Morning After

He wakes in the watery pale half-light before dawn. Around him men have shifted, sprawled, and spread, and gentle snoring blankets the room in a drowse-inducing haze. Leon nearly succumbs to it, then remembers: early bus. He has to get up now to have any hope of seeing Rain before he’s gone.

Chain stirs as Leon begins collecting himself. “Are you leaving?” He rolls over and puts his hand on Leon’s knee.

Leon takes his hand and squeezes it, leans over to kiss the boy’s temple. “Yeah. There’s someone I need to find.”

The boy gives him a look that’s both quizzical and disappointed, and Leon wonders what might have changed for Chain when he drank the hippies’ potion as well. He’s always been a fun but flighty boy, their interactions light and flirtatious without the slightest hint of attachment.

The Chain who brought him out of the Dark Room last night, who cuddled and held him in his despair, the Chain who now reaches invitingly for him to come back to sleep, is a stranger in familiar clothing, and one Leon half-wishes he had time to get to know. But the words “I love you” have faded behind the curtain of night, and Leon needs to hear them again in the daylight, to know they are still real.

“I’ll see you later,” he says, releasing Chain’s hand, and leaves the rest of them to their sleep.

The grass is thick with dew and Leon walks through it in his socks, the platforms he’d taken off the night before dangling from his hand by their laces. He’s still wearing those gold lamé disco pants, and not entirely sure how he managed to sleep in them, but they, and his sopping wet socks, and everything else he’s wearing are soon peeled off and discarded at his cabin. He wraps a towel around his waist and heads to the shower.

Standing at the sink, he looks in the mirror for several long moments. When did his face start looking so tired? So old? He considers for a few more minutes. Then he picks up his razor.

***

“Well,” Abner says when Leon joins the small group who are already eating breakfast, “this is a new look for you, Leon.”

He’s wearing a pair of bell-bottomed jeans and a daishiki, black on green with red and yellow details. His hair is still wet and slicked-down, and he’s put aside the purple party sunglasses for a simple pair of clear rectangles, the ones he usually only wears backstage or at home. A Leon without shades is, these days, nearly unrecognizable.

But what everyone turns slowly to stare at is his mustache. Or, more accurately, his lack thereof.

“Change the look, change the man?” He sets his plate of potatoes and eggs down across from Abner and swings a leg over the bench.

“Now that’s an interesting question,” Abner says, looking around to include Eli and Jerrod in the conversation. “Surely a man’s appearance does not define his person, but often a change in the person often leads to a change in appearance. So could a man help facilitate his own growth through an intentional outward change?”

Leon tunes them out while he glances surreptitiously about for Rain. He didn’t see him when he first entered the cabin, so he looks up every time the door opens, in hopes of seeing him come in.

Rain’s name being spoken by Jerrod brings him back to the conversation. Abner is laughing, evidently in response. “No,” he says, “he elected not to join us this morning. It looks like he’s into Walter now.”

Leon freezes with a forkful of food halfway to his mouth, then remembers himself and sets it down, trying to appear nonchalant. “Really? I thought Walter belonged to Steven.”

Abner shrugs. “You’d have to ask him. Rain’s over there making moon eyes at him right now.” He jerks his chin to indicate the back corner of the cabin.

It would be too obvious to jump up now, so Leon simply looks in that direction, then takes a few more bites of breakfast before standing up and excusing himself with a simple, “Gentlemen.” He makes a point of taking his plate to the kitchen and nodding to a completely different table before he heads toward the back of the room.

As he walks past, whispered words all around jump up to nip at his heels: “Leon and Rain? Really?”

How? How has word spread this fast? Is it already over? Has Rain finally realized the laughingstock Leon truly is and moved on? Or is his love like quicksilver, coming and going as easily as the word itself?

Is he already telling the story of the gullible old fool who fell for Rain’s greatest performance?

He’s at the furthest corner, his back to the rest of the room, in conversation with Walter just as Abner said. Leon’s stomach ties itself in a complicated knot when he sees the familiar white wig, the same tight black shirt, the shape of the beautiful body it covers while hiding next to nothing. His anguish must be evident on his face, because when Walter glances up, he immediately says, “Leon? You alright?” His look takes in Leon’s shaved face, but he doesn’t mention it.

Rain turns toward him, seeming to move in slow motion, and in those few endless seconds Leon feels his heart shrivel, crumble, and begin to blow away. Then Rain holds out his hands with a look of puzzled concern, and his face is dawn breaking over Leon’s world. “Leon. I heard you were sad last night,” he says, and rises to take Leon’s hands in his own.

“Yeah, I guess. I had… a bit of a fight with Diego.”

“Is everything alright?”

“It’s… as much as it can be right now, I guess.” They sit back down together, and Rain keeps hold of one his hands. Leon can’t help seeing Walter take notice.

“What happened?”

Leon shakes his head. “Something that probably should have happened a while ago.”

Rain still looks concerned, but he squeezes Leon’s hand, then shifts to put his arm around him instead, and pulls him close.

“So you two are…” Walter trails off, looking at them.

“We’re together,” Rain says, and the ease with which he says the words melts away the last of Leon’s doubts. His face turns to Rain’s, Rain’s turns to him, and their lips come together.

It’s no more than a brief kiss, but the significance leaves Leon momentarily speechless. “I like this,” Rain says, brushing his fingertips over Leon’s newly-bare upper lip. “It makes you look younger. You know…” A smile that’s nearly shy spreads over his face, “I should tell you… you’re the reason I knew I was gay.”

“Wait, really?”

“I had that poster of you… you know, the album cover, the one with you in the tight pants, and that mane of hair?”

Leon nods, remembering. He was even younger than Rain is now when that picture was taken. “You must have been pretty young.”

“I was twelve. And I had such a huge crush on you.”

Leon has no idea what to say, so he doesn’t. He just kisses Rain again.

“I have to go soon,” Rain says when it ends. “The equipment’s loaded up, but I wanted to see you before we left.” Leon must look sad, because Rain touches his cheek and smiles. “But don’t worry. We’re going to see each other back in the city. We’ll figure it out.” He rises to leave, and Leon stands with him.

“Come to Studio 54,” he blurts. “I’ll tell Sorrento to get you in the show.”

“We should do a show together.” A horn sounds in the parking lot, and Rain glances over his shoulder and back, looks pained and apologetic. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I have to go. But I’ll see you soon, love.” He kisses Leon once more, a quick but soft brush of their lips, then hurries out through the door to the parking lot.

Love.

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