The sun had barely touched the horizon over the Mississippi when the city buzzed with life. Floats lined up at their starting points, ready to usher in the good times the day would roll in. Darzsa woke up earlier than usual to trek to the riverside of Canal for his personal favorite attraction of Carnival season. He had no interest in being part of the Zulu Club, but the festivities were enough to make a quick buck.
He lined up with the other men, waiting for the parade to commence. He rubbed his eyes as the sunlight glistened off the water. Atop the float was the king and the new queen, except this queen was more Mac and less Jane. Of course, they’d make a spectacle of a cheap wig and ill-fitting gowns like some colossal joke. Darzsa kept his expression blank, recalling how he’d taken care to scrub any remnants of mascara from his lashes before arriving. Jobs were scarce as is and today was the last day he’d be subjected to this until the following year. He kept his gaze forward and counted down until he could get back in bed and rest until tonight.
The bronze dress laid across his bed, necklace, and turban beside it. Darzsa hunted for the shoes still in the box under the bed. All of his makeup was lined on his vanity next to the bottle of Chanel No. 5.
Darzsa sat down and started on his eyes, then outward until he filled his lips in, admiring the finished masterpiece in the mirror. His mother’s eyes glared back at him, and his father’s cheekbones were rosy with cherry-colored rouge. A younger, more slender-faced Daniel regarded the way he’d pin down hair tonight. Misty-eyed recollections nearly streaked mascara and liner down his face.
Darzsa raced to the kitchenette and washed his hands, scrubbing until his skin was raw. Suits and ties were hanging in his closet. He could dunk his face under the faucet and wash the makeup down the drain. Countless nights he’d sit and line his eyes and lips at home or work and not so much as a second thought. Why tonight of all nights when he was supposed to show off his urban set and blow everyone away?
He leaned over the sink, droplets of water splashing onto his arms and spraying his face. A wave of nausea subsided, and he took several deep breaths to stop shaking.
They weren’t here. They couldn’t see him. They couldn’t hurt him.
Darzsa stood tall and sat back at his vanity to touch up his makeup. A few spritzes of his favorite scent and his chest already felt lighter.
Stockings and a turned-down slip were the last bits of preparation before he stepped into the dress and pulled it up with ease. Darzsa looked in the mirror at how the light caught the metallic-colored fabric set against his skin. Stunning—a Neoclassical one of a kind. Darzsa braided and pinned down his hair and fitted the turban snug to his head. He slipped into his shoes and saved the best for last. Emerald hung from the long chain and swayed when he examined from all angles in the mirror that nothing was out of place.
The dress and its accessories were a perfect fit—their beauty on him and what it meant to him coming from Josiah. Darzsa grabbed his coat and wrapped himself in it. Rowdy party goers would fill the streets and wouldn’t be able to tell him from a lamppost, so he didn’t care too much to walk the few blocks to work this early in the evening. Darzsa locked the door and headed down the hall.
Darzsa entered the dressing room and took his spot on the far end next to Ellie. Her hair was better than last night, so Darzsa was relieved to see she listened to him about one thing. The liner still needed improvement.
“Don’t you look darb tonight, Darzsa,” Ellie said. “Did you and your boyfriend make up?”
Darzsa shook out of his coat and hung it over the back of the chair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ellie’s hand slipped, and a black line connected her lashes and arched brow. The pencil collided with the vanity, and the rest of the girls turned to see why Ellie clammed up. “Darzsa!” Ellie stepped back from the mirror and circled him. “Where did you get that dress?”
“Oh, this?” Darzsa adjusted his turban and checked his lipstick. “A little something to show you gals how it’s done.”
The rest of the girls crowded around Darzsa and asked where he got his dress from; some said they saw it in the window of Mercier and Messina. Ellie lowered her voice and asked, “That guy got it for you, didn’t he?”
“I never kiss and tell.” Darzsa winked and shooed his coworkers away from him.
A hush fell over the room when the door opened and who else but Ruthie appeared. Darzsa saw her reflection and, the same as last night, paid her no mind. Everyone else busied themselves with fastening shoes and layering beads to avoid the swirling tension in the room.
Ellie and Barb nudged Darzsa in unison and gave him the same look in the mirror. Behave. He rolled his eyes and helped Ellie wipe the stray liner off her lid and correctly apply it.
“Well, aren’t you the belle of the ball tonight, Darzsa?” Ruthie took her place and started on her hair. “You ran back to one of your daddies? I know that spade didn’t get it for you.”
Ellie’s chair almost crashed when she stood, but Darzsa caught it and patted her arm to settle her down. Half the girls gathered their gloves and shoes and hightailed it through the door while the rest kept their heads down.
Darzsa was used to the unsavory words of patrons and strangers on the street and had learned to take it in stride. Nothing Ruthie called him was worse than he’d already heard, and since he’d stopped caring about her existence, it mattered less. But bringing Jo into their strife? Well, that was another matter. One Darzsa guaranteed would be her last with him.
Barb’s blonde curls bounced when she bounded up to Ruthie and slapped her. The loud smack ricocheted around the room in a delightful decrescendo that was music to Darzsa’s ears. Ruthie could spare the rouge tonight; her cheek was red enough. Tears streamed down her face, winding through her freckles and pooling around her chin before dripping onto her dress.
Barb huffed and sat back in her seat. Ellie checked her hand, massaging the scarlet skin.