Clouds Illusion

“Welcome, everyone, to Studio 54!”

Sorrento has completely outdone himself tonight. Billowing clouds cover every inch of the floor, spewed from dozens of industrial fog machines throughout the club. The cocktail waitresses are wearing translucent raincoats over lacy lingerie, and the busboys are clad in thongs, rain boots, and nothing else. Under the balconies, thousands of skinny silver strands flutter in the breeze from nearby fans, and everything, from clouds to rain to the glorious silver curtains on the stage, is lit with tiny colored spotlights, filling the room with ever-shifting hues as the gels rotate.

“It’s like being inside a rain cloud,” someone says.

“A disco rain cloud,” adds a second voice, and Leon turns toward them.

He’s out on the floor to mix and mingle before the show, feeling fabulous in form-fitting black pants and a looser white silk shirt, tucked into the pants and open all the way down to reveal his ever-present rhinestone medallion. Somewhere Sorrento found him a pair of shoes with little lights in their mile-high clear platforms, and down among the swirling clouds their glow diffuses so that everywhere he goes he walks within his own personal halo.

“Hey. Ruben, right?”

Tonight the man is wearing a lavender suit much like the one from the 4th of July party: wide shoulder pads and wide lapels, straight-legged pants and a shirt a few shades lighter than the suit with a tie a few shades darker. He takes a confident step toward Leon and offers his hand. His shake is strong, assertive. “That’s right. Ruben McHallow, Transatlantic Technologies.”

“And I’m still Ike,” says the younger man next to him. “Ruben’s partner and graphic designer.” He’s also looking superfly in a black-and-white slim-fitting striped jacket over black shirt and white pants, and a fedora with a white band and feather. “This place looks amazing. Who did the design for the posters?” He’s referring to the life-sized banners just inside the club’s entrance, featuring Leon in a variety of poses: showing off his ass; arms spread in a rainstorm; and holding an umbrella, looking seductively at the camera while silhouettes of buff men crawl at his feet and spread their hands up his body.

“Sorrento, actually. He has some unexpected talents. It’s great to see you both here, though I wouldn’t have guessed this was your kind of scene.”

Ike laughs. “Not usually, but I wanted to get out on the town, and Ruben likes being seen with me.” There’s something different now about the look that passes between them: a flirtatious fondness, and Leon realizes it’s the first time he’s heard Ike speak more than four words in a row.

“Yes I do,” Ruben says, and shifts to put his arm around Ike, who melts a little into the older man’s side. “And I’m certainly looking forward to your show. This will be all from your new album?”

“Well,” Leon says with a grin. “I’ll probably throw in a few older hits at the end. Half the crowd still loves them. But yes, the focus is on the new sound. HI-NRG.”

“I can’t wait to hear it,” Ike says. “Should we get some drinks, love?”

Leon nods to them, and they head toward the bar. There’s a new bartender there tonight, a cute kid Sorrento just hired last week. Trent, Troy, Trevor, Tristan… something like that. He’ll make sure to say hello later.

He looks around the room, and recognizes quite a few people from Saratoga. That’s gratifying; either he wasn’t really as washed-up as the whispers there suggested, or his comeback sound truly is making him relevant again. Mr. T is front and center in the crowd, flanked by his lawyer Charlotte as well as Skye, pressed close to T with one arm wrapped around his arm and the other laid possessively on his bicep.

“Hey T! Good to see you here!” Leon shakes the record producer’s free hand.

“I wouldn’t have missed it! Glitz and glamour, and your new song – just amazing. I almost wish you didn’t already have your own producer.” He grins invitingly. “You know, if you’re ever looking to make a change…”

“We’ll see.” It’s an easy noncommittal response and they both know it. “I heard something at Saratoga about you picking up Urban Renaissance.”

“We’re in talks right now, in fact. I think they’ll be a great fit for one of our smaller labels; get them some exposure in the more avant garde crowd before we throw them in the big kids’ pool.”

“Mr. T knows how to take care of us,” Skye says, the double entendre glaringly obvious. “I love what you’ve done with the place. It feels rather like home.”

“Oh yeah – Skye!”

“With Rain on the side.” He smirks. “How is my brother?”

“We’re doing well.” God help him, it’s been a couple months and he still feels butterflies fill his stomach when he says “we.”

“It’s nice to have someone keeping him busy.”

It’s a compliment, but somehow it’s still more about Skye than Rain and Leon. Nothing if not self-absorbed, Leon recalls Rain saying. “Glad I can be of help. Enjoy the party.”

He moves to the two women clustered nearby with Charlotte. “Hey Charlotte, welcome. Thanks for coming.”

She gives him a pleasant smile – not entirely enthusiastic, but at least better than the disdainfully amused glance he’d gotten from her at Saratoga. “Of course. Sorrento made a point of inviting me.” She half-turns to the other two women. “Have you met my friends Katherine and Santiago?”

“I’m sure I saw you at Saratoga,” he says, “but we never had the pleasure.”

Katherine is bolder about grabbing his hand. She’s a tall, handsome woman in a tasteful navy blue dress, hair in a sophisticated braid. Her only concession to the club atmosphere seems to be a pair of long multi-stranded diamond earrings, dripping nearly to her padded shoulders. “Katherine Stockton. Editor for the New York Times City section. I recall the paper did a piece on you a year or so ago… a bit in the Arts section, wasn’t it? On you and your son?”

“Our touching reunion piece, yes. One of a few.” Normally an out gay man wouldn’t rate a mention in the Times, but he’d still had enough celebrity status to pull a few strings. He turns to the third woman, Santiago. “Leon. But I’m sure you knew that.” He winks. Never hurts to flirt with a fan.

She gives him a cool, unimpressed smile, ignoring the hand he extends. “I’m here for Katherine. And Charlotte.”

“Well, hopefully you can enjoy yourself anyway.” He grabs a passing cocktail waitress. “Honey, get Katherine and Santiago here whatever they’d like, on me.”

“Sure. Ladies, what’ll it be?”

Katherine sweeps an appreciative look from head to toe over the woman in her skimpy outfit. “What would you recommend?”

A tiny smirk quirks the girl’s lips. “You might enjoy a Slippery Nipple.”

“Sounds delicious.” She plucks a five-dollar bill from her clutch and lays it on the tray, and Leon catches the nearly-imperceptible brush of her fingertips over the waitress’s, concealed below the tray. Santiago shakes her head, but her smile is shining, indulgent, and pleased.

Leon leaves them to their flirting. Showtime is approaching, and there’s one guest he both hopes and dreads to see.

He goes to look for Diego.

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