Lindsey licked his lips and checked his makeup from each side. Most of the queens on the stage had to go to extremes to create half the illusion that came naturally to him—big blue eyes, high cheekbones, plush lips. Owing to a genetic abnormality, he had little facial hair and, though it vexed him, less to tuck. In this group, his differences were envied and celebrated. Some bitches threw shade, but Lindsey had never been afraid of confrontations—even physical ones. It rarely came to that. He, quite by accident, had found the perfect profession for his snide humor and love of outrageousness.
Bass pumped from the stage as the opening acts performed. Lindsey, as Miss Anne Thrope, was the main attraction. He finished his makeup when the music cued his approach to the stage. He strapped on his stilettos and walked the short, dark hall to the side of the platform, where he waited behind a curtain.
Gay-Sha finished and took several unnecessary bows, sucking up as much attention as she could. When she finished, she stepped off the stage. Smirking, she shoulder-bumped Lindsey. “They’re all yours.”
From that moment through the performance, Lindsey was Miss Anne Thrope.
“Bitch, they were waiting for me.” They traded playfully angry looks as Anne grabbed the mic. On occasion, their animosity was real, but this was a good night. “Looking fishy, girl.”
They swatted each other’s asses like athletes, and Anne took the stage. The crowd’s cheering grew louder as Anne folded her arms and gave them a pointed look. She brought the mic to her lips. “Why are you bitches bothering me again?”
Wow. She hadn’t even gotten to her first dick joke.
The heckler wasn’t far from the stage, but with the lights up, everyone was a hazy outline. Anne shielded her eyes with her hand. The voice sounded familiar.
Unable to see, she did what any queen worth her salt would do. She cupped her hand to her ear. “Hark! Do I hear the mating call of a closet case? Say it again, sir, that we all may bask in your repression!”
The crowd erupted in laughter and whistles. Hecklers had to be dealt with immediately and viciously. No one paid to see a heckler, though they could be fun for a few laughs. That said, Anne never liked to hear that word directed at her from a stranger. In catty play, it was…
Well, even then, the connotation of the word—faggots being kindling to start a fire and the implication of burning homosexuals in medieval times—made it one Anne didn’t wish to reclaim.
As a comedian, she wasn’t interested in restricting language. As a person who had to come off the stage eventually, she wouldn’t mind getting a bead on the person who had yelled that at her.
Anne leaned forward as if to hear something far away. “No?”
Now that she was listening, the direction the voice came from was clear: to the right and just below.
Maestro turned up the house lights. The first interruption was free; the second relieved someone of their anonymity and earned personal attention.
Anne blinked, and her brain worked in overdrive to come up with a quip.
Hank Lang was no less filled out than when he’d played football in high school, though at the moment, his eyes were bloodshot and his face had the doughy quality of someone who spent too much time drinking too much beer.
Hank motherfucking Lang was at Anne’s…Lindsey’s…motherfucking drag show yelling motherfucking epithets.
Practically from the cradle, they’d been best friends who lived next door to each other. Lindsey had been the princess who needed rescuing without actually being what, at that age, Hank had thought of as a yucky girl. Or scary. Or whatever heterosexual boys thought of girls then.
Lindsey had liked girls but liked having Hank all to himself. He hadn’t wanted to play with anyone else, and Hank hadn’t seemed that interested in others either.
At the time, none of it had seemed unusual. Hank had preferred to play prince or swashbuckler, and Lindsey hadn’t cared what he wore so long as he got his own whacks at the dragon. It wasn’t until Hank’s dad caught them in a very compromising position that their friendship had come to an abrupt end.
That day, Lindsey had worn one of his mother’s nightgowns. Her lipstick was smeared all over his lips because Lindsey had been Sleeping Beauty, and it took the prince’s kiss to wake him. A kiss and some gratuitous groping that hadn’t just been sword adjustment.
His mother thought the whole episode was adorable, but then, she found everything Lindsey did adorable. He was her only child, her miracle-of-modern-science baby. If he had come to her with a few quirks and extra chromosomes, so be it.
Still, Lindsey couldn’t escape the feeling that he’d failed his father in some indefinable way he’d never be able to make up for. Not just on that day, but with every choice—to play flute instead of football, to quit band and join drama, and finally, to dress like a woman and make jokes for a living. Not that his father had ever said anything.
In fact, it had been over a decade since he’d spoken a word in Lindsey’s direction. It had been nearly that long since Lindsey had laid eyes on Hank.
A nervous titter rippled through the room while Lindsey, no longer fortified with his alter ego, stood, blinking, at a loss for words, as he’d never been onstage.
“Let’s hear it for Miss Anne Thrope!” The emcee gave his elbow a gentle tug, and Lindsey flashed his brilliant smile as the lights beamed on him.
When he turned, he met the owner/emcee’s eyes. Frank looked furious, but what could Lindsey do? It wasn’t as if he were suddenly insecure around hecklers. That had just thrown him for a loop.
Now that he was off the stage, the recriminations started. Why couldn’t he blast Hank Lang with the dozens of insults he’d stored up over the years? This certainly wasn’t the first drunken homophobe who’d shown up at the club. Wasn’t even the first classmate from his alma mater.
He was, however, the first bully from Lindsey’s past.
Lindsey dropped into his chair and blotted away the excess moisture at his temples.
Not that Lindsey had been easily pushed around. He had been just another gawky, overly tall teenager with a C average. He hadn’t had particular talent at acting, though now and then he would be in the spotlight. Not many people in that school had given a shit about anything but football so he mostly flew under the radar.
After their childish indiscretion, they’d ignored each other until their junior year. For reasons Lindsey had never understood, midway through the year, whenever Hank saw him in the hallway, he’d grab Lindsey and pin him against the lockers. Hank’s forearm would lie across Lindsey’s throat, and he’d get in his face. Hank’s breath would smell sweet, like soft drinks and candy bars. His lips would be so close and warm that Lindsey was reminded of when they were young. He’d almost expected a kiss.
Usually the assaults resulted in little more than vague threats and insults, broken up either by the staff or Hank’s girlfriend, Alyssa. She was a cheerleader, red-haired and freckled. Cute, but her family was poor. She tended to trade on her looks rather than her fierce intelligence and bravery.
Hopefully she’d grown out of that. Lindsey liked to imagine she was a CEO somewhere, though at the time he’d found her emasculating.
Sometimes the attacks had ended with Hank throwing his fist into the locker beside Lindsey’s head. Hank had never hit him, but he’d seemed to enjoy a sadistic thrill at seeing Lindsey flinch.
Lindsey had varied his routes to class to avoid being spotted, but Hank had stalked him. He’d known where Lindsey had to be during the day, and when he was of a mood, he would lie in wait.
At first Lindsey had been upset, but after the first few episodes, he’d made it a game. Lindsey intuited when to land in Hank’s field of vision, to cause a clinch. Each one would be intense, like an excuse to touch when otherwise there would be no reason—like meeting up in a closet to snog, only in a way that was socially acceptable to Hank. They’d both known the rules, and though Lindsey never pinned Hank, he’d learned how to initiate the dance.
The closeness permeated his dreams, and sometimes he imagined the next steps—Hank kissing him, invading his mouth, those rough hands sliding under Lindsey’s shirt, erection grinding against his hip. None of that had ever happened, but Lindsey had jerked off to the idea more than once.
By senior year, Hank had begun following Lindsey after school whenever he wasn’t held up by football, swim practice, or whatever other sport made his dick hard. Hank’s distinctive bright yellow late-model BMW had appeared in unlikely places, impossible to miss. Hank had wanted Lindsey to know he was being followed. Hank liked games, and this was part of theirs.
For Lindsey, it had been as close to a relationship as he’d ever been and as close to love as he’d ever felt. Whatever was going on, it wouldn’t matter for much longer. In a few months, Hank would be gone. He had a full ride to one of the lesser colleges.
Lindsey had no plans, and by then his parents had cut their losses with each other after a nasty turn in the stock market had left them shattered.
Also at that time, Lindsey had been diagnosed with Klinefelter’s syndrome, a genetic disorder that gave him a spare X chromosome and his slightly feminized appearance, but his mother assured him that her marriage ending had nothing to do with that.
It had turned out for the best; Lindsey couldn’t imagine working at the office job college would’ve prepared him for.
But despite Hank’s scholarship, he’d seemed bored with the fawning and praise. Had he ever spoken to Lindsey beyond threats, Lindsey might’ve suggested other hobbies. After their role-playing as children, Hank might’ve been a natural onstage. Unfortunately, the staring and heavy breathing were as close as they’d gotten to conversation, even when Hank shadowed him outside school.
As was the practice of teenagers, after a meal and/or a movie, Lindsey and whatever boy he was hanging out with would drive around until they found a secluded spot. Quiet cul-de-sacs, unfinished housing developments, back lots of shopping areas, anywhere that was out of the way enough for them to be able to quickly pull up pants should headlights appear on the horizon.
These places were known to Lindsey and other teens whose parents were conveniently absent, and so they were also known to Hank. He knew enough not to roll up in his car; headlights would panic Lindsey and his lover of the week. Somehow, Hank would arrive first. Lindsey would know he was in the right spot when he and his date passed a parked yellow BMW.
The first time, it had to have been a coincidence. The BMW was parked, and Lindsey assumed Hank was inside with Alyssa. On a hateful whim, Lindsey insisted on parking in full view in hopes he could make Hank lose his stiffie. But though he couldn’t identify faces inside another car well, there appeared to be only one person.
That encounter established the rules of engagement.
On those nights, Lindsey rarely saw Hank’s face. The few times he did, Hank didn’t look like he felt anything other than irritated, his eyes narrowed, his jaw flexed.
For his part, Lindsey became quite the exhibitionist, not to mention contortionist, in vehicles as small as a sports car or as big as an SUV. He’d shown off his versatility, folding in half so that his knees were at his ears, or hunched over men twice his age, plugging them while trying not to look at children’s toys scattered on the floor.
Hank watched, though he never seemed to be touching himself or otherwise interested. Lindsey had no idea what Hank was looking for. Sometimes he wished he knew; often his “date” was boring or only marginally better than being lonely.
Perhaps all that performing had sown the seeds for his current career, but it had been a long time since he’d thought about that time.
After a few months of their game, Hank had gone away to college, and Lindsey had bounced from grocery checker to temporary receptionist. Along the way, he’d gotten invited to an after-hours party in the very building where he now worked. He’d been amazed by the beauty and insouciance of the drag queens. After hanging out with them, Miss Anne Thrope was born, and she eclipsed his reticent persona.
Now that Hank was here, Lindsey’s old self and new had collided, and he still wasn’t sure how to react. One thing he did know was that this visit wasn’t over.
“Lindsey! Lindseeeeeey!” a voice bellowed from the entryway to the backstage.
Had he really sat there reminiscing while one of the other queens covered for him?
Gay-Sha was in her robe, not her kimono. Her voice was husky, out of character. Her makeup was still on, but the concern in her eyes was pure Romero. “There’s someone here to see you.”
“You don’t say.” Lindsey eyed the makeup remover, but then he’d just be plain old Lindsey, and he didn’t think he could face Hank that way.
“Do you want me to call the police?”
Lindsey sighed. In retrospect, Hank was a creepy stalker. Not to mention violent. But he’d had ample opportunity to do real harm to Lindsey and never had. “Shit. No. Yes. I don’t know.”
Gay-Sha looked over her shoulder. “He’s pretty drunk. Says he knows you? I know you like some rough trade, but security is itching to toss him out.”
“Oh, please. He’s hardly my type.”
“He’s totally your type. That’s why I told them not to.”
Lindsey smirked. “He hasn’t done much that I would complain about.”
“You should meet him in here. Bouncers can handle him if he gets weird.” Before Lindsey could answer, Gay-Sha left.
Ready or not, here Hank came.