The rushing sound in my ears sounds like an express train, but I barely notice it. I’m still transfixed by the blond figure tottering across the stage, from left to right and back again, illuminated by a blazing spotlight; swimming in my vision like the bright dots before a migraine. My brain is struggling to comprehend that this seemingly svelte-figured woman is actually the sex god who makes my lady parts tingle. I mean, I’m not into women – not at all … and if I were, I don’t think I’d be into blondes … although I’m slightly envious of those long, shiny locks that Sax is making so much of. He has head tossing and finger twirling perfected, managing to look confident (head toss) or coy (finger twirling) at will. You’d think that was his actual hair. That platinum shade makes his skin look lightly bronzed. And actually, the full fringe kind of suits his bone struc―
Whoa! Forget the hair. Forget the Trinny and Susannah critique. That’s Sax, up there, for fuck’s sake. You know, the man who makes your ovaries throb? The man who haunts your dreams in the guise of the perfect specimen of human manliness? I signed up to sex on a stick – not sex on a lipstick.
Jesus! How the hell can that be Sax? Because last time I looked, perfection of the male form did not include tarantula-like fake eyelashes and rip off Louboutins … even if he can walk perfectly in them! Oh come on Bella, get a fucking grip on yourself!
I think I do. Yes, I actually manage to get a grip on myself and force shut my mouth, which has been hanging open like a B-52’s bomb bay doors for god knows how long. Thankfully, no weapons have shot out of it because, I’m suddenly acutely aware of the group of people sitting around me, all watching me intently. My gaze slides across them and the tension ratchets up another notch. Talk about bated breath – they’re staring at me like the entire future of the known universe depends upon my next move. Sure, they want to know how I’m taking Sax’s revelation. But shit, I don’t even know myself yet.
In fact, the only thing I do know is that I really do need another drink. Stat.
I force my face into a grin that I’m sure the Cheshire Cat would be envious of, and then get to my feet. “My round,” I cry, to which approximately a thousand people sat at tables alongside ours respond with shushes and reprimanding glares. Okay, so it’s probably around a hundred people. And only about five of them shush me, but that’s not the point. They shush in that exaggerated fashion that’s more distracting than my original two-worded cry.
Anyway, I ignore them and begin to stride off to the bar. Oblivious to the fact that I don’t know what anyone would like to drink. Oblivious to the fact that Sax or Saxetta, or whatever he-stroke-she is called, has fallen silent and is watching me, providing a cue for every single person in the room to stare at me. And oblivious to the fact that I’ve drunk way too much and my legs are now made of rubber.
And someone turns the room upside down.
Okay, so actually, I go arse over tit but who’s splitting hairs.
At this point, I’d like to say that there was a collective gasp of horror … or at least genuine concern. I could have hit my head on the edge of a table on the way down and ended my suffering before it began. But no. No collective gasp. No easy way out.
Eddie Izzard would have been jealous of the wall of laughter that went up as I went down. I wonder what Freud would make of me thinking of a cross-dressing comedian while I’m struggling to breathe, having totally winded myself in my rush to get out from Sax’s gaze. Probably not much since the first person who comes to my aid is a man, wearing a dress.
Not Sax, you understand. No, this is another man wearing a dress who could really do with a shave, although he’s so dark haired (I’m judging him on his meticulously made up eyebrows, not his baby pink nylon hair). A man who introduces himself as Darcy as he offers his hand, before pulling me up, and barking at the onlookers to watch the entertainment they’ve paid for, not the free floorshow. A man who, the moment I’m on my feet, puts his arm around me to take my weight and leads me behind the bar, calling out to one of the bar staff before pulling me through a door and into the corridor beyond.
I belatedly realise that I should be worried – a little anxious, at least. I’m disappearing off with a man I’ve just met. But there’s something about him. Some instinctive reassurance that he won’t hurt me, which is upheld by the fact that all he’s done in the few minutes of our meeting, is help me. He leads me to a small room – a dressing room of sorts – that’s immaculately tidy. Even the dressing table that’s loaded with beauty products is spotless, with items lined up neatly either side of the mirror.
He takes me over to a sofa that’s practically wedged across the back wall, and releases me once he’s lined me up so I slump, as gracefully as I can manage, onto the cool leather.
“So you’re Bella,” he says. It’s definitely a statement, not a question.
My sassy eyebrow raise makes him laugh, but then the door opens and a member of bar staff comes in a tray, on which are the most outrageous looking cocktails I’ve ever seen. It looks like somebody has run amok through Kew botanical gardens, snipping off samples of this and that so that a bar tender could throw a handful into the pale jade green liquid. Darcy takes them before blowing a kiss theatrically to what I can only assume is a long term suffering member of staff: one eye roll and they leave us to it.
Darcy sinks elegantly onto the cushion beside me, holding out one of those weird looking drinks. I shake my head and put my hands up defensively. The last thing I need is more alcohol.
“Thank you, but I shouldn’t drink anymore,” I say with a forced smile. Truth be told, I’m starting to feel a little under the weather. Either I’m too old for nights out, or the events of the day are starting to catch up with me.
He leans in, his perfectly stained, bubblegum pink lips, pursed together to convey seriousness. “Ducky, I didn’t think it would be wise for you to consume any more alcohol,” he says, conspiratorially. “These aren’t cocktails; they’re poptails. Completely alcohol free. I thought you looked like you could do with a freshener. I swear by them.” When he finishes, he’s smiling kindly.
“Oh, thank you,” I smile back as I take one from his still proffered hand. “That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Think nothing of it. In fact, I must confess something: this is perfect.”
I pause, just before my lips meet glass and regard him over the foliage. “Ah, you mean you don’t drink?”
His brow furrows so I continue. “The non-alcoholic drinks – you don’t drink regular cocktails?”
He grins mischievously. “Only something special would keep me from an opportunity of slurping a good cock … of any description.”
I convulsed. I think I laughed. Snorted even. But at the same time, I gasped at his audacious admission, resulting in a laugh/gasp/snort/cough/choke. Unfortunately for him, I’d just taken my first sip. Fortunately for him, it was a test sip – there was no way I was plunging into a green drink without caution. Besides, it was difficult to get the liquid to my mouth without poking myself in the eye with a stem of a yucca plant. A little poptail sprayed from my mouth right before droplets of the same trickled down my nostrils. Darcy shrieked, leaping back whilst managing to hold his glass upright and not spill a drop.
When I manage to stop coughing-slash-choking, he’s in front of the mirror, patting his face with a tissue. I don’t know what he’s worried about, he only got a fine spray, somewhat akin to a toning facial mist – me … well, let’s just say it’s not a vintage night where my eye makeup is concerned. Thank god Fez got me to bring my makeup; repair number two coming right up. I get to my feet, and it would appear that the whole cough-choke thing has done wonders in sobering me up … well, it’s made a start. I grab my bag with the intention of asking to share the mirror with him, once I’ve apologised for the facial mist episode.
“Darcy, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that. How embarrassing. But when you said …” I tail off, unable to bring myself to repeat it.
His eyes catch mine in the mirror and he raises a brow and purses his lips. “Oh come on, Miss Bella. Don’t tell me you’re a prude. Knowing that Sexy Saxy wants to keep batting for the other side – well, as far as I’m concerned …” He pauses, giving a little snicker. “But there’s no way we’re losing him to a bloody prude.”
His words immediately have me trying to work out whether he’s being offensive. I mean, who likes being called a prude? Sadly, I’m still too under the influence of those damn cocktails to work it out on the fly. I step up to the dressing table and drop my bag on it, my eyes not leaving his for a second. “Let’s get something straight: I’m no prude. I’m just not used to people mentioning their penchant for fellatio within minutes of them meeting. And frankly, the only women I can think of who would be used to that are whores. Now if you don’t mind, that damn poptail has ruined my makeup, not yours, so budge over and let me do some damage limitation.”
I hold his eyes for a second longer than I need to, just to make sure he gets the message, but then, as I’m reaching for a tissue to wipe away the streaks of mascara and eyeliner that have been dragged down my cheeks during my eye watering coughing fit, he throws his head back and laughs.
Now I’m the one with raised eyebrows because, in the few minutes of our acquaintance, he’d acted more ladylike than me – hands down. Yet, right now, I’m hearing him guffaw like a truck driver. I don’t know why he’s laughing – I hadn’t meant to be funny, but it’s infectious and I can’t help joining in.
Eventually, he drops his tissue into the pedal bin next to the dressing table and says, “Oh crap, I gotta stop laughing; my makeup’s going to be worse than yours at this rate.” Each couple of words is punctuated with chuckles until he manages to get a handle on it. I’m still laughing into my tissue as I begin to wipe the watery streams of black from my cheeks.
I see him regarding me thoughtfully in the mirror. I pretend not to notice, busying myself with my attempt to clean up my face. “You know earlier when I said I had a confession?”
Dragging the memory from the back of my mind, I nod. “You said something was perfect.”
He smiles. “I did. What I meant was how having you to myself for a little while was perfect. I was wrong though. I’m sorry.”
Um … what now? He must decipher from my confused, not to mention wary expression that I have no idea what he’s going on about. For the second time, it sounds as though he could be insulting me. But since I’m still semi-pissed, I’m willing to give him chance to explain himself … and me time to repair my face.
“No,” he says, an expression of horror creeping into his face. “No, it is perfect. Fuck it. That didn’t come out right.” He sighs and shakes his pink-wigged head. “I’m so curious about you from all Sax has said, and when I saw you fall, I realised it was my perfect opportunity to swoop in and be your transvest-knight in shining Prada.” He stops and gives a little shimmy. I laugh and it occurs to me that, but for the fact that I’m in a gay club, I’d be considering whether I’d hit my head when I fell.
His smile fades leaving him with an expression of genuineness as he looks down at his hands. “I was going to grill you. I was hell bent on determining whether you were good enough to be in our Sax’s inner circle – I must confess I had my doubts. They literally did break the mould after he was made: body to die for, voice to kill for and a personality to match and I’ll be brutally honest with you, I’d snap him up in a heartbeat but he’s not interested. Believe me, I’ve tried, giving him every weapon of seduction in my not inconsiderable arsenal. I’m not used to receiving knockbacks, and he knocked me back into the middle of the nineties. One minute I’m trying to get in Sax’s pants and the next, I’m going Outside with George Michael.”
I can’t help giggling, although I have no idea why he’s telling me all this. I think Darcy realises because when he picks up from where he left off, his voice is softer and I can feel his affection for Sax. “He’s a solid gold good guy. He might not thank me for telling you this, and maybe I shouldn’t be, but we look after our own in this community …” He stops and looks through me as much as at me. “He’s had a tough time. He’ll tell you all the gory details if and when he’s ready – it would be unkind and unfair of me to rob him of that right. But this choice of his … and, if I’m honest, I don’t think it’s even a choice, it’s something he has to do, otherwise he wouldn’t be true to himself … well, let’s just say it’s cost him a lot personally, and caused him such heartache – if not heartbreak. I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to kick him while he’s down.”
I open my mouth to protest, to tell him that I have no intention of kicking Sax when he’s down, or at any other time. This guy’s obviously under the impression that I’m of greater importance in Sax’s life than I am. He’s my gay work colleague. Hopefully my friend. Friends don’t do that to one another. But Darcy holds up his hands firmly cutting me off before I can even start.
“Just hear me out,” he says firmly, before softening his voice once more. “He’s my friend and I care about him.”
How ironic. I almost try again to say what I wanted to say seconds ago but Darcy’s eyes are silently imploring me to shut up and listen. I nod, reach for a makeup wipe from the packet in front of me and set about cleaning up under my eyes.
“I didn’t agree with the way he insisted upon revealing his little secret to you. I’m a straight talker as you might have noticed, and I don’t have a problem telling people what I do … who I am. But then, I haven’t had Sax’s troubles … maybe I’d want to do things differently in his shoes. But, my point is that I didn’t think he was right to bring you here, leaving you sat front and centre when he did his big reveal. I didn’t think it was fair on you, to put you in that position. And I didn’t think it was good for him … it had the potential to backfire badly.”
He pauses, but I know he has more to say. I realise I’ve paused too, the wipe resting on my face but I became so absorbed in what he’s saying that I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing. I was transfixed. Darcy kept dropping pieces of a jigsaw that I hadn’t known existed: Sax has had a tough time … heartache … troubles … I found myself wanting more pieces so that I could fit them together, complete the puzzle that is Sax, and see the bigger picture.
Darcy’s eyes soften and he reaches out, taking one of my hands in his. “I was watching you when he walked out on stage. I was at the side of the stage, peering out so I could see your face, although I was ready to spring into action if it went pear-shaped, I must admit that I was prepared to go to Sax’s aid, not yours.” He shrugs apologetically. “But when I saw how stunned you were, and how desperate he was, not even managing to continue with his performance, I wished I’d not given up. That I should have found a way to talk him out of this risky gamble. Everyone at your table was holding their breaths too … it was like you and Sax were dancing on a knife-edge. Fuck, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach just remembering how intense it was. His desperation, up on that stage, alone, laid bare and so fucking vulnerable … and your total and utter shock as you balanced on the edge of that blade. A blade which would have wounded him deeply, had you reacted badly.”
“I did react badly! I needed a drink and then managed to get the attention of everyone in the place before falling flat on my face,” I cry, trying to absorb what Darcy’s said about Sax’s desperation for me to accept him … all of him … another piece of the Sax jigsaw that’s just out of my grasp. I continue in a little voice as everything swirls around my head, making me feel more confused than ever. “If he was scared of me reacting badly, then why bring me here? Why tell me at all?”
Darcy smiles and gives my hand a squeeze. “I asked him the same question. He has a very small circle of straight friends. We gays love him, but you straight folk … you just don’t get it. You don’t get him … well, in the main, you don’t. I don’t mean you personally. He didn’t want to befriend you and let you get to know a shell of him, without really getting to know the real him. It was particularly risky, you being his co-worker, but this is the first time he’s had a co-worker outside of this place, so I guess he was out of his depth. After past events … past reactions … I guess he wanted to get it over with quickly and if you reacted badly, he would have to hope you respected his privacy in the office and kept his secret while being able to work alongside him, even if you couldn’t be friends.”
Out of nowhere, I feel a rush of compassion for Sax. He was so worried about how I’d take it that he wasn’t only gay, but a drag queen, possibly a cross-dresser outside of this club too, for all I know, that he wanted to get it over with before building a friendship with me. I can only imagine the reactions he’s had from other potential friends in the past to have made him so cautious. And I’ve gone and ran out on him while he’s performing … what must he be thinking?
“Don’t look so sad, especially with your face in that state!” he chuckles. “Come on, let’s find Bella the beautiful again.”
He indicates for me to sit before rifling through my makeup bag, making appreciative noises but I’m still too lose in my thoughts. I know I need to see Sax to explain, and apologise but I almost feel ashamed of myself and I can’t help but wonder what Sax thinks of me now. Have I unwittingly picked at an old wound? Will be forgive me?
As Darcy finishes removing the last traces of my coughing fit from my face, I feel a need to explain to him how I felt when Sax sprung his surprise on me. Somehow, Darcy’s opinion of me matters.
“I was just shocked. I didn’t expect that. If he’d prepared me, or even hinted … it’s quite a transformation from Sax the man to …” I realise I don’t know the name of his alter ego, but Darcy is quick to help me out.
“Ida … Ida Cock,” he deadpans, presumably not wanting to disrupt the seriousness of the conversation.
“Ida Cock … as in, hide a cock? Very clever,” I giggle.
He grins. “Or I’d a cock, as in I had a cock.”
I giggle again.
“So, have you had time to get over your shock?” he says. “I’m not pushing you, or demanding you tell me what happens next …”
He tails off, leaving me in no doubt that he is, in fact, pushing me and demanding to know my intentions. I shake my head, then playfully slap his leg. “You so are,” I tell him, wagging my finger. “I have a feeling that you’re often to be found in someone else’s business.” When he gasps theatrically, I add, “Meddling with the best of intentions, of course.”
His eyes twinkle. “Of course.”
I sigh. “To be honest with you, the whole thing’s been blown out of proportion.” Darcy looks mildly offended. “Not by you,” I add, hastily. “The way Sax arranged it, too much alcohol – on top of a heavy night drinking last night – an all-nighter, in fact and … well, I’m not used to this type of socialising. I’ve just got out of a long, straight-laced marriage; the only socialising I did was at dinner parties and gala dinners. I’m not used to being single. Or frequenting nightlife. Or …”
He cocks his head to one side. “Or gay bars? Or drag queens?”
I nod, grateful that he appears to understand. “I’ve never had a gay friend – for no other reason than I’ve never had a friend who happens to be gay, not because I’ve refused friendship with people who’re gay.”
He smiles kindly. “You don’t have to explain. I got that impression when you spat your drink in my face earlier.”
“What? That I’d never had a gay friend?”
He chuckles. “Actually, yes. You spend any time at all around the majority of us and you won’t be surprised when something like that’s said. But also, because of that, I figured that you’d led a fairly sheltered life. I mean, in this day and age, it’s practically de rigueur to have a gay pal. Living in Liverpool, you-”
“I don’t. I live in Chester.”
“Ah,” he says. “Although there is an active gay scene in Chester, unless you happen to frequent somewhere like the Liverpool Arms?” He pauses, both speaking, and in his application of foundation to my cheek. I shake my head in reply but I almost snicker out loud … Dick in a pub? God, no. Not for years. He’s way too self-important to drink in a pub. And way too homophobic to drink in a gay bar, I realise. Not for the first time, I wonder how my marriage lasted as long as it did.
“Penny for them?”
I realise I’m staring into the middle distance. I refocus on Darcy, who’s now reapplying my eyeshadow. “Ah, they’re not worth it. I was just thinking how I’ve simply existed for years, thanks to the confines of my marriage. I’ve not been living my life. Although this was quite an experience tonight, this is what I should be doing, taking myself away from the same old, same old, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.”
“Wow,” Darcy says. “I feel like a social experiment.” But I know he’s teasing.
I grin. “Better that than a sociopath!”
He laughs as he sets about repairing my eyeliner. It’s so much easier when someone else does it … I’ve always done it myself. You know, perhaps gay friends have hidden benefits.
“So I take it I can relax where Sax’s little secret is concerned?” he asks, hopefully.
I smile back. “Yeah, what does it matter to me what Sax does in his own time?”
Darcy freezes for a split second, the tip of the eyeliner pressed to my eyelid, before carrying on with his makeup ministrations. I’m only looking through one eye but it looks to me like he’s frowning. Maybe he doesn’t believe me, after my performance earlier.
“Look, I mean it, if Sax wants to be my friend, what does it matter whether he’s gay, bi, straight, transgender or whether he’s a transvestite? I won’t base our friendship on his sexual orientation, besides I’ve met you and Fez tonight too – and you’re lovely. So my foray into gay friendships is off to a flying start.”
I don’t think I’m expecting much when I anticipate a smile, or some tiny token of appreciation, but he doesn’t look impressed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that he looks unimpressed either … he just seems … oh, I don’t know. He doesn’t look convinced.
He carries on, patching up my eye makeup but he does it in silence. He feels distant, although he’s touching my skin. I feel as though I’ve said something wrong, but for the life of me, I don’t know what that might be. He says he was worried about how I’d take Sax’s little reveal – and I’ve told him I’m fine with it. That I’m not going to judge Sax on his choices, and that it won’t prevent us from being friends. How can accepting something, that’s frankly none of my concern, be wrong? I don’t get it.
Resisting the temptation to tell Darcy that I’m quite capable of reapplying my own lipstick, I force myself to be patient, telling myself I’ll be out of here in a couple of minutes. I could do with another cocktail. Yeah, as soon as he’s finished, I’m going back to the table. This is getting awkward.
I draw in a breath sharply when it occurs to me that Darcy’s behaviour changed when I said Sax’s sexual orientation and drag queen act wouldn’t stop me from being friends with him. He was fine with me when he thought I wasn’t. Yet he was visibly concerned about how Sax would react.
Yeah, but he was at the edge of the stage, ready to pick up the pieces if I’d blown Sax off.
I flick my eyes to Darcy’s face, and am surprised to see him staring at me intently, his head cocked to one side.
“You made me make a mess of your lips,” he says. “What made you gasp like that?”
I can’t help looking away, so I study my hands as I try to think of a convenient lie.
“Figured it out, have you?” he says, when I don’t answer. I freeze when I feel his thumb on my chin, wiping away the errant lipstick. My eyes fly back to his. What the hell am I supposed to say?
As it happens, I’m saved … or caught between two evils … or something, because the door opens and Sax cautiously steps inside. He looks apprehensive, but then his face falls when he sees me, sitting here stiffly, looking more apprehensive than him. Is it wrong that I’m thinking how much better he looks in a dress than Eddie Izzard?
I feel Darcy pressing the lipstick into my palm but I can’t look at him. I can’t tear my eyes away from Sax, who’s now staring at his feet. I know what I want to say but my mouth won’t form the words. Darcy walks over to him. “I think I’d better leave you two to it,” he says, opening the door.
He stops in front of Sax and I hear him whisper, “You’ve got some explaining to do.” And then he’s gone, leaving me wondering what Sax has to explain to him, and whether it has anything to do with me catching Darcy out.
As it happens, I’m wrong. Very wrong. In fact, I couldn’t be more wrong if I tried.