I am uncharacteristically quiet as I sit near the bar. I’ve long ago switched to beer, and there are several empty cans on the table in front of me. I’m normally a happy, horny drunk, but after everything that’s happened tonight, my thoughts have finally caught up to me.
I’ve been hiding from the fact that I’m scared. People are dying, and sooner or later it’s going to be someone I care about. I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it by spending all of my time drinking and/or fucking, but it’s not working. Thinking about my conversation with Ruben, I wonder how I’m going to follow through on my promise without getting fired. But at least I’m doing something, I think. That’s the important thing.
“Katherine? I… oh, my god,” says Artie, noticing the empty beer cans on the table. “Are you okay? What are you doing?”
I’m fine,” I answer, staring out into the room. I don’t want to tell him what I’m thinking, especially not tonight, when we should all be having fun. I don’t want to ruin his party.
He puts a hand on my shoulder and bends down, studying my face. “No, you’re not. And this,” he gestures to the empty cans, “is unlike you. I’m worried about you.”
I smile up at him, squeezing his shoulder. “Seriously, I’m fine. These aren’t even all mine,” I lie. He looks dubious. “I’m gonna go check out the fire.” I kiss his cheek. “I love you, little brother. Go have fun. Get laid, or something.”
I step outside and walk over to the bonfire. Fire has always had a calming effect on me, and soon I am entranced by the flames. There are sounds of laughter and merrymaking all around me.
“WHAT THE FUCK!!”
I almost jump out of my skin as a very loud, very angry voice shouts through the din. I look up to see who is shouting. It’s Steven. He shouts again.
“What. The. FUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!” People have stopped speaking, and every eye is on him. “WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING AROUND YOU?” The party has gone completely silent. “Simon was my friend, my brother, AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT INSTRUMENT HE PLAYED!” Steven pauses, his stare icy as he looks around. “No one told his brothers he was dying because they DIDN’T KNOW WE EXISTED. We live in too many fucking closets. People are passing out on stage and you just ignore it. The show must go on. It is all we have. Put it in a FUCKING CLOSET.” He glares at us, chest heaving. “We all promised we were going to make luminaries to honor our friends at midnight. Well, that’s in ten minutes, and no one has made a single one. Because we just PUT IT IN THE FUCKING CLOSET and go PARTY. Well, this is not all we have. WE ARE MORE THAN JUST A PARTY. So come out of your closets, do your fucking job and HONOR YOUR FRIENDS.” Steven turns on his heel and walks back inside. After a moment of shocked silence, several people follow him inside. There are soft murmurs through the rest of the crowd.
All at once, the emotions I’ve been trying to stifle catch up with me: fear of getting sick and dying, fear of my friends dying, shame at forgetting about the luminaries, guilt at not having done anything to help with the growing crisis. I barely knew Leon or Simon – with the exception of a few fleeting moments when Nate and I laughingly tried to convince Simon to dress in drag for last year’s Urban Renaissance performance – but Steven is right: they were part of our family. I decide to join the people who’d gathered inside and create a luminary.
There is a small group of party-goers sitting at one of the tables which has white paper bags, tea light candles, and markers strewn all over. They almost look like children at summer camp doing arts and crafts, were it not for the somber looks on their faces. I spot Steven sitting at the head of the table. He is speaking with a few people in hushed tones, and I feel a sudden overwhelming urge to hug him. So, I do. I stride over and touch his shoulder to get his attention. He barely has a chance to look up and see who is in front of him before I reach down and embrace him. Tears fill my eyes and spill over, and I squeeze him tightly for a long moment. When I step back, I look into his eyes and say, “Thank you.”
He looks startled but also grateful. “Thank you.”
I wipe my eyes and take a seat at the table. “Pass me that marker, will ya?”