• Fri, Dec 2 2011

The Summer Of Small Accidents, Chapter 8

Every Friday, The Gloss is publishing a chapter of Andrea Dunlop’s novel, The Summer of Small Accidents. Catch up with Chapter 1 and if you decide you simply can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can buy the ebook here or here.

“It’s been so long since I’ve actually been to a club,” Lulu said to Leigh, who was squeezing her cell phone narrowly in between her shoulder and her ear, “what the hell do I wear?”

“Whatever you feel like wearing,” she said.

“And if I feel like wearing my sweats or some lederhosen?”

“Why would you feel like wearing lederhosen?”

“Why wouldn’t I feel like lederhosen?”

“Lots of reasons.”

“I was only illustrating how completely unhelpful your last comment was. Let’s try again; what are you wearing?”

“I don’t know,” Leigh said. She had already been staring forlornly into the abyss of her closet when Lulu had called. “What do you wear to a gay club?”

“Dunno, a penis?”

“But mine is so last season. Maybe I’m going to wear…this dress.” Leigh pulled from her closet the dress Shaun had liked, the one she’d never worn.

“You do know we’re not video-conferencing right now?” Lulu said.

Leigh felt suddenly down, looking at the dress she’d bought for a life she’d never had. Might the garment actually have transformative powers?

Lulu came over to the apartment to drink a bottle of wine before they left for the party. She was wearing skinny dark jeans and a faded Ziggy Stardust T-shirt. When Leigh opened the door, Lulu smiled in a way that looked a little like a grimace.

“Wow,” she said, “look at you.”

“Okay I’m changing,” Leigh said, reaching immediately for her zipper.

“No, don’t! Just because I’m boring tonight? You should wear what you want! I’m probably the one who will look out of place; I mean, there are going to be drag queens there!”

“Thanks.”

“Come on, I didn’t mean that you look like a drag queen,” she said, laughing and poking Leigh’s shoulder with her index finger. “Drag queens wish they looked like you. Have a drink or three, and then if you still want to change before we go, you can.”

Leigh went into the kitchen to open the bottle of wine. Lulu was the first person to be in the apartment with her since Shaun had been there to help her unpack. It made her nervous somehow.

“This is nice,” Lulu said, “other than the fact that you have no furniture.”

“I know,” Leigh said, “it’s kind of pathetic.” Lulu was sitting on the desk so she sat on the chair next to it.

“Nah,” Lulu said, “minimalist aesthetic; I like it. No way to have many feng shui worries when you have no furniture. I mean, life is complicated enough without having to worry that your soul might escape through the mirror while you’re sleeping. Have you totally ransacked the place in case he left anything behind?”

“No. Okay a little, but there’s really nowhere to look.”

“Yeah,” Lulu said, jumping off the desk and peering around the corner into the kitchen, “I see what you mean. It’s weird though. What do you think he did with all of his stuff?”

Leigh shrugged, “Put it in storage, I guess. I can’t imagine that he moved it to Paris with him.”

“Suppose not,” Lulu said, moving to the window to look down at the street. “You said he left in such a hurry—seems like something strange is going on.”

Leigh laughed. “Maybe,” she said. “You would like there to be something strange going on though, wouldn’t you.”

“That’s not entirely untrue. Cut me some slack! It’s summer, and I’m so fucking bored I’m thinking of developing a new disorder of some kind just to have something to do.”

“In addition to the others?” She refilled Lulu’s glass.

“You mean my restless leg syndrome and my hyper social activity disorder? Those are no laughing matter.”

“Only one of those is a real thing, and you don’t have it.”

“I could; I will consult my physician thankyouverymuch. Besides, I’m sure the drug companies will come up with a new one soon, something they can advertise with commercials with attractive couples running through fields of wheat with perfectly groomed Labradors.”

“Ah yes, those commercials make herpes and allergies look so pleasant,” Leigh agreed.

She kept the dress on.

The Valley was a nightclub that had been constructed in a gutted parking structure. Well, that was the story anyway. For some reason, people in New York seemed to love the idea of what a space had previously been used for, what sort of ghosts were layered beneath the most recent coat of paint. Leigh had heard rumors that a popular bar in Alphabet City had once been a sweatshop that employed the children of illegal immigrants, a theory that seemed pretty conveniently edgy to her, a little too perfectly affected.

Inside the club, the party was just beginning to gain momentum, and the crowd seemed to double every ten minutes. It was the usual blur of downtown denizens: art school dropouts living on their trust funds, twenty-two-year-old, sweet-faced gay boys with brand new jobs in banking. Absurd looking drag queens and sophisticated ones who looked as posh as Upper East Side doyennes; some were young, some had seen generations of night-clubbers come in and out, had seen the nightlife die in one neighborhood, only to be resurrected in another a half-dozen times. It was an eclectic and surprisingly harmonious mix. She had been to gay bars with Max a handful of times, but those had been a different sort of place: full of men of not quite such a tender age and impeccably groomed and polished professionals and artists. This place seemed more like the old New York of Max’s stories.

They were on the top floor waiting at the back of the crowd by the bar when she saw him. She realized then that she’d been expecting the beautiful man to reappear, that the coincidence of seeing him on the street and then online that day had felt far too portentous for nothing to come of it. He was very tall—she would have said 6’5 or 6’6 judging by the way he towered above the assembled crowd; necks were laboriously craned in attempt to catch his eye. He was slender and elegant in his strange outfit. Upon closer inspection, Leigh would think for the first of many times, that he was dressed for a mysterious theme party, where he was both attendee and theme.

It was inevitable that she would notice him right away; Mehran entered a room in such a manner that everyone must notice him before he would do even the most cursory examination of those around him. This would matter to her because looking back, this strange window of time between when she first saw him on the street and when he finally saw her took on significance as the space between everything that had happened before and all that came after, like the gap between the platform and a speeding train.

His long hair was down around his shoulders, highlighting his beautiful angular face. In his wake, followed a motley but glittering crew, including a tall and lovely dark-skinned boy who she imagined might be his boyfriend, with his afro brushed out as far as it could possibly go; an impossibly petite girl with orange hair and nothing on but thigh-highs and tiger stripped lingerie; and a heavier girl with thick black eyebrows and scowl who was wearing a purple satin dress. The tiny girl was dressed like a drag queen but obviously wasn’t one. She was a girl dressed like a boy dressed like a girl. The other girl with the group, Leigh couldn’t be sure about. She was meatier, deliberately but not outrageously androgynous. She certainly wasn’t pretty, but it seemed like that was partly the point; it was about the statement.

“Lulu,” she said, grabbing her elbow and pulling her out of the conversation she was having with someone next to her.

“What?”

“Look,” Leigh said, pointing a very unsubtle finger in the direction of the door. “Look. At. That.”

Lulu looked in the direction of the little posse that seemed to have deftly engulfed the entire dance floor by their sheer presence.

“Wow,” Lulu said, abandoning her conversation. “It’s an Adonis.”

“I’ve seen him before,” Leigh continued, “that night I was with Asa.”

“New York is such a small town,” Lulu said shaking her head. “He looks sort of familiar to me too though. I feel like I’ve seen pictures of him; maybe he’s a model or something.”

They became hushed watching the impossible beauty in the strange, impromptu cabaret: the Adonis. What would it be like to be so physically arresting that a person could point to a crowd and leave no doubt about whom they were referring to when they said “look?”

They both looked down silently at the small group staking out territory on the dance floor. As they danced, people seemed to come from every direction to greet them; myriad cheek kisses were exchanged. A man dressed completely in zebra stripes, including his painted face, practically bounded over from the other end of the long, narrow room to be near them. Conversations were conducted with such wild gesticulations that it seemed as thought they were being preformed to be visible to the audience members in the highest parterre.

The Adonis was the most subdued, and conversely, if unsurprisingly, his attention was vied for most ferociously. He had a sweet, closed-lip smile for everyone who approached him; he would lean in to listen, pull back, and nod, his dark eyebrows knitted together. Leigh watched unabashedly, understanding herself as part of his audience.

There was a graduated stage that led down from the upper bar to the main dance floor. Later there would be a burlesque performance, but at the moment, people were just dancing on it, the attraction of an actual stage too enticing to forgo, the idea that all below could be made one’s audience. A faster song came on and the Adonis pulled himself away from further attempts at conversation. Slowly he made his way up the levels of the stage, slithering his hips and circling his hands over his head. Did everyone see? How could anyone here not be watching him, Leigh thought, feeling a rising anxiety expanding in her chest as he came nearer. She found herself mesmerized by each tiny fluctuation in his facial muscles, each flutter of his eyelids, the way the corner of his lips would twitch as though in a smile that never materialized. Was everyone else experiencing what she felt right now? Maybe he was always there; maybe the regulars were prepared for the gale force of his presence. The area by the bar was filing up with people, and she and Lulu were being pushed against the railing by the crushing crowd.

At one point, his eyes met Leigh’s, but she could tell he didn’t really see her; he wasn’t paying attention to any specific one of his admirers.

But she saw him. She saw into his eyes and felt the amorphous desires that had been swirling inside her since she’d first laid eyes on him suddenly condense and lock into place. That’s not for me, she thought, but I want it.

His eyes were an unnatural and almost chemical shade of cobalt blue, sleepy-lidded, and long-lashed. As his eyes passed over hers again, Leigh felt a jolt of something so intense it was almost like fear, like she’d been caught in the gaze of a fierce, disinterested panther.

But again, he didn’t see Leigh or didn’t notice her. It was like that moment at a rock show when you are convinced the lead singer just checked you out when really he can’t see anything but the lights; you are a shadow to him. Of course, it’s completely beside the point whether the person sees you because it is you and your experience that matters. It is not a two-way street. The beauty of being at any kind of show where you find yourself suddenly attracted to one of the performers is that you can stare and stare without being creepy because you’re meant to be staring. She felt that same freedom here, and so she watched him without reticence. He moved in the most extraordinary way, twisting his torso and flipping his long hair. He moved like a woman but not quite like a woman. He was unlike anyone of either sex that she had ever seen.

“Let’s go downstairs,” Lulu said, annoyed at the barrage of elbows and bodies bumping up against them, an onslaught that Leigh had all but failed to notice until now. She followed her friend and reluctantly let herself be led away from where she could see him.

Later she saw him again in a small group that had congregated around Amelia LaRouche. Amelia was a big star, a transsexual who had been made famous when she became the muse of an edgy, downtown photographer. Edgy is a relative term. Truthfully, he was more the pet of a certain group of run-of-the-mill celebrities who wanted to create an edgy image or maintain one that they were losing. The photographer’s work could now be found in many a mainstream magazine, instantly recognizable figures posed so deliberately for maximum shock value that it only reinforced their aggressive blandness. A standard photograph might be of America’s Sweetheart done up in bondage in a room laden with religious iconography and a midget falconer looking on from the corner.

The Adonis seemed to be basking in Amelia’s proximal glow—or hiding in it, one couldn’t tell. Perhaps he was happy to stand there for a few moments recuperating from being the center of attention. Amelia wore pleather pants and a shirt that fulfilled very few functions of a shirt in that it was really more of a collar with fringe hanging down where her tits, or tit facsimiles, were peeking out absurdly every time she moved. Leigh absorbed all of this in the few moments it took her and Lulu to circumvent the dance floor.

“Oh my gosh, Kevin!” Lulu suddenly exclaimed. Leigh snapped her attention back to her friend who was throwing her arms around a tall thin man with a Caesar haircut who had just come off the dance floor.

“Darling!” he said squeezing her tight.

“Kevin, this is Leigh,” Lulu said, her face flushed. “We went to college together; what are you doing here?”

“Just moved to New York a few weeks ago,” he said. “Bear Sterns transferred me. Isn’t it fabulous?”

Lulu collapsed onto his arms in laughter, “I guess it must be since I don’t think I ever heard you say the word fabulous when we were in college.”

He shrugged and smiled as they delved into reminiscence, and Leigh let her eyes wander back over in the direction of the Adonis.

He had his arm around a slight Asian boy who was looking at him with what Leigh could only assume was a sort of desperate fascination. She decided that the Adonis’ arm around him was an act of compassion. It’s so easy for someone like him to be affectionate, she thought. He must know that any attention from him is welcome. It was on the fringe of this strange tableau that he was directly in her line of sight for the third time that evening. This time he definitely saw her staring. He smiled at her. Leigh blushed, and she could feel it; it was like getting caught looking at a celebrity. Just by looking at them, you acknowledged the upper hand they had over you. She blushed in embarrassment over the fact that she was blushing, which made the problem worse. It wasn’t really part of the bargain for him to look back. She was an observer, he a person who was observed, and she felt discomfort that this unspoken rule had been broken.

But now that he wasn’t dancing, he seemed to be himself observing, perhaps if only to see who was observing him.

The instant their eyes actually met was a moment Leigh would circle back to, not only in the coming months and years, but on occasion, for the rest of her life. It became her go-to example of something completely inexplicable happening between two people. She always imagined that whatever had happened, happened right there in that moment; that he’d looked over at her in her uncomfortably tight dress, and against all odds, had seen something that had interested him. She didn’t know any of what was to come right then but looking back, she would convince herself that she had been prescient, that she felt all of it but just couldn’t have articulated it at the time. All she knew then was what she saw, which was a slightly haunted look passing over his face, like he knew her but couldn’t place her, and then that look faded into an easy, sensuous smile.

She didn’t know why he was smiling at her, and she couldn’t fathom any reason that he would be. Not like that. The fact that he was looking at her for more than a passing moment was strange enough. Leigh wasn’t beautiful. She was not unattractive, but to be merely pretty in a place like New York City seemed to be of little consequence. Therefore, when she did catch people looking at her for more than a second, she had a habit of looking down at herself to see if anything was out of place or accidentally exposed.

“Leigh,” Lulu said like it was the second or third time she’d called her name, “let’s go dance.” Kevin beamed at her. They were oblivious to what had just transpired. Leigh wasn’t sure exactly what it had been, but something had happened. She suddenly felt a little light-headed, and she smiled uneasily at Kevin.

She glanced back in the other direction. He had turned away; it was as though the moment had never happened at all.

“Lulu, that guy… The Adonis just looked at me.” she said into Lulu’s ear so that Kevin wouldn’t hear, realizing as the words came out of her mouth how silly they sounded.

“Will you turn to stone?” Lulu deadpanned.

“No I mean he looked at me…” she trailed off. She couldn’t get across what she was trying to say.

“Oh, honey,” Lulu said with a good-natured chuckle, “I hate to break this to you, but I don’t think he looks at girls that way.” She was leading Leigh subtly but firmly back to the dance floor with Kevin following in their wake. Leigh chastised herself inwardly; why must she think everything was about her? Nothing in this place was about her—not remotely.

Leigh felt stupid and wanted another drink. Was dying for one.

“Drink,” she said to her friend.

Lulu shrugged and followed Leigh to the bar, gesturing to Kevin who nodded but stayed on the dance floor.

“Shot?” Lulu asked. Leigh nodded. She felt like she should be having more fun than she was. She felt the bad mood that had been hovering all day descend as though someone had thrown a tarp over her.

As Lulu leaned over the bar to order, Leigh watched the go-go boy who was gyrating barefoot on the bar inches away from her. His lean body was covered in tattoos, the most prominent being a set of angle wings that covered his shoulders. He looked down, and she thought she saw sympathy in his eyes. Leigh wondered why and was annoyed that he seemed to pity her for some reason. She wanted to scream up at him but wouldn’t have even known what to scream.

They took the shot and followed it with gin and tonics. It was a drink they drank when they didn’t know what else to drink, but it did not make an especially good follow up to a tequila shot. Leigh sucked the drink down fast, extracting every last drop from between the ice cubes. It was a strong drink, God bless the tranny on the other side of the bar for her heavy pour. She felt pain in her temples from the cold and then the warm, damp curtain of intoxication.

Then they were back on the packed dance floor with the circus. People moved a little wildly but were good-natured when they crashed into one another. The music was ferocious drum and bass. Leigh looked at her friend, dancing somewhat awkwardly with Kevin, and suddenly wished she wasn’t there with her. Lulu could be a difficult person to truly let loose around; one felt like she was always taking notes, studying, that as much as she may drink, she would always be sober in a sense. The very next second, Leigh felt ashamed of having thought this, of having wished that Shaun was there instead. Lulu was sensible enough to keep anything too outrageous at an arm’s length, to let it be a show to watch and never try to rush on stage and join. Leigh only knew that she couldn’t have joined, even if she’d wanted to, so let herself believe that she didn’t want to because that was easier. But now, in the midst of the chaotic heartbeat of the music and the alcohol and the company, she thought she could see the truth like the gleaming new skin beneath a torn off scab—that she wanted more than anything to shed herself like an old skin. To be allowed to be as free as the people around her. They didn’t feel they had to hide from anything, while Leigh was always hidden. Someone stumbled back into her, “Sorry gorgeous,” he said, and Leigh smiled weakly.

The Adonis was there.

He seemed to not come from any one direction so much as to materialize in front of her, and she was now drunk and so hadn’t noticed that he’d been watching her and slowly inching toward her. He was moving in front of her sylph-like. For a second he seemed like her own very deliberately crafted hallucination. Those strange eyes were focused on hers with an intensity that seemed almost comic, like that of a child in a staring contest. She giggled nervously and he didn’t flinch, as though he was intent on wearing her down. If not for the alcohol, she would have shaken in panic at his nearness; she realized in one swirling moment of clarity that he was as close as he could possibly be without touching her.

It was less like being near a man and more like being close to some wondrous exotic animal that she’s come upon unexpectedly in its natural habitat; she wanted to get as close as possible, knowing this might be her only chance but also knowing that one wrong move could cause the animal to flee.

He told her his name but she didn’t hear him. She leaned into him and when she did, took in the scent of his skin and was surprised to find that it was a deliciously familiar masculine scent that sent a wave of longing through her. Her head spun from the sensory overload.

“Mehran,” he said a second time. “I was born in Iran,” he explained.

“Leigh,” she said.

He smiled, showing a minimal amount of teeth as though he were stifling a laugh. He had a small, perfect mouth, one that seemed to conserve emotion, to not distract from the eyes, and to keep from revealing too much at once.

“You’re beautiful,” he said.

You’re beautiful!” she said before she could stop herself. He just laughed sweetly. She knew he heard this all the time. Then before Leigh could assess what was happening, before she could look over her shoulder to see how Lulu was reacting, before anything else at all could happen, he kissed her. She literally didn’t see him coming, felt his lips on hers before anything else.

The sensation she had when he did this was exactly that of being in an elevator; moving swiftly upwards while simultaneously standing still. What started as a light brushing of lips became an unmistakable, deep, unambiguous kiss: a soft, engulfing kiss.

After a minute, she pulled away; she had to grab his shoulders to keep from falling over. He laughed again, a subdued, conspiratory chuckle. He leaned in and put his lips on her neck. Leigh thought her heart might stop. She deeply regretted taking the shot; it contributed to the feeling that none of this was actually happening. On the other hand, it enabled her to do away with enough inhibition to make out with him, inhibition that returned immediately when she came up for air and realized that every face in the proximity was turned in their direction.

One of the faces staring back at her was Lulu’s. Leigh looked at her and shrugged, not a careless shrug but a truly helpless one. Lulu smiled and shook her head, not so much with approval but with a strange, grudging admiration. Or maybe it was not admiration. Just to the side of Lulu was the girl in tiger-striped lingerie who had come in with Mehran; her neon orange hair was so bright, it made her look like something from a fever dream. She was talking to someone else but kept casting disdainful glances in Leigh’s direction.

The next moment, he had Leigh’s back up against a wall. The solidity of the wall felt good between her shoulder blades. Stabilizing. Mehran ran a hand into her hair, tilting her head back and kissing her neck. He ran his hand up her thigh in a very definite direction. Leigh grabbed his wrist, shocked.

“What?” he asked in his smooth voice.

“Everyone,” Leigh began, needing a deep intake of breath to even continue the sentence, “is looking at us.”

She was right; they were making a scene. A wave of discreetly pointed fingers and hissing whispers were being aimed in the direction of the corner of the dance floor where something truly shocking was taking place: Boy on girl action. And not some clueless straight couple who has invaded the gay bar for a laugh. No, it was one of their own who was with the girl. An ordinary girl, not a girl who was once a boy, or some other fabulous, glittering monstrosity that could make the situation ironic or acceptable; just this girl with wavy black hair who looked like she could have lived next door to you in the Ohio suburb where you grew up—a girl no one was prepared to suddenly envy. But he had made her special just by looking at her, and now he was making her the center of attention by putting her in the position that every last person in the club, if they were to be honest with themselves, wanted to be in.

The truth was she and Lulu didn’t belong there. When she’d come to gay bars with Max, it had been different, but they had no friends here other than Kevin who they met up with by chance. She saw for the first time how brazen their presence there was, not that anyone would have cared if Leigh had not had the audacity to let herself be dragged into the corner by Mehran.

“Seriously,” she said, her voice void of conviction. The truth was she wasn’t going to stop him, whatever he did, so her plea was as much for him to save her from herself as from him.

“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her behind him across the dance floor; people yielded a path as they made their way through. Leigh could sense the gaze of the on-lookers, could practically hear their eyes pivoting in their sockets.

“Wait here,” he said as they approached the door to one of the single occupancy bathrooms; he disappeared inside. She did as she was told. She didn’t know where Lulu was and was somehow afraid that if she looked out across the crowd and found her, she would make Leigh leave. What was he doing in there, drugs? He didn’t seem like he was on anything but maybe that’s why he was in there doing some now. Or…how could she know what he was doing? What was she doing?

“Don’t worry baby,” came a low voice from behind her, “he’ll be back.” Leigh nodded her head tentatively at the tall, black, bearded drag queen who leaned down off the staircase toward her. The drag queen smiled and continued up the stairs. An ally at last, she thought. The door to the bathroom opened; Mehran reached his hand out. The several people standing outside the door looked away, surprisingly discreet all of a sudden.

He closed and locked the door behind them.

“Better?”

“Sure,” she said. Being in a confined space with him made her breathless.

“So is your boyfriend going to be angry about this?” he said, his voice was playful but earnest at the same time. He smiled but she knew it was a real question. He was leaning into her with his palms outstretched on the wall on either side of her.

“Oh I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said.

“Really?” he said with a note of genuine surprise.

“Really. And what about your boyfriend? I mean that it is, if you’re, I mean…” she felt her face get hot.

“No boyfriend,” he said, the picture of calm.

He smiled and hunched his shoulders, coming down to kiss her. She receded until her back hit the wall. The lights in the bathroom seemed very bright all of a sudden. He gently tugged the straps of her dress down and she repositioned her shoulders to help him. He kissed down her chest, leaving a sheen of saliva that chilled her skin as he moved his lips away. She grappled for the light and turned it off. He pushed against her, and she tried to stabilize herself as he pushed her legs apart and pulled up the hem of her dress. She suddenly felt it was more terrifying to have the lights off than on and reached out once again for the switch. He laughed, “Better, I think.”

“So, wait,” she said, her breath short and her voice higher than normal, “you like boys and girls, is that it?”

“No,” he said, “only boys.” He kissed her. The softness of his tongue on hers made her thoughts dissolve.

“Then what…”

“I don’t know,” he said; she felt his hand reaching up between her thighs and suddenly felt a pulsing void between her legs, felt keenly aware that she wore nothing beneath her dress; that there was no obstruction. “This has never happened.”

He slipped his finger inside her and she involuntarily gasped. She struggled to stay standing on her heels as he worked his fingers tentatively inside her. If she was the unaccustomed territory and he the neophyte, then why was she so nervous and he so seemingly relaxed?

To her astonishment, astonishment that bordered on horror, he got to his knees; she tried to grasp at some piece of sense, some piece of discretion that was floating just beyond the cloud of intoxication of him and the alcohol.

“Wait, are you sure you want…”

She felt him parting the lips and then felt his tongue. After the first blinding edge of the sensation had subsided, she felt estranged from him, as though she were alone in the room with those bright lights and that overwhelming sensation between her legs. She pulled him back to her.

They were both breathing hard, almost panting.

“Was that wrong?” he asked earnestly. She felt a shadow of disbelief creep into her mind; she was unable to disengage completely from suspicion that he was somehow putting her on.

“No, no,” she said, running her fingers through his hair, smoothing it affectionally. “It felt really good, it’s just awkward in here, in the bathroom and everything” she added hastily.

He smiled and pulled her in closer, sort of nuzzling her neck. She realized with a twinge of despair how extraordinary it felt to be this close to another person, to have his sweat on her, to feel the heat from his mouth, and her hands in his hair. She was unsettled by what had just happened, or almost happened, but she felt the urge to linger in the aftermath all the same. If she could have had anything right then it would have been the thing that made the least sense; to be able to just stay in his arms, to have him sleep chastely next to her as Asa had. This was not something she was prepared to ask of him or anyone else.

“I should go,” she said finally, “I left my friend out there.”

“Okay,” he said, the same smile still on his face, as if he knew something she didn’t. “Okay.” His manner presented a strange juxtaposition: he seemed remarkably calm for someone who claimed to be experimenting outside of his sexual preference. Why, then, was she the one who felt so out of her comfort zone? She had been with men before, obviously. Not men like this, though. No man like this had ever even looked at her and now he was, and seemed to have closed in on her with such intent.

To her surprise, he held her hand as they walked through the club. This gesture felt much riskier than anything that had just taken place behind closed doors. At last, Leigh spotted Lulu on the other side of the dance floor, eyes closed, dancing by herself, seemingly happy enough. “There she is,” she said gesturing above the heads of the crowd that separated them.

“Mehran,” suddenly a sharp voice came out from the other direction. The person was behind Mehran and Leigh could only see the tip of an afro hovering just over his shoulder.

“We have to go,” the boy continued, “we promised Fernando.”

“Sure Michael, I’ll meet you outside in a second.”

He looked back to Leigh. Michael looked at Leigh as though bored by her very presence; he smiled insincerely at her, and she thought she even caught an eye roll as he turned his head.

“I have to go, babe,” Mehran said.

Leigh nodded.

“Come next week, I’ll be here.”

“Okay,” Leigh said, not meaning it. She was unable to imagine the circumstances in which she would ever be back here again. In fact, she was almost sure that the moment she walked out the door the place would cease to exist. She would look back over her shoulder and there would be nothing but an abandoned storefront where she had just been; she would have imagined the place, the evening, and the man.

“Promise?”

She nodded, wanting to make him stay but not knowing how to ask.

He kissed her again and then was swallowed by the dense crowd, and all she could see was the crown of his blonde head moving through a sea of the others and then disappearing from view. The instantaneous and momentary celebrity she had experienced before disappeared. She felt her anonymity returning full force as she made her way through the crowd to get to Lulu.

“Oh my God! Where have you been?” Lulu asked when Leigh grabbed her elbow.

Leigh shrugged, smiling.

“You were gone forever!”

Was she? It had felt like five minutes.

“Oh my God,” Lulu went on as they walked toward the door, “you were with him?”

Leigh nodded. “You what, made out with him? Whore!” she said, now laughing uproariously. “You just broke the heart of every fag and hag in New York.”

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