“Do you have to go?” Balding, soft, looking three times Vicki’s age, Greyson still had an appeal with his shy smile and gentle ways. Cushioned in bed, he held out a long, thin jeweler’s box.
Vicki tilted her head with a smile. “Okay, but only for a few minutes.” She sprinted across the hotel suite and jumped back into bed, watching him laugh as he rode the mattress’s bounce. Flipping the box open, she gasped.
“I thought it would match your eyes. Here, let me help you.” Cold metal and stone soothed taught muscles as he fastened the necklace around her throat.
“It’s lovely.” She ran her fingers along rows of diamonds leading to a thumb-sized sapphire, and looked over at the mirror. Diamonds glowed from the short black hair at the nape of her neck to the shallow cleavage above her tank top.
“It’s late. Why don’t you stay?” Greyson persisted.
Vicki shook her head. “Sorry, bae. Pat’s only here for Cirque du Lay’s FantaSea Fest show. We’ve been planning this night for a year.”
Greyson smiled tightly then looked into her eyes and softened. “Next time, then?”
“Next time. Thank you for the necklace.” She stood up and kissed him on the forehead, fully aware of the down-the-shirt eyeful she was giving him. Then she cast him a smile and slipped out the door.
Outside in the shadows, Vicki breathed in the rain-soaked air, purging Greyson’s pheromones from her nostrils. Why did men always want what wasn’t theirs?
She quickly removed the necklace and stuffed it into her shorts pocket, zipping and buttoning it in safely. It thumped against her leg as she walked toward downtown False Key, where hundreds of scantily costumed FantaSea Fest revelers danced to calypso music beneath streetlights and Pat waited at Café au Lay, near the Cirque du Lay Theater.
Condensation streaked down the glass door as Vicki entered, and a thick coffee aroma ignited a sympathetic caffeine buzz. She squinted past the café’s colored lanterns and fake potted palms. A shiny, gold satin-gloved arm waved from a back table.
“You made it!” Pat grinned as Vicki sat down. His perfectly penciled eyebrows accented inch-long false eyelashes. A gold-sequined evening gown and towering auburn wig completed his ensemble.
“Wouldn’t miss if for the world. Where’s the camera?”
He pointed at the silk palm behind his shoulder, where a small camera lens peeked out from the fronds. “Ready to have some fun?”
“I brought gift certificates.” Pat pointed at a stack on the table and fanned himself with his other hand, adopting an exaggerated southern accent. “Hi there. Have y’all seen Cirque du Lay’s evening performance? It’s the best dang drag show east of New Orleans.”
Vicki rolled her eyes and snickered. Pat continued in his normal voice, “Whether they sign a release or not, I’ll give ‘em a couple free dinners at the Cirque, just to get ‘em over the shock.”
A spattering of rain drummed across Café au Lay’s roof, and partiers surged in. Which one would be their mark? A burly man with frizzy hair and a beard reaching halfway down his belly pushed through the crowd at the front of café and strode toward Pat and Vicki’s table.
“I know what you’re doing, and it’s wrong,” he said as he walked up to them. His voice was loud enough to make the men at the next table look up from their texting.
The necklace hung heavy in Vicki’s pocket, and she bristled. It was a gift. She’d never asked for it. And besides, she liked Grayson; she wasn’t using him. Then the burly man tapped his finger on the table, in front of Pat.
“If you confess your sins to God and ask forgiveness, he will give you a new life,” the man said with utter sincerity.
Vicki’s jaw dropped.
Pat leaned back, satin-gloved arms crossed over sequined chest, one perfect eyebrow arched. “Really? I recycle. I pay taxes. I even tithe. What makes you think I need forgiveness?”
“You’re pretending to be something you’re not.” The man doubled down. “You’re going against the laws in the Bible.”
Pat snorted. “Well, I’ll see your laws and raise you a Jesus. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’”
Vicki quickly joined Pat’s counter-attack. “Why the homophobia? I have plenty gay friends, and they’re the nicest people I know.” It was true. They’d never followed her around, trying to get into her pants.
The man’s eyes went from Pat to Vicki and back again. His cheeks puffed out as he exhaled. “First off, hate the sin, not the sinner.”
“But, I bet you don’t hate eating pork chops, or shrimp, or lobster,” Pat interjected. “That’s sin, too. It’s right there in the Old Testament, along with your pet peeve.”
The man opened and closed his mouth a few times, but failed to issue a sound. His face turned red, then purple, before he sucked in a breath and burst into laughter. Vicki and Pat stared in shock.
“Whew!” The burly man wiped his eyes and caught his breath. Then he looked at the two young men at the table beside them. “You got that, bro’?”
One of the men held his thumb up and the other waved his phone. “Still recording.”
Glancing at Pat’s stunned expression, Vicki knew it mirrored her own. They’d planned to flirt with any fellow who approached them, and then catch his expression when he realized Pat was a man.
Instead, the tables had turned. They hadn’t just taken this burly man’s bait; they’d swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Laughter bubbled deep inside Vicki’s chest. She crossed her eyes and mugged for the camera, cracking everyone up.
The big man pulled up a chair across from Pat and Vicki, and pulled release forms from his pocket. “I’ll sign yours if you’ll sign mine. My YouTube channel is Big Al Preaches.”
Pat chuckled as he and Vicki took the forms. Then Al leaned toward them and said, “You know, gay bashing, racism, it’s all just human hate looking for a place to land. But First John says, ‘…if a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that he doesn’t know God – for God is love.’”
All were silent until one of the men recording them whistled. “Dude. That’s deep.”
Pat pushed his signed release form to Al, along with three blank ones for Al and his friends. “I love ya, man. Here ya go.” The group went through a round of introductions.
Rain spattered against the front window then stopped. Captive customers lined up to leave as steel drums signaled the the street party’s revival. Many of them looked back toward the source of the laughter that pealed from the café’s rear.
Al and his friends lingered after the crowd evaporated, swapping stories and jokes. Vicki leaned back in her seat, enjoying just being. No pressure, no demands. Then their new friends said good-bye, and Vicki and Pat were left sitting at their table.
“Well,” said Pat, adjusting his tilting wig, “that was different.”
“Sure was.” Vicki grinned.
“Oh look, fresh meat.”
An obviously drunk, tall, red-headed teenager swayed in the café’s doorway, glazed eyes nearly focussed on Pat. The word ‘matchstick’ flitted across Vicki’s mind as Pat settled back with an alluring smile. This would be fun.