“It may be winter, but this
Winter is hot!” The host drag queen batted her huge fake eyelashes. She stood on a ramshackle wooden stage covered in glitter from a previous performer. “Introducing Rose Winter. Keep an eye on this one. She’s going places.” She shimmied off the stage, and the spotlight went to the back of the room, where the crowd had parted so the drag queens could come out from a rear exit and take the stage.
The strains of Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” belted from the speakers spread throughout the bar at various angles. The acoustics weren’t great, so they’d gone for volume. It was enough to make the audience’s ears bleed.
Carl took a sip of his martini. He always enjoyed Aretha. Not that most drag queens did it justice with their lipstick lips moving and hips barely shifting around. That wasn’t enough for the queen Franklin was. Not that he’d been coming to drag shows long, but he’d seen enough to know what this one would be like.
He set his glass down on a square paper napkin on the small raised table in front of him. He was on a plastic stool that squeaked when he moved. The establishment wasn’t known for its ambience, but it was a cheap gay bar trying to make a name for itself. Local magazines had proclaimed Temples up and coming.
The voice that filled every corner made him turn in his chair and face where the drag queen made her entrance.
There were few drag queens who sang. Most just lip-synched. And he’d never met one who sang with that
. A voice that would made a record exec spin around in his desk chair until he found out it was a drag queen’s. Granted, there had been RuPaul and a succession of wannabes, but they’d faded back into obscurity. America wasn’t looking to acknowledge those who were different.
Carl hadn’t heard a voice like that outside of the radio. Especially not one that could do Aretha Franklin justice. Shivers moved down his spine one by one, finally ending up in his groin. She was spectacular with a voice like a siren. And he hadn’t even seen her yet.
“Now that’s a set of pipes.” James yelped, followed by a whistle as he put his full attention on the performer.
His lover, Reggie, shot him a dirty look. Probably because Reggie was a jealous asshole who was trying to make James’s life a living hell. Bad relationships weren’t just a hetero thing.
And you hang out with them why?
Because they were the only gay people he knew well enough to go out on the town with. He’d never been good at getting to know people. But he needed to start. Because these two drove him nuts.
Carl turned back to give his full attention to Rose Winter as she sashayed up the steps to the stage. She demanded attention. Rose was mocha-skinned with hazel eyes bristling with attitude behind long fake eyelashes. She wore an Aretha wig, and a silver, shimmery gown hugged padded breasts, padded hips, and probably a penis tucked up where the sun didn’t shine. Her arms were muscular, the only thing from this distance, besides her Adam’s apple, that gave away her gender as not female. Any visible skin--back, arms, and legs--was hairless near as Carl could tell.
She moved around the stage, not standing in one spot like some drag queens did. She owned every bit of space with her moves that were like a dancer’s. There was something about her that captivated Carl, probably because she knew how to work a stage. And even as a drag queen, she was fine.
And that voice.
The song bubbled up from Rose and spilled all over the seedy bar with its half-assed stage.
A tremor moved down Carl to thicken his cock and make him shift in the uncomfortable plastic seat.
Attracted to a drag queen.
Maybe you do like women after all?
Rose drifted through the audience, collecting dollars from those with hands outstretched. She smiled and greeted each one. At a man and woman sitting near Carl, she winked and mouthed, Thank you.
She shimmied through the audience, making contact, singing, and interacting with people.
Carl had never seen a crowd worked over so well. This woman knew how to entertain. Woman? Man? What did drag queens refer to themselves as?
She reached his table. He could hardly breathe as she stood in front of him as if waiting there just for him. A wrong impression if there ever was one. She won over a crowd with ease and had no idea who he even was. But she made him feel that glance as if she were there for him and no other.
He held out a single in two fingers toward the stage. Toward her. He rarely tipped the drag queens but had to with this one. She towered above him, though he was on a bar stool. Maybe it was the three-inch heels. How did she dance in those things?
She tossed her hair and gave him a sultry stare. Her gaze seemed to bore through him. Seemed to ignite fires within him he didn’t yet know he had but she fished them out. He swallowed against a suddenly dry throat.
She took the bill, and her finger lingered against his. It was like touching a candlewick with a match. Flames of desire licked him from that brief touch. He felt the burning everywhere.
Her brief smile showed she knew what effect she had on him. She liked it. She blew him a light kiss and sauntered back to the stage, done with him.
He sat in his seat, mesmerized by this woman/man. Conflicting feelings waged war in his body.
You don’t need this. You got your dream job in a great place. They don’t know you’re gay, and you’d like to keep it that way. Someone who does drag is going to be a little more out there than you.
Carl’s toe was out of the closet. The rest of him wasn’t sure. He’d been testing the waters for a while now but hadn’t moved forward.
Reggie’s voice almost broke Carl’s attention away from Rose Winter, enough to hear but not enough to fully take command of Carl’s senses. “You’re looking at that...that drag queen.”
At first Carl thought it was directed at him. But of course it was directed to the fool beside Reggie. The one who couldn’t leave Reggie alone like he should.
James let out a huge sigh. “As she’s singing, yes; yes, I am.” He knew where this was going. They all did. “I look at the entertainers.”
Reggie huffed a breath. “Looking at that cross-dressing cunt. I should walk out on you right now.”
If only he would. But he wouldn’t. And neither would James. They’d been having this same argument the entire time Carl had known them. Reggie would decide James’s attention was focused too much on someone else. James would deny it. They would pout and fight the rest of the night.
And he’d known them too long not to be able to predict the event like this. Another sign he needed to get out more. And find more people to hang around with.
Maybe with a drag queen?
He focused on Rose, and her raspy, wonderful tone filled him much like Aretha Franklin’s voice did.
The argument beside him continued to escalate, but Carl ignored it, watching Rose Winter powerhouse the song and sashay around the stage.
As she finished up her number, the last strains of the music rolled across the bar, hitting Carl squarely in his solar plexus. She beamed her brightest smile. Carl felt it to his knees, and then she began to gather up the dollar bills that she’d dropped on the stage to dance and also that people had thrown up there when she wasn’t collecting them.
Her fists full, she walked right in front of their table, and a bill fell onto the floor at Carl’s feet. He swooped down to grab it and found himself nose to nose with Rose Winter, who had also stooped to retrieve her lost dollar.
He grabbed the bill and straightened as she did to pass the paper to her. Those hands were too big to be feminine but had fake nails at the end of long fingers, painted with glossy red nail polish, and had a big maroon-stoned ring that was at once simple yet gaudy on that lithe finger. “You dropped this. I was getting it for you.”
She gave him a sultry look. “You can throw yourself at my feet anytime. Or anywhere on me for that matter.” She gave a saucy shake of her head, and there was a spring in her step as she stalked to the back.
Carl stood there, watching her strut away from him.
A woman, who was headed to the back where Rose had disappeared and was followed by a tall man, brushed up against him. “You might want to close your mouth. There are flies, you know.” She chuckled and pushed past him.
He clamped his mouth shut. Strangers noticing his interest in a drag queen? That wasn’t good. Not good at all. He’d lived sheltered since his trip to gayness had begun. And he didn’t intend on living large anytime soon.
Carl rejoined his table that was still in the middle of a fight now because “Rose Winter stopped in front of our table, and I know she wants you, the stupid X- chromosoming bitch.”
Carl could hardly wait for Rose’s next number, stupid X-chromosoming bitch or not, as he tossed back the rest of his martini.
* * * *
After the show, Rose raised a hand to run it across her face, then quickly dropped it. Couldn’t smear the makeup. She was just getting used to the female trappings that came with being a drag queen. Dressing up in her mother’s dresses was nothing like this. This was real. This was her. Despite all the pomp and circumstance, she loved every minute of it.
“You were so good!” Ally set an appletini down on the bar in front of her. “I can’t believe you’re doing this. You’re really Rose Winter.”
Rose smiled at her friend. Ally was a little too enthusiastic at times, but at moments like this, it was appreciated. No one would be happier for her than Ally. “Can’t get nowhere if you don’t try.” It would take hard work and dedication. But Rose would be an entertainer. It was what she lived for. Not those stupid accounting classes. Of course they would come in handy when she had to manage her money. And they kept her dad off her back about everything. She was going to make it in this town as a drag queen.
“Dev, seriously. You rocked.” Ally blushed and stammered, “I-I mean, uh, Rose.” She turned away from Rose. “I don’t know what to call you. We need to figure that out.” Only Ally would worry about a thing like that. Since he’d come out to her and their friend, Tucker, she’d been almost too accepting. Devyn was Rose’s gay alter ego and Ally and Tucker’s roommate. They were all in college, struggling to keep up with their classes and to pay for enough food and coffee to make it through the month.
“When I’m like this, Rose. When I’m in jeans and a tee that...well, needs laundering, and there are chores to be done around the apartment, I’m Devyn.” It was an interesting distinction, but one Rose intended to keep for Devyn’s sake. He wasn’t sure how other drag queens did it, but this would work for him. This persona of Rose could take over his life if he let it. He could already tell. It would lock Devyn out, and that’s not what he wanted. So he would keep the distinction between Rose and Devyn. It was a decision he’d made when he decided to make a go as a drag queen and not do it as a hobby like so many did.
“Okay, Rose.” Ally picked up a glass that probably contained Diet Dr Pepper and sipped.
Rose hadn’t even seen her order the soda. She was slipping. Or maybe flipping tired. Heels hurting, she shifted her aching feet. How did women do this
all day? A few hours and she was ready to throw the stupid shoes out the window. No matter how flattering they were to her manly calves. “Where’s Tucker?”
Ally rolled her eyes. “Some guy was talking about U of R, so naturally Tucker had to jump in and defend VCU.” Their college had a slight rivalry with the other one in town, or, more to the point, Tucker felt there was a rivalry. Tucker was much more school spirited than Devyn or Ally.
Rose laughed. That was Tucker’s way. She’d known them since the start of college. Shared an apartment with them for three years now. Technically he and Tucker had shared the apartment at first, but Ally had been there so much it had seemed she should pay rent, so she’d moved in too. Ally and Tucker were Rose and Devyn’s survival mechanism. They listened. They’d supported him when he came out and when he decided to do drag professionally. Even though Tucker was blatantly hetero, he had no problem coming to a gay bar or having a gay roommate. He also needed to get his act together and make Ally his before she ran away. But that was another story, and Devyn didn’t become involved in people’s love lives. Rose, on the other hand, was a bitch, and probably would set both Ally and Tucker straight one day.
Ally looked behind her as if taking inventory of the bar. “You know, you did have quite an admirer.”
Rose peeked over her own shoulder at the rest of the bar, trying to decide where Ally was staring. “Huh?” She saw a man glance furtively in her direction. “Oh. The blond guy? The one who picked up my dollar?” She looked over his way again. He had been staring at her. He had piercing eyes. They were almost almond shaped. High cheekbones. He was a hottie. Had he been into her? She didn’t need a groupie. A man? Hell, yes. A starstruck fan? Nah.
“Uh-huh. He was staring at you when you headed back to the dressing rooms. Intently. Watching every move you made.” The dressing rooms were nothing more than the public restrooms. Ally jabbed her in the side with her elbow. “Maybe you should talk to him.”
“Hmmm.” She stole another peek, trying not to be obvious. “Blonds have never been my type...”
This one was scrumptious, though. He was older probably than Devyn. He wasn’t a bodybuilder but had a nice frame. Tall and lanky without bulging muscles. They rippled instead. His golden hair was cropped close to that head. Devyn preferred a man with longer hair. This was way too close to being crew cut. The man could pull it off only because he was blond. He wore jeans and a T-shirt of a local band. He didn’t seem happy. In fact he appeared miserable. Not the impression he’d given when Rose had been onstage. If the man was into Rose, would he be into Devyn? Was it even worth finding out?
“Maybe you could make an exception. This time.” Ally grinned and took another sip. “I probably should rescue Tucker before he gets in a fight.” She ambled away. “Again.” Tucker would listen to her over anyone else, so she would save him from getting his ass kicked. And he consistently got his ass kicked in fights. Usually because he got distracted and was sucker punched. Tucker was a bit like an oversize Lab puppy at times.
Rose turned her attention back to the blond hottie. He was with two other men, who seemed to be arguing. Maybe that was why he was miserable.
Maybe he needed a rescue.