The gold-plated dome of the Denver Capitol building gleamed against a cloudless blue sky. The Rocky Mountains, still snow-covered at the end of June thanks to late spring storms, rolled off into the west in ever-deepening shades of blue. Benito Quintaña pushed his sunglasses against his face, pulled his straw cowboy hat lower over his eyes, and checked out the parade of humanity passing by his booth at the Denver Pride celebration. His t-shirt lay draped across the bust of some Greek goddess, a black flag of surrender to the heat. His friend and coworker Chris Dobbs, a scrawny platinum blond who at twenty-two had artistic talent and a body of work Benny could only envy, twirled a fake fox tail between his fingers as he continued his quest to get Benny laid.
One late night when they’d been working non-stop trying to get Jay-Cee’s bronzes ready for a show, Benny had confessed that ever since he’d gotten clean and sober, casual sex had become orders of magnitude harder. Despite his horror of relationships, Chris had made it his mission to get Benny a boyfriend. It hadn’t worked out too well. This weekend, he’d switched tactics.
“If you don’t find someone to screw by Sunday, I’m going to jump you myself,” he’d said. “A pity fuck, and it’s me I’m taking pity on. I can’t take all this celibacy any more. You’re giving gays a good name. What’s wrong with you? Think of the baby gays who look to you for guidance. You might as well be straight with that kind of attitude.”
Benny had promised he would do his best. It’s not like he didn’t want to have sex again sometime before he died. And actually, hooking up with Chris wouldn’t suck. They’d done it once before, and it had been fun, but neither one was really each other’s type.
“What about him?” Chris asked, blatantly pointing at a barrel-chested, bearded white guy wearing a leather harness and bright red hot pants roller-skating slowly down the path through the park.
The guy saw them looking, smiled and did a little jump that had him skating backward past their booth. Chris clapped his appreciation and then blew the skater a kiss. The guy mimed catching it and slipping it down the front of his minuscule shorts.
“Too athletic,” Benny answered. “He probably jogs before work. I like my sleep.”
“More for me, then. You good here?”
Benny gave an exaggerated sweep of the completely empty booth. Expensive bronze statues weren’t exactly a huge draw, and the hundred-degree heat wasn’t helping business any. “I think I can hold down the crowds.”
Chris clipped the foxtail to the back of his Daisy Duke jean shorts, tucked in his skin-tight white tank top, and grabbed Benny’s hat off his head. “Later then. Besos!” He hurried after the man on roller skates.
Benny backed deeper into the shadows of the canvas-sided booth. Dry heat or not, the sun burned through the thin mountain air, and even Benny’s olive skin would burn in no time. He checked his watch. Jay-Cee had said he’d be back after the parade to give Benny a break. Judging by the upsurge in sweaty, rainbow-drenched people wandering through the Civic Center Park, the parade had ended.
The music had started again. The ever-present bass thumping was so much a part of the day that Benny felt it in his veins more than heard it.
He people-watched idly from the shadows. The event drew all types, from crowds of young women with smiley-face pasties in lieu of shirts, to grey-haired couples holding hands, to presumably straight families with kids out being allies and enjoying the day.
One such family caught Benny’s eye as they stopped where every single other family had stopped the entire two days of the festival: at the air-conditioned kitten adoption booth. Okay, to be completely honest, it was mostly the dad who’d caught Benny’s eye.
A tall African-American man with long black dreadlocks pulled back into a low ponytail, wearing fitted dark blue jeans and a white-t-shirt, he was exactly the kind of man Benny liked. Not that he had anything against the hot pants and roller skate crowd. He’d been with many a guy who looked like that, and if you couldn’t get your freak on at Pride, where could you? But if asked with a gun to his head if he had a type, Benny would have to say yes. And Mr. Tall, Dark, and Straight over there was definitely it.
Even with a gun to his head, Benny would never admit that he had always wanted children of his own. Something about knowing that this guy was a dad made him extra sexy. He couldn’t tell if the kid was a boy or a girl. You never could be sure with small children and especially at a Pride event. Let’s go with a girl; not like he’d ever have to worry about insulting her to her face. Her dreads were left loose around her face, and rainbow wings and a rainbow tutu embellished her tiny dark jeans and white t-shirts.
The kid and her stylish-looking mom walked into the Plexiglas-fronted booth. Mr. Unobtainable stayed outside for a second. He raised his arms up, giving Benny front row seats to the gun show, and lifted the heavy hair off his neck with a sigh Benny heard from across the path. The way he blew the air out of his pursed lips gave Benny a funny feeling in his bathing suit area. It also reminded him of something or someone. Someone he couldn’t place, but damn it felt familiar.
Maybe he should let Chris try to find him a hook up for tonight. Bad enough he would be the only sober queer in the village, he didn’t have to be celibate as well. It would be nice to celebrate night 287 of sobriety with someone. (He always counted nights. Days were easy. Facing the nights sober was the hard part.)
The crowd blocked his view for a moment. The parade was definitely over, and the people needed overpriced drinks and honey-lavender artisan ice cream. Benny wasn’t judging; that ice cream was the bomb.
The hottie with the body across the way met Benny’s eyes through a break in the crowd.
Damn, but the guy looked familiar. Could Benny have slept with a guy that hot and forgotten it? Now that would be a shame. But he hadn’t been black-out drunk since moving to Colorado, so he’s pretty sure he would have remembered.
Before he could get a handle on the memory, the guy’s family came out of the booth – without a kitten – and dragged him down the path. Benny watched them until they got lost in the crowd.
Benny shouldn’t be here. He knew it. But damn he was tired of being home alone night after night, and everyone he knew in this state was here. He adjusted his luchador mask, tugging the shiny silver nylon around so he could see better out of the mesh-covered eye openings. At least this mask kept his mouth free, so he didn’t feel like he was completely suffocating. A short cape fluttered from his otherwise bare shoulder. The outfit was a cliché, he knew, but it was all he had been able to find on short notice. Chris hadn’t told him it was a Masquerade until the last minute. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a particularly large guy. It looked like most of the other guys had also shopped at the Slutty Whatever section of the costume store. But then again, people in blue spandex shorts shouldn’t throw stones. Really it was the blue and silver wrestling shoes that sold his outfit.
The music pounded in his head like a physical object trying to force its way out as he surveyed the crowd from the second story iron balcony. The lights flashed across his eyes, rainbow lasers streaking through the fog machine smoke and swinging up across the walls, sliding over the sweaty bodies writhing on the dance floor.
And what a view it was. Arms, shoulders, chests, backs, thighs, all on display for his appreciation. Hairy, smooth, burly, thin, Benny appreciated them all, loved his world of queers.
For all its flaws and minefields, places like this and people like these had saved Benny’s life.
He had joined the Marines before he was old enough to drink legally, storming off to the recruiter’s office in a fit of teenaged drama. He was at boot camp before he had time to process the enormity of what he’d done. If he’d thought being a gay in small-town New Mexico was a problem, it was nothing compared to the military. From one gun-toting macho culture to another even more heavily armed one. And though he’d gotten laid way more than he’d expected, you don’t learn how to be out and proud in the military. He hadn’t known shit at eighteen, and he knew even less five and a half years later when he’d gotten kicked out.
If it hadn’t been for the miraculous appearance of the person who would become his self-described fairy drag mother, Honey Dijon, he’d probably would have been dead or in jail before six months had passed.
When he and Uncle Sam had parted ways, he’d had no idea where to go, what to do. No way was he going back to New Mexico. So, like so many others lost souls, he’d drifted to California. If he was going to be homeless, he was at least going to be warm. He’d ended up in San Diego, on the couch of the girl of a buddy from his old unit. It was a win-win, Benny got a place to stay, and the buddy didn’t have to worry that some Jody was fucking his wife while he was out fighting for God and country in the sandbox.
He’d been walking down some street in the Hillcrest area of San Diego, already drunk and with no particular destination in mind. All the bars he went to were full of sailors and Marines and the girls that hung around them. Not really what he was in the mood for that night, so he’d loaded up with some liquid courage and headed for the nicer, and pricier, gay bars up past the park.
A burgundy Lexus slowed down next to him, keeping pace. The window slid down, and cool air floated from the interior. A man’s voice called from the driver’s seat. “How much?”
Benny stopped walking. “What?”
The car stopped, and Benny moved closer, leaning in to see.
“How much?” the guy repeated. “Just a blowjob. I don’t have much time.”
“You want me to give you a blow job?” Benny stuck his head through the window. The cool air felt good.
“What are you deaf? Yeah, get your spic ass in here and blow me. What is it? Thirty? Forty?”
Benny blinked through the drunken haze, trying to focus his thoughts. Fuck off vied with forty bucks is forty bucks for supremacy. He peered at the guy. He looked a normal white forty-something businessman, probably had a wife and two kids somewhere in Escondido. Benny had sucked worse for free, and money was starting to be a serious issue. If the guy tried to pull anything funny, Benny could probably kick the guy’s ass unless he was some sort of secret ninja or something. As he weighed the pros and cons of turning his first trick, Benny realized there was someone in the back seat he hadn’t seen before. That, he didn’t like.
The mystery man reached out and grabbed Benny’s wrist.
Something that looked like a knife flashed past him from over his shoulder and smacked the guy hard on the back of his hand and he yanked it away with a curse.
A woman started cursing in a mix of English and street Mexican that was so rude it gave him the warm feeling of being back in the Corp for just a minute.
“You get your pinche ass out of here before I call my girls and we go all Grand Theft Auto on that piece of shit Lexis.”
The car pulled away from the curb with a squeal and a puff of burning rubber. Benny turned to thank his rescuer only to be faced with the most fabulous drag queen he’d ever seen in person.
Gold sequins dazzled his eyes. She was tiny, maybe five seven, but the four-inch platform heels brought her up to his almost six feet. She kind of reminded Benny of one of his cousins. Black hair fell in waves down to her cinched-in waist; eyelashes fluttered like butterfly wings on her face.
“Honey, you must be new around here if you don’t recognize Creeper Phil’s car.” She looked him up and down, one eyebrow cocked. “You are too gorgeous for me not to have seen you before. Where you come from, beautiful?”
Benny straightened up. “Came from the Corp, ma’am.”
“Ma’am. I like that. He’s polite, Honey. Can we keep him?”
An imposing Queen Benny had somehow missed before joined their little tableau. She was taller than Benny, even without shoes, and the largest, reddest beehive hairdo Benny had ever seen added another eight inches to her height. Her eye makeup mimicked butterfly wings, stretching from her incredible lashes up towards her temples. Jeweled butterflies were clipped strategically in her hairdo. A red and black velvet gown hugged impossible curves.
The first woman hit the redhead with the same weapon she had used to defend Benny’s honor. Benny could see now that it was a folded up metal fan. “What did I tell you about picking up strays?”
“Make sure they’re cute?”
Honey rolled her eyes dramatically and turned back to Benny. “My name is Miss Honey Dijon, and this tall drink of water is Venus de MileHiLo.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Venus said holding out her hand.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Benny answered bending over her hand and kissing it.
“Hoo, baby we are completely keeping you.”
Benny reached for Honey’s hand and gave her the same treatment.
Venus looked him over, checking out his tight black jeans engineer boots and white tank top. “You sure we didn’t stop you from something you wanted to do?” Her voice was fascinating to Benny. A smooth liquid alto. Benny shifted from foot to foot and stuck his hands down deep into his pockets.
“Well, I didn’t exactly come out here fixin’ to hook, but money is kind of tight. The thought did cross my mind that it might be an easy way to make some quick money.”
Venus de MileHigh Lo and Honey Dijon exchanged glances. Honey shook her head, muttering to herself under her breath in Spanish. “Baby, how old are you?”
“Twenty-two. And a half.”
“Sweet baby Jesus. I got bad news for you, mijo, you got that baby face thing working for you. A niño like you won’t get that five o’clock shadow, but you’re almost too old for these chicken hawks out here. Why not just go get a real job?”
“I would love to ma’am, but I got bad paper following me, and there aren’t a lot of jobs for machine gunners out here in the real world.”
“I guess there wouldn’t be.” Honey took in the imploring look Venus was giving her. “Fine. You come with us. Honey will take care of you.” She tucked her arm through his and tugged him down the road. “Why do I do this? Okay, tell me all about yourself. Don’t leave anything out.”
Venus came around his other side, and he let himself be dragged away, feeling very much like Dorothy when she linked arms with the Tin Man and the Scarecrow and skipped down the yellow brick road.
The girls were both headlining a show at one of the big drag supper clubs, and they plopped Benny behind the bar and told him to start washing glasses.
Thus began Benny’s introduction into the drag world of the International Court and the gay and drag club scene. They became his family. His mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They worked hard and partied harder.
For the first time, he’d seen all different types of gay men being out and proud. Everybody had a place in the community, from the straight-looking businessmen to the twinkiest of twinks.
It had been great until it had all fallen apart.
So the clubs had saved his life, but then the dark underbelly had turned on him and, to save his life again, he’d had to leave. Honey had reached out to her extensive web of connections and gotten him a job in Jay-Cee’s studio, contingent on him joining and staying with AA. He had, and everything was going great.
All the more reason he really shouldn’t be here in this club.
Benny jostled his way to the second level of the multi-level dance floor. The open ironwork of the stairs and balconies maximized the see and be seen function of the club. The cheap black laminate bar looked like it had been bought at IKEA and Benny wondered what this place would look like in the light of day.
“Can you make a virgin michelada?” he shouted to the bartender over the roar of the crowd and the thump of house music. They guy looked thoughtful then reached under the bar, rummaging around for ten seconds before pulling out one at a time a non-alcoholic beer, a small bottle of Cholula hot sauce, a packet of soy sauce, and a bottle of Clamato juice. He held them up for Benny’s approval, and Benny gave him the thumbs up. Close enough. Actually, it was probably a little too close to the real thing to be safe. But nothing about Benny being in this club was safe. He really should go home.
And he would have. Really. If Mr. Tall Dark and Straight from the kitten booth hadn’t walked up to the bar, right then. Benny couldn’t be 100% sure it was the same guy. The hair and height and build all matched up, but a gorgeous mask covered most of his face. An intricately carved faux-bronze faceplate crowned by two winged horses rested on top of a black leather domino mask. The faceplate curved down the side of his cheeks and traced the length of his nose. Black plumes blossomed from the top of his mask, adding inches to his already impressive height. Below the ends of the mask, Benny could see his full lips and the faint five o’clock shadow on his cheeks. Leather straps crisscrossed his muscled chest, and a white loincloth flirted with the top of his thighs. Benny wanted to send flowers to whoever designed that costume and light candles to the gods that had joined this man with that outfit. Lord have mercy.
The Gladiator leaned against the bar, one foot up on the rail, chin nod in the direction of Benny’s drink. “Is that a michelada?” he yelled over the pounding of the music. There was a touch of an accent in the pronunciation. Not over-pronounced in that gringo trying to seem cool way, but as if he’d spent a lot of time around people who spoke Spanish.
Gladiator leaned forward over the bar to shout an order in the bartender’s ear. The rear view of the outfit was just as fine as the front. The white fabric rode up to hint at the curve of a muscled ass, and his rock-hard thighs and miles of silken-looking skin and back muscles were all on display.
Benny closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose. All the blood in his body was headed towards his dick, and spandex shorts didn’t exactly hide anything. He didn’t want to seem like a pervert right away.
The bartender handed the Gladiator of Benny’s dreams a shot glass in exchange for a credit card they guy pulled out from under the loincloth somewhere. Hey, that could be a conversation starter, the importance of pockets in loincloths. Benny’s own debit card poked into his calf from where he had shoved it down his fake wrestling boot.
The guy threw back the shot and turned back to Benny with a crooked smile. He opened his mouth to speak, but the roar of the crowd rose even louder. They both turned to check out what was happening. Four cages, each bearing a go-go boy wearing not much more than body paint and glitter, were being lowered to the stage. The DJ said something incomprehensible and the moaning and groaning layered over pounding techno that blared from the speakers could barely be called a song.
“Wanna dance?” Gladiator asked.
Benny nodded yes, and Gladiator Guy reached a hand back, pulling Benny behind him as they went down the stairs to the dance floor.
The dance floor was packed, sweaty, and steamy just like Benny liked it. The guy pulled them through the crowd, snaking their way to a clear spot in the middle. He put his hand on Benny’s hips and started grinding.
Benny wound his arms around the guy’s neck, hand sliding under the heavy weight of dreadlocks that hung down almost to the guy’s shoulder blades. “What’s your name?” He yelled directly into the guy’s ear. “I can’t keep calling you Gladiator Guy in my head.”
The guy turned his head until his mouth was almost touching Benny’s ear. “Michael,” he said. He nipped at Benny’s earlobe, and his hand slid around to cup Benny. He pulled Benny tightly against him. “Is that good for you?”
Benny wasn’t sure if he meant the name or the ass grabbing, but both of them were fine in Benny’s book.
There was just so much skin. Their chests pressed together, sliding in the sweat between their bodies. Michael’s hands roamed all around Benny’s back and Benny couldn’t decide which part of Michael to touch first: his arms, his back, or his sculpted chest. Benny had seen a lot of sculptured chests in the last year, and this one was perfect.
Michael wedged his thigh between Benny’s legs dragging Benny up tightly against him, and now they had officially slipped from dancing into foreplay. Benny groaned. He could feel Michael hard against his hip. He really wanted to see what that looked like. He pulled back to peer down between their bodies. The way the white loincloth of Michael’s outfit tented up and the way the blue spandex outlined his arousal was obscene.
“Jesus,” Michael breathed. “You’re so fucking hot.”
Benny reached up carefully, sliding his fingers into the guy’s hair and tilting his head down. He leaned in, telegraphing his intent. “Can I?” he asked, not sure Michael could hear him over the music.
One of Michael’s hands flew to the back of Benny’s head, and his mouth crashed into Benny’s. Benny’s guessed the answer was yes.
When his fingers started teasing at the top of Benny’s shorts, Benny pulled away. He was going to come in his pants on the dance floor. They needed to get out here to someplace at least a little bit more private. He grabbed Michael’s hands. “Come with me.”
He led them through the crowd, behind the DJ booth, and past the bathrooms. Michael hesitated as they passed the bathroom door, but Benny just shook his head. Around the corner and down a dim hallway, there was a door marked Accessible bathroom.
Benny tried the handle. Unlocked, praise Jeebus. He pulled Michael through the door, then shut and locked it behind him. The automatic light flickered on, illuminating Michael’s body in all its glory.
They were both panting, chests heaving. Benny surged against Michael, pinning him to the door.
Their mouths came together in a clash of lips and teeth, Michael’s fingers tightening in Benny’s hair. Benny clamped a hand around Michael’s jaw, feeling the metal of the mask bite into his finger. Benny plundered Michael’s mouth, his hips grinding and rolling, rolling. Michael gave as good as he got. There was nothing soft, nothing tender about it.
His hands slid down the front of Benny’s shorts as he carefully eased the fabric over his length. Benny shuddered at the feel of his hand. “Oh, god,” he breathed out. It had way too long since he’d felt someone else’s hand on his dick. He pressed harder against Michael, sucking on his tongue.
He lost track of time as he floated close to the edge. Not wanting it to be over too fast, Benny pushed away and slid to his knees before Michael could complain.
Benny lifted up the loin cloth to find tighty whities. The huge erection pressing against the briefs and the way the white cotton contrasted with his dark skin was like something out of Benny’s favorite fantasies.
Michael’s hands tightened in Benny’s hair, and he moaned and groaned. “God, I’m so close.”
Benny had to hear him say his name. He pulled his mouth off but kept his hand working on Michael’s cock. “Benny. My name is Benny.”
Michael’s eyes opened wide, and he groaned like he was dying. “Oh shit, Benny, suck me. Please. Oh God, please.”
Benny did, and Michael came like a hurricane, thighs trembling under Benny’s hands. Benny leaned his head against Michael’s leg and finished himself off in two seconds flat. He kissed his way gently down Michael’s thighs as he pulled his briefs back up. Michael sat shakily on the floor next to Benny, shaking and trying to catch his breath.
“You okay?” Benny knew he was good, but that seemed like there was more to it than just a spectacular orgasm.
Michael nodded chest heaving. “Just that was my first time,” he said, reaching up to slide the elaborate mask off his face.
That looked like a great idea to Benny. He pulled his own mask off the fabric muffling whatever Michael was saying to him. Had he just said it was his first time?
“Is this your first blowjob?”
Michael chuckled. “First blowjob from a stranger in the bathroom. I gotta admit, I didn’t expect it to be so good.”
Benny loved his voice. It was deep and smooth. And his profile was so familiar; it nagged at a memory deep in Benny’s brain. “Well, we’re both sober, so that helps? Or maybe I’m just that good.”
Michael patted Benny’s arm. “Oh you’re good,” he assured Benny. “But it’s more than that. You have the same name as my best friend from high school. I haven’t seen him in about eight years, but I fantasized about him blowing me many, many times.”
He thought his brain might’ve actually stopped working as Michael kept talking. Face flushed hot, then cold. The word ‘no’ kept repeating in his head. No. No. He couldn’t be. He pushed himself away from the wall scrambling across the cold tiles on hands and knees, not trusting his legs to hold him up.
Benny stopped crawling when his head hit the far wall, and he turned, sitting huddled against the wall knees drawn up arms wrapped around his knees. He stared at Michael.
“Benny?” Michael started to rise.
Benny could see the second that it hit him. Michael stopped mid-crouch. “Benny?” His head was shaking back and forth denying the reality between them. “Oh no. God. Benito.” He dropped back heavily to the floor.
They stared at each other across the foot of open space separating them. If Benny slid his foot forward just a little, he could touch Michael. “Hey, Mikey,” he said. “Nice costume.”
Michael’s mouth dropped open. He stared, then closed it with a click. “Yeah. You too.”
There was banging on the door, and somebody yelled, “Come on, other people need to use this, too.”
Benny pushed himself up. He stood staring at the floor and tried to pull his useless cape around himself. Of all, the hundred million ways he’d imagined seeing Michael again, that he might be half naked with his mouth on Michael’s dick had never, ever occurred to him.
Michael slowly stood up, grabbing his mask and Benny’s. He handed it silently to Benny. Benny fought the urge to pull the mask back down over his face. “Let’s get out of here.”
They pulled open the door to see two guys plastered together front to back. The guy in front nodded, eyebrows raised. “Nice costumes.” The other guy pushed him into the room, and the door swung closed behind them.
Benny expected Michael to run screaming through the crowd and was stunned when he stopped and beckoned for Benny to follow him through the exit door at the end of the hall.