Darzsa opened his eyes and looked to his left. Some hopeless little creature was sitting next to him, dress falling off his shoulders and makeup looking worse than Ellie’s when she put forth the effort. Darzsa racked his brain to place the mug of this oddly familiar voice and to avoid judging his faux pas of an outfit.
“Do I know you?”
“W-well, you kind of do. Henry, I sometimes come with Josiah.”
Darzsa hummed, remembering the mousy man who followed behind Jo those first few times he came. “Ah, yes. So, what is...this about?”
“Oh, well,” he wrung his hands, “I’ve wanted to do this for a while—it’s the reason I frequent here—so, I was wondering if...if you…”
“Spit it out. I don’t have all night.”
“Can you help me?” Henry shut his eyes and yelled above the soft music. “That is, you dress so elegantly. This is my first time out and—”
A few others have solicited Darzsa for assistance, but they were never this high-strung. Darzsa clasped his hands around Henry’s and held firm. “I thought you’d never ask. Follow me.”
They got a wiggle on to the bathroom, and Darzsa fished some pins out of his pocket and turned Henry to face the mirror. “I always keep these on me. For emergencies.” He held the garment taut and pinned it in place—a drastic improvement. “Now, hair.”
Darzsa wasn’t sure where to start. It was picked out and uneven, and his feathers were skewed. “Your cut is already low, so don’t do anything to it. Accessorize.” Darzsa adjusted the headband, showing him in the mirror. “Brain binders, turbans, earrings; some marbles will do. What do you have?”
Henry’s eyes grew as big as saucers at Darzsa. “N-nothing much. Mostly the things my sister doesn’t want anymore.” He patted down his hair and gazed in amazement. “What about you? Where do you get yours from?”
“Oh.” Darzsa didn’t have the heart to tell him where he got his more exclusive items. “Catalogs.”
He never asked for it on the rare occasion that he was gifted beads, rings, or a suit or dress. Working at Chéri got him mixed in with Pearl’s girls too often, but Darzsa wasn’t one to say no to ice and glad rags.
“Thank you, Darzsa. I think the only thing I did halfway decently was my makeup.”
Under the flickering lights in the bathroom, anyone could have It. “We’ll work on that next time.” Darzsa patted Henry on the shoulder, and he held the door open for them.
“I was, um, a little nervous to ask. I’m glad I did. You’re a lifesaver,” Henry said, taking one last look in the mirror. “I can see why Josiah has a crush on you.”
Darzsa let go of the door but stopped it with his foot before it hit Henry in the face. Crush? He knew there was something between them, although the other day might prove otherwise. Darzsa had his fair share of old flames, and feelings either burned bright or got snuffed out in an instant.
“Well, I have to get back to work. Snag one of these Sheiks or Shebas to get you smoked.”
He returned to his seat at the bar, Henry in tow, and Darzsa swiveled in his stool and ordered the bartender to pour him two shots of bourbon and none of that watered-down mint julep shit. Henry looked on in fascination as Darzsa knocked them back in one go.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
Darzsa prompted the bartender to keep pouring and asked Henry if he wanted something stiffer than what was going around the room. “I’m offering you a drink. I think that falls under the category of working. So,” he emptied another glass, “did you come alone tonight?”
Seeing that dope with the overdrawn lips gave Darzsa a slice of hope that Josiah would have come tonight. As the evening roared around him, he resided in the amounting truth that this time things fell apart because of him.
Henry busied himself with his drink. “No, I came with a friend.” He tipped his glass, and his eyes roamed behind Darzsa.
Josiah stood there, all bright-eyed and teeth dazzling when Darzsa turned around. That bourbon must have gone to his head already if he thought he saw Jo in front of him. Henry hopped off the stool and shook Josiah’s hand, waved to Darzsa, then disappeared into the crowd.
“I didn’t think you'd be here tonight,” Darzsa said, the first coherent thought coming to mind. Josiah was the last person he expected, and the sight of him had his heart and thoughts in disarray.
“It’s the only place to be tonight if I have the right company.” Josiah held his hand out for Darzsa’s, assurance crossed his face waiting for it. “Do you think you can spare a few minutes?”
Darzsa’s brow knitted in rightful confusion. He gave this man hell the other day, so why would Jo casually waltz in like everything was the gnat’s whistle?
I can see why Jo has a crush on you.
Jo had sawdust for brains if he readily forgave Darzsa for that, or they had more in common than he thought. “I’m due for a break anyway.”
Josiah grinned and followed Darzsa to the handleless door that opened to the empty street beside Chéri. Darzsa stood a few feet away from the door and waited for Josiah to say his piece so he could get back to his never-ending night. “Follow me.”
More walking? If this was some sick joke to prolong the inevitable, Darzsa wasn’t amused. He fell in line behind Josiah, and after what felt like several blocks, Darzsa saw that red car in the distance.
“What is this about?” The crimson iron harbored an assortment of emotions that Darzsa wasn’t sure which to settle on first.
“I have something for you.” Josiah opened the back door but blocked Darzsa’s prying eyes. “But first, an apology.”