The hospital had been a daze, but someone had gotten Lonny home and put him in bed. At some point he had started crying, but he was still too numb to notice. Dennis was gone. That much he knew. His mind and heart couldn’t take that though, and so he found himself in a state of nonexistence, of not quite being present in reality. He drifted off to sleep; his cheeks still damp, his mind blank.
Dennis was gone. It was fact, but it didn’t feel that way.
When he woke up at ten in the morning the next day—the earliest he had been up in what must have been a decade—he didn’t remember right away. It was just him in the bed, but Dennis was probably up already, out at the Bourbon Room, or in the kitchen eating cereal. Then it all came rushing back, and Lonny’s heart started beating painfully fast.
Dennis was gone. He wouldn’t be in their apartment ever again.
A fresh wave of tears started before the numbness could set in again. Lonny grabbed Dennis’ pillow and inhaled it, breathing in the smell of his shampoo, of smoke and more types of alcohol than he could probably name, of the Bourbon Room and sex and his natural smell that reminded Lonny of almonds and sweat. This cooled the aching hole in his chest for a moment, calmed his breathing and stopped his tears. The thought slipped through that one day this pillow would lose that smell. That he would never again get to smell any of this on Dennis’ neck or his hair, or any other part of him, and all the aches came back and Lonny found himself crying again and wishing for the numbness to return.
He stayed in bed for a full twenty-four hours. He fell in and out of sleep, waking up with the same feeling of brief peace and having it shattered time and time again. And so he cried until he had no more tears, and numbness settled over him again.
The second day he woke up and actually remembered that Dennis was gone. He might have preferred the few seconds of joy getting shattered to this new, constant ache.
This day he actually got out of bed, mostly out of necessity. He needed food, and water, and he needed to pee, and he decided to add a shower into the mix just to give himself something to do. Dragging himself out of bed was easier when he decided not to change clothes, and getting water was easy enough. Food gave him a momentary stab when he saw all of Dennis’ heart healthy snacks in the cupboard. The fridge was full of this stuff too. A part of him wanted to throw it all away, but he decided that was wasteful, and the food hadn’t exactly been cheap. He ate some of it instead, trying to focus on how the food tasted rather than how it reminded him of Dennis, but he couldn’t really notice a flavor in it.
The shower proved to be another difficulty when he saw how much the bathroom had Dennis’ marks on it. His shampoo, and the conditioner that Lonny teased him about for making him smell like flowers, still in their old spots. His razor was still on the side of the sink, mostly unused since Dennis was often too lazy to shave. The rumpled towel on the floor that he had used the morning he died.
Lonny shoved away that last thought as far back into his mind as it would go, and showered, attempting to avoid looking at Dennis’ hair products, and trying not to think about Dennis using the soap he was holding.
Dennis was gone. But it was easier to just ignore that.
The time not spent on taking care of necessities was once again filled with sleep, and this time Lonny dreamed, nothing he could remember but at least one of them left him with the feeling that he had been punched in the gut, and he knew it must have been about Dennis.
On the third day the phone calls started; people finding out, like bands on the road, and managers that had been Dennis’ friends, along with the people closer to home who decided to reach out. The Bourbon Room would be closed until after the funeral, Jim told him; Chico had posted a sign outside that said “A Legend Has Passed; Now We All Get A Break.” Lonny liked that. Dennis would have loved it. Chico called afterwards, offering to come over, but Lonny turned him down. He still wasn’t ready for face-to-face human interaction.
Sherrie and Drew offered the same thing, to come over with food and spend time with him, but Lonny turned them down too. He still felt like he was living in an alternate reality, and he didn’t want to come back to the real world just yet. The most surprising phone call had come right afterwards, from Stacee Jaxx. He offered his condolences for his fallen rock and roll brother, and seemed to actually get a little emotional before making an excuse to hang up. The weird part was how lucid and normal Stacee had sounded during the three-minute call. He had probably loved Dennis too, in his own way. Somehow knowing that made the heartaches of the last few phone calls easier to bear.
On the fourth day, Lonny let Sherrie and Drew come over, partly out of Sherrie’s insistence, and partly because he was starting to feel lonely, and he felt like being taken care of for a little while. Drew cooked while Sherrie sat with Lonny on the couch, watching his terrible soaps with him. She let him put his head on her shoulder and explain the characters and what was going on, clearly amused by him and his reactions. If this had been a happier time, they both probably would’ve been laughing by now, but Lonny was dealing with the memories of him and Dennis in this pose on this very couch, watching these same shows, and Sherrie probably sensed his grief, and shared it as well.
The food was good, and the company was nice. Drew and Sherrie had bought a house, now, just outside the city. Lonny would have to visit sometime soon. They left, and Lonny comforted himself by smelling Dennis’ pillow for a while, and drifting off to sleep. It had been the most bearable day so far. But it had also been the one where he had thought about Dennis the least.
On the fifth day, Lonny had a mini-breakdown. He had woken up and gone to the kitchen, looking for something to eat. He once again found some of Dennis’ heart healthy snacks in the cabinet while he hunted around for cereal. He stared at them for a while, and suddenly a feeling of rage came over him. These stupid snacks were supposed to make him better. They were supposed to help. And yet Dennis had had another heart attack anyway, and now he was dead.
He was dead. And this stupid food hadn’t done shit for him.
Lonny yanked some food from the cabinet, and threw it on the ground. Then he took some more of it and tore it and its box to pieces, and threw that on the ground too. He went into the fridge, grabbing the fruit and vegetables and throwing them across the room, letting them splatter anywhere. He was practically growling, hunting down every bit of heart healthy food he could find, and destroying it. He shredded boxes. He stomped on cereals. He bit and spat granola bars, and threw fish down the garbage disposal. He wrecked the food, and wrecked the kitchen, crying out in anger and in pain. Finally, all the food was gone, and Lonny slipped to the floor, surveying the destruction he had caused. He was crying again, but it felt freeing this time. Like he was releasing some long-held tension.
Dennis was gone. And now Lonny realized it was ok to be pissed about it.
The funeral was held a week after Dennis’ death. He was cremated, as he had requested after his first heart attack, and his ashes were scattered to the wind off the roof of the Bourbon Room while Stacee Jaxx and Arsenal rocked out just behind them. Everyone wore black and leather, and the men didn’t shave accordingly.
Lonny had been pissed for the past two days, but the funeral helped him see how pointless all of that anger was. There wasn’t really anyone to blame. Not Dennis, not Lonny, not any of their friends, or the doctors at the hospital. There was only the blood clot that had caused the second heart attack, and it had died with Dennis’ body. Lonny would just have to accept that.
Before the body had been burned, Lonny had been allowed to see it. Dennis looked calm, asleep, at peace with the world, and that offered some comfort. When no one was looking Lonny had placed a final kiss on his lips, which were cold now, and had whispered, “I love you,” into his ear one last time. That felt like eons ago now, although it had been only yesterday when the coroner had called to say that Dennis was ready to go. Lonny had wanted to be there, and Chico, Jim, and Drew had joined him. It had been a final goodbye to Dennis’ form, a final commitment to the visuals they would all hold of him in their minds.
The funeral was a goodbye to his spirit, the thing that made him who he was and what had made him alive. That was what Lonny had fallen in love with. He had lusted for Dennis’ body for years, but his spirit, his mind and his heart, had been what made Dennis so special to him.
People had gathered beneath the Bourbon Room to watch the ceremony. Only a few had been allowed on the roof; Dennis’ family was all dead, estranged, or too far away to come, so it had been the Bourbon Room staff, Arsenal, Drew and Sherrie, and a few other select friends that Dennis had stayed close to over the years. On the ground were the Bourbon’s regulars, the people that knew Dennis from the bar, and the bands that came to play or had gotten their start there, but didn’t make it back to LA as often anymore. Mayor Whitmore surprised everyone by showing up with a police escort, and Lonny had made sure he was brought up to the roof to mourn with the rest of the people that Dennis had knows from years ago.
The funeral reception was held in the Bourbon Room itself—as if any other location had been an option—with everyone from the roof, including Mayor Whitmore. The food was brought in, since everything in the Bourbon was spoiled or covered in hair. Pizza had seemed like a fitting option, and everyone drank the booze freely, celebrating Dennis’ life and his legacy.
Everyone went up on stage to tell a story about Dennis. It hadn’t been planned, or required; everyone just had something to tell. Sherrie told the story of the day she was hired, how Dennis had known everything about her in just a glance, he was so good at his job. Drew recalled the time he had had a big fight with his parents, and Dennis had been the one to sit with him and talk about it after the Bourbon Room had closed that night. Mayor Whitmore recounted early exploits with Dennis, how they had feared getting older and watching their hair go grey, and the adventures they used to have in Whitmore’s old Gremlin. Stacee talked about Fallout, how it had been recorded, and how he and Dennis had bonded over it, and how important that first gig had been to him all those years ago. Even Constance, and her and Stacee’s daughter Cinderella had stories; Dennis had advised Constance on certain positions during her pregnancy to be more comfortable, since he understood what it was like to have a bad back. Cinderella gave a quick little story about Dennis carrying her around on his shoulders and calling her “Cinder Lauper,” even though every adult in her life hated the nickname.
Chico was a big hit that night with his recounting of the tale, “How Dennis Learned To Tell The Difference Between Beer and Piss,” and his story of Dennis getting stoned enough to mistake another bar on the Strip for the Bourbon, and trying to rearrange things back to “the way they were” with a hammer and drill. Some stories were funny, others were sweet. Arsenal played ballads in between some of the people, as did Von Colt, aka Sherrie and Drew. Eventually, as the beer ran low and the last slice of pizza was claimed, only one person hadn’t gone up.
And that person was Lonny.
Lonny took the stage last and held it for the longest. His story was one long one, the story of how he and Dennis had met, become friends, then best friends, and then soul mates. He still didn’t talk about the romantic relationship he and Dennis had shared; it wasn’t necessary, here and now. Right now Lonny needed to talk about what they had shared, which had been love. Plain and simple. And for a majority of the time they had known each other, that love had existed and thrived. The sex would never be as important as the love, even if it had been amazing. And so Lonny told their love story.
Meeting. Spending time together outside of work. Bonding. Going to the pier, and having dinner together every night for a decade. Moving in together. Disagreeing over little things, like what channel to watch, or what record to listen to next, but never the big things. Becoming essentially partners in running the Bourbon Room. Dennis’ first heart attack, and all they went through. Reading Dennis’ will, which was full of quite a few laughs as people received their inheritances on stage with pride or fake humiliation. Almost being unable to speak when the very last line gave the Bourbon Room over to Lonny, and finding himself talking through the tears, and everyone just crying along with him. He ended with Dennis’ second heart attack, the night most of them had been there for, and his final words.
“Dennis left with love. He loved us all, and he wanted us to know that when he went. And that’s what I think we need to do for him, now that he’s gone. Love. Just love. Love each other, and music, and the Bourbon Room, and rock and roll, and LA, and the Strip, and everything. Because that’s what he did. He loved until his heart gave out. So let’s do that, yeah?”
The group applauded and cried at that, and Lonny went back to his friends, who gave him a long hug and told him that his words were beautiful. Chico made him laugh for the first time in a week, and they all drank a toast to Dennis, and to his memory. Everyone stayed until the early morning, where they left as a group and helped each other home.
Dennis was gone. But he had been celebrated, and there was nothing to be mad at anymore. Lonny instead embraced his memory, pleading with God to help him hold on to this feeling just a little longer, to let Dennis not be lost to him ever in any way.
Three days after the funeral, Lonny cut his hair.
It hadn’t been a rash decision. He hadn’t grabbed the scissors and just gone for it, hating the results afterward. It was the result of real thought, of soul searching and effort, and it had been done with care so that it wouldn’t too awful afterwards.
Lonny cut off his hair because it reminded him of Dennis. Dennis had kept his hair long too, and had loved to play with Lonny’s hair while they would lie on the couch, or in bed, and he would often run his hands through it while they kissed or had sex. Lonny would play with it to flirt, and before they had been together Lonny had always made sure to take care of it to make sure he looked his best, just in case Dennis noticed him. These memories were painful now, not something he could face everyday when he looked in a mirror or reflective surface, or when he touched it to move it out of his face or to wash it in the shower.
And so the mullet went.
The haircut had been an attempt on Lonny’s part to take back control from the grief that otherwise possessed his every waking thought. It was something he could do, something real that could influence his daily mood by making things easier. It was also, in part, a deal with whatever high power existed in the universe to help make things easier for him, to give him the strength to carry on. Cutting his hair in exchange for a day with no crying. Eating healthier at breakfast in exchange for not accidentally finding another one of Dennis’ personal belongings under a seat cushion. Eventually Lonny would have to open the Bourbon Room again, to give himself and the now-his staff a paycheck, and bands somewhere to play. But before he could do that, Lonny would need to take back control from his loss.
He actually went out and bought scissors for hair to use, because he had a feeling he would be committing to this look for a while, and he didn’t want it to look like shit. He did it in the bathroom mirror, carefully cutting away until finally he was left with a shaggy mop, a haircut he hadn’t had since primary school. It didn’t look half bad, considering that Lonny hadn’t had a haircut in years, and his only experience was the occasional trim he gave himself to keep his long do’s in check. After careful consideration he decided not to shave, figuring it would make him look too different and people still needed to be able to recognize him at work, He cleaned up the remnants of his mullet, carefully collecting some of it and tying it together with a bow, tossing it into a drawer that was slowly amassing Lonny’s favorite parts of Dennis. Another means of control; Lonny put in the parts he could deal with, slowly adding to the list, and keeping his thoughts only on those things to keep himself from breaking down again. Now, having been conquered, the way Dennis used to love his hair could be added in to the mix.
Besides, mullets were dying out, like Dennis always said they would. It was time for a change.
That night, the Bourbon Room opened its doors again. The sign announcing Dennis’ death was removed and carefully hung on the door to the office, where Lonny decided he could handle it. Going into the office on his own had been trickier; he hadn’t really been inside since Dennis had died. He tried not to think about Dennis falling to the floor, or how hard it had been for him to utter his last words before passing on. Those feelings would be dealt with as soon as the evening was over.
He greeted the staff and set them off on tasks to get the place ready for the evening. Everyone stared at his hair. Lonny had been expecting this reaction; it was a radical change, and had come at a radical time. Everyone knew Dennis was why he did it. The rumors that would surface would be about the exact reasons Dennis could cause such a reaction in him.
Lonny ignored them and put himself to work, cleaning and doing some accounting while carefully reintroducing himself to objects that Dennis had often used or complained about. If he could do this in the apartment, Lonny thought, the Bourbon Room shouldn’t be that much worse.
He ended up being wrong on that count. The Bourbon Room was literally nothing but Dennis; it was where they met, where they became friends, where they fell in love, where they found themselves every evening for the time they were together. But still Lonny pressed on, telling himself that if he just went through the receipts from the night Dennis died, he could avoid staring at the couch where he and Dennis had spent nights eating and drinking together. It was a long, painful, few hours, but Lonny was making it through.
Actually having the Bourbon open to the public helped Lonny keep his mind off of Dennis for a while. He became more preoccupied with dealing with puke and drugged out patrons, and making sure the staff was handling everything, since the last thing he needed was Beth quitting again, or Jim getting pissed and spitting in the drinks. It wasn’t as if many people noticed when that happened—they were usually too wasted. But those who did tended to be noisy enough for everyone to hear, and refunds were not something the Bourbon could ever really afford.
And so went the next few weeks. Lonny kept himself under control, and the Bourbon Room stayed open. Old favors to Dennis were called in for musical talent, until the managers finally understood that Lonny was now in charge of the venue, and they would be talking to him from now on when it came to booking a gig. Those phone calls tended to put Lonny on edge, as some of the managers and bandleaders didn’t bother with tact when asking “So Dennis kicked the bucket, huh?” Lonny couldn’t decide if it was worse or better that they didn’t mean to be such dicks. Either way, Lonny would tell them yes, he had, and then would quickly get them to commit to a date so that he could get off the phone and fume for a few seconds. He tried asking the higher powers of the universe to spare him those moments of phone calls, to have more people who were instantly sympathetic, which Lonny knew how to deal with at this point. But no matter what Lonny offered them, they never seemed to be able to stop the assholes from speaking. Thankfully it was only a small part of every week, and Lonny was getting better at dealing with the thought of Dennis on a daily basis.
Dennis was gone. And Lonny was handling it.
Chico one day came to Lonny with a warning: “Boss, if you don’t relax, you’ll crack one day. Take a chill pill, man.”
Lonny just shrugged him off. He was fine. Couldn’t everyone see that? He had found a way to cope.
Dennis was gone. And things were finally ok.
Things did not, shockingly enough, remain ok.
All of Lonny’s careful dealing—putting Dennis’ pillow in a plastic bag and hiding it in the closet, avoiding eye contact with the floor in the office—all came crashing down on him one night at work all thanks to a couple of assholes, and Cement Balls.
Cement Balls was finally out of rehab, and had contacted the Bourbon hoping for a gig. Lonny had given them a Friday night, and organized an opening act with a new local band, calling it the start of Cement Balls’ new tour. The staff had been alerted to keep the band sober, and to keep the crowd from making the band from want to be less sober. The sound check went off without a hitch, and when some of the members started to eye the liquor, Beth was quick to distract them by showing them to their dressing room, and helping them settle down to some TV in Lonny’s office. Lonny pretended not to notice when Jim and Beth silently communicated across the room as she led Cement Balls away. They were flirting, obviously. A sign of couplehood. Let them believe they were still hiding it from the others. Lonny would keep his mouth shut, and ignore the ache in his chest that seemed to spring up out of nowhere.
Cement Balls drew in a surprisingly large crowd, and Lonny ended up behind the bar helping out, since one of the bartenders had called in sick. The opening act went well, as did Cement Balls’ performance, and once again all thought of couples and Dennis were shoved aside for more immediate concerns in Lonny’s mind. All was balanced. All was fine.
It had probably been inevitable that something would upset all that.
Towards the end of their set, Cement Balls did a slower number, and called for everyone in the bar to grab a partner for a slow dance. Everyone did, even the staff, and once again Lonny pretended not to see Beth and Jim get all cozy with each other, arms wrapped around like they belonged there. It made his chest ache again, for something he missed, but he refused to let his mind go there.
Couples were everywhere now. It was actually very sweet, particularly for the Bourbon, as only a few people were really making out. The song was nice, and Lonny could feel himself slipping, slipping into the old sensations of pain and loss that usually accompanied some unexpected memory of Dennis. He did his best to talk himself down, to commit to keeping his eyes closed in exchange for a few more minutes of peace, and although it was hard, somehow he was managing still.
Everything was fine until two guys got called out for dancing with each other.
Maybe it had been a joke, maybe not. Lonny would never know the true relationship between the men that night. What he did know was that suddenly some guy dancing with his girlfriend suddenly noticed what was going on next to him, and he had felt the need to ask them about it.
It had started out as just a verbal confrontation, not even a loud one, but when it became obvious that the two men were going to ignore the guy asking them why they were dancing together, the guy got offended and turned one of the men towards him, demanding an explanation. The man’s partner shoved the guy away, and suddenly the guy was attacking him, and others soon joined in to hold the two back. Lonny saw immediately that things were probably going to turn violent, and leapt in between the two men, asking for an explanation as calmly as he could.
“This guy started harassing us for no reason,” the partner explained, still being restrained by other patrons. At this point most of the couples around them were still dancing, but they all had their attention on the action playing before them.
“These guys wouldn’t answer my question!” the guy snapped, and his girlfriend immediately agreed. The guy was getting loud now, and more and more people were paying attention to the scene.
“Well what was the question?” Lonny asked, doing his best to be impartial, while still feeling the ache in his chest start to spread, and trying to fight it.
“I asked them if they were a couple of faggots, and what a couple of faggots were doing in a place like this,” the guy shouted. It seemed like the whole place went quiet then; everyone was watching, and Cement Balls stopped playing, the silence becoming deafening.
Lonny studied the guy for a moment before responding. “And just what kind of a place would this be, mate?”
The guy seemed confused for a second, but proceeded anyway. “A place to rock out and get laid. No one wants to see that kind of shit, man,” he said, indicating the two male partners.
Maybe it was all the couples dancing setting Lonny off that got him to do what he did next. Maybe it had been inevitable, with the way he was trying to manage his grief. Maybe he was just pissed, and felt like telling the guy off, or maybe some social justice part of him decided to speak out then. Whatever the case, Lonny could feel his emotions spilling over, and knew that all potential deals to keep them in line would be futile.
“Well, mate, seeing as how I met Dennis Dupree, the last owner, in here, and we ended up fucking each other for over two years, you might just be wrong about this place.”
For the first time ever, you could hear a pin drop in the Bourbon Room. The guy and most everyone else looked more shocked than horrified, and the two men who had been dancing together seemed to be surprised in a good way.
“You…he…” the guy stammered.
“Fucked. Like rabbits. And I can guarantee you that if he were still alive, we’d probably be dancing together to that song too. And you would just have to deal with it, or get the fuck out of our club. So fuck off, mate, or keep your ignorant opinions to yourself.” Lonny turned to the stage and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Oi! Gives us some tunes again lads!” After a second of bringing themselves out of a daze, Cement Balls started playing again, this time a song with a faster beat. The people got back into the music again pretty quickly, and soon the chatter and cheering started up again too. Lonny stared the guy down until he, disgusted, turned and left with his girlfriend. Lonny turned back to the bar, told everyone to get back to work, and went up to the office for the rest of the evening.
As he sat behind the desk, the wave of emotion that Lonny had been dealing out to himself in small drops washed over him all at once. The same old ache for Dennis. The urge to laugh at how ridiculous that had just become. The rage at that guy trying to demean the love that Lonny and Dennis had held for each other, without even meaning to, and how easy it had been for him. Worry over potentially losing business for that little outburst, because however stupid it was some people cared about that sort of thing. But most of all, after giving in to the laughter for a few seconds, the need to cry because if Dennis had been there he probably would’ve been really fucking proud.
Dennis was gone. And that fact was the saddest thing that Lonny had ever had to deal with.
None of the important people in Lonny’s life had cared that he and Dennis had been in love with each other. Drew had heard about it through Jim, and he told Sherrie, and the two visited Lonny in his apartment with pizza to talk to him. They pretty much shrugged, and said that they had sort of guessed that something had been going on between them, but it didn’t exactly matter. They had been happy, and they had had love. What else could matter?
The staff and the Bourbon was a little awkward, but supportive. Jim, attempting to show Lonny that he cared, confided that he and Beth had been seeing each other since a little before Dennis died, but hadn’t wanted it to come up at work for fear of people’s reactions. It was a sweet showing of solidarity, and Lonny couldn’t help but smile at that and tell Jim how happy he was that he and Beth had found each other.
Many of the other staffers offered more condolences, and said that Lonny’s stories at the funeral made more sense now, or came from such a wonderful place. One or two expressed regret that Lonny hadn’t been able to talk about the romantic side of his and Dennis’ relationship back then. They were honestly eager to listen and be there for him, and for that Lonny was grateful. But he wasn’t quite ready to talk about it yet, and so he instead promised to talk about it when he was ready.
Stacee Jaxx paid a visit, having heard rumors through the grapevine, and gave Lonny a hug, telling him that Dennis had clearly known love, and that alone probably kept him alive through the first heart attack. The entire moment was awkward, but Lonny appreciated the sentiment.
Constance also gave a hug, with more soothing words and a plate of brownies that Lonny would’ve sworn were blessed by angels. He played with Cinderella for a while, helping her with her walking, before they left too.
Chico had already known, and Lonny had been getting advice from him about the relationship for pretty much the entire time it had been going on. Now they could just talk in public about it, instead of behind the Bourbon or late at night in Lonny and Dennis’ place when Chico had pissed off his wife. Not that they did often. It still hurt, after all.
Dennis was gone. And Lonny couldn’t run from any of it anymore.
The Bourbon certainly lost a few patrons when the rumors went around, especially since there were enough people to confirm them as true. A few times over the next several months, people would spray paint things like “God Hates Fags,” and death threats on the door and walls of the Bourbon. Lonny typically responded by spray-painting a response underneath, such as “God Hates Fags,” “Well it’s a good thing he doesn’t come around here often then.” The harassment never got any worse than that, thankfully. The church ladies had new signs to add to their campaign, and a few kids were stupid enough to do crank calls too, but nothing outwardly violent. It seemed people were learning some tolerance after all.
With the loss of some customers came the unexpected gain of others. Men and women who liked rock and roll, and who were also interested in their own gender, seemed to simultaneously decide that the Bourbon Room was the place to be. It was run by one of their own, after all. It was a safe place. And Lonny hoped to keep it safe.
The irony was Lonny wasn’t entirely certain he’d call himself gay. He had no doubt been attracted to Dennis, and the sex had been pretty fucking rock and roll. But he had liked being with women as well, and he still found many of them attractive. But no woman could compare to the massive hard-on he had for Dennis Dupree, and he wasn’t sure any woman ever would.
Maybe it wasn’t fair to compare women to Dennis. They had spent years building sexual tension between them, and perhaps then every time they slept together it all just came out. But Lonny knew that the attraction had also been strengthened by their closeness, by how much they got along and just liked each other as people. It made everything between them sexier. And although Lonny liked women, he just naturally tended to bond with men better. Most of his friends were male, and he definitely spent a lot more of his free time around men. He always had. And being with Dennis had been the best; they had been best friends who loved having sex with each other. So ultimately, Lonny concluded that although he would have sex with a man or a woman, he really only wanted a romantic relationship with a man. He wasn’t sure what sexuality that made him, but he wasn’t sure he really cared, either.
The only reason he had even bothered to work out his feelings that way was because admitting to have had sex with Dennis was making him think about it more often, and now he was starting to occasionally get a itchy for a good lay. He had begun considering the possibility of pursuing a one-night stand, but the question had arisen in his mind about the gender of the partner he wanted. The variable of wanting to connect to the person in some way he liked beforehand put Lonny pretty firmly in the dude corner, but he decided if a woman pursued him, he would go with the flow.
Thankfully, Lonny didn’t have to live with this confusion much, because the crippling depression he was experiencing most of the time was helping him keep his mind off of it. The depression was keeping him withdrawn, away from most people, and was certainly making him less social with customers at work. Lonny flipped-flopped between craving human contact and wanting to vanish, finding it easier to live with memories than to look towards a future with no Dennis in it. Truthfully, Lonny only had one fear at this point, and it wasn’t about overwhelming himself anymore. Now it was losing the pain, because losing the pain meant he was losing his feelings for Dennis.
So Lonny embraced his sadness and let it take hold, finding himself less a life of the party and more of a surveyor, like Dennis had been when he owned the club. Maybe it was a necessary thing; how could he keep the club going if he lost himself in the chaos every night? Maybe it was part of growing up, of becoming old and bitter by running a club and doing taxes. Maybe losing Dennis had killed some of the life in him, like he promised it never would. But Lonny knew that there would be no getting that spark back now. He had changed. But, considering the earlier points, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing.
For a solid year, Lonny found himself in this funk. It became a new reality, a new way of living. Clinging to Dennis’ death, not moving forward or back, just staying in place, letting the world move him when necessary. This didn’t make him great in a crisis, like when the Bourbon was on the verge of financial ruin again and Lonny became so stressed he could have sworn he had hair falling out. Big, unexpected changes, which once barely fazed him, hit hard. He always recovered, but it was a struggle. Lonny was finally dealing with his grief head on, but he was starting to remember why he had put it off for so long.
During the year, Sherrie and Drew found out they were pregnant, and had the baby. Lonny threw them a baby shower at the Bourbon, where everything important, even the miracle of birth, had happened in their lives. It had been Cinderella who had been born in the bar, actually, which was fitting, since she had probably been conceived there. Constance’s water had broken, and before the traffic-caught ambulance could even arrive, Cinderella had been born, in one of the quickest labors the paramedics had ever heard of. Sherrie and Drew were happy to have their baby shower in the Bourbon, but they avoided the club for the rest of the pregnancy afterwards. It was for the best; giving birth in a gas station bathroom might have honestly been more sanitary. Lonny still felt the need to check in on Cinderella’s development every time he saw her to make sure she hadn’t developed a mutation because of where she had been born.
Dennis had gotten to see Cinderella’s birth first hand, as he had been the one to deliver her on stage while Lonny had desperately tried to clear the club out and keep Arsenal from playing while it went on. He would never get to meet Drew and Sherrie’s baby though, a fact that clearly stung them all. Sherrie’s grandmother came in from Tulsa to help prepare the nursery, and ultimately she was given the surprise of a house right next door to Drew and Sherrie’s to stay in. She had cried, and immediately gone back to Oklahoma to pack up her house and sell it, telling most of her neighbors to go fuck themselves as she cackled and flipped them off from the limo that took her to the airport. Lonny got roped into giving her a tour of the city—a ploy on Drew and Sherrie’s part to help lift his spirits—and he ended up laughing harder than he had in months because of her. Lonny was grateful to his friends that day, although his depression still held on.
A month after Sherrie’s grandmother arrived so did the baby; a few days early, but still safely delivered in a sanitary hospital with doctors all around, and Drew and Sherrie’s grandmother holding Sherrie’s hands and witnessing the event. Lonny, Chico, and Jim (who had finally openly admitted to be dating Beth, only to almost lose her but then getting her back with an off-key serenade of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” at work one night, and now they were living together) all waited in the lobby of the maternity ward, and were later joined by Justice, the owner of the Venus Club, who had needed to find someone to cover for her while she rushed over. Lonny had developed a sort of phobia of hospitals since Dennis’ heart attacks, so he was edgy but thankfully distracted with excitement for Sherrie.
The baby ended up being a healthy, happy, baby boy. Lonny and the others in the waiting room all came in to find Drew and Sherrie’s grandmother, both in scrubs, sitting on the bed with Sherrie, in a hospital gown, with the baby between them. The baby was a pink, wrinkly thing with almost a full head of hair. They all agreed he was destined to be in a hair band when he got older. Each of them got to hold the little guy for a bit, and Lonny enjoyed his turn thoroughly, cooing and dancing around the room with the sleeping infant.
“I’m already smitten!” Lonny declared as he gently rocked back and forth. “What’s his name, anyway?”
“Well, we wanted to name him after someone he could look up to, so we decided on Dennis,” Sherrie answered. “It was Drew’s idea.”
Lonny stopped the rocking and looked at them, finding the two smiling sheepishly up at him. Tears sprang to his eyes, but he knew these were tears of joy.
“That’s brilliant,” he said. He looked back down at baby Dennis, his little fists balled up and held up at his face. “Hey Dennis. I’m your Uncle Lonny. You know, you’ve got a lot of people who love you, including your Uncle Dennis, but you can’t see him. He lives inside of you, now. He lives inside of all of us. Now you take all that love around you and do something good with it, all right? Make your mum and dad proud. And when you decide to say fuck ‘em, you come straight to me. I’ll get you your first beer.”
Everyone laughed, and for the first time, while holding baby Dennis in his arms, Lonny felt like his old self again.
Later on, outside the hospital, while Lonny waited with Jim and Chico for Beth to come pick them up, Sherrie’s grandmother came outside and sat next to him.
“Ugly little thing, isn’t he?” Sherrie’s grandmother said. Lonny smiled.
“Just a shriveled, pink little Yoda,” Lonny agreed. They both laughed. Sherrie’s grandmother studied him for a moment, taking in his face.
“You lost someone very close to you. The original Dennis, I’m guessing,” she said, with understanding in her eyes.
“Yeah, I did,” Lonny said, finding himself staring at his shoes again as the depression kept holding on.
“I lost Sherrie’s grandfather a long time ago, but it still hurts. You do learn to live like an actual human being again, I promise.”
“I just don’t think I’ll ever really be me again, you know? Not the way I was.”
“You don’t have to be.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Loss changes us. But that doesn’t mean we lose the ability to be happy. To find love again, even.”
Lonny shook his head. “I think that might be it for me, honestly.”
Sherrie’s grandmother smiled understandingly. “I was lucky. Sherrie’s mother went off the deep end, and I had to snap myself out of it to get her back on track. Didn’t do much good, in the end, but I did get Sherrie, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
“I just don’t want to lose him,” said Lonny. “And I’m worried I might if I sell our apartment or something and try to move on.”
“You’re still living in the place you two shared?”
“Oh honey. Did you know I had to sell the house that Sherrie’s grandfather and I had been living in just to keep myself from breaking down whenever I found something of his in the house? I couldn’t cope with all that around me. And you’ve been living with it for over a year!” Sherrie’s grandmother put an arm around Lonny’s shoulders. “Sweetie, you’ve got guts. Strength. That, or you’re masochistic, and on a path of horrible destruction. But I think you’ve just got guts.”
Lonny smiled at that, and leaned into her hug. Beth pulled in with her car, and he got up to go, giving Sherrie’s grandmother a hug goodbye.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll never lose him. You never lose love.”
“Thank you,” said Lonny, and he got into the car.
Dennis was gone. Lonny knew this. It had been true for over a year. But maybe, just maybe, that was ok.
Lonny knew it probably wasn’t healthy to keep the apartment, but it was close to work, and he still liked the memories that he had in it. After getting home from the hospital, Lonny had dug into the closet, found Dennis’ old pillow, unwrapped it, and took several big whiffs. The bag had kept all the smell in, and Lonny found himself surrounded by Dennis, and finding it not painful, but comforting. He put the pillow back on the bed, and surveyed the room, deciding it was time for a change.
He bought paint, and painted the walls a color that he really liked. On a whim, he went back to the store for more paint, and repainted the entire apartment. This wasn’t like cutting his hair, or hiding the pillow away; ways of controlling his life since he had lost all power to outside forces. This was breaking out of his cocoon of sadness, of changing things to force himself to respond in a better way. He went to the mirror and found his hair to be growing longer again, looking a little limp since he hadn’t been taking care of it as much. He cut it short again, styling it until he liked the way it looked, and went about painting second coats in the apartment, exhausting himself but feeling liberated.
He had found strength again. He had lived in this apartment, amongst all these memories, for over a year. He had pulled through. For over a year he had lived with the memory of Dennis over him. Now it was time to let Dennis live within him, and let himself rule over himself.
As the paint dried, Lonny went to work, realizing that he had also managed to keep the Bourbon going all this time despite the fact that Dennis lived here in his mind more than anywhere else. Again, he could feel the shadows being shaken off, and instead being replaced with the encouraging knowledge that Lonny had lived with the dead, and learned to cope. Maybe the best thing would’ve been to sell this place and the apartment and just go back to England for a while, find himself rather than live with Dennis’ ghost everywhere. It probably would’ve been healthier, and by this time he might have been over it. But he knew that he would just miss the Bourbon Room, and the apartment, and LA, and the Strip, and Sherrie and Drew, and Jim and Beth, and Chico, and Stacee, Constance, and Cinderella. He might’ve missed baby Dennis being born. He might’ve missed creating a safe haven for the gay rocker community in Hollywood.
Lonny hadn’t taken the easy road, or the smart one. He might not have taken the right one. But he was here now. So it was time to live.
He felt energized. The Bourbon would stay without alterations. That was partially out of practicality, partially out of Dennis’ memory, and partially out of just liking the place the way it was. But the apartment would be rearranged. It would be his now, not “the” apartment or “their” apartment, or “Dennis’ old place.” That night he was in good spirits—baby Dennis being born had reminded him of life, and so had Sherrie’s grandmother, and he would be forever grateful to them both for it. The staff noticed the sudden change with smiles on their faces, and Lonny could see the worry that had so long sat on their features fade away. Lonny was back, and the Bourbon had its old energy back.
The band that night played better than it had in months. The patrons were more excited, less subdued and the old rock and roll was back without anyone ever knowing it was gone. Lonny took the sign announcing Dennis’ death off of the office door, and hung it on the wall of the office instead. An homage to Dennis and his legacy, not a reminder. Lonny threw himself back into the groove, and partied amongst the customers once again, but now with more vigilance than before, as his responsibilities had changed somewhat. He was back. He wasn’t the same person as before; he had matured a bit, gotten a little more old and bitter, to be sure. But for the first time in far too long, he felt happy. And that was enough.
Months passed, and Lonny rearranged the apartment to his liking. He traveled a bit to see Von Colt on a world tour, and came home to help Sherrie’s grandmother take care of baby Dennis until his parents came home a few weeks later. Drew and Sherrie wouldn’t be touring again for a while, but Lonny enjoyed being a surrogate parent. Maybe Drew and Sherrie, he joked, should abandon the baby more often.
Memories of Dennis took a while to resettle; some of them could bring him down again, but he had the strength to handle it better, to let himself cry and take a moment, and then move forward. Dennis would always be a bright spot for him; a time of love, sex, booze and rock and roll. Dennis would always be special. And now Lonny could think about him and feel joy, not just the pangs of loss and regret.
He still missed him. He probably always would. But for once he worked at doing what he promised Dennis he would try to do; living on without him. And he could do it.
Jim and Beth got engaged; Chico and his wife were expecting another child, and Justice got herself a new boyfriend. Sherrie’s grandmother met someone, and Constance and Stacee started planning to make their lifelong commitment to each other legal in the state of California with a marriage certificate. Everyone was moving forward, and for once Lonny was with them, sharing in everything, and going with the flow like he had before.
One night, as Lonny was working in place of Jim who was off on his honeymoon, he spotted a young guy sitting at the bar, looking shy and like he wasn’t quite sure how to get involved with the chaos all around him. Lonny went over to him to try to help him out.
“Bit crazy in here, isn’t it?” Lonny said, leaning on top of the bar. The guy looked a little startled, then blushed and looked down at his drink.
“A little. I’m a bit new at this.”
“Bit new at what, mate, rock and roll? Don’t worry, it don’t bite in a fatal way. You’ll get used to all this.”
The guy laughed at that. “Are you the owner? Lonny or Lorry, or whatever your name it?”
“I am. Lonny’s the name.” He offered his hand, and the guy shook it. “How’d you know I run the place?”
The guy blushed again, but this time he smiled more. “I was just told to look out for the hot, skinny British guy with the nice hair.”
He smiled at the guy, feeling the thrill of a flirt coursing through him for the first time in ages.
Dennis was gone. That was a fact. It couldn’t be denied or bargained away, and it was nothing to be pissed about, or to stop living over either.
It was a memory. It was part of who Lonny was, and one of the brightest parts of his life.
And now it was time to make a new part.