Kevin squinted at his watch. Near ten, Saturday morning. If he got his ass in gear he’d be gone before Mitch awoke. Mitch and Therese had planned Kevin’s time since he arrived to make sure he didn’t get lost. He itched to get out on his own.
Thanks to Mitch he knew where he wanted to go. Two Fridays ago Mitch, in a van mood, insisted they ‘shoot the drag.’ On the east coast that meant an endless loop around the main street of their little town and of the somewhat larger one nearby.
In Toronto, to Mitch, it meant a loop down Yonge Street from Bloor to Queen and up Church. Mitch recommended strip joints and head shops on Yonge street. The leg of the loop up Church Street went through, what Mitch called, Fag Hell.
Shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and street corners there were alive with men and women. Some held hands. He glimpsed two men kiss as they waited at the lights. Mitch did this loop several times, slugged beer after beer, and got more vulgar about the strip joints and more hostile about how queer maggots spewed their filth over the sidewalks.
He wound his window down to harass a couple of muscle guys.
“You guys get that way pumping each other’s asses?”
“Start pumping that chicken next to you, instead of him pumping you, and you too can have the same amazing results,” one of them replied. Both flexed their biceps and laughed.
“Fuckin’ pervs.” Mitch burnt rubber as he squealed off. That was the last loop that night.
Kevin hoped not to work for the summer, but he gave in when Mitch pressured him to fill in the crews at his construction site. He’d sent his résumé to several garages to offer his mechanic skills.
He learned the love of engines from Shep. He enjoyed how each piece fit, and was dependent on the next piece to work. The logic it took to rebuild and repair brought deep satisfaction to him.
He’d had his first interview yesterday afternoon. It went well, though he felt his age worked against him. It did give him the day off from Mitch’s construction site and a chance to plan this escape today.
Every Saturday he shopped with Mitch and Therese, once Mitch had crawled awake around noon. Evenings he’d been herded around to all the east coasties Mitch knew. Supposedly for Kevin to meet some good women, but mainly for Mitch to show off Kevin’s musical talents. He’d been conscripted to do a couple of Saturday night sets at Ten Pennies, Mitch’s home-away-from-home pub. There he was billed as Kevin McLeod and not Mitch’s Cuz Kev.
This Saturday would be different. If he was up and out by ten-thirty, he’d be out of their grasp and on his own at last.
He put on the clothes he’d laid out the night before and grabbed his backpack. He’d had cutoffs and a spare t-shirt in it. This last weekend in June promised to be hot.
What worried him the most was money. Mitch had made him paranoid about how easy it was to ‘roll those pansies.’ Not that he could be rolled that easy, but he didn’t want to lose his hard earned cash or his credit card.
He hid the card beneath the inner sole of his left runner. He squirrelled away about $200.00 – some his wallet, some with his subway pass and the rest in a pocket in his denim jacket. Enough for the day and then some.
He opened his bedroom door to check if the other bedroom door was shut. It was. He went out the front door. He leaned against the hallway wall to breathe for the first time.
The door opened.
“Here. You might need these!” Therese dropped keys into his hand.
“They’re called keys. You are old enough to let yourself in and out.”
“Thanks. I … uh …”
“Get going.” She kissed him on the forehead. “You have our number. If you’re gonna to be out late … let us know or Mitch will have the cops searching for you.”
She shut the door. Kevin walked to the elevator. His feet barely felt the carpet.
David rubbed the bitter taste of unsweetened coffee around his mouth. He and his two co-workers had been called into the office to wait for the manager, Karen Willis, to return.
They watched her tape a notice to the front door.
“That is not a good omen.”
“Could be the new summer hours, David,” Monica suggested.
Karen came into the office and brushed her suit jacket.
“We’ve been merged. As of today we are an ex-bookstore.”
“Index Ink has taken us over.” She handed them each a pay envelope. “As of today we are no longer required.”
David opened the envelope. It had a check for six months pay.
“Index Ink is generous. Part for p.r. and mainly because the bastards can afford to be. Any one who wishes may apply for a position within their ranks.”
“Position?” Amhad, the other clerk, asked.
“Yes. Index Ink is always eager to find experienced sales associates.” Karen didn’t try to conceal her bitterness. “That is if they survive ePub.”
“So, like, we can go home? … Now?”
“Yes, David. Unless you haven’t had breakfast. There’s money in the till.” Karen laughed. “Ten years with Bookies, I get to be a manager for six bloody months and boom, back to square one. No seniority, no pension plan, no benefits.”
“Rainbow Books is looking for staff.” Monica was, as ever, hopeful.
“There’s a spot for you David,” Amhad joked. “And you’ll have Pride Day off, after all.”
David was stunned. He’d been at Bookies for over two years. He enjoyed the business and his co-workers. He had never expected to leave.
“Or do what you’ve been avoiding.”
“Which is what, pray tell, Karen?”
“Finally become the black queen of fashion.”
They all laughed.
“I’ll eat to that,” Monica added.
“Lubba’s has a great brunch.”
“Lubba’s it is.”
Each grabbed their personal items and waited at the exit for Karen.
Black queen of fashion. Why not?
As Yves approached the hospice he saw Jake on Trigger, his motorized wheel-chair. Jake spun in circles and joked with some patients out for a cigarette on the side terrace.
“What kept you?” Jake teased. “Admit it. Beauty sleep isn’t going to help at your age.”
“Considering what it’s done for you, you’re right.”
“Please Jake, bitch is so demeaning to women. Call me a prick, if you have to call me anything.”
“I’ll call you King Cock, if we can get the stuff on my list. I want Trigger to be the best float ever in a Pride Day Parade.”
“Yes, Master.” Yves put the list into his fanny pack. He wore baggy knee length shorts and a grey tank-top to keep cool while he got Jake around town. Jake was overdressed in thick green sweat pants and a rainbow striped sweater. His body temperature was unstable, and hot days were cool for him. The heavy clothes also afforded coverage for what he called his flesh-colored skeleton.
“Where to first, Master.”
“Coffee. Coffee.” Jake’s cartoon voice made the others laugh. “Must have coffee. Must be fresh coffee.”
“You don’t mean …”
“Don’t tell me what I fucking mean,” Jake snarled. “I mean I want coffee.”
Jake’s medications caused unpredictable mood swings. For the past week, Yves was the one person Jake spoke to. The staff was accustomed to manic episodes and they could sedate patients into a chemical calm. They had wanted to do that with Jake, but Yves stopped them. It was hard for the grace of God to slip into that chemical calm.
The one thing that Jake had focused on the past week was a plan to transform Trigger into a float. Design ideas had ranged far and wide till he had settled a couple of papier maché palm trees with rainbow coconuts, a grass skirt for the motor, and himself as King Snake of Fantasy Island.
The less Jake had to control in his life, the more he tried to control what he could. Jake had phoned Yves twice that morning to make sure he was on his way.
They travelled side by side to Church Street. First stop was Tencity, where the coffee was guaranteed to make you tense.
“Jake! Jake!” a voice called from the patio. A small, excited hand flapped a glossy red fan. The fan shut, and up stood Robert Ing.
“Ah, Miss Ing. I never expected to see you so early in the day.” Jake maneuvered Trigger onto the patio.
“Honey, I was up at the crack of dawn.”
“Don who?” Yves didn’t want this to be a long chat as he was not comfortable around effeminate men.
“Oh, you!” Ing flicked his fan open to cover the lower half of his face. “So good to see you out and about Jake. I hope you’ll be at the parade tomorrow. I have the most faboolous outfit. Three outfits to be honest. The first one ….”
Yves went to get coffee. One of the things in gay life he never understood was this female thing. He was a man who liked other men as men, and not as some sort of in-between. He didn’t get excited about leather either. Men who looked hot in leather looked hot in anything, and men who didn’t look good in anything counted on the leather to do what their looks couldn’t do.
He got two coffees and a blueberry muffin for himself. He wasn’t sure what Jake could or would eat. One of the drugs Jake took affected his taste, food he liked one day nauseated him the next. As he got back to the patio, Robert kissed Jake on the forehead.
“Toodles doll. Gotta run.” Robert stood on tiptoe to peck Yves on the cheek and was gone.
“Did you know Miss Ing was half-owner of Lubba’s? He and Luke Kwan bought out the Debarrets?”
“I wonder how much that cost in press-on nails.”
“I wonder who the real bitch is? Him or you.”
Steven put the last of the fresh daisies in the vases on the tables. These were the “day” flowers that would be replaced by roses for evening.
Robert Ing burst in. “Where is that husband of yours? Why aren’t we ready to open? Why are you doing his job?” He folded his fan and rapped Steven’s hand.
“We are open. Luke is in the kitchen. Seems your latest acolyte has never opened as much as a can of soup.”
“I should hope not. This is a restaurant, not a place where we serve canned soup.” Robert pushed Steven aside.
Steven took the Specials board and hung it outside. Under it he had taped a poster for “Three-Quarter Time.” Though the show didn’t open till September, he wanted to get the word out as soon, and as much, as possible.
Inside, Luke and Robert were pushed out of the kitchen by Curtis, the house chef.
“Out, both of you. If I need help I’ll ask. You too.” Curtis reached in and dragged out Paul.
“Keep him out of my kitchen. If he’s that talented, let him cook for you at home, Bobby.”
“Robert, how many times have I told you you cannot hire new people.”
“Luke … I … I …” Robert stood his full height, which left him at chin level to Luke. “I was trying to help. This is your busiest week-end. I figured …”
“Robert, let me figure.” Luke motioned to Brad to bring a drink for Robert. “Paul, what skills do you bring us?”
Paul, like most of Robert’s past conquests, was in his mid-20’s and sported several tattoos. Unlike his predecessors, he was in university. He’d completed his second year in premed and as Robert’s latest had lasted since Christmas; as long a relationship as any knew Robert to have had.
“What do you think, Steven?”
“You mind bussing?”
“Sure. That’s all I expected to do.”
“Okay, doll. Okay.” Robert emptied his wine. “You can begin by getting rid of this dirty, dirty glass.”
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