Careless Whispers.



None of them—not one of them—will admit that they like to gossip.  It’s so…teenie, and vicious, and underhanded, and so deliciously fun to partake in that they will never admit in a million years that they do it all the damn time.


But you know. 


You’ve come to expect it—the knowing glances, the conversations that crash to a halt the moment you walk in the room, the little inside jokes and hushed snickers as you’re walking away.  They love to gossip.  And they won’t say a fucking word.


You first noticed it around the time you made your little “virgin” comment.  Granted, it ranked right up there with Britney’s admission in terms of stupidity, but those reporters were crawling right up your asshole and when you’re backed into a corner you tend to strike with a vengeance.  So what?  Why relive it over and over again?


“Probably is a virgin, damn it—he’ll only fuck himself!”


“Maybe he’s one of THOSE virgins, y’know—takes but doesn’t give…”


Britney probably turned him down!”


That last voice belonged to JC as he cackled away, unaware you had just walked into the room.  You stared at him, water bottle clutched angrily in your hand, hurt and disbelief in your eyes, as his ears slowly turned pink and his eyes flitted away.


“Sorry, man…” He mumbled, sounding contrite but not at all sincere.


At least, you thought sadly, he had the decency to blush…


Sometimes Chris comes right up in your face and asks you if you’ve ever been fucked in the ass, or if you’ve ever fucked someone’s ass, or if you even know what fucking is.  He does it because he knows the vulgarity bothers you…even though you swear like a sailor every day of the week.  And he does it because, sometimes, he wants to feel like he’s better than you.


They spend the bulk of their time discussing that very topic.  You can hear it, late at night, when Joey or Lance find their way onto your bus and they think you’re fast asleep.


“Who the hell does he think he is?”


It’s the question du jour, and if you had an answer, you would gladly fucking give it to them.  Anything to stop the heated whispering, or the loud coughing followed by silence when you roll over in your bunk.

You remember a time when you were part of that club…when you knew the secret codes and languages and could get any one of the other four to crack up simply with a word or a gesture.  Not anymore.  These days, when Rosie asks you for dumb things you do on the bus, you pull out the whole “I know what you’re gonna say” game…the one you haven’t played since the very first tour, ages ago.


You spend a lot of time thinking about those early days.  Pride, the good kind that doesn’t feel wrong or shameful, frequently warms your heart when you think about how far you’ve come.  It’s odd that the same emotions don’t surface when you reminisce about where you’ve been.


You’ve been in some dark places, you think to yourself frequently.  You have secrets that even “Behind the Music” won’t air.  Dark secrets.  Dirty secrets.  Secrets that make you blush, and not the good kind, like when JC says he likes a song of yours or Joey compliments your cooking.


You aren’t a virgin.  Far from it.  If they only knew…


When these thoughts creep into the recesses of your mind, you push them away as far and as fast as you can.  Some days, it’s the only way to cope.  That, and put on the gilded mask and flash the grin and parade out front like the asshole you know you are.


And wait for them to gossip.


It’s better, somehow, when the fans do it.  Because, really, they’re in the same predicament you are: no one’s forcing them to stay.  No one’s got a gun to their heads, telling them buy the CD or die.  Granted, Johnny pissed off is just as intimidating, but the truth is you could walk away at any time.


Now seemed like the perfect any time.


It wasn’t that you wanted to hurt the other guys, not really.  The five of you had grown so much that the whole “cooks spoiling the kitchen” or whatever the hell the analogy was seemed to be written about your fucking life.  You wanted out.  And yet you wanted in. 


The truth was it bothered you the most when the critics took aim.  JC could act self-righteous and pissy with the best of them, but when push came to shove you could hand him a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a new CD that you found “just for him” and he’d shut the fuck up, and quickly.  JC was too involved in his own priceless dreams of perfection to be bothered with the rigors of achieving it.


You, however…were.  And you’d fallen short so many times.  And when it came right down to it, there was no one to blame but yourself.  Your piece of the pie, though theoretically the same size, had more filling, from songwriting and airplay royalties to personal net worth to the number of shrieks on the scream-o-meter, night after night after night.  All you had to do to make something happen was say the word…and yet…you were chicken-shit.  Until now.


Now, the perfect sometime, there was no one to blame but yourself if the album fell flat on its face.  You had lined up the perfect guest artists to grace your new project; you certainly couldn’t pawn any failure off on them.  You had written all the tracks; if the music sucked, you took the sting for that, too.  And you signed the contract; if the album flopped, it was you who owed the record company hella big bucks.


And it’s you they gossip about.


It’s fine, J,” They chirped in tandem, a bunch of trained canaries, when you asked if they minded if you struck out on your own.  After all, Lance and Joey had their “auspicious” film debut, and Chris had his little clothing company, and JC did…whatever it was that JC did on his own time.  Writing, you supposed.  So why should it matter?

But, apparently, it did, and you found yourself spending a lot of time alone on your bus, just waiting for something to happen.


You didn’t wait long.


When Britney chose to break it off, you were hurt and angry and irritated…but you weren’t surprised.  Nor were you surprised to see suspicious glances on each of the others’ faces, except for JC, who had the audacity to look smug.  It was only later that you figured out he wanted her anyway, and then you spent the evening punching your pillow and muttering voodoo curses about how the two pretty-in-pinks deserved each other.


You tended to mutter a lot to yourself, lately.


At first, you thought you were just talking to Dre or Mike or Lonnie, who were always within spitting distance, with those little Kodak Max cameras not-so-carefully hidden in their pockets.  You don’t suppose you blame them.  Blackmail is big business on a working tour. 


But then, slowly, you realized that maybe they weren’t so close all the time.  The other four were hanging out more and more frequently, and since there were more of them, it meant that you spent more time alone.  And it bothered you, because you liked to talk…but there was no one to talk to.  So you talked to yourself.


Sometimes you would mutter about your day, going over the schedule in your head and figuring out where you would be for the next twelve hours.  Sometimes you would rehash arguments that hadn’t gone well, coming up with that perfect clincher line that had easily evaded your grasp as you sputtered away.  And sometimes…sometimes…you would sing.  Not even words, not really, but sad little notes.  Half-verses.  Scatting over silence.  Until one day you realized that you were singing purely to hear the sound of your own voice.


All the other voices were gone.


When you realized this, it was four in the morning and the endless drone of the highway beneath you did nothing to lead you toward sleep.  And you listened, really listened, to the silence around you…and were shocked to hear nothing.  Nothing.  Not C’s teeth clicking, the way they would when he was really knocked out.  Not Chris’s incessant muttering at the TV when his Playstation game didn’t go quite right.  Not Joey’s giggle or the dirty phone-sex conversations Lance pretended not to have…Nothing.  The bus was silent.


A moment later, you began to cry.


You tried not to…you tried to bite your lip and be strong and dig deep, the way your mama told you all those years ago, back in those first-tour days you spent so much time remembering…but yet…the tears fell.  And your breathing hitched.  And you turned your face into the pillow and cried, really cried, for the first time in ages.


Slowly...faintly…you heard the voices begin again, and you could hear the others moving around in the bus, hovering just outside your door.  Their nervous twittering stomped on your already jangled nerves until you were sure you would hurl yourself out the window of the bus in the very next second.


At last, you could hear breathing…loud, and kind of nasal…JC.  He rapped once with the base of his knuckles on the panel separating your bunk from the rest of your bunk.


“J?  You okay?”


You said nothing, just sank your teeth into the mass of feathers and fabric beneath your head.


“Can I come in?”


With heavy effort you grunted no and turned your head to face the wall, chasing sleep with all your might.


Outside your door, the voices carried on…


Nobody likes a gossip.



© 2002 ~A.