The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

A Time Before Us - Excerpt

By Michael Holloway Perronne, USA (Published in Issue 2)

Chapter 1

Mason


   
Ever notice how, just when you think you really know someone, you see a completely unexpected side to them? I had just decided that weddings proved to be the perfect time for this to happen.
   
“No! Not today!” my friend Katie shrieked, as she practically flung herself against the window in a bedroom of my New Orleans French Quarter townhome.
    “What?” I asked, as I double checked my bow tie in the bathroom mirror. “What's happening now Lesbibridezilla?”
    “Rain, Mason! Rain!”
    As “bestperson” it had been my duty to get my friend, Katie, prepared and dressed for her wedding to her longtime girlfriend, Caroline. If someone had told me just a couple of years earlier that Katie would be dating anyone, not to mention marrying, I would have laughed in their face. Katie had always been a player, sort of a girl-on-girl Casanova. When she moved to New Orleans from San Francisco to be closer to her family and “shake things up,” I wondered if she'd slow down a little with going through every girl like the latest upgrade to an iPod. The non-stop partying in the Quarter appeared to send her into overdrive, and I swear to God, she must have known, in the Biblical sense, practically every lesbian in a ten-mile radius. She'd refer to me and my boyfriend, Joey, as the “old married” since we tended to be happier with a DVD and bottle of wine instead of the clubs on our off nights. But then one day, she met Caroline, a girl who was so amazing I would have snapped her up if I had been a lesbian. With a little poking and prodding from Joey and me, she realized what a catch she had found.
    “You're going to look back and think that you're the world's biggest idiot if you don't snap this girl up,” I had lovingly advised her.
    I don't know exactly what had really convinced her to give things with Caroline a shot, but something changed. I saw Katie fall in love for the first time I knew of right before my eyes, and I couldn't have been happier. After a couple of years of dating, one of which they lived together, they announced that they would have a wedding.
    Katie, who had always been critical of those who worried themselves with any sort of tradition, suddenly became obsessed with planning the perfect wedding like a bad reality TV star. Things such as cakes, venues, food, invitations, and seating arrangements became her obsession, and Caroline appeared quite happy to let her handle all of the arrangements. Katie had even dyed her shockingly pink streaks of hair a dark red for the wedding and the photos to present a more “classical” look.
    “It's not supposed to rain,” I said, walking back into the bedroom.
    “Well, it is!” she said, practically on the verge of tears. “How can we have an outdoor wedding if it's raining? Oh, my God, everything is ruined!”
    I ran up to her and grabbed her by the arms.
    “Okay, breathe,” I said.
    “But...”
    “Breathe!” I repeated. “We'll, work it out.”
    “Caroline asked me what would we do if it rained, and you know what I said?”
    I shook my head.
    “I told her it wouldn't dare rain on our wedding day. How stupid and naïve was that?”
    “Okay, honey, look,” I said, keeping my voice soft. “We'll come up with something. We'll have it inside if we need to.”
    “But that's not what I planned!” she cried, gripping the sides of her cream white pant suit.
    “Sweetie, it's just life, and besides, everything with your marriage won't go as planned. You have to learn to just take what you're dealt and run with it.”
    She looked back out the window and shook her head, not looking convinced at all.
    “Maybe this is a good thing,” I suggested.
    She looked back at me with a look on her face that suggested I should check myself into the nearest psychiatric hospital immediately after the ceremony.
    “How in the hell can this be good?” she asked in a challenging tone.
    “Well...” I said, struggling to come up with an answer to this one. I should think more before opening my mouth. “You know how rain cleanses things. It represents birth and life and...”
    Her eyes looked blank. I wasn't sure if she was buying any of this.
    “Maybe an outdoor wedding in the rain with all of your guests getting soaking ass wet...well...it's you in a way. You've always wanted to add your own touches to things to be memorable.  The guests certainly won't forget it, and I'd be willing to bet that Caroline would marry you in the middle of a hurricane. She loves you that much.”
    With that last line, her face softened. She smiled and a few tears escaped from the corners of her eyes.
    “You really think so, babe?” she asked hopefully.
    “I know so,” I said.  I placed a kiss on her forehead. “Now let's go get you married.”
    At that moment, a stream of bright sunshine shone through the window, and just as fast as the rain had started, it had stopped.
    “Look at that,” I said.
    Katie took a deep breath and said, “It's going to be okay.”
    “More than okay.”
    I took her hand, squeezed it slightly, and said, “Come on. Your bride is waiting.”
    She relaxed, smiled, and I led her out of the room and into the courtyard.


    The courtyard outside my home in the French Quarter had been decorated beautifully for an evening wedding. Tea lights in white paper bags illuminated the area around a koi pond while a few more floated in the water, and centerpieces of beautiful bouquets of white roses, Caroline's favorite flower, adorned every table. The effect was simple yet elegant.
    During the ceremony, I stood next to Katie with her ring in my pocket waiting for just the right time as the lesbian minister from a local MCC church started the ceremony. I had never seen Katie look so happy and peaceful. Caroline, smiling, stood next to her.
    The two of them fit the cliché of opposites attracting in almost every sense. Where Katie was loud and boisterous, Caroline was humble and laid back. Katie had her psychedelic streaks of color in the middle of her jet black Asian hair which she spiked as high as industrial strength gel allowed. Caroline always had her light brown hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail. Katie planned events for clubs and parties, and Caroline taught fourth grade. Yet, they worked somehow. The whole yin and yang thing with them just fit perfectly.
    The guests had been seated in a semi circle around the koi pond and faced the wedding party. I noticed that Katie's parents from Lafayette had made it to the wedding and sat in the front row. Her mother wore a tasteful pink suit with a white rose pinned to the lapel, and her father wore the standard navy suit, white shirt, and red tie. Katie hadn't been convinced they'd show up. She lamented constantly that her Southern belle of a mother and good old boy of a father never had a clue what to do with the wild child they adopted from China when she was a baby. I could tell they loved her even if they didn't always understand her. I knew, whether she would admit it or not, how happy she was to have them here.
    As the minister spoke of the importance of all types of commitments in life to ourselves and others, I caught Joey's eye. It was a miracle I caught his eye at all since he sat directly behind everyone's favorite drag queen, Miss Althea, who wore the world's largest pink hat that had been adorned in red roses.
    Joey smiled at me, and I swear to God, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Dressed up in a simple dark suit and red tie, he looked just as handsome as ever.  His mixed black and white heritage had given him a café au lait complexion that never appeared to age, and his body had filled out a little, but in all the right ways, with age.  Add his green eyes, and the man still took my breath away.  
           I guess for a guy firmly in his mid-thirties, I still looked fairly fit.  But I could tell my suit pants were just a little tighter than the last time I wore them.  And, okay, I admit it.  I’d begun coloring a few gray hairs.  Every now and then I felt just the slightest self-conscious around Joey, but then he’d put his arms around me.  All those fears would then wash away.
          It amazed me that I still felt that way after our being together for over five years now. I was more in love with him every passing day. No one had ever been as kind and warm and considerate with me as he had been, but I was petrified of disappointing him. It was this fact that had led me not to be quite one hundred percent honest with him lately, and that would end up being one of my greatest regrets in our relationship.
    The girls exchanged their vows, and Katie had to elbow me and say under her breath, “The ring, Mason.” I had gotten so caught up in my thoughts about how I would tell Joey some slightly- okay- very disappointing news that I hated to admit that I wasn't paying very close attention.
    “Oh, yes, sorry,” I said, reaching into my pocket and pulling out the ring.
    Katie looked like she had to fight back a giggle which made me feel better to know that she was more amused by my lack of concentration on my cue than anything else.
    “I now pronounce you...'” the minister started to say, pausing for obvious dramatic effect, “partners in life.”
    All the attendees clapped and cheered as the two newlyweds kissed. I couldn't help it when I felt a few tears well up in my eyes. Katie and I had been through so much together since we first met years ago when we lived in San Francisco. I knew even if she felt just a fraction of the happiness with Caroline that I felt with Joey exactly how filled with love her heart was at this point.

   
    The reception tuned into a party to remember as the joy of the newlyweds proved to be infectious. Everyone laughed, danced, drank (it is New Orleans), and ate heart-clogging food provided by one of our favorite local restaurants, Belinda's, owned by Miss Belinda, who had been one of my Aunt Savannah's oldest friends.  How I wished Savannah was still with us.  She always loved a good party!
           “Everything tastes just delicious, as always!” I told Belinda, a full-figured African-American woman in her sixties who always appeared to be in a good mood even when time weren’t the easiest. I gave her a big bear hug.
           “Thank you, honey,” she replied.  “I wanted everything to be perfect for tonight.”
            “And I heard you’ve been busier than ever.  Good food doesn’t go out of style even in a recession.”
            “I’ve been blessed, that’s true!  I may be even looking for an area to expand into,” she enthused.
            Even Katie's parents looked like they had loosened up being surrounded by so many gay people, although I'm sure the extra-potent hurricanes they drank played a role in that. When her father jumped up to dance to Play That Funky Music White Boy and came dangerously close to falling into the koi pond, I realized just how special this party would be.
    I walked up to Joey, who was talking to Pete and Alex, two cute young guys who worked for us at our drag queen cabaret in the Quarter, and extended my hand.
    “May I have this dance, sir?” I asked, extending my hand.
    “Come on, Alex,” Pete said, smiling “Let's let the old married couple have some time together. We'll go get more drinks.”
    We watched the two of them head off to the bar. They reminded me a little of Joey and me from years before, although I don't think they'd gotten around to admitting to each other they could possibly be more than friends.  Sometimes I just wanted to shake the both of them and encourage them to grab life and run with it. Time just goes by way too quickly.
    “They're cute, aren't they?” Joey said, taking my hand and leading us out to the dance floor. “Do you think they'll ever admit they have a crush on each other?”
    “We'll see. I certainly hope so,” I said. I pulled him closer to me, and we began to sway to the 80s ballad the DJ had started playing.
    “You certainly looked handsome standing up there in your suit,” he said, placing a small kiss on my cheek.
    “Why thank you, kind sir,” I said, giving him a spin. “You always clean up very well yourself.”
    “I'm so happy for both of them.”
    “Me, too.”
    “Maybe...” Joey began before pausing and taking a deep breath, “We should think about planning our own ceremony.”
    “Really?” I asked, and I could swear I felt my heart skip a beat.
    “It has been five years. Maybe it's about time you made an honest man out of me,” Joey said, pulling me tighter.
    “I can't think of anything I would love better,” I said. But thoughts of what I had to tell him...and soon...plagued me.
    We then kissed passionately right there on the dance floor surrounded by our loved ones under the most brilliant moonlight. It was perhaps one of the most romantic moments of my life until...
    “Mason! Mason!” I heard a frantic familiar voice shriek.
    “What the hell?” I said, turning around to find my sister, Cherie, standing at the entrance of the courtyard with two suitcases by her side.
    Joey and I both stopped in shock on seeing her. My sister, the former beauty queen, had always prided herself on keeping up her appearance. I had never seen her look so disheveled as she did tonight. She wore an orange skirt mismatched with some sort of green peasant blouse. Her hair, her crowning glory, looked stringy, slightly greasy, parted in the middle and almost proudly showing off two inches of gray/ brown roots under her blond tresses. And to top it off, she just looked out of it. When she began to sway slightly I realized that she had been drinking.
    I grabbed Joey's hand, and we headed over to her. I noticed that some of the other guests had begun to stare, wondering who had just crashed the wedding.
    “Cherie, this is a surprise,” I said, trying not to let my shock show through in my tone. “What are you doing here?”
    “I didddd it, Mason,” she slurred.
    “Did what?”
    “Oh, hi, Joey,” she said, just realizing he had been standing right in front of her.
    “Hey, sweetie,” he replied. “Are you okay?”
    I gently took her by the arm, and Joey picked up her suitcases. We guided her over to the side in the hope she wouldn't cause too much more of a spectacle.
    I overheard Miss Althea say in the background, “That gal looks a mess!”
    “Thanks for inviting me to the party,” Cherie said, annoyed.
    “Actually, I did invite you when I spoke to you a few weeks ago. Remember? My friend Katie's wedding?”
    “Oh, yes, that's right. You did,” she said, raising a hand and stroking my cheek. “You're such a sweet brother.”
    “You want to tell us what's going on?” I said. I glanced down at her luggage. This so could not be good.
    “I left that son of a bitch!” she said, raising her voice and causing Joey and I to shudder. “I left Houston.”
    “What do you mean left him?” I asked.
    She chuckled. “What the hell do you think I meant? Left. Gone. Filing for divorce. Telling that sorry-take-me-for-granted-piece-of-shit that he can kiss my ass!”
    “You and Houston have been married forever,” Joey said.
    “I'm sure it's just a big misunderstanding,” I said reassuringly. “You guys just had a fight and...”
    “Misunderstanding?” She laughed. “I knew exactly what I was doing.”
    “Where's Lily?” I asked, referring to my teenage niece.
    “She's there with him! Both of them are always complaining about me. Nag, nag, nag. We'll see just how well they do without me!”
    “How did you get here? I hope you didn't drive.”
    “Nope! I took the bus. Just packed up my bags, called a taxi, and took the bus here.” She giggled like a little girl a bit at the thought. “Can you believe I did that? And then I walked over here from the station. I did stop and have a couple of drinks along the way, though.”
    She let out a small burp.
    “We would have never guessed,” Joey said.
    “Anyway, I was hoping you guys could put me up for a little bit. You know. Just until,” she paused as if searching for the right words, “I get on my feet with starting my new life.”
    She suddenly realized a few of the wedding guests looking over at her.
    “Hi, everybody! I left my husband!” she proudly proclaimed before adding the afterthought of, “Oh, and congratulations, Katie. I'm sure y’all be real happy.”
    On the dance floor, Katie and Caroline just responded with a perplexed smile.
    “Why don't we take you inside?” Joey said, picking up her bags. “You can clean up a bit and rest. I'll make you some coffee.”
    She looked at him lovingly and said, “Y’all gays can be so sweet.”
    As discreetly as we could, we guided her around the edges of the crowd and inside the house. I plopped her on the couch, and Joey took her bags to the guest room.
    I sat next to her and loosened my tie.
    “Cherie, honey, what happened?”
    She sighed loudly and said, “It's a real long story, Mason. I just can't talk about it now.”
    “Okay. You don't have to talk about it now. I'm just glad you made it here safe.”
    “I can stay here tonight, right?” she asked, suddenly sounding desperate.
    “Of course, honey,” I said, putting an arm around her. I was convinced that once she sobered up and we talked about everything she'd be heading back home to her husband and daughter in a few days at most.
    That's what I thought!
    “Oh, I almost forgot,” she said, reaching into her blouse and starting to dig in her bra.
    “What are you doing?”
    “Someone left a newspaper on the bus. And I saw this article. I thought to myself...” she said, and then she triumphantly pulled out a folded piece of newsprint, “Mason ain't gonna believe this one. Who would have thunk it?”
    She proudly thrust the paper to me, and I unfolded it.
    “Wow!” I said.
    I immediately recognized the picture of the man next to the article. I would never forget that smile no matter how many times it had broken my heart. There was a picture of my childhood friend and old crush, Billy Harris. He stood next to an easel that held some sort of modern art painting, the kind that always just looked like random splashes of paint to me. The headline read “Andrew Springs Native Billy Harris Takes the Art World By Storm.” The article went on to say that Billy, someone I had become convinced would only drift through life barely making it unless he had a sugar daddy, had become quite a successful artist. He had recently sold a series of paintings reportedly in the six figures at an art show in Los Angeles.
    “Ain't that the shit?” Cherie asked, before letting out another burp.
    “It is,” I said. Just when I thought I had figured him out, Billy Harris had once again managed to surprise me.

--

Michael Holloway Perronne is the author of five novels.  His debut, "A Time Before Me," won Foreword Magazine's Bronze Award in the Gay & Lesbian category for Book of the Year in 2006.  For more on Michael, please visit www.michaelhperronne.com.