I was in the club that night, I remember. Emerald satin, as is my wont, grey suede, grey chiffon. Face painted to perfection as always. One earring - well, you know, always a step ahead of the fashion. That's one thing they'll always be able to say about me.
"Darling, you're here!" shrieked a voice from behind me. I rolled my eyes and turned to face Bette. Now in her forties, she was fading and slackening in all directions, and miles away from the stunning and brilliant person I'd fallen for as a young - very young - man. Bette had known I loved her. I don't think she could have missed it. She played up to it at every possible occasion. She still thought I did. Ah, well, there you go.
Without the makeup, the dress, and the wig, Bette was Damien Harris. I knew Bette very well, but I had never managed to get to know Damien. Friends of mine said he was a miserable sod when he wasn't in drag - I believed them. I am fairly miserable myself without my dresses, even though I wouldn't be seen dead in the kind of pink-satin-and-lace confections Bette wore, wig piled so high we were always worried it would tip over and fall into the punch bowl.
It doesn't matter, anyway. Bette was becoming one of those sad, tired old queens you see around here from time to time, and it was terrifying for all of us, because watching her you knew, you knew that one day that would happen to you. Age, of course, happens to all of humanity, but it happens faster to us.
Bette kissed me on both cheeks. "My dear boy, you must come and see what I stumbled over yesterday!"
"Probably just fell over in those heels," muttered someone behind me, and I laughed.
"Oh, do come and see, you'll simply love him." I followed her. I didn't really have a lot of choice.
When I was growing up, I was fascinated by what my mother called "poor lost souls" and my father called "bloody poofters" - what the rest of the world called homosexuals. My mother, when she found out about this, tried to be understanding and caring, and stop my father throwing me out of the house. I can still remember quite clearly one argument they had, my mother saying in her calm, reasonable voice "John, just because he takes pity on the poor creatures, doesn't mean he'll become one of them."
Sometimes I wonder if I became gay just to prove her wrong.
Anyway, Bette was not the kind my mother had warned me about. They were the mysterious "rough types" - I had only met one once or twice, and they'd never tried anything with me. Bette was glorious and ridiculous and a long way beyond camp, and sometimes it was good just to get away from the real world and into hers. A world of fairytale frocks and chivalry - chivalry! If you think about it, it's absurd. But I wasn't in love with Bette any more. Hadn't been for a while now. Am I repeating myself? I have a tendency to do that. Do stop me if I do.
Bette led me over to the corner by the bar, where groups of younger men stood chatting, comparing conquests, swapping makeup tips and generally talking about things they couldn't talk about anywhere else. I had been a patron of this corner, once. I smiled. Bette went up to one of the men and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Sweetheart, there's someone I want you to meet." The young man turned to look at me. I smiled again. He smiled back. Bette smiled at us both. (What a happy trio we were.) "Daniel, this is Stephen. Have I told you about Stephen? No? Well, anyway, this is him. Darlings, do talk amongst yourselves for a minute, I'm dying for a drink..." and she was gone.
One of the boys beside us said "I'm dying for a fag, myself," and we all laughed, some nodding in agreement and some patting him on the shoulder, commiserating. I did neither, and, to his credit, Daniel noticed. "Not joining in?" he said, when the chatter had begun again. I shook my head. "Why not?" I shrugged. "You're a talkative one, aren't you?"
"Sorry," I apologised. This was somewhat awkward. He was tense - I didn't know why - and I was uncomfortable. I don't know the reason for that, either. Well - that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
"No need, honestly."
"So how did the Pink Meringue find you?" I asked. He frowned for a moment.
"The Pink...oh! Oh, be nice."
"Do you only ever open your mouth to apologise?" I risked a wicked grin.
"No, I open it for other things too, sometimes." The wicked grin paid off. He relaxed and laughed with me.
"I bet you do. So, the Pink Meringue…well, I sort of managed to collapse in the street, right in front of his house."
"Her house. Definitely her house, if we're talking about Bette. She gets furious if you -"
"No." He shook his head. "His house. Damien's. And Bette's, I suppose, but it was Damien who found me."
Any thoughts, any one?