"Will you help me with the eyes, Jamie?"
Jamie finished gluing on his lashes and then turned to Pritti. They were sitting in front of his vanity, an array of musical songs playing in the background, while they prepared for their school reunion.
"You know, you don't have to wear makeup if you don't want to. Nobody's forcing you, Pritti." He reached for a subtle brown colour anyway.
"I know. But I can enjoy being a bit dolled up for the special occasion."
"Come on, close your eyes, then."
"Do you think Bex married a millionaire?" she asked, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Do people marry at 21?"
"I dunno. People who marry millionaires maybe."
Jamie sighed. "I hope so. Someone ought to be that lucky."
"Oh, come on. You're not a poor student like meself."
"Yeah, but I'm not made of money either. It's expensive , you know. Wigs, costumes, makeup. Besides I don't have to pay for a flat yet, do I?" He switched to mascara. "Open your eyes."
"You planning on moving out?"
"I'm not in a hurry. Mum says she's happy to have me." He looked her over. "There you go. Pretty Pritti." He smiled. "Although you're always gorgeous anyways."
"Stop it, Jamie."
"But it's true ! The most beautiful girl I know, inside and out! Besides Mimi of course."
"Of course." She got up and gathered her clothes. "I'm not moving out yet either."
"Look at us, still living with our parents."
"Hey, there's no shame in it! Besides, you won't survive on your own anyways. Turn around, will ya?"
" Hey ! I can cook! And clean!" He turned to the corner to give her privacy.
"Yeah, but who will you show off to all day?"
Jamie laughed. "Point taken."
"Someone else you're curious about?"
"I wonder what Dean's been up to."
"Yeah. Did I ever tell you, he's been to see me once?"
"What, in drag?"
"Yeah! Well, I was in drag, he wasn't." Jamie fiddled with the sleeve of his jumper.
"Did you talk to him?"
"No, I was working, wasn't I? And after my show he was just gone."
"Where was this?"
"Dean, in a gay bar?"
"Yeah! Imagine my surprise!"
"You think he's queer?"
"I dunno. Bit of a cliché, don't you think, the homophobic bully being gay?"
"Maybe. Well, I'm not looking forward to seeing him either way."
"Nah, I know. The way he treated you, it's disgusting."
"I mean, he was probably just spouting the nonsense he got from his parents. I can manage."
"You shouldn't have to."
"Well, it's not that easy, is it? Okay, you can turn round again."
He did. "Oh, Pritti, you look wonderful!" he squealed, jumping up to take her by the arms. "Come on, give me a little twirl!"
Pritti complied, grinning. She was wearing black trousers, a white blouse, a nice dark blue blazer and her matching blue hijab.
"You gonna wear a dress?" she asked.
"Well, I haven't decided." He ran over to the clothes rack, overflowing with a mass of sequins and ruffles.
He picked out a short blue dress with a tulle skirt. "I like this one."
"It's proper gorgeous, Jamie!"
"Yeah, but then I also have this." He rummaged around and pulled out a pink tux and a shimmering silver blouse.
"Oh, that's so nice as well!"
"I know! And I can't decide! Mum likes the dress better and Ray the tux, so they've not been very helpful."
"And how about mixing? You can wear the jacket over the dress."
Jamie's meticulously drawn eyebrows shot up. "Pritti, I need you here 24/7! You're a lifesaver !"
"Well, I hope to be!"
"Are you nervous? I'm nervous."
"What have you got to be nervous about, Jamie?" Pritti took her eyes off the road to glance at him, but only briefly. "You've achieved your dream, haven't ya?"
"Well, yeah. But I can't help it!"
"It's gonna be fine. They're all the same, you know. Well, hopefully a bit more grown up, but besides that … people don't change completely in the course of five years."
"Maybe that is what I'm nervous about. That they haven't changed."
"Well, then it would be a bummer, but nothing unexpected. It's gonna be fine. See, we're already here." She parked the car.
"Here we go then."
Most of their grade had already arrived, some of them with a plus one in tow. It was bit difficult spotting someone from their own class.
"Pritti! Jamie!" Becka then called from where she was standing with Fatimah.
Jamie ran over, as well as someone could run in three inch heels, dragging Pritti with him. "Hiii! You guys look amazing!"
"You guys do too! Though, Jamie, I think you're seriously overdressed." Fatimah gestured to the crowd of people, who, although many were wearing blazers, dresses or nice shirts, was mostly in jeans.
"It's my purpose in life." He flipped imaginary hair over his shoulder. He had felt the stares as soon as he walked in.
"Of course it is," Becca said, rolling her eyes fondly.
"So what have you guys been up to?" Pritti asked.
"I'm working in me Mum's shop," Fatimah said. "She wants me to take over someday."
"And will you?"
"I dunno yet. Probably. Still a lot of time though."
"Yeah, but it's going well, right?" Jamie asked. "Ray's always gushing about your mum's clothes."
"Yeah, it is. Becca's also doing good, aren't ya?"
She nodded. "I've just got a job at a law firm. Mostly like paperwork and stuff, it's all pretty boring, but they pay really well. I don't even know what to buy, now that I don't have to think twice about every penny."
"Good for you, then!"
"What about you Pritti, you studying?"
"Yeah! Medicine, like I wanted."
"Bet your parents are proud!"
"They really are! Though I think Jamie is proudest," she laughed, poking him in the ribs.
"Well, I am! You're gonna be a proper doctor, it's fascinating!"
"I wanted to be a surgeon at first, but then I noticed I'd rather work with people. So I'm doing general practice, hopefully stay close to home."
"Look at you both," Becca said, "living your dreams. I've been to see you, Jamie, last month."
"Oh really? I didn't see ya."
"Yeah, I figured. Still, you were amazing."
He put his hands to his warming cheeks. "Oh thank you."
"Look," Pritti said, "there comes Bex. She's got someone with her!"
The evening carried on, Pritti and Jamie sticking close together for the most part until she was engaged in a conversation with Levi and Mickey, and Jamie was dragged off by Bex and her girlfriend (who was not a millionaire).
And then there was a lot of dancing and eventually Jamie lost Pritti in the crowd.
So he went to get a drink, leaned against a wall and slipped out of his heels. He was a bit exhausted, really, which seemed ridiculous since dancing all night was literally his job. But then again, he wasn't used to navigating awkward conversations and evading judgemental glances while doing so.
Not that they came from his own class. The girls had always treated him as one of their own anyways and that hadn't changed. But even the guys, who, although they had never been malicious, had always distanced themselves from Jamie, now approached him with wide smiles and open arms.
Jamie had felt a bit overwhelmed by the kindness.
No, the stares and the whispers came from the other classes. Of course they knew Jamie, but they didn't know Jamie, not like his old friends did. And then there were the plus ones. People who had never met him, had maybe heard about the prom story, but nothing else. People who had never met anyone like him and didn't want to do so now. People stuck in their own ignorant little bubble.
Jamie had definitely heard someone whisper a slur.
So he was not particularly happy about suddenly being face to face with Dean Paxton.
"If you don't have anything nice to say, you can fuck right off, Dean. I don't have the energy to deal with your shit right now."
Dean shifted from one foot to the other.
Jamie raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"I wanted to apologize." He bit his lip.
"Apologize," Jamie repeated, struck dumb.
"Yeah, for the shit way I've treated you."
Dean shifted again. "Look, I don't have an excuse. I was a piece of shit and you didn't deserve it."
"That's right I didn't."
Dean stared at him and didn't reply, so Jamie took the opportunity to let his eyes wander.
Dean looked more or less like he had five years ago, but his features were a bit sharper and his hair was styled differently. He was wearing jeans and a grey dress shirt. Dull, Jamie decided, even if it looked good on him.
"Did you talk to Pritti?" he asked.
Dean nodded. "She said she doesn't forgive me, but she believes that people can change."
"See, she's wise like that."
There was silence again.
"Why did you ask me to dance, at prom?"
"Why did you accept?" Jamie shot back.
Dean shrugged. "Because you were right. Because I was tired of being the bad guy. And -" He stopped.
"Because you were beautiful."
Jamie smiled, pleasantly surprised. "I still have that dress," he said after a few moments. "It's still one of my favourites."
"No, I don't mean prom night."
"I mean, you were beautiful, in general. And I didn't … I didn't know how to deal with that, so instead of sorting it out myself, I took it out on you. And I'm sorry."
Then there was silence again. Jamie stared at him, this ignorant school bully, owning up to his mistakes and calling him beautiful .
Dean stared back for a while and then said, "Right, I'll … I'll be off then." He turned to go.
"You've been to see me once!" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Dean turned back. "Yeah. Well, no. It was a coincidence, really."
"I had a date," he admitted, biting his lip again. Jamie didn't remember him doing that when they were still in school. "It didn't work out, though."
"A date? At a gay bar?"
"A date. With a guy. I'm … I'm bisexual, I think."
Jamie nodded. Homophobic bully being queer. Flamboyant gay guy in a dress. They were hitting all the tropes, weren't they?
Well, one was still left.
"Do you want to dance?"