Love’s Return

It was fixing to be a warm June day. I was fine with that as I looked out over the crowd. My first Gay Pride in the city had been a treat, made doubly fun by the fact that Kelly had gotten me a gig here. I grinned over at my best friend who smiled back. She then went back to the business of selling someone one of my three-song CDs. The banty rooster, Jennie, helped her out — it was Jennie who had produced the things from her computer. Amazing what modern electronics can do these days.

This stage was set up in the corner of the Gay Pride midway, near the main entry. It was nowhere near the size of the main stage on the other side of the fenced-in area, but this was just fine by me. Maybe someday I’ll be on that huge platform with hundreds of people watching. Right now, fifty or sixty people was plenty. Besides, being right next to the entrance meant a lot of people would pass by.

From this viewpoint, I noted a colorful line developing outside the chain link fence as the parade ground to a halt outside. Queens strutted about in drag, their party makeup startling beneath the early afternoon sunshine. Sequined silk evening gowns and stiletto heels, feather boas, monstrous beehive wigs and bold jewelry — though they weren’t the majority, it was a sight to behold.

Then there were the lipstick lesbians, the professional gay men and their sporty counterparts, butches, transgender folk of all shapes and sizes… There were a lot of little booths between me and the main stage; had to be a hundred of them or more representing social groups and businesses. Kelly had even put one up for Sneakers!

Who knew there were so many people out there like me? I certainly hadn’t had a clue. 

I trotted up after the previous singers cleared the stage, getting polite applause. There were a few hoots and hollers from the Sneakers! crowd, and I grinned at my friends. I still played there at Open Mic Night every Tuesday. 

I still get scared before going on stage, too. Guess that’ll never change.

This afternoon I had an hour time-slot and immediately broke into one of my more popular songs. These days I didn’t play many covers, just my own tunes. Lord knows there are a lot of them with more coming every day. Even when I’m working at the garage, I can’t get my mind off music. Franklin says I must think in music rather than English. He may be right.

Yeah, I still live at the garage, still work a day job as a mechanic. I’m damned good at what I do, and Franklin’s getting older and grayer. There’s a teenager, Willis, who’s been hanging out, too. He seems to have the knack like me and Franklin, so I’ve been taking him under my wing. If my music pans out, I don’t think I’ll be buying Franklin’s garage. I can’t leave him high and dry, though. Maybe Willis has the spark — he’s smart enough. If he has the business sense, he might eventually take over for Franklin instead of me.

Mama still avoids me. She won’t gas up the car if she has to come to the garage. But I saw my brother, Russell, the other day, back from college for the summer. He said that she actually opened my last Mother’s Day card. Put it up on the mantle, just like old times. She might not be ready to forgive me for not being what she wanted, but her anger seems to be mellowing a bit. If anybody can hold a grudge, it’s my mama. I won’t be asked home for Thanksgiving for another five years or so, but it’s progress.

Below me, the audience is clapping and swaying as I play. The rowdies from the bar are singing along with the lyrics they’ve heard before, a couple outright dancing. I laugh along with them, winking at the pretty girls, flirting outrageously. I love the high of this, feeling the flow of music coming back from the audience. Performing gives me such a buzz, better than any alcohol on the market. I can’t imagine not doing this every day of my life if I could.

That’s when I saw her. She’s in the middle of the dozen or so dancing right in front of me, giving me a special smile. I recognize the promise there and blow a kiss at her. She feigns a swoon, and I laugh. Spur of the moment, I play a ballad for her as my last song, drawing the last strains of music out as long as possible. Her eyes are full of adoration, stroking my ego and a few other parts.

“Thanks, everybody! I’ve got to go now.” The Sneakers! crowd boo and hiss, and I laugh. “If you liked what you heard, you can buy my CD right here or over at the Sneakers! booth. There’s a flyer, too, of where I’ll be playing this summer. I’d love to see you guys again!” I leave the stage, escorted by their applause. I love this! Pushing my guitar behind my back, I approach Kelly. “How’d we do?”

“Fantastic! Between here and the booth, we’re almost out.” She smiled at a handful of folks coming forward. “Step aside, Slow.”

I did so with a rueful grin, talking with the folks willing to come forward. Several bills and change filled my guitar case. I’m collecting money for a real CD these days. Everything I get is going into a savings account to rent a recording studio. Kelly’s been researching how to create a production company and the marketing of it. Don’t know that I’ll ever be Melissa Etheridge or Joan Osborne famous, but I didn’t get into this for the money. 

The woman from the audience closes in, and I pull away from the older lesbian couple I’ve been chatting with. She slips into my arms with sinful ease, her face tilted upward. My high school daydream suddenly strikes me. Playing guitar in a band, enjoying the flow of music and audience high. At a break I look out into the crowd and see her. Blonde hair, hazel eyes, she watches me with adoration. Spur of the moment, I play a ballad for her and she nearly swoons from emotion. After the show, I send a roadie to find her and soon she’s in my dressing room, slipping into my arms, her face tilted upwards…

“What are you smiling at?” Elle asks.

I kissed her. “Just remembering something you said a long time ago.” 

Her arms were delicious around me. “What’s that?”

My hand traced up her arm, over her shoulder to her throat, my thumb caressing her jaw line. “You said, ‘Dreams are never silly, Slow’.” I knew she probably wouldn’t remember the specifics of our conversation that day she skipped school to follow me, but it didn’t matter. What did was that she’d fulfilled my heart’s desire before it truly understood what it needed. 

“Well, they’re not.” 

“I know.” I leaned forward and kissed her again, exploring her mouth with mine, my insides tingling pleasantly. We didn’t break off until Jennie whooped at me. Elle blushed but didn’t break away. She’d been slowly becoming used to the people I called friends these days and would continue getting a crash course through the summer. Her senior year in college would start next fall, and rather than stay at her parents’ house for the summer break, she’d decided to move in with me at the garage. I couldn’t fathom why, but I didn’t debate her choice.

There are some arguments that shouldn’t be discussed.

“What do you say we go to our place tonight?”

Her embarrassed grin became a little sly. “At the river?”

“Yep.”

She bestowed a blistering kiss upon me, leaving me breathless. “To the river.”

What can I say? The luckiest thing to ever happen to me was Elle.