Gay pride was always a mess, but after a few hits from Sven’s joint, I was less worried about it. We’d been able to find a Peruvian chicken place with outdoor seating a few blocks away from where the parade was, so instead of knocking elbows and jabbing ribs with the masses, we were instead throwing back beer and picking through the leftovers of pollo a la brasa to the distant melodies of pop divas. I’d worn my tiniest shorts for the occasion, paired with my favorite cowboy boots, which I’d found at some hole-in-the-wall thrift store. Its rainbow-colored tassels had already gotten a slew of compliments from passer-bys, most of whom were drunk already.
“You want the rest of those yuca fries?” Josh asked me, already reaching for my plate. I slapped his hand away and waggled my finger. He pouted but retracted his hand. Even Josh, whose style tended to lean practical, had worn a rainbow-colored straw hat and a pair of neon plaid shorts that offended all my sensibilities but still remained true to the spirit of the occasion. Likewise, Sven was decked out in blue, pink, and purple, which was probably the most color I’d seen on him all year. He liked to claim he defied Nordic stereotypes, but if there was anyone easier to picture on the cover of an IKEA catalogue, I didn’t know him.
“Are we sad that we’re missing the parade?” Sven’s girlfriend Carlita asked as she sipped at her beer. We probably shouldn’t have been drinking twenty minutes after we smoked a joint, but I didn’t have anywhere to be in the next three hours, so I was going to live my life as best I could.
“God, no,” Josh groaned, leaning back in his chair. “Everyone’s there, which means no one is here and we get a little peace and quiet.”
“But think of all the go go boys we’re missing out on,” Carlita said with a smile.
“I can always see men in tiny shorts online if I want.” I dipped a yuca fry in some mustard sauce. “Or at work, I guess.”
“How many porn scenes have you watched in person?” Josh asked.
I’ve delivered bagels and donuts a few times, but I’m not really part of the
“Oooh, the bagel boy. What a perfect set-up.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s a lot less sexy than you think.”
“Oh sure, I’m certain it’s torture.”
“You’re welcome to job shadow me if you’re interested.” I arched an eyebrow at Josh, who waved me away. I know how much he loved his EMT job, even though it paid shit and worked him into the ground and involved way more rescuing naked people in bathtubs than one would think.
I twisted around and saw my friend Rachel trotting toward me in a turquoise tube top, cheetah mini skirt, and thigh-high black vinyl boots, like she was an extra from Pretty Woman or some shit. She wore about three hundred cheap rainbow necklaces and a bisexual flag bandana, which she’d used to pull her blue-tipped hair away from her face. With her septum piercing and very severe winged eyeliner, she didn’t even need the flag to define herself.
“You giving hand jobs out on the corner or something?” I called back, and she laughed.
“I’m a gay slut every day. Today is just the day I can be shameless about it.” She stopped beside the railing separating the dining area from the sidewalk, pushing her hair back with impressive-looking claws. “Hey, Josh. Cute hat.”
“Oh, Rachel, this is our friend Sven and Carlita. Sven and Carlita, this is Rachel, my best friend from high school.”
There were some muted congenial greetings, and then Rachel asked if she could join us at the table while she waited for some friends. She was skipping out on the parade, too, which didn’t shock me. I came to the gay pride parade not so much for the parade but for the overall vibe of the city. I could wear booty shorts and navel-baring tops and no one could say shit about it, which is all I ever wanted in life. I tried not to be sad that Thad couldn’t be here enjoying it with me. There was a chance he wouldn’t like the noise and the crowds, but he had a scientific mind, so it was more likely he’d want to study it all like a fucking anthropologist and then ask me questions all day.
I missed my boyfriend so much.
Rachel joined us at our table, but we were soon interrupted about five minutes later by another group of people, one of whom stood out more than the others.
“Is that Eddie?” I asked Josh. “Did you invite them?”
“I told them where we were, if they wanted to stop by,” Josh replied casually, then twisted around to greet Eddie and Peaches with a wave. “Hey, guys.”
Eddie was never to be outdone, obviously. He wore a gigantic neon pink sunhat, heart-shaped glasses, a pair of painted-on sequin rainbow shorts that barely covered his ass, a crop top that read BE GAY DO CRIME, and sky-high stiletto heels. On anyone else, it might look ridiculous, but not only did Eddie have an abs and ass to work with, but he owned it with such confidence that no one questioned it.
With him was Peaches, looking every inch the man I’d once been in love with—devoid of anything even slightly glamorous except a big rainbow-colored pin on the left breast of his T-shirt. One might think Peaches to be one of those self-hating gays who rejected anything that might be construed as feminine, but Peaches was just like this. He was the shadow to Eddie’s extremely bright light, and he seemed totally accepting of this role.
Behind Peaches and Eddie was a chubby woman I vaguely recognized but couldn’t remember the name of, and a slim, short Hispanic man with a cute face. Neither of them were dressed to the teeth in rainbow, so it was possible they were just sidekicks.
“Jooooosh, heey!” Eddie cried, giving Josh a finger wave before bouncing over to us in three long strides. He was six-foot-three; three strides was all he needed. “Oh my God, I love that hat!”
“Thanks,” Josh said with a big grin. Against my advice, Josh had befriended Eddie and become his running partner, though I doubted they ran much together. It was more likely they sat around and bonded through conversation. Eddie had serious frenetic energy I’d never seen matched by anyone else, and Josh was endlessly entertained by it. Recently Josh had been texting a lot and wouldn’t own up to it, and my assumption was that he and Eddie were having a secret affair. It was far-fetched, but Josh looked so happy to see Eddie that it wasn’t entirely out of left field. “Are you seriously walking around LA in those shoes?”
“Oh my gooood, the things I do for fashion! My feet are about to fall off, actually, so I’m going to sit down if you don’t mind. Is the table next to you free?”
“Sure, but you’ll probably have to order something.”
Eddie paraded into the restaurant without delay. Peaches gave me a little smile and wave, then introduced the two friends behind him. It turned out the woman, Dot, was familiar because I’d met her once before at the bar where Eddie worked. The man she was with was her boyfriend, Miguel. Soon after the introductions, they followed Eddie inside to get food and sit down.
“I love him,” Josh said to me with a grin.
“Marry him then.” I grabbed another yuca fry and stabbed it into the mustard sauce. Could they be fucking? Probably not. And yet…
“You still angry about the whole thing with Peaches?”
“No. I’m over it.”
“Mhm.” Josh lifted one eyebrow. “I think Eddie has more reason to be upset than you, Justin.”
“Shut up, you’re killing the vibe.”
Josh rolled his eyes but he dropped the subject. I did not need reminded of how I’d chased after Peaches for months only to get dropped so that Peaches could go back to his ex. In the end it worked out because I’d found Thad and my relationship with Peaches was cordial now, but it was still a little sore, and I didn’t want Josh poking it more than it needed to be poked.
Eventually Eddie, Peaches, Dot, and Miguel found a table beside ours, and everyone fell into their conversation groups. For a moment I was sucked into an interaction with Eddie when Josh mentioned my boyfriend Thad.
“Who’s Thad?” Eddie asked. I’d already told Peaches all about Thad, but Peaches was an informational dead end. This made him great at keeping your secrets but terrible at relaying news to others without my express permission.
“You have a boyfriend? Peaches didn’t tell me that.” Eddie looked over at Peaches, but Peaches was talking to Sven and utterly oblivious. “Can I see pictures? I want the details!”
Normally I wouldn’t have been so eager to share personal information with someone I’d once considered my arch nemesis, but I would take any chance to brag about my boyfriend. So I pulled out my phone and handed it over to Eddie. Eddie slid through my gallery with dramatic sweeps of his manicured hands, making a face one usually reserved for cute puppies.
“Oh, isn’t he precious,” Eddie said, which was something only Eddie would say about anyone. “He looks like a goof.”
“Yeah, he is. We have a lot of fun.”
Eddie stuck out his lower lip. “Oh honey, you sound so enamored. I’m happy for you. I’d love to meet him. Where is he?”
“Oh, uh, well…” Shit, did I want to explain this to Eddie? Too late to back out now. “He’s actually in Alabama right now. He moved back there to take care of his grandmother, who has pancreatic cancer.”
“Oh no! That’s terrible. His poor grandmother. That sucks, I’m sorry. I’m sure the distance makes it hard.”
“Yeah.” I didn’t need reminded. “But depending on how it works out, he’ll come back here to go to college at UCLA. He wants to be a neurosurgeon.”
“He must be smart,” Eddie said as he continued to browse photos. I hoped he didn’t change the album, because I’d curated that one to be appropriate for all viewers. Some others weren’t.
“He’s crazy smart, to almost an annoying degree.” But not quite. I still found his endless fascination with the world charming. “I honestly don’t know why he’s dating me, a notorious moron.”
Eddie gave me a skeptical look. “Are we at the same gay pride? Honey, you aren’t the village idiot. I’ve already met at least five very attractive and very dumb men in leather thongs, and that’s just this morning.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re right, of course. I’m probably one of three gays in a three mile radius who can drive.”
Eddie let out a cackle, and I found myself relaxing. Okay, so I could kind of understand why Josh liked hanging out with him. Once you adjusted to his flamboyant intensity, he was pretty funny and good-humored. That shouldn’t have been a shock to me, because he was Peaches’s boyfriend, and Peaches wasn’t so shallow to date a person solely because they looked like a young Jude Law. They still seemed like an odd couple to me, but Peaches looked so happy and relaxed that I had accept his choice in partners.
“I wish I could have met him,” Eddie said as he handed back my phone. “You light up when you talk about him.”
“That obvious, huh?”
“He’s pretty great.”
“I don’t doubt that.” Eddie gave me one of those big squinty smiles, made even bolder by his magenta lipstick.
“I have a personal question for you, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“No, it’s just…” I let out a sigh of frustration, because as gay as my friend groups tended to be, we were all pretty cis, and I didn’t want to make any mis-steps. “Are you… I’ve heard people call you Essie. I don’t want to be deadnaming you, and I wanted to clarify—”
“Hmm, Eddie is fine. Some people still call me Eddie.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“If I had to pick one name, I’d pick Essie. But I’m always in flux, and I’m pretty accepting of everything. If you’ve met one trans person, you’ve met one trans person. We’re all very different, and my gender expresses itself in strange ways. So I’m fine with all pronouns and yes, even the name Eddie. Plenty of cis people have several names, right? Nicknames that their friends call them, nicknames that their partners call them. Some people use their middle name and their first name interchangeably, depending upon their situation. I see Eddie and Essie the same way. It’s more a matter of my relationship with someone than it is the name.”
“So I should keep calling you Eddie?”
“I don’t know. What’s our relationship?” Eddie lifted an eyebrow.
“Uh… friendly acquaintances?”
“Choose what name you like best, hon. I’m not going to put you in cis jail.”
I laughed, dissolving some of my nervousness. “Okay, sure. I’ll switch over to Essie if you slightly prefer it.” I paused. “Do you ever get sick of this conversation?”
Essie smiled. “I’ve got it down to a script.”
“Hey,” Peaches said beside Essie, reaching over and putting a hand on his leg. “You want the rest of my beer?”
“I don’t like the beers you get.”
“I’ll take your beer,” I offered, and Peaches handed it over. I took a rather large swig, then swallowed a burp. This was bound to be a long and eventful day.