Mercury urged Terry away from the door. He pushed, he pleaded, he shoved, and he begged, but it was fruitless—the man wouldn’t budge.
Terry wore a long sleeved shirt and full length pants. His hair, normally spiked, lay flat. He had wanted to wear makeup. Given his skillset, covering the bruise on his face would have been child’s play. But no—at this moment, Terry had to be up front about every little detail. He’d come to Rice’s door with nothing but good intentions, after all. He hadn’t come to demand an apology, nor did he seek revenge. He only wanted to put the past where it belonged. He wanted to clear the air on floor five.
The door swung open, and Terry said it in terms as plain as could be: “I’d like to get lunch with you, Rice.”
Rice looked how he always did: like a cowboy. Even without the spurs. Even without the bandana. Even without a length of rope or a patch of leather, Rice always looked like he had just walked off the set of a western. And with his cowboy glare, Rice pierced through Terry. The ocular trick shot went straight past Terry’s eyes and landed in his temporal lobe, where Rice planted the word without saying so much as a syllable:
And with that, Rice shut the door.
—Which Terry held open. Mercury just about murdered him. Rice stood there with a certain stiffness in his posture; it was easy to forget that, in spite of Terry’s flamboyance, he was actually quite strong. Quite a bit stronger than Rice, as it turned out.
“It’s not a date,” Terry insisted, shoulder forced against the door. “I promise: I just want to clear the air.”
Rice was out of trick shots, so Cash stepped forward in his place. “He’ll be out in two minutes.”
And the door swung closed.
Terry breathed in, and out. Things slowed back down. Time to recoup, and get ready for round two.
“You have to admit,” Terry said, “that could have gone worse.”
Mercury didn’t humor him. “You’re in a very delicate ballet, darling, and your partner hasn’t even rehearsed.”
Terry picked a piece of lint from his shirt, and flicked it to the ground.
“Forgive me then, Mercury; let’s see how long we can keep up the dance.”
The door opened.
“Okay,” Rice said. He wore a denim jacket, a pair of sunglasses, and an honest to god cowboy hat. “Let’s go.”
It’s a disguise, Terry realized.
“So is yours,” Mercury hissed.
And they were both right. The reason for Rice’s disguise was very straightforward: he didn’t want to be recognized. Not with Terry, he didn’t. Terry’s disguise, on the other hand, was a bit more involved. No trace of pink could be found on his person that day, and he wore the highest cut shirt that he owned. Even his slight lisp had, mysteriously enough, disappeared. For the sake of Rice’s comfort, Terry had disguised himself flawlessly.
They headed off for the diner down the street, and as they did, Terry was acutely aware of the space between himself and Rice. Was it too far apart? Or was it normal? What was normal for a situation such as this one? Some part of Terry wished that he didn’t notice these things, but the truth of the matter was that it was these attentions to detail which made him a master of his craft. It’s what all the critics had been saying, as of late: every detail was spot on. Terrence Young was flawless.
Terry shook the thoughts out of his head as he entered the diner behind Rice. The two and their musicians were seated, and the waitress gave them time to think over their orders.
“So,” Rice said. Even after stepping inside, he hadn’t removed his hat, or his shades. “You wanted to clear the air. Let’s clear the air.”
“You know I’m queer,” Terry said.
Rice gave a nod. “I noticed.”
“Name one other thing about me.”
And at that, Rice faltered. “Come again?”
Terry internalized his smile, and leaned back on his side of the booth. “You heard me. Besides the fact that I’m queer, I want you to name one other thing about who I am. My career. My interests. My last name. Anything at all.”
Terry wished he could watch Rice’s face, but alas, the shades. All Terry could see was the cowboy’s frown getting deeper. The eyes would have said everything; they would have told whether Rice was frustrated, or uncaring, or perhaps, in some small way, regretful. But all Terry could see was the frown.
“You got me,” Rice said. And then he cracked a smile.
Terry couldn’t stop himself from smiling back. The frown had been negative—lots of things were negative. But the smile! The smile meant that Rice, on some level of his being, didn’t despise Terry’s presence.
Rice folded his hands on the table. “Tell me about yourself, Terrence.”
“I’m a performer,” Terry said. It was the first thing that had popped into his head. “Dance, mostly, but I’ve studied theatre as well. Performance is my art form. It’s my passion.”
“Is that right?” Rice said, leaning forward. He took off his shades, and used them to point at Terrence. “That would explain it. Every few weeks, you look like a different person. Not completely, but just enough that it throws me off. Method actor?”
“That’s… absolutely correct,” Terry said, letting his smile go free. “How could you tell?”
“I’m a composer,” Rice answered. “It’s not required that I know about theater and film and all of that, but it helps.”
Terry slapped the table. “Henderson. You must be Rice Henderson. You’ve written the score for every western performed in this city!”
“You say that like there are lots of them,” Rice said, setting his cowboy hat on the table. “I also do noir, samurai cinema, punk—even avant-garde productions if the idea doesn’t make me sleepy. I do like westerns though, so you got me there.”
“I’m sorry Rice, I could have sworn you said punk.”
Rice looked down at his fingers. He moved them through the air, as though he were holding down chords on a phantom guitar. “It’s a long story,” he said. “And I’m over it. That said, I still have a soft spot for disobedient three-chord bands.”
Terry and Rice had lunch. They discussed their respective crafts, and by the time the bill came, the last garment of Rice’s disguise had been shed; his denim jacket sat folded up beside him. The two returned to their apartments, and their musicians followed. It took Rice some time to realize what had happened. He sat on the edge of his bed, thinking about it, trying to find the piece that seemed off.
And then it struck him.
You had a good time, Rice thought. You honest to god, whole-heartedly enjoyed spending time with Terrence.
Rice no longer said curse words. So instead, he punched a hole clean through Cash’s guitar.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 2015