I wipe my hands on my apron and glance at the clock: 11:20, Christmas Eve. The landscape outside looks like a True Value Hardware commercial—fir trees flecked with snow, shimmering in the silvery moonlight, nothing but white for miles.
My tree is trimmed simply, with old-fashioned tin ornaments and garlands of tiny lights that burn constantly. (Bulbs that blink on and off are one of my pet peeves: Christmas is a sacred holiday, not a rave.) The aroma of baking gingerbread mingles with the smoke from the crackling fire. In the CD carousel, seasonal favorites Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, and Nat "King" Cole shuffle merrily alongside one another.
Suddenly, I hear snow crunching under tires as a sports car pulls cautiously into the driveway. Sneakers stamp on the welcome mat, then the doorknob turns. I pretend not to hear and continue decorating the cooling gingerbread men.
The bristles of his beard tickle as he nuzzles my neck, kisses my ear. His arms encircle me from behind, pulling me into an embrace marked by a practiced assuredness that can't wholly conceal a top note of suppressed urgency, like a lifeguard worried he isn't strong enough to drag a drowning man to shore. Our bodies sway gently in time as Bing croons "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
I set the tube of icing down and turn around slowly; I want to savor this moment. I haven't gazed upon his Ultrabrite smile, that knowing twinkle in his big brown eyes, for weeks.
Actually, that's false. I see him constantly: on the cover of Teen People, on each afternoon's broadcast of Total Request Live, in the displays littering every Sam Goody from here to Portland, Maine. But that man is somebody else, a preening stranger who belongs to millions of teenage girls, Carson Daly, and the other four members of 'N Sync.
The rest of the world is welcome to my shares in that all-singing, all-dancing Joey, one-fifth of the biggest boy band in the universe—just so long as they don't come between me and the very real man interrupting my baking on a cold Christmas Eve. Because, as sure as if I'd stamped my initials on his hairy ass with a branding iron, that Joey Fatone belongs to me, and me alone.
This is my favorite time of year—not because of presents, candy canes, or the thin veneer of goodwill toward their fellow man shoppers eke out as they shoulder past one another, but because I love Christmas music. It's the perfect release for a pent-up drama queen such as myself because songs like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" brim with all the unabashed sentiment of Broadway show tunes yet carry none of the stigma of falling into a gay stereotype. For one month of the year, my taste in music actually falls in step with the rest of the world, and I don't feel like such a the-cheese-stands-alone freak. Which is why I see no harm in coming clean about my crush on Joey from 'N Sync.
I'm well aware that Joey is the fivesome's least-cool member. He's too long in the tooth to be a teen idol and just a steak sandwich away from a spare tire. Why do you think he wears long coats and baggy pants while the other guys sport form-fitting sweaters? The group's high-stepping dance routines leave him visibly winded, and the less said about his Ronald McDonald-red dye job, the better.
As I spin 'N Sync's Home for Christmas for the umpteenth time, all those qualities just make me believe we're meant to be together. I'm in my mid-30s. In a few years, my looks will be completely shot, and I'll be damned if I'm going to squander what's left on bubble-headed twinks that go AWOL as soon as some go-go boy struts past. Joey seems like a guy right on my wavelength, a big softy with a gruff exterior who's getting just a little too old for the game he's in. Away from the harsh glare of the spotlights and flashbulbs, we could compare our crows' feet and fulfill those desires the little girls will never understand.
My fingers entwined in his chunky, manicured digits, I lead Joey into the living room to exchange gifts. He shreds the wrapping paper with glee, a big kid in a man's body, grinning at each piece of rare memorabilia commemorating his beloved Superman. I have cashed in my 401(k) plan to purchase these treasures. As he gingerly sets aside the near-mint copy of Action Comics #1, he sheepishly confesses he left my presents behind in his haste to see me.
I snap the arm off a gingerbread man, feed it to my pudgy pop star, and tell him to shut up—I don't need to hear another word. I already have everything I want this Christmas.