In time for Pride month – A Story From The Infected Universe: Pride
Consider this a “lost” chapter of the Infected Holiday Special – this isn’t technically a holiday. But it’s enough of an occasion that it’s worth mentioning. Roan’s first trip to a Pride Parade. Whether he likes it or not.
Roan couldn’t believe what he had been reduced to. “I am not doing this,” he insisted, for what felt like the hundredth time.
Dylan sighed, and opened his car door. “You are. Now get out.”
With a dramatic groan, Roan got out of the car. They were in a parking garage, ground level, so it wasn’t a huge walk from there to the street. There were steady streams of people moving down the sidewalk, and Roan started popping peppermints to combat the overwhelming scent of so many people. He could fall into an olfactory spiral so fast. He tried to use this as an excuse not to go, but Dylan wasn’t accepting that as an answer.
They’d just exited the garage when they were greeted by a familiar voice. “Hey, you blackmailed him out of the house.” It was Holden, but it took Roan a moment to recognize him, mainly because he was wearing gray sweat shorts, Bedazzled sneakers, mirrored sunglasses, and a bright green tank top with a fat unicorn eating a rainbow on the front. He was also holding a big, clear cup that looked like it came from a coffee chain, and seemed to be half full of iced tea.
Roan did a slight double take, as there was so much wrong with this picture. “What the hell are you wearing?”
Holden looked down at himself, as if to check. “I’m a beautiful unicorn, Roan.”
Dylan burst out laughing, while Holden smiled and sipped from his tea. It was then Roan noticed he was wearing six or seven of those rainbow rubber bracelets, each from different years. “Holy shit, do you come every year?”
“Sure do. When I was homeless, it was a great place to pick pockets, get tricks, and find someone who’d let me couch surf with them. When I moved up in the world, it was still a great place to get tricks.”
Roan shook his head. “How come every time I get a glimpse of your life, it’s the saddest fucking thing ever?”
“Says Mr. Foster Home. Like you never ran away from those? Here, have a drink. It’s liquid courage.” Holden held out the cup towards him.
Because of the peppermint explosion currently jabbing into his sinuses like knitting needles, he wasn’t a hundred percent sure what was in the cup. But he had a hunch. “There’s booze in here, isn’t there?”
“As I said, liquid courage.”
Roan popped the lid and took a tiny sip, and he was intensely glad about the tiny part. Any booze with a peppermint was asking for trouble, but this stuff tasted like gasoline and juniper, with a hint of black tea. Roan barely swallowed it down and coughed, shoving the cup back in Holden’s hands. When he could talk, he asked, “What the fuck is that?”
“It’s what I call a dirty gin and tonic. One third tea, two-thirds gin. It’s great.” There was a wolf whistle up the street, probably not aimed at them, but Holden raised his fist and let out a whoop in response.
“Are you drunk?” Roan asked. He honestly couldn’t tell.
Holden shook his head. “Nope, just building a nice buzz. It makes dance music seem enjoyable.”
Roan could hear it, even though they were a couple blocks away from the actual Pride parade. It seemed a bit redundant to even have a Pride parade in Seattle, especially since in some neighborhoods it was a year round thing, but as soon as Dylan heard Roan had never been to one, he insisted he go. He said it was a “gay rite of passage”, but Roan in no way thought that was true. Still, he went along with it, because Dylan wouldn’t let him escape. When Holden heard, he said he’d meet up with them, but Roan and Dylan both had no idea he was such a Pride parade veteran. Holden just didn’t seem like a parade kind of person. Of course, now that he broke it down, he did seem like the type to thrive in this atmosphere.
Holden led the way, like the savvy parader he was, and they followed. Roan leaned into Dyl, and asked, “Your friends that hate me are going to meet us too, aren’t they?”
Dylan scowled. “They don’t hate you.” At Roan’s disbelieving glare, he added, “They’re just afraid you might inadvertently hurt me. There’s a difference.”
Not much of one, but he kept that to himself. “What do you think they’re gonna make of him?” Roan jerked his head in Holden’s direction.
Dylan had to think about that for a few seconds. “It kind of depends. Happy, slightly drunk Holden will probably be welcome. As long as he doesn’t pick pockets or ask to crash on someone’s couch.”
Some people gave Holden high fives or fist bumps as he walked ahead of them, and Roan recognized none of them. Were they parade veterans too? “I’m starting to have a sinking feeling he’s beloved,” Roan said.
“Well, this is the type of thing he shines at. He can play a room. Or a street, as the case may be.”
Which was certainly true. Holden was a chameleon, and Roan had used that in his favor before. He could hardly object now, not without being an asshole.
They caught up with Holden at the corner, where he was waiting for the lights to change. From here you could see the monster crowd, and what was either a stage or a stopped float. Either way, it had a lot of guys dressed only in short shorts on it, and a distant, glittery figure that was probably a drag queen. Roan wasn’t sure he was ready for this.
Holden turned to face them, but all Roan saw was his own stoic reflection in his glasses. “They never asked you to police this or be police liaison when you were a cop?”
“Oh, they asked. But I never accepted.”
Holden smirked. “Too good for parades?”
“No. I just didn’t want to become the face of the SPD for the gay community. I was having a shitty enough time as it was.”
Dylan grabbed his hand and gave it a comforting squeeze, before interlacing his fingers with his. “You were too good for them.”
Roan shook his head. “No. I was a shitty cop. I’m much better off now.”
“Of course you are. You’re superhuman. You don’t have to dumb it down now to fit in with the normals,” Holden said, as the light turned and he walked into the street, sipping his dirty gin and tonic. He turned around so he was facing them, walking backwards to the next corner. “Be yourself. We are all beautiful motherfucking unicorns!” This strange comment got a positive response from some of the crowd.
“I have never seen him drunk before,” Dylan said. “I like him like this. Can we keep him tanked up from now on?”
Roan smiled. Yeah, that was a tall order, but it was appealing. After all, could he remember ever seeing Holden this happy and loose? Most of the time he seemed like a coiled snake, waiting to strike, no matter what other colors he tried on. Today he seemed positively giddy. Pride parades were clearly emblems of the few happy times in his life. That, and he had some amazingly potent gin.
“I’m nervous,” Roan realized. “Should I be nervous?”
Dylan sighed, but it was small and humorously exasperated. “If even Holden can let his guard down, shouldn’t you too?”
Roan had no argument for that. If he could relax, why couldn’t Roan? Because he wasn’t a natural relaxer? It was high time he learned, wasn’t it? “If I get wasted enough to take off my shirt, I demand you take me home.”
“We’ll see,” Dylan said, with an evil smile on his face. He was already planning for this particular circumstance, wasn’t he?
See? That’s why he always had to keep his guard up. His friends were always trying to force him to have fun. Evil bastards.