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A NineStar Press Publication

www.ninestarpress.com

Drama Queens with Love Scenes

Copyright © 2017 Kevin Klehr

Cover Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017

Edited by: Jason Bradley

Published in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar Press, LLC.


Warning

This book contains sexually explicit content, which is only suitable for mature readers.

Drama Queens

with Love Scenes

Actors and Angels

Kevin Klehr

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

About the Author

Acknowledgements

First off I’d like to thank my partner in life, Warren Brown, who showed me more than deserved patience and encouragement on this endeavor.

Endless thanks to Angus Gault, who has read, reread, and basically shared this adventure with me, as well as coming up with some of the best one-liners in the text. His contribution is immeasurable.

Thanks also to Brett Tyler and Carmel Keohan who shared their enthusiasm in the early stages of the project. Without it, I’m not sure I would have gone anywhere beyond my handwritten first chapter.

The best line in the second paragraph comes courtesy of Chris Jones, who said it in polite conversation. I was quick to ring our home voice mail so I wouldn’t forget it. It still makes me smile.

Cheers to Nicky, who in a way became my first fan. Just in being spellbound in my story meant a lot to me. It helped me believe in myself.

Dr. Anita Heiss and Dr. Janet Hutchinson have both been inspirational and open to sharing their knowledge on writing, and the industry. I’ve learnt a lot.

Many thanks to the late Mary Belk who was a great teacher in the art. There was a lot to learn and hopefully, I took it on board.

Thanks to Mum, Krys, Mary, and Steve, who always wanted to know how my novel was shaping up.

And to Ethan Day, Jason Bradley, Val Hughes, J.P. Bowie, Adrian Nicolas, Raevyn McCann, Kristin, April Blackburn, and Alison.

Finally, thanks to Dad, who watched me silently at work.

Review Quotes

Drama Queens with Love Scenes

“Something that makes me fond of Drama Queens with Love Scenes is that it flouts m/m convention throughout.” 4 STARS - Ulysses Dietz, Prism Book Alliance

“Kevin Klehr has crafted a wonderful new world for these characters–a glittery, fabulous, and just a little bit catty eternity that lends itself to the seeds of theatre pop culture, history, and themes he weaves into the narrative.” Nathan ‘Burgoine (author) for his review in Chelsea Station Magazine

“Klehr has created some wonderful characters and his prose style immediately pulls us into the story and into the characters who actually become our friends.” Amos Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews

“Kudos to author, Kevin Klehr, who has penned the most original love story I've ever read. Drama Queens and Love Scenes is amazing in that the characters are dead, yet full of sass and mystery.” 5 STARS – Morgan Wyatt, Goodreads

Drama Queens and Adult Themes

“It is not exactly what I expected, but ultimately this story offers a powerful love song for readers willing to listen.” “…I found myself pausing as I read, thinking back over my own long lifetime as a gay man in a rapidly shifting world.” 4 STARS – Ulysses Dietz, Prism Book Alliance

“There are lovely vivid images evoked in the story…” “My best analogy would be the sensation of funhouse mirrors where art imitates life imitates art…” The Reading Addict

“…despite the complexity of the weave, the story doesn’t feel complex when you’re reading it. It has a good flow and a three-dimensional feel to the characters and the story.” 4 STARS – Nephy, Nephy’s World

“Klehr certainly knows how to tell a story, but I am still not sure if we were laughing at the characters or at ourselves.” Amos Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews

Nate and the New Yorker

“The writing is what really got to me. This starts out nice and slow, like a good orchestral piece and you’re thinking “nice” and then the other instruments start to chime in, each one at its exact moment in queue, until I was surrounded by a full crescendo of such rich characters, each one developed exactly right for the story, not overdone or lacking in any sense.” 4.5 STARS – O.J. Cast, O.J. He Says / Goodreads

“So, let’s just get the bottom line out of the way: this is quite possibly *the* best novella-length story I have ever read.” 5 STARS – Jaycee, Goodreads

“Blind-sighted. That's the only way I can explain what just happened to me. I mean…holy cow!” 5 STARS - Elaine White (author), Goodreads

“I think it is fair to say that Klehr has joined the ranks of other gay men that are writing about our lives.” Amos Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews

Up to this point, I had enjoyed Nate and the New Yorker, but it was Klehr’s simple, but clever, way of shifting the emotional momentum of the story which totally won me over. 5 STARS – Kirsty, Joyfully Jay

Chapter One

She looked like Jayne Mansfield without the attributes. Her cherry-colored wide-brimmed hat complemented her black unbuttoned jacket. A low-cut white dress completed the look. She seemed overdressed and would have looked better wearing a casual pink T-shirt and torn jeans, like a pinup girl sparking the imagination of a lusty army boy. Her pleasing smile said she had been waiting to greet us.

An angel stood next to her, barefoot in old blue jeans and a ripped-sleeved khaki shirt. While he didn’t have the glam factor of the female, his striking dove-gray wings drew focus. They spanned his height and then some, towering above his head by at least an arm’s length. He rarely made eye contact with us and stood hunched with his hands lightly clenched below his navel. His demeanor implied a vanilla hint of gayness.

Just what did we actually get up to last night?

My friend, Warwick, and I safely considered this scene from the doorway of our tiny room.

A moment ago, we had said goodbye to my uncle and his girlfriend, and now we were facing two strangers on what looked like the set of a Greek epic.

Our confused oohs and ahs echoed off the marble black and white tiles, which stretched so far into the horizon they became gray as they met a set of stairs. Each step alternated in color, again black and white. Someone had overdosed on 1980s pop videos when they conceived this design.

“What do you make of the red velvet curtains, classic or uninspired?” I asked my friend.

“Allan, they’re lush. Just lush.”

“Don’t be alarmed, gentlemen,” the Jayne Mansfield look-alike said with an air of whimsy.

As we nodded awkwardly, she shot a concerned glance at the angel and whispered, “Don’t smile like that. It doesn’t match the décor.”

Discouraged, he rolled his eyes and mislaid his smile.

I began biting my thumbnail as my eyes darted between our hosts and the opulent aspects of this room.

“A sex kitten and an angel,” I timidly said to Warwick. “Does this mean…?”

Warwick stepped through the doorway and addressed the angel. “Those wings? Please tell me they aren’t real.”

The angel gracefully flapped them three times before shrugging. I switched my denial into overdrive.

In the past week, Warwick and I had left our chaotic beach-town lives for a little break. My dead-end job was getting me down, and my partner in crime suggested a holiday would be the best remedy. Until this point, he was right. All had been going as planned. We’d visited my uncle Bryant and his new love interest in Melbourne before considering a driving trip around Tasmania. Who could have imagined this strange twist in our plotline?

Our hosts seemed to study us like a diplomat about to shake hands with a head of state. The angel endeavored to smile again, while the blonde bombshell gave us a moment to gauge our bearings. Then her arms extended in greeting like Jesus in a biblical painting.

“My name is Samantha, and this is Guy. We’re here to welcome you.”

“I’m Warwick, and this is Allan,” my friend said. He gestured back in my direction.

I stepped into their lavish space. Five-meter-high crimson walls screamed at me; several burnt-caramel marble arches signposted entrances to other rooms, each shielded by more red velvet curtains. It was lavish in a color-blind sort of way. All that was missing was a harem.

“It’s nice to meet you, but where exactly are we?” I asked.

“You’re in the Limelight Quarter,” announced Guy.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand what’s going on. Where did you say we were?” I was fearful of the answers.

“You’re in the Limelight Quarter,” replied Samantha. “We’ve been sent to show you to your new home.”

She stood confidently, owning the floor beneath her. I mouthed the words “our new home” as she read my lips. The more our hosts tried to enlighten us, the more obscure this setting became.

Warwick courted my short attention by subtly pointing above us. I was already feeling nauseous at the combination of colors, but by looking straight up, I saw something that made me picture Liberace and his piano bringing this room to life. Projecting rainbow colors throughout the space was a mammoth chandelier, even though there were no rays of sunlight streaming into the room. I could sense the echo of ivories entertaining an audience of women with their best years far behind them. His grand instrument dazzling us with reflected hues. Was this camp heaven or decorator hell?

“You’re in pleasant company. Don’t be alarmed,” Samantha continued.

She beamed in what seemed an attempt to win us over. Her feminine charms began to work.

“You realize all of this is going over our heads,” Warwick explained. “We’ve never heard of the Limelight Quarter, and we don’t understand why we have new homes.”

“You’ve arrived in our little sector. A place we like to describe as the theater district,” she replied.

“So why are we here?” I was desperately piecing together the moments before our arrival.

“Your resumes tell us that you’re both comfortable treading the boards,” explained Guy.

Yes, it was true that we both dabbled in acting, but at that point, we were hardly household names.

“We welcome new visitors to our theatrical paradise. That’s our job,” said Samantha. “We know about your thespian tendencies, so you’ve been assigned to stay here.”

“So that means the Limelight Quarter is just part of this unique location?” Warwick asked.

“Definitely!” answered Guy. “People from all walks of life inhabit their sectors of interest. We match new visitors to their hobbies.”

“So the Limelight Quarter is part of what other place?” I rubbed my chin, not really wanting my doubts confirmed. This query seemed to stump our angel. Was he biting his bottom lip to avoid the question, or was it an attempt to work out an ambiguous answer?

“Sweethearts, you are here! That’s all that matters,” replied our hostess. Her charisma was working overtime. “Now, Allan and Warwick, we have to welcome you in the traditional manner.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“A friendly cocktail at our own special bar,” she replied. “Follow us. The Pedestal awaits!”

“I’ll do anything that feels familiar,” I replied. “Lead the way.”

* * *

My feet were massaged by the cobbled streets as we followed our hosts. Striking sandstone apartment buildings, all about three stories high, sported luxurious balconies. The perfect setting for theatrical types to hide away between plays, soaking up the golden sunshine from the terrace while skimming through their lines.

Somewhere in the Afterlife, there were architects who knew what they are doing. I felt calmer. Around us, local inhabitants either strolled or rode pushbikes around the streets, enjoying the weather. Warwick placed his hand on my shoulder as he strode next to me. I was so glad I wasn’t experiencing this alone.

A tall woman in a scarlet dress and black feather boa sauntered past me, closely followed by a couple of older stylish men in corduroy jackets and tortoise-shell glasses. They had a sexy lecturer look that made me want to share in their knowledge.

“How long have you all been here?” Warwick asked.

“Always,” replied Guy.

“A fair while,” said Samantha. “There are so many fascinating people here, it’s not worth leaving.”

“So who are they?” I asked.

“At any one time, our new arrivals are the most interesting souls. But our ever-changing cast of characters are sure to delight your intellect.”

“Are these characters as intriguing as you?”

“My dear, no one is as intriguing as me.”

Guy rolled his eyes as his wings flapped a couple of times. I wondered if this angelic gesture was similar in effect to a mortal coughing after hearing a lame comment. The banter continued for several more paces before we arrived at an art-deco building ruined by electric-blue paint and a multicolored neon sign flashing “The Pedestal.” It was like someone had consulted Mr. Magoo for decorating tips. I welcomed the idea of drowning my bewilderment in alcohol, even if it was to just rid myself of this horrid image.

Samantha did an eccentric half twirl between us and the doorway. Guy glanced at the sky, seemingly underwhelmed by her flamboyant antics. Warwick huddled close to me as they ushered us inside.

We stood at the back of the bar as my friend rubbed my shoulders. I still had a far way to go before accepting our demise. I was wondering if the drinks here contained alcohol, or was that against the rules in the Afterlife? Did we need to be holier than thou?

The Pedestal was an artist’s space, a nightclub in feel. Candlelight flickered from tables, accenting its distinct cast of creative types. Inspired conversation and polite small talk could be vaguely heard around the room. A fusion of sandalwood from burning wax, and other faint perfumes wafted past us. Diner-style booths graced the walls to the sides, as mismatched furniture in leather, denim, and assorted fabrics fought for attention. This varied seating arrangement littered about two-thirds of the available space, leaving a drink-stained bar to one side and a cozy dance floor and stage at the front. The performance space also featured a pair of those hideous red velvet curtains pushed to the sides.

But the main focus on stage was an eye-catching dark-skinned woman in a pin-striped man’s suit. She was introduced as Nellie by one of her jazz band. This statuesque figure held her microphone as if it were some sultry extension of her body. Her soulful lips emitted a tone that could melt chocolate.

As she sang, a young lady in burlesque attire stood captivated in front of the stage, mouthing her lyrics. Nothing could mistake her glance—she was a lesbian waiting to happen. We perched ourselves at the bar, where next to us a woman in her late thirties gazed longingly at the barman as he poured a glass of red wine.

“Please keep the change. Just give me the look of love,” she uttered as the barman grinned flirtatiously. It seemed a strange comment as I didn’t see any exchange of currency.

“This place? Shabby or charming?” I asked Warwick.

“Charming, in a shabby sort of way.”

Within this short space of time, there’d been a lot to take in. Two strangers posing as new friends leading us from ostentatious opulence to mix-and-match glam. If my friend was as guarded as I was, he definitely was not making it known.

I spotted several framed portrait shots hung between faded theatrical posters at the back of the club. Cheesy smiles and forlorn looks graced those faces. Some posters looked like cut-and-paste montages for school plays, while others embraced graphic concepts so out there, you’d swear Salvador Dali had set up a studio nearby. Elsewhere, this charismatic ad hoc décor laced with local creative types would have put me at ease.

“Warwick, look over there.” I pointed to the booths. “That petite old Korean woman. She’s arguing with her son.” My friend squinted to focus.

“I think that’s her boy-toy,” said Samantha. “She’s with a different one every time I see her.”

“She has good taste in her vices,” I replied. “Who is she?”

“Some extraordinary old star waiting to be rediscovered.”

“Obscurity agrees with her.”

I found solace in examining the characters around us. Not all of them looked like your average theater crowd. There was a sprinkling of actor-types wearing flashy clothes, and a middle-aged plump woman taking notes for what I assumed to be her next role.

Among the non-thespian crowd were two tree huggers solving the world’s problems while sharing herbal cigarettes. Another hippie, who already had his share of smoke, danced like an epileptic octopus on valium, interpreting a beat only known to himself.

I was studying ghostly souls, a thought that started to unnerve me again, so I followed Warwick’s lead to discover more about our hosts.

“Do you ever not like who comes through the door?” I asked.

“There was an old fortune-teller with a pet snake,” moaned Samantha. “She freaked out as soon as she saw Guy.”

“She screamed at me!” added Guy, shuddering.

“Nothing she had foreseen prepared her for this place.”

“She just couldn’t cope with life. That’s what happens when you live alone for too long.”

“But she had her pet snake,” said Samantha, raising a brow.

“Where is she now?” Warwick asked.

“She finally found inner peace when an old friend arrived.”

“Speaking of inner peace,” I said, “where will we be staying?”

“That’s all in hand,” replied Samantha. “For now, just enjoy yourselves. We’ll show you to your rooms later.”

A metallic body clanked across the dance floor.

“Warwick, Roman gladiator at three o’clock. Overdone?”

Warwick studied the armored visitor, then made his assessment. “Maybe he’s historically accurate?”

His assumption unsettled me. Had this soldier been wandering around aimlessly for centuries?

“Warwick,” I whispered. “What’s going on here?”

“Like I’m supposed to know?” he replied. The ancient warrior’s armory squeaked as he took his seat. “It’s like we’re in a time-travel movie. But the only difference is the angel. A real live angel.”

“I’d expect Bibles at the bar,” I said. A small flame glowed from the corner. The toy-boy was lighting a cigarette for the Korean cougar. “What about her for instance? The priest would wash his own mouth out with soap after her confessional.”

“Maybe God’s not as judgmental as we think,” Warwick replied.

“Or Buddha or Ganesha or whoever?”

“Maybe there’s a VIP room where they all sit around chilling out?”

“Yeah, they spend their days singing religious chants with Krishna on honky-tonk piano.”

Warwick smiled. He was usually the expert in not getting his feathers ruffled while I often grappled with the world, but in this instance, we both needed reassurance.

Only three days ago, he was prescribing this holiday while I was dealing with my own personal dramas. Warwick was making me a perfect cup of peppermint tea. He stood, devoted to this task, while I was mesmerized by his supple latte-colored skin. He looked as inviting as the homemade lime cheesecake that sat under glass on our kitchen bench. Which would be tastier? Maybe I could have the two of them at the same time? One bite here, one nibble there. When he mentioned a visit to my uncle, I dispensed with the fantasies, then looked up as he handed me my tea. But that was three days ago when the world made sense. Now we were guest-starring in a surreal reality show. If Samantha had broken into song or Guy morphed into a reptile, it wouldn’t have dumbfounded me at this point.

“Are we staying here forever?” Warwick asked our hosts.

“Not necessarily. Stay for as long as you like,” answered Samantha.

Her words only puzzled me more. Life was easier when there was just lime cheesecake to consider.

“So at some stage, are we going to return home?” I asked.

“Just think of it as a holiday, pet. Stay as long as you need to.”

Nellie’s crooning began washing over me like a comforting embrace, or maybe it was just the vodka and cranberry juice. The liquid additive was definitely diminishing my fears. Around me contented beings swayed to the singer’s hum. She was the hypnotist, and they were captured by her trance.

“As much as I try, I just can’t get jazz,” said Guy in a hushed tone.

“You don’t realize what you’re missing,” I replied.

A rousing applause followed. The saxophone’s gentle notes invited us to free our concerns. The soothing voice of the large bass seduced us as the cheeky piano held us captive with its prearranged melody. Soon the cheerful flute made us ready to play. I was drunk, and jazz was now my mistress.

When I focused back on Warwick and our hosts, I noticed that Guy had gone to chat with a handsome man slouched on a formal coffee-colored sofa.

Warwick began moving his hips on the barstool, bopping around like a dazed Eurovision diva. Alcohol had definitely taken hold. Whenever he got like this, I had an evil desire to stick fake eyelashes on him, just to watch them flutter.

Shortly after, Guy returned with his friend. In this informal atmosphere, only Guy looked out of place. Maybe angels were not supposed to surrender to sensual pleasures like music? Before introductions were made, I asked about his deficient jazz gene.

“Why don’t you like Nellie and her band?”

“I like songs,” he replied. “Melodic songs. The band is okay, but they’re not my taste.”

This angel needed an injection of cool, unlike his handsome companion. I was a sucker for polo-neck jumpers, which his friend harmonized with a leather jacket and corduroy jeans. All in basic black. Color-wise, it was a lazy mix-and-match job. But who was I to argue as I was drawn into his hazel eyes and lips that were moist, rosy, and imminently kissable.

“Warwick, Allan, meet Pedro,” said Guy. “You’re going to share the stage with him.”

I examined this man, hoping to share more than just the stage.

“He’s even written the piece you’re going to perform,” said Samantha.

“Obviously, a man of many talents.” I listed his possible abilities in my head.

“It’s just something I’ve been working on,” Pedro said in a faded American accent.

“And how long have you been working on it?” I asked.

“Since the 1920s.”

“Really?” Had I just caught onto the one advantage of our fate? This man was thirty-something surely, while that Roman gladiator still looked buffed. Everyone who ends up here must stop aging. I glanced at Warwick, grinning like a faded movie star who’d found a discount plastic surgeon.

“Yes, the roaring twenties,” explained Samantha. “That’s when this delightful young man stumbled here from New York.”

“Good thing too. I was penniless. I lived with rats in moldy public housing. I even gave gangster names to the two rats that slept by my bedside. Mr. Money and Mr. Death.”

“Come on, Pedro, it wasn’t that bad.”

The writer was embellishing. He recognized he had a captive audience.

“Okay. It’s true about the rats, but I had lots of friends, and lots of friends with cocaine to help me keep my sanity. My string of affairs helped me survive without a blanket. In between real life, I wrote. Mostly one-act plays about cheerful things, like alcoholic street workers and murderous cops. One of my plays was even performed at a chic uptown party.”

“What was it about?” I asked.

“The night Santa was kidnapped.”

“For his toys?”

“Yes. Knife-wielding youngsters set a bear trap down their chimney.” A sinister grin spread over his face. “And Rudolph was served with mashed potatoes and corn.”

“A lovely venison meal.”

“That glowed in the dark. No candlelight needed!”

“You must have found fame after that?” I admired his originality.

“No, not really. It was a Christmas gathering. Mrs. Simpson made sure I was never recommended to any in her circle after she swore I made her die of embarrassment.”

“But you’re about to take the lead in your newly penned work,” announced Samantha.

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“It’s based on the rats I shared my flat with.”

Nellie introduced her next number. The raucous improvisation made it difficult to converse, so I closed my eyes. My mind and my tapping foot were taking pleasure in my own solitary nirvana. The saxophone randomly voiced its frustrations. In a jumble of emotion, I felt it scream out for liberty before it wallowed back into its comfort zone. Next, the clarinet took flight. With sharp notes, it took for granted what the saxophone was yearning for. I opened my eyes.

Pedro had returned to his comfy sofa. His eyes were closed as his head and shoulders swayed in rhythm and his hand slapped his knee in time. Warwick and Samantha had joined him on the couch, and after sharing a few words, they too copied his seated dance.

I also began to sway and turned to Guy to share in this infectious beat. He looked back at me as if I needed a toilet. I effortlessly moved my arms as if I was dancing with an invisible partner. He just shook his head like I was an idiot. This angel was no jazz fan, so I decided to converse instead.

“It must be marvelous to be able to fly.”

Guy paused for a second, then answered, “I wouldn’t know.” He bit his bottom lip again, before the sides of his mouth pushed nervously into his cheeks.

“Am I asking you about something you don’t want to talk about?”

“I wasn’t brought up by my parents, so I never learned. I’m an orphan.”

I wanted to ask more but chose to wait until he volunteered the information. I had a wicked urge to ask if he was hatched or delivered the normal way.

Nellie was now in torch-song mode, and the admirer who had been mouthing her words earlier patiently waited with the hippies. From where we were perched, we could take in the aroma of their joint. Recollections of Amsterdam were interrupted by the angel’s decision to open up.

“I was brought up by my auntie Jemima. She wasn’t really my auntie as she didn’t have wings, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I put two and two together and realized we weren’t related.”

“So who are your real parents?”

“I don’t know. I had a fantasy about my father being some brave dragon slayer, while my mum would be some mystical woman, in love with life. I dreamt that she would return and show me the joy in everyday things. Aunty Jem was fascinated with other people, and I never realized at the time how special that was. I appreciate it now.”

“So wasn’t there anyone else who could teach you to fly?”

Guy took a mouthful from his wine glass before easing into his tale.

“I had a friend named Joshua who tried to teach me to fly, but I was too scared to learn. Everyone admired his spectacular black wings. He was always dying his hair, sometimes a white blond, sometimes golden, and to me this was daring.

“One day we walked toward a cliff, side by side with arms outstretched, hands on each other’s shoulders. This was his way of forcing me to fly. We stepped over, and I flapped frantically. A couple of times I was able to keep his pace and fly beside him, but I kept losing altitude and dangled below as he tried to hold onto me. After a while he gave up, landing us both on the ground. We spent a bit more time together that day, but after that, we just drifted apart. I never understood why, and I never asked.”

There was an awkward silence as I wondered if Joshua was a lover. Guy had bared his soul and seemed to be avoiding any more conversation on the subject, and as much as I wanted to, I knew I shouldn’t ask. I didn’t need to. Another sip for strength and the winged one continued.

“I knew almost everyone where we lived, but I really didn’t connect. I just watched my life go by, not living it. I craved for things like a friend, or a lover, but when they didn’t appear in exactly the way I expected them, I didn’t develop the relationship.”

Guy stopped at this point. Nellie was taking a break while her band played up-tempo lounge music. Warwick, Samantha, and Pedro were in animated conversation. Pedro sat self-assured as Samantha slouched in alcoholic bliss. Warwick was all arm gestures, almost communicating with the deaf.

“You like your friend, don’t you?” asked Guy.

“He knows what to say to keep me serene. Like you, I’ve always tried to control things. I’m learning to let go and fall without the parachute.”

“That’s not what I meant, Allan. Of course you like your friend; otherwise he wouldn’t be your friend. But you’d like to be more than just friends; that much is obvious.”

I didn’t answer. I had been exposed.

Aware of how I felt, the angel placed his hand on mine and waited for me to continue.

“Warwick and I met at work in our under-stimulating public service jobs about a year ago. We clicked immediately and enjoyed long lunch hours to alleviate the boredom. We socialized, met each other’s friends, then shortly after we moved in together. Our flat became Grand Central Station, as people would drop in with drinks or other social additives. We enjoyed what life had to offer.

“Then came the week from hell! Warwick had the flu, and I was simply burnt out. I crashed in bed and didn’t raise my head unless my stomach rumbled. That was six months ago, so we decided there was only one solution. A sea change!

“We moved our public service jobs to Port Macquarie and tried to slow down. It was like The Golden Girls but with half the polyester, and our feet nowhere near the grave. The chemical additives stopped, but champagne became the substitute. Our city posse was replaced by our regional mob, and those fabulous parties started up again.

“Maybe it was the salt air that cleared my thinking in between hangovers, but over that time, I found myself viewing Warwick in a different light. The thoughts were subtle at first. A simple caress from his waist to his shoulders. An impulsive beard rub to the back of his neck. But over time, full cinemascope scenarios barged in during routine tasks.

“One night, while cooking Peruvian curried chicken, I envisioned Warwick entering the kitchen wearing nothing more than a white apron. He’d saunter over to check if I had enough spice. Once while polishing the furniture, I imagined him placing one hand on mine, assisting me in rubbing in the oil. These circular motions would reduce, as we found more appealing places to rub. I won’t even tell you what vacuuming the apartment conjured up.”

By Guy’s wry smile, I knew he understood exactly what I was talking about. I had learned nothing about Joshua, but Guy was discovering all there was to know about my unrequited passions.

“Then there were those moments. Times when I thought fantasy would become reality. Three months ago, we were celebrating the news of our friends’ engagement at our favorite little drinking establishment. Warwick and I had plastered ourselves with a blend of orange liqueur, soda, and lime. Curtis and Carmel were equally soaked as we kept raising glasses to an endless supply of causes. We toasted Port Macquarie, a milder lifestyle, and possibly every individual grain of sand on the beach. As the lovebirds gradually overlooked our presence, they began to demonstrate the foreplay that led to the proposal. We were convinced theirs was a shotgun wedding, and this was a reenactment of how they got into this predicament.

“We left our soft-porn friends at the pub and staggered home where, although the details are sketchy thanks to alcohol-induced amnesia, we both rested in my bed. We cuddled the way friends do when inhibition is laid to rest. He positioned his head on my chest. With sleep being the last thing on my mind, I kissed his scalp and caressed his neck. The scent of faded cologne reminded me of how much I had come to appreciate his distinctive tastes. The smart jacket draped on my bedpost would never be out of vogue. The burgundy shirt, which was half-unbuttoned, spoke elegance and style. I guided my hand under the shirt and caressed his defined torso. His silky chest hairs helped my fingers slide over his upper body. He wriggled briefly in that endearing way people do to gesture that they like what you’re doing.”

Guy quickly ordered another glass of wine while I shared the sordid details.

“I wish I could tell you that the yoga classes we had been taking came in handy. The term ‘downward dog’ may have had a new meaning. Frankly, I don’t remember. I woke several hours later, head feeling like a battered boxer down for the count, but with Warwick still in position. I didn’t move. I concluded that we didn’t do it and prayed that I wouldn’t throw up.”

For a moment, I felt I had said too much. Guy was staring past me in the direction of our other companions. I swiveled on my barstool and watched Samantha wander back to us. Beyond her, though, another story was unfolding. With intense fervor, my friend and the brooding writer were sharing saliva. As I scrutinized their kiss, I was more taken back by Warwick’s uncharacteristic display of public affection than the desire to take Pedro’s place.

In one word, Guy summed up my emotion. With his hand still on mine, he squeezed, then simply said, “Ouch!”

Chapter Two

I sprawled out on the plush red sofa, gazing at the antique harlequin money box in the display cabinet. Samantha and Guy had shown me to our lodgings the night before, sadly without Warwick, and my erratic sleep patterns put me in a zombielike state.

This apartment was almost a match for our rental back in Port Macquarie. A fusion of subdued primary colors coated the walls in the living space, making way for bolder pigments in the bedrooms. Vintage and modern ornaments sparked curiosity amid the classic furniture. A glass devil dancing on one leg, a bronze cubist sculpture, and cheeky Norman Lindsey prints celebrating old-world Eros were near perfect matches for collectables we had at home.

In renovation terms, it was “grandmother meets gay boy.” Its welcoming décor could include a cultured old woman working on a crossword, with her grandson seated next to her checking out male models in Cosmopolitan. The crisp aroma of Beef Wellington, which either might have prepared, would fill the room.

Seeing this carbon copy of our home gave me a fresh perspective on our tastes. I couldn’t wait to hear Warwick’s view. Without him there, I felt something was missing. Fearful thoughts that our friendship would dissolve echoed in my head. When I needed a companion to deal with this strange adventure, my spirit would be void of his comfort. I wanted to hear his reassuring voice in all its theatrical tones. I missed seeing his glossy, curly black hair and noticing how tight those little ringlets were. I wanted to admire his light brown skin and his alluring dark brown eyes enhanced by the furnishings.

I kept telling myself that I had no right to be jealous. After all, if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d have whisked Pedro’s clothes off him so fast he’d be in danger of a nosebleed. Even the harlequin figurine glared at pathetic me. I closed my eyes and focused on the events of the past day. We couldn’t have landed ourselves in a campier setting if we tried. A saucy blonde, a gay angel, and a set to rival any Hollywood epic. Then, within minutes, a trip to a club with a sultry drag king. Throw in the Ziegfeld Follies and this truly would be heaven!

I cast my mind back to the beginning of this adventure. The details seemed sketchy for a moment, even though they had happened just a few days ago. It was like trying to remember the details of a dream from the night before. The longer you are awake, the more the dream fades.

I recalled three days ago, Warwick handed me a cup of peppermint tea he had prepared with loving care. “You know, Mr. Incompetent is getting you down at the moment. You need to stop waiting for your fortunes to change. Allan, you need freedom!”

There was silence. His luscious maroon lips had a point. I let his words sink in. Here was an opportunity to not only break the monotony but to chill out with my friend. Perhaps taste those luscious lips. It was time to be selfish.

In a world where work opportunities were limited, I was putting up with an insecure baby boomer. He was the type of boss who came from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school. No promotions meant no hassles. Loyalty was a foreign concept, unless aimed at the endless string of nubile under-twenty-ones he’d hire for jobs that didn’t exist.

“What do I tell Mr. Incompetent? I can’t just march in there and say I’m having a holiday!”

I could see it. His assistant, Natalie, in that pink breast-hugging jumper of hers, sitting on his desk, legs crossed, and notepad poised. She’d carefully trace the tip of her tongue around the shape of her mouth. I’d make my demands, standing over him, while his downstairs stirrings would make him too self-conscious to stand up. Natalie would have no trouble in helping me set this up, if only I had the guts to play out my rebellious fantasies.

“Allan, you could be a coward and just not show up for work. After all, your uncle has been complaining that you’ve never visited him since he moved away.” Warwick paused to let his words sink in. Then came his demand. “Come on, let’s leave today!”

I tended to plan every aspect of my life, not always achieving the results I expected. So what if I didn’t arrive at work? I looked up at Warwick who was verbally going over what to pack. My internal argument was about to be resolved externally. We went to his bedroom where he unzipped his favorite navy sports bag and slid open his wardrobe. I contemplated the temperature down south. Deciding that clothes for all types of weather might be best, I followed his lead and charged to my own bedroom. My much-loved black suitcase was flung onto my bed as I took pride on my first radical deed since I had rigged my sister’s pregnancy kit to reveal a positive result.

* * *

Although I was snoozing, some part of my brain zeroed in on the sound of a key jiggling around in a lock. My subconscious was spying on Warwick. Samantha or Guy must have caught up with him to give him a key. As the doorknob turned, I checked the room for a magazine or book, anything to obscure the fact that I’d just woken up. Nothing. It was time to stare at that harlequin again.

“What are you looking at?” asked Warwick. He strode cocksure into the lounge.

“An antique money box.”

He went to pick it up. As with the one back home, he needed both hands to raise it, as the nineteenth-century child who might have owned it could never lift its weight. Its painted metal surface had become lackluster over the years. The harlequin smirked as if keeping a wicked secret. Maybe he was having a torrid affair with the bearded lady? Perhaps he’d given her hair remover disguised as beauty cream? Whatever the reason, his spirited smile intrigued me.

“That’s almost like the one you bought in New Zealand,” Warwick said.

His gaze guardedly scanned the living area right before his head turned to follow its lead. He let out a nervous sigh while numbly pointing at various items in the room.

“What the…?” he mumbled.

“That’s what I said twelve hours ago,” I replied. “Come check out the antique in the dining room.”

Warwick wandered over to a gramophone. He had one just like it back home, which we affectionately christened Edgar. He commented in disbelief about it having the same 78-rpm record on the platter we often displayed—“Island in the Sun” by Harry Belafonte.

“What do you make of it?” he asked.

“Spooky,” I replied. “And that’s not the half of it. There’s a laptop with the same video-editing software I was thinking of buying, and a video camera similar to mine. There’s even more weird stuff in our bedrooms.” As I led him to my room, he noticed several other items that matched the décor in our rental back home. His modern surrealist pictures hanging in the hallway and the wood grain doors with brass doorknobs all raised disturbed remarks. Even the kitchen with its burnt-orange tiles and aged-ash cupboards were doing their best to stop us from feeling homesick.

I made my way to my wardrobe and presented exhibit A, a black shirt with a Chinese collar. It didn’t button up in the middle. The buttons were to the right of the shirt and worked their way up to a scarlet triangular flap. This meant nothing to Warwick, but I explained that it was like one I’d been given as a teenager. I had a fascination with 80s new-wave bands like the Models, Deckchairs Overboard, and Japan, so a neighbor had made it for me. Now and again it came out to parties.

My next exhibit was recognized instantly. A hand-me-down checkered western shirt from my brother. He didn’t fit into it anymore, so Warwick and I often took turns wearing it. A gray-and-white knitted beanie was next on display. A friend had knitted this for me as a gift for letting him stay over when he was in town. How it had made its way to our modest 1970s-replica style apartment in the Limelight Quarter stumped us both.

Warwick darted to his bedroom as I followed. His heavyset wooden bed was an accurate match, except for the color of the lacquer. Back home it was a deep mahogany; here it was maple. At least the Afterlife spies got some things wrong when they decked out this place. However, his classic black leather jacket was displayed prominently in front of all other garments, exactly as he’d left it days ago before our trip. As he thumbed through his much-loved attire, he uttered several unrelated vowels before sitting on his bed.

“I’ve had a whole evening to get used to it,” I said. I perched myself next to him. “But last night when Guy and Samantha showed me around, my head was spinning.”

“What else is there?”

“Most of your pots and pans. Almost all my music collection. But to cap it off, my digital photos are in an album in my bedroom.”

I left Warwick and fetched them before jumping back on his bed. As soon as I turned the cover, the images haunted me as much as they did the previous night. We peered at artistic monochrome shots of chess pieces taken for high school art class. There were family party photos featuring childhood versions of my now married brother. Some publicity shots from my high school play. An old lover. An old friend. An old friend who became a lover. A photo-booth strip of my sister and I making each other laugh.

By the time we found the images of Gary’s hospital-emergency-themed party near its back pages, Warwick recovered his composure. He placed his hand on my knee, but I was self-conscious at how clammy I was. Seeing these pictures again unnerved me. Had someone broken into my home and reviewed my life by printing my photos?

Loser? Artistic wannabe? What would they have thought?

Warwick looked up and smiled. I wanted to savor his maroon lips. Their sheen was highlighted against the claret-colored wall. I wanted to reach behind his head and slide my fingers through his thick curly hair, before leisurely moving his lips to mine.

“I’m astounded!” he said.

I paused my daydream to compute what he’d uttered.

“Reassuringly ‘feels like home’ astounded, or unnervingly ‘what the frig’ astounded?”

“More like ‘stunned, I need answers but not jumping to conclusions’ astounded.”

“Warwick, at this stage, we have no choice but to jump to conclusions. Where are we?”

“In the Limelight Quarter,” he replied, blank-faced.

“Very funny. You know what I mean.”

My friend wandered to the window. I watched him, unrealistically believing he could give me all the answers. He viewed the flourishing garden outside before turning to me.

“They all seem secretive,” he said. “The only answer I seem to get from people is the Limelight Quarter. I don’t feel we’re in danger, though.”

“What choice do we have? After bonding with Guy last night, I feel pretty safe, too.”

“I guess it makes sense to find comfort in an angel. He’s the only one who has to be a true local.”

“Comfort, yes; answers, no.”

“Allan, I thought you’d find him sort of a geek. He’s a bit, Gomer Pyle. When we first got here, you were admiring Samantha’s outfit and gawking at Guy’s.”

There was not much I could keep secret from Warwick.

“Okay, I did at first, but you left me so I had to get to know him. In some ways, he reminded me of what I was like when you first met me. A bit of a lost soul. Our chat helped take my mind off this bizarre place.”

“Yes, Allan, I went home with Pedro to take my mind off this bizarre place.”

That repeated phrase reverberated in my head. I stared at Warwick. He stared back. The thought of my demise was hard enough to face, but this version of the Afterlife with no link back to concepts favored in religious texts made it harder to accept. There was not an omnipotent being in sight. We had one angel surrounded by a cast from different eras of earthbound time, going about their business with no qualms. And still, no one wanted to elaborate.

“Heaven or hell?” my friend asked.

“Perhaps limbo, or maybe we’re just having a weird dream?”

“Of course, Allan, at exactly the same time.” Warwick winked at me.

“Yeah maybe. Your wet dream with Pedro and my, my…”

“Your buddy-genre dream with an angel.”

He made me smile. As he looked out at the garden again, a more believable explanation came to me.

“Warwick, maybe I’m just in a coma, and somewhere near my hospital bed, you’re talking to me, trying to wake me up.”

“Allan, if I am talking to you from your hospital bed, how will I know you can hear me?”

“Look, Warwick, I’m wiggling my toes.”

My friend turned to see me lift my legs and shake both feet.

“Allan, what if you’re covered by a blanket, and I can’t notice your toes?”

“Don’t be silly. You’d notice my toes wiggling under the covers.”

“Maybe there’s a serving tray or a hospital chart on the sheets?”

I thrashed my legs more violently, just in case there was some truth in my theory.

“Allan, you’re not in a coma.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because from my point of view, I might be the one in a coma.”

My legs stopped kicking.

“Warwick, either way we should keep conversing, so no one ends up pulling the plug from our life support.”

A chill ran up my spine. I looked past my friend to glimpse the garden outside. It flourished with an assortment of trees and bushes, all leafy and in full bloom. Dark purple flowers blossomed in several makeshift pots, welcoming visitors who wandered along the brick pathway leading to the building. I pictured a lion and a lamb taking in the scent of the buds before regarding each other with kindness and lying on the grass. As serene as this thought was, it did little to pacify me. Warwick came back to the bed and sat beside me.

“There’s going to be a lot to get used to from now on,” he said.

I nodded. “If that’s the case, Warwick, I have something else for us to get used to.” I raced to my bedroom, grabbed a makeshift bound manuscript, and returned. “This is Pedro’s script. There’s a copy for you in my room as well.”

“What’s it about?”

“A team of gangsters trying to outwit each other. One of them wants to become a partner in a lucrative moonshine business. You’re playing the head gangster’s moll.”

Warwick looked as if our landlord had just burst in for a surprise inspection.

“Well, okay. I always pictured myself as RuPaul. So what else do we need to get used to?”

“I read through the first few pages last night before going to bed.” I thumbed through the script to show him the page I was up to. “This morning, while I was getting dressed in front of the mirror, I recited those lines.”

“You mean with the script in your hands?”

“No. I read this once last night. Today, I remembered the lines as clearly as if I was reading them off the page.”

“If only you could’ve done that with our theater society back home.” Warwick was right. I usually paraphrased and was grateful if the director didn’t mind. “What’s Pedro like as a wordsmith?”

“His play is corny as all hell, but hopefully it’s meant to be. What’s Pedro like as a lover?”

“Maybe a two-star rating out of five. His equipment reminds me of a turtle retreating into its shell.”

“You could always coax it back out with a lettuce leaf,” I replied. I knew this would be territory Warwick wouldn’t be keen to revisit. “So was he devoid of passion?”

“Oh, he’s passionate, but not in the bedroom. Foreplay is A-plus, but coming up with the goods, C-minus.”

“A bit like his script. What do you make of Samantha? Simply sex kitten, or is there more to her?”

“Well, she’s definitely in charge around here. At least she is with the people we’ve met. I think there’s a side of her we’ve yet to discover. What about Guy? Self-doubting angel or mystery man?”

“There’s definitely something mysterious about him. I’ve found out a lot. He’s more open when he has a few drinks, and somehow more attractive as well. Or maybe he just gets more attractive when I’ve had a few. There was a revelation in our discussion at the bar.”

“Do tell.”

“He can’t fly.”

“That explains his lack of confidence.”

“Yes, he tries to mask that, but it results in him looking uptight.”

We smiled, soon becoming absorbed in our own private thoughts. The way friends do when they know each other well enough to just be still. I mused over the Roman gladiator I’d been admiring the day before. How interesting it would be to chat with him about his life.

Warwick placed his hand on mine. I felt coy and prayed I wasn’t blushing. I reached over with my other hand and placed it on top. He wriggled his hand, sliding it away. My heart sank, surprising me. Had I overstepped the mark? He picked up his script and flicked through the pages.

“Who do you play?” he asked.

“I play Mr. Money, the gangster who’s trying to muscle in on Pedro’s empire. He plays the lead, Mr. Death.” For a moment, I considered whether to ask my next question, but it fell out of my mouth of its own accord. “Do you think you’ll revisit Pedro, in the biblical sense?”

“Only if I’m desperate. Who knows, maybe you can find a way to light his fire?”

This idea didn’t entice me to the extent it had the day before. For the rest of the afternoon, we retired to the lounge and learned our lines. One reading pretty much did the trick, but between scenes, my private thoughts became fixated on my overdue romance. Maybe his interlude with Pedro was my wake-up call? Memories of the last few days on earth were flooding back. My mood had been similar just before our visit to Uncle Bryant. Like some lost puppy dog on a busy road, too scared to make a move in any direction, hoping someone would come and claim me.

I usually wasn’t keen to visit family when I wanted a proper break, but Warwick felt I had to reconnect with my mob before we spent time alone. If truth be known, he could have suggested anything by that stage, and I would have blindly followed to avoid routine. A flight on a space shuttle? Sure! I’ll sell my siblings for the tickets.


Uncle Bryant was one of the more blessed members of our family, having won a large amount of money with a lottery ticket given to him for his birthday just three years prior. After the win, he chose an upmarket relocation. Why a bachelor of his vintage needed a penthouse was beyond our family’s understanding, except maybe to fuel his addiction to clutter.

The smell of musty books permeated the living area. There were piles of them on makeshift bookshelves, of which about half of them my uncle admitted he hadn’t read. He always claimed he had some obscure job to do around the apartment that prevented him from sitting still and reading. But it never stopped him trawling through secondhand bookshops.

Anywhere else, this décor would look appropriate in an attic. Old board games and train sets I’d swear had never been played with. Archival documents stacked on top of an early color telly that stood proudly on its own wooden legs. A 1960s portable record player sat with its lid open, playing the LP of an AM-radio-inspired soft-rock band.

I didn’t want to look too closely at the cornices in case there were insects trapped in spider webs, begging to be devoured just to escape the sight of this dust trap.

There were also five cats, Misty, Fred, Lipton, Sam, and Pike, and one goldfish he forgot to name. My uncle often had to replace his goldfish if he overlooked feeding the cats, but fortunately his cats were now too old to climb onto the shelf where this new fish looked out at the world.

The other notable newcomer in Uncle Bryant’s apartment was an elderly woman elegantly poised on the tan upholstered sofa. She was introduced as Pamela, the retired poet. Pamela lived in a small flat downstairs and often visited for company. In front of her was half a cup of tea and the remains of a slice of homemade carrot cake.

“How long are you planning on staying?” asked my uncle. He always claimed guests are like fish. They go off after three days.

“Not long,” Warwick replied. “Allan has this odd desire to visit Adelaide.”

“Why? It’s a country town with its own miniature Melbourne in the CBD. You moved to Port Macquarie! Aren’t you sick of small towns?”

Pamela came to my rescue. “But there’s a sense of the creative in Adelaide.” Uncle Bryant lifted his head and passively looked to the ceiling. “Oh sweetheart, I know that look. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that you’ll ration our hanky-panky.”

“True. I wouldn’t survive. I’m more of an Errol Flynn than a—”

“Please, let’s not go there,” I said. “Now my other choice is Hobart. We’ve never been there.” Luckily neither had our hosts, so no debate was entered into. “We were wondering if we could leave the car here, fly over, and come back later.”

“Absolutely. I have a spare car space. Pamela insists on driving me everywhere.”

“Bryant, tell them where your car is.”

My uncle hesitated, then informed us that he sold his trusty old Ford Falcon.

“And tell them why you sold it.” This time no reply, so Pamela filled us in. “He can’t see.”

“I can see!”

“Just not very well.”

“I can see what I need to see!”

Pamela then mouthed the words “license renewal,” shaking her head. The problem was, my uncle was old-school. He came from a generation that would rather die than wear glasses.

This affectionate banter entertained us for the rest of the evening. Between cups of tea and slices of carrot cake, we heard all about Bryant and Pamela’s love in bloom. They first met in the elevator, comparing groceries and chitchatting about prices. Pamela had bought three T-bone steaks on special, but my uncle still felt she was ripped off. He recommended his little Greek butcher just down the road a few blocks, next to the funeral home. The retired poet shrieked in horror at the cost of Bryant’s leg of lamb and swore with hand on heart that her Polish butcher was cheaper. And so began a romance. Taking turns to cook meals, it was my uncle’s honeyed carrots that initiated the courtship. One taste and she was under his spell.

We listened to their story, glancing at each other with wry smiles as each absurd twist of their culinary courtship unfolded. Maybe there was a lesson to be learned from them? Maybe food was our missing sensual ingredient? I made a mental note to rush to the supermarket once we arrived in Hobart.

Conversation continued through dinner, ironically take-away. In that time, Pamela graced us with a few recitals including “Ode to Honey Dipped Carrot,” “T-Bone Teaser,” and “The Love Butcher.” The latter was ripe for a theater restaurant, with dubious references to rump steak and marinated heart. It was soon after this rendition that she dropped the “clanger.”

To me, it felt like the sky had fallen. It tumbled so effortlessly from her tongue, it simulated polite conversation. There was no consumption of alcohol to blame for this error in judgment.


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