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Hot Italian Lover [MultiFormat]
eBook by Ryan Field

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Joey King likes the spotlight. He's worked hard for over twenty years to reach a pinnacle of success and to achieve a cult following, and now he's the big star in one of Broadway's most successful shows.. But when he's not on stage performing, Joey King is an attractive gay man just turned forty who is terrified of growing older. On the last night of his show, Joey overhears people snickering about his age and it leaves him questioning his future as an actor- he's terrified of becoming a joke, and being laughed at. In a state of confusion, Joey travels to Chicago in the middle of the night to be with his longtime partner of twenty years, Ned Stevens, who is there on a business trip. Ned has always been the one constant strength in Joey's life. But when Joey reaches Chicago, he is met with a devastating shock. Joey buys a one-way ticket to Florence to recover. There he meets handsome young Antonio, who is almost half Joey's age. Joey initially protests, but Antonio finally throws him down on the terrace and takes him in ways Joey never imagined were possible. Antonio does things to Joey that Joey's ex-partner, Ned, never did in the twenty years they were together. But more than that, Antonio introduces Joey to the kind of love and passion he never dared to believe existed. But no matter how many times Antonio professes his love, Joey isn't sure he'll ever be able to embrace love or to trust anyone again. Will Antonio figure out a way to prove his love for Joey? And will Joey ever find enough room in his heart to love Antonio as much as Antonio loves him?

eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/Ravenous Romance, Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2011

7 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

* * * *

When Joey King returned from his daily bike ride in Central Park, he passed a gilded Baroque mirror in the lobby of his building and stopped short. For an instant, he thought he saw his father's face reflected back at him--when his father had been around the age Joey was now. Joey pressed his palm to his throat and lifted his chin higher. Then he tilted his head back and turned a little to the right.

This wasn't the first time Joey had noticed his father's middle-aged face looking back at him in a mirror, especially in the past year. Though it didn't happen often, and Joey could never predict when it was going to happen, he'd catch a quick glimpse that would leave him so stunned his heart would start pounding in his ears.

Joey stepped back from the lobby mirror so he wouldn't be standing directly beneath the bright crystal chandelier, and his heart began to slow. He took a breath, exhaled, and turned to the right. He looked like himself again, the handsome, well-built, image of male perfection he'd worked so hard to create all his life. In this angle, without the harsh overhead lighting, his dark brown hair was still shiny, his lightly tanned skin still firm, and he still had a slight cleft in his chin. He looked more like thirty than forty; his father's middle-aged face disappeared. He almost laughed at the mirror, because he should have known better than to stand directly in harsh lighting. Joey had been an entertainer long enough to know that no one, no matter how old they are, looks good lit from above.

When he was upstairs in his penthouse and stripped out of his biking gear to take a fast shower, he glanced at his naked body in a full-length mirror to the right of the black marble shower. In this soft light, with steam pouring out from the shower, he looked nothing like his father had looked at forty years old. Thanks to a strict daily workout routine, Joey's defined chest bulged and rounded. He ran his palm down his flat stomach and stopped just below the two lean muscles on his lower abdomen that led to his groin. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him--just lean muscle and bone.

He spread his legs wider and tightened his thighs. The definition in his legs matched that of his upper body. Thanks to regular waxing, the only visible hair anywhere on him was a neat little patch that resembled an arrow above his penis. Before he stepped into the shower, he turned and gazed at what had always been his most flattering feature: his tight, round buttocks. When he arched his back and looked over his shoulder at the mirror, he smiled and took another quick breath, hoping he still had a little time left to do a few things he wanted to do.

After he showered and shaved, he put on sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a navy blue baseball cap. Then he grabbed a black backpack that had been resting on a gilded stool at the foot of his Louis IV bed and jogged to the elevator. He still had plenty of time to reach the theater before the show began. He never rushed anywhere on purpose, but he'd always been so filled with energy he couldn't help moving at a fast pace. He jogged through the lobby and smiled when the doorman held the door for him. When he reached the long black Town Car waiting for him outside the building, he patted the driver on the arm and climbed into the backseat.

On the way to the theater, he checked his e-mail and listened to a few messages on his voice mail. When he returned his BlackBerry to his backpack, he smiled because there didn't seem to be anything urgent to deal with that afternoon. There had been a message from his agent about a deal he was negotiating for Joey's next acting job. There was another message from his sister in California, and one from his life partner, Ned. Joey's sister had called to wish him well that night, and his life partner, who was away on a business trip in Chicago, had just called to check in and say he'd arrived there safely. Ned was a high-end New York art dealer and he had wealthy clients all over the globe. He'd been traveling like this since he and Joey had started dating almost twenty years earlier.

Joey rested his back against the plush leather seat and gazed at the passing cars. He'd call his sister and his partner back later, and he'd deal with his agent tomorrow. The only important thing Joey King had to do that night was give an excellent performance on the final night of the long-running Broadway show he'd been starring in. He smiled when he remembered how everyone had predicted the show would fold in three weeks.

When the Town Car dropped him off at the theater, he jogged to the stage door entrance and went directly to his dressing room without stopping to talk to anyone. His makeup took a long time and he knew it was better to start sooner than later. But something happened on the way to his dressing room that made his heart race even faster than it had raced when he'd caught a glimpse of his father's face in the lobby mirror an hour earlier.

Two attractive young guys with small parts in the play didn't see Joey coming down the hall. They were standing on the other side of his dressing room, talking about their careers, and Joey couldn't help but overhear them. A guy with a deep voice said, "When this show is over I'm not sure what I'm going to do." Another guy with a softer voice replied, "I guess we just have to keep going on cattle calls, because there's nothing else we can do." The guy with the deep voice made a groaning sound and said, "And with people like Joey King around, who will never retire and give guys like us a chance, we're totally fucked." The one with the soft voice laughed and said, "Yeah, they'll be pushing that old queen out on stage in a gilded wheelchair ten years from now."

Joey blinked. He was barely forty, and in ten years he'd be fifty. A wheelchair? How old did they think he was?

The dressing room door was wide open and Joey's assistant, Karla, was standing there with one hand on her hip and the other pressed to her stomach. Joey knew Karla had overheard the young guys, too, so he sent her a glance and shrugged his shoulders as if trying to make light of their comments. He tried to smile but his face felt so hot and his heart was racing so fast he started to feel lightheaded. This wasn't the first time someone had made a reference to Joey's age in the past year, and he knew it wouldn't be the last.

Joey was one of the few successful female impersonators in show business who had reached the pinnacle of starring in his own Broadway play. And it wasn't just any old musical comedy. Joey's show consisted of elaborate set designs, special effects, cutting-edge costumes, and intricate dance routines. It was sexy, outrageous at times, and had gathered the kind of cult following that only happens once in a while. Most theater critics had compared the show to a rock concert, and one of Joey's songs, Vicious Bitches, had hit the mainstream top forty.

For Joey, a lot of this success had been unexpected. But he'd worked extremely hard to achieve everything in his life and he took nothing for granted. He'd made the crossover from small-time drag queen in dingy gay bars to major Broadway star and recording artist, which hadn't been easy. Joey knew that even though his show had been one of the most successful on Broadway in years, there were other young female impersonators--just like he'd been once--who wanted their chance to star in a big Broadway play. They would have killed to be successful recording artists, and they weren't shy about letting anyone know it.

Karla, always the devoted assistant, punched the wall beside the dressing room door and the two young actors jumped. They were already in costume--blond wigs, glittery showgirl outfits, and high heels--and waiting for the show to begin. "Don't you two assholes have anything better to do than stand around wasting time?" Karla asked them.

The two guys turned. When they saw Joey standing there and realized he'd probably overheard what they'd just said, they both gulped at the same time. The one with the deep voice nodded fast and said, "Sorry, we didn't think anyone was around." The one with the softer voice looked down at his high heels and smoothed out his sequined showgirl costume.

Joey forced himself to smile and said, "Let's kill them out there tonight, guys. It's the last show and we don't want anyone to be disappointed. This has to be the most perfect show we've ever done." He'd learned a long time ago the best way to handle negative criticism was to pretend it didn't bother him. Though he really wanted to wrap his hands around their vicious little necks and choke them until the sequins popped off their high heels, he knew he couldn't show any signs of weakness. If they knew they'd hit a nerve, they'd only walk away snickering. If he pretended it didn't bother him, they wouldn't know how to react.

The guy with the deep voice said, "Yes, sir, Mr. King. We'll work hard tonight."

"We'll go rehearse a little now, Mr. King," said the one with the softer voice.

Then they both turned quickly and left Joey standing there in the hall, with Karla glaring at the way their twenty-five-year-old behinds jiggled in the sexy, revealing showgirl costumes. At least the Karla's intimiadating expression made Joey smile. She'd been his assistant for ten years and he depended on her for everything from makeup to costumes. He'd hired her when he'd landed his first serious female impersonating job with a TV network for a reality show about drag queens and she'd been with him ever since. Though Karla only stood five feet tall, with bright red hair and big blue eyes, she had the personality of someone ten feet tall and a strong voice to match. She always wore black--long tunics over slacks--and rarely wore any makeup herself, other than lip gloss.

"Let's get ready for the opening act, Mr. King," she said, gesturing him into the dressing room. "Don't pay any attention to those little fuckers. They only wish they had an ounce of the talent you had. They'll both wind up selling used cars someday."

Joey smiled. He'd never been certain about whether or not it had been talent or luck that had helped him reach his success. But Karla's devotion wasn't insincere. He knew there was nothing she wouldn't do for him, and he always thanked her well for her loyalty. As he moved into the dressing room he patted Karla's shoulder and said, "I can't blame them, baby." He always called her baby. "They're right. I'm not getting any younger."

"Fuck them," Karla said, "And fuck the horse they rode in on." This was one of her favorite sayings. "You're a star, you'll always be a star, and they'll never be half the entertainer you are, Mr. King. You've broken barriers with this show that no one's ever been able to do. Shit, it's the first time hot male dancers dressed as men have worn high-heeled boots instead of heavy black work boots. You're a genius."

Joey smiled and sat down at his dressing table, surrounded by bright lights, wigs, and all kinds of sparkly makeup that would transform him from a handsome man into a magnificently gorgeous woman. He remembered arguing with the producers of the show, insisting the sexy male dancers cross the gender lines by wearing high-heeled boots instead of chunky black work boots. They'd argued with him for weeks, and Joey had refused to back down. He literally begged them to trust his instincts, knowing deep down he was right to make the show as outrageous and innovative as he could. Though they all took a lot of credit when the show had become a huge hit, Joey knew they couldn't have done it without him.

But he wasn't as secure with his own personal life. He knew it was pointless to argue with his devoted assistant about his age; she'd never back down. Besides, Joey had one concern that night other than his last performance, which had to do with the deal his agent was working on in Hollywood. Joey had to decide on whether or not to accept a new part after this show closed. The Broadway show he was starring in right now was being made into a feature film and his agent was negotiating Joey for the lead role. It was the same role Joey had been playing on Broadway; he'd made the role come to life and won a Tony Award. But there was one problem. The role he'd been playing on Broadway for so long was centered on a young female impersonator in his twenties and it was getting harder and harder for Joey to pull this off. On stage, Joey knew he could still manage it; there was enough distance from the audience and the right lighting made all the difference. But in a film, with close-ups and no fourth wall to protect him, he wasn't so sure. But more than that, he wasn't sure he wanted to play a young person anymore.

To make matters worse, the film probably wouldn't start production for another year, which would mean Joey would be even older by then. And though Joey's agent didn't say anything to him about his age, Joey had heard through gossip the producers of the film thought he was too old to play the part. Joey's agent had even suggested, very politely, Joey might want to consider plastic surgery, which he said everyone in Hollywood was doing nowadays. Only Joey King wasn't a fool. He knew no matter how much plastic surgery anyone had, there was no way to turn back the clock and transform a fort-year-old into a twenty-year-old. At best, with a full facelift, he'd look five or six years younger.

A few minutes before the curtain went up that night, Joey stepped out from behind a four-panel screen in the far corner of his dressing room and looked into a full-length three-way mirror. Karla had gone out to check the audience and left him alone. The costume he wore in the opening number was a more elaborate version of the showgirl costumes the two young actors he'd overheard outside his door had been wearing earlier. It was skimpier, too. This particular costume was less than most people wore to the beach.

Joey turned sideways and glanced into the mirror to make sure the pink garter belt was even. He adjusted it a few times to be sure the sheer, glittered stockings that covered his shapely legs were even on both thighs. The pale pink sequined bikini he wore beneath the garter belt was more like a thong. The tight little thing rode up in the back and exposed most of his naked ass. He adjusted the front of the bikini to be sure his genitals had been packed down and he didn't have a bulge. This wasn't easy for a gifted man like Joey, and it was the most uncomfortable part of the costume. Joey had been blessed with a nice package, and the front of the bikini had to be specially reinforced so his junk wouldn't pop out and look too obvious. Thankfully, this was the only costume in the show where he had to deal with this problem. The rest of his costumes were sexy miniskirts and short dresses, which made it easier to conceal his masculinity.

When he felt certain his bottom half was ready to go on stage, he glanced up at the mirror and checked out his fake breasts to make sure they were even. It never failed to amaze Joey how authentic these fake boobs looked. The upper half of the costume, a pink bikini top with more sequins that matched the bottom, even had realistic cleavage. The sections of the fake breasts that showed through from the pink bikini top as flesh were blended into Joey's own bare chest with makeup. His fake cleavage was soft and spongy to the touch and he had to look closely to see where the fake flesh left off and his real flesh began.

Joey squared his back and stood taller. As a man, he'd always been considered to be on the short side at five feet seven. But as a man dressed as a woman, he stood tall and regal, with a nice arch in his back and well-proportioned legs. He turned around several times, checking the entire costume for flaws, making sure nothing was out of place. If it wasn't perfect, Joey wouldn't go on stage. The long blond wig he wore, with French curls and flowing tresses, seemed okay. The long red fake fingernails Karla had applied seemed to be secure. All Joey had to do was touch up his makeup in a few places--the dark lip liner didn't seem dark enough--and wait for the curtain to rise.

He crossed back to the dressing table in his six-inch pink high heels as if he were gliding on roller skates. He didn't swagger or stumble once. Oddly enough, Joey had never found high heels awkward or uncomfortable. If anything, especially these pink high heels with sequins, they made him feel more graceful and solid. In fact, he danced better in high heels, walked better in high heels, and never found them uncomfortable. And though Joey never wore women's clothing off stage, he often wished men could consider wearing high heels, designed in masculine styles, because he found them so comfortable.

When he was finished applying more lip liner, he touched his lips up with more frosted pink lip gloss. He took one last look at his fake eyelashes and blinked a few times. Then Karla walked into his dressing room and stood behind his chair at the dressing table. "It's a packed house," she said, resting her hands on his shoulders. "And they seem excited. I can always tell by the way they are murmuring. You can feel the energy."

Joey glanced into the mirror and sighed. For a moment, he saw his father's face again, only this time with lipstick and earrings. "I'm glad it's the last performance, baby," he said. "I think the clock is winding down for me."

"That's nonsense and you know it, Mr. King," she said. "You're just as good as you ever were. Now stop talking like that and go out there and bury them all."

Joey smiled and stood up from the dressing table. He adjusted his fake breasts and said, "You're right. I'm going to enjoy this show." Then he turned and headed for the dressing room door. He almost said, "This might be the last show I ever do, at least on Broadway." But he decided not to worry Karla because she would have started in with the pep talks again and Joey wasn't in the mood to listen to them. Joey knew better than anyone else that good parts for female impersonators didn't come along often, no matter how old or young the female impersonator was.

When Joey stepped out of his dressing room, his favorite assistant director was there waiting for him. This particular assistant director, a geeky young guy in his twenties named Ed, always escorted Joey to the wings before each performance. Ed didn't have to do this, and he didn't do it for anyone else but Joey. Ed placed his palm on the small of Joey's back and guided him down the hall. "I hate to see this show end, Mr. King," Ed said. "I'm gonna miss you."

Then Ed did what he always did as he walked Joey to the wings before a performance, and Joey didn't stop him. Joey knew Ed was attracted to men dressed as women and Joey found it endearing that a guy that young would be attracted to him dressed this way. Ed looked around to see if anyone was watching, and when he knew it was safe, he lowered his hand and rested it on the naked part of Joey's ass.

Joey smiled stopped walking for a moment. He backed into a dark corner where no one could see them and he smiled. "I'm going to miss you, too, Ed. You've always been so nice to me." They'd never had sex and never would; Joey had a partner. But the flirting helped boost Joey's huge ego.

While Ed continued to gently squeeze Joey's ass in the dark hallway, Joey rested his palm on Ed's stomach and rubbed it up and down. "You're a sweet, adorable guy," Joey said. He knew what he was doing. He knew Ed would get a small thrill out of this, which is why Joey never stopped Ed from touching him wherever he wanted to touch him. Joey knew his own weak points--and he loved to receive attention from men, especially straight men. No one would have guessed to look at Ed that he was attracted to guys dressed as women, which Joey found very interesting. On the surface, Ed had a collegiate look, with dark framed glasses and messy, wavy brown hair. He wore plaid flannel shirts and baggy corduroy slacks. When Joey dressed as a man in real life, Ed barely noticed him. But the moment Joey put on an exaggerated, glittery, showgirl costume and high heels, Ed's mouth started to water. When Joey wore the black miniskirt in the last act, Ed's pupils dilated.

Ed smiled and patted Joey's ass gently. "You're so beautiful."

"You're very kind," Joey said. "You always make me feel good."

"Can I ask you something?" Ed reached around with his other hand and started squeezing the other side of Joey's ass.

"What?" Joey asked. For such a quiet, unassuming guy, Ed could be aggressive when he wanted to be.

For a moment, Ed hesitated. Then he said, "Being that this is the last performance and we might never see each other again, I'd like put my arms around you and kiss you, just once."

Joey's head went back. "Kiss me?" He didn't want to ruin his lip gloss.

Ed stared down past his flannel shirt at his gum soled shoes. "You don't have to. I know I probably shouldn't even ask."

"I think it's very sweet," Joey said.

"You do?" His eyebrows went up and his young cheeks flushed.

Although Joey knew this wasn't the most appropriate thing to do with an assistant director, he smiled and looked into Ed's eyes. This was the sort of request that flattered Joey. Without saying a word, Joey lifted his hands and placed them on young Ed's face. He gently caressed Ed's cheeks with his long fake fingernails a few times, knowing Ed would love it. Then he leaned forward and kissed Ed on the lips. He did this lightly, barely touching Ed's lips, so he wouldn't ruin his lip gloss. There wasn't enough time to go back to the dressing room to reapply it. When the kiss was over, young Ed put his arms around Joey and held him for a moment. He squeezed Joey hard, then lowered his hands and lifted the back of Joey's costume just enough to rest both hands on Joey's bare ass.

"You feel so good," Ed said, inhaling Joey's scent.

"You're very strong," Joey said. "And you flatter me more than I should be flattered. But the show is about to start. I have to get out there."

When Joey stepped away from Ed, Ed's eyebrows went up and he smiled so wide Joey could see his back teeth. "Thanks, Mr. King. That was nice of you."

Joey laughed. It always amazed him that he could affect some men this way when he was in costume. There had been a few times when Joey had left the theater in drag, in the last costume of the final act, which was the short black miniskirt and black high heels. He rarely left the theater this way, when he was tired and wanted to undress at home, and he'd only go from the stage door to his Town Car. But it never failed to happen. There was always a group of young guys walking down the street who didn't know Joey was really a man doing an excellent impersonation of a woman, and they always passed a remark or a vulgar comment about his ass or his legs.

"C'mon, Ed," Joey said, turning in the other direction. "The curtain is about to go up and I want this last show to be the best we've ever done."

Ed placed his hand on the small of Joey's back again and walked beside him. "Any show you're in, Mr. King, is the best. There's no one like you and there never will be again."

Joey didn't reply. He wanted to thank the sweet young man, but the words seemed to stick in his throat. Joey didn't feel like the best at anything that night. He felt like an aging drag queen, with too much makeup and big hair, who was so starved for attention and recognition he'd let any man who gave him a second glance put his hand up his dress and play with his ass. Though Joey knew he could still perform as a respectable female impersonator, he also knew he was getting dangerously close to crossing the line and becoming a caricature of himself, which is something he'd always promised himself he would never let happen.

* * * *

Chapter Two

There were more curtain calls than Joey could count. He knew he'd connected with the audience that night by the way they cheered and yelled. He knew it the moment he stepped onto the stage and spoke his first line, which led into his first song-and-dance routine. Joey didn't lip sync; he sang every performance. They started applauding immediately and there were no pauses or awkward hesitations. Joey had played to enough audiences in the last twenty-two years to know when a performance would go his way. He could feel the energy in every fiber of his being. That night, along with the rest of the wonderful cast, Joey knew he'd nailed it.

When the curtain finally went down for the last time, with people still standing and applauding, Joey hugged a few of his cast members and went back to his dressing room alone to remove the final costume he wore in the play. This costume was the short, sexy black minidress made out of a tight-knit fabric. It hugged his entire body and he couldn't bend over even slightly without exposing half of his bare ass. His shoes were black leather pumps with six-inch heels. Joey knew this would be the last time he'd ever wear this particular costume in a play and he'd asked if he could keep it as a souvenir. The only problem was Joey didn't feel the usual disconnection he felt when he was wrapping up a project in his career.

This time Joey walked into his dressing room and smiled at Karla. She always took care of his costumes at the end of his performances. He crossed to the paneled screen and yanked off the high heels. Then he pulled the tight dress over his head and said, "I'm surprised at the way I feel right now. This isn't like me at all."

Karla was packing his personal items from the dressing table and the bathroom into several different bags. "And how is that?" she asked.

He thought for a moment, reaching for a pair of black slacks that Karla had left hanging on a hook behind the screen. He had to go to a cast party that night and he'd planned on wearing a black suit and white shirt. Normally, he didn't go to parties like this without his longtime partner, Ned, but being this was the last performance, he decided it wouldn't look good if he didn't go. "I feel relieved," Joey said. "I know that sounds strange. But I'm glad the show is over. I'm tired of playing a twenty-something--year-old man pretending to be a twenty-something-year-old woman. I'm getting too old for it. I actually feel good right now, knowing the show is over and I did my best."

"You're still young," Karla said. "You still have a lot of good shows and performances ahead of you."

Joey zipped up the black slacks and reached for the white dress shirt. He didn't have time to shower. He'd wipe the makeup off his face fast, remove the eyelashes and fingernails, and style his hair with product at his dressing table when he was fully dressed as a man again. He'd always been lucky in the sense that he'd never had to work too hard to look good as a man. Some people even said his hair looked better all messed up.

"But I have more good performances behind me than I have ahead of me," Joey said. "That's just a fact of life." He'd begun to realize the good parts, in plays, films, and on television, for female impersonators over forty years old were even fewer than the parts that were available for real female actresses over forty. Unless Joey decided to come up with a campy, comedic, drag-queen musical comedy routine for Las Vegas--which he would never do--he knew in his heart he'd probably reached the pinnacle of his career as a female impersonator with this Broadway show.

Karla walked around the paneled screen and put her hands on her hips. She sent him one of her serious lecture glances and said, "You're talking like you're old. You still have the movie deal. I have a feeling this one will be a huge hit. You might even get an Oscar."

Joey tucked his shirt into his pants and laughed. "I'm not sure I'm doing the movie. I'm not even sure the deal is going to go through. In Hollywood it's all about being young. They might not want me."

Karla bent down to pick up the costume he'd just discarded on the small folding chair behind the screen. "You're worrying for nothing," she said. "No one could play this part in the movie better than you can, and they know that. You'll see. I'm talking Oscar, here."

He smiled at her unconditional devotion. "Just put that costume into my backpack. I'm taking it as a souvenir."

"The shoes, too?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. "I'd like to have something to remember. I got permission earlier."

"I'll pack them very neatly," Karla said.

He grabbed a black suit jacket from a hook and stepped into the dressing room so he could put his shoes and socks on and clean the makeup off his face. "I'm glad you have such high hopes for me," he said, sitting down at his dressing table. Actually, he still felt a sense of relief this show had finally ended and he didn't have to pretend to be a man playing woman in his twenties anymore. He was tired of always having to look and act young. He wanted to be his own age, without having to apologize to anyone.

While he removed his eyelashes and fingernails, Karla carried his costume to the rack on the other side of the dressing room. When she reached for a hanger, she frowned and said, "I'm going to get these things over to Michael, then I'm going home. Do you need anything else?" Michael was the costume designer, and he kept close tabs on everything everyone wore.

Joey finished wiping the makeup off with cold cream. He stood up and walked in his socks to where his assistant was standing. He put his arms around her and said, "I'm fine, baby. After I put on my shoes, I'm going to the cast party, then home. I'm not sure what I'm doing after that. Ned's on another one of his business trips. I'll call you and let you know what's up tomorrow." Karla had worked as his personal assistant full time, even when he wasn't doing a TV show or a play. He wanted her to know she would continue to be his personal assistant and on his payroll.

Karla hugged him tighter and said, "Lighten up on yourself. It's all going to be fine."

"I know," he said as he smiled and patted her back. He always found it interesting that the press said he'd made it big as a TV reality star, as if he'd never acted or performed in his life before the reality TV show--when, in fact, Joey had been playing to crowds in drag since he'd been in his late teens.

But after Karla left, he checked his hair and made sure all the makeup was off his face. Then he put on his shoes and phoned his partner, Ned Stevens, in Chicago. Joey normally wouldn't have phoned Ned at this hour, but he needed to hear Ned's somber, comforting voice. Lately, Ned had been traveling a lot on business and Joey had been missing him more than ever.

"Hello," Ned said, clearing his throat.

"Hey, it's me," Joey said.

There was a pause, then Ned said, "Are you okay? Why are you calling me now?" He sounded more disturbed than surprised.

It really wasn't that late in New York, and it was even earlier in Chicago, which made Joey smile. Ned was twenty years older than Joey--he was actually twenty-five years older, but would never admit this to anyone, not even Joey--and he went to bed at nine every night of the week. "I just needed to hear your voice, is all," Joey said. "I'm missing you so bad tonight."

"You sound depressed," Ned said.

"Not depressed," Joey said. "I'm just tired. I'm tired of it all. And I'm especially tired of playing a part that's too young for me. I feel like an idiot." He sighed and told Ned about the conversation between the two young actors outside his dressing room earlier that night.

"Don't let this get you down, Joey," Ned said. "You're still gorgeous. Those little assholes don't know anything. They're just jealous they don't have the talent you have."

"I want to get away for a while," Joey said.

"Where do you want to go?"

"Someplace warm and friendly, where I can just be myself," Joey said. "I don't want to do anything but relax. I don't even want to think."

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