Chapter 1: Golden Lotus
There is no point at looking at the time. Because I will be here the next day, and the next. I don't know the name of the champagne I pour for her, and I dont care. I smile though, a smile is enough to hide anything.
She pulls at a sleeve of my skinny black suit, she's being playful, her nails are as red as the tie I wear. One of her friends has been trying to hide her jealousy, the friend links herself around my free arm quietly, and leans her head against my shoulder.
I belong to everyone and I belong to no one. I am anyone and I am no one.
My coworker across from me kisses the knuckles of a curvy woman, it's her birthday, our whole circular red velvet booth is filled with her guests. Most men couldn't carry a girl that size, but Shiro can, and the girl laughs loudly and covers her face with both pride and embarrassment. The other girls clap and whistle as he spins her around slowly, flashes from cameras flicker back and forth. Sometimes everything goes so fast I skip from one place to another. One moment I ask the girl to my left about her favorite animal, then to keep her envious friend afloat, I ask her the same question. The next moment all the women are making meowing sounds and the birthday girl is drunk enough to lick Shiro's cheek.
This is the only thing that actually makes me laugh, that guy is nice enough not to flinch or care at a stranger being so intimate. We convince the girls to buy more expensive wine, they only agree to if we bark like dogs.
Shiro barks and nuzzles his nose in the birthday girl's hair. She laughs so hard she snorts, wiggling her frail champagne glass around and letting the glittering alcohol splash onto her dress again and again. I growl and howl, the girls on each of my arms pretend to hide behind my arms in fear, I feel their giggling vibrating in my shoulder blades. This can be fun sometimes, playing a role, playing the theatrics of being a dog or being a human.
Other times sound starts to slip away, I focus on the wandering red lights of the club's booth, lights searching and never finding. My face hurts from lying, I let my heavy grin lay flat and close my eyes as I rub the backs of my two sleeping girls. They will leave soon, none of the glasses that wait on the onyx marble table are full, and I watch Shiro slip his employee card to the birthday girl struggling to both stand up and keep her tight pink dress from flashing her underwear. The party of women help each other along, some waddling in their heels, some barefoot and swirling their shoes around their fingers by the ankle straps. All the pockets of my suit are oozing cash, Shiro's grey suit bursts with bills too, when the club clears out of customers we sigh and start organizing our profit into neat piles. Shiro’s left hand dives through his fashionably silver hair as his lips mutter out his calculations.
We all have our stations at the host club. Red, Black, Yellow, Green, and Blue. We don't have names, and are only referred to by the color of our ties by coworkers and clients. I am Mr. Red. We work in pairs usually, unless we are personally requested to give a private audience to especially rich clients. On work premises we do not have sex with our clients, the occasional lap dances from girls or boys but, nothing beyond superficial touching. Some of my coworkers allow afterhour sex commissions, but that’s unrelated to the club and their own personal business. I've been requested countless times for “afterhours service” but decline always. I only sell dreams, and dreams must always have an end.
The only reason why I know Shiro's name is because we've been friends since college, we used to be roommates but ever since we got this job we don't have to worry much about money anymore. It’s all thanks to the owner of club Voltron, Miss White. Besides the colored booths and matching lights for each booth, all the furniture – including the walls and floors – are black. Miss White is perched at the bar, her pearly dress glows against her smooth dark skin, and her white blonde hair cascades over the stool she sits on like the end of a wave. Even though she’s a pretty heiress in her late 20’s, she’s not snobby at all (except when it comes to the kind of water she drinks, she always getting box water or water in cylindrical shapes.) She’s friendly and greets us all personally, she refers to us as her “team.” Now its Friday and we all line up in front of her for our checks, her butler Mr. Orange handing out each envelope. Mr. Orange not only wears an orange tie but also has startling red hair and a well-kept mustache he twists around whenever he’s pondering to match. I examine said mustache just before I grab my check, its wet from the wine he’s been drinking, and I put my check in my wallet with the rest of my cash and take a moment to stare at an annoying new coworker.
Mr. Blue shines his obnoxiously bright smile at a girl, I think the reason why its obnoxious is because he seems so aware of the effect his smile has on not only clients but everyone that comes across it. Mr. Blue and the girl are outside the club, her manicured fingers caress at his tan jaunt face and when she laughs I can see neon green gum tucked into her cheek.
It’s like this almost every night, a regular or stranger, doesn't matter. Girl or boy, gender doesn't matter to Mr. Blue. He catches my sharp stare, sea blue eyes going half lidded, and he sticks his tongue out at me. His expression then reverts back into the Perfect Boyfriend look, his arm around her waist, and they disappear to whatever hotel his client desires. It’s not that I'm judging his promiscuity, rather that this person takes nothing seriously, acts recklessly, and it sets my teeth on edge.
I look away and roll my eyes, tucking the cash I made tonight into the envelope with my check. I go to the locker room and change out of my suit into a red hoodie, black jeans, and combat boots. I keep my leather motorcycle gloves on always, even when I'm not riding. I take a sigh of relief that no one is in the locker room at the moment, it gives me a moment to clear my head and get my backpack ready. I put my earphones in, “You and I” by Washed Out begins to play, and I walk out the back exit without saying goodbye to anyone.
The rain is so soft I hardly notice it until a raindrop lands on the tip of my nose. I pull my hood up and decide to take a longer route. This way goes more into the city, therefore more out of the way, but it has more shade to protect me from a possible rain storm. My apartment is closer to the outskirts of the city so it’s cheaper than uptown and allows me to have a place to myself that isn’t as small as a closet. A black cat runs alongside me, seeking refuge from the rain that starts to get thicker in waves, then rushes into a thin alley alongside a Japanese restaurant that has a large yellow neon lotus flower flashing in its window. This city is a cement labyrinth filled with little meowing treasures, I’m always on the hunt to add new kitty pictures to my collection. I take out my smaller than average Polaroid camera from the front of my backpack, and stalk the wet agitated feline to the shadowed alley.
I turn the corner in pursuit, my eyes straining to find that stray black cat in the night, but the flash of the neon lotus light lets me see not only the cat hiding in a cardboard box but a couple making out against a brick wall behind it. Then everything goes dark, I blink rain drops off my eyelashes, the rain builds into a shower and starts to seep through my jacket. The neon yellow awakens the alley again, I see Mr. Blue tangled in a stranger’s arms, and I learn that he doesn’t close his eyes when he kisses. I learn this because I find his empty gaze spark into my direction. My hands tense and I end up taking a photo accidentally, the rain now pours so hard the shutter sound is drowned out. I don’t want my camera to get ruined and I also don’t want to come across as some kind of weirdo voyeur, so I run out of the alley and down the street to try and get home as soon as I can.
As I run I put my camera back under the cover of my backpack and my earbuds are annoyingly ripped out of my ears, the full roar of the weather hitting me. My damp bangs stick to my face and I nearly get hit by a car, but I don’t stop. I keep running and hear some faceless asshole yell at me from behind to ‘watch where I’m going’ but I don’t really see anything other than the storm and the sidewalk leading me to my apartment. I run through the tight parking lot in front of the apartment complex I stay at, one of my boots plunges into a puddle, and the only benefit of this damn storm is that I can yell “fuck” without anyone hearing me. I run up the stairwell on the side, and fiddle with my keys to get into my place on the second floor of the drab grey building.
I don’t mean to slam the door behind me, but I do, and I throw my backpack on the taupe couch. The color-scheme of my flat is blacks, greys, whites, and reds, and its flustered times like these that I’m grateful my home is a warm and simple place to relax in. Even if it’s pretty shitty. Old grey carpet with stains back from the early 1800’s, blackwood kitchen with chips and cuts on the edges, a refrigerator that never fully fucking closes, the lights are perpetually dim, and there is only a single window. The window isn’t even in the bedroom, the big cut out square is in the living room instead. A nice thing about the small window though is that it seems to always capture the moon every night. As I start to walk and strip across the living room, I look towards the window and find that the moon is cut in half.
After I shower I feel my long dark hair drip down my back, its only slightly past my shoulders but when its wet it seems that much longer. When I retrieve my camera from my bag, I take the square of developed film from its grasp and bring it to my room. After a while of having my thoughts shut down to simply get myself cleaned up and dry, I crawl into bed and bring the vermillion fuzzy blankets up to my nose to maximize coziness. I glance at my nightstand, the new photo is on its back, and curiosity brings my hand out to slide it off the surface and bring it in front of my face.
A blurry cat with closed eyes hunched in its cardboard shelter, part of the petals of the neon lotus, an alley that looks more like a river from rain, and a well-dressed couple pressed against a brick wall. His eyes are slightly above the focus of the camera, they were focused on me at that time, and the client he was with covers her face with a curled hand. The whole photo is tinted topaz from the odd lighting, fuzzy with the movement of rain, yet his eyes cut through it all and for some reason it makes me nervous to look at it.
I’m used to him being up close and personal with strangers, but what I wasn’t used to was the look on his face tonight as he was being kissed. He was so far away, and he didn’t have time to protect that hollow expression with a smile.
I take a couple more seconds to look, but then put it back down. My collection of cat photos hangs off of string tied to the wall, the way you might see laundry hung out to dry at a farm. Tomorrow I’ll add the new one to my collection but for now I focus on the new buzzing text I get from Shiro.
Shiro: Did u get home safely? :)
Shiro: dude what r u going to do for ur birthday
Me: Probably stay at home , play video games, drink a gallon of chocolate milk, jack off
Shiro: LOL shut up Keith, that’s okay for a normal Saturday tbh but not for a birthday. You should have a party! Invite the team and we can all have fun and shit
Me: Fuck no I’m not inviting the team because that mean s Mr. Blue will go
Shiro: What the hell is with u and Mr. Blue lol I swear he’s pretty chill. You need more friends! Anyways s top being a baby and have a party so I have an excuse to get drunk. I need this... Graduate school and working is brutal...
Me: wtf how am I a baby?? Also our job is easy when girls aren’t licking our faces lolol
Shiro: Oh fuck ahaha yeah that chick tonight was so drunk, but she smelled like strawberries so it was OK. But seriously please have a party bro I need it :(
Me: Its annoying how nice you are, you don’t even talk shit on customers ugh. But ya ya I’ll have the stupid fuckin party. I’m not buying beer though and if someone pukes YOU can clean it up
Shiro: Yee thanks! I’ll make sure everyone gets you gifts too. Goodnight :P
Me: Whatever... Night.
I smile at the kindness that comes so naturally to Shiro and put the phone away to charge. I close my eyes and keep seeing that hollow expression, it glows in my mind like a film negative. I try to instead focus on preparations for a relaxed party at my house next weekend, making lists and thinking of solutions to probable problems. It might be nice to be able to hang out with the team without having to please any clients. Then sleep melts into me, fading fading fading.
Everyone seemed to arrive around the same time in the afternoon, the locker-room at the club is filled with all team members. Mr. Green always arrives first, I think he’s self-conscious because he wants to get his binder on before anyone else walks in. None of our clients know that Mr. Green is transgender, and none of us team members feel the need to share. Mr. Green is a man and that’s that. Right now, he helps Mr. Yellow put on his golden tie, for some reason the sweet big bastard hasn’t learned how to properly put one on yet so Mr. Green always helps him. When we all finished getting into our suits, Shiro clears his throat and stands on one of the benches.
“Hello team, just letting you guys know that Mr. Red will be having a birthday party next weekend and you’re all invited!”
I wince at the announcement and do a single wave and grin at everyone, everyone is already chattering in excitement and sending me big smiles.
“I’ll bake you a cake! Might even add a special surprise to the recipe to help you unwind dude.” Mr. Yellow pinches his gigantic fingers together and mimics smoking weed, then he winks at me. This makes me snort in amusement and my shake my head disapprovingly. I start to walk away once Shiro starts elaborating on the details to everyone. I also may or may not be avoiding Mr. Blue, who has been giving me quiet looks this whole time. When I get positioned in my red booth at the club, the song “Lost in Blue” by Houses starts to play, and I watch Shiro inform Miss White of the upcoming celebration. She sends me a hands up signal from across the room and I nod and give her a thumbs up as well, then she goes back to talking to Shiro with a hand on the hip. The music thrums, the doors open to customers, and I almost choke on my own spit when I see Mr. Blue suddenly appear at my side like a navy-blue suit wearing apparition. I just stare at him with a scrunched brow, and instead of answering the question written on my face he instead insults me.
“I swear you wear the same suit everyday... Don’t you want to impress the ladies?” He raises a thin eyebrow, “or gentlemen?” His usual smirk is up, he rests both his elbows on the booth and crosses a leg. “I know I’m still pretty new here but, let's just say I’ve noticed. Black suit, red tie, day after day... boooooring.”
With disdain and squinted eyes I rebuke,
“Sorry, I’m not interested in joining the circus? Or should I take some clown school tips from you and start wearing all red suits? Might as well wear a red clown nose too. I’ll have you know, I wear different shades of black and different shades of red.” Mr. Blue does an extremely dramatic rolling of his eyes then turns his head rather closely and looks up at me through light brown eyelashes.
“Oh wow, different shades. How exciting. I bet you’re the kind of person who always orders the same meal at restaurants. Aaaaannnd...” He tilts his head, then hides a devilish grin behind a finger, “You always wear boxers. Am I right?” I can feel my face go red with both irritation and embarrassment, because every assumption he made was correct. I quietly snap at him, still somewhat conscious that customers were going to join us at any moment.
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want! Also, I don’t need you looking at me and imagining me in my underwear, thanks.” Mr. Blue bursts out laughing, it’s not one of his handsome calculated chuckles he always uses with clients but a dorky guffaw and he covers his mouth to muffle his loudness (for once.) I scowl at him while he recollects himself, a couple of my regulars entering my booth who are surprised to see him by my side.
A girl I call Princess does a soft gasp, her short curly hair is pinned with a bunny clip – she's very cute and one of the few regulars I can have a genuinely nice time with. Her boobs nearly burst out of her purple tube-top when she leans forward to question us.
“Wow! You always partner up with Mr. Black, this is quite the shock! A pleasant shock, its very nice to meet you Mr. Blue. What were you two talking about? Seemed very interesting.” Her voice is shrill and girly, she starts biting her pastel pink lip-glossed lips. I open my mouth to answer but instead Mr. Blue’s syrupy voice booms out instead of my own,
“Well, I was about to note on how Keith likes to look, right Keith?” He winks at me and I realize he’s alluding to the strange incident that happened in the rain yesterday. Annoyance starts thrumming through me but I grit my teeth into a tense smile, have to keep things professional, and I reply promptly.
“Yes, I always like to look at all the adorable outfits my customers wear. For example, you ladies are looking very cute today.” The girls thank me and look at each other with pleased tiny grins, nearly bouncing in their excitement. Mr. Blue pouts, annoyed that I didn’t get more flustered, and abandons my side to sit next to Duchess. Duchess is younger than Princess so I guess that’s why they go by those nicknames, it seems that no one likes to use their real name in a place of fantasy. Duchess bubbles with perpetual giggling when Mr. Blue rests his arm over her back, it's so easy for him to enter people’s personal space. I stand up and poor the girls some champagne, dropping a cherry into each glass, and bring the girls’ drinks over to the other side of the booth so I can sit next to Princess. Mr. Blue doesn’t surrender though, relentlessly mocking me.
“He likes to take pictures too.” Mr. Blue’s tone is suggestive, he plucks the cherry out of Duchess’s drink and tilts his head up to plop the fruit in his mouth. Her eyes go wide and sparkle, the red lights on Mr. Blue now make him seem more like an incubus than a gentleman. This provocative statement makes Princess’s jaw drop, she crosses her legs in such a way that one of her leg drapes over my own slightly. She asks with the rim of her glass in front of her lips coquettishly,
“Oh, is that so, Mr. Red? You should take a picture of me sometime.” Her leg gently rubs at my own for an instant, and Duchess grabs her shoulder and snickers into it. I dart a quick glare at Mr. Blue, but then return to being the Prince that Princess desires.
I take her free hand and press a chaste kiss to her knuckles, “I’m sure you are used to having your picture taken, you look like a model, Princess.” She bats her eyelashes at me, relishing my attention, glowing from it. “But yes, photography is a hobby of mine.”
The rest of the evening goes on like this, Mr. Blue pours his own glass of champagne and the girls and him say cheers again and again. Shiro sits in his dark corner, I catch him sniggering at my unusual situation for a brief moment before he becomes Mr. Black with a few gentlemen. Mr. Blue quickly understands the regal fantasy these girls yearn for and plays the part, laying elegant compliments and making sure that the girls keep spending their royal purses. Somehow this job comes so natural to Mr. Blue, when he listens to the girls he really listens with wide eyes and quick questions. He seems just as eager to disappear into the dream as they do.“Marie Marie” by Thieves Like Us starts up on the speakers, the girls raise their glasses and sway back and forth to the melody the same way charmed snakes seem to do. At this time of night is when I start to get lost in the fast talk and the stories clients can’t help but keep divulging. When the ladies get particularly wasted, Princess’s glazed eyeliner smeared eyes search for my undivided attention and she gives me a preposition.
“Mmm so, you like to look at us girls, Mr. Red?” Princess grabs Duchess by the hand, Duchess pulls her sparkly skirt down with her other hand sloppily, and then they sit across the booth from us together. Mr. Blue remarks impishly,
“I like where this is going...”
Princess takes a short glance at me to make sure I watch the show she’s starting, she tucks a flaxen curl of hair behind her ear, then grabs the stuttering and blushing Duchess by the chin - smashing their shimmering lips together. They close their eyes, pulling at each other’s smooth shoulders, and Mr. Blue cheers them on after finishing the rest of his drink. When the girls begin to forget about our presence and dissolve into each other’s sweetness, Mr. Blue scoots over and puts his arm around my shoulder. His arm is lighter than I think it would be, I wonder if this guy eats enough. I freeze, unsure of his intentions, and he says something low enough so only I can hear.
“Looking forward to your birthday, Mr. Red.”
Chapter 2: Alien
Thanks for the wait~ (this chapter is rather lengthy)
My birthday never really feels like my birthday. Well, maybe it did, a long time ago.
I’m pouring some Happy-O's into a bowl, since my body usually rejects a real breakfast. It’s the end of the cereal bag so a bunch of leftover grainy debris huffs out at the end of my pour. I pour the milk beforehand because then it doesn’t look like I’m drowning the tiny O’s, this way they get to float on top like tiny ships.
I mean, aren’t I supposed to feel special, that something has changed, anything at all?
When I was a kid, there was only one birthday that actually felt like a birthday. Back when Mom and Dad were alive, I woke up to singing, and Mom plopped a Hippo-plushie on my chest, and Dad held a couple balloons in his hands. We were all so happy, I close my eyes and the memory glows silently like an old film rolling with color but no sound.
I have this kitchen/living room table (small ass apartment) that has a wooden leg loose, so its chronically wobbly. I let the table barely balance with a pack of cigarettes, a pack a customer from the club left in my booth once, stuffed underneath the wobbly table leg.
I suppose I do feel something though, anxiousness caught in my chest like a butterfly caught in a web, the nerves rummaging around my veins takes all the flavor out of the cereal I crunch on. I can’t believe I agreed to letting Shiro throw a party at my house, I’m such a dumbass sometimes. Although, it would be nice to do some sort of celebration. Even if it means coworkers at my apartment…
Jesus, I really do need friends.
Shiro is more like a brother at this point, I had lost my dad after graduating high school, and Shiro put up with a lot of my breakdowns in college – more than any normal dorm-mate should have to deal with. I don’t really like thinking back to that time, I had so much anger and nowhere to put it. What do you do when you’re angry at the world? Not fucking much, nothing that really fixes anything. Put a hole through a wall, get some stitches on your knuckles, yell at people who only want to help. Although I yelled at him, pushed him away, Shiro stayed, stayed because foster kids like him are tougher maybe. No matter the reason, In the end, Shiro became the brother I needed. That I still need. It just so happens that I became his family too.
Alright, enough of this sleepy deep introspection, I need to do a quick clean-up of my place before my “brother” barges in with decorations or whatever the hell he’s planning on bringing. Wash my bowl and spoon in the sink, do a wipe-down over all the surfaces in my flat, vacuuming, and make my bed properly.
I make sure to keep Hippie, the worn-out hippo plushie, tucked away safe in a drawer in my nightstand so that no random party goer messes around with her. After sliding my motorcycle-gloves on, I stand in front of my closet and reach under my black T-shirt to scratch at my belly – yawning widely all the while. All blacks, greys, and reds. I fold my work suit into my backpack, then choose a black blazer, keep my T-shirt on, change out of my current boxers into new ones, and step into ripped up black jeans. No need to put boots on until I have to go to work, so I walk around my room looking for something to do until I notice that the stupid Mr. Blue polaroid I took is still on my nightstand. I snatch it up, and pin it up to the clothing line of photos. Since that one time, we haven’t paired up again at the club. I wonder if Mr. Blue will act differently in a setting where he doesn’t need to impress anyone. Or maybe he really is that eccentric all the time.
Knocking at the door,
“Yo, Keith its me” is muffled through, Shiro is here banging already.
He's here to drop off some supplies, then he'll be my ride to work in that fat black truck of his. I get a feeling that a full Saturday of work will be less tiring than tonight will be.
We don't sell drugs at club Voltron, but that doesn't stop patrons from smuggling it in and not so cautiously using at booths or in our bathrooms. Especially when sneering members of GALRA come in, whose men and women always wear deep violet outfits that makes them glow in a toxic and deadly fashion. The overwhelming violet worn to let all others know of their GALRA status, that they are above the rest of society, and are indeed, extremely dangerous.
All of us at Voltron hate when GALRA guests seep into the club, but Miss White likes to keep things diplomatic and has arranged a deal of peace with the head of the crime syndicate. As long as GALRA members are peaceful and don't undergo illegal activities in our neighborhood, GALRA members are allowed at Voltron. The city can be a beautiful and deadly place, and Miss White prefers to keep things the former rather than the latter.
Shiro was once beaten by a group of greasy low level GALRA underlings who had been harassing young teenage girls. If there hadn't been so many of those assholes – I think it would have been the GALRA bastards in the hospital instead of Shiro. The girls thankfully escaped in their torn clothing, but after Shiro punched a member so hard in the face that a tooth was knocked out, the group ganged in on him and broke Shiro's dominant arm almost irreparably. Which is why Shiro absolutely hates GALRA thugs and why he has an arm more steel than human.
Today we are unlucky enough to get a whole group of GALRA instead of the usual two to three violet patrons. The usual bright and friendly Mr. Yellow’s smile simmers to a thin grin, our team goes stiff and polite and Miss White gets up from her seat to greet someone personally. I glance at Shiro, his hands are balled up into white knuckled fists, and he can usually withstand a few gaudy violet women but seeing a whole gang of purple miscreants walking through is too triggering for him to handle. He gives me an anxious look, wide brown eyes glimmering with pain, and I nod in permission to let him sit this evening out. Later on hopefully, a new group of proper guests will come in that Shiro can attend to.
A gust of thick cologne entwined with cough gas perfume burns into the atmosphere, and the song “Kitty in the Middle" by the Presets simmers through the speakers above our heads. I feel a pang of panic when I see the rowdy gang of girls and boys headed towards the back of the venue, towards my red booth. I don’t let that panic show though, gritting my teeth with a professional smile and adrenaline powering like jet fuel in my veins.
They all wear black sunglasses, the girls’ mostly cat-eye shaped, the boys' mostly wayfarer shaped. I take a peek behind them and see Miss White shaking hands with one violet man I've never seen before, long bleached blonde hair tied in a neat ponytail, velvet purple ritzy suit, and an elegant way about him that doesn't match any other GALRA I've met. My peeking gets obscured by Mr. Blue making a B-line my direction, which momentarily stuns me into a blinking mannequin. Then I ask him in a rushed, frustrated whisper,
“What are you doing here?”
He ignores me, gulps a breath of nervousness, then reels in a pearly white smile to blind the menacing company that enters my booth.
Mr. Blue stretches his arms out in his slim midnight blue blazer, taking on the presence of a circus ring leader.
“Welcome to Mr. Red's booth, I'm Mr. Blue and we will be having the pleasure of making your acquaintance today!” He takes the many silver ringed hand of a girl with lilac highlighted dark hair, she gives him a giggle and takes a seat besides him. Great metal poles jut out of the walls beside booths, saved for special occasions at the club when we hire performers to use them to dazzle customers or Go-Go dancers for themed nights. Some of the girls climb up the booth to sloppily twirl in front of their GALRA boyfriends, some already too drunk to walk a straight line. I set my focus on popping open champagne for the already chatty party, some of the men are rude enough to grab bottles of their own and screw them open – laughing like hyenas as golden foam bubbles over the rim of their bottle.
The music is too loud for anyone to hear me sigh, and I start filling glass after glass, pink club-lights flickering into a strobe all around us. I check to see how Mr. Blue is doing but he's already picking up glasses I've poured and handing it to obliging liquor-happy girls who all seem to have their ears heavily pierced. A woman with mauve eye-contacts and a nose-ring flops down next to me, she wears a tight dress with amethyst sequins that shiver with her every movement.
“Hey, handsome.” Normally, a line like that is said with gooey sex appeal but she just says it casually with a side-grin. She doesn't wait for my reply, clicks open a handbag and pulls out a neon yellow pill. A smiley face is ingrained on the round pill, I cautiously watch her stick it on her tongue and click her bag back shut. When she crosses her legs, her lifted high-heeled foot rubs up and down my calf. She reaches over to grab the bottle of champagne by the neck, tosses her head back and glugs down drink after drink. She wipes her glossy lips with the back of her hand, her breath bitter with the aftertaste of alcohol. My father's sad face flashes in my mind, an invasive thought I block out immediately.
“You’re the serious type, aren'tchya?” She tilts her head at me, her hand at my forearm , tapping sharp nails onto my skin to stimulate my attention. I blink hard and give her a quizzical look, she snickers and lays her head back. I hadn’t realized I'd stopped looking customer friendly. She continues, “I'm Lotor's sister, Acxa.” I give her a firm grin and hook my arm around her nonchalantly, making sure I'm secured back into my strong and playful persona.
“I'm Mr. Red.”
A couple of girls slide down with the pole in-between their legs, one of whom slips back onto her butt and the whole party laughs in an uproar – except Acxa and myself. Mr. Blue helps the embarrassed girl down with a gentlemanly hand out, she accepts it with a dizzy face, then takes the other seat besides him.
“Pathetic women, I could run a mile in my Louis Vuittons. Even after 10 shots of Tequila.” This makes my eyebrows raise, the side of her lip lifted in a sneer, I don’t respond and pour her a drink. One of her magenta haired friends leans in to whisper something undiscernible in her ear, Acxa nods and pilfers a tiny plastic bag with white powder. Her friend scoops a long pink finger nail into what looks like cocaine, and snorts it up with fluttering crazed eyes. She is about to take another tiny scoop but then sees something from the corner of her vision that makes her choose to scoot away and sit straight with manic focus elsewhere. I notice the mysterious silver haired GALRA man appearing at the head of our table, he finishes the end of a text-message then shifts his gaze at us. His pointy nose up, bemused eyes casting down from his tall height, he clears his throat and everyone freezes like the pause button of a remote has been pressed. A smooth English accent ciphers out of him,
“I haven't seen Allura's fine Voltron in such a long while. She really is such an exquisite woman, look at her in that moonlit gown tonight. Ravishing.” He looks over his shoulder and I catch Miss White giving him a wary, slightly irritated glance, it’s rare to see her in a bad mood publicly. Though this is the first time I'm hearing her real name, I'll have to tell Shiro later.
The thug aristocrat chuckles in a smug obnoxious manner, then turns back to us. He raises an arched eyebrow at Mr. Blue and a wolfish smile crawls up his cheeks, he does a few flicks of his hand to get the ladies adjoining Mr. Blue to scatter to the other side of the table like well trained dogs. My jaw clenches, my gut telling me that being close to that man in any way is a bad idea. Also, has he seen the movie “Interview with a Vampire" too many times? Why the hell is his hair so long…
“My, my. A sapphire in all this mud. My name is Lotor, I'm next in line to operate GALRA operations. You are?...” Lotor’s arm slithers behind Mr. Blue, and for the first time since I've met the guy, Mr. Blue erupts into a deep blush that is visible even in the now soft green lights of the club. This pisses me off, of course cheesy Mr. Blue would be impressed by some snobby asshole who is crime royalty. For fuck sakes.
Lance sputters out,
“O-oh wow thanks! Yeah, yep, that’s why they call me Mr. Blue!” Who knew such a bashful and uncoordinated side of him existed, a loose stream of staccato laughter passes his lips. Mr. Blue's ocean eyes are nearly too nervous to meet Lotor's narrow amber fox eyes, Lotor’s olive toned skin contrasted against the amber making his eyes shine like medallions. Mr. Blue hugs his body and squirms shyly from the ardent attention, Lotor reveling in his embarrassment.
I nearly pour too much into Acxa's skinny champagne glass from glaring at the interaction. The rest of the evening Lotor lavishes Mr. Blue in slimey compliments, as if Mr. Blue needs more reasons to be over confident. Lotor's creepy long skeleton fingers caressing under Mr. Blue’s chin, as if Mr. Blue was a cat he was trying to win over. But it seemed to be working, Mr. Blue was practically in the villain's lap at the end of the night. Every so often a mountain of a woman, in a suit with short pin-straight hair, kneels at his side to whisper information – Lotor’s delicate façade hardening into mischievous calculation.
Meanwhile, I had to be the jackass refilling and replenishing the alcohol supplies to the ever-thirsty violet delinquents, listening to Acxa shit talk people and slurring all the while. I almost give Miss White, or Allura, a standing ovation when she gets on the club speaker and tells all guests that the venue is closing early for a private event. Lotor presses a sickeningly sweet kiss to Mr. Blue's cheek, and whispers something in his ear – sliding a business card into Mr. Blue's trembling chest pocket.
I could puke.
When Voltron is cleared of guests, I cut through the club into the locker rooms like a knife, my skin on fire for a very different reason googly eyed Mr. Blue's is. I huff as I strip out of my clothing and into my casual clothes that I had planned to wear at my damn birthday party tonight. I wish I could cancel the thing but I know Shiro is really looking forward to this party and it’s too late at this point to cancel it anyways.
Mr. Green approaches me slowly in a baggy white, green, and orange striped jacket. He's already taken out his eye contacts and sports big round glasses, the type K-Pop stars wear.
“You alright? Saw you suffering with the purple poop-heads.” I look up at big brown doe eyes, a sympathetic smile. I groan and finish buckling my combat boots, then stand up, Mr. Green is short so I look down when I reply sourly.
“Calling them animals would be an insult to animals.”
Mr. Green snickers and puts a small hand up on my shoulder,
“Don't worry, we will all make sure you end up having an awesome birthday. Mr. Yellow and I baked you a chocolate cake!” Mr. Yellow barges in our conversation in the middle of pulling up his jeans, nearly toppling over us and crushing us flat.
“HEY! It was supposed to be a surprise!”Mr. Yellow’s floppy bangs are always held up with a headband afterwork, he works part-time at a sushi restaurant and he’s grown to like having his hair out of his face.
This gets us all laughing, it feels good to have some cheering up after dealing with the mess earlier. Shiro tousles my hair from behind and then calls out to everyone in a simple grey Adidas track suit,
“Alright, I texted all of you Mr. Red's address. See ya soon!” Everyone is in high spirits and I try to join that feeling, somewhat failing to after taking a quick glance back at Mr. Blue. He's in blue converse, jeans, and a tan denim hoodie jacket, staring at that evil business card with hearts in his eyes.
I follow Shiro out the back door and hop into his truck, leaning my head against the cold window, eager for a second of private peace. Shiro talks about how strange it was that Lotor came in tonight and I tell him about Miss White's real name. The mist outside fogs the car windows, the world looks like its vanishing in a cloud of smoke.
The smell of rubber hits my nose immediately. Even though I sound less than enthusiastic about the idea, I still grab a withered balloon and start to resuscitate it back to life. While I watch it start to inflate, Shiro responds.
“Awe c’mon, its red! There’re only 6 balloons so...” Shiro points to the door, “2 for the entrance so they know where the party is.” Then he spins his index finger around, “and then we’ll put the rest in the corners of the living room.” I roll my eyes, then twist the full balloon around at its neck and noose it up with string.
We end up hanging the balloons at the hall-lights outside my front door, then getting the rest of the balloons set up, and then Shiro gets the typical party cups and plates out on the kitchen table. When he sets up some speakers up on the kitchen counter, they pump out “Stay Ugly” by Crim3s. I close my bedroom door and put a balloon directly in front of the door, a friendly ‘please don't go in my fucking room’ message for the party-goers.
The first to arrive is Mr. Yellow and Mr. Green, who seem to be friends outside of the club similar to how Shiro and I are. Mr. Green has a gift bag around his wrist and a homemade cake in his two hands, Mr. Yellow carries 2 stacks of pizza and a 12 pack of beer. Not too long after, Miss White and her butler come with fancy whines and a small sparkling gift box, she gives me a tight hug and beams out a happy birthday greeting.
Shiro complains about my shitty table to Allura, and I pull out my two chairs over to the living Room area in front of my frumpy couch. Mr. Yellow and Mr. Green talk about themselves, Mr. Yellow and his business dreams of running a café in the neighborhood, and Mr. Green with his promising internship at a robot making facility. The workers of Voltron all seem to need to pay off student loan debt and need their rent paid each month. I fiddle with my switchblade, which I always keep in a back-pocket, and Mr. Orange hurriedly comes over to ask me about it.
“Why, one would think you were a GALRA member carrying one of those around. Why do you have such a dangerous weapon?” His hand dives into the end of his mustache nervously, twisting and pulling. My shoulders stiffen, I make a point of looking him in the eye when I respond.
“You can never be too careful in the city, I walk home at night usually so I have to be on guard at all times.” Mr. Orange takes a mouthful of air, he is about to answer in a manic frenzy, but the door whips open with Mr. Blue and it distracts all of us.
He's an hour late, which doesn’t surprise me, my stare follows him warily and catches something red clutched in his hand. After big hugs with the other Voltron members, he awkwardly stands in front of me, swaying back and forth with the red object hidden behind his back.
“Sorry, I'm always fashionably late it seems" a smug smirk and the back of his hand pressed to his forehead maudlin-like, “ and I might have forgotten to wrap your present. But! That’s kind of great for me because I hate waiting for presents to be unwrapped so -" he hands me a small red picture frame decorated with cartoon pink lips puckered for kisses. “I saw this at one of the tourist shops by work and knew I had to give it to you. It's perfect.”
My face heats up, everyone starts asking why he would give me a picture frame and I glare daggers at Mr. Blue, who is laughing his ass off at my expense. Very funny. Shiro gives me a confused tilt of the head and I pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh,
“I’m into photography so Lance was, so very kind, to give me…” I hold the frame up like it’s a pair of pungent dirty socks, my face scrunching in distaste, “this.”
Allura claps her hands together, her icy blue eyes lit up in glee,
“Oh what an adorable little gift. You are so funny Mr. Blue.” She gives him a little push, and Mr. Blue shrugs like he's a victim of his own genius. Ugh. I roll my eyes and take the frame to the little present pile on the kitchen counter. Mr. Blue's voice is so much louder than everyone else's. It seems to echo and bounce around the walls like a clumsy lost bird.
The party is turning out to be O.K. The cake Mr. Yellow and Mr. Green made was delicious and everyone has a second plate of cake as soon as they are done. This event is making me realize Shiro has a crush on Allura, with the way he keeps popping up wherever she saunters to. It's odd seeing her in a comfy white yoga-ish outfit, a stark contrast in to her usual striking formal wear.
No matter how nice everyone is being, I feel myself getting exhausted and left out of conversations. I don’t mean to be so withdrawn but after dealing with GALRA bullshit all day my social tolerance is at a low. I take my camera out and engage with others the way that I can, snapping candid photos of the general merriment left and right. I overhear Mr. Blue arguing with Mr. Green about parking, it’s nice to see everyone acting natural and not forced into the usual formalities of work.
“You park like a blind turtle!” Mr. Green is slightly mad but also spilling laughter by the end of his sentence. Mr. Blue makes a shocked O with his mouth than retorts with an index finger pointed up,
“It’s not my fault that Voltron's parking lot is only big enough for scooters! It’s hard for my pretty baby to fit into those little shoe box parking spaces! No offense Miss White…” Allura just shoots Mr. Orange an amused glance then nods her head for the conversation to continue. Mr. Yellow butts in on the conversation with his deep musical voice,
“Okay wait, did you just call your car - baby?” The party around him snickers, Shiro snaps open a beer to sit on the edge of the couch and listens in. Lance scratches the back of his neck and gives a goofy smile,
“Uh duh of course I do, she and I have been together a long time now. And Mr. Green I’ll have you know that I stay within the lines so you can’t complain about my parking!”
I've witnessed some of Mr. Blue's bad parking for myself, only a few times considering its not often he drives to work. His old Mercedes creaking back and forth in vain, loud electronic music pumping from speakers that help mask cries of frustration. I join in the mocking,
"You might be able to park better if you weren't going deaf from listening to crappy EDM music." This jab makes Mr. Blue shoot a dirty look my direction, the smile I direct back at him I'm sure looks more like a snarl. He snaps back,
"I have amazing taste in music thank you very much! Your probably listen to music as boring as your wardrobe! And... and my driving is alright, I just like to take my precautions... that's all..."
Mr Green takes his glasses off for a moment and takes a moment to chuckle, then reapplies his shades to continue lovingly harassing Mr. Blue.
“Oh my god dude, you leave your entire car-butt hanging out. You don’t even pull into the parking space all the way, or other times you leave your tire wheels completely crooked and I’m afraid to even park near you. When I do park next to you, I can't even open my door halfway, I'm left being squeezed between our two cars like toothpaste! I’m pretty sure I drove better than you when I was 12. Without glasses. And without glasses I’m legally freakin’ blind.” The crowd goes wild jeering and pushing Lance around, even I start to grin at the silliness of it all. Mr. Blue accepts defeat and joins everyone in bursts of unattractive laughter, he bends down to hold his knees as his body shakes with fits of giggling. He whines about how hard driving is and they all shake their heads, Mr. Yellow pats his shoulder.
So...Mr. Blue is kind of a huge dork?
The distance between me and everyone else grows, I find myself stepping back one step at a time. It’s weird to feel like a stranger at your own birthday party. I won't be any photos either, I guess I could ask Shiro to take my picture but I don't really care. Family photographs with Mom’s face cut out burns into my skull, followed with memories of my dad swallowing whiskey like water. I squeeze my eyes shut in an attempt to shut the images out of my mind, deciding to creep out the front door when I think no one is looking.
I'm glad I'm still wearing my blazer because it’s pretty damn cold outside, my finger-cut motorcycle gloves are but a small help in keeping my hands warm, and a brief chill runs through me as I start looking through the recently taken Polaroid pictures. I take a seat at the top of the stairs outside the front door of my apartment, shuffling through photos like poker cards. They’re still developing, shadows in the film lift slowly, second by second over black silhouettes. I look up at the full moon as I wait for the photos to develop, the fog avoids the moon as if she would burn through the clouds. She looks so close tonight, it makes me sad that I can't take a picture of her. Moonlight always leaves film stained completely white. I take in a long yawn, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep up with everyone else. So tired.
“Why are you sitting out here all by yourself?”
The voice belongs to Mr. Blue, its irritating how I can recognize him by voice now. I don't turn around to greet him, and he doesn't wait for me to. From the corner of my eye I notice him sit besides me on the concrete staircase, he rests back onto his palms and he tilts his head towards me, coaxing a response.
“Just needed to get away for a bit.” My words are ragged and quick, I know he's staring at me but I just don't want to look at anyone in the eye for a while so I continue to fiddle with my camera. I hear a deep sigh escape Mr. Blue, he nods and chooses to look ahead of us at the somewhat tree-obscured view of the city. We don’t say anything for a moment, it’s weird not hearing him chattering or putting on confident suave airs. Unsettling enough for me to turn to look at him, and I catch another expression I haven't seen before. His lips are tight, a sad wistful look has taken over the usual smirk, my fingers twitch at my camera's trigger. I decide to go with my impulse and take a photo, when the flash goes off it startles Mr. Blue and he lets out a dry laugh.
“Wasn't expecting that. Good thing I'm always dashingly photogenic.” The flash of the camera broke his melancholy spell for a moment, his smug demeanor returning slightly but his voice low and soft. Mr. Blue returns my attention and studies my face before he asks another question.
“You take a lot of pictures.” Mr. Blue leaves an invisible question hung in the air, leaving me to clear the mystery. Pursing my lips, I look down and start absentmindedly clicking through random camera settings. Its shitty when people accidentally step onto sensitive topics and its shitty that I’m a person littered with land mines underneath the surface of calm. I don’t feel like lying but I also don’t feel like explaining either, too tired for any more of that today. He doesn’t understand my quiet, so he falls into his usual huffy comical bragging,
“And I get lots of pictures taken of me, y'know? Boy and girls begging for a selfie together, everyone always tells me I should take up modeling.” He elbows me in a playful way in an attempt to lure me out of my foul mood. I give in, not wanting to hear anymore of his boasting,
“Sometimes photographs are all you have left.” I cut myself off before I say too much, I let my camera rest in my lap and focus on the new black image that has printed out at the bottom. Part of me afraid if I say something too serious with him, he will tease me for it - or worse - not care at all. the thought of him being this ever smiling and brazen character stuck in my head on a loop.
Mr. Blue nods, then plucking out the black photo of him from my camera. He waves it in front of his face like a little fan, although it is anything other than a hot summer day. Without skipping a beat he agrees with me, “Yeah, its been so long since I’ve seen my family. I keep a photo of all my brothers and sisters in my wallet.” I watch him now, his eyes are fixed on the late-night horizon, thoughts far away and with other people. “My mom is all we had so uh, life in the slums was difficult. When I was 17 I just up and left Cuba.” He snaps his fingers in the air, it rings through the vacant parking-lot below us. “Just like that. We were all so hungry all the time, and I was sick of it, y’know? My aunt told me to come here with her,” he lifts his hand to the sparkling darkened skyline, “to the city. I’ve been sending money back home for years now. All I’ve got now is an outdated photograph and an old ass car my aunt left me with before she had to go back home to Cuba. The car is nice though, I was lucky to be left with anything. Anyways, pretty sure she smuggles shit but I never asked her questions, I was just glad to get out of that hell-hole.” Mr. Blue shifts his attention to his new photo, the profile of a young man shrouded in melancholy, looking much like how he is now. He goes on, unashamedly bearing such intimate details of his life to me, “This city feels like a different planet, maybe even a different universe, compared to where I’m from. I can’t help feeling like I’ve been launched into space without any oxygen at times, or that everyone around me is an alien that speaks a different language that I can’t speak. Well, I guess that’s not very true now, I’m fluent in English now - don’t 'ya think?” He gives me a smile so unlike the ones I’m used to him wearing, its vulnerable and looking for acceptance.
His sincerity catches me off guard, I almost feel jealous of it. Jealous that he can just – just say everything he wants to say so easily. There’s bravery in being honest, which makes me feel like a coward for hiding behind my silence. I could have said a lot of things. About how I understand, about how lonely living in space feels, and that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe. Instead, I ask him something safe, and I hate myself for it.
“So, you’re bilingual?”
He snorts, the tension dissolving, and he replies self-assuredly in Spanish.
“Si, cariño...” He pauses, setting the Polaroid of himself back into my hand. His thoughts seem to shift back and forth like he’s flipping through pages of a book, looking for the right thing to say next. Then he continues his Spanish in a much softer tone,
“Siempre pareces tener dolor. ¿Sabía usted que?”
Wavering dark blue eyes reflecting genuine concern back at me, the foreign words slip through the cracks of my comprehension like water. All I know is from the lilt of his voice at the end, it was a question. I have my own question though, and its ‘why is he looking at me like that?’ My right hand runs through my long bangs, then I grip my bangs up in frustration.
Mr. Blue must have left his jacket inside, he rubs his goose-bump laden tan arms and shivers. I can make out his breaths puffing, signs of winter approaching apparent. I slip off my blazer and drape it over his shoulders like a cape, his eyes go owl-like, but then a very warm grin is replaced by the shock that makes my chest hurt. Turning my attention to a full moon and its unblinking white gaze, I gather a pocket full of courage and mutter.
“I feel the opposite of you, by the way. Too often I feel like it's me who’s the alien.” The concrete staircase radiates under the moon, mimicking her pale rough surface. It almost feels like we are up there, everything else far away.
A wave of music shatters the mirage, the door swung open and a slightly buzzed Shiro leaning against it.
“Hey guys, you’ll catch a cold if you stay out here too long.” Even when slightly inebriated, Shiro is always such a protective older brother. He waves us in, then turns back into the joyous mayhem, and I get up fast to follow - not bothering to look behind me.
I take a seat in the corner of my couch, glad that the speakers have been muted and that only blurry chatter is scattered around the room. I hear Mr. Blue shut the door behind him, but don’t take a second to check. Instead, I take in the rest of my surroundings. Dignified Mr. Orange pouring nice whine into a cheap red plastic cup for Mr. Yellow, then Mr. Green sneaking another slice of a cake that has already nearly been finished, and Shiro murmuring lowly with a not-so-sober Allura in a corner. Her hand glides down his half steel half human arm, he must be telling her the story behind it, and my vision starts to go fuzzy before I take in anything else.
I dream I’m drifting in darkness, then drifting towards the moon. I struggle to swim in blank air, I try to land, but I miss.