Tristan often liked to take walks on a late night in the city. He knew the safe routes almost as well as the local street rats, and he was unimposing and unremarkable enough to be easily ignored. He used to frequent the darker allies and the nastier sides of town before he moved in with Miguel, before his Incident a couple of months ago. But he'd been lonely for so long that he didn't think to reach out to his old friends.
The Hovel was in a nameless building that could pass off as a residential complex. A generous John had the place soundproofed so they wouldn't get too many complaints on noise or suspicious folk. There was a back entrance everyone knew, but he had privilege to use the front entrance. The usual bouncer Donny was a bicurious man he got to know on his first day getting lost in the city at night. He was a nice guy who was as tough as nails. His muscles writhed underneath his shirt, and he had a bunch of ladies loitering by the club entrance, flirting with him. When Tristan waved a greeting, Donny beamed. "Oi, look who decided to show back up again!"
"Just a lot of things that kept me away," Tristan answered. "Is Miss Leggo in?"
"She's opening the floor, actually." Donny looked over his shoulder towards the door. "I think they're just about to start."
"Can I come in then?"
"Sure, go on ahead." Despite the scandalized looks of the ladies in line, Tristan stepped inside, blasted with the warm air of the secret club and the scent of alcohol and other things he wasn't sure he could define. The music coursed through his body, each thump pulling a beat from his heart, and each thought punctuated with a snare or a clap.
He followed the noise and the people towards the lower levels, where the main stage took place. He vaguely heard someone over the speakers, just a step above the music the DJ was playing that night. He politely made his way through and found himself by the bar, where the barkeep noticed him right away and greeted him with a glass of milk, his old usual.
"Back from the dead?" the barkeep yelled over the music. Tristan snorted, recalling how things would have ended if it weren't for Miguel. "Haven't heard from you in a while. Saw you around the past few weeks but you looked busy." The barkeep waggled his eyebrows to punctuate his statement.
Tristan flipped him off, grinning. "Well, I found someone who helped me through a rough patch."
"Ooh! You finally got yourself a sugar daddy?"
"I think I'm still the sugar daddy," Tristan scoffed. "Where's Miss Leggo?"
"Just wrapping up her speech." The barkeep pointed towards the stage, where Miss Leggo, in full regalia, was addressing the rest of the house. "You can wait here. She usually grabs a glass of vodka after her speeches."
Tristan got into as much conversation as he could with the barkeep, catching up on how everyone was doing. He wasn't a member of the House, per se. But he visited often enough to be recognized as a friend. He was lost one night, when he was living alone, when he decided to go to a nightclub. One of the femme queens chose to sit by and talk to him, probably con him into something when Tristan offered to get midnight dinner instead. He was deemed the 'adopted sister' since, a sort of honorary member. But he hadn't seen the value in that extension of friendship until... well, until after Miguel came for him.
He wondered how people would have reacted to his suicide. Back then, he didn't care. He didn't doubt these girls would bounce back without him, but the fact that they made him part of their routine, well, it would have scarred them if he suddenly offed himself. He realized how much he distanced himself from them by never giving his details. He met them only at nights, and it bothered him how detached he was from them.
He recalled his reasoning: he wasn't a real house member. he didn't dance for them, or walked for them, or did much in terms of being a member of the House. He was just a family friend, in retrospect. Nothing more. And yet...
There was a tap on his shoulder as he finished his glass. The House Mother, Leggo Mayeggo, was smiling down at him, warm and sweet as she could be under maybe three layers of makeup. "My prodigal child returns."
"As a writer, I feel we should come up with a better euphemism." She patted his head and sat beside him, taking a startlingly large mug of vodka in her hands. Even now, Tristan wasn't used to the sight of that much vodka in a glass. "How have the girls been?"
"Well, we beat House Chinchilla at their home turf last month," she remarked with a vicious glint in her eyes. "Oh, I'd been meaning to win that one. I ahd a bet with their House Mother and I can't wait to collect." She took a few swigs of her upsized vodka before sighing. "But I haven't seen youa round, kitten. Where'd you run off to?"
"Do you want the summary or the full truth?" Tristan laughed, but he saw the look in her eyes. It was assessing. It was the sort of eyes that was digging for information, suggesting to you not to even bullshit her. She commanded people with unparalleled charisma. It was no wonder she was deemed 'Mother' of the House. "Alright, if you want all the details, I prefer a more quiet place."
"Let's go to my room," she offered. She led the way, people parting for her and her fur coat as if she were the next Messiah. Tristan studiously followed behind her, keeping his eyes fixed on the way she led and not on the people giving him odd looks.
He vaguely greeted the other girls and residents of the complex, all abandoned youth or young little boys and girls who left their homes because their family wouldn't accept them. He realized how much he had in common with these people the first few days he was around the complex for visits. He was one of those who had more options with earning money. He was one of the lucky ones.
Leggo Mayeggo busted down her door with a kick, the door swinging open and revealing a couple about to get nasty on her bed. Tristan would have been shocked if he hadn't heard of what the boys and girls often talked about when he used to come by. "Alright, boys, out of the room! We got a heart-to-heart to deal with."
The boys scampered out of the room and Miss Leggo ushered Tristan inside. "Was that alright?"
Miss Leggo locked her door and slid the bolt into place. "I have locks on my drawers and safes and I make sure no one steals from me. Don't worry about it."
Awkwardly, they sat side by side on the ornate bed. Tristan debated how he would tell her what happened since he'd been gone. So he started from the beginning.
There was something in Miss Leggo that softened. Tristan wasn't sure what to make of it as he pressed on, explained how Miguel came at the right moment, how everything felt like broken glass until he dumped it all in the trash and started life from scratch with someone who lovd him so much.
Miss Leggo was patting her cheeks with her sleeves. "Oh, darling. That's tragic and beautiful."
"It's a little silly," Tristan argued. "I could have... I could have come here, but I couldn't."
"Why didn't you, though?"
Tristan shrugged. "I'm not one of your girls."
"Bullshit," she snapped, the sweet tone of her voice giving way to the man underneath. "Baby, that's not true. You know what I offered you when you bought me dinner. You know how the girls and I all love you."
"I don't dance or sing like that. Or even walk. I'm... you know this scene is not usual for me."
Miss Leggo leaned back, pursing her lips. "No, but that doesn't mean you aren't family." Before Tristan could ask, she stood up from her perch and walked up to her desk. She pulled a book from one of its drawers and handed it to Tristan. Tristan carefully opened the pages, finding different pictures of the House with different members. "The family has never been just about winning trophies, as much as I love shiny things," she teased. Her tone warmed to something sterner as she continued. "It's about bringing queens together, darling. It's about being a family where everyone else ahs failed so many of us. You don't have to be a dancer any more than any of my girls has to be so butch or so femme. We're a family. All of us."
Tristan gently pushed the book away to wipe at his eyes. "Stop, I'm an ugly crier."
Miss Leggo sat down close and pulled him into a hug. "My poor baby, you didn't have to make yourself so alone. It's a good thing your sexy army man came to save you."
"Shut up, he's just alright."
"Nope. I bet he's sexy. You told me that one story about high school, didn't you?"
"I regret that."
"No, you don't." She pulled away to plant a kiss on his forehead. "Baby, don't ever be afraid to come back here. And next time? Call me Mother."
Tristan nodded. "Okay."
"So when do I get to meet your young man?"
"Do you have to?"
Miss Leggo gave him a look that had Tristan snorting. "Tristan, darling, we gotta make sure we get rid of that heterosexuality of his. You know how much pining you had when you talked about him?"
"Oh my god, fine. We'll make him gayer. Maybe Tuesday?"
"Day or night?"
Tristan rolled his eyes. "Day. We gotta ease him into it."
"Good. We'll pop his cherry!" Tristan glowered at her. "Figuratively, honey. Relax!"
"It better be figuratively. Or else there's hell to pay." Tristan looked at the time, honestly surprised more than an hour had passed. "Should we head back?"
"Of course." Miss Leggo stood up and offered him her hand. "Your milk might have gotten warm."
"You know I like the warm milk," Tristan answered with a salacious smirk. Miss Leggo pinched his cheek. "Hey, you left yourself open for that one."
I wanted to get back in writing after focusing on thesis for so long, so I aimed for something cathartic but feel-good.