Authors: Mary Beth Daniels
Tags: #Fiction, #Humorous, #Humor, #General, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Weddings, #gay marriage, #election, #Prop 8
I aimed it at Cade. “Get out.”
“You threatening me?”
“That’s going to look bad in court.”
“You see anything?” Martin(a) asked. The cheerleaders shook their heads. “We don’t see anything at all. And I am ready to testify.”
I stepped forward. Cade leaped from the chair and took several steps away. “You’ve gone crazy. You’ve come to California with a bunch of weirdos and it’s messed you up.”
I ran my hand along the end of the bat.
“Actually,” Martin(a) said, “I see you threatening HER. And you’re the big strong man. We’re nothing but helpless girls.” He put his elbow up on another cheerleader’s shoulder. “Poor and defenseless.”
“You people are sick,” he said, walking backward across the grass.
I tossed the bat on the dugout floor and sat at the end of the bench, fiddling with my camera settings, hoping to avoid anyone’s eyes. The cheerleaders passed a flask down the line, and I took a grateful swig.
“He’s a pig,” Martin(a) said. “I don’t even know him, but I can tell.”
Blitz was on second base. Nikki was up to bat. I concentrated on the game, the warmth of the afternoon, and the smell of hair spray and sweat coming from the cheerleaders. Anything but my life.
Bradford crossed in front of us, and I couldn’t help but stare at the perfectly fitted denim shorts and a blue tank shirt as he paused to high-five a Hoebag who was waiting for her turn at bat. He and the team had no idea what had just happened.
I stood up, ready to take pictures again, quickly zooming in on Blitz, Nikki, and the Hoebags in their dugout across the field. I trained my camera on Bradford, then lowered it again.
“That’s quite a man,” Martin(a) said, leaning on my shoulder.
“I bet he makes you all twitchy,” I said to him and the other men, who were preparing to head out for a cheer. “Anybody trying to call dibs?”
Martin(a) pulled back abruptly, his twin ponytails bouncing in two perfect curls. “Girlfriend, are you saying Bradford is gay?”
“Well, I—” Of course he was gay. He owned a boutique. Dressed right out of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He arranged hair, for Pete’s sake, and got stood up for his own wedding right as gay marriages were revoked in 2004. And Fern had said so—oh, right, Fern…
Harry slapped his knee, sending his pom pon shaking. “Girl, you’ve got the gaydar of a republican in a bathroom stall.”
Across the field, Bradford clapped his hands. “Bring her home!” he shouted.
He turned to the dugout then, and our eyes met. Suddenly I knew, without a doubt, it was true. All the glances, the hand holds, the easy laughs about relationships. Then the confusion last night, when I pulled away by the door. He thought I wasn’t interested. He really truly wasn’t gay!
I must have appeared visibly in shock, because he started walking toward me, a quizzical look on his face.
“Don’t just stand there, go get him!” Harry said, giving me a hefty push.
Martin(a) snatched up a megaphone. “Time out!” he shouted, jumping crazily outside the dugout door. “Time out for love!”
Nikki paused, setting her bat back on the plate. Everyone in the outfield, and the Hoebags, and the fans within earshot all turned to the cage.
I strode toward him, starting slow but rapidly picking up speed. He seemed to understand what was happening, maybe he realized I’d never come at him quite this way before. I felt like was walking away from as many things as I was walking toward, away from Cade, whose rental car was pulling out of the parking lot, away from those five dry years of marriage, away from my silly notion of what constituted commitment both from a partner and from a best friend. I moved toward something else, a boy, a scary beautiful boy, and a whole set of friends and circumstances I’d never even imagined just a week ago.
But as we neared each other, I remembered my own wedding day, the awkward dance with my groom. The lilies in the hotel room.
I stopped walking at the memory of Cade telling me, “She’s pregnant.” And of Fern, holding up the orange condoms. The hillbilly on the red matchbook laughed at me as I closed my eyes. I had told Cade he couldn’t file yet, he had dirty laundry to deal with. So did I.
I could feel him, inches away. He didn’t touch me, and I opened my eyes. “I thought you were gay,” I said. “Fern told me you were gay.”
His expression was grim. “I realize that now. Just now.”
“But you’re not.”
“What happened at the Plantation? Exactly?”
“My bride ditched me. Called me back to her dressing room about an hour before the ceremony. Said she’d found someone else, a more ‘manly man,’ she called it. Thought it would burn out before the wedding day, that maybe it had all been nerves, but it hadn’t. Apparently she spent the night before with him.”
“Are you really?”
“I am. Maybe just now.”
He moved for me, and this time I didn’t have to worry about whether he’d kiss me or not, whether he liked girls or not, whether he cared or not. I could see that he did.
But I took a step back.
“I don’t think that I’m okay.”
The crowd had settled down, the field waited in perfect silence, as if they had been anticipating some great finale, and now had only to be patient until the moment happened.
Bradford nodded. “I understand that.”
“I—I have to think this through.”
“Makes total sense.”
“I still have a long way to go before I’m even single.”
“So I—should go.” He nodded and I turned around, crossing the field in the silence, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. The cheerleaders moved aside as I passed. I knelt down by my bag to put the camera away.
Martin(a) sat beside me in the dirt. “What are you going to do?”
I snapped the bag closed. “I’ll do what anyone would do if they had no home and no real ties. Start over.”
Martin(a) hugged me fiercely. “You go girl. I’ll be at your big debut Tuesday night. You should come. Hang out in this strange little town for a bit.”
“I think I might just do that.” We stood and I purposefully kept my back to the field as I walked through the gate. The bat connected with a ball and the crowd cheered. The game had restarted.
I had gotten only maybe ten yards away when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, facing the sun, and had to squint to see who it was.
“You heading back to Texas now?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Actually I think I might hang around here. My first gallery show, you know.” I looked around. “I’ve got enough money to photograph palm trees until I can get a client base here.”
“I’m going back with the others.”
Of course. I tried not to acknowledge the pinch of regret. “Tell the Hoebags I’ll send them their prints.”
I adjusted the bags on my arms. “Well, see you around.”
He reached out for my arm. “Wait. Zest?”
“In April I come up for a spring cosmetics show. Here in San Diego.”
“In six months?”
The blue of his eyes exactly matched the sky. I could look forward to photographing them in a thousand different ways. “Then I guess I’ll see you in six months.”
Epilogue: The Happy Freaking Ending Everybody Insists On. Which Happened.
Okay, so it wasn’t
It wasn’t, actually, even six days.
I called him at midnight on Tuesday, so upset that Prop 8 had passed, banning gay marriage in California. I couldn’t believe it. None of us could believe it.
I was surrounded by strangers, almost all gay men, drinking and laughing and hugging me congratulations for a successful show. All the rush prints had been enlarged to life size, hanging in the gallery with little lights shining on them like they were the Mona Lisa. People called me brave, brilliant, gifted. Almost a third of the images had sold. A girl could swoon with all the attention. I knew it was the hair.
The room was a circus. Men in over-the-top drag, red spangles, feathers, platform boots. Others in top hats, tails, face makeup from glamorous to mime. Music blared from hidden speakers, changing drastically from punk to Judy Garland, depending on who had control of the playlist. The laughter was low, bellowing, and from the gut. If you closed your eyes you would picture something entirely different, a bar full of straight men, half-drunk, telling ribald jokes. But when you focused in, you could detect it, a few higher voices that surprised you, not female, but feminine. And then you’d catch a random line, “wiped his dick on the curtains.” Or a phrase out of context, “daisy-chaining bitch-whore.” And you knew you weren’t in Texas anymore.
My outfit was killing me. Martin(a) had stopped by the gallery yesterday, as I’d been spending all my time with Vincent making sure the Giclée prints were coming out perfectly, to ask about my opening night couture.
“Makeoverrrrr!” he’d sung with an operatic zeal, hauling me out of the gallery and shoving me into a tiny black Smart Car.
We drove to a part of town called Hillcrest, shopping at strange hole-in-the-wall second-hand stores with names like Flashback until he found “the perfect little vintage dress.”
Normally I didn’t wear pink any more than Butch, Jenna’s Pomeranian. But the pale sheath, falling straight from my shoulders to a hint of ruffle at the knee-length hem, was subtle. Except now the strictures of the style prevented me from sitting easily, and I kept sucking in my stomach to avoid pooching the dress out of alignment.
“You look totally fab,” Martin(a) said, handing my my third glass of champagne. “Did you see the exit polls? It’s a lock. The amendment is fading out like the straights in San Francisco.”
The numbers filled the screen. Fifty-two percent were against the gay marriage ban. “Thank God,” I said. “I’d love to see Jacob Haverty when the official numbers start rolling in.”
“Now that’d be a picture,” Martin(a) said, taking a long swill of champagne and leaving a scarlet print on his glass. The makeup was his only concession to girliness; however, as otherwise he had dressed as a man in an elaborate get up resembling a circus announcer, with a large black hat and red tails.
The stats shifted to the presidential race. The early states were showing a landslide win for Obama. All seemed right in the world.
The door swung open, revealing Marvin and Gary! Marvin marched right into the room and searched until he spotted me. “There she is!” he squealed.
He hurried over, his tweedy jacket making him look like a professor. No eye liner today. He grasped my hand. “The doll is back!”
“I never left,” I said. “How did you find me?”
Marvin tugged a poster from his pocket and unfolded it. “Took this right off the wall.” He waved it at me, Horatio’s near-naked form covering the majority of the page. “I told Gary, ‘Gary, that’s the work of that doll we met on our wedding day.’”
He plopped right down onto the stool next to me. “I’ve been dying to know. Did you figure out that lover boy was a not a penis boy?”
I suddenly realized what they had been trying to tell me with their crazy gestures as we had left the bar. I had the Charades talent of a porcupine. “I did.”
Marvin reached for Gary, who moved in close. “And how did that work out?”
“Um, pretty well.” I suddenly shot through with longing for Bradford. Six months seemed endlessly far away.
“Spill it, doll,” Marvin said. “Leave out no detail.”
“We went to dinner. And the beach.”
“Sex on the beach? You tramp!” Marvin fanned himself.
“Hardly. He’s back in Texas now.”
“What’s he doing there?”
Gary squeezed Marvin’s shoulder and said, “Waiting for Zest.”
I sighed. “I hope so.”
“The doll’s got it bad.” Marvin patted my hand.
The music suddenly cut off.
Vincent, tall and broad in a black tuxedo and electric blue shirt, stood on a chair. “McCain has conceded the race. Obama is about to come on with his speech!”
The room erupted in cheers. Vincent released a tarp full of balloons hanging from the side wall, and the room filled with pink and purple latex.
I grabbed one, realizing too late that it had a funny bump on the end. Condoms. I shook my head, tapping the side to send it toward Marvin and Gary. “Rubbers, anyone?”
“We’re clean!” Marvin said. “All checked and tested and passed with flying colors. Monogamy needs no accessorizing.”
I bounced another one at his face.
“Bee-otch!” he yelled, batting several back at me.
The music began again, but abruptly cut off once more. We turned back to the monitor, expecting to see Obama arriving at the podium.
What we saw instead silenced the crowd. The balloons fell listlessly to our feet.
The numbers flashed on screen, the measure to ban gay marriage passing with fifty-three percent of the vote.
Marvin slammed his hand on the table behind us, setting the glasses to rattling. This set the revelers to whispering, low and angry and shocked.
“It’s the fucking Bradley effect,” he said. “No one wants to admit they’re closet homophobes. They say one thing, then vote on another.”
Gary squeezed his shoulder. “It’s just the margin of error in the polls.”
“Margin of error my ass.” A gorgeous man in a red sequined evening gown jingled his bangle bracelets, his gold lips pinched together. “Those stats are off way more than that.”
“These are early numbers,” Martin(a) said. “It’ll turn around.”
“LA is already in. So is San Fran,” Marvin said. “It’s not going to turn around.”
And it didn’t. In the half hour we waited for Obama’s speech, the numbers only got worse. When the newly elected president finally arrived on screen, the crowd gave a half-hearted cheer, but I couldn’t even muster a fake smile. I didn’t really care who was president, honestly. He’d be effective or ineffective based on what congress let him do.
But Prop 8. That affected people.
Martin(a) cuffed me on the arm. “Don’t be blue, Zest. We’ll fight it still. There’s a whole army ready to challenge this to the Supreme Court.”