best name?"
Their manager looked blankly at them. "Why wouldn't it be good?"
"I mean, there's lots of guys in bands out there," Noah said, wanting to protest but also to support Rory. "Don't we want people to think we're a little better than just OK?"
"The music industry's full of superlatives," their manager said. "Everyone's the best, the greatest, the newest, the most talented. By saying we're just OK, we'll stand out."
"Right," Alex said, "but what if it doesn't work?"
"I mean, shouldn't we at least do some focus group tests or something?" Rory asked. Noah loved that Rory knew about focus groups.
"Trust me," their manager said. "I've been in the business for ten whole months. I know what the market wants."
They all exchanged looks, but this was too big a career opportunity for any of them to want to lose it by arguing about the band name. So none of them said anything.
They learned their first song as a band not long after that. Noah was excited; "Summertime Lover" sounded like it was going to be a big hit. He and Rory worked out a close harmony on the vocals together.
It was fun to spend more time with Rory. Noah hadn't known any of the others before they had auditioned for Just OK, but they all seemed nice. He hoped they would get to be friends. Plus Rory made Noah feel shy every time he smiled at him, but that definitely wasn't why Noah had wanted to work with him to come up with a cool harmony for their new song. It was more to, uh, impress their manager. Yeah, that was definitely it. Noah wanted their manager to be impressed by their initiative and musicality.
Except it didn't work exactly the way they'd thought it would when they presented the harmony to their manager just outside the recording studio. "No, no. You're not going to sing on this one."
Noah fought hard to hide his disappointment. "That's cool."
"No, it's not," Rory said indignantly. "Noah and I came up with this harmony and we think it sounds really good."
Noah didn't want Rory to get fired for sticking up for him. "Rory, it's okay. You've got a better voice anyway."
"Exactly," their manager said. "Which is why he's singing lead. There'll be other chances for you, Noah."
Noah felt his stomach lurch. "Wait, what do you mean?"
"We only need four singers on this record," their manager said. "You can just, you know. Relax. Take it easy."
"There's gotta be something I can do!" Noah protested. What was the point of being in a boy band if you didn't get to sing anything? "I mean, what about a rap in the middle, or--"
"No, no," their manager said. "It'll work better with four. Trust me."
Before he followed their manager inside, Rory stopped right next to Noah. "This sucks. I'm sorry, bro."
Noah shrugged, trying not to look too disappointed. "It's no big deal."
"If they don't have you sing on the next one, I won't sing either," Rory promised.
It was hard not to smile at Rory's show of loyalty. "You'd do that for me?"
Rory smiled at Noah. "Of course." He sighed, looking at the door to the studio. "Maybe I shouldn't sing today either. I hate how they're treating you."
"You should definitely sing," Noah said. "I'll get my chance. Don't give up yours."
"Okay," Rory said reluctantly, "but next time, you're in there with me."
Noah smiled. "Deal."
They had some promotional pictures taken to send out along with their first single, to let everyone know about them. Their manager was very particular about what poses they should hold.
"Here, Mark, you get in front, and hold your arms out," their manager said.
Mark frowned. "What, like I'm hugging someone?"
"No, like you're doing jazz hands." Their manager demonstrated. "Like this--ta-da!"
Mark shrugged, striking that pose. "Okay."
"Shawn, you stand in back, arms crossed, but one arm up, with your hand near your chin, like you're thinking really hard about something," their manager directed.
Shawn struck the pose, a pensive expression on his face.
"Right, except look straight out at the camera and try to look happier. Alex, behind Mark, and you should have your back to the camera, but looking over your shoulder at the camera, sorta playful--yeah, that's good. Rory, front and center. Bend your knees. Okay, now put your hands on your thighs to brace yourself."
"This is stupid," Rory said. "I look like I got out of breath running."
"No, you don't. You look warm and approachable. All of you look warm and approachable. Noah--"
"If I'm not in the picture, I'm going home," Noah said, and he wasn't sure he was joking.
"Very funny," their manager said. "No, I want you to come up front and crouch next to Rory, kinda looking over your shoulder at the camera."
That wasn't an easy position to stay in, but Noah tried not to feel slighted. At least he was in the picture. "Okay."
Their manager paced back and forth thoughtfully. "I need something else. What do I need?"
Noah was wobbling a little trying to hold his pose, so he reached out to grab Rory's leg to steady himself.
Their manager pointed at him. "That's it! Noah, keep your hand on that leg!"
"Uh," Noah said. "I mean, I'm not sure if Rory's okay with--"
"It's fine," Rory said, giving Noah a sideways smile. "Don't worry about it."
"Trust me, it's great," their manager said.
That was the most Noah had ever touched Rory. It was kinda nice.
The greatest possible thing happened. "Summertime Lover" was a huge hit! It was such a huge hit that their manager suggested that they go on tour right away.
"I mean, don't bands usually have at least two songs before they go on tour?" Alex asked.
"You don't need two. You're just that good," their manager said.
"So what? We go out, sing 'Summertime Lover,' and leave?" Mark asked.
"You don't just sing it once," their manager said. "Everybody loves this song! You sing it at least four or five times. We can orchestrate it different ways, change the tempo, change the beat."
"But that means Noah doesn't ever get to sing," Rory said.
Noah shrugged. "I don't think that'll matter if I'm out there doing the same dance as you guys."
"Oh, no, no, no," their manager said. "I don't think that would be wise."
Rory looked angry now. "If you're telling me Noah doesn't get to come on tour--"
"Of course Noah's coming on tour," their manager said. "I was saying no to the dancing. I don't think it's a good idea."
All five of them looked at each other, then back at their manager.
"If we're not dancing, what will we do?" Shawn asked.
"That's the great part," their manager said. "You'll go out there and hit the pose from your publicity pictures!"
"And just stand there?" Mark said, clearly trying to picture it. "While we sing the same song five times?"
"Now you've got it!" their manager said, looking triumphant. "It'll be awesome. Trust me."
Noah was beginning to think he'd signed on to this boy band way too eagerly. From the looks on the faces of the other guys, they were clearly thinking some variation of the same thing.
As they left the meeting, Rory pulled Noah aside into a quiet corner.
"Do you trust me?" Rory asked quietly.
Noah's heart was beating hard, but he nodded. "Of course."
Rory smiled, resting a hand on Noah's shoulder. "Then don't worry. Everything will be OK."
"Just OK?" Noah deadpanned.
Rory laughed. "How are you as great as you are?" He leaned forward and gave Noah a quick kiss.
It took Noah ten minutes to get his brain functioning again, and another ten minutes to peel himself off the wall. If Rory could kiss him, anything was possible.
The concert was the disaster they'd all feared. The response to their song had been great at first, but after Just OK had stayed frozen in position for long enough, the crowd had quieted, bewildered. And not all the audience members stayed through nineteen versions of "Summertime Lover."
"Great job, guys!" their manager said after the show was over. "Ready to get on the bus?"
Noah looked at Rory and the other guys, who gave him encouraging looks and nods. "We've come to a decision."
"Oh really?" their manager asked. "What would that be?"
"We're looking for new representation," Alex said.
Their manager looked outraged. "This is the thanks I get? I gave you a hit single! I made you stars!"
"Kinda," Mark said. "I'm guessing you didn't notice the crowd reaction in there. It was bad."
"Oh, that," their manager said. "They'll get used to you not dancing."
"And nineteen versions of the same song?" Shawn asked.
"OK, I'll admit nineteen was maybe a little much," their manager said. "We can get it down to fifteen or so at our next stop."
"There won't be any next stop," Rory said. "The weirdest boy band tour in the history of the world is officially over. And hopefully, with a new manager, we can turn our band into something really special." Everyone, including Noah, nodded in agreement.
"You can't do that!" their manager said.
Rory looked at Noah. Noah looked at Rory. Then Noah looked at their manager.
"Sure we can," Noah said. "Trust me."