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Chapter Twenty

The music pounded around us like a heart beat. The lights had just gone out, the fans were going beserk, their screams echoing off the walls of the venue in cascades. We were bustling to line up behind the screen. Nick had tripped twice over his own two feet and nearly taken me out on the way down once. Howie was standing in my position, me in his. We exchanged nervous glances and Brian worriedly looked between both of us. "Are you sure you guys can do this?" he called, his voice pitching with nerves.

Needless to say, we had not changed back at the deposit of the fundage, nor had we changed back on the way back from Bank of America. We'd literally only had time to change clothes before the show. We'd missed soundcheck and Nick had boastfully informed us that he'd managed to keep the ladied entertained without us there. ("And I successfully managed to keep all of his clothing on his body," Brian had added, rolling his eyes.)

Now we were moments away from seeing how much attention Howie and I paid to each other during the show. After the part where we jump through the screen, I really am not sure what else Howie does. I'd never watched him, I'd always been too busy sexifying the stage.

"Good luck man," he said quietly.

"Thanks," I whispered, "You too."

Nick shook his head, making his lips flap like a dog's, then muttered, "Workin' the magic.. workin the magic..."

The music started to speed up, and I glanced at Brian at my side. Brian's eyes glowed, then he turned to face forward, and I did the same. My heart beat was practically coming out of my chest. I clenched my fists. The cue was nearly there... one.. two... three....

We all jumped forward.

Not used to Howie's frame, though, I managed to catch my sneaker on the screen and, rather than the graceful, sci-fi-like landing we usually acheived with this stunt, I managed to trip out, and land flat on my face on the stage.

An interesting combination of things happened when I hit the floor. First of all, the crowd screamed cos we were there - very few noticed me fall (they were probably all looking at Nick, who had also not noticed me fall and was standing stock still). Brian leaped toward me, a helpful Christian kind of look on his face. He grabbed my wrist and started to pull me up and I started cussing. Howie leaned around Nick to peer at me. "You okay?" he called.

"Guys you're ruining it," Nick hissed.

"Sorry," I snapped at Nick, "I fell down."

At this point the fans had noticed, and some were laughing. Brian tugged me to my feet. "Bow," he hissed, "Howie always bows when he screws up choreography."

How often did Howie screw up on stage that Brian - and the fans - knew this trait of his?

I sank into a bow and vowed to myself to watch Howie more often. I was evidently missing a ton of opportunities to blackmail the guy.

As the show began, and our dancers emerged, we trotted down the staircases to the main stage. I was not looking forward to trying to remember the choreography. It'd been awhile since we'd practiced it, and doing it from a different angle, too, didn't help. Plus, now I was behind Nick and could see all the mistakes he was making, which threw me off, too. Nick was grinning like a hyena, all the fans screaming and reaching for him.

At the first costume change, Howie and I bumped into each other, both trying ot get into his changing area. "Dude," I snapped, grabbing Howie's pants out of his hands, "These are mine tonight, remember?"

"Crap," Howie bounced to my area and started yanking on my second set clothes.

Nick peeked around the wardrobe rack, "Hey guys?" he asked, "Is it weird stripping each other?"

"Shut up Nick," Howie snapped.

Nick giggled and ducked back behind the rack.

I looked at D. "How am I doing?"

"Besides not acting a thing like me? Great," Howie responded, fighting with the black vest I wore in the second set.

"Me not acting like you?" I demanded, affronted, "I'm acting like you..."

"Yeah okay."

"You aren't bringing sexy back as me, though, let me tell you," I said, "You're acting all... drab."

"Drab?" Howie retorted. He turned to stare at me. "What do you want me to do? Hump the damn stage again?"

"It'd be better than twirling like a ballerina."

"Ballerina?! It's not my fault your damn knee kicks you out of alignment!"

"Don't blame my body for your lack of ability to bring the heat!"

"Bring the heat?" he snapped back, "Please."

"I bring heat!"

Nick peeked around the rack again, "Y'all ready yet?" he asked.

Howie pulled the vest on roughly. "Oh, I'm ready all right," he snapped, shoving by me.

"BASTARD," I yelled.

Nick blinked in surprise, "Dude," he muttered, "Is it something I said?"

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The show was turning into a disaster quickly. I was sure that any fans that were capturing it on camera could successfully turn it in to America's Funniest Home Videos and make some serious cash.

It was impossible not to argue with J. I had never realized how much we really did bicker back and forth. Was that what friends did? I didn't really know the rules.

"We put the 'fun' in dysfunction," AJ mumbled. I looked at him in surprise. "What?" he asked.

"I was just thinking about that," I said. "We really are dysfunctional."

J grinned. "Yeah, we are. Now, if that knee keeps popping and you keep tippy-toeing I'm going to make you wear a tutu during the last costume change."

My eyes widened. J nudged me with my elbow. I had never realized how pointy it was before.

"It's such a 'me' thing to do, y'know?"

I nodded. I knew that wearing a tutu would be AJ's idea of a good time. He wasn't below poking fun at himself.

"Hey guys, you're going back onstage any time today?" Nick asked. J and I smiled at each other. We had already fouled up every single dance routine, J had tripped on my face, and I had broken into a perfect salsa dance with my very confused dancer. What more could happen?It was time to just have fun with it.

Twenty minutes later, Bri's face was a weird shade of 'tomato' and Nick was holding his side, his lengthy frame leaning against a beam that shook unsteadily. I fluffed out the rough netting of the bright pink tutu.

"That's awesome."

"Do I always look this ridiculous when I do shit like this?" J asked. He was watching me, arms fulled, his (well, my) eyes totally amused.

"Yes," Brian, Nick, and I said in unison.

Brian left, still chuckling to begin the 'Straight through my Heart' routine. I took a deep breath.

"Y'know," J said quietly. "If I had to be stuck in someone else's body, at least I'm stuck in yours."

I looked at him in surprise. He was having one of those rare moments when his guard was completely down. I wrapped an arm around his (my) shoulders and squeezed.

"I feel the same way," I said. By now I had come to terms with the punishment. It wasn't going to be easy, but we were both alive. Over time we could get Ro and Leigh to come to live with it. It wasn't like they had lost us. After all, what is a person if not a soul?

My philosophical way of thinking was brought to an end as Nick ran out, arms flapping like a pigeon. I dropped my arm and J and I ran out.

I will never forget the exact moment when it happened. The fans, laughing hysterically at yet another crazy AJ stunt were showering me with more attention than I had ever gotten in my life. I hit the floor, goofing off in mock-hump. AJ stood behind me and did that whole 'slap-ass' motion. For a second I was horror-stricken at the realization that I felt seconds away from fainting. Things became hazy and all I could feel was the strong wind in my face.

As quickly as it had come on, the light-headedness faded. Suddenly I was the one air-slapping and I was staring at AJ's tutu'd ass.

It was the best sight in the world.

Unknown McLean Fact #20: AJ might claim that his favorite movies are 'Fight Club' and 'Fast and Furious,' but I know for a fact that he has (and regularly watches) 'The Tooth Fairy' and 'Kindergarten Cop' in his DVD collection. There's something about feminine action-heroes that AJ likes; I think it's because they're a reflection of his true self.