I waited backstage while Paul did his solo. He told me he was going to take some time since I dashed in, in between performances, so I took this time to just sit in his dressing room and think to myself. His dressing room was all white, a light-bulb framed mirror had the light bouncing off the mirror and onto the walls, playing off each other. Making the room seem bigger than it actually was. There were three racks of clothing filled with anything that looked like something Marilyn Monroe wore or would wear. A small bathroom, and a small couch and coffee table.
The music beats and announcers and singers that were amplified by microphones, were muffled behind distance and walls. The blurry yet solid beats were frequent and steady enough for me to slip out of my body and think of what happened for one second.
I stopped Adam from kissing me. Well, he kissed me. We kissed. For a long time. But that was about it. A minute into it, I pushed him off of me, and he got mad. Pretty mad. But he didn’t show it or say anything. He blew out the candles, one by one, and as I failed trying to get a peep out of him the entire time he moved from one candle to another, he eventually went into his bedroom. Calling it a night. I didn’t know it was possible, but I finally pissed him off to the point of no return.
I just couldn’t do it. There was something wrong about the whole situation. The circumstance, first of all, felt too opportune, considering Valentine’s Day, the death of a loved one and my subsequent vulnerable state, and ultimately, Daniel being back in my life even for a moment. I just couldn’t do it. There was something else nagging at me the entire time, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. That was when I decided to visit Paul, who told me he was performing tonight.
A knock on the door startled me. “Paul, it’s Johnny. Open up.”
I opened for him. “He’s still performing.”
“Ah, shit,” Johnny said, “he’s going to be pissed if he finds out I didn’t even notice him.”
“Scouts honour,” I said, holding up two fingers close together, rather lazily and without conviction. I sat back down on Paul’s white plump swivel make-up chair.
“Something wrong?” Johnny asked.
I shook my head immediately. “No, nothing.” There was no way Johnny was going to be the New York Irish version of Derek. Not this time. This time, I was waiting for Paul, and speaking about my concerns to Paul only. I need a second opinion, and I couldn’t just pick anyone; but I’m also desperate!
Johnny shrugged, plonking on the sofa. “Alright, well, he finishes in about ten minutes. You mind if I chill here?”
I shrugged and shook my head again. It didn’t seem like he needed my permission anyway. It was quiet for some time between us. Quite awkward to be honest; maybe more awkward than Dakota Johnson’s interview with her mom at the Oscars.
“Thanks for introducing me to Noelle by the way,” Johnny said, suddenly.
I watched puzzled as he thumbed a cigarette between his fingertips. Then the door flung open and in came Paul.
“Don’t you dare smoke that tube of poison in here, Johnny,” Paul said.
“Wonderful performance tonight, Paul,” Johnny grinned.
“Oh bullshit, as if you saw.”
Johnny stared at me wide-eyed for a moment, as if I had telepathically exposed Johnny. I lifted my cheek and angled my brows down, shaking my head. No, no honey, I have my own problems.
I stood to make way for Paul. “You don’t mind if Johnny is here do you?” Paul asked, this time sounding more official and like I had a choice in the matter.
“It’ll be as if I’m not here,” Johnny said. A strange paradox.
“So,” Paul started, removing his wig, lightly brushing the fake bleached blonde strands, “what is it that you wanted to say. I’m all ears.”
I explained the whole story to him. Everything right up until the moment I pushed Adam away from me. The aggressive nature of such force haunting me in flashes.
“You got two hot guys coming after you and you think that’s a problem?” Paul finally said.
“You’re missing the point here, Paul.”
“No, no, dear, the point of a knife is to cut, you, my darling, have no point.”
“Ugh, you’re crazy. If this is your worst case scenario then I want your life,” he chuckled, turning to Johnny to have that chuckle returned. Johnny just stared at him with strange intensity. Not angry, but almost disappointed.
Momentarily, I was hesitant to continue. “Paul, I need your help, I don’t know what to do.”
Paul uncapped a red YSL lipstick and dabbed. “Honey, I’m saying this with all the love and understanding in my heart as possible: you seriously cannot be this oblivious.”
I began chewing on my lip, nervously picking at the skin. “Oblivious?” There’s just no way of not sounding stupid right now. Utterly, inescapable.
Paul started brushing his (the wig’s) hair again. “Look, I love what I do, right? Therefore, I do what I love. You see what I’m saying?”
I narrowed my eyes in thought. “Not really.”
“It means you don’t love them,” Johnny blurted. “Sorry, forgot I’m not here.”
I returned my attention back to Paul, who was fixing his wig back on. A knock on the door and a call on five minutes until show starts up again was announced.
“Oh dear,” Paul mumbled.
“Is that what you’re saying, Paul? You think I don’t love them? Either of them?”
“Not in the way that they love you. In which case, if they really are top notch guys, I can’t see why you don’t.”
“I thought I did,” I muttered. Suddenly it was all making sense; the sky was clearing, the nagging feeling within me now labelled properly.
Paul grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. I wobbled in and out, my head bobbling along. “Honey! Reality check yourself,” he sighed. “God, some people just don’t see the big picture. I have to go. We’ll talk later, okay?” he kissed me on the cheek, my body frozen, and then left.
“I don’t love them?” I asked myself quietly. Nibbling on my words as they rushed out; tasting each one to test their organic authenticity.
Johnny stood. “Listen, do me a favour and keep your problems to yourself for now. Or go to someone else. Paul isn’t really up for anyone else but himself.”
“Umm…he seemed pretty okay to me. And helpful, I might add.” One hell of an eye-opener, coming right up!
“Correction: he’s not really up for anyone else’s problems because he’s got his own going on right now.”
“What kind? Is he okay?”
Johnny sighed, staring at the door and then looking back at me with consideration colouring each flicker of his eyes. “I’m not supposed to be telling you this, so you have to promise me you won’t utter a word. To anyone.”
“I promise,” I nodded.
“Paul and I have—”
“No! No, I’m straight. Noelle, remember?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry.”
“Just don’t interrupt,” he said.
I made a show of zipping my mouth up, although this may the first time I did it red-faced.
Johnny bit his bottom lip to hide a smile. But he was too amused by my face that he ended up pulling off a bad job.
After composing himself, he took a deep breath in, and started again. “Paul and I have been friends for a long time. I don’t want to get into details but, in the beginning, when we first met, I didn’t really like his kind. That’s what I used to call Drag Queens and gays in general; ‘their kind’, as if they were a separate entity operating on a different carbon-based system. I’m not proud of this fact; but the only person who could ever change me, did it by simply being himself. I had a drug problem two years ago. I used all kinds of things, but cocaine and heroin were my breakfast, lunch and deadsky. I wasn’t so bad in the beginning, I had only used to experiment. Then it took me in for a loop, and I stuck with it. It got to the point where I was high all the time. Then I nearly died. I was overdosing at a club where Paul happened to attend as well, and as the party raged on around me, Paul saved me. When all my friends were too busy to take care of me, he was there. When they didn’t care to leave the party for me, Paul was there. When I was in rehab, withdrawing and feeling like I wanted to kill myself just to stop the pain, Paul was there. I will never ever forget the time, or rather ‘times’, he was always there for me. He pushed me to focus on myself and heal myself. Drop the friends who still kept using, and make much better ones. Which is why I can’t let anyone stand in the way of him focusing on himself.” He paused, pondering thoughtfully for a few seconds. “He might have AIDS, Anna. The bastard is so used to taking care of everyone else that he didn’t even care to look at himself.”
After a while I realised I hadn’t blinked and my breathing was slow. “How do you even know? How did you find out?”
“He outright said that he’s never been tested. I can’t let that go unnoticed.”
“Shit,” I mumbled, looking away. I’ve been too deep in the mud with my own high school level dilemmas that I didn’t even consider beyond myself. My own selfishness and lack of awareness or consideration was beginning to nauseate me. “Shit.”
“Oh, and just so you know,” he said, “heroin didn’t love me back, so I left it for something better: Paul.”