M.D. Neu © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Doug glanced up at the big void where the buildings once stood.
How could anyone do that? All those people, and for what? Thank God, no one I know was there. Thank goodness, Garret’s train was running late. Even from across the river, seeing the buildings fall, one minute there, the next not, awful. Not knowing if Garret was alive or dead. The not knowing was awful, and it seemed to last forever. Then getting his call when the phones were back up. It was a relief. Still, the not knowing? Horrible. How do survivors do it?
Doug shuddered. He had to look away before he started to cry again. That day. The world wasn’t the same. How could it be? Would it ever be the same again? He swiped at his eyes, keeping the tears he was trying to hold back from dropping. He caught his reflection in one of the storefront windows and fussed with his spiky blond hair.
The months right after the attack had been hell for everyone. People from all over the world sent support and offered help. But New York was moving on, as it should. They already had seven different architects offering new designs to fill the empty skyline. Mayor Giuliani was doing everything he could for the city, and there was even talk of him running for president.
Doug checked his flip phone and picked up his pace. He was running late. He shouldn’t have spent the night at Tim’s, but leaving such a sexy guy was no easy task. Not to mention they might have partied too much.
I doubt that is even possible. You can never party too much.
There was a large group of mourners, and he had to step to the side to let them pass. He took a deep cleansing breath, pushing all thoughts from his mind, and started walking again. He rushed past the families and friends heading to Ground Zero. Now he had to hustle to make it to work. He’d gotten lucky no one he was familiar with was killed. Still, every time he thought about the attack and looked up at the twin lights filling the night sky, he wanted to cry.
Why President Bush didn’t blow up the whole of the Middle East after the attack, Doug would never understand. Instead, the president sent troops to Afghanistan, searching for Osama bin Laden and taking out Al-Qaeda.
Just as long as they find and kill the monsters who did this to us.
Doug couldn’t help but stop again and glance up to where the twin towers once stood. He quickly wiped at his eyes. “I need to get out of here.” He moved over to the brick façade and leaned against the wall as more people passed him, heading to the memorial ceremony.
“So much suffering and for what?” Doug mumbled. He started walking again, taking a deep breath and trying to avoid the crowds. A woman in a dark jacket passed him and bumped his shoulder, causing him to step closer to an alley. She didn’t bother saying anything; however, Doug thought she said something about his size. He caught his reflection again. He hated how everything made him feel so fat. Nothing he wore looked right on him. Even the baggy pants still made him look fat and messy. He would need to start at the gym if he wanted to continue dating Tim and keep up with his partying. He frowned.
At least I have good hair.
He played with the spikes of his hair.
“It’s my fault,” a gruff voice whispered from behind him.
Doug startled and turned around, but no one was there. He glanced over to the dumpster.
Sitting there, a raggedy black man, with kinky hair in desperate need of a cut and wash, stared at him. The man had the most beautiful green eyes Doug had ever seen. The rich tones of his skin really made his eyes pop, quite possibly the unkempt man’s best feature. The man was in shambles, and tears streamed down his dirty cheeks.
The anniversary affects everyone.
“I did this,” the man groaned through his sobs. “And now I’m being punished.”
Doug wasn’t sure what to do or say. Should he walk away and get to the salon? Leave what appeared to be the crazy homeless guy alone? Could he do that now that they made eye contact? Could he do that today of all days? The man needed help. The man needed a shower and clean clothes. Perhaps, if he talked to him, that would be enough…well, the talk and ten bucks.
That’s what Shannon would do. Talk to him and give him money. Shannon was such a kind soul, and I need to be more like him, more like he was. To honor him. Just like my drag name. Maybe Miss Enshannon needs to be more. I need to be more.
Doug’s heart ached at the memories of Shannon and how wonderful he was. When he picked his drag name there was no doubt on what it would be, but to honor someone you loved had to be more than using their name.
“It’s not your fault.” He knelt close to the man, still keeping his distance just in case. “It was the work of terrorists. They killed all those people, not you.”
“I should have stopped them. I should have done more,” the dirty man moaned.
“Oh, baby, no one could have done more,” Doug offered. Some people thought the government knew about the attack beforehand and the president allowed it to happen. Doug didn’t buy it. Why anyone listened to these people was beyond him, but they did. He just wished they would shut up and crawl back under the rocks they came from. They weren’t helping anyone, and in the long run, their remarks and comments only hurt people more.
“Now, I’m being punished. They sent me here and took my wings,” the man whispered.
Was this guy a pilot? Oh, that would be awful. I bet he was supposed to fly one of the planes, and he couldn’t take it. Survivor’s guilt.
“No one is punishing you. Look, it’s a tough day for everyone. We all feel like we should have done more.” Images of the planes flying into the towers and then seeing and feeling them collapse; even at the Paul Mitchell campus on Staten Island, they were affected. I really need to call Garret. Doug pulled out his flip phone and checked the time. “I’ve got to get to work.” He stopped and peeked at the crowd of people passing by and then faced the guy. A bright smile filled his face.
I know what I’ve got to do. A makeover. Help this guy out.
“You want to come with me? We’ll get you a shower and give you a cut. My girl Minx knows all about your hair type. It’ll be fun.”
What the hell am I doing? I must still be drunk from last night. Or affected by what Tim and I took. This guy might kill me. No. He’s sad, and on a day like today, someone needs to be nice to him. Plus, I’m a big enough guy I can take him…
Doug extended his hand.
“You want to help me?” The man glanced around at his filthy surroundings.
Doug nodded. “Sure. Why not?”
“Most people ignore me. Some people give me money, but they rush by.” The man’s voice was filled with surprise.
He stood and Doug took in this guy’s build. Strong shoulders, even if hidden by a disheveled brown shirt and coat. Doug got a whiff of the funk that enveloped the man. It was a mix of… Doug didn’t want to think what, and he pulled back.
Definitely a shower and some new clothes. These are getting burned.
“Well, not today.” Doug dusted off his pants. “I work at a salon near Washington Square. You know it?” His face got warm. “Anyway, we can walk there and get you all cleaned up. My boss won’t mind.”
Or at least I hope not. Nah, the bitch owes me for helping him with his makeup the other night at the club. What a show that was. I killed it.
“Thank you.” The man beamed a bright pearly smile, in contrast to the dirt on his face and clothes. His teeth and mouth were probably the cleanest part of him. What’s more, there was no foul odor coming from his mouth.
Good oral hygiene. I’m not even sure that is possible, given the state of him, but thank the lord.
“What’s your name?” Doug asked as they weaved through the crowd, people giving them a wide birth. “I’m Doug.”
“I don’t have a name.”
Doug froze. “What?”
“I don’t have a name.” The man met Doug’s gaze with his big eyes and innocent face. “They used to call me…” His gaze dropped to the sidewalk.
“What?” Doug stood watching him. A tall man with a goatee hit his shoulder as he passed. “What did they used to call you? Can’t be any worse than what they’ve called me.”
The dirty man faced Doug. “They used to call me the Angel of Death before they took my wings.”
Doug let out a nervous laugh as he glanced around. There was a break in the stream of people.
Great, this guy is crazy, and I’m stuck with him. Good job, dumb ass.
Doug shook his head, studying the sky.
This is all Shannon’s fault. I should have kept walking. Everyone tells me not to make eye contact with the homeless. Why didn’t I listen?
Doug cleared his throat. “Well, we can’t call you that. How about Angel?”
The man shook his head.
“Well, I’m not gonna call you Death, no matter how cool it sounds,” Doug teased as they walked again and got to the intersection. They crossed the street, ignoring the odd looks they were getting. He was used to odd looks. He had been getting them his whole life. People needed to suck it. “Oh, I know. How about Tad?”
Doug smiled. “Short for ‘the Angel of Death.’ Well, that would be Taod, but that sounds dumb.”
The man shrugged.
“Tad it is.” Doug’s mouth grew into a smile and warmth rushed through his body that wasn’t there this morning. It was nice. Doing something good for someone on a day like today felt like a good call. Even the stench coming off the man seemed to lessen. Maybe the man didn’t smell bad after all. Or maybe I’m getting used to it. Gross. As long as he doesn’t go all batshit crazy, he could deal with the smell, which would be fixed soon enough. He hoped.
They picked up their pace and walked in silence. Doug wasn’t fully sure why he was doing this. Was it because today was such a hard day? Was it his small way of acknowledging that we all need help sometimes? Was it because the world was a massive shit hole and he wanted to make it a little better? Was he doing it for Shannon? Shannon had been so kind and sweet, never having it easy. At least Doug passed for straight, when he wanted to, which wasn’t often these days. And forget it when he was onstage with his big blonde wig, big red lips, and big old fake titties. Hell, this might even be fate for all he knew.
Fuck it, who cares? I’m fierce, and Tad’s gonna be fierce.
Doug pulled open the door to the salon. “Hey, girls, I have a project,” he announced in his loudest, most over-the-top voice possible. “This is Tad, and we’re gonna make him fabulous.” He snapped his fingers and everyone in the shop froze and stared at them.
A hot shower, a trim, and a shave and Tad was the hottest man Doug had ever seen, even in those nasty clothes. He looked like a runway model with his broad shoulders, strong chest, and slim waist. And his booty was a work of art. How could anyone that crazy look that good? It just wasn’t fair.
At least Tad had dropped the crazy talk, and considering what he must have been through, he was polite, well-spoken, and sweet.
He couldn’t have been on the streets very long. Could he? Hell, what do I know? It’s not like I talk to street people all the time. Maybe more of them are like Tad. They just need someone to be kind to them.
“Girl, we gots to find him some clothes.” Minx stepped back, admiring Tad, pulling Doug from his thoughts. “He’s the beautiful prize in an ugly box.”
Minx did an amazing job with ethnic hair. He was a wiz. It probably helped he was mixed raced with thick black hair contrasting his lighter, more European features. Still, he had his shit together when it came to cutting hair, and it showed. Minx was an artist in and out of drag.
“I know, right?” Doug fussed around his station to see if he had a shirt or something. “Nothing I have will fit his body.”
Minx checked his work station as well. Both men shared a look, then faced Tad.
Tad watched them quietly. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Oh.” Tad peeked down at his clothes, adjusting his coat. “This is all I have.”
Minx snapped his fingers. “Dougy, go check the back to see if Miss Thing has anything back there from one of her tricks.” He tapped his lips with a finger.
Doug nodded and made his way to the back of the salon. He passed the storage area with all their supplies, filled with every good product known to mankind. Across from the storage room was a washer, dryer, and sink. There was also a prep station for mixing hair color. Doug checked the door to the boss’s office, and finding it unlocked, Doug opened it and carefully walked in.
The office was nothing special. A desk, a filing cabinet with a huge stack of papers on top, and a couple of chairs. On the desk was a phone and a computer. Next to the workstation was Ms. Brandy’s big yellow wig and a bunch more papers.
“I’m gonna need to tease her wig out.” Doug made a mental note and crossed to the closet. He peeked at the work area over his shoulder. “Ugh, I’m never going to have my office like this. Ms. Brandy can’t even keep an eye on the salon from back here.” He shook his head and dug in the closet for boy clothes.
Doug returned, holding a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. “I have returned victorious.” He laughed. “Sadly, this is the best I could do, so we’ll have to make it work.” He checked the clothes, then glanced at Tad. “I hope they fit.”
“I hope they’re too tight.” Minx chuckled and waggled his eyebrows. “Tad, honey, go to the bathroom and change.” He pointed. “We can burn the stuff you’re wearing after.”
“But I like—”
Tad’s attention bounced between Minx and Doug.
“No, no.” Doug’s voice had a gentle tone. “We’re only going to wash them. I promise.”
Even though we should burn them. We would be doing the world a favor.
“Okay.” Tad took the clothes offered him and vanished into the bathroom.
Doug and Minx watched him. Once the bathroom door closed, Minx pounced.
“Girl, where did you find him? He’s hot.”
“On the street, crying.” Doug sprayed down his station, getting it cleaned up for his next customer. Between clients, they worked on Tad once he’d showered. One step at a time, and boy, did it pay off. In a way, it was like peeling an onion, except this onion got hotter. “I don’t know, Minx. Seeing him there, I couldn’t leave him, and he doesn’t seem crazy. Well, not too crazy. I think he was a pilot or something.”
Minx nodded. “Well, I’m just glad my eleven o’clock appointment canceled.”
The door clicked open, and Tad sheepishly moved forward, wearing jeans that didn’t show off nearly enough, but at least they fit. And the T-shirt offered a view of Tad’s strong shoulders and developed chest. In his hands, he carried his dirty clothes.
“How do you feel?” Doug took the pile of clothes from Tad.
“It’s nice to be clean again.” Tad ran his hand over his T-shirt, then pulled at the side of his pants. “But I’m missing undergarments.”
“Girl, you don’t need them.” Minx rotated his hips, then bounced up and down. “Let it hang, baby, let it hang.” He snapped his fingers.
“Minx, don’t scare him.” Doug handed Tad’s clothes to Minx. “Go wash these, bitch.”
“Who you calling bitch? Bitch.”
Doug laughed as Minx took the clothes and vanished into the back.
“Why are you and your friend so rude to each other?” Tad watched Minx walk off.
Doug froze and focused on Tad. “We’re not rude to each other.”
“The words you use aren’t very nice.”
“Oh, that, sorry. We get carried away. Bob, our boss, keeps harping on us too.” Doug’s neck grew warm and his hands sweated. “Minx and I went to cosmo school together. He’s one of my best friends and an amazing drag sister.”
“Your what?” Tad furrowed his brow as he watched Doug.
“We do drag together. You know. Get up onstage and perform.” Doug glanced around the salon. It was empty for the moment. He strutted between Minx’s and his own workstation, then struck a side pose with his right leg extended out, his left leg planted firmly on the ground, and looking over his right shoulder so he could see Tad. “I’m the hot sexy one and Minx is…well, Minx is messy…hence her name Miss Messy Minx.” Doug relaxed and plopped down in his station chair. “Where are you from anyway?”
Tad scanned the salon and then looked at the floor. Not answering.
“Oh, never mind.” Doug waved his hand, dismissing the question. “Where I come from isn’t worth mentioning either. In a couple more years, I’m gonna get out of here and move to California.”
“That sounds nice. I haven’t been to California in a long time.”
“Oh, is that where you grew up?”
“No. I was there for work.”
Doug’s eyes narrowed in bewilderment. There was no way this guy was old as he was now claiming. He was barely a few years older than Doug.
“Clothes are in the washer.” Minx strutted back into the main part of the salon, pounding the tile floor like a runway. “Now, what?”
“I’m not sure.” Doug tapped his lips. “Lunch, for sure, after my client, but maybe tonight, he can come out with us. Might be fun.”
“No Tim tonight?” Minx eyebrows raised. “You’re not tired of him already, are you?”
“Never.” Doug winked. “But, girl, I need the break.” He fanned his face.
“I still hate you for that. It could’ve been me all up in Tim’s hotness.” Minx crossed his arms over his chest. “I should have never agreed to take your clients and fill in for you last Wednesday.”
“Butcha did, bitch. Butcha did.” Doug laughed.
Minx laughed as the door to the salon opened. It was Doug’s client, Edna, with her big dark glasses and black poofy hair. The blue knit turtleneck hid the wattles of her neck. She walked in like she owned the place.
“Hey, Eddy, looking fabulous.” Doug quickly got out of his station chair and finished tidying his station. “Have a seat, hon. I’ll be there in two ticks.”
“Thanks, Bubbe.” She waved, peeling off her glasses. The red of her nails catching the light of the salon.
Doug pointed to Tad. “You go sit over there.” He motioned to the couch. “Do you want something to drink?”
Is it too early for a shot of tequila? Isn’t that what Tim calls the breakfast of champions?
“Do you have milk?” Tad asked, making his way to the chair Doug pointed at.
“Milk?” Doug repeated with an open mouth and raised eyebrow.
Of course. Milk.
Tad nodded as he sat down.
“I’ll check.” Minx headed to the back room.
Doug smiled and waved to his client. “I’ll be right there.” He turned back to Tad as he got himself situated on the small sofa.
There’s something strange about this guy.